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When couples get stuck in negative patterns of relating, they begin to feel the loss of love and connection that might have initially drawn them together. It is common to begin noticing and focusing on the ways your partner lets you down. However, underneath the arguments about kids, finances, or intimacy is often the overall sense that our partner does not really see us or respond to our attempts at feeling close and connected. 

Secure Relationship Goals

What might it look like for couples to feel their spouse is connected and responsive to their desire for closeness? Here are some descriptors outlined by Julie Mennano, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and author of the book Secure Love. These goals may begin to help you imagine what safe and close connection looks like in a relationship:

woman and man standing beside tree at daytime

  • We speak to each other in ways that honors the special attachment between one another.
  • We each practice sharing thoughts and feelings. Both are important ways of sharing information and knowing one another.
  • We seek to understand how our spouse feels and acknowledge their perspective makes sense, even if we may not agree with them. 
  • We apologize and take ownership for times we hurt our spouse.

As you read this, it may be tempting to think about all of the ways your partner is not showing up in your relationship; however, it is important for each of us to pause and reflect on how we interact with our spouse. We know that relationships can experience tremendous growth when just one partner steps into a new, more healthy pattern of relating. It is also important to recognize how disheartening it can be while you wait for the relationship dynamics to improve.

Just tell me what to say!

You might be someone reading this, thinking: “Great, I care about my spouse so just tell us what to say!” As much as therapists would love to have the ultimate playbook, it is often a complex untangling of hurts and patterns that keep getting in the way of the couple’s love for one another. Using Mennano’s resources, we want to provide some suggested scripts that might help you begin to shift ways of communicating that will foster growth. 

Try one of these phrases when “I’m sorry” doesn’t get to the heart of it:

  • “I want to understand more about how what I did/do impacted/impacts you” (Wounded partners need to know you understand how they were impacted.)
  • “It makes sense to me you would feel this way.” (Validate how they came to feel the way they do. Their hurt feelings make sense somehow, even when the same action might not bother you.)
  • “I’m willing to work on myself because I don’t like how this behavior leaves you feeling.” (Be specific: I’m going to notice your efforts, “I’m going to work on how I speak to you, I’m going to pay attention to_____.”)
  • “You might need to talk about it again. If so, I’m here.” (Sometimes people need to say something more than once, it helps them process and feel like they aren’t stuck).

Try one of these scripts when there is tension, conflict, disconnection:

  • “I see where you’re coming from. You make sense to me. I love you very, very much.” (This is helpful when you may not feel like you agree with one another but you want to have connection through the process of resolution.)
  • “This is hard, but I’m willing to hear you out and give this some serious thought.” (This might be helpful when you know something may not be resolved immediately and you agree to take some space to process but also agree to come back after a specific time to finish talking about it.)
  • “I can’t hear you when it’s coming at me like this. It’s so hurtful to me, and you’re not being heard. We’re both losing, and we’ve got to do this differently.” (When one partner is escalated, yelling, or critical, this might be helpful to reset the tone of the conversation.)

 We Are Wired for Closeness

Some primary goals for each marriage are for partners to be vulnerable with one another, offer comfort to each other in distress, and know how to repair connection when conflict has occurred. These basic aspects of a relationship are a model that fosters a secure base from which each partner interacts with the world and then returns home to nourish our deepest longings for connection and comfort. God designed humans to be wired for intimate connection, we see that in the story of creation in Genesis and throughout the Bible. While relationships are often where we experience love and closeness, they can be sources of great pain and disappointment. If you would like to learn more about how counseling might support changes you wish you to make in your relationship, please contact the Counseling Center at BCC.