In the dance that is marriage, we encounter a daily, moment-to-moment, choice. We can lean in towards each other up and dance like pros. Or we can lean away, awkwardly embraced, clutching each others shoulders like thirteen year olds at a middle school dance.
In every moment, in other words, we can either lean in or lean away.
Of course, the consequences of leaning away go beyond mimicking the fumbling awkwardness of a teenage romance. In long-term intimate relationships, they can be devastating.
Just ask Mark and Jill. We interviewed these two for The 80/80 Marriage, and they told us their heartbreaking story of gradually leaning away. It started with a slow shift in conversation. They spent less time talking about the good things in their lives and avoided expressing their struggles. This resulted in both of them suppressing exciting moments, hurt feelings, and unmet needs.
As the gap between them grew, Mark reached out to an ex-girlfriend from high school on Facebook. These innocuous messages slowly turned into an emotional affair, which slowly turned physical.
Jill eventually found out. She felt devastated and betrayed. Mark felt ashamed and guilty.
They spent the next three years trying to save their marriage. They went to couples counseling, and reflected carefully on what happened. And yet they couldn’t pinpoint a single moment or crisis that triggered the affair.
Instead, they discovered thousands of these small, micro-movements away from each other. These were moments of unrevealed hopes, dreams, struggles, and frustrations.
Mark and Jill’s experience offers a sobering case study in what happens when we lean away and stop revealing.
The costs aren’t immediate. Nor are they catastrophic, at least at the outset. But, eventually, as the distance grows, these micro-movements apart can rip apart even the strongest relationships.
How can we avoid this trap? By using the power of revealing to lean towards each other. Here are two tools.
1. Reveal your frustration.
When you feel upset, irritated, or let down by your partner, what do you do? Here are the answers we hear most frequently:
- “Nothing, just hope it passes soon.”
- “We somehow always end up screaming at each other.”
- “We’re masters of pretending that if we just ignore the conflict, it’s like it never happened.”
Just because these strategies are popular doesn’t mean that they work. In fact, they all cause us to move apart. Ignoring the issue does this by dumping gasoline on the smoldering fire of unrevealed resentment. Lashing out does this by creating a cascade of new issues and conflicts.
To break these habits, see what happens when you reveal your full experience. The big idea here is to lead with vulnerability. Instead of going silent or on the attack, this looks like giving your partner a window into what’s really going on inside. It’s starting the conversation by saying, “I feel scared because…” or “I feel frustrated because…”
When you lead with vulnerability instead of criticism or indifference, you give your parter space to drop their defensiveness and really hear your perspective.
2. Reveal the good.
Here’s an area where our thinking has evolved since we wrote The 80/80 Marriage. We used to think of revealing as a practice designed for addressing negative experiences, a tool for transforming frustration into connection.
But as we’ve talked to more couples, we’ve begun to see that the power of this practice doesn’t simply arise from clearing up the bad. It arises from expressing the good, our hopes, our dreams, our victories, and our guilty pleasures.
The key to revealing more of the good is to create space for this kind of deeper conversation. You might carve out daily moments where you walk around the block together with the dog or lie together in bed or sit outside with a drink.
Good questions can also catalyze these moments of connection. Here are a few of our favorites:
- What are you most excited about right now?
- What do you hope our life looks like in five or ten years?
- Are there any new adventures you want to take or new skills you want to learn together?
Nate and Kaley Klemp are authors of the new book The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Marriage, a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection. To download their free PDF guide to Epic Date Night, tap here. This article was reposted and used with permission from the 80/80 Marriage.” Also check out their great book “The 80/80 Marriage” and free relationship guides HERE.
This article was reposted and used with permission from The 80/80 Marriage
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