When we marry, we drag a lot of needs and expectations into the relationship. There’s no way around it, it’s human nature. This doesn’t make us “bad,” it makes us “needy,” and “expecting” a lot. Alas, it’s the law of relationship, one of many. The more we learn about these “laws,” the better our relationships become, as we get in touch with how much we need, and how we are projecting those needs onto our partner, “expecting” them to meet them. We will punish them for not “meeting up,” whether consciously or subconsciously.
Our fairy tale beliefs and thinking convince us that a “happy marriage” will be conflict-free. This is a deception because conflict exposes our needs and expectations if we will be honest with ourselves and own up to them. Conflict pushes us into this process if we will open our eyes to it and become self-aware. This is the way.
Talk or Punish
Denial creates our self-made prison of misery. When I’m in denial, I’m unaware of what I am doing and focusing on what my partner should be doing. I may naively think,
She should know what I need, why is she withholding?
Without telling them our needs, we will project them onto our intimate other. When I try to get something from Linda without words, I can push her away creating distance, believing she is the problem. In truth, I have the problem, (my unmet need.) There is no bridge to cross to figure out what is going on. Words, questions, and answers provide one. Both partners need to use the bridge. This is how you resolve the issue at hand.
Neediness without communication punishes. It’s unfair to punish her for what I can’t communicate. I get free when I can see what I’m doing and stop. How can she meet my needs if I myself cannot articulate them? Self-discovery makes this possible.
Communicating and negotiating is the pathway to truthful emotional relating. Intimacy cannot exist without risk and trust. Without this, you will remain on a game-playing level of relating. We need to leave the dating- game and learn to love, going deeper than just getting what I need, apart from caring about the feelings, needs, and desires of another. This is selfish loving at best. We have a much greater potential than this.
I Need, I Need
This is a line from “What About Bob.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s a hilarious movie illustrating a boundary-less relationship between a counselor, Richard Dreyfus, and his “patient,” Bill Murray. Bill’s neediness defines the relationship, and Richard’s lack of boundaries enables an awful tailspin resulting in unbelievable chaos. This is something neediness and enabling will create. Chaos, not intimacy.
We all need. Some more than others. Like me. I tell in my upcoming book, Hope for Happily Ever After, of when Linda and I were returning home after our honeymoon. We’d been driving for hours and I had been jabbering nonstop for miles and miles. She finally said to me,
“Do you always talk this much?“
I was horrified as my life-sucking need to be heard and affirmed was exposed, along with other relational patterns, (retreat, pout, sulk, avenge, etc.) You have to get the book for the rest of the story. 🙂
The point is, I didn’t know how needy I was until I married her and tried to get her to meet all of the needs. Immediately. This is what causes the conflict. We start projecting needs without knowing they are there. We all have self-focused, needy operating systems, and conflict in marriage is simply these two selfish systems colliding and working themselves out as we learn to grow out of our narcissism and into selfless lovers.
Happily Ever After is in the compiling, editing process. Thanks for being patient as we don’t want to rush. A good meal has to cook. My love and prayers to all who read these words.
It’s February, almost Valentine’s day and it’s freezing! The temperature has hovered between zero and eleven degrees all day. The weather is what got me started on this topic of “attitude.”
The reason being, I have chosen not to fight winter. I need to accept it instead of wasting my emotion and energy trying to fight it. The weather is never going to be perfect. It’s always going to be too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry, too windy, or not enough air moving. I can be angry at the weather, wanting something else.
People living on the coast get the sea breezes, but then come problems with the humidity and salty air that eats and corrodes and grows mildew and mold. Then there are the hurricanes. Do we hunker down and ride it out? Or do we evacuate? Where will we go and for how long?
In the desert-like Phoenix, my childhood home, it’s nice in the winter but look out come June, July, and August where triple-digit heat is the norm. The monsoon doesn’t always show up. It’s sweltering hot with relief found only in a swimming pool or an air-conditioned car, or room.
Then there’s colorful Colorado, where I live. Spring and Summer are great, but the winters can be snowy, and periods of deep freeze can come. Like now with the temp at zero with snow at three p.m. It’s temperate here compared to Minnesota, Chicago, or Michigan, where they can drive out on the lakes, set up huts, and icefish. Brr.
At least here, after a period of cold and snow, the wind direction returns to the southwest, where the deserts are, and it warms back up melting the snow. The sun always returns after a few frosty days and temperatures moderate some and the snow starts melting.
Why am I talking about all this?
You can’t change the weather; you have to accept it! You take the benefits of your situation, then learn to live with the rest. You endure it at times without complaining and choosing depression just because it’s not the “way you want it to be.” The beauty offsets the price of shoveling snow.
The same holds true in relationships, where’s the shovel?
Attitudes and Marriage
People have “bad” marriages because they have bad attitudes.
Think about it for a moment; A marriage is made up of the attitudes each spouse has towards the other. Your reactions to each other create the “dynamics” you live and breathe daily. “You,” and “they” create your dynamics and the marriage it produces, whether stressful or enjoyable, intimate and connected, or distant and withdrawn.
Taking responsibility for your attitudes and dynamics and changing them is the key to happily ever after.
This book is written for that goal; To change your bad patterns to good ones through God’s transforming grace. This happens when you honestly unpack it together by talking it out.
I remember a handout at a church youth camp fifty years ago. How’s that for memory? It can work against you as well. A good memory means you can have a hard time forgetting things you want to forget. I remember the guy’s name who wrote it. It said;
“Your attitude determines your altitude.”
I’ve never forgotten it. Even though I know it, and reminded of it when I’m tempted to “lose my attitude,” I don’t choose a good attitude 100% of the time. None of us do because we aren’t perfect. Perhaps at times we get pushed to our “limit” for the very purpose of growing.
It’s only when we “hit the wall” and come to the limits of our character we grow more. It’s when I’m frustrated and disappointed, I can choose to love and grow. I can grow out of my selfish “neediness” and demands.
Welcome to marriage.
Let’s get right to it.
What shapes our attitudes?
What happens when I don’t “get what I was expecting?”
I can dump negative emotion into the marriage, or I can adjust my expectation. It’s my choice, I’m not a victim, powerless to choose. (For whatever reason.)
This isn’t easy, as expectations can run deep, outside our awareness. We don’t know how strong they are, or their influence on our emotions. Conflict exposes them if we let it.
Expectations can push us to control the relationship or our partner to conform to them.
It may be fairy tale thinking or powerful beliefs we’ve formed about “how it should be.”
Expectations and how they affect the “emotions of marriage” cannot be overstated.
Without identifying and unpacking your expectation with your spouse, they will tend to perform more, trying harder to “please you” or “make you happy.” Their efforts are doomed to failure because “them trying harder” isn’t the issue. The issue perhaps is the unmet expectation you have that hasn’t been communicated or negotiated with them.
He won’t be able to get his need for affirmation met because you are withholding it until he “meets up” to the expectation you have. More distance is then created as you “withhold” because they aren’t “doing what you expect.” They might not even know what it is.
Maybe, just maybe, your “unmet expectations,” and your response and attitude towards that, is giving you the “bad marriage” you are blaming them for, then demanding they change.
What if he can’t “engage you and initiate” the way you want because of the negative emotion your unmet expectation is creating? What if the “distance” and accompanying loneliness is “self-perpetuated” from your attitude towards them? We may think they are withdrawing when in reality we could be pushing them away.
It works both ways; It could as easily be him having them (expectations,) about you, applying the same pressure, creating the same dynamic. It’s worth considering and exploring. It may be your key to breakthrough.
Either way, distance is created in the relationship through unmet expectation and the accompanying emotional reluctance, withholding of affirmation, and “punishing dynamics.”
We are deceiving ourselves if we think our pressure to change them will cause change. It won’t. It only creates anxiety for you, and distance and pain in your spouse. Our control will fuel negative emotion, energy, and dynamics in the marriage. They won’t feel loved because punishment does not feel like love.
What Can I Do?
Be honest with yourself and take a prayerful inventory of “what you expect.” You will find God more than willing to show you what you are doing. If you persist in blaming you will not be able to see “yourself.”
Acknowledge the pain you’re feeling about this unmet expectation. Let it surface. (It’s often connected to the family of origin and how we were treated and “conditioned.”) It may have to do with past trauma, abuse, or wounding. We tend to project our brokenness on those closest to us (spouse,) blaming them for how we feel.
Be willing to examine and challenge the belief behind the expectation. There is one. Why should it be the “way you expect?” You may discover it’s irrational, or unreasonable. (Like me expecting desert summertime temperatures at 6400 feet in February at this latitude. It just isn’t going to happen. The sooner I accept it the better.)
Try to see the need connected to the expectation and the fear behind this need not being met. What are you afraid of? Why can’t you risk? What’s keeping you from truthfulness? Rejection and abandonment fears often lurk here. God wants to heal these.
Unpack it with your spouse. They likely have no idea you have it, feel punished by you, and don’t know why. They just know they “aren’t feeling the love.”
Try to get honest about your expectation and get real with them about it. You will be amazed at what you discover. They can’t love you the way you want to be loved if you don’t tell them. They may be confused feeling as lonely as you, not knowing “what your problem is.” You may not know what it is, you just “feel unhappy,” with unmet longings.
Change the status quo; lower the bar of your expectation, requiring them to meet it before you will love them. Declare to yourself and your union; “I’m not doing this anymore.” I choose unconditional love and acceptance. Say it out loud to each other. Craft a declaration.
Life is full of disappointments. I get disappointed. What happens when I get disappointed? It depends on my maturity level. In my “immature stage,” I would pout, withdraw, or possibly punish when my “expectation” is unmet. I could fall into that anytime if I let myself.
The spiritual journey is about growing to handle disappointment in more mature ways.
We must grow out of the “throw a tantrum or withdraw and punish” attitudes to be happy in the relationship.
How we handle disappointment is huge when it comes to the “emotions of marriage.”
Marriage is “bad” when spouses don’t healthily handle these emotions. It may not be because you married the wrong person. It could be because your attitudes are generating negative emotions and feelings you are forced to breathe in and out every day.
There’s a lot of hope in this if you receive the truth that your attitudes are creating the emotional reality in your marriage. This is great! It means that all you have to do is change your attitude. I believe it can be that simple. Getting there is the growth process.
How do I do that?
Become aware of how you react to disappointment; you need discernment.
Ask God to show you what you do, how you respond emotionally.
Take responsibility for any withdrawing or punishing you do. (We all do some.)
Become emotionally honest with yourself and God.
Invite your spouse into this process with you.
Allow them, without defending, to show you how your negative responses affect them. This reflects to you the damage you are doing without realizing it. It goes both ways. Him & her.
Make choices in your heart about how you will change and grow.
Tell them your commitment to connect with them and share your resolve to grow.
Enjoy the fruit of taking responsibility for yourself; new intimacy and connection with your partner as you risk vulnerability with them. When you change, the marriage changes. “Woo-Hoo!” It will feel so much better clearing the air and gaining understanding of the “disconnects.” They aren’t hard to fix. An adjusted attitude works miracles in a marriage. I promise.
Passive-aggressive behavior; What does this mean to you?
I’m not even going to look it up. This is my definition; I think it’s close.
Passive-aggressive behavior is displayed when you say something is “alright or okay,” when it’s not. You comply with the wants of another, instead of voicing what you want. (Passive), then you punish them for it. (Aggressive.) It’s the fallout of “lying” communication.
It’s “going along” with something, saying you’re in agreement, but really not, then punishing them for it. They say they’re along for the ride, but in truth they are “sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside,” and you will pay for it later. There is a price tag with passive aggressive people. It’s not a free ride though they say it is. It’s not agreement.
My experience is you don’t know you’re passive-aggressive until God reveals it to you in a relationship. We can get away with things living alone that marriage will expose.
An easy example is I love Mexican food and she loves Tokyo Joes, or I like science-fiction movies and she prefers Hallmark. If I fear conflict, preferring to avoid it, I won’t represent myself honestly and say what I want. So, I die at Tokyo Joes eating rabbit food and get depressed over too many “chick-flicks.” All because I won’t stand up and be honest.
Even if I don’t punish her for the dynamic, it is still unhealthy because I am abdicating my wants, needs, and desires, (to be liked,) instead of “representing myself with integrity,” by being truthful. I’m making her “approval” an idol which is idolatry. It takes time and practice to be honest and truthful with yourself to be free from doing this. It is the masculine journey for a man. The feminine journey for a woman.
I am hurting “us” when I do this because I withdraw emotionally when I “shortchange” myself allowing fear to keep me from speaking the truth and stating what I want. I “blame” her when I’m the one creating this painful merry-go-round, by being pusillanimous, (weak,) and non-assertive.
She gets no chance to “give me what I want” because I’m not “assertive.” The opposite of passive-aggressive. Power is not the issue here, rather weakness. The issue is not being assertive and courageous enough to negotiate in love to balance things out. Also, how can she please me or give me what I want if I hide in this manner and don’t tell her?
I believe this is a devilish pattern to keep us out of our promised land. God gladly meets us here to heal our hearts so we are enabled to give and receive love in a greater capacity.
Why do we do this?
We fear disagreement, disapproval, or even abandonment so we don’t “rock the boat,” by saying the truth of what we want or need. It is self-sabotage, learned dysfunction that needs healing.
We’re afraid of emotional honesty with our spouse; we fear vulnerability and the risk involved. We can’t feel love in this state, only fear and self-protection that sabotages honesty.
We don’t have a track record or experience where being truthful or emotionally honest worked for us. We lack security.
We weren’t allowed to “express ourselves,” and discuss feelings at home.
We survived by “stuffing everything,” and not knowing any other way, we repeat what we learned at home.
What Can I Do?
The list is always the same for any disconnect or conflict.
Engage your heart, your emotions, and God.
Bring your pain to God, and ask him to reveal your relating patterns to you. So many times over the years He has been faithful to show me my brokenness along with the wrong ways I’ve tried to get my needs met out of fear, or apart from Him.
I’ve taken many time outs with Linda, and gone to God in my confusion. He never shames me and is never harsh. I know no lover more tender and compassionate than our comforter the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t demand repentance, His lovingkindness leads us to repentance.
The sooner I can get honest, and “get in touch” with my feelings and what I’m doing, the sooner the strategy for love and freedom comes from the heart of God.
Hear me, God isn’t hiding this stuff from us. He longs to reveal strategy and heal our hearts and marriages, if we’ll only humble ourselves before him in honesty and surrender.
Then engage your spouse with what God is showing you about yourself and confess it to them. James 5:16; confession brings healing. Talk openly and honestly about the dynamic and breakthroughs will come.
My prayer is that He will join each of you who read these words and pour out grace, strategy, love, connection, and power. In Jesus’ Name. . .XO