Before it’s too late

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"Before it

I was talking recently to some of my colleagues about couples therapy.

One of the topics that came up was the reluctance of one partner to hear the other spouse’s pain…and do something about it.

Sometimes, when couples come to therapy, we ask the couples which one is the “draggee” in therapy, and one the “dragger”.

A therapist mentioned the painful scenario of having a couple come into therapy after one spouse has said:

Enough. I’m done.

  • Enough of the distance,
  • Enough of trying to make the partner hear of the loneliness.
  • Enough of pleading, trying to make something happen.
  • Enough of saying, “We need to talk to somebody.  We need to figure this out.”
  • Enough of trying to have their spouse hear that this isn’t just some disgruntlement about the schedule or the chores.  This isn’t some bickering or complaining that will pass.
  • Enough of not being heard.
  • Enough of not being seen and valued

The exhausted, burned out spouse says:

“Enough. I’m not doing this any more. I’m done.”

And means it.

Suddenly the spouse hears it, and understands the seriousness of it. 

The spouse now “gets it”–big time. 

The spouse kicks into high gear (because all along s/he really did want to be married, but you know how complacency can set in), and in horror and shock, begins to plead for the marriage.

Sincerely, dedicatedly, and earnestly, the spouse:

  • Books the counselling appointment
  • Tries to start conversations, writes long letters of love and commitment, texts love and commitment multiple times per day
  • now comes home from work on time.
  • Fixes the things that have been on the “to do list” for months.
  • Actively participates in childcare
  • Shows up at the kids’ games

…doing all the things that have been complained about for years.

The imminence of divorce propels action in frenetic ways.

Only it’s too late.

When “enough” was said, it was too late. 

The last chances had already been offered and re-offered, and had already been pulled off the table.

When one therapist said this to the rest of us, there were sad smiles of knowing all around the room. We’ve all seen these couples and its painful.

The sad part is when these couples show up for therapy, the draggee has become the dragger, and the dragger has become the draggee.

The spouse that has been begging and pleading for years is done with the marriage.  They come to therapy only to have the therapist’s help to explain that there is no more opportunity to work on this.  We generally only see these couples once, because there is nothing to do, nothing to work on.  There is no will on the part of the one who is done to re-engage.  S/he will say s/he’s tried over and over for year, and is done trying.

The spouse that hadn’t been accessible and responsive really is sincere about wanting to make the marriage work (and has wanted to be married all along). And as motivated as they now might be, there is no space to make the marriage work…because there is no marriage anymore.

The marriage disintegrated in front of their eyes, but they didn’t see it…because their eyes were glued to the video game, the football game, the beer in front of them, or the project at work.

Statistically, frankly, this spouse is most often (though not nearly always)–male.

The long pattern of distancing isn’t about being a jerk…it’s about the challenge of being intimate with someone in a culture that ridicules vulnerability and makes it difficult, it’s about pulling away from someone who makes you feel like you are never enough and can never measure up.

It’s turning away from something you feel lousy at, to move towards an area where you have competence–like your job or the hockey team, or an area of mindless numbing–like video games or alcohol.

So often, these men value and love their wives, and want a good marriage, but don’t know how, and they pull away from the uncomfortable feelings…


…and don’t realize that this results in pulling away from your life’s love in ways that seem intolerable to her.

If your spouse emails this post to you, or calls you over to read it while she’s surfing online…it’s not too late. 

Listen to her (or him).

“Get it” now.

Hear how desperate your spouse is to connect with you in a meaningful way, and dare to figure out how to make this work for both of you

…before it’s too late.

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