Have you ever wondered “How did we get here?” in a relationship? Things started off all moonlight and romance, and then one day it’s like there’s some crazy underlying cold war dynamic where you and your partner seem to be getting along on the surface, but your connection has all but flat-lined. If this sounds familiar, you might find Jessica’s story helpful.
A few months ago a bright, beautiful accountant named Jessica (not her real name), came to work with me and started our first session with “I feel dead inside…” .
Clearly her mind and heart were out of sync, but what was going on? How did she become so disconnected from her own life?
She has been married for 7 years with no kids, but plans to start trying soon. Suddenly future goals were becoming more pressing everyday. She initially described her marriage as “okay.” There was an underlying friendship there, but something was missing and has been for quite some time. Over time she shared story after story where she prioritized her husband’s career for the sake of their marriage. She’s moved out of state, lived with her in-laws for a year, delayed getting her own graduate degree, and put off starting a family all to allow the time and space for him to reach his goals. At the time her decisions were logical and they made sense. They were made from a place of prioritizing shared goals and her husband’s happiness.
But somewhere along the way, she realized she and her goals had gotten lost. It was like they slowly faded into the sunset and she never knew it. It wasn’t until the full darkness of night descended that she even realized her dreams, her identity, and her values had disappeared. How did this happen?
Typically compromise is a good thing for relationships, and prioritizing the relationship above self is helpful, if not essential, for all long term relationships. But in this instance Jessica stopped showing up. There were moments that she knew she disagreed with what her husband wanted, but she minimized her feelings and said “okay” for the greater good. Over time she stopped believing what she wanted mattered, stopped expressing her desires, stopped making what was important to her known. And one compromise at a time, she slowly disappeared from the marriage and even from herself.
By the time I met Jessica, her marriage was pretty much dead. She decided to get divorced within two months of our initial meeting. I usually advise people to at least try to wait several months before making big decisions like this, but her mind was made up quickly. She was done. She felt betrayed by her husband for not recognizing that the light had gone out of her, not inquiring about her needs, being content to focus solely on his wants without ever stopping to consider hers.
When she announced that she wanted a divorce her husband was stunned, heart-broken, and confused. From his perspective everything was fine. Sure, he knew there were a couple issues here and there but overall he felt they had a good marriage. How could two people have such different views from the inside of the same relationship?
For Jessica, it was and is her responsibility to know what she wants and ask for what she needs. Nobody is a mind-reader. Expecting your spouse to guess, interpret, or recognize what you want or need without clearly asking is both unrealistic and unfair. If you’re hiding your underlying feelings from yourself nobody else has any chance of seeing them either. And even if you feel you’ve expressed your preferences or wishes when something becomes a “deal breaker,” it is your responsibility to make that clear. It’s not giving your partner an ultimatum, it’s setting a clear boundary about what you will do if a must-have is not met over time.
And her husband did have shared responsibility in neglecting to be emotionally attuned to her. While it is not his job to guess her feelings, jobs or values, it is his job to recognize when he feels her fade away emotionally and check-in. We should all be striving to contribute to our partners’ happiness regularly. If you’re consumed with your own goals and dreams it’s inevitable that your partner will start to feel forgotten and unimportant.
Essentially, they were both wrong. But clarity of yourself and your feelings is the foundation of being able to create a loving relationship. Without that it is almost impossible to feel fulfilled by anyone else. If you don’t know what you want or what will make you happy, nobody does. Don’t expect anyone to “just know,” no matter how long you’ve been together.
Need some help getting clear on your own feelings or relationship? Click here for a free 20 min phone call with me.