Have you ever thought about what it means to have an emotional attachment to your partner?
When your marriage or relationship is strong, you enjoy the benefits of emotional connection without ever needing to define it or put it under a microscope. But when emotional intimacy is lacking, you need to find the words for what’s missing so that you can know how to strengthen your relationship.
Men and intimacy: do men get a bad rap, or is there some truth to it?
It’s often the case that in heterosexual couples, when there is relationship trouble, the man is the one who most commonly has difficulty with emotional sharing. This may feel like a stereotype, but it’s not meant to be. Of course, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule either and is not true 100% of the time. It’s simply that when couples experience difficulties in emotional attachment, it’s more often the man’s relating style that is attributed as the cause of that difficulty than the woman’s.
Let’s look at an example for more clarity and specificity.
How to Communicate with Your Husband: A Wife’s Story
Margritte and Chase had been married for five years by the time Margritte sought couples counseling.
“It wasn’t like anything was hugely wrong,” she stated. “But I couldn’t deny I was growing more and more unhappy, and feeling more and more disconnected. Just because my marriage may have not been in as dire a state as some of my friends’ didn’t mean it couldn’t be better. I felt like Chase and I were leaving a lot of potential on the table.”
It was no surprise to Margritte that men and women often had inherently different ways of relating and connecting. She had read lots of material about relationships, even before making the commitment to marry, and her reading material included books and articles on emotionally detached husbands and how to talk to your husband. What came as a surprise to her was how wrong her assumptions were about what Chase was needing, and how she had misread the signs completely.
“I’d always been drawn to the strong, silent type,” she shared. “My childhood was somewhat chaotic, mainly because my parents were chaotic. There was so much noise, and my father especially did a lot of talking, a lot of yelling, but still somehow nothing meaningful seemed to get said. Certainly things didn’t seem to get resolved.”
Life doesn’t give us do-overs, but sometimes we’re subconsciously going there just the same…
So Chase’s quiet, calm demeanor was appealing to Margritte when they started dating. That’s often the case, that we are drawn to someone who is very different from a problematic dynamic we experienced in childhood, though just as often we’re drawn to someone who allows us to attempt to unconsciously work through trouble-spots that we were powerless to resolve as children.
Teasing this out isn’t something you have to worry about or get stuck in–sometimes it’s just helpful to know that you were drawn to your partner for reasons that might lie beneath surface. That’s not the important part–what’s important is what you do with the information. I’ve seen couples blame each other for things that are totally beyond their control, and this certainly isn’t good for anyone and can only erode the relationship if it continues.
But back to Margritte and Chase….
One wife asks: “Why won’t he talk to me?”
“So for years I’d been trying to get Chase to really open up,” Margritte said. “I know that might sound kooky, me being attracted to his quietness, to his rugged silence that made me feel reassured in ways I hadn’t as a kid and then trying to undo it, but I’m trying to be really honest. I guess I made the mistake that so many people do, assuming that I had plenty of time to ‘work on’ him once we were married, assuming my mate would change the way I needed to.”
Margritte reported feeling increasing levels of frustration with Chase as the years went on. She wanted to talk to him–“to really talk, to talk in a meaningful way, complete with give-and-take, not just, ‘Can you take the trash out?’ or ‘Did you pay that bill?’”–but the more she tried, the more he seemed to “clam up.”
“I needed to converse with Chase, on a regular basis, in order to feel emotionally connected to him,” she said. “And the only thing I could figure out was that he didn’t need the same thing. That made me sad, and kind of scared, honestly. I knew I loved him, but I wondered if I’d married the wrong person. I mean, if he didn’t want to be emotionally close to me, what was I doing here? I was past the point of reading another advice blog about how to communicate with your spouse–I had started feeling really lonely.”
“I thought he didn’t need emotional attachment…boy, was I wrong!”
And then, as many turnarounds in life tend to do, a productive disruption came from an unexpected place.
“I flunked my annual physical,” Chase said sheepishly. “My cholesterol was through the roof. My doctor told me I needed to develop an exercise routine, and stick to it.”
Chase began walking for 45 minutes each day. Soon into his new habit, he asked Margritte if she’d like to accompany him.
“Other than a nice walk and a good workout,” she said, “I wasn’t expecting anything. So imagine my surprise when Chase started opening up to me, in exactly the way I’d always wanted!”
Chase and Margritte had accidentally stumbled upon Chase’s pathway to closeness. Margritte later realized that her pathway was different from her husband’s. “My style of connecting and sharing is more of an interview, I suppose,” she said. “The dialogue I wanted from him was a type that wasn’t natural for him, I only realized much later. But that didn’t mean he didn’t want to connect.”
As they walked, the couple shared things easily, without the stress that Margritte felt when trying to get Chase to share more at home. “He used to have that look on his face that made it seem like I was interrogating him,” she recalls. “I hated feeling like the bad guy, but I couldn’t deny my loneliness.”
During their walks, Chase opened up in ways that felt different to Margritte–and different to Chase, too. Perhaps it was due to the backdrop of physical activity that removed pressure and loosened him up; perhaps it was the indirectness of the dialogue style (as opposed to the “interview” style Margritte described); perhaps it was the movement of bodies that allowed Chase to communicate his connection in a mutually beneficial way. But ultimately, the ‘why’ doesn’t matter here. What matters is that they found a means of emotionally connecting that worked for them.
What does your marriage or relationship need?
Before you lace up your walking sneakers and hit the asphalt, please note that I’m not suggesting that tandem strolls are a panacea for every ailing couple (though of course exercise is a good thing for all our bodies!).
Rather, Margritte’s story illustrates the point that sometimes when we attempt to force something in a relationship, we run into a brick wall. But when we remain open and alert and honest, we just might find a better way.
Wishing you and your partner a deep emotional connection!
Dr. Rich Nicastro