When a spouse pleads with their mate to go to marriage counseling, you can bet they’re frustrated – trust me, people don’t just ask their partner to go to counseling if they’re only a little annoyed. Instead, when your partner says, ‘Hey, can we go to marriage counseling?’ it’s pretty indicative that they’ve already made repeated unsuccessful attempts to improve the relationship on their own, and failed.
Yes, your spouse needs change and has cajoled, nagged, bribed and suggested, only to find their requests either ignored or met with delays and excuses. At the point they seek counseling they’re not looking for divorce – yet, but that will probably be on the table later if nothing is done.
Spouses seek the services of a therapist to help persuade their partner that the situation at-hand is serious, and once in my office, here’s what I’m likely to hear:
“I asked him to look into why he has a very low sex drive and he hasn’t done anything.”
“Her obsession with cleaning leaves me and the family with no quality time. I ask her to give us some time but she won’t sit still, so what am I to do?”
“He promised me he would look for a better job after we got married. It’s been four years and he hasn’t done one thing.”
The common dominator in all of these situations is that the unhappy spouse has made an important request regarding something they need or want, and their partner hasn’t been responsive. Get this if you get nothing else from this blog post: It is impossible to exaggerate how much damage being unresponsive to requests does to relationships.
Once your spouse has made a request, and then reminds, and asks, and asks again, and still nothing happens, they will enter the Frustration Zone, and at that point your marriage has entered into a negative spiral that could very well end in, well, The End.
So what about you? You’re the recipient of the complaints. Do you get a say? Of course you do! As we ponder what’s going on between you and your spouse, I will want to know two things:
1. Is the request your spouse making reasonable? Sometimes our spouses ask us to do the impossible or even things that make no sense, other times what they ask of us is entirely doable, and within the realm of reasonable expectations, such as regular sexual activity or spending time together, so which is it?
2. What is the obstacle that makes you unable or unwilling to meet the request? Be honest with yourself.
If your spouse is making an unreasonable request of you a Marriage and Family Therapist will be your new best friend. They will tell your partner this and kindly ask them to back off. If the therapist sees that the requests are reasonable, however, you’ll soon find out that your lack of response will eventually move your spouse from frustration to the much more serious level known as being fed up.
A person who has fallen into in the Fed Up Zone got there by passing through four phases that unfolded over months or years. They are:
1. A request was made.
2. If the request was not responded to, an angry plea was made.
3. If the request was still not responded to, an anguished plea for change will be made such as, “I don’t how long I can do this, I’m barely hanging on here,” or “This is very serious!”
4. If the request is still not responded to, the disgruntled partner will stop asking, and quietly watch and wait for a response. They give up and enter the “fed up” phase characterized by a dismantling of their emotional connection to the other and allowing the relationship to die.
The fed up phase has several characteristics that will end when the disgruntled partner completes their disconnection process and an emotional divorce takes place. When that happens, the mate will be mostly apathetic about their partner and the relationship.
The metamorphosis of disconnection will be apparent by the following signs.
1. Ambivalence sets in and the partner both wants to and doesn’t want to be in the relationship. “I can take it or leave it,” is the idea.
2. A new life blossoms away from the partner. The disgruntled one finds joy and meaning in life somewhere else, and sometimes with someone else.
3. Language changes … references to the future together will be few and far between.
4. Brutal honesty. No longer exhibiting political correctness, you will now hear for the first time how he always hated your sister and mother.
5. New boundaries. Before he was willing to do things he really didn’t want to do with you, now you can forget it.
6. Warnings. If you haven’t been contributing to the family finances, your partner may suggest you take up activities that will lead to you being able to support yourself – “I think you ought to be thinking about getting a job or going back to school,” or “You may not want to be counting on me to support you forever.”
People show signs when they begin to disconnect from a partner. It happens because needs weren’t met, respect wasn’t given, the relationship and time together wasn’t cherished. Unhappy people almost always speak up and tell their partners when they’re feeling disillusioned in whatever way. They turn on their flashers, set off flares, dance around and wave their arms, and then they give up. All because the other person wouldn’t, or couldn’t, respond to the need.