Marriage Tips

Apr. 16, 2016

Close the gap

Why do couples fight? Why do marriages fall apart? It starts with little things, the very things that could be controlled at first. Fighting could be in the form of verbal abuse leading to psychological and emotional beating. In some cases, it could degenerate into physical abuse. Disagreements, tension, unhealthy silence, conflicts reign in such marriages, and the gap widens. Couples become unusually sensitive to each other's language, intense non-verbal expressions, feelings, speeches, and gestures. Couples get caught up in negative patterns that make them lose sight of their wonderful qualities. 

Research shows that every individual has an attachment need that desires to be met. One's attachment base is one's most trusted friend. As children, it is the parents. As adults, it changes. For couples, it is the spouse. An attachment base is that individual before whom you can freely express your vulnerability without a sense of shame. It is that person with whom you feel safe. It is that person whom you can comfortably share your emotions with. When the attachment base isn't available, there is an inner longing to regain it, sometimes this feeling is expressed in a negative manner.

In marriage, spouses form an attachment base with one another. They desire each other. The husband wants to feel the wife while the wife also desires the husband. At the initial phases of most relationships, these desires are met. For instance, engaged couples make out sufficient time for each other. They call and speak on the phone for hours. They text each other regularly, share photos. They have movie times together, visit recreational parks. They visit restaurants and eat together. They hold hands often and want people to notice how much they love each other. They rarely get bored with each other. They fill up their emotional tanks. As the years go by in their marital journey, spouses seem to become less present emotionally. Work, business, families of origin, church activities or even children pull them away thereby creating an emotional crack in the relationship.

Ironically, when spouses feel disconnected from their partners, they do not always speak up, sometimes they speak up in a way that gets back differently to their partners. It might come out in a manner that depicts attacks or accusations. They seem to complain whereas, in the actual sense, all they want to communicate is the feeling of "I need you," "please be here for me," "let's do things together."

Emotionally focused therapists identify that there is always a pursuer and a withdrawer in every relationship. The withdrawer is the person (spouse) who pulls away. Maybe due to work or any other activity that makes him/her less present. She/he withdraws. The pursuer, who feels the impact of such absence, wants to have him/her back. He/she struggles. She/he expresses the feelings, usually is presented as a nag. Surely, complaining is often received negatively, hence the withdrawer might react in a way that does not satisfy the pursuer's inner feelings. Unconsciously, both the withdrawer and the pursuer fall into the danger of not identifying the problem. They might get into negative habits of attack vs. counter-attack vs. attack mode. The gap widens. 

What to do to close the gap:

Make your marriage a priority: Nothing can be more important than your marriage relationship. If you feel a sense of withdrawing for any reason, talk about it with your spouse. Be open about your other commitments, sometimes your spouse may provide a solution unknown to you. Tell him/her what stresses you up. Recognize that he/she is your attachment base. Lean on him/her. 

Be assertive: It is important that each couple be assertive in their relationship especially in expressing their feelings. Always tell your spouse what you want. Say it clearly, "I want you to give more time to our relationship," "I want us to have more dinner time together." Being assertive makes your spouse understand your feelings better. It also opens up conversations in a positive way. For instance, there's a difference between saying to your spouse, "Why were you not home on time yesterday?" and "I wish you could be home earlier." The former makes you look like a judge, the latter appeals to his/her conscience. 

Communicate your feelings gently: One thing that kills relationships is for one party to appear judgmental or be in an attacking mode always. Don't attack! Never attack! Attacking your partner could easily make him/her defensive. She/he would not listen well if she/he feels being attacked. The ego is usually very sensitive to attacks. Rather, communicate your feelings in an empathic manner. Speak to the heart not to the head. Always let your spouse know how you feel about his absence. Communicate that you need him/her and not that going out makes him/her a bad person. 

Listen: Active listening is a skill that cannot be overemphasized. It has been discovered as being important in every relationship. Learn to be present. Make your partner recognize that you're there for him/her. Don't be in a hurry to speak. Don't preempt solutions to the problem. Don't make him/her feel you already knew what she/he was going to say. That could be frustrating. Avoid being in a fixer mode. Listen, listen, and listen! If possible, reflect back to him/her what he/she says to you. Practice speaking back what he/she says to you in a gentle manner. Make it part of your communication strategy. 

Proper timing: There's a saying that timing is the key to every issue. For instance, presenting a problem to your spouse right on his/her return from a long day's work is wrong. Always know the right time to speak, to communicate your feeling. It produces great results. 

These can be the starting points to close the gaps in your relationship, gaps that might tear off the marriage layers if not identified on time.