"Sandra wants to end our marriage," Ted told me in our phone session. "She says that I am not meeting her needs."
I often hear this in my counseling practice.
How did we get the idea that marriage is about the other person meeting our needs, or about our meeting the other person's needs? How did we get so far away from personal responsibility for meeting our own needs that we expect others to do it for us? What are these "needs" that Ted was not meeting for Sandra?
"She said that I don't make her feel good enough about herself, and that I don't make her feel secure. She tells me that it's my fault that she doesn't feel special. She is not happy and blames me for her unhappiness. She's angry that we don't have sex very often, and that I'm not often affectionate. I agree that I'm not turned on to her and I don't feel affection toward her, but I find it hard to feel that way toward her when she is so often angry at me and blaming me. But she believes that the problems are all my fault, and maybe they are."
"Ted, the problem is that neither of you are taking responsibility for your own feelings. Sandra is making you responsible for her unhappiness, and you think you are responsible for her feelings rather than for your own. If you were to focus on meeting your needs to feel happy, peaceful and secure, and Sandra were to take responsibility for learning how to make herself feel good about herself, then both of you could begin to meet each other's very real need for emotional intimacy and connection. Affection and sexuality would come out of your emotional intimacy, rather than something you have to do to prove to Sandra that you love her."
"But what if Sandra doesn't want to take this responsibility for herself? What if she just wants to find someone else to meet her needs?"
"How often has Sandra threatened to leave the marriage?"
"Oh, at least every six months."
"So the chances are it is a manipulation to get you to do what she wants you to do. Instead of giving yourself up to manipulate her, why not start to do your own Inner Bonding work and learn how to take responsibility for your own feelings of adequacy and worth? Since giving yourself up or withdrawing and resisting her control -- which is what you have been doing -- isn't working, what do you have to lose by learning how to take responsibility for yourself? You never know -- you might feel much more loving toward her even if she doesn't change if you learn to take loving care of yourself! I know that you believe that your lack of affectionate and sexual feelings for her are because of her anger and blame, but it is really about you giving yourself up and withdrawing. You cannot feel turned on to her when you have given your power away to her and shut down. As you move into your personal power through your practice, you will likely feel totally differently toward her, regardless of whether or not she changes."
Ted was willing to do the work he needed to do to learn to stop taking responsibility for Sandra's happiness and take responsibility for his own. As he stopped caretaking Sandra and started to take care of himself, he began to feel much better toward her. He was surprised and delighted to feel warmth toward her that he hadn't felt since first meeting her. It was challenging for him to let go of his caretaking addiction as his form of trying to have control over getting approval from Sandra, and it didn't happen all at once. But over time, Ted could see great improvement in their relationship. He found it paradoxical that when he stopped trying to meet Sandra's "needs," to feel good about herself, things got much better!
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Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. She has counseled individuals and couples, and led groups, classes and workshops since 1968, and continues to work with clients from all over the world on phone and Skype. She is the author/co-author of eight books, including the internationally best-selling "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?" (over 1 million copies sold), "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By My Kids?," "Healing Your Aloneness," "Inner Bonding," and "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By God?" In 2010, Margaret co-completed a 12-year project called SelfQuest®, which is a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. SelfQuest® is being offered to prisons and schools and sold to individuals, families and businesses. In addition, Margaret offers a powerful 12-week relationship e-Course, The Intimate Relationship Toolbox, and a weight loss course, Dr. Margaret's Permanent Weight Loss Program, a Free Inner Bonding eCourse and Free Help with relationships, parenting, addictions, personal growth and spiritual growth.
Margaret has three children and three grandchildren. In her spare time, she loves to paint, read, make pottery, and ride her horse.