Have you ever felt the way this client did?
“When we spend time with his family he doesn’t pay any attention to me. When I try to talk to him he seems to look right through me”. The wife of this couple was frustrated, confused and feeling neglected in these family situations. This tapped into a theme for her of not feeling significant in her marriage and it made her angry. We had talked about this previously and her husband had been working on showing his love to her and making progress. This time, however, something was different.
As we started to probe this concern together the husband was becoming visibly upset and when I asked about his emotions the tears started flowing down his cheeks. He started explaining his pain and fear that his family is falling apart and he was in danger of losing everything. We discovered there were two things attached to these feelings. One was his brother’s death about a year ago for which he is still grieving but doesn’t really talk about. The other was a deeper insecurity that took him back to his childhood. His parent’s marriage had been rocky and he remembers the fear of losing his family and having nowhere to live. Even now he sees his father drinking too much and his mother threatening to leave him and it brings him back to feeling like that 9 or 10 year old boy. When these feelings get triggered he finds himself overwhelmed with sadness and anxiety and consequently unable to be emotionally present for his wife in those circumstances.
Listening to this conversation, his wife was amazed and filled with compassion. Her anger was gone and she took his hand to comfort him. Now we were able to talk about ways for them to recognize one another’s emotional needs, communicate that more effectively, and respond in more loving ways. They left with new understanding of those family gatherings and new perspectives of each other.
How many times have you assumed your husband or wife was just being selfish or just didn’t care, only to find out later something else was going on? It is easy to attribute reasons to someone’s behavior based on how you see it. Sometimes simply asking questions with the intent to really understand the other’s experience can reveal surprising things such as hidden fear or pain. I encourage you to put aside judgment and find the courage to open up and really listen and be present for your partner. The truth can set you free to connect in more genuine ways. Go talk to your spouse!
For more information on important relationship skills please take a look at my easy to access online program, www.reimaginemarriage.com
Here is another reminder of the power of seeing things in a new way. Watch this short video about how a child taught his teacher what it really means to teach and change a life forever. Warning, you may need Kleenex handy when you watch this: http://www.flickspire.com/m/guidance/MakeADifference
I had been working with a couple on the concept of making amends and offering one another sincere apologies for ways in which they have hurt one another. He stated truthfully that he was not ready to offer an apology that was genuine because he still was not getting what he wanted and needed in this marriage. After further discussion both people were able to see they have some deep roots of resentment and bitterness towards one another that they were not willing and able to release yet.
A question emerged; “if I have decent and respectful relationships with other people in my life but not in my marriage, isn’t it fair to conclude that this is just a toxic relationship”? That may be a fair conclusion in some cases, but there is a seductive illusion that the problem really is the other person. It ignores the fact that marriage is a unique relationship that demands more from you than other relationships and it is not a fair comparison. It also ignores the fact that what you blame your partner for is often just a reflection of something within yourself that you need to deal with. You may choose to leave what feels like a toxic relationship but if you have not released the roots of bitterness you will carry that with you into the next one.
We began talking about a garden. If you have an ugly weed in your garden you typically try to get rid of it by pulling it out. If the soil is dry and hardened however, it will not release the root and the weed just keeps growing back. You may try to poison the weed but if it is entwined with the plant you run the risk of killing the plant as well. The only safe and effective way to get such a weed out is by soaking the soil with water until it is soft and loose enough for the soil to release the root. If it is a deep root it takes a lot of water to penetrate deep enough.
When there are weeds of resentment and bitterness in a relationship the partners tend to see only the weeds in the other and focus on trying to pull them out or poison them. You know the results of such behaviors. So the question is, how does one prepare the soil in one’s relationship garden so the soil will be willing to release the roots of bitterness? The answer lies in three key choices.
1) First you must look inward to see and acknowledge your own bitterness and resentments
2) Make the choice to work your way towards willingness to release the roots of these weeds
3) Water the soil of your relationship with kindness and loving behaviors aimed both at yourself and at your partner. If the soil has been hardened over time it will not respond by soaking in the water immediately. It takes time to penetrate the hard crust of dry soil. If the roots are deep, once the water penetrates the top soil you must keep it coming for it to reach down to the depths of the roots. Consistent kindness and loving behavior over time will work its magic.
You can find more information on working through places you are stuck in your relationship at www.reimaginemarriage.com