What are the hardest moments for you in your relationship? Is it when your husband seems more in love with his devices than with you? Or when your wife seems to take all your long, hard hours at the office for granted?
For me, it would have to be when my husband is unhappy with me, for whatever reason.
I like to feel wrapped in a nice, warm blanket of approval and admiration.
Would adoration be asking too much? And when I look in his eyes and see something very different, it can be painful.
When would that be? When he thinks I’m not really listening to him talk about his work, that’s a big one. We have a ‘mixed marriage,’ remember—software programmer/therapist. I have been accused of organizing my calendar or my grocery shopping in my mind while he tells me about his day. Which is not true. I am trying.
The truth is I really like having a partner who works in a completely different field.
It broadens my world. But when it comes to operating systems, devices, and the cloud, listening and understanding are not always synonymous. So, I’m sure I do look a little glazed sometimes.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Getting stressed out when my husband is upset with me, I mean. I know I’m not, because that’s one of the things my clients most need help with. It’s a natural reaction we all have. When we feel disapproval, real or imaginary, from the person we count on the most, it triggers our survival fears and makes us feel insecure.
To a great extent, the quality of our relationships depends on what we do with these trigger moments.
At these moments, our defense mechanism is not our friend. It automatically starts cranking out reasons why our partner is wrong: “That’s so unfair. She’s so critical. Nothing I can do is enough. She doesn’t appreciate me at all!”
Whew! We feel so much better!
But our partners won’t. Whether we voice those thoughts or not, they’re going to feel like we don’t understand, and we don’t care enough to try to understand. They might try harder to explain. They might up the ante and get more critical. Eventually, they’ll just give up and keep their thoughts to themselves.
If that happens, the relationship will drift little by little to a lower level of intimacy.
The spark will die out. And boredom will set in.
But what if we toughen up and stay in the game when a trigger moment hits? And try to understand even if it makes us feel insecure? That will take us in an entirely different direction. Towards more understanding, more closeness and yes, more passion.
To stay in the game, we have to abandon the cherished fantasies we all start with in a relationship. Fantasies such as:
“My partner will make me feel good at all times.”
“I’ll never screw up or let my partner down.”
“My partner will always be happy with me.”
Of course, we all know in our heads how unrealistic these thoughts are.
As our relationship matures, we need work at accepting it in our hearts, too. So that we come to believe something more like:
“It’s my partner’s job to speak to me with respect and compassion. It’s his job to be honest even when it causes discomfort. It’s not his job to protect me from stress or make sure my feelings are not hurt.”
“If I’ve screwed something up, I’m normal. We’re all imperfect and we all goof. And we all hurt our partner’s feelings now and then.”
“If my partner is unhappy with me, once again, I’m normal. I’ll upset him now and then even if he does love and adore me.”
I can get caught up in those fantasies like the rest of them. But when I let them go, it’s such a relief!
I don’t have to brace myself when I hear: “We need to talk.” I don’t have to pedal hard to show my husband how he’s got it wrong.
Even better is the rush of closeness that comes from hearing the truth. The sense of security from really knowing what’s happening in my relationship.
And the connection that comes from taking a risk, working through an issue and coming out the other side.
I hope you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t felt that kind of connection for a long time, you might doubt it’s possible. But it is. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers. You just have to stay in the game when it’s most uncomfortable.
What’s your take on this? What helps you stay in the game? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.
By Claire Hatch