Sunday, June 13, 2010

We need to talk

According to the book 'how to improve your marriage without talking about it', one of the worse things couples do is talk about their problems. The hurt and disappointment women express make men feel like big failures. Woman want to talk about their problems to feel better. The disconnection they are feeling makes them feel anxious, isolated and afraid. So a man's feeling of shame keeps him from seeing her fear and her fear keeps her from seeing his shame. I get this completely. My partner turtles from conflict and gets very defensive when I want to talk about the relationship. Talking turns into more arguing and the resentment builds.

So if talking is out, how can I fix things? Unfortunately this is where I think this book falls short -- the authors suggest empathy -- seeing the world through your partner's eyes without losing perspective on your own position. Bleh! Not easy, especially when you are upset. For women, this means tuning in to his dread of shame rather than focusing on your own resentment. And for men, tuning into her anxiety rather than your urge to withdraw.

Once you've empathized, making a connection should be a lot easier since the act of empathy actually lowers your own fear or discomfort. To connect with your man, the book suggests making a physical gesture to show that you're there with him (e.g. holding his hand) and k -- this is the ridiculous part ... being available to do something with him that he's good at which will replace his sense of failure with a sense of accomplishment and mastery. Like what? Sex? Let's play some Guitar Hero? How 'bout a few rounds of golf (in the middle of the night, no doubt)? Wait, we don't need prophylactics in our night table drawer, a Sodoku pad will do just fine! This advice is right up there with acting dumb to attract a man. I shouldn't laugh, it's not empathetic of me :-). I can definitely see how talking does not work for us. I'm willing to try anything.

Men can make the connection with their partners by simply being there for them and not trying to be Mr. Fix-It. Thankfully, my partner's learned to turn off his engineering brain when it comes to matters of the heart. I'm also very out-spoken and am quick to let him know when he is needed and when he's offering solutions instead of just listening. I'll explore this concept of a woman's fears in a later post. It's a good exercise to dig deep and get in touch with what's most important to you.

The book gets into some other ways to bring back the love -- fix your partner in your heart four times a day, hug six times a day for six seconds, hold positive thoughts about your relationship, etc. These sound easy, but who does them? I hate it when love is forced. I've tried to touch my partner six times a day and it lasted three days. If you have to remind yourself to do it, then you're not feeling it! We've just never been this way. But maybe I wasn't giving it a fair chance. Didn't I just say that I'd try anything?

This post is not particularly up-lifting. I'm leary of this book's advice working for my relationship. What I can take away though, is a better understanding of my partner's fear of inadequacy and how I trigger that. If I make him feel successful as a lover, protector and provider and he does his part to be sensitive to my own fears we will always have an emotional connection. That makes a lot of sense.

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