An attractive young couple in their mid forties sat down on the couch in my office. They were troubled. He was obviously hurting and she reached out compassionately to touch his arm.
It became apparent very quickly that there was so much good in their relationship. They were respectful to each other in front of me. They laughed easily. Both of them expressed pride in the three daughters they had raised together. The youngest one was headed for college in the fall so they were quickly approaching the empty nest stage.
After years of being a stay at home mom, Julie had just taken on a new job outside the home. She was enjoying the challenge, the relationships and the attention. James was high up in his company and travelled a lot for work.
What was the presenting problem? When James had returned from his last trip, he sensed that Julie was distant and detached. He questioned her about the obvious difference he saw in her. She replied that she really wasn’t sure that she wanted to stay in their relationship. He was astounded.
Julie went on to share that she hadn’t realized how critical and negative their relationship had become. Being in the work force had made her aware of the lack of kindness, positivity and affirmation in her marriage. She was realizing that had made her incredibly vulnerable.
If there was any good news, it is that James was not afraid to address this issue. He had the courage to ask when he sensed that there was a problem.
It turned out that James had a habit when he returned from a long commute or a grueling day of work. He would immediately ask Julie multiple questions about whether she had followed through on tasks that he had asked her to do for him. If she had not done what he hoped, James would get upset and immediately go into critical mode. Over the years Julie had started to dread James homecoming but had not shared that with him. She felt as if she was often in a doghouse of James making and frankly, she had had enough. The contrast between her husband’s attitude and that of her male co-workers now was painfully evident.
What had happened? James and Julie had stopped being intentional. I reminded them of the following research.
The first three minutes after a couple reunites at the end of the day sets the tone for the entire rest of the evening.
The paradox of comfortable love is that we stop trying. We stop being intentional. After all, we’re married, our spouse promised to love us for life so now let’s get on with other challenges. It’s too easy to take one another for granted. We can even treat each other as if they are our personal assistants. All we do is give orders and get upset when they aren’t completed. We start to drift apart in our relationship except when we want to be intimate. A passive mindset can set in often accompanied by a disrespectful and critical spirit.
We stop valuing each other and we start using each other.
Together James, Julie and I talked about the intersections in their normal day… the times when they were in the same space before or after going their separate ways.
James and Julie’s typical intersections happened early morning when James went off to work, when James returned home from work, and just before going to bed. They had three opportunities in their day to intersect positively. You may have more. Then I asked them the following simple question,
“How can you be lovingly intentional at those three intersections?”
Since Julie was the disgruntled one, she was given an opportunity to express her desires for the after work intersection. She said that it would mean everything to her if James would greet her, hug her, tell her he missed her and was anticipating being home with her. If he chose to tell her she looked fabulous that would just add icing to the cake.
Julie said that if she first of all felt valued by James, his questions about her follow through would be perceived and received differently. They would just be part of the business of doing life together.
James also came to understand how to be disappointed rather than angry. To be curious about her day and the interruptions she may have faced rather than furious if Julie had not been able to complete a task. Her inability to complete a task did not necessarily mean that what was important to him didn’t matter to her.
Have you learned how to be curious when you are disappointed?
Then Julie made another request. If she had not been able to complete a task she would appreciate James asking her if there was anything he could do to help her accomplish that task.
As a therapist I was astounded by the shift that occurred in their relationship through this incredibly simple concept. No deep psychotherapeutic intervention needed. They just needed an attitude adjustment at the typical intersections in their day.
Next week they returned to my counseling office with a very different state of mind. They were beaming as they recounted details of their week. Their connection was evident. They said the concept of Intentional Intersections had been transformational for them.
James had had one misstep. One evening when they were both running late for an appointment, he forgot to be intentional. Instead of being offended or starting an attack or argument, Julie got out of the car and closed the car door. She then reopened the same door, stuck her head in and said, “Hi, I’m Julie. I missed you today. I am excited about this rendezvous.”
Needless to say, James caught himself, playfully introduced himself and asked her if she wanted a ride.
Six weeks later when therapy ended, James and Julie had fallen back in love with each other. They were anticipating a trip to Hawaii as a family. They were united in their belief that intentionality at life’s intersections had turned their marriage around.
It made me think of Donald Miller’s comment about couples that had thriving marriages after forty years. He writes,
“None of them were riding an emotional roller coaster of passion and then resentment. Instead, they loved each other as an act of their conscious will. They were more in control of their love than their love was in control of them.”
Are you in control of your love?
Are you intentional at the intersections of your day? If so, you have a spouse who feels noticed, valued, loved, and desired. You probably feel that same way too.
Until our next Conscious Lover’s Blog…