"Sandra wants to end our marriage," Ted told me in our phone session. "She says that I am not meeting her needs."
I often hear this in my counseling practice.
How did we get the idea that marriage is about the other person meeting our needs, or about our meeting the other person's needs? How did we get so far away from personal responsibility for meeting our own needs that we expect others to do it for us? What are these "needs" that Ted was not meeting for Sandra?
"She said that I don't make her feel good enough about herself, and that I don't make her feel secure. She tells me that it's my fault that she doesn't feel special. She is not happy and blames me for her unhappiness. She's angry that we don't have sex very often, and that I'm not often affectionate. I agree that I'm not turned on to her and I don't feel affection toward her, but I find it hard to feel that way toward her when she is so often angry at me and blaming me. But she believes that the problems are all my fault, and maybe they are."
"Ted, the problem is that neither of you are taking responsibility for your own feelings. Sandra is making you responsible for her unhappiness, and you think you are responsible for her feelings rather than for your own. If you were to focus on meeting your needs to feel happy, peaceful and secure, and Sandra were to take responsibility for learning how to make herself feel good about herself, then both of you could begin to meet each other's needs for emotional intimacy and connection. Affection and sexuality would come out of your emotional intimacy, rather than something you have to do to prove to Sandra that you love her."
"But what if Sandra doesn't want to take this responsibility for herself? What if she just wants to find someone else to meet her needs?"
"How often has Sandra threatened to leave the marriage?"
"Oh, at least every 6 months."