It’s difficult enough when we were dating, but once we are in a close marriage relationship the dynamic changes. Soon after being married, I remember thinking to myself – “Wow, same planet two different worlds!” I thought I understood the opposite sex on some level, but marriage removed any sense that I had a clear understanding. It’s not that the sexes are so different, but that each of us comes to marriage thinking we really understand each other very well and, really, we don’t. It’s not long after we’re married that we realize we really don’t know what makes each other tick. The good news is we really do get to know each other over the years. The bad news there are some things we do naturally that interfere with getting to know and understand our spouse and interfere with getting what we want out of our marriage relationships.
So why don’t we get what we want in our marriages? Well, there are five key reasons – some of these may apply to your relationship:
1. We don’t talk openly to our partners For a variety of reasons, we don’t talk openly to our partners in this great venture we call marriage. We often talk cryptically about topics we feel vulnerable about or that are sensitive to us. For example, two common areas of concern for couples are – finances and sex. Oddly, couples often find it difficult to talk (openly, honestly, and often) about those two areas. When was the last time you talked about either one or both of those? Chances are, if you did, it was probably about money – finances. And it may have been an argument or at least a difficult conversation. Couples are more likely to be cryptic and uncomfortable when talking about sex. Just ask your partner a question about your sex life and watch them squirm. Sex is important to our marriage s but it can be difficult to talk about. Of course finances and sex may top the list but I’m sure you could add some more.
2. We expect our partners to be mind readers. We expect our partners to not just understand us but to understand us completely. To truly get us all the while without telling them openly what we are thinking, what we are feeling or what we want. Instead we expect them to just “know.” We tell ourselves, our partners “should” know and if we have to tell them then it doesn’t count. This is a particularly common complaint in couples’ therapy. One of my couples said, “Honey, I’m a fortune teller not a mind reader.” I often coach my couples to tell their partners what they want as a means of getting what they need. If you want your husband to take your hand – tell him, “Honey I really like it when you take my hand.” Tell him what you want to teach him what you need - is the mantra I use in couples’ therapy. The addendum to that is, when your partner does something you like (holds your hand) praise them for it – “Honey, your so great! I love it when you ______.” Along with that I coach couples to tell their partner how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Hiding your feelings, thoughts and desires is not a good strategy for getting what you want / need.
3. We act in our own self-interest. Ok, I know that sounds a little strange. After all, the question is, “Why am I not getting what I want out of my marriage?” We often end up acting in our own self-interest but not our own best interest. If I were to ask you what would you want more:
A. A marriage where your partner gives you everything you want – you’re happy but they are miserable and discontent and your relationship is disconnected and withering.
B. A marriage where both partners hold themselves accountable for what they contribute to the relationship. They don’t keep account of what they are getting from the relationship, but both pour into the relationship what their partners want/need. Both are happy and the relationship is healthy.
Guess which one leads to divorce and which one leads to a great marriage.
The REAL focus of our marriage is not to convince the other person to give us everything we want but rather to figure out what our partner needs/wants and try to give them that. The real focus is our “relationship” and how we can feed it so it grows. In this paradigm, both partners feed into the relationship and both get more of what they want – a lot more! The odd thing is, even if one partner stops trying to take, take, take, and starts pouring into the relationship, the relationship improves and changes for the better! Don’t believe me? Take the 30-day relationship challenge – for HER…….for HIM.
4. We think we are angry and we think we are entitled to our anger. The problem is we are not angry. “Wait a minute,” you say, “you don’t know what my spouse did! I’m angry!” Ok, I know you think you’re angry but you are more than that. Anger sits at the top of the emotional food chain and it’s easy to access. Underneath anger there are a lot of other probable and possible emotions – hurt, pain, sadness, grief, rejection, shame, guilt, embarrassment, regret, and disappointment to name a few. Chances are you’re feeling one of these emotions. Anger is so easy to access, not only because it’s at the top, but if we access anger we don’t have to deal with the messy underlying emotions which are more complex and more difficult to deal with.
For example, if you are hurt, it may be difficult to say to your partner that you are hurt (emotionally wounded) and equally difficult to describe your hurt. What you really want/need is for your partner to connect with you, comfort you, apologize (if they are at fault), reassure you, perhaps hold and soothe you, etc. That has a greater possibility of happening IF we explain our underlying emotion of hurt, sadness, grief, etc. You want and need resolution. However, if you go with anger you typically won’t get all of the nice things you want or need. What you’ll likely get instead is an argument with lots of finger pointing, blame and fiery emotions. Instead of the resolution you long for and need, you get more confrontation.
5. We (literally) don’t know how to ask for what we need. This is different than #1 – talking openly. It’s kind of a combination of #1, #2 and #4. We want something and we haven’t told our partner what it is (#1). We may have cryptically hinted at it (#2) and our partner is not getting it. It’s been an unfulfilled desire for so long we become frustrated (#4) and so when we ask for what we want in plain, uncryptic language our frustration shines through like the bright light of morning shining through our bedroom window burning the retinas out of our weary sleep deprived eyes. We do what’s known as a “hard start”. And the rule in relationships is “hard start hard ending, soft start soft ending.”
Let me explain. A hard start is when you ask for what you want by starting with a complaint or criticism. It sounds like anger or frustration rather than a request. For example, you’d like your partner to hold your hand.
Hard start - “You never hold my hand!” Soft start – I’d love it if you’d hold my hand.”
Hard start – “You’re not romantic anymore!” Soft start – I remember when we used to go out – just the two of us. I miss spending time with you. Let’s go out this Friday. Where would you like to go?”
The good news is most relationship issues are easily addressed. Couples therapy is a great place to start.