Missed Connections


Last week, I realized I’ve been feeling disconnected from my husband. I haven’t been sleeping well due to sinus problems, so I found myself too tired to push for conversations and genuine time together. He had a couple super early appointments and was tired himself. Most of last week, we spent every evening as couch potatoes. Big Guy is a big TV watcher, so he would have the TV on while I sat and knitted pot-holders. (What can I say? It’s an exciting life I lead here. 🙂 )

Late in the week, I told him I was feeling disconnected from him and said that I would like us to work on it. I asked him if I could have just fifteen minutes with him each evening. So this past weekend, I figured we’d get caught up on sleep and would have some quality time together. The day got away from us Saturday, so Sunday afternoon and evening, I had high hopes.

Instead, there we sat, couch potatoes again but in separate chairs, laptops on both our laps, and the TV on. Our interactions consisted primarily of showing each other funny memes our friends were posting on Facebook. We were next to each other and occasionally interacted, but I ended the weekend feeling as disconnected as I had started it.

When we went to bed Sunday night, I said, as gently as I could, “Honey, have you thought about whether you can find time for us to connect more? I’m still feeling disconnected from you, and I don’t like the way that feels.”

His face fell. “What do you mean? I thought we’d had such a good day! I thought we were connecting for hours. That’s way more than the fifteen minutes you asked for!”

Um, what?

How could he possibly think that we had been connecting? We’d interacted a little, but that wasn’t really connection.


This morning, I read the Love and Respect blog and had an a-ha! moment. The post describes the process of bonding by looking at how women and men develop friendships:

“She shares her heart face-to-face.”

“He shares activities shoulder-to-shoulder.”

So that explains it! My husband and I were sitting side by side (shoulder to shoulder), sharing an activity without much talking. (Okay, watching TV and cruising the internet aren’t exactly activity, but you know what I mean.) As a guy, this is how he bonds. No wonder he thought we were connecting. For him, that’s exactly what we were doing. No wonder he was confused when I told him I was feeling disconnected.

“Connect” means something different to me than it does to my husband. To him, it means being physically present with each other, side by side, and interacting in some way. Doing this for a lot of hours means that we’ve connected a lot. For me, though, connection is about being away from distractions and talking in paragraphs rather than one-sentence “check this one out” lines.

Now I understand why I wasn’t feeling connected. We didn’t have much face-to-face time at all last week or over the weekend. I need to see my man’s eyes and know that he is seeing me to feel we’re connecting.

What else have we missed?

I got wondering, though, how many other times he and I have understood something in completely different ways. What have we missed out on by not thinking about how the other one sees things and by not being clear?

Problems The age-old “she wants to share her problems and be understood” versus “he needs to fix it for her” is a prime example of how we talk about problems. (Check out this video for an illustration.) When I need to talk through my feelings as a way of processing something and helping me feel closer to my husband, I really just want him to listen and then hold me. Meanwhile, he wants to tell me what to do in order to resolve the problem. We both end up frustrated. By the same token, when he tells me about a problem he is facing, he wants me to either listen to him tell me the solution he has already identified and applied or, at times, suggest solutions. So when I respond by asking questions that will help me fully understand the nuances of the situation, that conversation doesn’t accomplish what he needs.

Romance When I tell my husband I’d like romance, his usual response is to bring me flowers and chocolate. To me, romance is spending time thinking and planning something based on what I enjoy. I don’t see flowers and chocolate as an investment of Big Guy’s time—so while I like it when he does this, it doesn’t feel romantic at all. For my husband, though, romance is about providing something visible to show his love. Friday night, he brought me a single red rose. It is sitting in a vase near my desk, reminding me throughout the day that he loves me.

Sexual initiation During my refusing and gate-keeping years, there were times I tried to initiate. For me, this meant subtle and indirect signals, trying to lead up to making out and sex. I would let my foot caress his leg in bed. I would hold his glance a moment longer than usual. I was trying to signal that I had let some of my usual barriers down. My husband didn’t pick up on this at all—so I would be confused, hurt, and sexually frustrated. Meanwhile, his initiation usually consisted of blatant offers of sexual activity. This didn’t help me build up to a point of interest at all—so he would be confused, hurt, and sexually frustrated. We both initiated in a way that we would respond to instead of trying to match what would appeal to the other person

Don’t assume

As much as it would be nice if we could automatically know how the other person understands something, that isn’t realistic. So what can we do?

  • Ask. When my husband is telling me about a problem, I can ask what kind of response he will want from me (solutions? admiration? sympathy?) so I can listen in the right frame of mind.
  • Tell. Likewise, when I am talking about a problem, I can say at the beginning that I’d like to talk for about ten minutes about my feelings and what happened—and then, out of respect for his male inclinations, offer that after I’m done, he can offer me suggestions.
  • Be specific. Instead of telling my husband I’d like romance, I can tell him that I would like him to do something for me that isn’t visible to anyone else. I can suggest that I would like something besides flowers and chocolate every now and then. I used to have grandiose expectations of what Mother’s Day should be like, and I was always disappointed—until the year when I made a very detailed list of what I would like everyone to do. My whole family was relieved to actually know what I wanted, and I got the perfect day. My husband doesn’t like to have to guess what I mean.
  • Define. When I told my husband I wanted to feel more connected, that was all I said. I assumed he would know what I meant. Instead, I should have clarified that I wanted us to have more face-to-face time away from the television or laptops. I wanted us to talk about something about ourselves and our marriage and not about bills or plans for the weekend.

I am sitting here right now thinking about times when I’ve allowed myself to feel hurt because my husband didn’t do what I had asked. I realize now that he actually did do those things—as he understood them. Because I understood them so differently, it turns out that I missed out on seeing and experiencing his love for me quite a bit.

Are you missing out on anything because you and your husband define something differently?

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2 Comments on “Missed Connections”

  1. Is it really love if you know what the other person needs or would like yet you refuse to give it because it’s “not you” or because it makes you uncomfortable or pushes your buttons or you’re just too tired to bother? Has one missed out on receiving love if what is offered never meets a need or desire? “Love” may be offered but if it’s in a language foreign to me will I even recognize it as love? More often than not, my husband and I have both ‘shown love’ to each other according to our own concept of what love looks like to us, not what it looks like to the other person and there have been a lot of hurt feelings and missed opportunities along the way for us both. For the third time in a week we argued about sex instead of doing it because I don’t feel connected and therefore cannot progress at a rate he’s comfortable with. Then he starts feeling like he just doesn’t ‘do it’ for me if I say what I do or don’t need or want. I can participate but I can’t make my body respond as fast or as expressively as we’d both like. I have not been able to express what I need in a way he understands or in a way in which he does not take offense. So, here we are again, hurt, angry and confused. This cycle is extremely frustrating and painful. He isn’t willing to learn anything on his own or read these kinds of blogs nor does he want me being his ‘teacher.’ I’m beginning to think I should just fake it; the sex would stink and I’d be back to feeling used but maybe the outward conflict would stop, which would please him. It doesn’t look like love to me. Am I missing something?

  2. Dear L,

    I’m so sorry for your struggles. (Chris, I hope you don’t mind my adding 2-cents or more like 10-cents in here — many moons ago, I walked in those very same shoes…) He wasn’t happy with the frequency, and I wasn’t happy with the lack of connection. I remember well, those conversations when we argued about sex instead of having sex. We would go round and round, never getting anywhere — never finding the solution. And yes, I agree, the cycle was extremely frustrating and painful — for both of us — not to mention it created further disconnection.

    We finally found help at the Marriage Builders website: (www.marriagebuilders.com).

    Most helpful to us was The Policy of Joint Agreement (http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi3500_policy.html)
    and, The Four Guidelines for Successful Negotiation (http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi3350_guide.html)
    — Actually, the entire website was incredibly helpful.

    So, how did I get my husband to agree to read the material? Well, I shared with him that I wanted our sex life to get better, that my heart’s desire was to have a great sex life with him, to have frequent sex, that I was really struggling and I needed his help getting better so that I could get to a place where I could meet all his sexual needs. I owned the problem, and then asked for his help. (Of course he was also 50% of the problem, but I worked to keep my mouth shut and let him be convicted of that on his own.) I reminded him that he is THE love of my life, and why wouldn’t I want a great sex life with him?! I asked if he would be open to listening while I read aloud. He hesitantly agreed, and only because I had expressed that I thought this would actually help me work through my struggles and become more available to him. I would read just one short article at a time, unless he wanted me to keep reading — which started to happen once he also felt validated in his struggles through the information that was being shared in the articles. I deeply believe your husband needs to be validated in his need for sex, his frustrations, his pain, his feelings of rejection. before he will be open to hearing that he is doing anything “wrong”. Maybe you can start by reading some of the articles about “his need for sexual fulfillment” and ask him what parts of those articles he resonates with. Become a student of your husband’s needs and he will become a lot more eager to learn about, and meet, your needs.
    Here’s a link to those articles: http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi5013_qa.html

    Anyway, in the end we discovered that what we had REALLY been arguing about all along is “whether it was necessary for me to feel somewhat connected to my husband before engaging in sex”. (Otherwise, I just felt used, not loved or cared for.) I knew that all along, and had tried to express it, but my husband was only able to take that information in when it came from someone who was an “authority” and not involved in the conflict. He no longer felt like it was an attack on him personally, but more “just the facts” about how women are wired. After we read through much of the Marriage Builders website and actually connected to what was being shared, my husband agreed wholeheartedly that he no longer wanted me to engage in sex without feeling somewhat connected to him first — instead of wasting time by arguing about sex, we put our energy into building feelings of connection, and consequently having great sex = authentic intimacy. 🙂

    I don’t believe God ever wants any wife to “just fake it”. That’s a lie and it doesn’t even fill your husband’s need. Sexual intimacy is to be an honest physical expression of emotional and spiritual intimacy. As your husband’s God-given helper, part of your responsibility is to be honest with him, to encourage him any chance you get, and seek to understand his needs and how he’s wired. In marriage, the sexual relationship is THE barometer of the health of the marriage. The arguing is never really about “sex”. It’s about what sex represents to each of you. A spouse is an incredible gift, a tool really, that God uses to sanctify both of you — to show each of you areas in your life where there is room to grow to be more like Him.

    You will need a humble heart and ears to hear, but it is so, so possible to work out this situation and arrive at a place where you both look forward to sexual intimacy. I hope at least some of what I shared is helpful??

    Blessings to you, L. I’m going to be praying for you and your husband.

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