Communication Breakdown Having trouble getting through to your spouse? Here are 4 tips to help you reconnect. BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
Not getting through to your spouse can often times feel like rejection.
Why do I feel so rejected when I can’t get through to my spouse?
You remember that old AT&T commercial urging you to "reach out and touch
someone"? Calling a loved one on the telephone, or, for that matter, being
in a deep one-on-one conversation, serves to fulfill a basic human
need—connection. Studies of early childhood show the importance of infants bonding with other people; children raised without human touch often don’t survive infancy. And the need for close contact with others doesn’t disappear as a person grows out of diapers; it's there from the first day of life to our last day on earth.
One of the reasons people seek out relationships—and marriage—is to quench that very basic need for human connection. For instance, most individuals who end a marriage, and swear they’ll never, ever, marry again, end up tying the knot a second (or third) time. Why? To quench the ever-present need to be bonded to another.
Bonding doesn’t only take place when you stand in front of the altar and pledge your undying love and commitment—it takes place every day. Whenever you phone your honey, have a conversation or even wave as you drop him or her off at the bus station on the way to work, you’re making a small bid for connection. How your loved one responds to that bid can have a huge impact on the quality of your marriage.
When you approach your mate with an issue or problem, you are expressing a desire to be understood. This isn’t just a convenience or a nicety—it is above all, an attempt to connect. If your partner turns away from you when you’re trying to reach out, it elicits a very basic response: the failure of one human to get what they desire from another triggers rejection.
Feeling rejected can trigger an avalanche of emotions. Initially it may induce a sense of panic ("Oh my god! There’s no one to turn to!") Later, it can leave persistent feelings of abandonment, depression or despair. The experience of rejection can ultimately lead to anger at the person who "made you" feel that way. And when it’s your spouse who’s let you down, and it’s happened more than once, that anger can stir up a firestorm of resentment and even hate.
But before you shred your marriage certificate and move back in with your
parents, there are some things you should know.
1. Even the best of partners aren’t "on" all the time; everyone misses a chance to respond to bids for attention. Don’t assume that just because your partner hasn’t tuned in to your needs, that he or she doesn’t care about you. Be patient, and try coming back to the issue another time, perhaps when there’re fewer distractions.
2. Spend a moment figuring out precisely what it is you want from your partner when you reach out for connection. Sometimes you might approach your mate believing you know exactly what you are looking for, but he or she might not understand the kind of help you need, and so the response falls short of your expectations.
3. When you feel you can’t get through, is it because you are either criticizing your spouse or demanding that your spouse change in some way that he or she doesn’t want? If that’s the case, you may get pushed away aplenty until you can find an approach that makes both of you comfortable. That requires being creative and empathic—not critical—in order to build collaboration.
4. Are you rejection sensitive? It could be that your partner is doing just about everything as well as can be expected—no one’s perfect—but because of your own family history or your personality type, you’re inclined to feel overly sensitive to any hint that you’re partner isn’t in 100 percent agreement with you. Remember, part of the joy of having a partner is accessibility to another viewpoint—even when you’re not looking for it. If you’re prone to being rejected easily, seek professional counseling to talk about you, before you try to fix your marriage.
Feeling connected is one of the most wonderful, and basic, of human experiences. When you’re with the same partner sometimes you don’t always get the sense of closeness that you seek. But understanding why you feel rejected, and seeking ways to get reconnected is a surefire way of building a stronger relationship.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is also the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com