By Guest Blogger Gray Moulton, LMFT, PLLC
My clients come to me often sharing that their spouses are driving them insane. It never fails. A couple will come to me and tell me about the things that attracted them to one another and inevitably, one will share stories about how the most desired characteristics have now become the most dreaded aspects of their relationships.
Remember how he used to be the life of the party, telling jokes and having everyone around him laughing? Now you find this to be more on the obnoxious side because he avoids being serious and refuses to talk about important things without making a crack about something. Or remember how he’d put his arm around your belly and pull you close to him, not wanting to let go? You felt so wanted, so special. Now all you want is for someone to NOT be on you constantly. You want to be able to breathe and have those hot flashes without worrying that his feelings will get hurt. Heck, you just want to go to the bathroom alone now. Maybe even enjoy a shower by yourself. Why can’t he just take the kids outside and allow you fifteen minutes of freedom?
Many couples find themselves in similar or even more serious situations further into their relationships and begin to wonder what they should do. How can they get things back to some sort of tolerable place? Hiring someone to take him out isn’t actually an option. Nor can you just ignore and pretend these things don’t bother you. So what can you do?
One of the first things I suggest to clients is that they consider that things haven’t changed as much as they may think, rather they are perceiving things differently as they age. Yes, telling jokes was funny then, and it still can be now – if done at the right time. Yes, you want to feel close to him, but you also need to feel like an individual as well. Understanding that things change as we age is important. Being able to communicate about change is even more important.
Whether you learn about perception and communication skills through a book, YouTube or a therapist doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you do something about the issues PRIOR to them building large amounts of resentment within your relationship.
I start by having my couples share with me the things that they loved about their partners early on in the relationship.
~ What was important to each of them?
~ What did they feel attracted to?
By reminding each of them of those things that they once loved, they are taken back to a time when their hearts and minds were falling in love. They are able to picture and remember the good about their partner. This establishes a safe starting point.
When each person is capable of seeing the love that was once shared, they are then able to see that how they perceive and define those same actions differently now. Your spouse loves you so much that he wants to be touching you and be near you. You are his safety net. He isn’t trying to annoy you by wanting to hold your hand or snuggle on the couch. He is trying to establish a sense of intimacy, just as he once did.
Life has changed. Kids have arrived. Menopause or stressful jobs have taken over. His desire for intimacy is still there, yet now it seems overbearing to you because life has become overbearing.
What would happen if you took the “problem” at hand and changed the way you looked at it? Perhaps you could use the word “possibility” versus “problem”.
“I can’t stand how John is constantly making light of serious issues.”
~ Instead think of it this way…..
“At least John is able to remain positive during this difficult time.”
A client recently shared how they were having incredibly difficult times at work. They were miserable and saw this as such a burden to themselves. After encouraging them to see the possibility verses the problem, the client switched his perception from a negative to a positive. He saw that he needed to shift his work space to a different setting and thusly, not only did his problem go away, but he managed to get a promotion out of it as well. This happened with only a slight shift in thinking. He looked for what good could come of the situation verses wallowing in the bad.
Relationships are just like this. Once we start seeing negatives, that becomes most of what we see. When you first met the love of your life, you were looking for the positives mainly. Yet along the way, you shifted to seeing mostly negatives. It’s kind of like we praise toddlers for learning to walk and talk. Yet our teenagers try something new and we immediately shift to judgement zones. Maintaining the ability to look for positives becomes crucial. Every day we should say something positive to our spouses. That sort of acknowledgement goes a long way.
One last thought…we live in a world where negatives are happening on a daily basis. If we all took a minute to thank someone, to show appreciation, on a daily basis, imagine how much more we would feel valued and heard.
The knowledge that someone is truly listening to us is something that cannot be taken away. Being heard keeps us from feeling crazy.
So go out there and remember what you fell in love with and how that impacted you early in your relationships. Be sure to see the good that is done. Remember that the reasons they annoy you were once the reasons that you fell so in love with them. And please, say thank you or show gratitude for the things that they’ve done right.