Is it marriage incompatibility…or do your differences have a deeper meaning?

Like many couples, you may be asking…

“How did I marry the most incompatible person on the planet?”

“Why could I not see who this person really was?!

“How did something so beautiful turn so ugly?!”

Before you lose hope, consider the fact that this experience is NORMAL to some degree with most couples.

Also, consider the possibility that your differences may have a deeper meaning and purpose.

marriage incompatibility

We are so much ALIKE!

(The story of symbiosis and romantic love)

Most marriages begin with  pretty intense romantic feelings. This is a season where you actually feel like you and your partner are “one soul and two bodies”, sharing the same beliefs, values, tastes, and desires.

The term for this emotional state is “symbiosis”. During the romantic stage of the relationship symbiosis is pleasurable. You feel like you’re in heaven.

The problem is that, unconsciously, you are assuming that your partner is like you.

Symbiosis is the illusion that your partner shares your thoughts and feelings.

  • You believe that when you are in love you must think, feel, and act alike.
  • You’re certain that it’s not possible to function as an individual and still be in a relationship.
  • You assume you can’t operate with clear boundaries and still be connected.

I know this may sound absurd, but that’s what goes on unconsciously.

And it’s like heaven as long as this  romantic symbiosis lasts and you believe that you and your partner are the same!

But, after a while, some clues that your partner is actually different from you begin to surface.

marriage incompatibility

We are so DIFFERENT!

(The story of symbiosis and the power struggle)

“What happened?! Why did you have to change?! Why can’t we go back to the way it was when we were ‘in love’?!”

When the symbiotic state of romantic love is disturbed by these indications of difference, marriage partners become anxious and reactive. Conflict occurs as they try desperately to retain the romantic illusion.

  • You get frustrated or irritated when your partner can’t read your thoughts.
  • You get disappointed because your partner doesn’t do things right.
  • You criticize your partner to get her or him to be more like you.
  • You become argumentative and dogmatic because “there’s only one way to think”.
  • You use guilt or shame in an attempt to get your partner to do things your way.
  • You say your partner is like you when he or she does something you like.

This negativity and coercion only make matters worse, and you soon feel like your romantic dream has morphed into your worst nightmare!

Symbiosis in the romantic stage is like heaven, but symbiosis in the power struggle is like hell.

The wish to maintain the romantic illusion is so powerful, and its rupture so terrifying that a couple will start to unconsciously annihilate each other through many forms of negation, negativity, as well as verbal and even physical abuse.

As things progress you realize you both have married someone who has the worst traits of your parents. We call this your Imago. You ask yourself, “Could I have possibly chosen someone more incompatible even if I had tried?!”

That’s when we start thinking about “separation on the basis of incompatibility”.

But are you really incompatible? Or do your differences have a deeper purpose?

Marriage Compatibility

Actually, we are a PERFECT match!

(The story of differentiation and connection)

At this point a new commitment is required.

A commitment to move from an unconscious to a conscious relationship. To move from symbiosis and self-absorption to differentiation and connection.

If symbiosis in the power struggle seems like hell, differentiation will dissolve it and make your relationship feel like heaven again.

But you must surrender your symbiotic wish, and engage in the process of differentiation.

Here’s what can happen with differentiation:

  • You move into a new paradigm in which your relationship has priority over your individual needs.
  • But paradoxically, when you serve the needs of your relationship, the relationship serves your needs.
  • You will discover that your differences do have a deeper purpose: healing and growth.
  • Your relationship problems become maps that identify the places you have been wounded and need healing.
  • You discover that it’s the partner you’re with right now, your “Imago match”, that offers you the greatest opportunity to heal your childhood wounds and grow the underdeveloped parts of yourself. To separate from this person means that you miss this opportunity, and end up taking all your problems with you into your next relationship.
  • When you move from negativity to curiosity, you discover the amazing world of your partner. Your partner is not who you thought they were. Turns out they are even more amazing than you imagined.
  • Both of you are enormously enriched when you accept the fact that you live in two different worlds, and that you look at everything through different lenses.
  • You are no longer imprisoned by a mono-centric view of life. And this transforms other areas of your life – your parenting, your life work, your community involvement.
  • In sharing your stories with each other, you co-create a new story in which you actually co-create each other. You become a much better person together than you would be by separating.
  • And, finally, meeting each other at this level restores the feeling of original connection. And that is what heals you and restores your feelings of joyful aliveness.

The Imago Dialogue process can help you and your partner discover that your problem is not really incompatibility. And you will see that your differences really do have a deeper meaning!

Let me encourage you to find an Imago therapist in your area to help if you need it. Or contact me and I’ll walk you through it.

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Is self-rejection causing problems in your marriage? It’s more common than you think

Sam and Anna were not happy in their marriage. One big reason was that self-rejection was blocking Anna’s ability to receive love from Sam.

“No matter what I do to try and make her happy, nothing is ever good enough!” Sam complained in frustration.

Anna not only deflected Sam’s attempts to show her love, she often criticized those attempts as not being good enough.

If Sam commented on how good she looked, she pointed out her flaws. If Sam went out of his way to buy her something she liked, there would always be something not quite right about it.

Eventually Sam stopped even trying.

What was going on?! How did Sam and Anna go from such a romantic and passionate relationship they had in the beginning to this place of unhappiness?

Part of their problem was Anna’s self-rejection.

1. Self-rejection is a universal problem

Everyone rejects or hates some aspect of themselves often without even knowing it.

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt wrote in their book Receiving Love,

“Self rejection is the most universal and least recognized problem in our lives. It is the source of all our difficulties in giving and receiving love.”

2. Self-rejection begins in childhood

You may be rejecting a part of yourself you aren’t even aware of.  It could be related to your feelings, your thinking, your sensing, or your talents.

You probably aren’t aware of it because your self-rejection began in childhood. And now it’s preventing you as an adult from being a fully alive, whole person, capable of fully giving and receiving love.

When Anna was little, her dad was an alcoholic and was often away on business. Her memory of him, whenever he was home, was that he was either quiet and withdrawn or drunk and explosive in anger.

Her mom was a “go along to get along” kind of person and Anna didn’t really have a close connection with her either.

Anna felt she was not allowed to express emotions of happiness or sadness. Her mother was stoic, always trying to do the right thing, but never shared her feelings about anything.

Whenever Anna expressed any feelings or desires she had, she got the message that she was “too emotional and needy”.

The message was “having needs is dangerous” and this belief was deeply impressed on her tender, young, unconscious mind.

Growing up she learned, “You can only be safe by NOT having needs”.

This caused Anna to reject the part of herself that experienced emotions as she was growing up. She learned to deny the part of her that needed normal, loving affirmations. She learned to withdraw and minimize her reactions in order to protect herself.

Children learn quickly to do whatever they have to do to survive their wounding experience.

This rejection of her “emotional self” also resulted in a loss of joy and feelings of aliveness.

3. Self-rejection results in a “receiving deficiency” in your marriage

So now, as an adult in a marriage relationship, those old fears of “being needy” were triggered at times when Sam would make a loving gesture toward her.

As a result, Anna had trouble accepting the good things that Sam offered. Her self-rejection had become a “receiving deficiency” in her marriage.

Because she was not aware of her inability to receive love, she continued to erect a big barrier to keep Sam and his efforts to love her out.

This was so hurtful to Sam that he eventually lost hope and was ready to give up on the relationship.

4. Self-rejection results in criticism of your partner

Anna’s criticism of Sam’s attempts to love her was clearly a reflection of how harsh she was on herself.  

Anna had learned to hate and reject that emotional part of herself that had needs. So, at times when Sam’s actions threatened to awaken that part of her, it was met with harsh criticism.

Anna’s self-criticism manifested in criticism toward Sam.

That made it difficult if not impossible for her to be nurtured by Sam’s loving gestures.

5. Self-rejection results in an inability to give love

Ironically Anna expressed that she felt like she was giving more than she was receiving in the relationship. She was unable to see how she was receiving a lot more than she could acknowledge.

She also discovered that you can’t give what you don’t receive. You can’t love others if you’re drawing from an empty tank. Anna felt like she was giving so much because she was “running on fumes”. But in reality she had as much trouble giving love as she did receiving love.

In order for Anna to be able to give love, she had to learn to receive love.

Dealing with self-rejection

Anna took three steps deal with her self-rejection and begin to find wholeness and self-acceptance in her relationship with Sam.

1. Receive your partner’s empathy

Through the Imago Therapy process, Anna began to receive empathy from Sam.

One amazing purpose for marriage is that our partner (who is often perceived as causing our pain) is the one who can best heal our pain!

In the Parent-Child Dialogue process, Sam was able to help Anna get in touch with memories of what it was like living at home with parents who were either raging or absentee. She was able to pinpoint times when she was shamed for having needs.

Sam saw that Anna had a valid reason she could not receive his love. When Sam was able to tell her that she made sense, they were able to connect the dots and understand how Anna’s childhood had affected her ability to receive love. She discovered how it was all related to her rejection of her emotional self.

Sam listened as Anna revisited her fears. And his empathy helped her to begin dissolving those fears and feel safer with him.

When Sam declared to Anna in the dialogue, “You deserve to have these needs met”, it helped her began to open her heart toward him.

2. Turn your criticisms into requests

Looking behind her criticism, Anna discovered the part of herself she was rejecting.  

Criticism is merely a “wish in disguise”. Discovering what that wish will help you identify the part of yourself that you’ve rejected.

Anna’s request of Sam was that he not just “do things” to try to make her feel loved. She requested that he dialogue with her and allow her to make a request for what she needed or wanted. That would help her feel safe to open up and receive it.

So Anna’s criticism of Sam for just doing things for her without sensitivity to her was turned into a request to let her ask for what she needed.

Learning to ask Sam for what she really needed was the biggest step of growth toward wholeness that Anna cound take…and the hardest.

It was hard because she was going up against years of programmed responses telling her that to have a need or an emotion is dangerous.

But, as she began to turn her criticisms into requests, there was a breakthrough that enabled Anna and Sam to connect more deeply with each other.

3. Share regular appreciations for efforts your partner is making

The third thing Anna and Sam did was to share regular appreciations with each other.

Sharing an appreciation for something has a powerful effect that literally changes our brain.

When we’re in pain, we become self-absorbed and we can only see things our partner is doing that cause us pain.

But when we share appreciations for the positive things our partner is doing, we break out of that self-absorption.

Our lower brain begins to see our partner as a source of pleasure instead of pain – as a place of safety instead of danger.

Anna and Sam shared a minimum of three appreciations with each other every day using the “Mirroring An Appreciation” tool. As a result, new brain pathways were developed enabling Anna to receive these and other daily affirmations from Sam.

With this breakthrough, they were on their way toward a new path toward healing and wholeness together.

What about you?

Do you have trouble telling your partner what you really need?

When your partner does things that mean love to you do you still feel dissatisfied?

Is it difficult for you to accept gifts, complements, or kind gestures from your partner?

If so, let me encourage you to follow Anna’s and Sam’s example.

Overcome your self-rejection by learning to receive and give love that heals.

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How to resolve marriage conflicts when one partner is “too logical” and the other “too emotional”

Jim and Patty’s marriage was in conflict. Jim was a logical, “black and white” kind of thinker while his wife Patty was more sensitive to emotions and in touch with her feelings.

They say opposites attract, and this was never truer than in the case of Jim and Patty.

Their conflicts usually ended with Jim arguing his point until Patty finally gave in to his “logic”. Patty would react emotionally, and she never felt like her opinion mattered.

For years, Patty went along with this until one day to Jim’s complete shock and surprise, she asked for a separation.

That’s when they sought help. Here’s what they said.

Patty: “Jim thinks he’s right about everything, and he tries to make me feel stupid.”

Jim: “I manage my team at work. I reason with them, and they all get my logic and everything goes smoothly. I can’t understand why Patty ‘doesn’t get it’ and it frustrates me because she’s so ruled by her emotions.”

Patty didn’t feel heard. And Jim felt like everybody in the world understood his logic but Patty.

What is the problem here?

Jim is a “separate knower” and Patty is a “connected knower”.

The theory of separate and connected knowing states that there are two different ways we know and learn. I’m no expert in epistemology, but I find this simple insight very helpful with couples.

SEPARATE KNOWING

What is “separate knowing”? Think Socrates. The scientific method. That kind of empirical, objective, linear thinking that western civilization is largely based on. That’s what’s meant by “separate knowing”.

Separate…as in detached from the object being studied. It’s the critical thinking approach.

It’s an approach that becomes adversarial and competitive, because it assumes that a group of random people can understand and describe a reality in the same objective way.

It has an attitude which says, “Prove it.” It holds that truth exists independently of who is doing the observation.

Nothing wrong with that!

The advancements in modern science and technology that we enjoy today are the result of brilliant minds engaged in “separate knowing”.

Jim is a separate knower. And who do separate knowers usually marry?

You got it! Connected knowers.

Separate and Connected Knowing 2

CONNECTED KNOWING

Patty is a “connected knower”.

Connected knowing adds to the knowing process things like intuition, emotion, and empathy. This kind of knowing is not detached and uninvolved.

It’s the kind of knowing that actively affirms the person you are attempting to understand. In marriage, it’s the kind of knowing where you seek to empathize with your partner.

While holding fast to your own view of reality, you stretch into your partner’s world to see and understand her or his point of view as fully as possible.

At first, Jim thought this was nonsense. He claimed that Patty couldn’t see truth clearly because her feelings distorted her perspective.

Connected knowers are often misunderstood in this way. Connected knowing is often referred to as “soft thinking”, and is not valued as much as clear, logical evaluation.

But connected knowing, when done well, uses the knower’s intuition, emotion and empathy as part of the knowing process, leading to even better independent judgments.

Connected knowing views the truth as a process that is evolving and co-created by those who are participating in it.

It realizes that observations from a detached, objective position will not necessarily result in an unbiased view of truth.

In marriage, you need your partner’s perspective to arrive at a fuller, more unbiased view of your reality as a couple.

Ok, enough theory. How did this help Jim and Patty?

THE COUPLE’S DIALOGUE

We used the Couple’s Dialogue to first help Jim see Patty’s perspective. Then to help Patty see Jim’s perspective. (Click on the link to print out the Couple’s Dialogue guide for your own use).

Through the Couple’s Dialogue Jim began to suspend his own critical judgement long enough to enter into Patty’s world.

Mirroring

The first step was for Jim to “mirror” Patty (repeat back to her exactly what she said).

It went like this:

Patty: “When you argue your point, I feel like you’re not seeing everything. I feel like you have your mind made up and I have no room in the relationship. No room to be who I am and to have my own opinions.”

As Jim mirrored Patty, he began to see things he hadn’t seen before.

After mirroring, Jim checked for accuracy: “Did I get it?”

Then he turned on his curiosity with the question: Is there more about that?”

That powerful question that ignited curiosity in Jim’s brain also made it safe for Patty to get in touch with her feelings.

As Patty felt safe for the first time in a long time, she began to share how her childhood wounds were being triggered by this feeling of not being heard and valued.

She began to get in touch with thoughts she’d never thought, and feelings she’d never felt.

Patty: “Yes, it reminds me of when I was little and I felt like my dad never listened to me. And mom was so busy I felt invisible.”

As Patty added this meaning to the collective consciousness between them, you could see a shift happening in Jim.

Suddenly he realized there was so much more going on in their relationship than meets the eye.

He began to see that his “separate knowing” was limited, leaving him with just his perspective, and blinding him to Patty’s.

Validation

The second step in the Couple’s Dialogue is validation.

Instead of seeing Patty as emotional and illogical, the dialogue helped Jim to see that her feelings made sense.

Jim: “Patty, you make sense. Growing up you didn’t feel like your dad listened to you, and with your mom you felt invisible. It makes sense that when I don’t make room for your opinion, you would feel that way in our relationship.”

Mirroring and Validation brought Jim into a place of “connected knowing” intellectually, but it was the third part of the Couple’s Dialogue that helped them reconnect their hearts.

Empathy

Empathy is the third part of the Couple’s Dialogue.

Jim: “I can imagine feeling invisible, and feeling like your opinion doesn’t matter really hurts. And I can imagine the fear you have that this will never change and you’ll never get to be who you really are in our relationship.”

Jim was now fully experiencing connected knowing. As he saw what he hadn’t seen before, and felt feelings that he hadn’t felt before, there was a transformation that occurred.

Before this dialogue, he saw Patty as simply emotional and illogical. Now he was seeing her reality.

He was becoming aware that there were past experiences that affected the way she saw everything.

Connected knowing was helping Jim gain a fuller picture of their reality as a couple.

This was the beginning of a new relationship where they learned appreciate both “logic” and “feelings”.

In time Patty began to feel safer and more able to share her feelings with Jim.

And Jim discovered how enriched his perspective and his life can become if he engages in “connected knowing” with Patty’s help.

After Patty had talked and Jim mirrored her, it was Jim’s turn to talk. And Patty went through the Couple’s Dialogue steps with Jim of mirroring, validating, and empathizing.

Through the dialogue, Patty came to more fully appreciate Jim as a “separate knower”. Because he made it safe for her and engaged in “connected knowing” with her, she was able to see the value Jim brings to the relationship as the logical “separate knower” that he was.

What about you? Are you a separate knower? Are you a connected knower? Or, are you some of both?

How is the imbalance to one side or the other affecting your relationship?

Do you have a tendency to exalt your own way of knowing while putting down your partner’s?

It’s not a matter of one way being better than the other. Both ways of knowing are necessary to arrive at a more complete and unbiased view of realty.

So let’s learn from our partner how to resolve our marriage conflicts when one partner is “too logical” and the other “too emotional”.

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Build your dream marriage part 6: Rid your relationship of “invisible abuse”

Did you know that most marriage partners regularly abuse each other? And they do it without even realizing it.

What?!

That’s right. There is an “invisible abuse” that keeps us from having our dream marriage.

Experts tell us that any form of negativity in our relationship is emotionally abusive.

If we want to build our dream marriage, we must rid our relationship of NEGATIVITY which is “invisible abuse”!

The good news is that you and I can do it!

And, when we eliminate negativity in our marriage, we can then extend it beyond ourselves – to our children, our workplace, and our city – making the world a better place.

Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt wrote this:

“We now think of negativity as an emotional disease on the order of cancer. It is pervasively destructive and ultimately kills the relationship. But unlike cancer, negativity can be stopped in an instant. You can decide now to stop all negativity. Act on that decision and everything will change. To be blunt: negativity is invisible abuse and is an addiction of the human race. When you eliminate this invisible abuse in your primary relationship, then you eliminate it in your relationships with your children, your friends, and the broader world.  You become a person of peace!”

Negativity…

  • Ruptures connection
  • Stimulates anxiety
  • Eliminates joy

So, let’s get rid of it!

Here are three powerful steps to eliminate negativity, and rid your relationship of this “invisible abuse”.

Zero Negativity Pledge

1. Make a ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE.

Everything we achieve that is worthwhile begins with a commitment.

I’m asking you today to make a pledge to eliminate 100% of all negativity from your relationship.

You say, “Really? Get real, Chuck! Every relationship has negative issues to deal with. Not everything can be positive all the time.”

That’s for sure! But here’s the rub…

We can deal with all negative issues in a positive way, and thus completely eliminate negativity.

It’s also true that no one’s perfect. We will all inevitably fail at some point in our attempts to eliminate negativity. So the Zero Negativity Pledge includes several methods to repair the relationship when you don’t succeed.

How do we define negativity in a relationship?

Negativity is any transaction your partner experiences as a “put down”.

It’s any interaction that is experienced as devaluing or negating.

Negativity may be intense: criticism, shame, blame, deflection, disempowering, accusations, and contempt.

Negativity may be mild: in your tone of voice, an eye roll, or silence (ever heard of the “silent treatment”?).

It may be intentional.  Or, it may be accidental.

But, negativity in ANY FORM will keep us from our dream marriage.

It’s like putting a drop of sewage in a clean glass of water. It’s only a drop, but it can contaminate the whole glass with harmful bacteria.

In the same way, even a small amount of negativity can toxify your entire relationship.

That’s why I’m asking us to make the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE.

But what if we disagree over what is negative?

There’s an easy way to identify negativity in your relationship…but you’re not going to like it.

You really want to know? OK.

If your partner says it’s negative it’s negative! Your partner is the authority.

Your partner is the “canary in the mine” alerting you to negativity.

Same is true for you. If your partner says or does anything that feels negative to you, then it’s negative!

So, here we go…

Click here and print out two copies of The Zero Negativity Pledge, one for you, and one for your partner.

Read it carefully and, when you’re ready, sign it!.

On the second page of the printout, you’ll find The Zero Negativity Repair Process, which gives you several ways to repair your relationship should you blow it.

Study it carefully, and decide ahead of time how you’re going to repair it when you fail. Because if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna need it!

The sign of a healthy relationship is how quickly you can repair it once your connection is ruptured.

Make the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE. And, if you would, please share your experience in the comment section below.

A second step to rid your relationship of “silent abuse” is…

Sharing Appreciations

2. Share four powerful appreciations with your partner each day.

Guess what happens to some couples when they stop all criticism and negative talk?

They have nothing to say!

When I was young I was told, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So, there were many times, I said “nothing at all”.

But this is a problem when we’re trying to eliminate negativity in our marriage.

When we’re addicted to negativity, it’s a hard habit to break, in part because we have to fill that space with something.

There is a tool I developed called “Four Powerful Appreciations” that can help.

Click here to print this tool out.

Here’s how it works.

Plan a moment with your partner four times a day…

  • when you first wake up
  • when you leave for the day
  • when you come home, and
  • before you go to bed

Easy to remember, right?

During these four crucial moments, find each other.

Then give each other a one-minute, full body hug while you take 30 seconds each to say to each other, “One thing I appreciate about you is…”

At first it may be hard to think of that many new things you appreciate about your partner.

But the more things you share that you appreciate about your partner, the more things you’ll see that you appreciate about your partner.

That’s the way it works.

But you’ve got to START, and then STAY WITH IT! Four times a day!

Soon negativity will be flushed out of the space between you by this constant influx of positivity.

And your partner’s lower brain…you know, the part that has a negativity bias…will start to see you as a source of positivity and pleasure rather than a source of negativity and pain.

This will go a long way toward building your dream marriage by increasing safety and the feeling of connection  in your relationship.

If you find it hard to do it four times a day, join the crowd! Most of us find it hard. So start with one…then two…then three, etc.

But START! And KEEP GOING! You’ll get there!

A third step to rid your relationship of “silent abuse” is…

3. Turn your criticism into a positive request.

Part of the ZERO NEGATIVITY journey is learning how to deal with negative issues in a positive way.

It helps to know that…

Negativity is simply a wish in disguise.

Samantha was critical of her partner, Paul.

Samantha: “You’re always late! I can never count on you to be on time!”

Using of “always” and “never” unfairly labels a person and assaults their character. It’s negative, and it’s abusive.

Through the Couple’s Dialogue, Samantha learned to express her frustration in the form of a positive request, rather than a negative criticism.

Samantha: “When you arrive late, I don’t feel like I’m valued, and it makes me feel sad. Then I get angry.”

Paul: “Let me see if I get what you’re saying. You said that when I arrive late, you don’t feel valued and it makes you sad and angry.

“Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

“Is there more about that?” (increasing curiosity)

Samantha continued sharing with the focus on what she felt, rather on what Paul did.

They continued the dialogue through the 3-fold process of mirroring, validating, and empathizing.

Paul relayed the message to Samantha that she made sense, that he could see where his being late would make her feel “not valued” (validation). He could also empathize with her feelings of sadness and anger.

Their defenses came down, and that made it safe enough for Samantha to share a request, and for Paul to hear the request and gladly grant it.

Samantha: “The next time you are going to be late, will you call me ahead of time and tell me when you will arrive?”

Paul was more than happy to do this.

This is how Samantha turned her criticism into a request.

What about you?

Can you see where negativity is “invisible abuse” in your relationship?

Will you take the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE… replace negativity with REGULAR APPRECIATIONS… and then, turn your criticisms into POSITIVE REQUESTS?

Here’s to taking another step toward our dream marriage!

Next week we’ll look at the 7th and final part of our series…

Build your dream marriage part 7: Learn to be honest rather than “nice”

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Build your dream marriage part 5: Break out of the prison of self-absorption

So, you fell madly in love, and you were certain that “this is the one!” Right?

But soon after you were married, “romantic love” faded, and now you feel like your partner is so self-absorbed!

Now, everything is all about your partner’s needs, wants, and desires! What gives?!

In a weak moment you might express it like this…

“You’re so selfish! All you can think about is what you need and want from me! And you never listen to me!”

Only to hear your partner respond like this…

“I’m selfish?!! What about you? All you can talk about is how I’m not meeting your needs!”

What’s happening is a very normal phenomenon called “symbiosis and self-absorption”.

This morning, my wife, Sandy “advised” me not to use technical terms. She said, “What does ‘symbiosis’ mean, anyway? I know it has to do with organisms who live happily together. But what are you talking about?”

Good question, Sandy!

Symbiosis, in a human relationship, is “a state where you have a limited capacity to understand and appreciate the subjectivity of the other person”.

It’s when you can only see your reality, and not your partner’s reality.

It’s when you believe your reality is the only true description of reality.

It’s where you’re convinced one person is right and the other is wrong! And I’ll bet you can guess who that might be! 🙂

Symbiosis is therefore a state where you’re BOTH self-absorbed.

It’s intensified when you insist that your partner see things the same way you do. When that happens, your partner responds by insisting you see things the way they do!

And that’s where couples get stuck.

What causes this mutual self-absorption, and is there a way to break out of this prison?

Consider two reasons we become self-absorbed. And then we’ll look at what we can do about it.

Differentiation in Marriage

1. Differences activate self-absorption

It sounds funny, but actually just discovering that your partner is DIFFERENT triggers self-absorption.

What?!

It’s that moment you realize your partner is different from you, different from your projections, different from your expectations.

Jeremy couldn’t believe it! After they were married, Marta stopped wanting to watch football with him.

Jeremy said, “It happened overnight. It’s like she’s changed and isn’t the same girl I married!

He was further blown away when she said that she never really liked football.

“Are you kidding me?!!”

Marta said, “When we were dating, we were so in love that we did a lot of things with each other. Now that we’re are married, many of those things have lost their appeal.”

What happened?

Did Marta suddenly change? No!

Marta hasn’t changed. She’s just different from the projections and expectations Jeremy had when they were dating.

Now she’s just being more of who she really is.

It’s important for Jeremy to realize that this is his opportunity to find out who Marta really is, and most importantly, that SHE IS DIFFERENT FROM HIM – a fact that was previously blocked by the rose-colored glasses of romantic love!

Unfortunately, this is when the Power Struggle begins – that ugly game of tug of war that couples play where they try to change each other back into the romantic illusions they had before.

When we first experience our partner as “different”, polarization results.

It happens because we fear that the slightest expression of difference will separate us. It’s that fear that causes us to avoid facing these differences, or be in denial of them.

As we avoid it, unresolved conflicts begin to build up. This dramatically increases that fear of being separated should those conflicts ever come out into the open.

Now we’re really stuck.

So discovering our differences is one reason we get stuck in this prison of mutual self-absorption.

There’s another reason.

Childhood Pain in Marriage

2. Childhood pain activates self-absorption

I remember when I was about 7 years old, I was going with my mom and dad to the lake to spend the day swimming and playing on the beach.

I was so excited as I looked forward to getting into the water, building sand castles, and buying a Snickers bar from the little concession stand on the beach!

But as we were getting out of the car someone slammed the car door on my hand!

My little 7-year old world of adventure ended right there, at least for the day.

In that moment of excruciating pain, nothing else mattered.  The beautiful water, the warm beach, the anticipation of a Snickers bar – it was all irrelevant.

This is a picture of how pain can trigger your self-absorption in a relationship.

Pain from your childhood is triggered by your partner. That pain can be intense. When that happens, you, like all of us, reconstruct the world in the service of the self.

What was once hopeful anticipation in the Romantic Stage vanishes!

The expectation that this person would meet all your needs is dashed!

This person is not only different from what you thought, now they’re pushing all your buttons!

In that excruciating pain you’re feeling, nothing else matters.  All the wonderful, amazing, and beautiful aspects of your partner are all now irrelevant.

All you’re aware of is the throbbing pain and wanting it to go away.

Ok, so I get it.

Discovering our DIFFERENCES and experiencing PAIN are two things that activate self-absorption.

So, how do I break out of this prison?

3. Differentiation and connection break the shackles of self-absorption

Differentiation is learning to see your partner as different and being OK with it.

This is essential, because you cannot be in a real relationship, or empathize with someone you do not see as separate from you.

Connection is what unlocks the prison door and sets you free to be focused on your partner rather than yourself.

The Imago Couple’s Dialogue is a powerful tool that can help facilitate differentiation and connection.

If you’re a regular reader, this tool is familiar to you.

Here’s how it works to help you move from symbiosis and self-absorption to differentiation and connection.

1) Mirror your partner’s words

Mirroring is simply listening and repeating back what your partner said, one thought at a time.

Jeremy: Marta, let me see if I got what you said. You said you don’t really like to watch football, and you were just watching it with me before because you wanted to be with me.

“Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

“Is there more about that?” (igniting curiosity)

Mirroring does two things.

It communicates value to your partner. It says, “You are important. And what you have to say is important. You matter.” And that feels good.

Mirroring also enables you regulate your reactions to your partner’s difference in order to begin integrating that “difference” into your relationship.

2) Validate your partner’s reality

This is where differentiation occurs – when you can validate your partner’s reality without giving up your own.

It might go something like this…

Jeremy: “When you say you don’t really like to watch football, and you were just watching it with me because you wanted to be with me, that makes sense. You said that football is not something you grew up loving like I did. So it makes sense that it doesn’t mean that much to you now.

“Is that the kind of validation you need?”

Validation facilitates differentiation.

Jeremy can now see Marta as different from him, while not letting that difference trigger defenses and disconnection.

He’s able to hold his reality (I LOVE to watch football) and hold Marta’s reality at the same time (Marta really doesn’t care that much about football.)

When differentiation occurs, connection is possible.

Jeremy, although he has to grieve his loss, he then accepts Marta for who she really is.

And Marta feels like there is room for her to be who she really is in the relationship. It’s a win – win!

3) Empathize with your partner’s feelings

This is where deeper connection occurs.

It might go like this…

Jeremy: “I can imagine that it feels bad, or maybe even controlling to be forced to do something you really don’t like.

When Marta feels like Jeremy is present with her in her pain or frustration, that’s when healing and deeper connection occurs.

And, as a bonus, sometimes this is where re-compensation occurs.

If Jeremy succeeds in empathizing with Marta, it’s possible that she might experience a new openness to watch football with Jeremy.

We resist most when we feel controlled. When that control is gone, we become free, and maybe even happy to make choices that make our partner happy.

“To watch or not to watch? That is the question.” (not really!)

The question is “Are you stuck in symbiosis and self-absorption?”

If so, there is a way out. It’s called differentiation and connection.

The Couple’s Dialogue can help you dissolve symbiosis, and break out of the prison of self-absorption.

Let me know if I can help you further!

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Build your dream marriage part 1: Reconnect your disconnected relationship

Has your dream marriage turned into a nightmare? Are you facing the future with a hopeless feeling that nothing in your relationship will change?

When you’ve been together for years, and you’ve tried everything, it’s so easy to just settle into “I guess this is just the way it’s going to be”.

Let’s take the next seven weeks to explore how we can stop settling and start building our dream marriage.

What is a dream marriage?  It’s a relationship where there are deep feelings of safety, connection, passion, and joyful aliveness.

Who wouldn’t want that?

But I’ve learned from experience, you won’t get there unless you change how you relate to each other.

Someone said (probably not Einstein), “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Jessie Potter said (she did, I googled it), “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

So for the next seven weeks, let’s talk about DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT!

“Let’s do what we’ve never done so we’ll see what we’ve never seen.” (I might have actually said that).

Here is the first of seven powerful steps we will take over the next seven weeks that will help us build our dream marriage!

STEP 1: RECONNECT YOUR DISCONNECTED RELATIONSHIP

Disconnection is the fundamental problem that keeps us from the relationship of our dreams.

It’s not poor communication per se, or differences we can’t reconcile, or conflicts we can’t resolve, or even problems we can’t overcome. You can conquer all these, and still feel just as disconnected.

Couples fight for one fundamental reason: They feel disconnected and don’t like it!

What’s the answer? Reconnecting your disconnected relationship of course. Connection is everything.

You won’t solve your marriage problems by talking about the problems.

Why?

Buried beneath every marriage problem is a hidden desire for connection.

That’s right. The great paradox is that your partner is a “pain in the neck” because he or she wants you. It’s as simple as that.

It’s connection that we all long for. If we get that, working through problems together is a piece of cake.

Let’s look at how the Imago Couples Dialogue helped Karissa and Doug, not just solve a problem, but reconnect their disconnected relationship.

BEFORE THE COUPLE’S DIALOGUE

dream-marriage-couple-connected

Karissa: “The problem is that Doug never helps me discipline the kids! I feel like I have to be the bad parent and he always gets to be the good guy!”

Before I could direct her to dialogue with Doug, she was already complaining to me. And then Doug jumped right in with his own reaction.

Doug: “Help you discipline?! What do you mean? You make every decision and you’re so controlling and overprotective. It’s going to ruin our children. And you want me to help with that?!!”

At first glance you see only the problem – what they’re fighting about. You don’t see their desire for connection.

Their desire for connection was buried deep beneath a flood of pain, negativity, and defensiveness.

Karissa’s and Doug’s self-absorption only allows them to see their own reality and not the reality of their partner. Doug sees her as critical and controlling. She sees him as never helping, and leaving her to do all the hard work with the kids.

And what does all this this criticism, labeling, and name calling result in? Feeling even more disconnected in their relationship.

That’s why trying to fix a relationship problem usually makes it worse. Because the problem is not the problem. The real problem is the feeling of being disconnected.

AFTER THE COUPLE’S DIALOGUE

The Imago Dialogue process went like this. After an appointment was made, and an appreciation was given by Karissa to Doug, she asked to share her frustration with him.

Doug’s role was to MIRROR, VALIDATE, and EMPATHIZE.

You can download this tool here.

(Note to self: Always ask for an appointment for a dialogue. Respect your partner’s boundaries. And always share an appreciation before sharing a frustration.)

MIRRORING

Karissa: “The problem is that you never help me discipline the kids. I feel like I have to be the bad parent while you always get to be the good guy.”

Doug: “What I hear you saying is that I never help you with the discipline of our children. And you feel like the bad parent while I always get to be the good parent.

“Did I get that? (checking for accuracy)

“Is there more about that?” (increasing curiosity)

At this point I coached Karissa to incorporate “sender responsibility” which means to not use accusatory or critical words, or statements like “you never…”, but rather to talk about what she felt when she saw Doug not helping her. And then to connect that with what it reminds her of when she was younger. After that I prompted her to share any deeper fear she became conscious of.

Karissa: “I feel so all alone. It’s like when I was little and my parents were arguing, and things felt out of control, and I felt helpless to do anything about it. My brothers and sister would just leave, and I felt so all alone and responsible. My biggest fear is that you’ll never be there for me and I’ll be all alone.”

You could see tears welling up in Doug’s eyes.

Doug: “What I hear you saying is that you feel all alone. Like when you were young and your parents argued and you felt things were out of control and you felt helpless. No one was there for you and you felt responsible. When I don’t help you with the children you feel that same sense of helplessness and being alone. And you fear that this won’t change and that I won’t be there for you.”

“Did I get that?

“Is there more about that?”

The dialogue continued. Then I asked Doug to SUMMARIZE what Karissa was saying.

Then I asked him to VALIDATE her.

VALIDATION

Doug: “Karissa what you’re saying makes sense. I can see how, when you don’t feel supported by me in your efforts to discipline our children, you feel alone. And then all those feelings of helplessness you had when you were little and your parents were fighting all come back, and you feel extremely alone and helpless to do anything. And it makes sense that my lack of support would cause you to fear that this will never change.

“Is that the validation you need?”

Doug learned that he can validate Karissa without having to agree with her.

He disagreed with how she was disciplining the children, but through the dialogue process, he could regulate his defenses enough to see how Karissa’s inner logic made sense, even though he saw things differently.

Then I asked Doug to EMPATHIZE with Karissa.

EMPATHY

Doug: “I can imagine not having me present with you in the discipline of our children feels really lonely and scary. That must be very hard for you.

“Am I’m empathizing with what you’re feeling?”

Suddenly Karissa felt like Doug was truly being present with her. Her pain began to lift, and her anxiety dissolved.

Then she felt an openness to hear Doug’s perspective through the dialogue process.

And here are some of the things that came out of that process as Karissa MIRRORED and VALIDATED Doug, and then EMPATHIZED with him.

Doug felt left out because Karissa always went ahead of him in to discipline their children without consulting with him. This triggered Doug’s childhood feelings of inadequacy. He never felt he could please his dad.

Doug feared that their children would not receive good parenting, because Karissa was too controlling.

Karissa was able to see that Doug had wisdom to add to their parenting process.

The dialogue helped Karissa regulate her own emotional reactions enough to see and validate Doug’s reality. This activated a new process where Karissa and Doug were able to “re-compensate” for each other.

Re-compensate? What’s that?!

The best way I can describe what I mean by re-compensation is…

“Because you have validated me, I feel open to seeing new things which I can validate in you.”

In our example, the boundary shifted where Karissa’s anxiety was relieved and she became less controlling. Doug, on the other hand, felt safer to become more engaged and present with Karissa in their approach to child discipline. Wow!

This was the beginning of a new way of doing things. Karissa not only felt supported, but Doug’s wisdom was also integrated into their parenting process.

With this skill now in place, Doug and Karissa now know how to use problems like this to bring them closer together rather than blow them apart.

Does that make sense? Do you see how connection is the real issue? Do you see how just “solving the problem” will not solve the problem?

The first step to building the marriage of your dreams is to reconnect your disconnected relationship!

Let me know your thoughts below!

Next week we’ll look at…
Build your dream marriage part 2:
Discover your unconscious relationship agenda

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already…

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Turning marriage conflict into an opportunity for deeper connection

When Dennis and Marsha came to see me, their negativity toward each other was off the charts! Here are some steps they took to turn a nasty conflict into a deep and loving connection.

1. Start by sharing an “appreciation”.

When a relationship causes us pain, we begin to see our partner through the lens of negativity.

Using a tool called “Four Powerful Appreciations” every day can change this lens from negative to positive.

Click here to print out that tool.

Click here to read more about how gratitude can radically change your relationship.

Sharing “appreciations” regularly pushes negative energy out of the space between you, and fills it with positive energy.

That’s when your unconscious brain starts to identify your partner as a source of pleasure again. The result: feelings of safety.

When safety increases it makes connection possible.

It’s also important to share an appreciation before you share a frustration. Doing that helps creates a safer space between you, making it easier for your partner to listen to your frustration rather than react to it.

Marsha shared her appreciation with Dennis in this way:

“Dennis, one thing I appreciate about you is the way you always take care of my car, making sure it’s always clean and well maintained.”

As Dennis mirrored the appreciation, he saw for the first time how that act of kindness made Marsha feel especially loved and cared for.

You could feel the atmosphere in the room change, as the space between them was filled with positive energy.

2. Share negative feelings in a positive way.

After sharing the appreciation with Dennis, Marsha went on to share a frustration – something that typified the regular conflicts they had been having for years.

She said, “The other night when I was talking to you in bed, you just turned over and went to sleep.” Marsha was furious, and typically she would accuse him of not caring about her.

But instead of blowing up with a negative expression like, “You never listen to me!”, the Couples Dialogue helped Marsha use “I” language, focusing on what she felt rather than what Dennis had done.

“When you went to sleep, I felt so lonely. And I was so angry I didn’t speak to you the next day.”

Simply asking Marsha to describe what she felt, rather than what Dennis was doing, helped her get more in touch with what she was feeling.

Marsha’s anger was a surface emotion that was masking her deeper feeling of loneliness.

When Dennis drifted off to sleep while she was talking, it triggered that loneliness.

Her reaction to that feeling was anger toward Dennis. She expressed that anger by giving Dennis “the silent treatment” for a whole day.

3. Connect your frustration to a childhood wound.

As Dennis mirrored these words back to Marsha, she was able to go deeper into her feelings.

“It reminds me of when I was little and what I said never mattered.”

Marsha had grown up the third of four children. Her older siblings always dominated their conversations and made all the decisions. On top of that, her mom always seemed preoccupied with her younger sister.

Growing up, Marsha felt like her thoughts were inferior, and her feelings were not valid. As she entered school with this belief, it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy which limited her in life and in relationships.

As she was making this connection with her childhood, it became obvious that her reaction to Dennis was unfair. She was reacting to him with all the pain she felt from childhood. He was not the source of her reaction. He was only the trigger.

And, until now, Dennis could never understand Marsha’s “extreme reaction”. It would cause him to pull away even further, because her criticism triggered his own childhood feelings of inadequacy.  This, then, activated even deeper feelings of abandonment or rejection in Marsha.

This cycle of conflict repeated itself over and over again, almost completely destroying their relationship.

The Couple’s Dialogue helped them disrupt this pattern and begin turning their conflict into connection.

marriage-conflict-to-connection

4. Validate your partner’s perspective.

Dennis validated Marsha’s perspective by saying, “What you’re saying makes sense. You always felt like what you have to say doesn’t matter. So it makes sense that my falling asleep while you were sharing important thoughts would make you feel bad.”

Validation helps you see your partner’s differences without judgement, and therefore without polarization and conflict.

It also makes your partner feel valued and safe and helps them drop their walls and defenses.

5. Empathize with your partner’s feelings.

Dennis was able to go even further into empathy with Marsha. “I can imagine how painful it is to be treated as if your thoughts aren’t important. It must be especially hard, because you expected that I would treat you differently from your parents. Instead I fell asleep, as if what you were saying was boring or not important. That must have really felt bad”

Back in that heated moment, Dennis had responded defensively saying, “Hey give me a break! I worked hard today and I was exhausted. That’s why I fell asleep. Why do you have to make such a big deal out of everything?!”

But as he empathized with Marsha, defending his own position didn’t seem so important any more.

Empathy caused his perspective to shift so that he could see Marsha’s pain, rather than just his own frustration.

Empathy dissolves our defenses and makes connection possible.

6. Grant your partner’s request.

It’s in the safety and closeness of this kind of moment that Behavior Change Requests are powerful. BCRs should be S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

Marsha made this request of Dennis…

“The next time we’re talking, would you sit up, look in my eyes and listen to me…and perhaps mirror what I’m saying?”

Usually we encourage three requests that your partner can choose to grant, but this one request was on the money.

Dennis eagerly agreed to grant this request, and they talked about how their newly learned skill, “mirroring” (the first step in the dialogue process), would help Dennis stay interested and curious (and awake :-)). And it would ensure that Marsha felt heard and valued in the process.

The powerful thing about this little breakthrough was that this conflict was similar to most every other conflict they had.

Because they were able to turn this conflict into connection, they saw how every future conflict had this same potential! Wow!

Of course it’s easier said than done. But it’s exciting to see the journey that Marsha and Dennis are on – turning marriage conflict into deeper connection!

What about you? Try using these steps to turn your conflict into connection.

And share with us how it’s working in the comment section below! Add your insights to the pool!

Also if you have any questions, others are probably asking it too. So fire away!

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Dealing with the silent killer of your marriage relationship

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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How to resolve every single frustration in your marriage

It’s true! You can resolve every single frustration you have in your marriage…if you understand this one important reality:

Behind every frustration is a wish. Behind every criticism is an unexpressed desire.

Learning to identify and communicate this desire in a safe and loving way will help you not only resolve your frustration, but transform your marriage!

When you resolve frustrations in your marriage by unlocking and fulfilling hidden desires, you become more whole as a person, more fully present, not only in your marriage, but in every arena of your life – family, work, community, world.

That’s my heart’s desire for you!

So how do I turn a marriage frustration into a spoken request so that it can be resolved?

I’m glad you asked. Try these three steps.

1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Stephen Covey coined this phase. It’s a powerful principle.

Why?

About 90% of our frustration in a relationship comes from history.

When a husband says, “You never want to have sex”, his frustration may be connected with an experience in childhood where he received messages that he was inadequate or messages of rejection.

So when he hears, “Not tonight. I’ve got a headache”, he goes ballistic.  

How could he be angry when his wife has a headache? That doesn’t make sense.

No it doesn’t…

But what does make perfect sense is that this perceived rejection is triggering those old feelings of inadequacy.

Can you relate?

When a wife says, “You don’t listen to me!”, it can be connected with experiences in her childhood where she had feelings that “what you have to say doesn’t matter”.

Though she’s not conscious of it, she has a lot of pain around the question “Do I matter?”

So when her husband does something as simple as looking at his phone when she’s talking to him, it triggers something much more powerful than he realizes.  

That 10% stimulus produces a 90% reaction, and the next round of the power struggle begins. And the husband is left wondering what he did that was so bad.

Can you relate to that?

Do you see why it’s so important to first seek to understand before being understood?

resolving-marriage-frustration

The second step is…

2. Listen for your partner’s hidden desire for connection.

The hidden desire behind your partner’s frustration is always to connect with you.

That frustration, that criticism, that off-handed remark, that demand, that glare, is all because your partner doesn’t feel connected with you.

It may be hard to believe, but it’s true.

Your partner’s frustration is because they feel disconnected and don’t like it.

And so, like an infant screaming to be fed and have it’s diaper changed, your partner is unconsciously making life as miserable as possible for you until you figure out what they need.

And what your partner needs is to be emotionally connected with you and cared for by you.

Janet said to her husband, Rick, “You never listen to me. You’re always checking your phone. I feel like I’m talking to a wall!”

Rick didn’t understand why she was so frustrated. He was under the gun at work, and during this season he had to stay close to his phone. He thought he had made that clear to her.

But Janet was frustrated. And she felt justified in her frustration. This was her story and she was sticking to it!

But Rick changed the game they always played. That game of blaming and defending every time they encountered a frustration.

Instead of this becoming a slug-fest, he used his safe conversation skills to dialogue with Janet about this frustration. He had learned that behind every frustration is an deeper, unexpressed desire for connection.

He said, “I can tell you’re upset. Can you tell me what you’re feeling?”

And as they talked, Janet was eventually able to uncover what was behind her frustration.

“When I’m talking to you and you look at your phone, I feel like what I have to say is not important to you. That makes me feel like I’m not important to you.”

And as she went on, Rick could see Janet’s reality, the inner logic that made sense to her, and it was all now beginning to make sense to him.

He realized that behind her frustration was simply a desire to be connected with him in a way that made her feel loved and valued.

As Rick continued to make the conversation safe for Janet, the hidden desire behind her frustration bubbled to the surface in the form of a wish expressed.

“Every day I just want some time with you where I feel loved and completely accepted.”

As they both stood there, feeling deeply vulnerable, Rick did one last thing that sealed the deal for Janet and made her feel really connected with him.

Resolving-marriage-frustration

3. Ask your partner what you can do to fulfill this hidden desire.

As Rick mirrored Janet’s words he was able to empathize with her feelings and desire.

Then he asked, “What is one thing I can do that will help you feel that love and acceptance?”

Janet thought for a moment and then said, “The next time we go for a walk would you leave your phone at home so we can talk?”

That request was based on Janet’s hidden desire that was at the root of her frustration.

Rick committed to this, and even better yet, on their walk the next day, Janet noticed he didn’t have his phone with him.

This made her feel so loved and safe with him. Not only was their frustration resolved but they felt more deeply connected.

Make sense?

So this is how you can resolve every frustration in your marriage.

Just take time to…

– Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
– Listen for that hidden desire for connection.
– Ask what you can do to fulfill this desire.

Let’s all follow Rick’s example and resolve every single frustration we encounter in our marriage!

Please leave your comments below. And subscribe to my weekly posts if you haven’t already.

Thanks for reading!
Chuck

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Don’t settle for an “OK” marriage”! Ask for what you need!

So many couples are staying together in an unhappy marriage. When you ask how they’re doing, they’ll say, “OK”.

That’s code for “I’ve settled”.

In more open and honest moments, they’ll admit, “We say we’re happily married, but actually most of our needs are being met outside our relationship.”

Or…

“Everyone thinks we’re doing fine, but we don’t really feel connected. He does his thing and I do mine. We’re like ships passing in the night.”

Can you relate? Would that describe your marriage?

Well join the crowd!

Experts tell us that up to 90% of couples who stay married report their relationship as “less than satisfactory”.

marriage-change-request-2

Some of these couples make it to the end of their lives, surviving in this prison. Life sure didn’t turn out like they expected, but they felt hopeless to change it.

But other couples don’t survive. Their relationship eventually blows up and ends.

And it doesn’t have to be a big problem that blows it up. You’ll hear them blame it on things like, “We couldn’t agree on whether to squeeze the toothpaste from the top or the bottom of the tube.”

But here’s what actually happened:

Years of living with someone without feeling connected resulted in pain that became unbearable.

And they put off getting help until it was too late.

Dr. John Gottman said that the average time it takes for a person with a pain in their heart to call for help is four hours.

But the average time it takes for a person with a pain in their marriage to call for help is seven years!

So don’t wait!

You can break out of that place where you’re stuck by learning to ask for what you need!

Change happens when we make it safe enough for each other to turn our frustrations into desires expressed.

Then when my partner gives me what I ask for, it brings healing to me and closeness in our relationship.

But for my partner, it usually means they must be willing to grow into parts of themselves they never developed.

And that’s hard.

“Wait a minute Chuck! You said to ask for what I need? I’ve done that a thousand times and it didn’t work!”

Did you make it safe enough to ask for what you need? Or did you just ask?

Asking someone who is in a defensive mode always comes across as nagging. And you’re right! That never works!

But in a safe conversation, asking for what you want gives your partner a great opportunity to stand tall and be your hero!

And that’s when everything changes.

Just ask Mark and Sunny.

One day Mark made a request of Sunny.

It was something he really needed from her.

He was tired of them both being ships passing in the night. After years of marriage, he wanted to know this woman he lived with in a more personal way.

Turns out that request was not easy for Sunny. It required of her something she had never done. It required that she stretch and grow a part of herself that was lost growing up and never developed.

Watch their story then discuss it together with the questions below.

(This is a powerful video by one of my mentors, Nedra Fetterman. Watch it as she tells the story of her own parents, Mark and Sunny.)

Because of privacy settings, you’ll have to watch it on Vimeo. Click on the blue tab to watch, and then come back and discuss what you saw using the questions below.

Discuss with your partner…

1. In what ways is your relationship like Mark and Sunny’s before Mark made his request?

Here are some steps that have to be followed in order to make a request that deepens the connection in your relationship.

– Create Safety
– Connect
– Make a Request (small, specific, doable and positive)
– Be Courageous

2. Why is safety important?

3. Why should the goal of a request be “to connect” rather than to just make a change?

4. Why do you think this takes courage?

5. What would you like to ask from your partner right now? If the conversation feels safe, do it and then talk about it.

When you’ve finished, please take a moment to share your thoughts with everyone in the reply section below.

And…if you haven’t already…

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My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week!