Brian and I had an argument Friday.
Not just kind of an argument ~ but one of those heartbreaking evenings that leaves you wondering exactly how you got from here to there. Communication isn’t an option for us ~ it’s the ONLY option.
Late Friday evening and into Saturday, Brian and I spent our time talking through needs, desires and dreams. We talked though how we experience one another. With respect leading the way, and a deep abiding friendship that underwrites all we are, I am happy to say that it is now a growing moment, not a detrimental moment. How we react to moments of stress determines the real attitude and altitude of your inner relationship life.
What is the state of grace in your intimate relationship today? Are you happy and content in the tough times? Do you feel complete and fulfilled? Do you find your partner mentally, emotionally, intellectually and physically stimulating? Do you they you? If you answers no to any of those major questions, there is a good chance that your relationship is running the proverbial shoals ~ you may even be living in a state of perpetual “emotional divorce.”
What is emotional divorce? Simply put, an emotional divorce is when you or your partner have emotionally separated from each other. What might this look like?
- Lack of meaningful communication. Instead of talking about issues or hurt feelings, life resumes the way it was before.” Meanwhile, one or both people continue to have hurt feelings and unexpressed anxiety.
- Negative thoughts, comments. In an emotionally starved state, most people will begin to see their partner as an obligation vs. desired companion. One or both partners may have an internal or expressed litany of the things the other person “does wrong.” No matter how minor or major, the emotionally divorced feel as though they have to lower their standards to stay with their partner.
- Obligation is the primary motivation. Perhaps it is for children, family continuity, financial obligation, faith or a combination of all – two people have to be committed to one another before these factors bear influence.
- Sexual incompatibility. Emotional divorce kills intimate connections. Sure, you may be having sex, but one of you may be enduring it while pretending you enjoy it. A healthy, vibrant sex life is a key indicator of a good marriage – yes, even if you have children. Does your partner no longer interest you? It is true that unless we engage in passion building, were going to find our passion waning. Test your intimate connection with these questions. Can you have an open dialogue about sex, your physical intimacy needs, and your pleasure experience? Are you open to trying new things, and to give into your partners intimate needs?
- Distance from common interests, friends, hobbies. Do you find yourself doing your favorite things apart from your spouse? Are you disconnected from each other mentally as well as emotionally?
You’ll find a complete checklist for emotional divorce at the end of this article. How common is emotional divorce?
Very common. It doesn’t have to be terminal to your relationship, though.
All over the world today, there are so many couples that are living in emotional divorce with little or nothing in common, burnt out with a lack of joy, going through those motions that fulfill obligations but leave us starving and alone within our relationships. They may look fine and intact on the outside, like the perfect family. It may be your pastor, your doctor, your best friends. The outside appearance of a relationship is no indicator of what is really going on between two people. If this sounds like you, there are several things that you can do to actively change your relationship.
THE WORK TO BE DONE
Ready to set to work improving your relationship? Don’t sugar coat it~be real with one another. You need to do these steps together as a team and foster open dialogue. Find a qualified marriage therapist or counselor, or even purchase a self help book to work through. I recommend that you start with the books cited here – Relationship Rescue and 5 Love Languages. If there is resistance, talk it out. Here is a caveat: if you absolutely must do it alone or you’re not in the relationship right now, never fear. These are great life skills and will help you manage emotions and also empower your ability to change, grow and love in a healthy way.
First, take this quiz to rate how healthy your relationship is. Its about fifty questions, and was written by Dr. Phillip McGraw of “Dr. Phil” fame. For those who doubt his credentials, Dr. McGraw holds three degrees from University of North Texas, including a B.A., Masters and a PhD in psychology. I really liked reading his book on Relationship Rescue, and agree that there is a real need for self actualization that understands you are responsible for your own needs and happiness. Once you’ve honestly answered the questions about your relational health, also take the Partner Awareness Survey.
So, starting off how healthy is your relationship? How aware are you of your partners extended/present internal thoughts and understanding? Are you able to openly discuss conflicts without blame, negative issues or being “a jerk?” do you carry long term blame or hurt feelings? According to Psychology Today:
“It’s pretty easy to identify the most readily recognizable sources of stress in our lives: too many commitments, workplace hassles, financial strain, society’s (and our own) oftentimes unrealistic expectations of who we “should” be and how much we “should” be able to accomplish. But not as many people realize that “communication stress” can be one of the biggest sources of stress in relationships. After all, we’re all talking the same language, aren’t we? A communication style (also known as conversational style) is the way in which we share information with others through language. Although we all like to think we’re saying exactly what we mean, that’s not always the case, especially when we’re talking to someone who uses a communication style very different from our own.”
- Do you speak up readily when you hear something you disagree with, or do you prefer to listen to all sides and either remain quiet or speak up only if the conversation is going in a direction that you can’t live with?
- Do you prefer to give directions and make decisions without a lot of input from others? Or do you prefer a more collaborative approach?
- Are you comfortable sharing power? Or do you prefer relationships where there is a hierarchical power structure in place?
“The way you answer should tell you something about your style. While there is nothing wrong with either, the differences should help you see why there may be tension in relationships where one person communicates in one way and the other person’s style lies near the opposite end of the continuum.”
The next step is being aware of your own needs. They may be different than you expect~ so take the test on your Emotional Needs provided by Marriage Builders.com. If your communication is lacking, your relationship is lacking. Hurt feelings manifest as long term anxiety, can foster feelings of codependency and are elemental in major diseases such as cardiac complications, oncology concerns and immune system dysfunction. To put it honestly, your marriage may actually be toxic to you mental and physical health .
So how do you strengthen your relationship in ways that honestly last life long? First, you have to know how you feel, where you are emotionally and what your needs are. There are, according to Dr. Phillip McGraw, ” five categories of needs: Emotional, Physical, Spiritual, Social, and Security. Keep in mind that you cannot share with or teach your partner what you don’t know yourself. Get real with yourself to give the formula for relationship success a chance.” (© Dr. Phil, link to entire article above)
Take this list and your test results and begin talking thorough your own needs via journal or self discovery. Learn the “Love Languages” (© Dr. Gary Chapman) of your partner. If you don’t know your love languages, take the test offered by Chapman’s site. Next, team up with your partner and ask them to complete the “Five Emotional Needs Assessment” that is listed below (© Dr. Phillip McGraw) with you by discussing these ideas one at a time. Remember: this is a marathon, not a sprint race. You have to tackle one area and come to harmony before moving on. If hurt feelings exist, begin by doing what Brian and I did in the midst of our own pain.
Chose peace. We chose to forgive and let go of our “right” to be really pissed off ~ because in the end, coming to an agreement on peace between us set the stage for our dialogue. We’re trust builders…trust in communication is vital. What about this choice makes a difference? I want a happy fulfilling lifetime of relationship with the man who is truly my closest, deepest friend. We enjoy doing so much together, and compliment each other mentally, physically, emotionally, sexually. Why then, would I chose to not honor him by investing my honesty and trust in him?
There is a caution that I would add about past grievances and lacks of trust. If you’re a habitual faith abuser, if you tell half truth, deflect responsibility or demand more than your fair share of attention, you’re in for deep problems. No relationship based on falsehoods, deception, obligation or “should” will stand the test of time in happiness. Instead, allow emotional divorce to pass and engage with your partner in a whole, meaningful way.
KNOWING HUMAN NEEDS
So what are the five primary emotional need categories, and how do we understand them together? Here is Dr. Phil’s list:
1. The need to feel, and be told, that you are loved.
2. The need to feel, and be told, that you are a valued, vital part of your partner’s life.
3. The need to feel a sense of belonging to and with your partner.
4. The need to feel respected as an individual.
5. The need to feel needed for other than the tasks you perform (providing money, cooking, etc.)
6. The need to feel that you are a priority in your partner’s life.
7. The need to feel special, above everyone else in your partner’s life.
8. The need to feel that your partner is proud to call you his or her own.
9. The need to feel that you are trusted as a responsible partner.
10. The need to feel that your partner would choose you again.
11. The need to feel that you have and can be forgiven for transgressions and flaws.
12. The need to feel accepted, flaws, fallacies, and all.
13. The need to feel that you and your partner are, above all else, close and trusted friends.
14. The need to feel desired.
15. The need to feel appreciated for who and what you are and do.
16. The need to feel passion between you and your relationship partner.
1. The need to be touched and caressed.
2. The need to be kissed, even if casually.
3. The need to be hugged or held.
4. The need to feel that you are welcome in your partner’s personal space.
5. The need to be physically welcomed when encountering your partner.
6. The need to feel that you are part of a couple when interacting with the world.
7. The need to feel encouraged and welcomed by nonverbal communications.
8. The need for tenderness.
9. The need for a satisfying and rewarding sexual life.
1. The need to feel that your personal spiritual values are supported without judgment.
2. The need to feel that your partner respects your spiritual needs.
3. The need to share a spiritual life, even if that spiritual life is experienced differently by you and your partner.
4. The need to know and feel that your individual beliefs and differences are respected, if not shared.
1. The need to be remembered with calls and acknowledgments when apart.
2. The need to feel that your partner will plan and structure his or her activities to include you.
3. The need to feel that social activities are shared rather than experienced individually.
4. The need for appropriate tenderness and support when in public.
5. The need to be encouraged and supported physically and emotionally when in public.
6. The need to hear sweet things in a social environment.
7. The need to be encouraged and supported in social situations
8. The need to be treated with politeness and regard in social situations.
9. The need to share fun and joy in social situations.
10. The need to share a connection expressed through awareness and sensitivity from your partner.
11. The need to share joy and laughter.
12. The need to feel that you are the most important person in your partner’s life and awareness when in a crowded, busy social environment.
1. The need to know that your partner will stand by you in times of distress or conflict.
2. The need to feel that your partner will rally to your aid if needed.
3. The need to feel input and control with regard to the emotional aspects of the relationship.
4. The need to be supported by your partner.
5. The need to know that your partner is loyal and committed.
6. The need to know that your relationship will not be put at risk and hang in the balance because of any disagreements and confrontations.
7. The need to know that your partner is committed permanently.
8. The need to know that your partner is there for you in times of third-party conflicts and problems.
9. The need to know that your partner is your soft place to fall.
GETTING PAST CRISIS
According to Dr. McGraw, these six concepts will greatly aid you in moving past moments of family/partner crisis.
When a family is in crisis, it is easy to become trapped beneath a mountain of problems. In order to crawl out from underneath that pain, there are choices and sacrifices that must be made. Dr. Phil offers suggestions for what families must do to survive a crisis and move forward.
- Set blame aside.
This is not the time for finger pointing. Your energy needs to be focused on solving problems, not assigning blame. Feelings like anger and resentment need to be put aside so that the family can work together on fixing the problems at hand.
- Prioritize your problems.
When dealing with more than one family problem, tackle the most pressing issue first, and then move on to others. Surmounting one problem at a time is key to moving successfully through a crisis.
- Stand in others’ shoes.
During a highly emotional and tense time, it’s easy to get lost in your own emotions and forget about other people. You need to imagine how each person involved in the situation is feeling to understand the whole problem and figure out the best solution.
- Re-engineer the family unit.
If the family unit you have established for yourselves isn’t working, you have to change the way you all operate. Does a parent give more attention to one child? Does one sibling communicate more than another? A shift in the family dynamic could be an important step toward healing.
- Recognize that everyone’s affected.
What happens to one family member happens to the entire family. When you focus only on the person in need, you are dealing with half the situation. Be sure that everyone has the chance to talk about how they feel.
- Don’t get stuck in the past.
We all make mistakes. Some are big, some are small. What’s done is done. Instead of wasting time wishing you had handled things differently, start changing your behavior today and concentrate on your family’s future.” (Credit: Dr. Phillip McGraw website)
I really value the resources that all of these mental health coaches provide. I would encourage you to use the provided links to read more of what they have to say, and to truly commit to becoming a communicating trust builder as well.
Brian and I had an argument ~ last night ~ spent a few hours talking it out and had a wonderful day in comfortable relaxation today. There are no dangling things that were repressing or hurt feelings tucked away in the unresolved file. Instead of the cop-out “I am to hurt to discuss it” consider recommitting yourself to your relationship in a whole new way, changing the paradigm from which you operate. Next on our list? A meaningful commitment certificate, rededicating our hearts to one another and our family…and we’ve agreed to a joint resolution like the one found in the movie Courageous, but our own modified version as a couple, following through with our commitment to open and honest communication, choosing peace while confronting conflict in harmony, dedicating ourselves to the love and care of our child at home and our grown children in terms of family support, role modeling, etc. We’ve agreed to partner in our faith, money, passion ~ all of it.
ALMOST DIVORCED…but not really.
But what about the marriage where we’re ready to admit “that we’re staying together for the kids?” As a grown up child of divorce, I have often said that my 7 siblings and I would thoroughly agree we could not have imagined the horror of our parents staying together in an armed truce rather than going their separate ways, remarrying and living out full lives. Actually, I respect my parents for making that hard choice when divorce was so uncommon in 1969. The folks at the Parent Alliance blog offered this helpful advice if your struggling with “emotional divorce” today:
Just because we stay married doesn’t mean we haven’t divorced.
“Just because we don’t legally end our marriage doesn’t mean we haven’t divorced each other in equally potent and meaningful ways.
Emotional divorce can be incremental, or it can occur in one fell swoop. Either way, it’s a distancing device that I believe can be as, if not more, detrimental than divorce for our kids, for us and for our relationship with co-parents.
Why? Because when we get a divorce, we behave in line with our feelings (or the feelings of our spouse). That is, there’s a connection between emotion and action. There might be fallout for kids—depending on how we communicate with them about exes, whether we cast them as middlemen, how we co-parent them post-divorce—but at least we’re not pretending things are hunky-dory when they’re not or assuming that, because we haven’t divorced, our relationships and our children are now fine.
By contrast, emotional divorce supports a surface truth—our marriage is intact because we’re still married—while underscoring a deeper truth—avoidance and disconnection are key ingredients to our relationship. Believe me, that truth impacts our kids! (My note: when children grow up in homes where love is not expressed, it opens them up to all sorts of self esteem and confidence issues in the future. It’s not enough that you occasionally say I love you, or even that you’re in the same room. Children sense the presence of love.)
Emotional divorce can take any of the following forms (and, no doubt, more):
– Resistance to discussing “touchy” subjects with our spouse;
– Deferring decisions that we know or suspect will upset our spouse;
– Not sharing our insights, goals or dreams with spouses, often to avoid their criticism, lack of support, or outright disrespect;
– Ignoring or diminishing our spouse’s opinions or parenting efforts;
– Seeking out friends or colleagues for counsel that we used to, or yearn to, get from our spouse;
– Daydreaming about time away from our spouse (as opposed to yearning for alone-time that we all need);
– Discovering (and sometimes creating) more reasons to stay at work, instead of searching for more reasons to head home;
– Turning to our children for support, distraction and affection instead of our spouse;
– Insisting we have no time to spend with our spouse, often because of the real or imagined demands posed by our kids.”
According to Your Marraige Restored, these are the primary symptoms of yourr relationship heading for or existing in an emotionally divorced state. Remember: you have the power inside of you to change your own feelings for anything on this list. We do not control the feelings of others, however, open honest dialogue, prayer, and love are real game changers.
Warning Signs/Symptoms of Emotional Divorce
Easier to talk at length with almost anyone other than spouse
Holds grudges against spouse
Personal activities seem to have gradually excluded spouse
Holds onto resentments which are remembered during arguments
Has friendlier feelings towards others than spouse
Draws children to self for emotional companionship
Attracted to pornography (men) or romance novels (women)
Addicted to TV sports or “soaps” to the neglect of relationship duties
Not paying attention when spouse speaks
Busy “religious” schedule doesn’t leave enough time for spouse
Gives marriage advice, knowing it is not being personally applied
Becoming depressed at the thought of going home (If you discover that you can identify with at least five of the symptoms above, you will want to consider the next checklist…)
Emotionally Divorced, in Fact (Previous symptoms plus the following)
Separate lifestyle and activities
Habitually going to bed at different times (for reasons other than health or job)
Discontinued sex life
Virtually no conversation with spouse
Rage or Silence
Mostly condemning of spouse’s character through negative reports
An unusually close friend or confidant of the opposite sex
Finds married life depressing
Contemplating “legal” divorce
Feelings of hopelessness
Constantly patronizing spouse (anything to avoid conflicts) but holding bitterness.