It’s not about the DISHES, it’s about the CONNECTION
The first date, falling in love, the engagement, the planning of the wedding, and then the “I Do’s.” Now what? Most often there are plans and anticipation of buying our first house, having children, establishing careers, taking family vacations, retiring, and growing older together. However, throughout our journey, reality hits us straight in the face and we look at each other and wonder where our love went and what happened to us. Over the last 26 years of being married, my heart has broken as I have watched friends and family members’ marriages come to an end. The reality of how hard it can be for couples to keep a marriage together has come down to a fifty percent chance. I have had conversations on my couch, front porch, church, and across the table from dear friends as we shared coffee.
Life happens. Hurt happens. Relationships can become what you never expected. I remember on certain nights the phone would ring, and my husband and I would get the news that another couple we loved was struggling. Many were up against challenges that I can’t even pretend to understand how it felt to walk in their shoes. We walked alongside many of those couples as they navigated those challenges and chose to reconcile and grieved with those that decided to walk away from their marriages. No one goes into marriage thinking “I want this to fail.” Everyone desires a healthy and happy marriage. If we are honest, we can admit that wanting a great marriage and making one are two very different realities. I cannot count the times I have heard “I just didn’t know that marriage was going to be this hard.” So what makes marriage so challenging? I could come up with an exhaustive list of all of the challenges individuals bring into a marriage that makes it difficult, including different personalities, values, experiences, past trauma, unhealed emotional wounds, addictions, insecurities, and expectations. Then, there are the everyday stressors of life that can create disconnection in marriage.
When I began my counseling internship a year ago, it was like drinking out of a firehose. I wanted to learn everything I could to help my individual clients and couples in their specific struggles. I spent many hours digging and learning. Then, something hit me. No matter what my clients were working through, they all desired one thing – to be seen, heard, and understood in relationships. Even if they could not verbalize it, they yearned for connection in relationships that mattered the most. We all yearn for connection in our relationships. Did you know that we are actually born with a primary need for connection? It’s true. From the moment we are born, we long for touch and connection. As a mom, I remember how special it was to hold each one of my babies for the very first time. Connection is powerful. I believe that scripture reflects God’s desire for us to connect with Him and connect to others. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” And the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So if God has wired us for connection, why is it so hard? It can be scary, uncomfortable, overwhelming, risky, and feel unsafe. That’s why. When we become disconnected in relationships, conflict, and dysfunction arise. How many times do you have the same argument every week with your spouse and get the same result? How many times does a conversation begin over washing the dishes and before you blink an argument has started? It is not about the dishes! Have you ever shared your feelings with your spouse which ended up turning into an argument and you think to yourself “What just happened?” How do you stop a fight when you don’t know what the fight is really about? You can’t. We can’t do that without getting underneath our behaviors. What if you knew what was actually fueling the response and behavior of your spouse? Why does he always withdraw? Why does she always attack and become defensive when you begin to disagree or argue? Sure, we can all learn to argue better in the heat of the moment, but if we want to create lasting change, we have to connect with our spouse’s heart. How do you try and meet the needs of your spouse if you do not understand what their needs are? It requires vulnerability and intention to make that secure connection.
Pursuing a deep connection with our spouse does not eliminate conflict, but it does promote understanding and emotional closeness. Ironically this is how we also connect with God. God does not want our checklist of good behaviors. He wants our hearts so that He can change us from the inside out, which in turn changes how we behave. As a therapist, I came across Emotionally Focused Therapy and began researching it extensively. It sees distress in relationships as centered in the loss of secure emotional connection, resulting in a negative cycle or “dance” every time the loss of connection is experienced. By connecting and getting to the heart of our partner, we can create meaning. I excitedly began using Emotionally Focused Therapy with couples that were preparing to get married and couples that have been married for years. I started witnessing light bulbs turn on and moments of connection when couples began to let their walls down and enter into vulnerability with each other. It is a beautiful thing. The conflict may not necessarily be resolved, but couples can turn toward one another instead of away. It is knowing what is behind a behavior that we are motivated to understand, forgive, and extend grace. We can try our best to create a happy marriage, educate ourselves and know all the steps of conflict resolution, however, if we are not emotionally connected to our partner’s heart, it is difficult to want to put those steps into practice. I encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out and invest in couples therapy. Your marriage is worth it!
Written by Malisa Funderburk, MA