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SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, coaches Kim Giles and Nicole Cunningham explain the one emotion most likely to ruin a marriage and how to avoid it.
My husband and I have been married for 17 years. We have been happy for most of this time and have raised four children together. I find myself now struggling to connect, and at some level even not wanting to be around him. I look at him differently and cannot connect to the reasons I married him in the first place. I just can’t respect him for the way he is behaving now. Is it possible that some of us fall out of love or change so dramatically that our marriage can’t be salvaged?
It is possible to feel disappointed in your spouse, but it is also possible to salvage the relationship, change how you feel and even grow to love and respect your spouse again.
Understand that the way you are feeling right now is based totally on your perspective (how you are looking at your spouse), and perspective is possible to change, and when you look at something differently, it can feel totally different.
It sounds like you have lost respect for your spouse because of the state he is functioning in right now, and this can be a hard place to come back from. But the first step is figuring out which fears are driving his bad behavior. (By the way, we call any behavior that isn’t loving or positive bad behavior. This includes being mean or being insecure or timid.)
It’s easy to pull back when you experience a spouse’s bad behavior. However, the truth is, all of us have some bad behavior that is not appealing or attractive. You may not have the same bad behaviors your spouse does, but you have others. (We know this because there is always a downside to being married to anyone. We all have bad, immature or insecure moments.)
The key to changing negative behavior in yourself or others is understanding the emotions in play that drive the behavior. You must see the behavior as fear-based reactions, not something fundamentally wrong with the person. Your spouse is fundamentally a divine, amazing, human soul capable of fantastic behavior. It is only fear that is bringing out the bad.
All of us experience times when we feel taken from or mistreated, and when you experience fear of loss like this, you might lash out, become defensive or angry or withdraw. You will then subconsciously choose behavior, good or bad, you think will quiet your fear. You may also get defensive or withdraw when you feel insulted or criticized. If you look behind your spouse’s or your own bad behavior, you will see one or both of these fears in play.
If you understand your spouse is scared, you won’t take their bad behavior as personally. You will also remember they are in a fear state driven by emotion; they are not a bad or broken person — at least most aren’t. We can all get ourselves into a balanced clarity state and behave better too. Everyone has the potential to rise.
So, take another look at your husband and his behavior: What is going on for him lately? Has he experienced any trials, challenges or changes that were not in his control? Maybe he is feeling some loss or having his confidence or position challenged at work. Could this be making him feel insecure? Is his age getting to him; is he losing his hair, struggling with his weight or feeling out of sorts? What are his triggers that bring out his worst behavior? Is he triggered when he feels insulted or criticized (fear of failure) or when he feels taken from or mistreated (fear of loss)?
If you can figure out his core fear trigger, you will also know what he needs most to rise out of the bad behavior. He probably needs a great deal of validation or reassurance.
Sadly, it’s easy to judge, be disappointed and pull back, while it takes effort to see them accurately, lean into the relationship and have compassion. We strongly encourage you to try to figure out what your spouse needs to make him feel like he is good enough, safe and on track and see if that brings better behavior to the surface.
When people feel loved, wanted, respected and admired, they usually behave much better. They also become madly in love with you and treat you really well.
The one emotion that could absolutely destroy your relationship is disappointment.
If you feel disappointed in your spouse (and your spouse feels your lack of admiration or appreciation for them), it cuts to the deepest part of their fear of failure and it creates more fear of loss in you. In this place of fear, neither of you is capable of loving behavior. Love and fear cannot exist at the same time in the same place.
If your spouse can feel you are disappointed in him at any level he will stay in fear and the bad behavior will continue. If you can show him you see the bad behavior as fear, (not who he really is) you can inspire him to rise.
When one or both parties feels disrespected or disappointed, there is always a deep disconnect in the relationship. If this is allowed to go on for years, the resentment and dislike can create a huge wedge between you that gets harder and harder to heal. We work with couples to remove these emotional blocks and forgive each other, so they can repair and prevent disconnection, disappointment and disrespect.
To prevent disappointment from occurring in the first place or to repair it, here are a few tips:
1. Every person has the right to think and feel the way they do (and they are always right about how they feel). Your spouse is allowed to have different opinions and feelings and express them. Watch yourself for arrogance that your opinion or perspective is the right one. As soon as you see yourself as right and your spouse as wrong, you step into a place of ego, and this creates frustration and disappointment on both sides.
2. See your spouse as the same as you. This means not talking down to them or casting them as the bad one and yourself as the good one. You must respect their right to be in their own classroom and be a work in progress. Notice your attitude and response to your husband right now. Are you making him wrong or beneath you? Or are you allowing him to have his own process or experience and find his own way?
3. Have compassion for fear-based behavior. We all have bad behavior, every one of us, when we experience fear, stress and overwhelm. None of us can escape this, and we must take responsibility for our own behavior and how it hurts others.
Then, we must have compassion and forgive when they have bad behavior because of their fears. A healthy marriage requires emotional resiliency from both sides, and this can only occur when you forgive and allow each other to be imperfect.
4. Lean in and love more. I know it’s hard, but when marriage gets hard we have to love harder. We have to create less space between us and make a conscious decision to love one another more.
Love is a choice, not a state. We don’t fall in, we choose in. We do this by creating a safe place for empathy, validation and compassion to come in and resisting the need to shame, protect and make our partner wrong.
5. Look at your own behavior. Where are you in fear or anger and feeling unsafe? See accurately how this is mixing with your husband’s imbalanced behavior and creating a perfect storm for disrespect and disappointment to occur.
Consciously choose the WE instead of the I — and lean in to being responsible for your own unbalanced state. This creates the best and most loving outcome for your WE.
Disrespect and disappointment can be hard to come back from, but you can heal it. There is an "Understanding the fear in your marriage" worksheet on my website which might help you see the fear in play in your marriage. We also offer couples' retreats to heal this dangerous emotion and see each other in a new light.
This will require both of you to connect on an equal playing field though, where you both have the same value and you are both worthy of your feelings, thoughts, ideas and experiences. You are both exactly where you are meant to be (to teach you something). It will require you to lean in and love your spouse through this fear stage and help him to see himself as good enough, safe, on track and even admirable.
You hold a lot of the power right now, as you are the one who is disappointed and therefore the only one who can change it. (We know that is counterintuitive because you could see the problem in his control). But the answer to this problem lies more in your changing the way you see him than in him changing his behavior (partly because you have no control over that).
Focus on what you have control over and choose to see the highest, best potential in him (instead of the faults). If you can help him to see himself as awesome, kind, patient, hardworking (or whatever qualities you want to see more of) you can inspire him to change himself. This works because people always want to live up to your highest opinion of them. Encouragement always works better than disappointment or disapproval.
You can do this.
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