When Your Spouse Says I Never Really Loved You

“I NeverI never loved you Loved You.”

If your spouse has said this to you, I’m sorry.  It is incredibly painful to hear. 

At one point I said this in my own marriage, and my husband still remembers how it made him feel all these years later. 

Those words devastated him. 

He just couldn’t wrap his brain around them.  How could I say them? What if they were true? Was our entire life together, up to that point, a lie?

Here is the really strange thing:  I absolutely meant it when I said those words to him. 

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how our marriage got to such a low point. 

I felt nothing for him but contempt. 

I was so angry, and then I was just so defeated I felt nothing at all, which was worse in so many ways.  I felt this anger and then this apathy for so long I couldn’t remember ever feeling love. 

I remembered our wedding, but the memory became duller.  The colors were less vivid – the day less joyful.

The “I Never Really Loved You” Syndrome is Clinically Studied and Personally Proven – by me.

John Gottman has research that shows if you feel negatively about someone long enough, something happens in the brain to literally change your memories of that person.  He calls it “negative sentiment override”.  As a clinician, that is fascinating and a little unbelievable.  But I’m telling you, when it happens TO you, it is mind blowing. 

I’m a rational person.  I make big decisions every day with my business.  I know my own mind and thoughts. 

And yet, I was deluded into thinking I never really loved my husband.  I thank God every day I came to my senses. 

It took several key factors for me to be able to come back to reality. 

I’ve listed them here for you so that if your spouse has told you this, you can at least have some guideline to help you get through this.

“Drop the Rope”

The more my husband fought me on my feelings, the more determined I became in making them real. 

When my husband believed me and stopped pressuring me to see things his way or explain how I could feel these things, I was able to take a step back and breathe. 

We call this technique “drop the rope.” When my husband quit telling me he loved me every day, I was able to stop squirming and feeling so uncomfortable around him every minute.  I knew he loved me.  But when he would say it often, it would make me feel itchy.  I just wanted him to go away. 

When he pulled back, I stopped dreading being around him. 

For months we lived as roommates but I was no longer avoiding and running from him.  Over time, things just got easier, and one day I felt myself wanting to be with him.  It was confusing!  But I could explore those feelings without any threat because he wasn’t pressuring me. 

I didn’t feel pushed to make a decision about divorce or reconciliation. 

Honestly, I don’t know how my husband was able to emotionally stand this time.  It was so hard for him to just wait for months to see if I could possibly want to be married again.  He was so lonely and hurt.  I was so self-absorbed and distant.  Now, I want to shake myself and say, “you selfish little twit” but during that time, I was not in my right mind.  My husband’s patience allowed me time to work it out and come to my senses. 

He never pressured me for sex.  Which is good. 

I’m sure that would have sent me to the guest room or to an apartment.  He created a very safe environment for me.

He didn’t let me treat him badly or rudely. 

He stood up for himself appropriately.  If he had allowed me take advantage of the situation by letting me have my way all the time, or talking ugly to him I would have lost all respect for him. 

When I was really angry I would lash out at him, and he would calmly tell me that I could live there with him and have all the space I needed to figure things out, but I could not be abusive. 

He told me I had to clean it up or move out.  Wow!  That took courage.  But it also made me look at him in a different way.  It made him more attractive to me. 

I was a complete fool during that awful time in our marriage.  But I eventually did come to my senses and I’m hoping your spouse will also.  In the meantime, you have to know how to give your spouse space but maintain your dignity and respect at the same time. 

What Doesn’t Work

There is a popular program out there that gives really bad advice to people in this situation.  They tell you to buy your spouse gifts and write them cards every day.  I’m telling you, this would have made things much worse for us.  I would have felt suffocated.  I would have felt pity for my husband and his pathetic attempts to win me back.  I would have left him.

Our Trained Coaches Can Help

Our coaches are trained in techniques like “drop the rope” and “yank the chain”. They kind of sound like torture devices!  But our techniques can really work if you know when and how to use them.  Our coaches get relationship training from the top experts in this country and we meet weekly to train and stay up-to-date on the latest research. 

Look, you are in a tough spot.  It can be confusing to know where to turn for advice.  Make sure you work with someone who knows what they are doing.  When I opened a new business, I hired a business coach.  I wanted to avoid costly mistakes.  Be smart about your relationship.  Hire a good marriage coach and work with them regularly. 

Your life is worth this investment.  Your family is worth fighting for. 

We can help you navigate through the next several months.  I won’t lie.  This is going to be difficult.  So make sure you get all the help and support you need. 

Call us at 972-441-4432 or send us an email here.

In the meantime, take care of yourself.  Find things you enjoy and indulge.  You need some self-love right now. If I could, I would give you a big hug and some chocolate.  It always makes me feel better. ☺


Kim

Can you Handle the Truth? Giving and Receiving Feedback Well

How to give and receive feedback well

Do you know how to hear feedback with grace?

There was a time when I couldn’t hear criticism.

I was easily offended and very defensive.

When someone tried to tell me I was wrong or had hurt them in some way, I would immediately justify my actions, minimize them or dispute the facts.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe I had flaws. I would frequently admit to being very flawed. You can sound very noble as you paint yourself with broad strokes of imperfection but the grit is in the details.

I could put someone else under a microscope but wanted to keep my own specific transgressions at a distance.

Even just writing this makes me feel, well, yuck.

Admitting you are flawed is very different than holding yourself accountable for those flaws.

I was so defensive because I had a very fragile sense of my own worth.

When someone gave me tough criticism, I sank into despair.

I easily dropped into toxic shame–that place where I felt worthless and broken.

To avoid feeling so badly, I avoided honest feedback.

admitting you are flawed EWL

I didn’t realize then how self-indulgent it is to go to toxic shame.

Think about it: if someone tells you something about yourself you don’t like, and you sink into despair, you still aren’t holding yourself accountable. You are beating yourself up but not changing anything.

In essence, you are sending out the message that you are too fragile for the truth. You are either expecting those around you to soothe you and minimize your actions or enabling them to avoid confronting you. Or both.

Married couples who can’t take criticism land in my office all the time.

Couples dance these same steps over and over. I see it in my office. Charles and Mindy are a particular couple I have in mind. (Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.)

Charles is a bully. He is big and loud.

When something doesn’t go the way he thinks it should, he yells and curses until his family caves.

Mindy is scared of Charles. Not physically–as far as I know, he has never raised his hand to anyone. But his yelling is just as intimidating to his family.

Charles is like a lot of bullies. He is very charming and playful when he isn’t raging. He comes across like a big, lovable teddy bear–until he shows his claws.

And this is how he justifies his bad behavior.  Since only his family sees this other side of him,  he is well liked by everyone. He often reasons that his family is overly sensitive because he has no problems with anyone else.

Standing up to a bully

After working with Mindy, she was finally able to stand up to Charles. She stopped letting him have his way and when he would yell, she would set limits on how much she was exposed to that behavior. This infuriated Charles even more.  He said he felt attacked and that Mindy was controlling him!

When Mindy told him he was a bully and why, instead of looking at his behavior and feeling remorse, he pouted. He moped around the house for days. He gave everyone the silent treatment.

He took every opportunity to let everyone know that he was apparently a big, bad ogre. Sometimes he appeared to get it and would cry and ask her why she stayed with him if he was so bad. He did everything but actually change his actions.

See the self-indulgence? When you wrong someone, true remorse says, “I’m so sorry. What can I do to make you feel better?”

Charles is saying “If what you say is true, I’m a terrible person. What can you do to make me feel better?”

Being able to hear the truth is a gift you give yourself and those you love.

Defensiveness breeds shamelessness.

Giving and receiving feedback increases intimacy in such a powerful way. I cannot underestimate the importance.

Charles and Mindy will never have a truly intimate relationship until Charles can hear what Mindy is trying to tell him AND he holds himself accountable for it.

Right now, Mindy is willing to wait and see if Charles can let go of his defense mechanisms and allow himself to be vulnerable, and if he will accept her vulnerability. I don’t know how long she will wait in this holding pattern.

Charles is on borrowed time but it doesn’t have to be that way. He is risking losing everything he holds dear just because he will not hear the truth.

Are you married to someone who can’t take criticism?

If you are married to someone who cannot hear the truth, I feel particularly bad for you. That’s a tough situation. But you aren’t stuck.  Mindy is learning how to set limits on bad behavior.

There is more conflict, but Mindy is getting stronger each day. One day, I believe Charles will have to face the truth or face living alone. But Mindy is more at peace today than any other time in her marriage. Only she can decide if that is good enough.

You need to be able to hear feedback to keep you grounded.  Otherwise, you will become shameless.

Shameless people are obnoxious, intrusive, immature people.

The first person who comes to mind when I think of shameless is Donald Trump. He offends in outrageous ways. Whether you love or hate him, you know he is offensive.  He needs someone in his life who is willing to tell him the truth and set loving limits on his outrageous behavior.

How a therapist learned to receive criticism and feedback

I learned how to hear criticism and it completely changed my life. It taught me how to be more relational to others, including towards my husband. It also taught me how to be more relational to myself! I no longer dip into toxic shame on a regular basis. I have learned to accept that I am imperfect and it is ok to be imperfect.

Giving and receiving feedback takes skill and practice.

I learned how to give feedback in my therapy training, but I didn’t learn how to receive it until a therapist confronted me. It was ugly. But it was also life-changing.

How to give feedback well

When giving feedback, always ask if someone is willing and ready to hear your opinion. Never force your feedback on anyone.

Once they are ready for it, state your feedback without a lot of emotion.  It’s so much easier to hear tough criticism if you aren’t angry when you speak your truth.  Just state the facts and do so without judgement.

And no name calling, please!  Not if you want to give the person on the receiving end even a remote chance of hearing you.

How to receive feedback well

When receiving feedback, fight the urge to defend, minimize or rationalize.  Just hear them.

Then run it through 3 filters:

Is it true?

Is it untrue?

Is it questionable?

If it is questionable, find out more information.  Ask for examples. Once I have more information, I then have ask myself again if it is true or untrue.

If it is true, make amends if you can and be gentle with yourself.  You are human and you are going to mess up.

If it is untrue, step back emotionally.  Do not try and convince the feedback giver they are mistaken.  They are allowed their perspective. When I experience this, I detach my emotions and I also detach from convincing the other person it is untrue.  They are allowed their own opinion and perspective. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree.

If the person giving the feedback has been hurt by your actions or attitude because they misunderstood or misinterpreted the situation, gently let them know you had no intention to hurt them.

Staying accountable with new skills

I never want to go back to the self-indulged ducking and dodging that kept me blind to how others saw me. To make sure I don’t go back, I have people in my life who hold me accountable.

When I hear, “Are you open to some feedback?” I view it as a gift. Even though what I’m about to hear may be painful, seeing how someone else is viewing me is priceless. When I hear feedback, I go through the process I described above.  I ask myself, “Is it true?  Is it untrue?  Is it questionable?”

Instead of being defensive, I brace myself and hang on for the deep dive in the intimacy pool. I listen for the truth in what they are telling me, and I remind myself it is ok to be imperfect.

I make amends when and where I can and I resolve to do it better next time. Then I thank God for putting people in my life who will tell me the truth.

This process keeps me grounded. It keeps me from being shameless.  It keeps me relational so that the people in my life feel closer to me.  I’m willing to hear their truth.

As a result, I feel stronger and more secure.

My relationships are closer and more intimate. And now, I am very adept at appropriately giving honest feedback to others. And that’s a gift too! Because I am no longer putting up with bad behavior or building resentment toward others.

Are you defensive when it comes to criticism?

If you are the person who is defensive, I know how you feel. It can be scary to admit you have an ugly side. But guess what? Everyone has an ugly side. Not looking at it only allows your ugly to get uglier.

Be brave. Clean yourself up. Wash off the shamelessness. When your family sees who you really are, chances are they will love you more not less.

They may stay where they are now because they are afraid or intimidated, but that isn’t love and intimacy. And somewhere inside of you, you know that. It feels cheap because it is​ cheap.

Come out from behind your wall and see if they love you more. It is possible you will be rejected. But that’s why intimacy is so messy and scary and real. It is unpredictable and involves other flawed human beings. All you can do is show up as your best self. But the reward is worth the risk.

I promise.

There’s help for learning how to manage criticism and grow intimacy in relationships

We can help if you or someone you are in relationship with can’t hear the truth. Contact us here.

Our coaches and counselors are trained in telling you the things about yourself that others see but don’t feel safe to tell you. We do this with compassion and without judgment–and then we will hold you accountable. That’s our gift to you.

See also: 4 Ways to Shut Out Your Spouse (including bullying and the silent treatment) and When Your Spouse Always Gets Their Way & What the Wall Street Journal has to say about taking criticism.