Picture this. You're married for a while, maybe have a few kids. You know in your head you love your partner, but you just can't seem to find your way into connection, or to feel it deeply like you used to. The two of you used to be so close, the connection was palpable. You were each other's friend, confidant, and adventure buddy.
But now, something's different. Maybe it's because of the kids, or the daily life tasks...or maybe it's something more. Maybe you fight too much. Maybe you've fallen out of love. Maybe you've grown apart.
You're distant now.
You miss your partner. And how it used to be.
But you just can't seem to get back there.
Sound familiar? In America, where the divorce rate is shockingly high, this is a common story.
So common, in fact, that most of the couples who come to see me for counseling tell me that this is the very thing they fear the most. Sitting on the front porch together once the kids are gone and having nothing in common. Nothing to talk about. No connection.
That kind of awkwardness with the one person you've been closer to than anyone is a pain like no other.
I have good news, though.
There are behaviors that support estrangement and if you know what they are, you can avoid them.
These are the things I witness couples doing with each other without even knowing they're doing it.
I'll share them with you here so that you can catch yourself in the act and practice choosing connection instead.
- You assume you know your partner. What he's going to say, what he's thinking, what he wants, what he needs, etc. When you do this, you totally short circuit your ability to listen openly to him and to allow him to surprise you. You stop asking clarifying questions to make sure you really get him. You make him a known entity in your mind and you lose your curiosity. But the truth is that you never fully know someone. There's always more, and listening openly and therefore having space for this person to surprise you helps create connection, just the way it did at the beginning. No matter how long it's been, looking at your partner with newness, awe, curiosity, reverence, and openness helps create connection.
- If you're guilty of the above, you've probably also asserted your authority on their experience, meaning that you've got an internal dialog about "how they are," which to them, often feels like your list of "what's wrong with them." If you decide that particular look in her eyes means she's anxious, she's projecting her father onto you, or that when she cries she's trying to manipulate you, you're blocking connection. Because if you're the authority, there's no reason to ask curious questions or truly listen and get to know your partner. There's no room for them. And it's in moments of really truly getting someone that connection and intimacy can happen.
- Finally, if you assume you know your partner and assert your authority on their experience, you're then likely to make them wrong in your head for being how they're being or doing what they're doing. And in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, you push them away or judge them when you do this. But meanwhile, you don't really even know what's happening in their world!
Here's the thing. Our view of our partner gets all mixed in with our triggers, wounds, and judgements, so we have to work to be able to truly hear and understand them and let them surprise us.
I find that with couples, there are always questions that go unasked. I'll often ask those questions.
"What do you mean by that?" or "How are you feeling right now about that?" or "What was that like for you?" or "What was your intention in saying xyz?"
I listen closely and try to make sure I understand. When I ask questions like that, I always find a positive intention underneath and both partners are often shocked that they were wrong about each other.
Stay open. Ask questions. Be willing to listen and be wrong. Let yourself be surprised.
Can you remember a time when you were open enough to be surprised by your partner? What happened? Share it with me in a comment below.
And please share this post on Facebook to help encourage others to grow in their relationships.
With love and openness,
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