Marriage can be hard at times —or any intimate relationship. I believe a normal and even healthy marriage is one with tension and challenges.
Our relationships get stronger amidst the ups and downs of life. But when we don’t work through these challenges — together — it becomes harmful to the relationship.
The love, passion, and energy can disappear leaving us wondering where the person we married went.
Why after several years of marriage do we tend to bicker, nag, and become annoyed with one another?
When our needs aren’t met we tend to disengage and grow apart.
This creates a downward spiral where neither spouse is getting what they need. The relationship continues to distance itself from what it should be.
How do we grow closer rather than further apart? A simple change in focus has the power to improve every aspect of our relationship.
In my case, there was a time — and likely still are times — where I wasn’t meeting my wife’s needs.
I was failing here. Things at home were edgy…
We Are Not Each Other’s Possessions
Love is not a noun, it’s a verb. In To Have or To Be, Erich Fromm describes this dichotomy of being and having when it comes to love. In today’s world, there is an infatuation with having love. This is wrong. Love instead must be pursued. It’s who you are toward each other; therein lies the problem we are dealing with in this article.
Erich Fromm does an excellent job outlining what happens in many relationships:
“During courtship neither person is yet sure of the other, but each tries to win the other. Both are alive, attractive, interesting, even beautiful — inasmuch as aliveness always makes a face beautiful. Neither yet has the other; hence each one’s energy is directed to being, i.e., to giving to and stimulating the other. With the act of marriage, the situation frequently changes fundamentally. The marriage contract gives each partner the exclusive possession of the other’s body, feelings, and care. Nobody has to be won over any more, because love has become something one has, a property. The two ceases to make the effort to be lovable and to produce love, hence they become boring, and hence their beauty disappears. They are disappointed and puzzled. Are they not the same persons anymore? Did they make a mistake in the first place? Each usually seeks the cause of the change in the other and feels defrauded. What they do not see is that they no longer are the same people they were when they were in love with each other; that the error that one can have love has led them to cease loving. Now, instead of loving each other, they settle for owning together what they have: money, social standing, a home, children. Thus, in some cases, the marriage initiated on the basis of love becomes transformed into a friendly ownership, a corporation in which the two egotisms are pooled into one: that of the “family.””
Here are three steps to pursuing love, meeting each other’s needs, and strengthening your relationship:
1. It Starts With You Taking the First Step
First of all, we have to take ownership. Whether or not it is our fault isn’t the point.
What matters is that for you to create change in your relationship you have to act. You have to model what you desire in your partner. It starts with you.
Selfishness is a fact of human nature. We all struggle with it. The one place we think it is safe to be selfish is at home.
But when we choose to disengage with our relationship in the home, we tend to rob ourselves of the satisfaction, joy, and purpose those relationships bring.
What we feel like doing doesn’t always give us what we really need — watching TV seldom translates to joy and satisfaction.
For satisfaction, joy, and purpose to re-enter our relationship we must reconnect with the memories that first ignited our love for one another. This is a great way to remind you of and rekindle the love you once shared.
If we are married it likely means we deeply value, enjoy, and love our significant other — or we did at one time. Go back to that place in your mind and remember those times. Spend time talking about those memories together. Start the conversation with: Remember when…
Immerse yourself in those memories together. Talk about every tiny detail. Remember.
2. Fill the Unmet Need
Next, we must look for the unmet needs in our relationship. When we pursue our spouse and fill these needs we will fulfill our own.
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. . . . Serve and thou shall be served.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cloé Madanes and Tony Robbins teach that we have six basic needs:
- Certainty — We need stability.
- Uncertainty — We need adventure and novelty.
- Significance — We need to know we matter.
- Love — We need to feel connected.
- Growth — Progress is a key element of happiness. We need it.
- Contribution — We need to know we are making a difference.
“The error,” — in relationships — says Cloé Madanes, “comes many times when you focus on yourself, what you want, and what you don’t want versus the other person.”
Our needs aren’t being met because we aren’t meeting the needs of the other person — our husband, wife, children, or friend. Her book Relationship Breakthrough goes deep into this subject.
For me — times were edgy. I wasn’t meeting my wife’s needs for love and connection, one of the six needs mentioned above.
Early in our marriage, we learned about the Five Love Languages. She received and felt love through acts of service and quality time. I had to fill this unmet need.
3. No, Really — Do It
Yes, this takes effort. We are talking about the most important relationship in your life — it’s worth it.
Like most meaningful things in life, however, we seldom feel like doing what is most beneficial.
In this case, don’t do what feels good, do what creates good. This is one of the many paradoxes of life. Why is it that the thing we really need is the thing we least likely will pursue?
Why do we so often settle for a life of ease and comfort rather than a life of full engagement?
Life is hard you say. It’s a heavy burden to carry on your shoulders. It feels unfair.
Life is much harder and the burden much heavier when we choose not to engage, instead we settle and become numb to life and our relationship.
A Happy Ending
Taking the approach above, I learned a valuable lesson in my own marriage. I was indeed making the situation about me, what I wanted, and what I didn’t want. My focus was on me, not her. It was her problem, not mine.
I had to start taking responsibility.
After realizing my error, I turned my focus toward what I knew she wanted — and I soon realized she needed.
It started with us having a conversation. I learned that she needs to feel me engage with her and the kids when I get home. For me, it started with a change in focus.
Instead of getting home, and searching for a place to plop down, I came home and focused on how I could engage.
I started literally asking the question, “what can I do to help?”. I shifted my energy, focus, and intentions toward helping her.
The first time doing this changed the course of the entire evening. ?
In fact, this simple question many times resulted in her responding in an appreciative tone that she didn’t need anything.
That was it.
She really only wanted to know I noticed her and that I cared. While she thought she wanted me to help more around the house, she actually needed me to recognize and care about her.
Instead of being on my phone reading emails, I was up helping and loving on her. She lit up — so did I.
When you see what you value flourish you tend to get a lot of energy and fulfillment at the same time.
This was such an impactful moment for me that I started looking for other areas of my life where I could engage more with my values.
I started playing games with the kids, giving them baths, and reading to them before bed. It created feelings of joy, gratitude, and connection. My energy and satisfaction increased even more.
If you find yourself growing apart in your relationship then don’t hesitate. Go to work rekindling what was once there. It starts with you.
Focus on your spouse; what does he or she need from you?
Take initiative and start giving toward the unmet needs in their life.
Keep fighting and show them that they are the center of your world.
What could you do today to engage more in your relationship right now?
Do you want more from your life?
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