Has your spouse told you he/she never really loved you? Have you heard him/her tell you they feel they settled for something less when they got married or they felt pressure to marry when they shouldn’t have?
These are certainly harsh and scary words to hear from the person with whom you expected to be married to forever. You are probably confused and hurt. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the marriage is over. It doesn’t even mean your spouse doesn’t love you and it certainly doesn’t mean they never did. Let me explain.
When someone has been unhappy for months or years in a relationship, the lens in which they view the relationship and their partner gets distorted. Research shows that even our memories change. When your spouse tells you they never loved you, they believe it. But it doesn’t mean it is true. It is rare for someone to marry without feeling love for the other person. They may have had doubts or fears (which is normal) but they did feel love in the beginning. Dr. John Gottman calls this phenomenon, Negative Sentiment Override. Eventually, the unhappy person can’t see or acknowledge anything positive about the relationship. Eventually they are convinced they never loved enough or in the correct way.
I experienced this with my house. My husband and I bought what we thought was our dream house. From the very first day we moved in, our dream house proved to be a nightmare. Four years later I hated the house and I couldn’t remember what I thought was so special or charming about it. Friends would tell me what a great house it was but all I could see were the problems. I actually still live in the house and I still struggle with a love/hate relationship. It’s getting better every day but at least now I can remember what first attracted me to the house. I’m in the process of moving away from Negative Sentiment Override.
When your spouse says they never loved you or they settled for less when they married you, they are expressing months or years of unhappiness and feelings of hopelessness. It is a protection mechanism that allows them to begin to disengage without feeling too much guilt. Disengaging gives them hope they will be happy again.
Part of what we do at The Marriage Place and Engage With Love is help you begin to make yourself emotionally attractive to your spouse again. Until this happens, your spouse will not see hope the relationship can be healed or believe they can be happy with you. Hope is the key here! It is likely you have made promises to change things in the past and have not been able to sustain those changes. Each time you reverted back to old behaviors, your spouse lost hope and incentive to stay in the marriage. Your actions now are way more important than your words. That’s why it is so important to start changing your behavior now!
I know you must be worried that you have waited too long and it is too late to save your marriage. But I promise you it doesn’t have to be too late. Your spouse may be telling you it is hopeless but that’s because they have lost sight of what the relationship used to be and what it can be again. Let us help you figure out what your next step needs to be. We specialize in these situations and we know how to help you get your spouse re-engaged. What you have been doing hasn’t been working. Unless you do something differently, you are going to lose your marriage. It is time to try something new.
I get asked this question several times a week. It is such a tempting way to deal with a spouse’s undesirable behavior. The problem is I’ve rarely seen it work the way the giver intended. It may seem like a good idea at first…in fact, all your friends and family may encourage you to take the final stand. It is appealing because it seems to give you back some sense of control. You don’t feel weak and powerless. It feels like you are demanding the respect you deserve. The problem is you can’t demand love and respect but you don’t want a marriage without it.
If you have ever parented teenagers, you probably know that rules and regulations are useless if there isn’t a relationship in place first. Nothing brings about more defiance, stubbornness and avoidance than laying down the law with an obstinate teen. Rules without Relationship = Rebellion. This is a universal truth that applies to almost every relationship…especially a marriage. Rules don’t bring about a change of heart. A loving relationship will because now someone is motivated to change.
I’ve seen spouses lay down ultimatums over all kinds of behavior. He likes porn so she threatens to leave if she sees evidence he is at it again. She doesn’t have sex enough so he is surly and doesn’t help with the kids. He won’t stop hanging out with the boys so she withholds sex. There are many flavors of this scenario, but they all have one thing in common: there is little or no motivation on the part of one spouse to make lasting changes. We can’t force our spouse to change. Is it possible to increase their motivation?
Let me tell you a brief story about Scott and Lisa. They had been married for less than ten years when Lisa found out Scott was having an affair with Brenda. Lisa was devastated. She wanted to give Scott an ultimatum – end the affair or move out. That was when Lisa called me and we began the Marriage 911 program together. I asked Lisa what she wanted the end result of all of this to be. Did she want to get a divorce and move on or did she want to try and save her marriage? She chose the marriage so we started putting specific actions in place. Instead of playing detective and trying to monitor Scott’s whereabouts, Lisa got involved with a local theater group. It required several weeknights for rehearsals and she informed Scott he had the kids or he found a babysitter. On the nights he got a babysitter, she did not ask where he went or who was with him. She stopped moping around with a worried face and put on a smile even when she had to fake it. It wasn’t long before she told me she felt better than she had in years. She was busy doing things she loved and she wasn’t home worrying about who Scott was with or if he was going to ask her for a divorce. She said although she did fake being happy at first it wasn’t long before she realized she was indeed actually happier.
Scott realized Lisa wasn’t chasing him down or trying to talk him into counseling or stopping the affair. He admitted later he felt relief at first but then he got curious. In fact, he started getting more and more interested in his wife and less interested in Brenda. A few months after Lisa and I started working together, Scott told Lisa he wanted to come to counseling with her. Instead of working through all the things that were wrong with the relationship, we started putting things in place to improve it. Scott and Lisa had a step-by-step plan for reconnecting. After several months of working the plan, they noticed many of the problems they thought they had simply disappeared. They felt closer and more connected. Once their relationship stabilized they were then able to work through the issues of infidelity and they rebuilt trust. They were happy again and they now had the skills and tools to stay happy.
Did you notice what Lisa did to re-engage Scott? She increased his motivation to change. She started caring for herself. When Scott no longer felt all the pressure to fight against her, he wanted to spend more time with her. If she had given Scott an ultimatum and said “pick Brenda or pick me” they both would have been in a no-win situation. If Scott had chosen Brenda, they would have lost their family. If Scott had chosen Lisa, he would have been resentful and angry and Lisa still wouldn’t have the marriage she wanted. She would be forever wondering when the next Brenda was going to come along. Scott ended the affair because he once again had a loving relationship with his wife.
Relationship. That’s the key. Rules without Relationship = Rebellion. Marriage is all about relationship. Forget ultimatums and start focusing on how you can build greater intimacy and trust with your partner. Let us at Engage With Love show you how to have a happier marriage than you ever dreamed was possible. Call us at 972-441-4432 and we will show you how a great marriage isn’t a great mystery. You just have to know HOW to build it.