How many times have you spoken to your husband about feeling disconnected in your marriage?
How often do you feel discouraged or frustrated by his response?
If you feel hopeless or alone in your efforts to reach your husband, there’s a simultaneously simple and difficult practice which may help you both to reconnect.
The Real Issue
It’s not your husband… and it’s not you. It’s not even your relationship.
The model we were given on how to connect in a marriage is lacking in communication and, furthermore, the model does little to nothing to demonstrate for men how to be emotional.
The purpose of marriage has only recently evolved away from the social construct of creating and providing for a family. We now have the opportunity to connect with our partner out of pure love, not only for providing the necessities of life.
As this is a more recent development in our human history, the only guide we have to relate to a spouse is hormonal rather than intimately personal. It’s no secret men are powerfully driven by our bodies’ desires and biology can distract from a marriage in which poor communication, disconnection, and fear crowd out honesty, connectivity, and love. When the hormones and infatuation from the early days of courtship wear off, men (and women) may wake up asking themselves, “What did I get myself into?”
Without a realistic model for the modern, voluntary relationship, we may feel lost and alone in our marriage. We ask friends for advice, read self-help books, and we go to therapy to try to figure it out.
This is a great first step. But, new knowledge alone will not give you what you want.
Sue Johnson, Ph.D. has identified a model for the modern marriage which promotes the very connection many couples may feel they lack.
The core of Sue’s model, after 25 years of research in social psychology, is vulnerability – having those hard conversations about what truly matters until they’re no longer hard but, instead, the norm for engaging with your loved ones.
This concept is hard, I know. You might be thinking, “I can’t be vulnerable with my husband! I tried that and it didn’t work.” I can’t argue with you, it probably didn’t make everything better right out the gate – the experts would encourage you to go slow. You wouldn’t expect to ski like you did in college if you haven’t put on a pair of skis or exercised for twenty years, right? Learning to be emotionally vulnerable is a skill which takes time and consistent practice to implement successfully.
Then, of course, there is the issue of men and their lack of emotional back up. Your husband can’t connect with you if he has never learned how to connect to himself. I know of what I speak from personal experience….
I tell a story in my TEDx talk about how I could ‘argue’ and stay emotionally connected. I THOUGHT I could, but, I came to learn how disconnected I really was using the only emotional tool society approved to sign over to me as a man. My work with other men, creating a space to analyze and discover what we wanted from our emotional lives, taught me how to truly connect to other people.
Women have carried the majority of emotional burden for their relationships and, in spite of their love and concern for their partners, men just aren’t getting it. After 20+ years of leading groups for men, we discovered the most powerful way for us to learn communication skills was in the company of other men.
Here’s a secret: it’s not your man in particular, or men in general, preventing you from having the intimacy you seek in your marriage. Just look at how men were raised.
The Industrial Revolution removed our fathers from the home to work in factories leaving women alone to raise their boys. While we learned how our mothers handled emotions, we never witnessed our fathers’ vulnerability or how they could emotionally connect with our mothers. When we left home ourselves, the model for how to “be a man” was too small for us. We were not allowed to use the only emotional model we had in our mothers (which doesn’t quite fit anyway) – we shut it down in favor of analytical thinking, withdrawing, or anger.
The Way Back to Connection
Sure, you can take our couples’ workshops and your husband could work with us in the Free to Win program or start his own free men’s group… These all are powerful agents for learning how to grow.
However, if you can sit down alone with your husband and share with him how much your marriage means to you, you’re doing the real work necessary for change.
If your husband tries to dismiss the conversation, redirect his attention. Gently put your hand on him and say, “I know what I am saying may be uncomfortable, but, please, let me share.”
This may test your patience, but, keep breathing and let your emotions come from a place of love.
Your survival response may very well try to convince you to lash out. Remember this conversation is just one of many which over time and with practice will reestablish your connection from the days when you first fell in love.
Share your appreciation for your husband. I know your gratitude can be trampled upon over years of complacency, so, you may need to recall an incident from the past to remind you both of what brought you together in the first place.
Lower your expectations for your first several attempts at an honest, open discussion. You are rewriting the rules of engagement and you both need plenty of time to agree to the terms.
And know what you’re up against – You are fighting against our arcane cultural model of what it means to be a man.
Have compassion for yourself and your husband. I have seen doomed marriages revived into passionate love affairs by practicing this kind of communication. Yes, some marriages end through honest discussion, but, the few dissolved marriages that I’ve witnessed between couples who followed this method of connectivity ended in friendship.
What Will You Do?
The more support you acquire, the easier and quicker your transition will produce noticeable results; even if you simply check out Dr. Sue Johnston’s or social researcher Dr. Brené Brown’s books from the library, it’s a great start to teaching yourself how to talk to your husband and make a real connection.
I hope you will take what you’ve learned and put it into action. Over the next week, find private, uninterrupted time to speak to your husband.
What do you have to lose? More disconnection?
I know you love each other. I want you to feel it.
Let me know how it goes. I will respond to your comments.