Dealing with the silent killer of your marriage relationship

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Everyone said Stacey and Eric’s relationship was the perfect match.

Their story shows how a silent killer called the “Still Face” almost ended their marriage.

The “Still What”?

Dr. Edward Tronick’s “Still Face Experiment” shows how an infant becomes anxious when her mother’s face becomes “still” rather than responsive.

This same anxiety results when we give each other the “Still Face” in adult relationships.

If you haven’t seen the experiment, click here to view it.

The “Still Face Experiment” demonstrates how we are truly designed to be connected in a relationship.

It affirms, that from very early on, we all long for someone to be interested in us and curious about what we are experiencing.

And, of course, this is one of the big expectations we bring into our marriage.

When we experience the “Still Face” from our marriage partner, it can rupture our connection and kill our relationship.

That’s what happened to Stacey and Eric. (I have permission to tell their story, but their names and some of their story details have been changed to protect their identity).

It seemed like a match made in heaven. Eric was a college rock-star and Stacey was star-struck.

Of all the girls that flocked around him, he chose Stacey. So, after college, they got married and set off together on life’s adventure.

Although Eric got a “real job”, he didn’t leave his music behind. He continued to play in a band and to build his collection of vintage guitars, amps, and vinyl records.

He expected that Stacey would be just as excited about that as he was. After all, this was how they started out. Right?

But, as it turned out, Stacey was not really “all that into music”.

What?!

That’s right. It was fun to be one of his “groupies” in college, but she had moved on from that.

When the romantic chemicals were flowing, Stacey went along with everything Eric wanted to do. Both of them were oblivious to any differences between them.

But after they were married, differences began to surface and a power struggle began.

Eventually, Stacey felt she couldn’t compete with Eric’s love for music.

And every time she voiced her disapproval, he withdrew more and more into the music. She felt betrayed and unloved.

Secretly, she felt like leaving him.

When complaining didn’t work, she resorted to the silent killer I’m referring to. She gave him the “Still Face” whenever he talked about his music.

Every time he would hear a song he liked and wanted to share it with her, she would go silent or walk out of the room.

It was like sticking a knife in his heart again and again. But he couldn’t talk to her about it.

Eric had always wanted someone to share his love of music, and he thought that Stacey was the one who would always do that. He described her lack of interest in what he loved as “a rejection to the very core”.

This left Eric in a terrible place. He felt that to have a relationship with Stacey meant that he could never enjoy the thing in life he was most passionate about.

Secretly, he felt like leaving her as well.

So what’s a couple to do?

The Couple’s Dialogue of course.

And as we went through it, defenses were lowered, and here’s what happened.

What Stacy discovered about Eric’s reality:

Eric felt the rejection of his music was a rejection of him.

He grew up in a home where he learned to “fend for himself” and was mostly alone. Getting lost in his music was a place where he didn’t feel the loneliness and where he felt fully alive.

He always longed for someone he could share this passion with. He thought Stacey would be that person.

The “Still Face” triggered deep feelings of rejection, and Eric’s defense was to detach from the relationship and lose himself in his world of music – his happy place.

Through the Couple’s Dialogue Stacey discovered that Eric wasn’t abandoning her. He was simply trying to find a place where he didn’t feel the sting of rejection. And that place was his music.

What Eric discovered about Stacey’s reality:

Stacey felt like Eric’s guitar was “the other woman”.

At first Eric thought that was ridiculous. The Couple’s Dialogue process helped Eric see that she wasn’t kidding. This was no joke. This WAS her reality.

Eventually it made sense to Eric why she could not be happy about his passion for music. How could she be OK with him “bringing another woman into their home”?

As we went further, Eric began to see that…

It wasn’t his love for music that hurt Stacey. It was his exit from the relationship that triggered her childhood feelings of abandonment.

Stacey wasn’t giving the still face to be mean. She was hurting. It’s hurt people who hurt people.

Eric moved from a place of judgement to empathy. And that changed everything.

Turns out, neither of their realities were wrong. They were just different.

Connection is what we’re all looking for.

Eric could see that it was a connection with Stacey he was longing for, not the music. The music was simply an escape from the pain of disconnection.

His music was a substitute for real intimacy. It was an illusion of intimacy that, in the end, was very empty.

There’s a big lesson in this for all of us…

Full-aliveness does not come from pursuing our passions. It comes from connecting with our intimate partner.

Then the full-aliveness from that connection can overflow into the things we are passionate about as we pursue them together.

Stacey saw that the “Still Face” was blocking her ability to connect with Eric.

Eric saw that using music as an exit from the relationship was blocking his ability to connect with Stacey.

As they moved toward each other, a connection occurred between them.

In the safety of that connection, where Stacey did not feel Eric would abandon her, she began to grow in her interest and curiosity about what Eric experienced through music.

This felt like love to Eric. And it was healing.

As Stacey became curious about Eric’s world (rather than giving him the Still Face), she began to explore a whole new world of wonder she had been missing.

And, as you might imagine, now Eric would rather be with Stacey than with his guitar. 🙂

Imagine that!

Are you guilty of giving the “Still Face” to your partner? Does your partner give it to you?

Use the Couple’s Dialogue to discover your partner’s reality. You can print it out by clicking here.

If you need help, contact me and I’ll walk you through it.

Even if it feels like your partner is trying to hurt you, you’ll discover that what they really want is to connect with you!

And when that connection happens, there will be no more Still Face!

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Author: Chuck

Chuck Starnes is a relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples find the safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness they are looking for together. He also helps organizations become more productive by improving relationship skills.

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