It had been another long week for Don, and once again he was exhausted when he got home late on Friday night. His wife Sherri sensed that distance was growing between them, so she made a concerted effort to engage in some conversation with him when he got home. But Don dismissed her overtures. Sherri was hurt and angry because she had tried to reestablish a connection with Don, and had been rejected.
The following day was a disaster. They had to take their kids to various sporting activities, and made some very hostile comments to each other in front of their children. Being put down around the kids ignited a firestorm, and by Saturday night they were completely stonewalling one another.
With no verbal communication occurring and the non-verbal signals showing barely concealed contempt, Don and Sherri were each seriously contemplating divorce as a way out of their pain. Their relationship had deteriorated to the point they were on the brink of breaking up. How did what was once a good marriage go bad?
Don and Sherri had been under stress for some time. In the last year the family had moved and Sherri was struggling to help herself and her children make a new set of friends. The promotion that had been promised to Don had failed to materialize, which left him feeling embarrassed and irritable.
But none of these issues had been addressed directly. Both Don and Sherri had been working hard to get established in their new situation and were so tired after they got the kids to bed that they just sat silently in front of the TV most nights.
Without a healthy dose of daily communication about what each was experiencing, their connection became progressively weaker. To compound the problem, they had also lost their external support system because they’d left their friends of many years back in their old hometown.
The lifeblood of a loving relationship is maintaining a daily ritual of talking to each other. Knowing what’s going on in your partner’s world offers the opportunity to provide understanding and empathy, encouragement and appreciation.
Without such communication, couples dwell on their problems in their own head. People often get caught up in a doom loop of negative thinking about their troubles when they don’t have a sounding board. Their mind conjures up terrible stories. Without support it’s easy to believe that you’re not good enough to handle the problems. When there’s insufficient emotional nurturing to help you face the challenges of life, you can come to feel that nobody really cares about your struggles.
To break out of their downward spiral, Don and Sherri got into couple’s counseling. They’d heard from friends who’d seen various therapists that there was a psychologist in town who taught couples new skills rather than simply let them sit and argue for an hour. They found that establishing a healthy communication process freed them from their old pattern of blaming each other for their problems.
Their marriage counselor taught them how to resolve problems. More importantly, he helped them learn how to create loving feelings for one another. Don and Sherri discovered that they could soothe their negative reactions by telling themselves that they were committed to making their marriage work. With that outcome in mind, they were able to redirect their thinking from fault finding to figuring out how to make things right.
They came to recognize that because they each had strong personalities neither would give into the other, so they needed to find mutually agreeable solutions to their problems. As soon as they started asking each other what they thought a win-win agreement would look like, they found themselves feeling respected and much more willing to work together.
To generate more positives in the relationship, they agreed to start telling each other how they were doing every day and whether they were emotionally ready to connect. They realized that many times their lack of connection had to do with being emotionally depleted due to trying to cope with their stressful situation. If either Don or Sherri was having one of those times they’d say, “I love you, but I’m too tired to connect now.”
That enabled the other to empathize rather than become resentful, which led to conversations about how to help the stressed-out partner replenish their emotional reserves. As soon as they were both ready to reconnect, they’d put their heads together to figure out what would give them a great night together.