Sometimes emotions are hard to talk about. As someone who has worked as a couples therapist and a pastoral counselor I find my role is often to simply facilitate a discussion about things people don’t easily discuss without a third party prompting them to do so. One would think because two people are married they could talk about anything together. I’ve found that’s not often the case.
Here are three emotions many of my clients have a difficult time talking about. These three usually come up in therapy sessions but it would be wonderful if couples felt they could discuss them with one another before they came to see me. It might even save them a trip to the therapist’s office!
- Indifference – I’ve seen this happen when a marriage is sliding downhill. One of the partners no longer cares about what’s going on in the life of the other. It’s as much an emotion as a lack of emotion. Indifference means you can see the other person in the marriage suffering and you really don’t care. You’re not concerned with their happiness and you’re not concerned with their pain. It’s a complete lack of empathy. Interestingly, while indifference is a major indicator a marriage is going in a bad direction, most everyone experiences it at some point in their relationship, even healthy ones. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we can’t care about the other person. Either we’re emotionally exhausted or consumed with our own situation. To simply survive the day we need to be indifferent toward how other people feel, including our significant other. That’s when love needs to be unconditional for one another and hopefully your spouse can have enough love to love you back even when they can tell you can’t love them right now.
- Jealousy – While no marriage is supposed to be a competition, two human beings inevitably compete with one another at some level. Perhaps one partner is getting ahead in their career while the other is stagnating or one of the partners is getting an award for charity work and the other isn’t even recognized for the part they played in their spouse’s success. It might even be the fact your child is drawn closer to one of you more than the other. We often think of jealousy as something arising when someone outside of the marriage notices one of you in a sexual way. The truth is jealousy arises within a marriage for many reasons, some of which we’re just too embarrassed to talk about.
- Frustration – Frustration usually occurs in men because they want more sexual intimacy and their significant other is in a place where she just doesn’t have the desire for sexual activity. In general, men are biologically wired to want sex more than women. Men also associate sex with intimacy. When they’re not feeling their sexual needs are being met they get frustrated. They don’t want to talk about it because they’re often told, “All you ever think about is sex.” That’s really not a fair accusation because if it were just about sex men could just go and have sex with whomever they want (assuming there’s no moral compass guiding their behavior). The truth is they’re frustrated because in their mind sex is closely related to feeling loved and that’s what they really want. Women are frustrated in relationships when their partner refuses to listen to what’s going on in their lives. Women experience intimacy by sensing they’re being heard and that their partner understands their experience. They’re not looking for solutions nor do they just want someone to nod in their direction, they want someone to take the time to really experience how they feel. They want compassion, a word derived from Latin meaning to “suffer with” another person (cum – with, passio – suffer).
Why are these three emotional experiences so hard to talk about? Because they remind us we’re fallen human beings that have issues and weaknesses no matter how nice we look from the outside. We are embarrassed because we feel these emotions and we don’t want other people to know we’re weak or need attention from someone else. It’s okay, you can feel these emotions. More importantly it’s okay to discuss it with your partner. Marriage is a unique and wonderful experience where two broken people come together and bind each other’s wounds and share one another’s burdens. Sometimes one of you has to carry the load more than the other, but in the end its not about who carried more weight, its about the fact the two of you have created an atmosphere of love. Remember, we are taught “The two become one”, so it’s not about who is doing what, its about what you are doing together. Create an atmosphere of love, safety, and communication in your marriage and you just may be able to avoid that visit to your pastor or therapist!