Real Tips for Saving Your Marriage
by Allan Hardman
I have been counseling couples for many years. It’s a passion of mine, watching the magic that happens when intimacy is restored to a marriage. When you embrace a commitment with someone, especially a commitment that you expect to last a lifetime, there is a good possibility you will both bring with you expectations and unspoken agreements that have the potential to cause misunderstandings or hurt in your relationship.
No matter how different you are from each other, and no matter how disconnected you and your partner might have become, the following tips are guaranteed to breathe new life and energy into your marriage, and help you both to be happy and at peace.
Marriage Saver Tip #1: See and reclaim your negative projections.
We’ve all heard the saying that opposites attract. There’s a reason for this! Many of us learned, as children, to deny or disown parts of ourselves in order to earn the love and acceptance that we needed to survive. These disowned parts of the self we pushed into the "shadow," and those aspects of the self that were acceptable became our personality.
If you were criticized for being lazy, you might have become very industrious. If you were shamed for being messy, you may have adapted by becoming exceedingly neat. If your feelings were rejected, perhaps you learned to deny them and to be very intellectual and thoughtful. Whatever the strongest (and most defended) aspects of your personality are, you will probably find a corresponding part that has been disowned because of these judgments by others.
The soul longs for a reunion of these wounded parts, and will search the world for them in the hope of reunion. Finding those lost parts of the self in another person can be very familiar and exciting. If the other person also recognizes their split off parts of in you, you may be attracted to each other as the instant remedy for the emptiness within.
The unfortunate truth is that by projecting the lost parts of yourself on to another person, what you are falling in love with is yourself. Thus, there is no resistance or boundaries to this love reunion. The experiences of "Love at First Sight" and discovering a "Soul Mate" usually arises from this mistaken belief that something lost inside can be found outside.
When the positive projections of a disowned self wears off, the negative projection of judgment and rejection for this inner part takes over. This is when your soul mate begins to look like a stale mate. And this is the time you and your partner can use this awareness to heal yourselves and your marriage.
Start by thinking about how you differ from your partner. What qualities or behaviors that used to excite you now annoy or irritate you? If you can identify these qualities, then you can know which qualities are still pushed into your shadow waiting to be loved, accepted, and reclaimed as part of you. Once you accept these lost parts of yourself and no longer judge them inside, you will no longer judge them “out there” in your partner, and you will be able to accept your partner as they are, with love.
Marriage Saver Tip #2: Learn to identify your real feelings.
Many of the men and women I work with have a tough time identifying what they are feeling. It is an unfortunate result of our childhood domestication. When we were little, many of us were shamed or punished for the free expressions of our emotions. We cried, laughed, sang out, jumped on things and ran in joy, pouted, and yelled in anger—and were told there was nothing to cry about, we made too much noise laughing, jumping was bad for the furniture, and it wasn’t polite to be angry.
When we learned those emotional expressions were not acceptable, we knew we had to deny them in order to survive as part of our families. We learned to wear masks and take on appropriate roles to please our caregivers so they would be sure to take care of us. We forgot how to connect to the truth of our feelings.
Since we have lost the connection between our emotions and our awareness (through rigorous self-training), the first step is to become aware that we have lost that connection. The next important step is to realize that without full awareness and expression of our feeling truth, we are not fully alive and the most important part of an intimate relationship is missing.
Once you learn to identify your true feelings, you will then be able to share them with your partner, but FIRST, you’ll need:
Marriage Saver Tip #3: Learn a New “Feeling” Language
From reading books, in our therapy experiences, and even magazine articles, many of us were taught to speak “I” language and “feeling” language. The point of this language was to keep discussions and arguments on our side of the fence, and be responsible for our part. It was a good idea, and is still an important skill in intimate relationships.
Unfortunately, many people missed the subtleties of “I feel” and continue to use the language of judgment and blame. These statements do not share feelings:
- “I feel like you are insensitive when you talk like that.”
- “I feel I don't matter to you when you don’t pay attention to me.”
- “I feel like you are a jerk the way you talked to that waitress.”
- “I feel like I shouldn’t be so angry.”
Very few of us learned to speak clearly about our emotions and feelings. When we were little people, we were domesticated to deny or manipulate our feelings to please the big people, and to win whatever reward they promised us for our achievement. We had to abandon the clear expression of our emotional experiences. The statements in the above illustrations are actually descriptions of “thinking,” not feeling.
So how can we learn to speak an emotional language again?
Learning to use the words in a more precise way is a good start. Only use “I feel” when you want to describe an emotional experience occurring in your body. All of our emotions arise in, and can be felt in, our bodies. Thinking, including judgments, comes from our minds.
You might think your partner is insensitive, and feel angry when that thought arises. You might think (judge) your partner is a jerk—but how does it make you feel? Becoming aware of this difference between thinking and feeling offers you both the opportunity to express a new kind of truth in your marriage.
Marriage Saver Tip #4: The Truth Will Bring You Closer
Yes, it’s true, sharing your emotional and feeling truth will create more intimacy. Using what you learned in tip #3 will make this easier. Actually sitting down and saying to your partner, “I’m afraid” or “I feel sad” without blaming him or her for your feelings, will draw the two of you closer. This kind of sharing is very vulnerable because it opens you to the possibility of the same judgment and rejection you might have suffered as a child being domesticated out of your feelings. Being willing to show up in the feeling truth of who you are is the foundation of true intimacy. If you are both willing, and can respect and honor the feelings shared by the other, your love and intimacy will grow deeper.
And you will live happily ever after.
I am passionate about clear and respectful communication in relationships of all kinds. If issues or skills in this article resonate with you, I would be delighted to share more with you personally. I counsel couples and singles to find an authentic voice for sharing truth. Most relationships can go deeper, what about yours? I am in Mexico and work with phone, e-mail, Skype, and in person. Details are here: http://joydancer.com/study_wallan/index.html
I invite you to join me for my annual Valentine's Relationship Retreat here in Chacala, Nayarit, Mexico— Five days, February 10 ~ 14. "A Return to Paradise ~ A Romance in Conscious Relationship." Details are here: http://joydancer.com/events/romance_workshop.html
"Ultimately, relationship is not about two people interacting, but it is the dance of love recognizing itself" -- Allan Hardman