This was first published on KSL.COM
SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, coaches Kim and Nicole share four ways to shift your relationship out of its current rut.
Our relationship has gotten sticky lately because I feel really unsupported by my husband. How do I feel loving, trusting and forgiving towards him, when it isn’t reciprocated? I have recently realized my actions and love are dependent upon his. When he is engaged in the home and helps me, then I will love back. But most of the time he doesn’t help at all, and I feel so drained, like we are unequally yoked, and I have been for so many years. He doesn’t even do the traditional "husband" jobs. How do I love and serve him when he doesn’t show love for me in the way I need him to? I’ve tried and I can’t get past the irritation over his behavior. Am I supposed to forgive this and love him anyway? Shouldn’t he need to change and start showing up for me too?
The answer is YES. Your spouse should do better to pitch in and help around your house, and YOU should love him regardless of whether he does, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay married to him. Loving him from afar is one of your many options in this situation.
Before you choose from those options, though, listen carefully to your inner GPS (intuition) and figure out if it is your perfect classroom to stick with him and love him while you also try to teach him to behave better, or if it’s your perfect classroom to continue on alone. Only you will know which path is your perfect classroom, but if you feel your perfect classroom is still in this marriage, and you still feel drawn to make it work, there are a few things you can do to get this marriage unstuck from its current rut.
This advice will also be helpful for everyone in a relationship right now. Whether you just met and are enjoying that playful "honeymoon" phase or you have a well-established life together and many years under your belt, all good relationships take the same core principles to work.
Here are four ways you can consciously unstick and strengthen any relationship:
1. See your relationship accurately: Remember, you are on this planet for one reason, to grow and learn. Life is a school, and every experience you have is, at some level, there to teach you how to love yourself or other people better. Your marriage is no exception to this rule. You are always drawn to and marry your greatest teacher. You were drawn to this person because they can help you grow by pushing your buttons, triggering your fears and giving you amazing opportunities to work on yourself.
It sounds like your fear trigger is around “the fear of loss,” and your spouse’s disinterest in helping you is triggering this fear and making you feel taken from, mistreated and unloved. Fear of loss can bring unloving and selfish behavior to the surface. Whenever you feel taken from or mistreated, you will want to pull back your love.
Instead, there is a growth opportunity here where you could see the mistreatment as your perfect lesson, and instead of pulling back and being less loving, you could rise to the occasion, turn this moment into a human achievement, and choose to be loving, kind and hardworking without a chip on your shoulder about it.
You could look for opportunities to encourage your spouse and appreciate his good qualities, even if they aren’t the ones you hoped for, and see them as your perfect classroom. This isn’t easy to do, but there is beautiful growth and maturity that could come from this challenge.
Ask yourself what else being married to your spouse could teach you. How else could it force you to grow? How could a spouse who doesn’t help out actually serve you in some way? When you find the answers to these questions, you will be seeing your marriage accurately, and amazing peace will come.
2. Avoid disappointment in your partner: One of the gifts of a loving relationship is the role of support, encouragement and motivation to make each of you better people. However, this support can be loaded with expectations of how things should be and where you feel your spouse should be in their work life, financially, spiritually and emotionally.
All of us wrongfully project potential onto our partners. We see what is possible and we are often disappointed with what is. Disappointment is the biggest poison in a marriage, because it brings even more fear of failure and loss into the relationship, which sucks the love from it.
The irony is that when we see partners accurately for who they are, without projections or expectations about their potential, they are more likely to fulfill their potential and become more to your liking, but this takes unconditional love and patience.
We believe the more encouraging you can be about your partner's strengths, talents and good qualities, instead of nagging about weaknesses, faults and mistakes, the more you will quiet your partner's fear of failure (which we believe is the real cause of all bad, unmotivated, selfish behavior), and he will be able to show up for you better. Keep giving as much positive reinforcement as possible, and even tell him he is the very things you want him to be. This often nudges people in the direction we want, because they like to live up to your highest opinion of them.
3. Choose to serve your partner: One of the kindest ways you can show up for your partner is to ask yourself, “What does my partner need most?” To serve him, you must see him accurately. You must take notice and really look at what he values and what he fears. What stresses, pain, imbalances and pressures are happening there? How is he balancing all of his responsibilities, and is he having his needs met?
Look without judgment or criticism, with only a compassionate and loving heart, and ask, “How can I serve my partner and love him in a deeper and more impactful way?” We believe that becoming the cure to a partner's core fear (either failure or loss) is the way you can serve your partner best.
If your spouse is doing battle with a big fear of failure (which I would guess he is since he knows he isn’t living up to his potential), he may really need validation of his intrinsic worth and to hear that he has value. You may find giving him some validation quiets his fear and shame and even motivates him. If he is just not a motivated person, look for other qualities about him you can validate and appreciate.
4. Take care of your own needs: You are the one responsible for your own happiness. Figure out who you are and what you need to fill up your bucket so you can handle giving to your spouse and family. What do you need so you have the energy and capacity to keep caring for others?
We work with many couples who have found themselves lost in this misalignment, disconnected from their own needs and showing up only for their families and harboring a great deal of resentment about it.
You must own the responsibly for your own self-esteem and happiness. So, what do you need in your life to feel fulfilled, happy, confident and joyful? What do you need to give yourself permission to do so your bucket is full and you have something to give? What are you doing to strengthen your own understanding of who you are and what you are here for?
It may be time (or long overdue) for you to engage in some personal development or coaching and find your balance and truth, which in turn could greatly strengthen your marriage. You may want to start with our DIY coaching program workbook or hire a coach.
It sounds like you and your spouse are very different from each other. You value tasks and getting things done, and he might not share these values. He might value other things that aren’t worse, just different than yours. Most of us believe the way we are is the right way — but that’s a matter of perspective, it's not fact.
Your spouse has different fears and values, and understanding those is the first step to a better connection. You may want to take our free online Clarity Assessment to see your fears and values on paper and see if your spouse would do the same. We also recommend coaching or counseling with a relationship expert. A little help makes a huge difference.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. Nicole Cunningham is a human behavior expert and master coach.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.