Kevin wrote to tell me he’s been working his ass off to provide food and shelter for his family. He works long hours, and when he gets home, he’s too exhausted to connect. His wife’s resentful as hell, and he doesn’t feel great about their marriage, either. But someone has to pay the bills, right? Shouldn’t that be enough?
Sorry, my friend, but it’s not. If you don’t believe me, read this post by Justice Schanfarber that went viral this week: women leave men they love, even though it breaks their hearts.
So why are they doing it?
Because their partner is no longer present. They’ve lost their connection, and he’s not doing anything to fix it. Worse yet, he’s shut down emotionally—checked out.
According to Schanfarber (a marital therapist), it’s only a matter of time before the wife gives up and leaves the marriage. Why?
Because she can’t live in a marriage without meaning and connection. No one can.
According to Brene Brown, we’re hardwired to connect. This need for connection—in addition to food, clothing and shelter—is one of our most basic needs.
Of course, it’s not always the husband who checks out—sometimes, it’s the wife. It doesn’t matter what sex you are, just that you see where you (and your spouse) fall on this scale.
So how can you tell if you’re checking out?
Here are 13 clues:
- You work too much,
- You’re always checking email,
- You’re constantly texting (or checking your cell phone),
- You watch too much TV,
- You drink too much alcohol,
- You eat too much,
- You don’t listen to your spouse when he/she is talking,
- You walk away instead of staying put and solving the problem,
- You don’t make eye contact with your spouse,
- You spend all of your free time with your friends (at the expense of your spouse),
- You shop too much,
- You’re constantly gaming,
- You’re constantly overextended and overscheduled.
Some of you will recognize these numbing behaviors from my book, 9 Steps to Heal Your Resentment and Reboot Your Marriage. We engage in them when we’re scared or frustrated or hurt and are unwilling to deal with our feelings.
Numbing helps us take the edge off.
But here’s the problem with that:
We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” (Brene Brown, Daring Greatly)
Whoa. Think about that one for a minute. What it means is that if you’re spending every night drinking in front of the TV, you’re probably not feeling good about anything in your life.
That’s problem #1.
Problem #2 is that a marriage can only take that kind of pressure for so long. As Schanfarber’s article implies, it’s only a matter of time before the shit hits the fan.
And hit the fan, it will.
Because you can only suppress your feelings for so long before something gives. (Just like you can’t hold a beach ball under water indefinitely–it’ll eventually pop up.)
This is the point at which people run away, have an affair or file for divorce.
So what can you do?
If you recognize yourself anywhere in this article, show it to your spouse and use it to start talking.
If you’re married to the person who’s been checking out, use this article to drive home the severity of your situation.
If you’re the one who’s been checking out, tell your spouse that you’re sorry.
You don’t know how things got this screwed up.
But you’re ready to fix it.
And then get busy.
Hug her (or him). Talk to her with your heart—your heart, friend, not your mind. Not your excuses. Not your rationalizations. Not your defenses.
And then forgive yourself.
We’re human. We all make mistakes. We’re all busy as hell.
That’s OK. But now’s the time to do something about it.
It’s time to reorient.
It’s time to reassess your values and priorities.
You can do this by figuring out what’s important to you.
Is it your job? Sure, I get that your job’s important, but can it keep you warm at night? Will it love you back?
If you’re having difficulty figuring out your priorities, let me share what palliative nurse Bronnie Ware learned in her work with the dying.
Here are The Top Five Regrets of the Dying:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wished I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I’d let myself be happier.
Think about those for a while. Apply them to your life.
Then leave a comment below telling me what small step you can take today to get your life (and your marriage) back on track.