Wondering How to Help Him Reconnect to You
March 4, 2002 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
I just picked up your book and within the first 30 pages read the clearest outline on the downward spiral of my marriage - and I have reads LOTS of marriage books!
We have only been married 1 1/2 years but are already in stage 3. We came from families with very different conflict styles - his avoided and mine fought it out. As soon as we hit our first conflict (on our honeymoon :-( he began to withdraw. Within a year he had begun to question why he had married me, erase all our good times, had an 'emotional' affair and now cannot even connect with any love for me.
He moved out last weekend and I am distraught. I am willing to learn your new approach to handling conflict, but my question is - how can we get there from here? What can I/we do to slow this down so that he might be able to reconnect w/ his love before it's too late?
I am afraid that you have a very tall order in front of you. The fact that your husband has already disconnected from you and shows no love for you isn't a good sign. The fact that he has already moved out is also not encouraging.
It sounds like your husband may have a borderline personality disorder. A person with this disorder can't continue to love someone with whom he is angry. When he/she becomes angry, the borderline symbolically 'kills off' the other person; at times the killing off is temporary and when the anger subsides the borderline can love the other person again. In other cases, the borderline finds it necessary to pull away for good from the person he/she is angry with.
It sounds like your husband pulled away from you after your first fight. At this point, we can try to use the repair tactics that I outline in my book. If he is a borderline, and truly killed you off, then all the best emotional first aid will do you no good. So, if you don't succeed in bringing him back, then you will know that this man is more emotionally damaged than you ever knew. Know that physical and emotional distancing is a way of escaping strong angry feelings.
If you can get him talking about his feelings, he shouldn't feel such a strong need to express his anger in nonverbal ways such as pulling away from you or physically removing himself from you. Therefore, the best repair tactic for you to employ is to get him talking about his anger. Don't forget that this doesn't come naturally to him, since his family avoided conflict discussions. He knows how to run, but he doesn't know how to talk about his anger.
You can help him to learn to talk by using the following sentence: Your moving out tells me that I must have said and done a lot of things that upset you. Promise him that you will listen and make every effort to understand his point of view. If you have been defensive in the past when he tried to tell you, then you are going to need to do whatever you must to open yourself to his feedback.
Listen, reflect back what you hear him say, understand, take responsibility for whatever it is that you did or said that upset him, but don't defend or justify yourself. You may need to have several discussions in which he bears his heart to you. Each time he tells you how he feels, thank him for his honesty. With your praise and with ongoing practice it will become easier and easier for him to talk about his negative feelings and he won't need to escape them by pulling away from you.
If you can get him talking about what you are doing or not doing right, and you can keep him talking, you will already be connecting on a much deeper level than you have ever done. Freely communicating his negative feelings, should open the door to his positive feelings, which is the best shot you have at retrieving this marriage. Let me know how you make out.
"If anger and fighting are ruining your dream of a happy marriage, Dr. Turndorf’s conflict resolution program is for you."
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Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
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Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
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