An Old Tale for a New Era
Marriage has never been easy, but in the current culture of equality, gender and role fluidity, romantic relationships may be even more strained. Yet, the fundamentals of navigating a relationship to fulfill the promise of a loving marriage has not changed. The key to satisfying the desire for love is the learning and growth that must occur for the couple as soon as the honeymoon is over.
Now I don’t literally mean the vacation the newlyweds take after the wedding. I mean the honeymoon where each partner does their best to please the other. This unfolds over the first years. You are trading behaviors that promise to build the relationship.
After some time, the accommodations partners make towards each other grows cold with lack of appreciation, and perhaps boredom, even resentment. It is natural. After a number of years, those behaviors have become routine and automatized. Partners’ needs change with time. There may be children or higher demands from work or new goals. These changes inspire new desires and require new skills in conversation, in saying how you each feel and what you want in a reflective and soft way.
My experience as a marriage counselor has shown me that this transition is the hardest. How do you talk about how you feel and what you want in a nice way? It is especially hard if you have been holding on to hurt or angry feelings for a long time. When feelings are ignored because they have not been shared properly with your partner, they grow stronger and more negative.
This is when I usually meet couples in my office. They are hurt and fearful about their partner’s love for them. They want the relationship to work. The challenge is to create a meaningful conversation where they each hear the other. What hurts? Partners are more than willing to share the drama of their pain. The task is to report what feels hurtful, without the drama, and define what behaviors will fix the injuries. It is no doubt human nature to complain and feel something is wrong or missing than to focus on what behaviors create connection and love.
I saw a couple this week where the wife complained her husband’s mother seems more important than she is to her husband. She feels deeply hurt and sidelined by this mother-son relationship. It is complicated because they all live together along with their children, but they have not been able to have a successful conversation for a solution. The couple simply argues and alienates each other. No doubt this pushes the husband away and he spends more time with his mom. This antagonizes the wife even further.
This couple, like the rest of us, need to learn how to share the hurt without criticizing, along with some reflections about how the husband’s hurtful behavior reactivates the wife’s family history: feelings of loss when her father died in her childhood. This will create understanding and empathy. Then they can move forward and explore what kind of attention she needs to feel special to her husband. This attention must be defined by specific behaviors that she recognizes as loving attention. When this happens, the wife needs to respond with appreciation for her husband’s listening and for his follow through of these behaviors.
It sounds so simple, right? Yet it is not simple for partners who are not yet able to share their feelings in a calm, reflective way. Oftentimes, we don’t see the connection between what is important to us in our romantic relationship and our childhood wounds. We are speaking from old and new pain and it can be explosive.
The most important part of what we teach, aside from how men and women develop as adults over a lifetime, is how partners can navigate their relationship with these conversation skills. We all need to learn how to speak effectively to build loving and intimate relationships.
Come join us online with our courses that will teach you how to share feelings in a way that your partner can hear and want to support you. The sooner you learn these skills, the faster you will grow as individuals and as a partnership and fulfill your hearts with love.