Friday, February 7, 2014

The Relationship Equation

There can be times in a marriage where your relationship starts to feel less like a partnership and more like an accounting ledger.  You feel like you are looking at a chart of checks and balances saying, "I don't know.  You are correct about us being low in the sex column but I feel we must tackle the dishes and laundry deficit before we can make a deposit."  We look at all the things going on in life and want to get the details taken care of before we think about creating love.

Sometimes our spouse can be left feeling like another item to check off on your to do list rather than a partner with you in life.  Our relationship becomes more about what our spouse can do for us instead of what we can accomplish together. 

I get it though, life is hectic.  Schedules become filled in the blink of an eye and we can feel like we just don't have time for affection.  It's also harder to make time for someone that we perceive isn't doing the same for us.  We can become resentful of our spouses "lack of support" and withhold some of the things they want.  This idea of not giving unless we have received can derail a relationship pretty quickly.  Our love becomes conditional. 

I know it's hard to see it that way when you are in the situation.  We don't think about how our refusals to participate are affecting out spouse.  We only see things from our side.  We are hurt by our spouse and retaliate with a hurt of our own.  In our eyes it was justified.  After all, we wouldn't have done it if they hadn't _________.  The cycle of rejection and retaliation begins.  Often when things get messy we still don't see our responsibility in making it that way.  When there are so many reasons behind our actions it's always easier to shift the blame to someone else.  Then it becomes their responsibility to fix it.  We withhold love hoping it will motivate our partner to change their ways.

Let's take a quick look at a different type of relationship, the one we have with our children.  (If you don't have kids then you could maybe think of a pet or another close relationship.)  If your child were to not do their chores would you refuse to feed them?  If they broke, say, your favorite mug would you not speak to them for a week?  If they yelled at you and called you a name would you leave and never come back?  You wouldn't think of it.  You would still love them, still take care of them and still try to help them be the best they can be.  You would, for sure, be frustrated, maybe angry but it wouldn't prevent you from acting in their best interest.  That's unconditional love.  No matter what, they know we will be there for them.  This is exactly the kind of love we are all hoping to be able to receive.  We know we aren't perfect (at least I hope we do) but we still expect our spouse to overlook our imperfections.  So why is it so hard to look over theirs? 

What would you think is the easiest way to inspire unconditional love in someone?  I believe it's to give them love unconditionally.  This can be very, very hard to do!  There can be a lot of hurt and resentment built up in a marriage.  There might be years of neglect, distance and anger between you!  You might not want to let go of that and act in a loving manner towards your spouse but how can we expect our partners to give us something we are unwilling to offer them?

Let's take a look at what we would want our relationship to be like.  I'm guessing you want to feel supported.  You would like more fun and happiness in your life.  You most likely want to be in a partnership with someone you can trust and lean on in hard times.  I'm betting this is what you thought you would get when you signed up for this marriage thing.  I'm also guessing you already feel you are doing more than your share and it's really your partners fault things aren't going according to plan.  That would definitely make things easier, right?  Then it would be their responsibility to fix all their shortcomings, make up for all the hurts and right all the wrongs. 

The problem is you can't MAKE anyone change and we can't control what our spouse does or doesn't do.  You could spend your entire life miserable, waiting for your spouse to do all the changing to make you happy and it just might never happen.  After all, it's possible they are thinking the same thing and waiting for you to do the changing.  Someone has to make the first move.  Why shouldn't it be you? 

Once you are in a bad cycle in your marriage it can be very difficult to create change.  After all, the more negative things that happen, the further you get away from the good times, the easier it is to forget what you loved about this person in the first place.  So many couples get divorced because they get to a point where they, "don't love each other anymore".  I'm going to go out on a limb and get a lot of people angry with me right now but I am just going to say it anyway.  That's a cop out!  Love isn't just a feeling that comes and goes at whim.  If that were true there would be a lot of abandoned kids out there who's parents, "didn't love them anymore" either.  Love is something we chose to do.  It is more than what we feel at any given moment.  Love is also something that is very active and it CAN be created. 

Have you heard the phrase, "fake it 'till you make it".  I think that best describes what I'm talking about here.  Don't get me wrong, this is not something easy that I'm asking you to do.  I do know what I'm talking about from experience though. 

In my marriage there was a time when I did not love my husband.  In fact I despised him.  I was angry at him, hurt by him and depressed by the state of my life.  I didn't stay with him because I thought it was the right thing to do.  I didn't stay with him because of the kids.  I didn't even stay with him because I knew that divorce was not God's best plan for my life.  To be completely honest with you the only reason I stayed was out of fear.  I was afraid of what I would do on my own.  I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make ends meet and I was afraid that no one else would want me.

I know the desperation someone feels in a failing marriage.  I know the anguish of a soul that feels unloved and unlovable.  I understand the heartbreak a person feels when they see that the person that knows them best in the world doesn't really like them.  Something needed to change and only you can change it!

The difficulty in any relationship is that you only control half of it.  As much as we would like the people in our lives to live by our rules, they make their own decisions.  There is no way you can force change.  If you have ever dealt with someone who has an addiction you will understand this.  As much as you see their addiction destroying them and even they know how harmful it is, you just can't MAKE them stop.  In a marriage it's much the same way.  You can feel how something your spouse does hurts you.  You can see how your marriage is suffering but you can't force your spouse to change.  The only person in your relationship you can control is yourself, so if you want things to change you're going to have to create it yourself.  You might have been holding back from doing kind or loving things for your spouse because you were hurt but it's possible they are doing the same thing with you.  If you act loving, even when you don't feel loving it will help to break the negative cycle and start you on your way to a more positive one.  This might take a long time.  You might even be met with resistance from your spouse at first.  They might be suspicious of kindness from you depending on how bad things have gotten. 

So, let's go back to the idea of an accounting ledger.  The further you are "in debt" the longer it will take to get out.  In time your spouse will see your kindness and your loving actions and that will start to create better feelings towards you.  They might not respond right away with kindness and love of their own.  It might take time and there will most likely need to be a conversation as some point about what you would like from your spouse, what is important to you and what is, in turn, important to them so you can start better meeting each others needs.  It might be best though, to wait until you have built some better favor and greater trust to have that conversation.  Just so your spouse is a little more receptive to what you have to say. 

Giving that unconditional love can mean sacrifice on our part.  It will mean we might need to wait longer to have our needs met but it does give us the best chance of achieving success.  By success I don't just mean a civil arrangement where you simply tolerate one another.  Success to me, means happy, loving and thriving.  My relationship might still have a few big bumps to iron out (relationships aren't ever wrinkle free) but we have come a long way and we are definitely working together now instead of against each other.  That what I always hoped for. 

I don't know that there is any marriage where one spouse is totally happy and the other feels empty.  After you have build up a little positivity towards you a conversation with your spouse will be fairly necessary.  It would be good to tell them that you know neither one of you is happy at the moment but that you don't want things to be continue this way and ask them how they think you could both work to improve your relationship.  This shows that you are not blaming them.  It puts you in the same boat together and will start to create a better partnership.  Also, for the most part, guys tend to be fixers.  If his wife comes with him with a problem that she needs his help in fixing, that might give him the confidence and ego boost he needs to throw himself into solving the issues in your marriage.  It will build your companionship, trust and partnership.

When you talk to your spouse about your relationship, be prepared to hear things that they would like you to change.  They aren't going to say things like, "I can be more supportive, I can help you more around the house, I can take on more responsibility with the kids, I can compliment you daily and bring you flowers once a month."  I'm pretty sure their responses will be about the things that YOU can change.  They won't come right out and offer to change all the things that upset you.  Try to be patient with that.  When they tell you things that are bothering them, do your best to change without complaint.  That will be the best way to build up trust with them so they are more willing to negotiate the points that are issues for you.  It will be a sacrifice at first and it might be a hard season for you but it is your best chance of building a mutually supportive relationship and repairing the damage that has already been done.

If you want your relationship to work, you're going to have to do the work.  If you aren't willing to put in at least a little effort then you have no chance for success.  So you might as well give something new a try.  After all, what you have been doing isn't working for you and what else have you got to loose? 

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