Recently we talked about The Relationship Account. If you haven’t read that article, you can see it here: The Relationship Account
In that article we listed some approaches to create a moment of connection. Some of the approaches will stir an equal, or at least automatic, response from your spouse. Like when one winks or nods, the other will almost automatically respond in kind. Or when one reaches out with a pat or hug, the other usually responds similarly. This is assuming the relationship is in pretty good shape. Even these approaches can be rebuffed if the relationship account is near zero.
Here we’ll look at some of the things that interfere with making positive deposits into your relationship.
Reasons for Disconnects:
The approach is not clear. This may happen if the one making the approach is not sure how the other will respond. Perhaps there have been some irritable responses during the day. They may waver about how to approach. Is this a good time to wink or pat? Or perhaps it would be better to write a note first or would it be better to give a big hug and kiss? When this kind of indecision is boiling up inside, the approach may seem half- hearted or overly perky. The response then may be tepid or hostile. When this happens, disappointment and a withdrawal from the relationship account is almost certain.
The need is not clear. Another reason the approach is not met with a positive connection is that the one reaching out does not know how to state their need clearly enough to get the response they desire. When this happens their spouse may be confused and not respond well. The confusion and unfulfilled needs lead to more and more missed cues. Sex is one area where words may just seem too awkward.
When this happens enough they may decide it is not worth taking the chance of being rejected or humiliated. They will just avoid expressing their needs. That is never good because your spouse is the only one who should be meeting those needs. If they are not being met, the risk increases of reaching out to someone else. This couple may need to work out some code words or actions to signal desires they find too difficult to put in words.
The receiver wasn’t ready. There are many other reasons an approach nets an inadequate response and connection. Perhaps the receiver is pre-occupied and doesn’t even know an approach has been made. Or maybe they are just too tired to be aware of their mate’s attempts at connection. Before assuming our spouse has rejected us, we should take a quick inventory. Did they not see or hear us? Were they pre-occupied? What else was going on around them? Why not ask a gentle question or offer a drink, some food, time for a bath or nap? Showing a little kindness will often bridge the gap and open their heart to connection.
Sarcasm. This is the worst approach. This happens when the one with a need does not ask for what is needed, but instead gets angry and sarcastic with the other for not “knowing” what is needed. This usually doesn’t happen until an approach has been ignored or rebuffed a number of times. The level of hostility and contempt increases over time. The only way for the receiver to de-escalate the tension is to pay attention to the emotions expressed and not turn away. They must find the real need in the negative statement. They may ask, “What do you need?”
We know it is important to connect often and positively. It is also important to know what to do if we realize we are slipping into bad habits that deplete our relationship account?
Connect Often Every Day.
- Make every connection as positive as possible. Don’t let a little touch or message or kiss go unanswered. Stop a moment and enjoy the connection.
- If you sense in yourself irritation at the other’s approach, address the reason for the irritation. Are you too busy? Is there another way they could approach you that you would appreciate more? Are you angry with someone or something else? Set aside a time to talk to your spouse and clear the air.
- If your spouse doesn’t seem to understand what you need, you must talk about it and find better ways to communicate your needs. Try some signals if words seem awkward at times.
- Notice how your spouse approaches you and how they turn toward you. Try similar ways to approach and respond. Over time your spouse can learn new ways, but concentrate on the positives not the missed cues or responses.
- Concentrate on small positive exchanges, don’t rely on big fancy gifts, dates, or trips to make up for arguments or an atmosphere of hostility.
- Make the consistent message to each other show love, respect, and interest in one another’s lives.
- Make mealtimes pleasant times. Don’t make dinner an opportunity to air your frustrations. Of course, this may happen occasionally, but don’t make it a habit.
- Develop some family rituals for leaving and arriving home, meals, and bedtime. Make these opportunities to let each other know how much they mean to you and why you love them. You may think these would look silly to someone else, but don’t be inhibited. You know these are positive deposits in your relationship account.
- If you or your spouse are tempted to sarcasm, recognize this is a very serious sign that your relationship is in danger. Seek help to repair the damage and begin to rebuild your relationship before it’s too late.
Gottman says, “If you don’t feel like you have a high positive to negative ratio in your relationship now, start working to increase the ratio. As long as you have some spark of affection or admiration left for each other, it isn’t too late to change your patterns and save your relationship.”
Time for Some Practice
Expressing Needs Exercise -may help you practice talking about your current needs that are not being met as you would like.
To see more of the articles on Marriage and Parenting, please go to The Child-Ready Marriage