From time to time I am asked, “What is the problem that most of the couples you see in marriage counseling struggle with?” They then give me their “guess” at what they think is the answer. Of course, most often they think it is “communication.”
Yes, communication is a big issue for most couples. Others will guess that couples struggle most with sexual issues. Yes, they do. Just about all couples have sexual issues or will have sexual issues at some time in their relationship.
But if you ask me what is the primary issue that I find couples struggling with it is “connection.” There is a lot of diversity when it comes to problems among couples, but the problem that I observe most often is their feeling of emotional disconnection.
Many couples get along just fine. They carry out their roles as a couple should. Cooking, cleaning, fixing, repairing, washing, working, and providing all that is required for maintaining a “good” life. From a distance, they have a very good marriage and a good life. At a deeper level, there is too often an emotional disconnect between them.
There is more disconnection in relationships than connections
All relationships are in a constant process of connecting and disconnecting. In fact, there is more disconnection that goes on in a relationship than there is a connection.
Sleep disconnects a couple as well as attending to children’s needs, going to work, maintaining the living environment, spending time with our own interests like hobbies, working out, and sports. Also, time spent with extended family, cell phones, TV, and computers, can separate and disconnect even the most loving couple.
Unresolved issues lead to partners stonewalling each other
For far too many couples, unresolved conflicts and differences create bad feelings that make couples withdraw from each other and shut down.
Often, hurt feelings from unresolved issues inspire responses that are critical and even hostile. They can also inspire a partner to stonewall their mate and withdraw from the relationship. In addition, many of the couples I have worked with seem to have total ignorance on how to resolve conflict and differences.
They often do lack communication skills. When they try to talk about what really matters to them they only create impasses and alienating conflict. When they shut down their love feelings, they only relate to each other on a practical level.
The soft, tender, sensitive feelings for each other are repressed and unexpressed. There is no longer an expression of empathy or validation of their partner’s needs and feelings. The walls go up and they cannot feel the emotional connection to their partner.
They are actually emotionally divorced in their marriage!
Marriage must entail connection
I define marriage as a feeling of an emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical sense of connectedness. When you lose that feeling of connectedness, you are divorced in your marriage; you just haven’t made the divorce legal.
You really don’t have a marriage. You have a piece of paper that says by law you are married. The reverse is also true.
By my definition, it’s not the wedding or the license that marries you. You could never have had a wedding or gotten a license and by my definition, you could be more married to your partner than someone who had a wedding and signed a state license of marriage. I see little difference between a couple that has been living together for 5 or 10 yrs and a couple that has been officially married for 5 or 10 years.
So how does a couple get remarried to each other and move from a psychologically divorced state to being connected and married again?
1. Be mindful that all humans are flawed
It is our basic nature to misunderstand, to be insensitive, to be selfish and self-centered, to be defensive, hurt and angry.
We tend to keep our feet in our own shoes; rarely should we put our feet in the shoes of our partner.
A connected relationship requires that a couple develop a high tolerance for their partner’s screw-ups, mistakes, misunderstandings, and accidents—most of which are caused out of ignorance.
Accepting each other’s humanity means we stay away from judging, parenting, or threatening our partner’s self-esteem. We share power and control and take turns getting our way.
That translates into letting our partner influence us to do things they want and need. It means constantly making an effort to not control the relationship and to appreciate, value, and learn from our differences. I let my partner influence me; we are both “head of the household” and we are sensitive to keeping things balanced and fair.
Also watch: 7 Most Common Reasons for Divorce
2. Be mindful of the importance of contact rituals
Getting connected psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and physically is essential to maintaining the integrity of the relationship. Keeping communication open and on-going so you can bring up issues and negotiate a resolve is impossible without having shared contact time with each other.
Contact time should be “ritualistic” and by that, I mean a set time that is a regular part of each day, or every other day, or at least once a week.
It should be a time in which you and your partner are alone with each other to air issues, feelings, and information. It can be a fixed time by the clock or open-ended, but the discussion should end with the couple validating their love and appreciation of each other. Contact time or connecting rituals can also be planning “dates” together.
Dating each other does not require that you leave the house. A “date” can be any time you plan on doing something with each other. Most couples have some connecting rituals that they don’t identify as such.
3. Learn how to make emotional love to each other
Every couple knows how to make physical love but often forget or don’t know how to make emotional love to their partner.
Couples need to learn how to romance each other. They need to open their hearts to each other and express their love feelings. Do you remember how you felt when you met and courted each other? How you expressed your feelings to each other when you made the decision to live together? Do you remember the strong feelings of attraction you felt when you first started seeing each other? Romancing is keeping those feelings alive and present.
Dr. Frederick D. Mondin has counseled thousands of individuals and couples in a private practice that spans more than forty years. He was also an adjunct professor in human sexuality at Boise State University for twenty-five years. He is author of Erotic Love & Marriage: Improve Your Sex Life Read more and Emotional Connection.
Published by Roman & Littlefield
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.