For many years in my marriage, I felt disconnected from my husband.
For him, connection happened primarily through sex and also from us just being in each other’s presence. We could be watching a TV show together and not speaking at all, and he would still feel like we’d had a good connection.
For me to feel connected, I needed us to have conversations about meaningful things (not just the “business” of the family). I needed real face time. Conversation that happened during commercial breaks or when he was interested in sex didn’t do it for me.
Like many men, my husband viewed conversation primarily as a way of exchanging information. Like many women, I viewed conversation as a means of maintaining connection. (See Deborah Tannen’s work on how men and women use language.)
He thought he was engaged in the conversation if he would repeat what I had just expressed. I wanted him to care about the feelings I’d communicated, not just about the facts.
When we weren’t having the kind of conversation I needed to feel connected, I felt unloved and unvalued. My response, always, was to build a wall. I would begin to keep things to myself rather than share them. I would withdraw sexually. If a seed of resentment was blown my direction, rather than push it away, I would make sure it had fertile soil.
These responses naturally triggered similar responses in Big Guy, and we would spin off into a vicious cycle of hurting each other.
For a while now, I’ve worked hard to build new habits. I’ve been intentional about responding as I should and not just letting my feelings control our relationship. I’ve learned that sex serves as a connection for me, too.
Unfortunately, these things don’t happen as automatically as I thought they did.
Over the past several months, I’ve been feeling increasingly disconnected from Big Guy. I’ve been vaguely aware of it for a while, but it hit me hard yesterday. Everything seemed to go wrong. I burned dinner. (Fun fact: dry fettucine noodles are flammable. As in flames.) I gummed up the garbage disposal (when dumping the aforementioned fettucine noodles into the sink) and created a soggy mess while unplugging it. When Big Guy reminded me to do something I’d been putting off, I snarled at him.
Both miserable and a miserable companion, I sat outside on the back step last night. I fumed for a while about how Big Guy hadn’t helped me sufficiently with the dinner and the garbage disposal. Then I cried for a bit because I realized how very alone I was feeling.
I hadn’t felt alone in a long time, but I was kind of relieved to understand what this difficult feeling was.
Once I I recognized that this was the feeling that had been nagging at me for a while, I began to work back to figure out what had gone wrong so I could work to make it right again.
This year has been especially difficult for Big Guy—mostly due to his mom’s death, but with a few extra stresses thrown in. His grief and sadness seemed to surprise him. He was unusually aware of his emotional state.
With loving intentions, I stepped back from communicating my needs to him. My motivation was to reduce the number of things he had to deal with so he could have space to process his grief.
The result of my well-intentioned backing off was that it put us right back into the old habit of not having the kinds of meaningful conversations that I need. Consequently, I’ve been feeling disconnected, unloved, and unvalued.
I’ve noticed negative thoughts come, unbidden, into my mind. It’s been harder than usual to push these thoughts away. I’ve had to remind myself that my feelings don’t reflect the truth of my relationship with Big Guy. I’ve had to remember that he is stressed and grieving and that he isn’t at his best any more than I am.
I’m relieved to be able to say that I have not responded by building a wall or by avoiding sex—but I admit that I’ve been tempted by both these ideas more than once.
Having enjoyed several years of good connection, the current disconnection has been unsettling. Fortunately, I’ve learned a great deal about how to restore connection in our marriage.
Here is my plan (some of which I’ve already put into action):
1. Communicate my needs.
Although my intentions were good and I would’ve been wrong to force my needs onto Big Guy, I should have let him know clearly what I needed from him. My occasional vague “I miss you” was not as effective as my request that we spend time together tonight playing a board game to get us away from screens and give us a chance to relax together.
My husband is an action guy, and it occurs to me that giving him specific and concrete things that would help me is a way of helping him resume a sense of normal life.
2. Initiate sex.
Although sex isn’t my primary means of connection, it does work for me. It definitely helps Big Guy feel connected. At a time when his life feels shaky, my sexual interest can go a long way in helping him feel loved and secure. One by-product of his stress and grief has that he hasn’t been initiating sex as much as usual. Neither have I—and we are both suffering from it. I can acknowledge his need to process grief, and part of that can be that I take on the task of initiating sex for a time.
To my chagrin, I now remember that he actually told me this a couple months ago. He asked me to initiate for a while. I’ve done a poor job of it.
3. Seek oneness, not alone-ness.
I thought I was being kind and loving to put my husband’s need for grieving space over my need for connection. Unfortunately, this resulted in both of us shouldering our burdens alone rather than working together. I didn’t even think to tell him that I was giving him space on purpose. He wasn’t even aware that my stepping back was for him. In not speaking to him about what I was doing, I deprived us both of connection and left us both feeling a bit isolated.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
When it comes to our relationship, we are better together than we are apart. My husband has needed me, and I have needed him.
4. Seek God above all.
Even more than my husband and I need each other, we need Jesus. Rather than stepping back and giving my husband space, I need to help my husband experience the comfort of the Healer.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
I have been praying for Big Guy, but I have not done a good job of helping him see God’s presence in the midst of his grief and stress.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
My feelings of disconnection should have made me put more effort into my marriage. Instead, I let them lead to discontentment and resentment.
Fortunately, the effort I’ve put into rebuilding our marriage has given me the knowledge and skills that will help us move forward now that I realize what’s going on.
I have no doubt that Operation Reconnection will be a success.
What do you do to restore connection in your marriage?