It might not sound like a giant leap forward, but after years Sally had finally asked Jake for a hug. (All names have been changed to maintain confidentiality) Years had passed and the gulf and tension between them had become chasm like until last week. They had been in counseling for several sessions and finally Sally trusted Jake enough to take a risk.
In so many marriages, daily, often non intentional rejections and slights start to build up. And start to sting. If you grew up in a home with a lot of criticism or belittling, the sting can feel more like an emotional slap. Let’s face it, none of us like to feel pushed away or criticized. When we feel badly our systems of self-protection go into high gear. Regretfully these methods of self protection may make us feel less vulnerable but are often bad for the relationship.
You might be wondering, why had Sally kept Jake at arms length for so long. In their relationship. Sally often felt ignored, spoken rudely to and then felt used when Jake wanted to have sex. Jake felt having sex was an act of love and closeness. When Sally pushed him away he felt unloved and rejected.
So many of the simplistic explanations of male and female sexuality lead to shallow understandings and miscommunications between people in couples. Thus the wall of distance and quiet hurt and anger got built. This pattern was repeated many times in their relationship until they came to non verbal resolution, no touching. Without affection and sexuality marriages can lose the calming and special connection it provides.
Going to therapy is often a difficult step and I want to offer you some steps to try out first. Most of the time distress in a relationship is because we feel and continue to fear our partners won’t be there for us. The major way people respond to hurt or disappointment is to become clingy, critical, blaming or angry or to go the opposite way and withdraw and wall themselves off.
Steps to try:
Know your style of coping with hurt and try to act differently.
Share your goal with your partner and find out what would help to rebuild affection.
Use “I” messages and be aware when you are being defensive and try again.
Acknowledge, although this is hard, that your partner means a lot to you and the work is worth it.
Be willing to go to a couples therapist if things don’t improve enough.
Couples therapy becomes the venue where individuals dare to go into topics and feelings they have buried, never shared with their partners or ruminated over and over to themselves. In the safety of a third party, each person can get help voicing and being understood differently.
Slowly, when Jake can hear the hurt in Sally’s shut down he becomes curious instead of only angry and rejected. Sally can begin to understand Jake’s effort at closeness is not objectification, but a wish to be experienced as loveable and feel a secure connection again. It is easy for each of them to fall back into the old explanations unless they are helped to stay on track. As they learn the new language of love, Sally takes the first step. This time Jake responds with open arms. Sally begins to see him differently. He now begins to be perceived with more understanding and less stereotype.
This simple sounding process is challenging and doesn’t always go smoothly. The benefit of a good therapy relationship is keeping your progress and motivation going, even when you want to give up. In almost 30 years of practice I believe change is always possible and if two people are willing affection and reconnection can happen.
If you would like to learn more about Marital Therapy, please contact me at 201-445-0550.