Beth and Paul were sitting on the coach in front of me struggling to connect. They both felt dismissed, ignored, blamed, angry and resentful.
I asked them, “What would your marriage look like if we could work through these issues?”
Beth sarcastically replied, “He would pick up his clothes.”
My wife asked, “Let’s say we got all of that agreed to, what would your marriage feel like?”
Beth replied, “I guess it would be easy, or at least not tense.”
My wife asked, “Would you like to feel chosen?”
Both of them agreed that they want to be wanted.
My wife and I asked more questions. Would you like to feel safe? Desired? Comforted? Soothed? Secure? Would you like someone that would always be there for you?
Of course, they wanted all of those things.
Not Good for Man to Be Alone
In Genesis 2:18 it says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
This passage goes through my mind when I’m talking to couples like Beth and Paul. It’s easy for our mentoring sessions to get lost in the daily conflicts, like chores, parenting, money or sex. I understand that those areas are important and couples do need to work out their disagreements, but often there is a deeper need.
God recognized our deep desire to not be alone. We want that emotional support from our spouse.
I’ve never had a person disagree with the need to be chosen, desired or wanted. There is a reason why God called the Jews His Chosen people – it met a deeper need. The marriage covenant is about choosing to love someone, to support them and to stand by them. Forever.
Are You There For Me?
Dr. Sue Johnson in her book, Created for Connection, brilliantly describes the core connection question. Are you there for me?
I witness couples struggling with this root issue. At the most basic level, we want to know that we aren’t alone. We want to know that our partner is in it with us.
I heard one gentleman tell the story about how he felt disconnected to his wife in bed. She would lie in bed and work on her phone. She would return emails and texts from other people. He criticized her for her time management skills. He explained how she shouldn’t work in bed. He criticized her for not taking some downtime.
She got defensive and told him that she had to get this work done. They argued about this for years. When he finally became vulnerable and told her that he just needed some time with her, she immediately put down her phone. She said, “Why didn’t you say so?”
This issue wasn’t about being on the phone or about time management. He wanted to know that she was with him. Did she value him? Was she choosing him or her work? He wanted connection.
Fight, Flight or Freeze
It’s easy to get triggered when we don’t feel that our partners are there with us. We often react with fight, flight or freeze.
Then, we criticize, defend, show contempt and stonewall.
We interpret our partner’s reactions as “not being in it with me.” We react based on that fear of being disconnected.
It’s taken me awhile to understand this. I used to think that arguments with my wife were about money, chores, parenting, sex, etc. Now, I think more of my concern is that I don’t think my wife with “with me” when it comes to those topics.
I usually don’t care if she agrees with me or not. I just want us to figure it out together.
In the past, I don’t think that I was aware enough of my own fears and needs to have made this connection. Now, when I argue with my wife, I think about this. I admit that much of my own reaction is fueled by my need for connection with Michelle.
Focus on Connection
As I’ve mentored couples and they begin to focus on building their connection, their conflict becomes more manageable. They start to listen to each other and work to understand. They may not always agree, but at least they are working on being there for each other.
Our couple, Beth and Paul, started out angry and resentful. They began to realize that they wanted the same things – connection, to be chosen, someone to sooth them and to have someone that walks beside them. Once they got that, we could work on the things that separate them or trigger them.
So, we started to rephrase our dialog into “Does that behavior build your bond?” What might help in a situation like this? When you disagree, how can your partner demonstrate that they are working together with you?
Beth and Paul were slowly able to identify the behaviors, the triggers and the thoughts that were hurting them. They were able to make new choices.