What to do when your marriage partner keeps “leaving the relationship”

I’m not talking about moving out. I’m talking about taking  seemingly innocent “exits” that rob your relationship. 

“Exits” are places where you go to get your needs met outside your relationship.

Things like hobbies, sports, computer games, the kids, work…

or pornography, an affair, etc.

Some “legitimate”, some not so.

Whenever anything becomes a substitute for intimacy with your partner, it can drain your relationship of the energy it needs to flourish.

Does this touch a nerve? Please read on.

In last week’s post, Katie felt like her husband, Frank, was playing way too much golf.

But through the Couples Dialogue, they got to the real issue in their relationship.

Golf wasn’t the problem it was Katie’s hidden fear.

Katie’s hidden fear was  that something would always take her place in Frank’s life.

Their marriage experienced a breakthrough when Frank began to understand this.

Frank began to see all Katie’s “nagging” as simply a hidden desire for more closeness with him. When he finally got that, Katie’s nagging stopped. Fantastic!

But what about Frank? What was Frank’s issue, and how did he contribute to this relationship problem?

Turns out, playing golf was an “exit” from the relationship. It was one of many ways Frank would “leave” Katie when he felt unsafe.

In the counseling process, while Katie learned to turn her criticism into a spoken desire, Frank learned to close the exits that were robbing their relationship.

He began to channel that energy into building an intimate partnership with Katie.

And you can do that too.

Here’s how  to close the “exits” that are robbing your marriage.

resolving couples conflict

1. Identify your unconscious defenses

If you met Frank you would not see any indication there was a problem. He is funny, and outgoing, and well-loved by all their friends.

But as the Dialogue process went deeper, Frank discovered a secret about himself.

Although Frank was super outgoing and a real “people person”, he was terrified of intimacy.

Abuse suffered early in life from his father, and neglect from his mother led to a deeply ingrained belief that intimacy is painful.

The message was, “If you get close to someone, you’ll end up getting hurt.”

Frank learned to survive childhood by keeping a safe distance from everyone.

The first step for Frank was to identify his unconscious defense strategy:

Frank was an “isolator” who would take a convenient “exit” anytime Katie would get “too close”.

resolving marriage conflict

2. Identify ways you avoid your relationship

Katie complained that “golf was the problem”, but we saw that golf wasn’t really the problem.

It was that Katie felt like Frank was “leaving the relationship”. Golf was one way he did that.

When Frank quit playing golf on the weekends, Katie was still not happy. Why?

Frank’s “exit” switched to computer games. Again, Katie felt him leaving her.

It wasn’t until these exits were identified that a plan for change could happen.

Katie longed for closeness, but from the very beginning of their relationship whenever she would get too close, Frank would exit.

It was Frank’s  fear of intimacy that kept him on the run.

And there was always an exit to be found!

What about you? What are your exits?

Take time to look at your activities and ask yourself, “Am I doing any of these things in order to avoid my relationship?”

One husband realized that he was staying late at work, because when he would walk through the front door, a wave of depression would come over him. It was real easy to stay at work.

When we are disconnected from our partner, anxiety can make our relationship a real downer. That’s when it’s easy to exit.

So take time to identify your exits.

resolving marriage conflict

3. Redirect energy into your relationship

It’s important to not just close the exit. We must also find a way to redirect that energy into the relationship.

The best way I’ve found to do that is by using “Caring Behaviors”.

A “Caring Behavior” is something your partner has expressed to you that makes her or him feel loved.

In last week’s post, Katie made a “Behavior Change Request” of Frank. That request  pointed to a “Caring Behavior” – something that, when done, makes Katie feel loved.

Her request was, “Next month, will you choose one weekend and plan something for us to do together?”

When Frank gave up his weekend golf to plan a suprise weekend with Katie, it was a positive experience for them both.

Katie felt loved, and her response made Frank feel like he could move closer to her.

It doesn’t help to just close your exits. You must redirect that energy into the relationship in a way that works for you both. That’s when reconnection can occur.

How about you in your relationship? Perhaps you can relate to Frank?

Is it scary for you to think about giving up something you love on a slim chance that you might be able to make your partner feel loved?

I can relate!

So begin with small steps.

There was wife who would go jogging every day at lunch, and then again after work. She learned that jogging was an exit – a way she was avoiding intimacy.

A small step for her was to continue jogging during her lunch break, but stop jogging in the evening in order to spend that time with her husband. 

She didn’t give up jogging altogether. She just turned some of that energy back into the relationship. They spent time using some of the Dialogue tools they were learning in therapy. It was a step in the right direction.

Small steps…

So closing the exits is not about giving up something. It’s about getting the love you’ve always wanted!

Instead of leaving the relationship, identify your defenses, call your exits what they are, close them, and redirect all that good energy into your relationship.

You’ll be glad you did!

Need help? Reach out to me. I do coaching with couples all over the world through video conferencing.

Also…

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my weekly post in the form below. My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning!

Need a marriage resurrection? How to go from “flatlined” to “fully-alive”

Wendy and Tom’s relationship was as passionate as it gets.

At least it started out that way.

When they were dating, they were crazy in love. At work, the hours dragged on for an eternity until they could finally be together in the evening.

Then, when they were finally together, they honestly didn’t know where the time went.

It didn’t matter what they did, just being together was enough.

They would often stay up till the wee hours talking, never running out of things to say.

Can you relate? Most of us started out very much like this.

But then came the Power Struggle Stage.

After they were married, and after the chemical rush faded, Wendy and Tom felt “the love hangover”.

In the Power Struggle Stage you wake up to the reality that you’ve married someone “different” from you.

That sounds trite, but during the Romantic Stage, you unwittingly gave yourself up for a time, because you were intoxicated and fused with this person who made you feel whole.

They could do no wrong. And it was easy to see things “his way” or “her way”.

When you’re in love, you are enmeshed and under the illusion that “we’re so alike” and “we both like the same things”.

Psychologists call this SYMBIOSIS. In plant life it’s a good thing. But not so in relationships.

SYMBIOSIS is pleasurable during the Romantic Stage, but becomes painful in the Power Struggle Stage.

SYMBIOSIS is where couples get stuck, wound each other, and end up SELF-ABSORBED on both sides.

Thus the Power Struggle.

SYMBIOSIS says,

“You and I are one, and I am the one.”

For a couple to really connect and move from the Power Struggle to Mature Love there must be what experts call DIFFERENTIATION.  

DIFFERENTIATION is what dissolves SYMBIOSIS and enables a couple to connect.

DIFFERENTIATION happens when couples allow space for each partner to be who they are and to be fully embraced in their differences.

Soooo much easier said than done!

Tom was shocked the first time Wendy said she didn’t want to ride with him on his motorcycle one Saturday morning.

Deeply disappointed, he sped off on a long ride by himself. Wendy felt abandoned.

Wendy didn’t know how to respond when Tom wanted to watch sports in the evening instead of talking with her.

Now it felt like he was bored with her. This made her angry, because she did not see herself as a boring person. “Why is he doing this?!”

Wow! What happened?

The SYMBIOSIS that was so PLEASURABLE during the Romantic Stage is now terribly PAINFUL during the Power Struggle Stage.

Can you relate?

This is when many couples either break up or seek help.

Tom and Wendy held out, hoping things would change, but secretly they both wanted out of the relationship.

For months they fought about everything. Things went on and on, unresolved.

Until one day the fighting stopped.

What?

Yes, everything settled down. Emphasis on “settled”.

Like a lot couples Windy and Tom settled.  They came to what you might call a truce. A truce involves a cease fire.

A cease fire is not the end of the war. It only means you’re not shooting at each other right now.

But hey, we’re not fighting so much now. That’s good. Right?

Well…

What was really going on?

Wendy and Tom were now stuck in symbiosis, locked in a parallel marriage.  They’re still together, but all their needs are now being met outside the relationship.

They’ve settled.

Deep inside the unresolved anger still smoldered, slowly smothering whatever feelings of love were left.

Tom and Wendy began looking elsewhere to find those feelings of full-aliveness that were lost and missing in their relationship.

Human beings are hungry for connection, and all of us long for the feeling of being fully-alive that comes through connection with our intimate partner.

When you are in a relationship that’s not close, the pain of feeling that disconnection will drive you to seek feelings of full-aliveness elsewhere.

You’ll begin looking for that chemical rush in countless “exits” from the relationship. Anything to dull the pain and feel alive again.

Some legit. Some not-so.

Think hobbies, work, friends, extreme sports, gaming, a bit too much wine in the evening, Netflix binging, pornography, an affair.

Tom began spending more time playing sports and hanging out with his motorcycle friends, and Wendy started going on vacations with her girlfriends.

Things were more peaceful outwardly, but underneath this apathy, was a growing, silent contempt for each other.

Contempt of course is the biggest predictor of relationship failure.

In Wendy and Tom’s case, their feelings flatlined.

“I can’t deny my feelings. I don’t love him any more.”

“She’s done everything she can to kill my love. Now I just don’t feel anything for her.”

“I’m not mad any more. I just want out.”

Honestly, I’d rather see couples at each others’ throats than in this place.

Anger is just the “other side” of passionate love.

So, when two angry partners reconnect…bam!!

That anger is transformed into passionate love. I’ve seen that happen more times than I can count.

It’s a process that happens through Dialogue and when it happens, it happens in a flash.

It’s like a combination lock. You keep hitting the right numbers until one finally opens everything up. Breakthrough!

Anger is a sign that someone still wants the relationship. And conflict can be a good indication that you’re with the best person that can help you grow and heal.

Anger is an emotion that occurs when something we value is being violated or lost.

The key word here is “value”.

Both Tom and Wendy were no longer angry, and in their case that meant they no longer valued the relationship.

They were done. Flatlined.

When there’s zero emotion, the relationship may seem more peaceful, but in reality it’s six-feet under.

What if the feelings of love have ceased to exist? Passion has breathed its last? Romance has given up the ghost?

What if the love heartbeat has flatlined and the marriage is six-feet under? Can it be resurrected?

Absolutely!

Through Imago Dialogue, Wendy and Tom began to find the safety needed to reconnect on a deeper level.

Through the process, they began to move from symbiosis and self-absorption to differentiation and connection.

I love the Imago process, because it ALWAYS WORKS. If it doesn’t work, it’s because somewhere we failed to work the process.

Through the Dialogue, Wendy and Tom began to re-image each other as different, as someone in pain, defensive because of wounds from childhood, rather than “an insensitive person trying to hurt me”.

I’ve written in more detail about the Dialogue process here, and here.

Along with the Dialogue, Wendy and Tom also did what Harville Hendrix calls the Caring Behaviors Exercise.

I call it…

CARING BEHAVIORS EXERCISE

And it’s all about…

Hacking your brain chemistry to rekindle your feelings for each other and create a safety zone for a deeper connection.

And here’s how it goes:

1. Both of you, make a list using the phrase, “I feel loved and cared about when you…”

OBJECTIVE: To share with each other specifics about what you want, what pleases you, what your partner could do that will make you feel loved and valued.

Make this list under three categories.

(1) What your partner used to do that pleased you.

(2) What your partner does now that pleases you.

(3) What you’ve always wanted but never asked for.

These may be very private fantasies but should not be a present source of conflict.

Here are some examples:

make me coffee in the morning, call me from work just to check in, tell me I’m doing a good job, help me with my chores around the house, spend quality time talking with me, take a shower with me, compliment me on how I look, give me a back rub, want to have sex with me, bring me an unexpected gift, cuddle without having to have sex.

2. Indicate the importance of each item with an A, B or C, with A being most important.

3. Exchange lists. Put an X by item you are not willing to do right now, making the list conflict free.

4. Commit to do these things for each other randomly at least three times a day over the next two months.

When these “caring behaviors” are done regularly, your lower brain (brain stem and limbic system) gets reprogrammed and begins to see your partner as a source of pleasure rather than a source of pain.

That’s when the chemistry gets rebooted and the romantic feelings revive!

Even when your feelings are COMPLETELY DEAD?

YES! That’s what happened to Tom and Wendy!

They moved from the Power Struggle to the Mature Love Stage.

It was hard but they did it. Because they kept on doing these caring acts.

Tom said, it felt “fake” at first. Because he felt nothing for Wendy.

But as he went against what he felt, and did these caring acts day after day, the flame in his heart for Wendy reignited. Before long the feelings of love he had for her returned.

For Wendy it took longer because she had a hard time trusting, not really believing that Tom would keep it up.

When Tom was asked what motivated him to keep it up, he said,

“The more I did these things for Wendy, the better I felt. The better I felt, the more I wanted to even outdo what I had done before. It was like a snowball effect growing stronger each week.

Why is this?

Modern brain science tells us this amazing fact:

Whenever you do a kind act for someone else, your lower brain thinks you’re doing it for YOU!

What?! That’s right.

And that’s why it feels so good!

Tom is living proof of this!

Not only does it rekindle your love, it will snap you out your depression.

The famous psychologist Alfred Adler of the early 1900’s prescribed his “14-day cure plan” to a woman who was depressed assuring her it would work if she just followed the plan.

“So what’s the plan?” She asked.

He told her it was very simple.

“Just do one thing for someone else every day for 14 days. At the end of that time your depression will be gone.”

She said,”Why should I do something for someone else? No one ever does anything for me.”

With a smile Dr. Adler responded, “Well, maybe it will take you 21 days.”:-)

Modern relationship science affirms that Adler was on to something.

Doing these caring acts for your partner will change you own brain chemistry, helping you to rise up out of the dumps and experience new hope for your relationship.

It will do the same for your partner, resurrecting feelings of love and creating a safety zone in the relationship where you can connect like never before.

That’s what happened to Tom and Wendy.

What about you? Are you in a relationship that has flatlined? In need of a resurrection?

Get to a place where you can have Safe Dialogue and implement this Rekindling Exercise.

And, like Tom and Wendy, watch your relationship be resurrected – from “flatlined to fully-alive”.

Until next week,
Chuck

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The secret that will reignite passion in your relationship

Has your relationship has lost some of it's sizzle?

Or worse yet, do you feel like the flame in your relationship is about to go out? Yikes!

Here is one way that is guaranteed to rekindle, not only your partner’s passion for you, but your passion for your partner as well. This is a twofer!

There is a secret about your partner, that, if you can discover it, it will cause them, over time, to fall madly in love with you.

Sometimes we refer to it as your partner’s love language. In short it’s whatever makes your partner feel loved. 

And here’s a clue:

It's not what you think it is! It's what she (or he) thinks it is!

That may sound trite, but that’s where most of us mess up. 

We assume we know and we’re offended when our efforts to show love don’t produce the desired results.

So how do I discover that secret? One word: LISTEN.

Again, I’m not trying to be trite. Listening is a skill that few of us have. Recent research claims that in an average conversation, we only hear 17% of what our partner is saying. 

Why is that? I know in my relationship it’s because I can easily be triggered by my wife’s first few words, and then I  start “reloading”.

At that point I’m not listening to her, I’m listening to me!

Here's the secret: Do caring acts that speak your partner's love language.

Gary Chapman did us all a favor when he wrote The Five Love Languages. If you don’t know your partner’s love language you’re missing golden opportunities to hit the bull’s eye when it comes to making her or him feel loved.
 
Nice things you do are nice, but when you do something nice in her love language it ignites her heart. So waste no more time. Here’s a list from Chapman’s book. Use this simple summary to ask what your partner’s love language is:
 
 1. Words of Affirmation – when words of appreciation, telling me I’m doing a good job, make me feel warm inside and I feel like I’m finally getting from you what I’ve always wanted.
 
2. Quality Time – when you want to spend time focused on me alone. Husbands, this means when you take her for a walk along the shore, don’t bring your fishing pole (or your phone, ouch!)
 
3. Receiving Gifts – I light up when you remember me with a small gift that says “I was thinking about you.”
 
4.  Acts of Service – When you help me with my day-to-day chores or responsibilities, I feel more loved than when you bring flowers or say nice things or anything else.
 
5. Physical Touch – OK I know. Almost every man says that does it for me! But hold on, we’re talking about non-sexual touch; holding hands, a hand on the shoulder, a back rub. I feel especially loved when I feel your touch.

What is your partner's love language?

My lovely wife’s LL is Acts of Service. I can bring her flowers and she’s not impressed. I can shower her with words of affirmation and she feels like, “Words are cheap.”

But there have been times when we’ve been in a heated stand-off, and I’ll ask myself what project is she working on in our patio garden. 

Then before I try to resolve our conflict. I’ll just go out, pick up a shovel and start working on that project, and seriously, it’s not ten minutes before I feel her giving me a hug from behind and whispering in my ear, “I’m sorry.” 

Doing caring acts that target your partner’s love language softens their heart and ignites their passion.

One more tip...watch for "droppings"

It’s not just knowing your partner’s love language, it’s listening every day to hints she or he “drops”, most times unknowingly.
 
I know of a husband who heard his exhausted wife say, “If only I could have one Saturday to sleep in and not have to deal with the kids.”
 
He was listening and saw his opportunity. 
 
The next Saturday morning, he got up early, sneaked out of bed, woke the kids up, quietly dressed them, left her a sweet note, then off they went to MacDonald’s for breakfast. Two hours later he came home and said, “Surprise!”
 
To say she felt loved is an understatement.
 

If you and I will do these kinds of caring acts, randomly and regularly, there will be no lacking in passion for each other.

Give it a try and let me know how it works in the comment section below. 

Until next week…

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