Series Three: Blog Four
Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more
She sits and stares through the back door screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen.
(Lyrics from John Prine’s song “Hello in There”)
It didn’t seem all that long ago. The passion was strong! The love so deep. He was crazy about her and she seemed the same about him. Then he got this job with more pay and was destined to be on the road frequently. Before long she became pregnant with their first child. The baby came and there was less time for sex, for him and time alone for the two of them. They grew apart. Then the roof fell in. She discovered he was having an illicit affair with a co-worker while traveling. He moved out and it looked like they would divorce. They did some counseling and he decided to end the affair and tried to repair the damage at home and began counseling with his wife. Her heart was broken and full of resentment. She just couldn’t get over his deceit and broken trust. They decided to stay together for their son’s sake. He spent several months sleeping in the guest bedroom. After knee surgery to repair a torn ACL, he moved back into the bedroom where he currently sleeps. He’s back on the road for his work and she doesn’t trust him further than she can throw him. She spends a lot of time with the friends she met at the workout club and keeping up with their son who is now 6 and involved with many extracurricular activities. She complains about operating a taxi service but it does keep her connected to her friends. These days he spends weekdays traveling for his work and she tries to visit her parents and family on the weekend. Usually this happens without him tagging along. These days they both have resentment toward the other, sex is non-existent and they have become like ships passing in the night. Essentially, their passionate relationship has degenerated to only being roommates.
This story is all too familiar in addict relationships that I work with. It happens to many different couples, not just addicts.
Corroded commitment. Most committed relationships begin with high intensity. It’s easy to be excited about the other, and the desire for intimacy is at an all-time peak. Of course, when the spectacular wears thin, every-day life dulls the desire for emotional intimacy. Responsibility increases with the arrival of children and life evolves with new career vistas and the kids’ activities. There is less focus on relational commitment. Sexual intimacy decreases, differences that create conflict go unresolved, and cutting invective goes without apology. Slowly 2 people become roommates trying to get through the day.
Corrosive trust. Signs of broken trust begin early in a relationship. White lies to avoid conflict, insecurity around money, family, friends and flirtation can accumulate like a thousand cuts to trust in a relationship. Often, the relationship collapses with the discovery of infidelity, betrayal around money, or a position taken around an in-law that threatens a partner.
Clogged arteries in communication. At some point the only way relationships in trouble know how to communicate is to fight or play avoidance games. Long gone is the desire to build an environment that says “I care about you”. Unfair fighting and circular conversation mires communication patterns that promote distance that destroys the possibility of connection.
Clean up your conduct. When you are not true to your heart, you won’t be connected to your partner in a meaningful way. So if you’re an addict, commit to getting sober and work a program that enhances sobriety and serenity. If you are full of resentment and treat your partner with deceit and disrespect, clean it up. Sounds simple and is, but it’s not easy most times. Your attitude and behavior are what keeps you stuck with intimacy-disabling behaviors. Changing your attitude and behavior toward your partner is the one thing that will help you deepen connection or enlighten you that the relationship you have invested in needs to end.
Re-connect by being real. Humility and vulnerability are the soft spot in human relationships that creates connection. Hard black-and-white statements that condemn or judge your partner will widen the gap between you. Being real is the answer to re-connect. Many partners in relationship think their partner expects something they are not — more muscle, more macho, more sex, or more money. Yet, it has been proven that healthy relationships flourish when two people choose to be vulnerable and share openly with each other whatever is inside.
Be curious about your partner. It is common for partners in relationship to presume that the other knows how they think, what’s important, what they don’t like, and how to be there for them emotionally. Yet, this is seldom true. It is critical to be curious about your partner. Curious about what makes them happy and what triggers frustration and disappointment. When commitment in a relationship begins to wane, so does curiosity. You make judgmental statements and conclusions without being curious about why your partner did what they did or even understanding what was said. The lack of curiosity fuels frustration, breaks connection, and accelerates complacency in a committed relationship.
Create and maintain a clear conduit for communication. An effective line of communication is like the carotid artery to the brain. When it becomes clogged, the life and health of the relationship is at risk. This includes establishing skills and ways to download every-day experiences and emotional expression within the relationship. It embraces conflict resolution skills. It recognizes circular fruitless arguments and shifts from them by invoking purposeful speaking and listening skills. Partners agree to commit to a fight-fair contract designed to preserve dignity and respect toward each other.
At times I hear struggling couples minimize using the aforementioned tools. Of course, there are many ways to cultivate and maintain intimate connections. That said, couples who sincerely invest in the principles toward solution build a strong foundation for intimacy and fulfill a relationship destined to be more than just roommates.
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