Mental Barriers How do you tell your loved one that they just aren't keeping you intellectually satisfied? BY SARA WILSON
We get married with the grand hope that the person we’re marrying is indeed our soul mate: the person who will stand by our side through thick and thin, the person who will make us laugh even when we are down, the person who will challenge us to see the world through a new light and think about life on a deeper level. But what happens when your other half no longer mentally stimulates you or perhaps, in reality, was never really able to stimulate you at all? How do you break the bad news and more importantly, start on the road to improvement?
The first step, advises marriage and family therapist Kristen Harrington, is to determine whether it’s an issue that has existed from the beginning or one that has grown into one with the evolution of the marriage. If the lack of mental stimulation has, indeed, been present from the beginning, you must seriously consider how important the issue is to you and to what extent you should make it an issue that concerns the two of you.
For Megan, 26, the mental disconnect was an issue from the beginning of her relationship with Gerald, 28, her boyfriend of seven years and husband of one.
"I realized we had a problem when he told me he had been to the Sistine Chapel and couldn't even describe what it was like to be there," says Megan. "Maybe that's a guy thing, but it's the Sistine Chapel for crying out loud."
At that time, Megan was still in college and surrounded by friends who were able to help provide what was lacking in her relationship with Gerald, so she let the issue slide. Four years into the relationship, she directly approached the subject with Gerald.
"It wasn't until we graduated and moved in together that I felt like I needed to do something if the relationship was going to work," she says. "I didn't flat out tell him that he didn't mentally stimulate me. Instead, I just asked him to do more things with me like go to museums or the theater."
According to Harrington, Megan was on the right track when she approached Gerald.
"Tell them things that they can do, as opposed to just saying, ‘You’re dull and you’re not my mental equal,’" says Harrington. "That kind of thing can really affect a person a lot. They’ll really feel let down. So figure out ahead of time what’s realistic and ask for part of it. Ask them too if they would see the benefit of doing that with you. I think it’s really important that you speak about it, approach them with the positives first and then give them the behavior change request."
Harrington also advises to think about the other ways in which your partner fulfills and satisfies you, brainstorm healthy options that might be available to get the mental stimulation that you’re craving, and be aware of the effort it might take for your partner to fulfill the request. With this in mind, try to be as reasonable and as realistic as possible in your request. In the best case, you’ll find that your spouse just needed an invitation to grow and will gladly accept the opportunity to show you how mentally stimulating he can actually be.
In the worst case, the lack of mental stimulation will lead to other consequences and may even result in a decrease in sexual attraction.
"A big 'turn on' for me is a guy that can share something with me on a more intimate, 'mental' level," admits Megan. "Because I wasn't getting that from Gerald, he was becoming less and less sexually attractive to me."
According to Harrington, this is a normal consequence, especially for women.
"If there’s a lack of stimulating discussion outside, they’re going to generally feel less stimulated in the bedroom because they feel less valued as a person," says Harrington. "There’s not that soul connection that’s needed to feed the sexual passion."
In the case that your spouse has become less mentally stimulating as the relationship has evolved, Harrington advises to take a moment to think about the ways in which your spouse used to be more mentally stimulating before approaching him with the subject.
"Did they have good discussions about current events?" says Harrington. "Did they like to go to museums? Did they ask challenging questions that really caused their partner to think about things? What were the specifics? That’s the kind of behavior that you could ask for again. Let them know that had meant a lot to you and you really miss it and you’d love to have it again."
In the event that your spouse shrugs it off or doesn’t take your request seriously, tell him or her how it’s affecting you. "Are you bored?" asks Harrington. "Are you less attracted to them as a result? How does it affect you? Put it in terms that really are going to matter to the partner."
People evolve, issues change, and staying on the same page as your spouse can be difficult. But approach the subject with love and support and suggestions of what your spouse can do, and you’ll have a better chance at finding your way to a common path. If all has been said and done and you’re still not connecting, then take a deep look at what you truly want out of life.
Even after Megan asked for more, Gerald wasn’t able to provide her with the mental stimulation that she needed, and Megan recently decided to call it quits. In her case, divorce was the ultimate answer. To prevent a similar outcome, make sure that you have approached the situation in every way possible to find a common solution together.