relationship life preservers

I just finished writing a marathon email to a friend whose husband has more or less checked out of their marriage and is ignoring her. I wanted to share it with you, too, in case it resonates with anyone.


Now that I'm back at my computer and thinking clearly, I wanted to share one more relationship idea. It's radical, and you may feel kinda repulsed by it, so I'll just throw it out there trusting that you will either pitch it out or experiment with it as you see fit.

I guess it's based on a few premises which might seem really silly when you first hear them. Even if they sound like crap, it might be worth an experiment. At the risk of dangerous oversimplification, I'll try to describe them briefly.

Most men need a mission in life. They are wired to feel good when they make a difference or accomplish something. When they feel aimless or useless for whatever reason, and that reason might have nothing at all to do with their relationship, they can sort of implode into depression.

This might sound really stupid, but I haven't yet met a man who did not thrive on feeling like his woman's hero. Of course that has nothing to do with income, competence, or anything material. It's emotional. They want to know that they have something unique and powerful to offer to their lover. And they do, or we would not have chosen them. Sometimes they need to be reminded about what that is when they have lost sight of it.

The woman who loves him can sometimes offer a temporary lifeline into feeling like a hero again with two strategies: speaking only gratitude, and asking for their help.

These are sort of "medicinal" strategies; applied in specific doses to support a healing from within. You are right that we cannot truly bring anyone out of depression or change them.

These are just life preserver rings that we throw out into the water. We feel better having something to try, and he may just grab hold of one and pull himself to the side of the boat.

So the life preservers might look like this: when he gets home, the first thing he hears is that you are happy to see him. If that's not even true at this point, then maybe it's true that your daughter is happy to see him, so you say that with sincerity.

Then you might ask for his help on something for dinner. The request is really straightforward. "Honey, will you mash those potatoes for me?" If he does it, great. You don't help him or make suggestions or comments, even if he does it completely wrong.

When he's done, you say a warm and simple thank you. All the better if it is accompanied by a kiss, a gentle touch on the shoulder, or at least eye contact.

If he doesn't do it, that's fine too. You were planning on doing it yourself anyway, so you just take care of it.

The rest of the night goes this way. Mostly gratitude and appreciative comments, sprinkled with an occasional request, which is offered in complete neutrality only one time. If he does it, he hears more gratitude. If not, you just do it with no comment.

If you honestly can't find one thing to appreciate, then don't say anything until you can. If you have to dig, you could look for something he did around the house back when he was feeling good, like, "Wow, I feel so lucky to have this terrific deck that you made for us,"or whatever.

The whole time you are taking care of yourself emotionally, listening to yourself, acknowledging your feelings internally, and doing whatever it takes to unilaterally calm your own anxiety or anger. When you need to vent some steam, do it with girlfriends.

A few days of this might help him to let his guard down a little bit and show some vulnerability or emotion. If he does, you'll want to meet his disclosures with as much understanding as you can. One way to do that is to simply repeat what you think he is expressing back to him, and wait for his confirmation, and ask if there's more. Then ask if you can share your feelings about it before doing so.

Even if he does not open or soften, it might be good medicine for you, anyway. We always feel better when we focus our attention on finding things to appreciate, and it takes our minds off of noticing what is so painfully wrong.

Yes, it can take a LOT of discipline to do this. And if I know only one thing about you it's that you are a powerful woman! Even if all you can muster is one appreciative comment in an evening of otherwise gentle and accepting silence, it's still something.

so anyway, sorry, that was pretty long. I'll shut up now and just say that I am wishing you both all the best.

Karen Alonge
720 771 8915
Contact me to schedule a parenting consultation by phone,
or to register for Connected Parenting classes near Boulder, CO.

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