For the past 25 years I’ve had married couples come in to see me who have lost connection with each other and are contemplating divorce. Some are very committed to the idea of marriage and are traumatized by the idea, but they feel so unhappy they don’t have a clue how to revitalize what was once a passionate connection.
Sometimes these couples haven’t had sex in years, perhaps decades. But they stay together “for the kids” or because they “love” each other but they have no passion for each other any more. They also don’t feel emotionally connected and often feel lonely and sad.
Here’s what happened: they quit treating each other as friends. They stopped talking about important things because they were afraid of each other’s reactions. Most of the time, they blame their partner for the lack of connection and don’t recognize how their own choices led to a distant, passionless marriage.
Now, understand, I’m not saying you are “to blame”. What I am saying is that you have a choice about how to move forward, whether you are newly in a relationship or your marriage has gone south for years. And, you can’t “blame” your partner; this was a mutually acquired distance that took both of you to create. The good news is that only one of you has to begin to change gears for things to move out of neutral.
Why Does This Happen To A Marriage?
When we first get married or commit to someone, we see this person as our savior. We see them as the person who will rescue us from loneliness, sexlessness, and emotional isolation. Maybe we even see them as the person who will rescue us from our financial burdens. Our ideas of romance are like those of Edward and Bella in the Twilight series. We think that Edward will sweep us off our feet and make us feel like a princess, or Bella will love us no matter how many horrible things we have done. We will never fight, or have disagreements, we will always support each other and clean up after each other without having to discuss anything or challenge each other.
Now I know, your logically thinking “No, I didn’t expect that, I know people have conflict”. Yes, I know you “know” that to be true but the little kid inside each of us secretly longs for someone to be like our mother (or the mother we should have had) who was unconditionally loving and expected nothing from us. I am of course, talking about our unconscious desire for regression into infancy. We all have that pull, and it is what we emotionally crave from our spouse.
And anything that indicates we will not get what the little kid in us wants feels like a violation of our contract with our partner. We pout, we stomp our feet, or we dance around and try to please or we hold our tongue so as to not threaten loss of what we hoped we could have.
The bottom line is that we stop seeing the other person as our friend, and we see them as the person who is denying us the one thing that we most need. Because of this, we go into a self protective mode and stop treating each other with the kindness and respect that we treat our friends.
Take the Risk
Step back from your self, from your marriage, and take a really hard look at the way YOU act toward your partner. Start talking to them like someone you respect and want to get to know better. Trust me, there is more to your partner than you know.
So what if it upsets your spouse for you to discuss money, sex, housework (or whoever the topic)? In order to develop intimacy we have to be willing to let the other person have whatever feelings they have, even if they cry, storm around, or yell. Short of physical or verbal abuse, expression of emotion is needed between spouses. Learning to express your needs requires that you learn to deal with your partners unhappy feelings. No matter who you are, you are going to have thoughts, feelings and desires different from those of your spouse, and sometimes, they will cause conflict.
Chose to Be Emotionally Available
Being emotionally available means being able to tolerate you own feelings, as well as those of your partner. Being a full partner in a marriage means being willing to listen empathetically to your partners feelings without judging them or attempting to curtail them. That said, I know it’s not an easy thing to do. Our survival brain yells at us that we are risking being abandoned, divorced, or maybe even hurt and the truth is; we are, it is risky. But in reality it is no riskier than pretending those feelings aren’t there. When we ignore the real feelings that exist in our self or in our partner, we risk distance, emotional divorce, infidelity, and long-suffering loneliness.
So take the risk, feel the fear, and do it anyway. In the long run, you, and your spouse will fare better. Marriage or no marriage, you will have more honestly, intimacy, and understanding between you.