I was working with a couple the other day who have been married a long time. Some big differences had grown in their relationship and they are exploring whether continuing their relationship will be right for both of them.
Within a short time it became clear that deep in their hearts they both want the marriage to work. But they often get caught in some dynamics that make them both feel lonely. It is also clear that the differences they have will not go away and they wonder if this marriage will allow them to live wholeheartedly.
I wanted this couple to make some shifts to begin talking to one another from a more vulnerable place. When the differences come up he feels devalued then he makes requests of her. They are strong requests and can come across as demands. What he needs is to be seen and heard and reassured of her love for him. When she hears his strong and direct requests she gets defensive. She feels remorseful that he feels this way, but also confused because it isn’t her intent. So she is defending and feeling accused and he is still feeling devalued because she didn’t respond to his requests.
I helped him to clarify what he was going through and then invited him to share this with her in a different way. As I worked with him he was able to identify feeling devalued and unacceptable to her. It’s a very painful feeling in a relationship. I asked him to turn and share his feelings with her and he started, “I need you to…” and then I had him pause. I helped him to then say, “when you _____, I feel devalued and unacceptable to you. I really need to feel like you accept me for who I am.”
There was a tangible difference in the energy between them. Instead of tensing up she softened. I explored what she experienced and she said it felt much better. Then I asked her to respond, and she popped back into the old pattern. She began to talk about why she said what she said (defense) and then I asked her to pause. We revert to old patterns easily because we get so entrenched. I brought her back to the softer place again and helped her to say what she was feeling. “I want you to feel accepted by me and I want you to feel that I think the world of you.” (Reassurance.) I could see the reassurance sink in and his posture softened.
I repeated this process with the couple and it took repeated attempts to help them to recognize on their own the dynamic that is keeping them stuck and alone. It will take time and practice for them to break this pattern, but they left my office that day feeling more hopeful that they can be happy together. Hope is a very good thing!
I love this work.
You can learn more about my couples work here.