Real Relationships Part 3: Uh-oh—What happened? I’m not sure we even like each other anymore…should I give up?
Girl falls for boy. He digs her too. They are “in love” and can’t wait to tie the knot. Sure, they have issues, but doesn’t everybody? “Our love will see us through,” they think. Only—it doesn’t. Fast-forward 6 months past the wedding. The excitement has faded, laughter no longer permeates the air, and all the warm gooey mushy mush feelings have disappeared into a black abyss. The cute quirks no longer cute and curious peculiarities no longer curious. She feels betrayed. He is annoyed. She is lonely. He feels like a failure. She tries harder and harder to please him—but the more she tries the more he shuts down. Insecurities come out of the woodwork and the alarms in her heart begin to go off: “Warning—Warning! This is not what you signed up for!” What’s a girl to do?
I could write thousands of pages on the topic but since my time is limited and you wouldn't finish the entire article at such a length, let me try to boil this down to some “bottom-line principles” best I can. I don’t claim to have all the answers and I acknowledge that each relationship is unique. This may not work for you—but then again—it just might. This is not the answer, but I hope it will bring illumination on some of the things at work in this scenario. I will try to hone in on a few major strands of the rope in which you may be tied up and will offer some practical tips along the way that will hopefully empower you to move out of this place of “stuck.” Are you ready? Let’s go!
Issue 1: “No matter what I do, I just can’t make him happy!”
That is right! And guess what—he can’t truly make you happy either. The point of marriage is not to make the other happy—that’s impossible. If this is your focus, then I suggest you take a good look into the heart of the issue—your heart. My guess is that you are hard on yourself and don’t have a good sense of your worth—unless you can make others happy and they are pleased with you. The way you feel about yourself is dependent on if other people accept and are pleased with you. This is no way to live. Your worth as a person is not dependent on if other people are pleased or not.
The real issue is being a “people-pleaser.” Beneath this are insecurities. And under those are often self-hatred, believing lies about your own worth as a person, and fear of rejection, failure, fill-in-the blank: FEAR!
Living from the stance of being a people-pleaser is a sure way to draw out and enlarge your insecurities. Sometimes people will be pleased with you—and sometimes they won’t be. Please the one who made you by being the you that you were created to be. If you are impatient, I’m not saying, “Then go ahead and be impatient—it’s just who you are!” That’s not an identity statement—that’s’ a learned skill—and an emotional response. I’m saying to learn to become the best whole, healed, and authentic version of you.
When you know who you really are, you can be true to you no matter how other people respond. If you are a person who values being kind, then be kind! Not because you feel like you have to—but because it’s who you are. And let your “doing” come from a place of “being” that is unconditional in nature. You act out of a place of giving of who you are and how other people act or don’t act should make no difference. Where do you start? Get a vision for and get in touch with who you are. I started a series on “Identity.” You may want to click HERE to read that article for a starter. If you want me to continue the series, leave a comment and let me know!
Another thing to mention around this topic is that true happiness is something that happens on the inside and is not dependent on what other people do or do not do. True happiness and living from a place of knowing your worth is to be “who you are” not “who you’re with.” If your happiness depends on others or you allow their happiness to depend on you, your life will be a roller coaster based on changing moods, emotions, and circumstances.
Yes, there are blessings to be found in a marriage, but happiness is not the end goal. Just before I married my husband I began to wonder if we would actually make each other happy (we had some pre-wedding arguing going on.) I prayed about it and really felt God tell me something profound: “You and your spouse-to-be are like sandpaper statues. You will learn how to dance through this life together (emphasis on learn)—and in the process, make each other smooth.”
Wow. And yes—that is exactly what it’s like. Learning—a process—friction—sparks—and finding our rhythm in this crazy world. You see, your lack invites him into healing and his lack invites you into yours. What does this healing look like? Oh-it would take a book to lay it out. But let’s focus on one thing for now. Start by targeting your thoughts. Begin to separate what is true from what is not true. I’ll dive into some of this soon. For an article that starts to dig in to this process, which I call the “Freedom Process” you can click HERE. If you want more, leave a comment at the end of the article and ask for a Part 2!
Issue 2: “We brought baggage into our marriage. I’m willing to deal with mine but he isn’t. How can I make him be my partner in this?”
You can’t! Anytime you feel the need to “make” anybody do anything, you are no longer operating from a place of freedom but are more likely being driven by fear, worry, or a need to control related to insecurity.
You can’t make him want to try—and the more you try—the more you will push him away. Is it a lost cause? No! You have a lot of work that you can do in the meantime—on you! Deal with your junk and even if he isn’t willing right now, perhaps he will see the way you are being transformed from the inside out and desire the same.
Let him watch you from a place of silence. It may seem like he’s not paying attention—but he sees you. Look at your own tendencies towards fear, worry, the need to control, and where you have unresolved anger and pain. Look at where you over-react to things. These triggers are your invitations into self-discovery for the purpose of healing and becoming whole. For more on triggers, click HERE to read an article about how dirty dishes triggered me into a frenzy and what I learned to do about it!
It is often the hidden root beneath the fruit that really deserves our attention. You can’t get away from your past in the regard that if undealt with, it will continue to inform who you are and how you respond today. Were you the over-responsible caretaker in your family of origin? Then you probably still play that role today. You are still trying to get daddy to approve by hoping your husband will meet the need your father never did. It’s time to let the little girl heal and grow up into the wife she wants to be. If you are interested in catching a glimpse of the little girl that lives in me, click HERE to see my own reflection on the topic.
So an agreement related to that particular might be:
When communicating important information we agree to do the following:
1. Ask if this is a good time to talk—don’t jump into a conversation if the other person is otherwise focused.
2. If the person agrees it’s a good time to talk, the listener must stop what he/she is doing and turn to give full focus and attention to spouse.
3. Person with the message gives context for what he/she is about to say i.e. “This is really important to me so please think carefully before you respond—this is a tender issue for me, etc.”
4. Person listening promises to respond to content just brought up and not use it as a launching pad to bring own concerns to the table. First respond to the content (and the heart) of what person just said.
5. If message is unclear, ask questions for clarification.
6. Person receiving questions be patient—the questions are not judgment statements or being asked to be an annoyance—genuine clarification is being sought.
7. When listener thinks they finally “get” the message they can repeat it back in a paraphrase form to check for understanding.
8. Other person will confirm or clarify if needed.
9. Agree and clarify action steps each is responsible to take.
This may seem like a lot of work just to “talk” and in the beginning, yes, it is. But once the agreement is in place, it’s easy to point to the paper and say, “Hey—remember this” when things start to get out of hand. It sure beats having the same argument over and over because we never figured out how to get out of the crazy cycle of assumptions and miscommunication!
Issue 3: “I think that he thinks this and that but he won’t talk about it”
Do EVERYTHING you can to identify and get rid of assumptions. They are very, very dangerous, and often are one of the key players in destroying relationships. If you don’t know—try asking. If he won’t tell you, surrender it. He doesn't want to hear about what you “know” is going on inside of him. He may not even know! This may pressure him in a way that causes him to further shut down.
Test your assumptions whenever you can by asking questions (but not too many questions and not from a place of anxiety or fear) and give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. If he says, “It’s not you” then go with it. No point trying to figure out what you can do to change when he’s never asked you to change. Some men internalize their issues and while it seems like they are mad—the truth is they may just be stuck in their own junk. Or maybe it really is unrelated to you. But your constant asking is creating an issue where there is none.
If his issue really is about you—and you make yourself a safe person by being authentic and available—he may tell you when he’s ready. First work on being that safe person by finding stability in who you are. Let him see that he can bring something up that won’t destroy you. Show him you don’t “need” his approval for your self-worth. I’m not saying go to the other extreme and just become “Ms. Independent, I don’t need my husband” kind of lady. It’s too much pressure on a guy if we live as if his mood, opinion, or reaction will make or break our day—or our heart. We need to give them room to have a bad day and space to work it out. His bad day doesn’t have to be brought into the relationship. Men tend to be better about separating issues whereas women tend to mix them all up together. Separating “what is me” and “what is not me” can be very helpful.
Something my husband and I are doing to be proactive in testing assumptions is to develop an agreement—an “alliance” if you will—that we both agree on ahead of time in terms of how we relate to each other in the heat of the moment so we both play fair by the rules we create together. For example, my husband often thinks he’s clear when he tells me something and vice-versa but truth be told, we communicate very differently and it’s just not a “natural thing” for us to just “get” what the other is trying to say. When we assume the other person has “heard correctly” we often end up in an argument later because the clarity we assumed was there was indeed not. See sample agreement to the right.
Agreeing Through Differences
Let me mention that it took us over two years to even get to the spot of agreeing to work on an agreement! [Click HERE to see another article about making agreements.]
We’ve had to deal with underlying, foundational root issues that made even working on a helpful tool difficult. Those layers were many but to highlight just a few reasons why we had issues were related to:
- Gender Differences: Men and women are really, really different! We didn’t say it, but we lived as if different was “bad” and kept trying to convince each other that “my different is better than your different.” We had to come to terms with the fact that women see the world through pink sunglasses and men see the world through blue sunglasses. What is a big deal to me is often not to him and vice versa. This makes it hard to respond to a person rightly unless you understand this principle.
I had to learn to give context and let my husband know, “Hey—on a scale of 1-10, I want you to know this is a level 8 important to me.” Then, although it only seemed like a 2 for him, he could adjust the way he listened and responded. The thing didn’t have to become more important to him in order to do this—he just knew it was important to me—and I am important to him—so he had to learn how to respond to my heart and not judge why I’m being “so sensitive” or “silly.”
We both went through (and are still going through) a process of adjusting our mindset and how we relate to each other. It’s not a smooth, one-time, easy fix. It’s a commitment and it takes practice. We are believing if we keep practicing, it will eventually become our “new normal.” When we mess up (and we do!) forgiveness is the best choice. Then we get up and try again. The book Love and Respect really helped us with this particular area of our relationship—a lot!
- Playing Past Roles: I continued to play the role of any issues that were left unresolved in my life. For example, there was a theme of men saying one thing and then doing another. I didn’t trust. I thought I trusted my husband—he never gave me a reason not to. But I gave myself plenty of reasons not to—only they were all “what if” scenarios—none of which were true and now looking back, none of which were even likely.
I had taken unresolved hurts and fears from past relationships and projected them on to my husband. I had to recognize this and stop it! It was not good. In order to do this I had to dig into my own heart and mind, identify roots, and I went through a special process of “coming out of agreement” with the lies I believed, forgiving and releasing people so I could get untangled from the emotional baggage, and deciding what I would believe about my husband and choose to be committed to that perspective. Of course the process involved much more—but that’s a nutshell of what I did.
- We Are Just Plain Different: Akin to recognizing gender differences, we also have been learning how to recognize how our different personalities and preferences impact our relationship. My husband doesn’t need to become more of an extrovert to “please” me but he does go out of his comfort zone when I have a social need. I don’t have to become an introvert to “please” him but I do have to go out of my comfort zone to respect his need for privacy or down-time. We are trying to compromise where we can, but also just identify when it’s okay to just to disagree or be different.
Silly example, but this illustrates the point: there are certain foods my husband likes—good for him! But I don’t like them. There are other foods I like which he does not. We don’t have to find a way to compromise in the sense of “I’ll like some of your food if you like some of mine.” We simply say, “I don’t prefer that.” And guess what? It’s okay. If it’s his night to cook, he knows I don’t like that certain thing, so he makes a little just for him. We try to be open to trying new things, but the point is that sometimes we just listen to what the other person says about themselves and though we can’t understand it, we accept it and live the best we can by the principle I like to call “embracing unity with diversity.”
Issue 4: When have I tried enough? When is it time to just give up?
That’s entirely up to you. But I’ll tell you my perspective. As long as my husband and I are both alive, I will never be able to say of myself “I did everything I could and just have nothing left.” Every day is a new day to try again. Every day brings a new opportunity for breakthrough. Trying doesn't have a timeline—it is a lifestyle.
I do my part—nothing more and nothing less. If I try to do my part and his part, I’ll make things worse. If I do less than my part, the breakthrough I want to see probably won’t happen. [The book Boundaries by Henry Cloud is a great resource for this.] I can’t give up because that is not the nature of love. The Bible has to say of love that it never fails. It is patient and long-lasting—enduring. Because love is a choice and not a feeling, I chose on my wedding day to do my part “until death do us part.” I meant what I said on that day and no circumstance can change that.
[Disclaimer: There ARE times to remove yourself from a relationship such as when you or your children are in danger or harm’s way. This is not “giving up” this is being smart and setting boundaries. This is NOT what I’m referring to in the above section.]
I've had plenty of times during fights or rough times when my feelings and thoughts and just about everything in me told me, “Run! This won’t work! Get out!” But I did not react to those thoughts or feelings. I stood my ground knowing I’d made a commitment and with God’s help, I intend to keep that commitment.
Do you know that when those feelings and thoughts are at their strongest, a fresh breakthrough in our relationship is usually just around the corner? I use the power of choosing my thoughts to create a victorious mindset to get through these intense moments. If I agree with the thought of “This will never get better” then I’ll be stuck and trapped in my own words. I instead say, “This may feel like it will never get better in the moment, but that is not true. I am committed to doing my part for this to get better. God, I trust you to do your part and please help my husband to do his.”
Sometimes we just need to let a little time go by—do some forgiving—and align our perspective to a position of thinking the best and choosing who we want to be in the relationship. Suddenly we find it wasn't as bad as we thought. All relationships require grace, truth, and time. These ingredients work together to create the healing and growth we want to see in ourselves and in the relationship. [Check out the book Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud—he does an amazing job explaining this in depth!]
These are all rooted and grounded in love. Not a flimsy feeling that changes with the weather—but a solid foundation built upon commitment. When all else fails—it is our commitment that keeps us moving forward together. I used to hate the saying “fake it until you make it” because I’m all about authenticity—but if thought of in terms of “practice who you want to be until that’s who you are” I think it applies.
It takes time for us to work through our issues and to develop new thinking patterns and habits that bring health and growth to our relationships. It’s not a formula, it doesn't happen all at once, and it requires trial and error, grace and forgiveness, and a will to keep trying in order to make it. Make up your mind ahead of time about who you and thus how you will respond—that way when things get tough you can take your own advice and choose what you value over what you feel in the moment. Don’t react according to the strongest emotions. Feelings are fickle. Commitments (true ones) are forever.
Another book I must highly recommend for the person who wants to deal with their past in order to live the future they desire is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. It was nothing less than life-changing for me in this process!
I’m sure I could say MUCH more—but this is what I have time for today. What specific questions do YOU have? What should I address in my next “Real Relationships” article? I’d love to hear from you—you’re the reason I write!
I may have alluded to this but let me say it directly: Marriage IS meant to be a blessing! And I do love my husband very much. The articles I write tend to focus on the struggle aspects of marriage, not the "where it is easy and blissful" parts. Nobody needs an article to tell them to enjoy what's already enjoyable!
I feel the need to be transparent and "real" about how difficult relationships can be and although I focus on these elements in my writings, I also acknowledge that there are things in my marriage that are smooth, too. :-)
I do, however, think God matched me with a mate that is SOOOO different so that we would have to work it out. I mean, what better way for us to be stretched, to grow, and to have the understanding and experience necessary to encourage others in their marriage? If I had one of those "wow--this is so easy" marriages, would you take my advice seriously on working through the struggles?
I can offer hope because I have hope. I have hope because I've experienced it. I've experienced hope because I'm committed to the hard work of growing as an individual and becoming the best version of "me" as is possible in this lifetime.
Thanks for sharing with me in this epic journey through the mountains and valleys called "relationship." Stay tuned for more articles in my "Real Relationships" series. And, as always, if you have an idea for a topic please share!
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