Many people in relationships feel this way, exasperated because they are doing everything they know how to do to make their partner feel loved. Couples come into my office usually at the end of their rope because they have tried, and tried, and tried to make the marriage work and nothing they have tried seems to be making it better. This is so frustrating for couples. It drains the life out of many marriages and relationships. It pushes people so hard sometimes they end up convincing themselves they just can’t make this marriage work anymore and they end up leaving. This can be frustrating and maddening for people who want to love each other but can’t find a way to do that.
Everyone starts off with the best intentions. Good people work their hardest to make a marriage or relationship work. Usually people have lots of successes in their lives. They look at their histories and they say to themselves, “Heck, I know how to achieve things. I am a success at school and work. I am good at getting things done. I can accomplish things. I can make this work.” The best intentions drive people to do things for the other person. That’s our nature. If we choose to be in a relationship, we have decided to do what we can to make it work.
Unfortunately, the best intentions, the most driven of spouses, and the willingness to do anything for the other are often not enough to fix what’s wrong. So what’s wrong? Something very simple, but it can seem very complicated. What’s missing is what is needed or wanted by the partner. What’s missing is information. What’s missing is knowing what will make your mate happy and providing it. Maybe you are already doing that. Maybe what you are waiting for is recognition and appreciation. Maybe you shower your mate with good will and gestures but she takes you for granted. If this is the case your partner may not know that she is ignoring something important to you, that you would like to experience her appreciation. This would fall in the category of missing information.
The most basic skill I help couples with is to give them the tools to understand themselves and their partners. Although this may sound simplistic, I can assure you it is the basis for all things good in a relationship. You may say to yourself, “I know my mate. I know what he wants. I know what makes him happy.” I believe you. Now ask yourself, are you happy? Is he happy? If the answer is yes, then you do understand your mate where it counts. But if your answer is no, there might be some awareness about you and your partner that could help both of you feel better in your relationship.
So what does awareness look like? It goes something like this. Partner A wants to feel loved and supported by Partner B. Partner B wants to feel appreciated for working hard. Both are going out of their way doing nice things for each other yet both feel empty and neglected by the other. The awareness is first figuring out what’s bugging you. Do you feel invisible to your mate? Do you wonder if he even thinks of you?
Maybe you live with the following scenario. Does your husband come home after work, kick off his shoes, show up at the dinner table, eats without talking and then relaxes in front of the TV? If you go through this pattern night after night it’s likely you as the one who makes a dinner and cleans the house will feel unappreciated. You might even feel like it doesn’t even matter if you are there he really wouldn’t notice if you weren’t. If you feel this way you are feeling neglected. This is very important to notice because what you would like to feel is valued by your mate. This is something very important. If we don’t feel valued we may start to see our self esteem slip. Then we might begin to feel upset and angry at our mate and that can turn into resentment. We might even get annoyed at him because we are so empty for validation. You might have thought about this but you say to yourself, “Oh, stop whining. Of course he appreciates me.” He might indeed, but unless he communicates this to you in a way that feels good to you, you are left feeling alone and unappreciated in the relationship.
Now for the husband, it’s likely you are working very hard at your job. It’s also very likely that you are doing this for your wife and the family. It’s probably safe to say that you work extra hard to be able to afford the comforts of life. You do this because you feel this is your part. You also may feel taken for granted and unappreciated. You rely on the nurturing at home and you love how your wife takes care of you, but you are drained because you work so hard and you don’t feel the gratitude from her you would like to feel. You feel alone in the home too. You come home and just get through the evening only to do it all over again the next day.
This is not uncommon with couples. Two people living and existing together in this marriage and yet both are not getting their needs met. This is where couples counseling can help. Giving people the awareness to figure out their own needs and the needs of their mate provides couples the keys to their happiness. And isn’t that what every relationship is after?
© Copyright 2011 by Linda Nusbaum, MA, MFT, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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