This was first published on KSL.COM
We have been married about 15 years and the last 10 have been really tough. I honestly just don’t feel loved. My spouse is often unkind and seems too busy, too tired and too interested in other things to have time or energy to give to me. I’ve tried talking to him, pleading with him and yelling at him, and things get better for a week and then go back to the same thing again with him snapping at me. I really want my marriage to be good. Is there a way to fix it when it’s this broken? I can’t handle a lifetime of this. If it doesn’t improve, I will throw in the towel. I’d love some advice.
You can turn your relationship around and repair what’s broken, if both of you are willing to get some help and work on it. I see relationships this bad get better every day. (Even if your spouse is not willing to work on it or get help but you are it might be enough.) If you make some real changes in the way you show up in the marriage, one of two things will happen: Your spouse will respond and become more loving, or it will become apparent that he isn’t really invested in this and you will know it’s time to leave. Just don’t decide to throw in the towel until you have tried these things first.
Here are the things I recommend you do to turn your relationship around.
First, understand the real reason your spouse is behaving selfishly and not lovingly. In the book "Real Love" by Dr. Greg Baer (a book I highly recommend.) Baer asks us to imagine being in the middle of the ocean when a man grabs you from behind and pushes you under water. You are struggling to get free, but he keeps pushing you under. Right before you pass and drown, someone arrives and pulls you loose and into a boat. After you catch your breath, you turn and see the man who pushed you under. He is also drowning. He only pushed you under in a desperate attempt to stay alive. Once you see this accurately, you would quickly help him into the boat with you.
This is what I think is happening in your relationship: Your spouse is drowning from a lack of love for himself and an ocean of fear (of failure and loss). The self-absorbed, grouchy and sometimes mean behavior is coming from his deep fears of inadequacy and pain. This is the real reason he has nothing to give you.
His fears are so painful they keep him focused on one thing — getting or doing whatever he can to stop the pain. Unfortunately, other human beings often project their pain onto you. They blame you and lash out at you, because if they stay focused on seeing you as the bad guy, they won’t have to deal with their pain and fear.
Don’t ever mistakenly assume that your spouse isn’t loving you, because you aren’t worthy of love. Or that his unkind behavior means he doesn't love you. I promise, this isn’t about you. You are lovable and good enough. You must not take his inability to give love to you right now, personally. His unkind behavior is a cry for help. It is hurt people, who hurt people.
Baer would say the real problem in your relationship is you both entered into it broken and scared; you had fears of inadequacy and failure from the start. You never had a solid sense of your infinite value and this made you incapable of giving "real love" to each other. You started this marriage with empty buckets, so you basically made a subconscious bargain that went something like this. “If you will validate me, make me feel safe, and give me imitation love in the form of flattery, sex, money, approval or appreciation, then I will do the same for you. As long as you fill my empty bucket, I’ll fill yours.”
According to Baer, these immature bargains and imitation forms of love were all you had to give because when you don’t feel safe, loved and whole by yourself, you don’t have "real love" to give.
At first, this deal probably worked but then life happened, things got hard, and you both inevitably disappointed each other. When we get disappointed, we start worrying about our own empty bucket, and this is where the getting behaviors start.
Baer explains that “getting behaviors” are games we play to try to get imitation forms of love to fill our buckets. We may lie and conform to be something we aren’t to try to get validation and approval. We may get angry and attack the other trying to demand what we need. We may play the victim card and try to get sympathy love. Some of us get clingy and suck the life out of our partner with our neediness, trying to get the validation or reassurance we need. The problem is that if you are focused on getting love and you aren’t giving any. You can’t do them both. You are either showing up whole and giving love energy into your relationship or you are in fear about yourself and bringing scarcity, lack and needy energy into your relationship. You are either a getter or a giver.
If you are showing up with fear energy, which you are unless you feel whole, safe and loved by yourself and by God or the universe, then you are bringing an energy that triggers selfish, protective energy in your spouse. As a matter of fact, it makes him focus on his needs. Your selfish energy basically makes him more selfish.
In a marriage where both parties are worried about themselves being loved - no love happens.
Take a minute and own if you are even capable of "real love." Do you feel whole, safe and loved in and by yourself? Do you have a full bucket and you don’t need anyone else to fill it? If you don’t, you must get some professional help to work on this. Working on your self-esteem is the best thing you can do for your marriage. Encourage and support your spouse to get help and work on his self-esteem also. Great marriages are made of two people who have confidence, strength and love for and in themselves first. Once you have this, you will be capable of giving real love — and will be ready for the real secret to fixing your marriage.
Are you ready for it?
Stop trying to "get" love from your spouse. Stop worrying about you and start giving "real love" to your spouse. That is in fact what real love is — more concern for the happiness of the other person than your own. You must become a giver, who gives with no strings attached. Don’t give so you can receive. Give because you genuinely want your spouse to feel appreciated, respected, admired and wanted.
If you do this your spouse will feel that it is genuine love, and when he feels this real unconditional love you are giving, even though he isn’t perfect and sometimes doesn’t deserve it, it will really mean a lot to him. He will, most likely, respond and start truly loving and giving to you. I say "most likely" because there are some people who are not capable of giving to you, no matter what you give to them, though these are rare, and even these people might change with some time and professional help. Trust your gut and you will know if this is happening in your case and what you need to do about it.
Just remember this rule: you get what you give. If you are bringing fear, lack, anger, protecting and getting energy into your marriage, your spouse will respond by worrying, protecting and getting for himself too. But if you give real love, concern, selfless service, kindness, forgiveness, understanding and compassion, you will get that back. If you strive every day to make your spouse feel appreciated, respected, admired and wanted, you will start feeling loved.
If you aren’t getting enough love back, it means more work is needed to repair the fears and insecurities that are making this person incapable of love. So, I strongly urge you to get some professional help. Ask around and find someone with a proven track record of success with couples. It may take a few tries to find someone that is a good fit for both of you.
Don’t give up if the first person you go to isn’t right, and don’t wait until you are on the verge of divorce to get help. Get help at the first sign that things aren’t right. You will save yourself years of heartache. A little help from an expert makes fixing anything easier. I also recommend meeting individually not together at first, so you can work on fixing your behavior and your self-esteem, not finger pointing at your spouse. I also have many resources for repairing relationships on my website that might help.
You can do this!
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach and speaker.
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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.