5 Ways You May Be Slowly Destroying Your Marriage

These days, while I still have a clinical practice, I do even more clinical supervision (helping other clinicians to be better couples, sex and spiritual intimacy therapists).  The other day I was staffing a case with one of my supervisees that was all too familiar.  It was of a couple married 23 years with two kids, 20 and 18. They were seeing her for help with their marriage, as the looming empty nest was rapidly approaching. Their marriage, like so many, had fallen into the cultural trap of what our consumer culture seems to endorse – two people who give all their time and energy to their careers and their children, and nearly zero time and energy to their marriage.  Long gone was the solid friendship of two people who told each other their hopes, dreams, fears or even the ridiculous story that had happened that day.  Their conversations were of a logistical nature – if they had a conversation at all.  Touch had long been reduced to ‘fly-by’ hugs or kisses, as one or the other ran out the door, and an occasional transactional sexual experience with one or both lost in a fantasy.  While their bodies were there, their minds, hearts and spirits were definitely in another place.

When we live in a consumer culture that stands to make money on the revenue made on our children or our careers, we can easily fall prey to all the endorsements to pay attention to these priorities and ignore others.  Our marriages however, go unnoticed.  The person we could not keep our hands off when we were newlywed, we now push away. While I am not suggesting we find ways to ‘sell’ or commodify our marriages, I do want to make overt the forces that are at work in our lives, so we can examine if we want to be complicit with these forces, or if we want to craft different priorities.

In this post I will focus on five patterns I see often in women that are largely the result of ignored marriages and the frustration that arises when we stop paying attention to this core aspect of our happiness.  These five qualities however, can be found in frustrated men as well – and either way – they undermine the success, trust, and happiness of a safe and meaningful connection.

ONE: Do You Put Your Kids and Everything Else Before Your Partner?

Do you put your kid’s activities, school work, emotions, schedules, your career, your girlfriends, etc in front of your husband?  Where does he fall on your priority list?  Imagine dividing your daily or weekly thoughts and energy expenditures. Ask yourself, what goes toward your partner?  How or when does he feel like a priority?  Imagine every day feeling like you don’t matter … year in, year out … being told in word and deed that everyone and everything is more important than you?  What would that do to a person’s sense of self? Whether we mean to or not, so many couples do this to each other.  I even had to look at this the other day in my own marriage.  One evening on our way home from an all-day event, the Beloved and I had to stop by his office for a minute.  I walked over to the grocery store across the street to kill time while he did his 15 minute task.  I saw something that would be fun to make for dinner the next night (I don’t make dinner very often). The next night, he walked in the door at 8pm absolutely exhausted and lo and behold, I had dinner ready.  He must have said 5 times over the next hour, “I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to have such a delicious dinner cooked for me!”

“Sheesh!”, I thought, “This is one sorely ignored husband!”

TWO: Are You Constantly Complaining?

Have you gotten in the habit of using your husband as a dart board – throwing at him all the things that are driving you crazy? The kids never pick up their toys, he never puts down the toilet seat, who left the wet towel on the bed?, why are you the only one who notices how much laundry there is, how impossible your boss is … and on and on.  This constant barrage of negativity and criticism is like living under a heavy dark cloud, one that let’s in no trace of sunlight.

If I have learned anything about men in 25 years of couple’s work, it is, more than anything else, they want to make their wives happy. To see her shine with joy literally is his joy.  This is why he is compelled … obsessed even … with fixing things. All he wants is to see you happy – and if he can be the one to bring you this happiness, all the better!  When women look at their lives and the people within them, through a glass half empty and are constantly expressing their disapproval, he feels incompetent, defeated and powerless to do the one thing he most wants to do.  When women have a list of 25 items that must get done and bark their list to those around them, only to bark the next item on the list when he announces he has completed the first five, he is denied your happiness.  He asks himself, “Did what I just do make any difference to her? Did I make her life any better by getting those things done?  I can’t tell. She seems just as disgruntled as she was an hour ago.  What difference do I make?”  It is not long before he is thinking to himself, “Why do I try so hard to make her happy when nothing I seem to do makes a difference?  She is always so negative.”

Show him your joy and pleasure.  But most importantly … let yourself STOP and FEEL and EXPRESS your joy and pleasure!!

THREE: Do You Speak in His Language so He Can Succeed with You?

Women actually have a larger part of their brains for language and reading the emotions of others – the hippocampus.  This is why girlfriends can talk in partial sentences and still ‘get each other’. Their language ability and ability to read each other means they don’t have to always be very clear to actually transmit a clear message.  This is not the same between men and women.  So many women get angry because their men ‘do not get them’ or they have to ‘explain everything’.  I would be retired by now if I received a dollar for every time I heard a woman say, “If I have to tell him what I want, it won’t count if he gives it to me. How do I know he really wants to give it to me?”

Men need clear messages … not hints and not half sentences with a look.  Remember what I said above, he wants to make you happy!  This means in order for him to be successful with you, you need to give him clear messages he can understand in order to be successful!  No hints … be direct – concrete – not torpedo fast – playful – loving. And then when he does get it … stop and thank him.  Show him that he actually does make a difference in your life.

Photo by Ashley Johnson
Photo by Ashley Johnson

FOUR: Do You Withhold Your Heart and Touch?

Men crave connection and pleasure … loving touch … just as women do.  Most men were only given permission to have this kind of touch through sexual channels past the age of 8 or 10.  So while they crave it, it might be more sexualized than the cravings of a woman.  It depends on the man or woman.  Either way, loving touch is critical, for both of you.  What is important to understand here is two-fold: One, sex is very loaded in our culture – especially heterosexual touch.  In most marriages sex has been reduced to intercourse and neither men nor women pay much attention to whether connection and pleasure are being shared, but rather how often “it” is happening.  This often reduces their sexual relationship to a transaction that kills desire in one or both of them. Ultimately when this is the case, the sexual touch does not bring them both what they need.

Two, you are hard wired for pleasure and connection.  Learning to develop a repertoire of loving intimate sexual ways to touch that move each of you through your arousal cycle – together or separately – is important so that your sexual relationship remains fun, playful, connecting, varied and pleasurable, no matter what behaviors you decide to share at that moment.  Touch should never be used as a tool to control, punish or reward – but rather should be viewed as a way to connect and nourish each of you, your relationship and connect you to God. If your sexual relationship isn’t serving this purpose, sit down and talk about how to recreate it, so each time, each touch, is connecting and pleasurable for each of you.

FIVE: Do You Spend More Than You Can Afford?

Living outside your means is another way of adding incredible stress to your marriage and your partner who is trying to provide and make you happy.  I have watched otherwise very happy couples split up because one person refused to live within their means and consistently put undue stress on their financial life.  The stress just becomes too much.  It becomes a mountain that cannot be scaled. Honoring your budget together is a way of mutually caring for your marriage and honoring the effort you are both making in the health and well-being of your future.  It is a way of saying “I see you and appreciate you, and all your hard work on our behalf.”  Yes, it is hard to sometimes not have something we want, but having a nourished partner each night when we crawl into bed is ultimately so much more comforting.

If it is beyond time to nourish your marriage, the next Passion For Life™ Retreat will be Sept 24-27, 2015 at the Whistler Pan Pacific, in beautiful Whistler, British Columbia. To obtain more information or to see if there are still openings click here.  Make this the year you fall back in love!

 

By Tina Schermer Sellers, PhD, LMFT               www.TinaSchermerSellers.com

My Love List About My Beloved … And Why Gratefulness is Good for the Heart

Photo by Libbey Lewis
Photo by Libbey Lewis

Evenings at our house are rather hilarious … you see, neither of us cook. Kids are now gone and so is the sense of obligation to fix dinner … or go to the grocery store. The beloved and I will walk in the door sometime around 7, look at each other and then look into our empty fridge. We open a bottle of wine and do our best to get creative. We laugh. One of us usually says something about wishing we had a “wife” … but look as we may … he is nowhere to be found!

At our age beauty is seen in flexibility. Our skin is more like a ducks back … so much just rolls off. It takes a lot for us to get flustered. Gone are the days when things had to be just so. I’m far from perfect and so is he. But parts of us are tasty and those are the parts we relish and feast on regularly. We don’t get everything done … far from it. Our timing for tasks is completely different. I make decisions fast, he makes them slow. I plan ahead, he keeps the options open. He brings us spontaneity, I bring us … I don’t know, predictability? You know, the boring stuff. But, we ‘get’ each other … and we appreciate each other.

It can be so easy sometimes to focus on how our differences drive us crazy … but these days, we seem to want to focus on how lucky we are. I think over time we have just gotten better at accepting our differences, making adaptations, lowering our expectations, figuring out work-arounds and deciding to focus on what is good about “us”.

So in honor of all that I love about him, here is today’s rambling ‘love list’ …

  • I love the way he gets distracted from working in his home office at night (often several times) to come find me and nibble on my neck for a while.
  • I love the way he hates to get out of bed in the morning and just wants to hold on as if he could stop time.
  • I love the way he worships the feel of my skin and the smell of my hair.
  • I love the way he listens to my rants about sexual shame, abuses of power, sexual health, the spiritual side of sex, our kids.
  • I love that when I freak out about some proclamation one of the kids make about their future that scares me, how gentle he is in reminding me that they are ever evolving and to be patient.
  • I love that he gets the mail and takes out the garbage … 2 things I routinely love to forget.
  • I love that he is always 100% behind my dreams and passions – even when it takes resources from ‘us’.
  • I love that I have never felt like his intimate touch was about him … but always about his love and desire for me. I tell him he needs to bottle and sell this … it is magic!
  • I love that he is usually willing to read a book with me or go to a conference about marriage, sex or spirituality. What man does that?
  • I love that he cries at stories of love and attachment, and feels with his whole being.
  • I love that his intelligence and who he is in the world makes me want to be my best self
  • I love how he loves and protects our kids, our family, our life together.
  • I love how hard he works, how much integrity he has and how you can completely trust him.
  • I love how his body fits perfectly with mine.

Now while this is quite the list … he is not perfect … I am not perfect … we are not perfect. In fact you cannot be human and be perfect. It’s an oxymoron. I could write an equally long list of complaints … and his about me would be longer – for sure!! But you know, there is nothing on my complaint list that is more important than the things on my ‘love’ list. They may be nagging inconveniences – but they are opportunities to grow my patience and compassion with him. Just as he grows his patience and compassion being married to me (and it is NOT easy – trust me!). He is a true gem.

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One of the truths about the tender heart of a human, is that we bloom under the ‘love list’ of our partner or parent, and wilt under their constant criticism. In a past life I lived under constant criticism. It was like being a block of delicious aged gouda slowly being dragged across a cheese grater. After years of constant reminders of all my many failures and flaws, I was but a whisper of myself. Finding my value was like finding oxygen in water. I was always gasping for air. If we have the privilege to be around children we see the evidence of how they are treated. We can observe the difference in confidence between the child who is affirmed and the child who is criticized. As we get older, we get better at hiding the effects of how we are treated. We wear a mask. But our heart is made of the same tender substance it always has. Criticism is like poison. Honest affirmation and love … pure nourishment. Yet somehow if things are particularly rough in our partnerships, we are all prone to criticism and silencing our appreciation. It is as if we are afraid silencing our desire to criticize and focus our mind, heart and words on what we appreciate and love is “giving in”, “not standing our ground”, “letting him get away with something”, etc. Have you ever found yourself thinking something like this? We want so badly to believe that criticism and lectures actually work to create change in others – even tho we know it never works with us. Why is this?

Now, a lifetime later, I am eternally grateful that this is the man I get to learn more about the gift and nature of love alongside. I don’t want to be on my deathbed, or he on his, when we realize what gifts we were given. I don’t want to squander our opportunity to grow in grace and compassion by focusing on our complaints and criticisms – or try to change each other to be more like clones of ourselves. I want to learn to appreciate our differences and expand the things I love. I want to feel them, wallow in my appreciation, marinate in my gratefulness. Feel the fullness of this blessing. It seems a much more life giving way to live.

For those interested in coming to our next Passion for Life Couples Intimacy Retreat.  Registration is now open and there are a few spots still available. The retreat is September 24 – 27, 2015 at  the beautiful Whistler Village Pan Pacific, British Columbia, Canada. For more information and to register.

 

By Tina Schermer Sellers, PhD, LMFT                www.TinaSchermerSellers.com