By Kim Giles and Kristena Eden, KSL.com Contributors
In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim and Kristena explains why disappointment can poison a relationship and how to overcome it.
My wife seems to love our children a lot more than she likes me. She isn’t enthusiastic about intimacy either, and this is a great disappointment to me. Because I don’t feel loved, I find myself frustrated and even angry towards her. I know I hurt her feelings sometimes, but I’m not happy, and this isn’t the marriage I wanted. Having said that, I also don’t want to leave. I want to keep my family together. I am trying to forgive and love her as she is, but it is hard. How am I supposed to deal with this? Is there any way to encourage her to change?
It sounds like what you want is to feel more important, loved and wanted by your wife. The trick to making this happen is to get rid of disappointment. I know it sounds illogical, but your disappointment can be relationship poison that does further damage and infuses your relationship with fear (of failure and loss).
The truth is we are all disappointed in our spouses at some level, because no one is perfect and anyone you marry is going to have some faults and flaws. There is a down side to being married to everyone, even you. When you become frustrated with your spouse’s flaws they feel this and subconsciously pull away from you to protect themselves.
This happens because all of us are battling two core fears every day, which cause most of our pain and bad behavior. The first is a fear of failure (the fear that we aren’t good enough) and this is our deepest and most painful fear, but fear of loss (the fear of missing out, being robbed or mistreated) is also painful and scary.
When you or your spouse experience either of these fears, you end up in a selfish space where your focus is primarily on yourself and getting what you need. In this space you are literally incapable of love. You can’t do fear and love at the same time.
I would guess you are both living in fear and therefore not giving enough love to the other. Your wife is probably afraid she isn’t good enough (most women are) which could make her less comfortable with intimacy. Her disinterest in spending time with you triggers your fear of loss. When you feel loss you then act disappointed in her, which makes her feel like a failure even more. This can become a vicious cycle and suck the love from the relationship.
This is fixable, but it is going to require a shift in your perspective, some forgiveness and a commitment to being more loving and validating than you ever have before. Here are some things you can do to create more positive feelings, less fear and less disappointment in your marriage:
1. Allow your emotions in and sit with them. Take some time to experience the disappointment you are feeling. You may want to journal about your feelings so you have a chance to express them without further hurting your spouse. What expectation did you have that is causing your greatest pain?
2. Ask yourself, “Are these emotions going to create what I want?” What is it going to create if you keep telling yourself this story of disappointment and continue to feel anger and resentment toward your spouse? Is this going to motivate your spouse to give you what you want?
The answer is no, it won’t. Holding onto feelings of disappointment toward your spouse will only trigger more fear of failure in your spouse, which will actually make her less loving toward you. Fear, sadness, self-pity, begging, blaming, nagging and sulking do not create loving feelings. These are fear and lack behaviors, which only create more fear and lack.
If you want more love you have to give love, encouragement, praise, appreciation, admiration, respect and kindness. These create more love.
3. Ask yourself, “How can I create what I want?” We recommend you try the encouragement approach and shower your spouse with appreciation, respect, admiration and praise. Instead of focusing on your disappointment, write on paper all the good things about her and who she can be and choose to focus on those. The opposite of disappointment is gratitude. Show your spouse you are grateful to have her in your life and mean it!
We have found that when a person feels greatly loved, appreciated, admired and wanted, they become a lot more giving back. Tell her how lucky you are to be married to her and make sure you are not being loving with strings attached. You cannot expect anything back. You must build her up and give to her because you are working on becoming a more loving person, not just to get what you want. If you will consistently show up for her and give more, it should start to change how she feels about you.
(If you try these things for a long time and still get nothing back, you may then decide this relationship isn’t working for you. But don’t throw in the towel until you have done your part to give love, to the best of your ability first.)
4. Never cast your spouse as the bad one. It is human nature to want to see others as worse than us. We subconsciously do this because casting anyone else as the bad one makes us feel like the good one, but this is rarely accurate. And all human beings have the same infinite, intrinsic worth and deserve to be treated and respected as your equal. You must also remember that though you may not have the same flaws as your spouse, you do have flaws. Committing to see your spouse as the same as you, especially during conversations with her, will make her feel safer and less defensive. Admit when you are wrong, apologize often and let your spouse see your heart is soft, teachable and open. This will create a safer space for her to do the same.
Seeing her as the bad one will not make her want more intimacy either. We like and are drawn to the people who like us. Show her she is wanted, admired and liked, and she will grow more and more fond of you again.
5. Trust that your life is the perfect classroom for you. You are here to learn and grow, and your marriage is the class that will teach you the most important lessons on love. We always marry our greatest teacher (for better or worse) we sign up for this class. This person is going to help you grow by pushing your buttons, triggering your fears and thus help you to stretch and become stronger, wiser and more loving. That is the real purpose of this relationship. (I know this because it’s the purpose of our whole journey.)
So, figure out and focus on the lessons your unique marriage experience (with your spouse) could be meant to teach you. This is your opportunity to grow in love, strength and wisdom. Marriage is hard because you get to see the very worst of another person, and they get to experience the worst of you, yet you both must learn to forgive and accept each other anyway. This is a challenge, but you are meant to conquer it. You can do this.
The more you accept this person and this situation as your perfect classroom and focus on improving you, the better the relationship will be. Once you have created a more safe and loving space in your marriage, you can then communicate with your spouse about what you want to change. You should ask her what you can do better to make her happier and then share what you would really appreciate in the future from her. Just don’t have these conversations while in fear and judgment. Communicate only when you are firmly grounded in trust and love.