Bob’s happiness was infectious as he excitedly told us about his new girlfriend he met since his divorce a year ago.
He showed up to our bi-weekly men’s group meeting with a skip in his step. We started the meeting by sharing news, celebrations and/or epic fails since the last meeting.
When we got to Bob he was smiling. He couldn’t wait to tell us more about the new woman he had been dating for the last 4 months.
Bob shared, “Last weekend I got to meet her family and bunch of her nephews and nieces. She’s amazing – everything I was looking for in a woman.”
“What makes her so amazing?” asked another guy.
Bob answered, “Man, it’s just how she treats people. She is so kind, so loving and so connected to her family. I love how creative she is, I mean, the way her mind works is intoxicating. She just makes it easy to be around her and I feel good just being with her.”
“Did you hear that?” I asked the men.
“Hear what?” they replied.
“Did you hear the words Bob chose to describe his feelings about her?”
The Thing about Girlfriends vs. Wives
When I spoke with Bob a year earlier during his divorce, I remember asking him about his wife. He told me he really didn’t want to get divorced. That she just checked out of the marriage – felt numb. She said she didn’t feel “in love” anymore.
When I asked him if he still loved her he answered quickly, “Well…yeah, I guess.”
“What do you love about her?” I asked.
He said, “Well, she’s a great mom and she really takes care of the family. She’s really organized and keeps us on track. And she’s really been getting back in shape and she looks better than ever. Oh, and she’s super productive and gets a lot done.”
Did you hear the words Bob chose to describe his feelings about her?
It was all quite practical.
When asked what he loved about her all he could think of was what she did.
When he described his feelings about his girlfriend it was all about who she was. When he was first married, that’s how he talked about his wife.
The Moment She Knows Your Marriage is in Trouble
This is the moment many women decide their marriage is in trouble.
It’s the moment where his appreciation, adoration and celebration of who she is turns into a pragmatic acknowledgment of what she does.
This is when she no longer feels his warmth and acceptance for her very being including her unique quirks, qualities and foibles.
Her value to him suddenly becomes all about what she does – especially what she can do for him.
I brought this point up to the men in the meeting. We talked about how we can change from having an easy-going acceptance of our differences to displaying an agitated energy of dismissiveness.
Bob just raised his eyebrows and nodded, “Yeah, that’s exactly what happened…to both of us. We both changed the way we saw each other and talked about each other. We could never recover from it.”
It Goes Both Ways
Of course, this isn’t just something men need to know.
It goes both ways. Women are just as guilty of losing sight of the original traits and habits they found so adoring in the beginning. The way they think and talk about their husbands moves from “he can do no wrong” to “he can do no right”.
Both partners have a responsibility to learn why this happens and to be accountable for their own triggers. Doing our own work means charting our own course for inner strength, confidence and happiness first.
Marriage, or any committed relationship, isn’t meant to make us happy – it’s where we’re supposed to learn how to love. If we treat our partners as our sole source of love and happiness it will be impossible to consistently give them our love and happiness.
Love and happiness are not places we go to. They are places we must come from.
Love and happiness are things that reside in our own body and mind. We are born with them. They are our secret power to give anytime we please. And the supply is limitless if we choose it to be.
The reason so many couples lose sight of their power to accept, adore and appreciate each other “as is” is because they are in a competition. They have only been giving to get – so they keep score.
And the moment they decide they aren’t getting enough, they shut down and stop giving. Their “bucket of internal love and happiness” feels empty so they mope around waiting for a refill. That’s when the downward spiral ensues.
But that bucket can only feel full when we’re full of self-respect and self-reliance. Without an independent ability to validate our own value our insecurity and fear will drive everything we do in our relationships.
We stop loving. We stop being happy. We stop giving.
And if we don’t learn our lesson, we will find a new girlfriend and start the whole process over again.
If you’re a man ready to learn how to love from a place of confidence, strength and self-respect, I’ve written a free ebook for you. This is how to change everything – maybe even your marriage. Download The Hard-to-Swallow Secret to Saving Your Marriage HERE.
Photo: Joanna Higson/Flickr