What Happened To My Valentine?

What Happened to My Valentine?
Heartbreak

WHAT HAPPENED TO MY VALENTINE?

Do you feel alone even at home with your spouse and family? Do you wonder what happened to the love you once had for each other? Vanished love and missed genuine connection paralyze many couples. Despair turns some to alcohol, affairs, internet exploration, hobbies, or having children to fill the void of emptiness. How do couples evolve to this state and how it can be repaired?

Some suggest that empowered by economic, cultural, and psychological resources; women have learned to insist on emotional intimacy in their marriages. By no fault of their own, many men seem unprepared for the change occurring in women over the last few decades. Raised to be strong and competitive performers, hard, logical, independent, and stoic; men often find themselves emotionally distant, proud, numb to their own feelings, and fearful of exposure. Though this frame of reference is in regard to heterosexual couples, it’s also true for gay and lesbian couples as well.

Most men are not so unhappy about their marriages as they are dissatisfied that their wives are so unhappy with them. The tendency is to withdraw or attack when confronted by women who waver between silence, eruption, care taking, and manipulation. Fights about discipline, money, and lost couple time can take over the mood in the home before we know it. The real issue of connection becomes disguised in disagreement over routines. The husband may struggle over feeling undermined during discipline, become angry and lash out in inappropriate ways and finally withdraw completely. It is at this point that outside interests and people replace the family in importance—an escape from the pain and shame of feeling helpless and displaced. Blaming, criticism, and being right take the place of open communication and mutual understanding for both parties.

When the first baby arrives, total focus on the new child and fear of doing it wrong can take over. Child and mom become the key relationship and dad can feel lost and confused. If dad does involve himself, he is sometimes criticized about how he does it and then may feel lost and confused again. Men want to feel appreciated and useful, but in this scenario become emasculated and may retreat or attack. They may find solace in TV, friends, a new relationship, or work. The pain is too much to bear. While the criticism is intended to be helpful, it is usually heard as a tremendous discount of the husband’s efforts.

Many choose to give up rather than face the part they play. Thick walls of silence and distance, or fighting complicate it even more.

Learning steps to a new way of being in relationship is like learning a new language. It is the pathway out of misunderstanding. The practice of intimacy requires conscious effort to stop typical responses of anger and hostility, the disguises for feeling unimportant, abandoned, or ashamed. Men and women search for connections that validate their value and feel safe and warm. Skill and awareness soften the challenges of marriage and bring growth, wisdom, and compassion to the couple dance. Valentines don’t disappear when engaged in respectful and passionate dialogue revealing their core fears, vulnerabilities, strengths, and spiritual centers.

Of course knowing this and putting it into practice are two different things. Byron Katie says, “Everything that comes out of our mouths is projection.” Projection happens when we label and criticize others. The question to ask is, “How is this statement related to me and my circumstances and feelings?” So as Fred says to Freda, “You are so stubborn and unyielding,” there is likely to be a part of Fred that is also stubborn and unyielding. Fred doesn’t recognize it because his attention is on Freda and how she does not meet his needs. Freda protests and the argument goes on and on. Behind the scenes, in the little cloud of thoughts going through each of their heads, there are some feelings of shame, abandonment, or fear. The feelings are masked in complaints about the other person. It’s rare that people can sort these out without help. It requires the ability to feel safe and secure in the context of these fears, especially fears of losing someone so important.

Fred and Freda want to be connected and intimate in the ways they were in the early stages of their relationship. The closer people get to each other, the more vulnerable they feel. With the vulnerability comes the natural suit of armor people create from birth. For some the suit of armor is an avoidance of feeling, staying completely in “the head,” so to speak. Problem solving, creating plans or solutions are not bad. They just aren’t helpful in the moment when one’s partner is reaching out for connection and safety. For others the suit of armor is emotional overload with anger or tears. These suits of armor may useful to us as youngsters growing up in homes where parents are inaccessible or verbally or emotionally abusive. No perfect parent exists, so people develop a coping mechanism for feeling detached from caregivers. This is part of the process of attachment and growing up.

The joy of intimate relationships is a process of healing old attachments and learning how to be more aware of one’s coping mechanisms and more available to one’s partner. When Fred can say to Freda, “When I hear you say that, I feel so afraid that I’m not measuring up as a husband, and afraid that I’ll lose you,” it opens the door to Freda’s heart to really know what happens to Fred, and to know it’s okay to share her inner longings as well. She can respond with, “Wow, Fred, I didn’t realize my criticism was causing such pain. I’m feeling pretty alone with managing the children and the house. I’m not always sure you care about me any more, and when I get scared, I criticize. I’m sorry.” From this place of heart to heart connection, Fred and Freda can move beyond the dance they usually do, to create the waltz they really want to have.

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This Valentine’s Day is a good time to reconsider how the couple dance is done and develop new ways of being together. It can be done by reading a book on how to accomplish this task. The tricky part is how wounded the heart may feel. It may be easier to reach out for help by someone who can hold both people in a space of safety as they take down the barriers to intimacy. Authentic dialogue is magnificent heart to heart exposure, and yet so very tender. May this Valentine’s Day bring more soulful and heartfelt understanding for you and your treasured partnership

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