Feeling Empty in Marriage

y Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Marriage CounselingAs a marriage and family therapist I have learned techniques to help marriages and family relationships work. The one that works best by far is the use of unconditional love. How that works out in the marriage is my next question.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when I would have an argument with my wife, we would have spirited discussions about the same old topics. Often for us, it was about the use of time. We have lots of kids and a lot of work falls on her. We also have lots of bills and that weight falls on me. For you, you might argue about something that happened that you are having a hard time forgiving.

Unconditional love is impossible without humility. My relationship with my wife started by being selfish, thinking about how the qualities of my wife would benefit me. Then I gained my wife’s love by impressing her. However, this is not unconditional love. I cannot depend on a love that depends on my ability to impress. Certainly, it is not the kind of love that can last.

Turning toward our own ability to love someone, have you felt, as I have, that there are moments where you just do not feel like you have love to give? Often when I feel this way I criticize my wife and defend myself, or I act like a victim and run away. Then I dwell on what is right and wrong in order to think of a way to get my needs met. Then I present my argument to my wife, but it seems to have the same impact as if I am saying to her, “I don’t love you.” I am not saying that, but I wonder how if this is what she feels when I argue with her.

I remember the time my wife was telling me about the frustrations of her day and I was tired but attempting to be empathetic. I recall an instant turn in my emotions when she unexpectedly added, “And if you were around, this would not have happened.” It ignited anger in me, so I retorted, “Do you really want this to blow up?” Luckily I came to my senses enough to walk away. “Empty” is the word that came to mind as I retreated. “I’ve got nothing more to give.”

Greg Baer in his book Real Love compares arguments to feeling attacked while drowning. When someone is drowning they lash out. In fear, someone drowning may hit you or grab onto you and pull you under, resulting in two victims. When we are arguing, we are drowning and lashing out. Research shows that similar events are occurring in our brain when we argue as when we are drowning.

When I realize that I feel like I am drowning when I do not feel loved, and I am feeling empty and alone, how can I respond with unconditional love?

First, I remember that my wife may also be drowning, feeling empty and alone. If I view my wife who at times lashes out at me as drowning, my anger at her is reduced. I feel less interested in criticizing her and defending myself, but I still feel like a victim and want to run away. I am drowning and need to get back on solid ground myself.

My wife nor I may be able to unconditionally love at any moment. If someone was overwhelmed and upset, or stressed, or maybe has had a lifetime of not feeling loved, there will be times that person will not be able to love. Unconditional love means I am accepted with my faults, struggles, and weaknesses. So it falls on me to search myself and speak the truth about myself to someone, (not the opposite sex of course) that will accept me for who I am. Then I may have the energy to improve myself.

So I reflected on my own emptiness and thought about ways I can restore my energy for unconditional love. This may involve self-care, for which we are responsible, and seeking care from others. I thought of this acronym, “ACES” to remind me of ways to restore energy for unconditional love.

“A” stands for a sense of accomplishment.

“C” stands for the connection I have to God, family, and friends, that I need to seek out to feel loved enough to love my spouse.

“E” stands for enjoyment, the “small” parts of life, often overlooked, that I need to remember in gratitude.

“S” stands for self-care, sleep, diet, exercise and other needs for which I am responsible to meet.

Most importantly, I needed to confess to someone my struggle and feel their acceptance. If I am loved for what I do for others, what is that? That is a performance-based love. That is how we got married in the first place. But I need the kind of love where someone who sees me for who I am and then accepts me. I need this kind of love in order to love others.

I may have seek this out on a regular basis. It takes courage. Who wants to talk about their struggles and faults? I would rather talk to someone and they tell me I am in the right. But that is back to performance-based love. So I turned to my “ACES,” and turned to a friend to whom I can admit my faults. He still liked me, and accepted me as I am. With time I was ready to understand and give to my wife.

What are some ways I can unconditionally love my spouse? Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.

Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends. Perhaps consider “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.

In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, how their relationship died. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and… you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.”

A common need for a man is to feel their spouses’ respect. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.

Let me conclude by asking if love is the goal in marriage, and unconditional love is what makes marriage work, then what does unconditional love look like for you? Everybody may have a different definition. For some, unconditional love may mean that they set boundaries so that harm does not occur in a relationship. For others, love is characterized as giving without getting. Immediately, when I hear this definition, I think, “But what about me? What about my needs?” I guess the better question is, what is the best way to meet my needs? If I am angry or disappointed in my partner, I am thinking of myself and my needs. I may be feeling empty, overwhelmed or drowning. Here’s a lifeline: confession. It is speaking truth to someone who accepts and loves us as we are, faults and all. I think that is better than finding someone who agrees with you that you are in the right. I do not know about you, but being right has not inspired me to be more loving. Feeling loved has inspired me to be more loving.

 

Making Love Last

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

A practical way to make love last is to devote at least 15 minutes a day to the relationship and two or three hours on the weekend by:

Time: having fun again.
Touch: simple affection.
Talk: be nice to each other, ask for what you want.
Tasks: do things for each other.
Tokens: give something to eachother.

Hugs & Kisses
Longtime couple illustrates how marriage can endure for decades

By CHELSEA McDOUGALL – cmcdougall@nwherald.com

http://www.nwherald.com/2011/02/10/hugs-kisses/a24b38g/

Robert and Arlene Carl, both 89, of McHenry smile at each other Tuesday at Alden Terrace in McHenry. The couple has been married for 68 years and said one thing that made their marriage last was never going to sleep while upset with one another. (Hollyn Johnson – hjohnson@nwherald.com)

McHENRY – Arlene Carl smiled ear to ear, and traces of the young 19-year-old bride she once was were present in her giggle as she sat next to her husband, Bob Carl. Bob is in rehabilitation at Alden Terrace in McHenry, and the couple sat next to each other on the couch for this interview. It was the closest they’ve been in months.

The way Arlene Carl tells their love story is simple.
“We met years and years ago before World War II,” she said. “I was working at a store and he came in with a boyfriend, and they invited me to go bowling with them. I went and that was it.”

But Bob Carl’s version is a little more romantic.
“It was in 1939 in February,” he recalled. “We kept meeting each other from time to time. When I saw her, I said to myself, ‘That’s the lady I want to marry.'”

Bob and Arlene met as teenagers in Depression-era Chicago. While Bob recalls Arlene’s striking beauty and auburn hair, she said it was his manners that eventually won her over. After meeting at a party, then eventually their first bowling date, Bob and Arlene continued to see each other on and off before Bob joined the National Guard. Bob only planned on one year of service, but Dec. 7, 1941, changed his life and put their relationship in fast forward. The couple married Dec. 26, 1942, and the couple enjoyed a month and a half of marriage before Bob was sent overseas. For 33 months, Bob traveled the globe during World War II, while back in Chicago, Arlene worked for the phone company. But the pair never were far from each other’s thoughts.

“It was very sad,” Arlene recalled. “But I worked hard and tried to set a little something aside so when he came home we could live normally. I was lonely and he was lonely, but we wrote every day.” The couple finally reunited in November 1945 and spent a long weekend reconnecting at the Belmont Hotel in Chicago.
“I was mighty happy to be home and see my wife,” Bob said.

Sprinkle in three sons, 11 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, a little traveling, and a move to their McHenry home, and the Carls have lived a good life. The key to their successful marriage?
“Every night at bedtime, we would resolve anything that we had out there,” Bob said. “And we would kiss goodnight. [We] never went to bed mad.”
“Maybe a little miffed,” Arlene said, correcting Bob.
While the Carls have enjoyed nearly 70 years of blissful marriage, for other couples, a healthy marriage takes a little more work.

Dan Blair, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Crystal Lake, has worked with countless couples in his 11 years in practice.
“I think the leading cause of divorce is disconnectedness, a gradual over time erosion of the relationship,” Blair said. “Usually there is conflict involved over money, or sex, or in-laws. But the disconnection of the couple is what places the relationship in jeopardy.”
Blair suggested “putting the fun back in the marriage” and that struggling couples should focus on their friendship.
“Solving problems is easier when you restore that friendship,” Blair said.
Blair also said a goal was to maintain a balance of appropriate closeness, but not too close so as to suffocate one’s partner. Watch resentment, he suggested, and don’t let anger take root. Others looking for a romantic gesture can look to Bob’s tender goodnight greeting for his wife.
“I call her every night before I go to sleep and say goodnight and send my love and kisses,” Bob said.
When asked what he says to Arlene each night, Bob starts singing: “I love you, a bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck.”
And Arlene blushed.
• • •
Strategies of the heart
Harvard clinical psychologist Dr. Betsy Sukowicz offers her take on what she calls “winning and losing strategies” for relationships. It is based on a popular therapy tool developed by Terrence Real.

Winning strategies …

  • Shift from complaint to request, meaning ask “would you do this for me?”
  • Speak with love and savvy. Be assertive about what you want. Don’t demand, but say what’s on your mind. Remember your partner is someone you care about.
  • If your partner is asking for something, respond with generosity.
  • Empower each other.
  • Cherish what you have.

Losing strategies …

  • Being right, or thinking your way is the right way and not negotiating issues.
  • Controlling your partner.
  • Unbridled self-expression or venting, telling everything that is on your mind without regard to how your words will affect your partner.
  • Retaliation. When one person feels badly treated, he or she punishes the partner because the partner “deserves” it.
  • Withdrawal, or detaching oneself from one’s partner.

Copyright 2011, Northwest Herald, The (Crystal Lake, IL). All Rights Reserved.