Where your attention goes the problem grows.
In some marriages, divorce is unavoidable. One partner wants out. Feelings of love and happiness have diminished over time, replaced by hurt and pain. When someone is determined to leave the relationship the best option is to give them some space. However, there is a second type of divorce situation that can be avoided. Couples can work together to make their marriage stronger than before.
Let’s look at the marriage of Sam and Alison. For the most part, Sam is a good husband. He supports his family financially and helps take care of the kids. He helps around the house and drives the kids to sports practice. However, Sam falls short in one critical department: he is not emotionally available for his wife. Whenever Alison wants to talk about something she’s dealing with at work – good or bad – or if she needs help working through a challenge, Sam doesn’t seem to listen. Alison is forced to turn to friends for emotional support.
From Sam’s perspective, there is no problem. He works hard all week on the job and gives his attention to the family when he comes home. He’s exhausted most of the time, but he recharges his batteries on Sundays. That’s when his buddies come over to watch football. Sam looks forward to game time, and that’s when he feels most alive. He lives for Sundays.
Alison, on the other hand, dreads Sunday afternoons. She feels deprived of Sam’s time and attention, and resents the mess that he and his friends leave for her to clean up. She would like Sam to help the kids with their homework, but when the game is on that is where his attention goes.
Sam and Alison have fallen into a dangerous pattern. Alison is disappointed by Sam’s lack of emotional support, and begins to focus on all the things he does “wrong” and how she is forced to pick up the slack from the things he does badly. Sam just tunes Alison out. He feels there is nothing he can do to please her, so why should he make an effort? It’s only when she’s made a request four or five times and resorts to yelling at him that he bothers to take action. He’s accepted this as normal.
Then one day they get into a typical argument, but this time Alison is so frustrated that she blurts out, “Let’s just get a divorce if you feel this way” Sam retorts, “Fine – let’s get a divorce.” They torment one another with this refrain for two months before deciding to see a marriage counselor.
The counseling sessions do not go well. They are so desperate to be heard by one another that the majority of each session is spent arguing for their individual points of view. Before they can make any real progress the counselor moves to another city, so they simply give up.
Out of the blue, Sam is served with divorce papers. He is shocked; he believed that Alison was bluffing to get attention. His pride is bruised; if she wants a divorce, then he’s going to give it to her.
Alison doesn’t want a divorce, but nothing she does seems to make a difference to Sam. By serving him with papers she had hoped to show him how serious she was, and that it would trigger a change in his behavior.
Now that divorce is on the table, all rational and logical thought goes out the window. Sam stands his ground and Alison stands hers, neither willing to give in and discuss their problems. They have now irrevocably changed their lives and their children’s lives as well. In time they will each find happiness in their new lives, but the pain of this experience will live on forever in each of the family members.
This divorce was unnecessary, but how could it have been prevented?
Where your attention goes the problem grows. In this case, both spouses focused on what was “wrong” with their partner. They chose to concentrate on the negative, and these negative thoughts turned into a runaway train carrying poison as its cargo. Both felt helpless, as though there was no way to stop it.
One simple step that could have turned this situation around was for each to focus on what they needed in order to feel loved and supported. Sam wanted to feel appreciated. He needed Alison to understand that he was giving everything he had, and that he needed Sundays to unwind without being made to feel guilty about it. Alison needed more emotional support. She needed to feel that Sam cared about her struggles, and she also needed to be acknowledged for her efforts in taking care of everyone around her.
If they had recognized their own needs and communicated them to their partner, they could have stopped the runaway train. The next step would be to practice meeting one another’s needs. This is where the coaching of a good counselor would come into play. Sam needed to learn to emotionally connect with Alison by hearing her and giving her his undivided attention. Alison needed to respect that Sam required down time to reenergize himself, and he did this through watching football with his buddies. She needed to give him permission to enjoy this activity without guilt.
Once you learn to tune into your partner’s needs and support them emotionally you can stop the runaway train. It sounds easy to understand, but it’s not that easy to practice. Hearing and understanding your partner need to become habits that you practice together.