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When you feel like you're sharing a bed with a stranger

by Graeme Davidson Feb 2010

When Bill came home I told him about the washing machine breaking down and my efforts at mopping up buckets of water. Instead of trying to understand how upset I was, he said I should have called a technician. When I told him I did, he asked how much it cost and then lost interest. He reacts the same way when I tell him how unhappy I am in our relationship. He patronisingly tells me it’s a passing mid-life crisis and I need counselling as I’m imagining problems.”

Ann was voicing the most common complaint in failing relationships – feeling lack of appreciation and emotional neglect from an insensitive partner. Couples often describe this as a communication gap or as living on different planets. It can happen when one partner – usually the man — is an introvert who likes to spend time alone with their own thoughts and activities and the other is an extrovert who prefers interaction with others. Ann described her predicament this way.

“I feel we’re like two ships going in different directions. I’ve taken advice from friends and prayed about our relationship and I really have gone the second mile. Nothing works. I feel desperately lonely and can’t stand it any more. If any man were to show interest in me, I’d find it hard to resist the temptation to have an affair.”

Women initiate over two-thirds of relationship break-ups in the UK and the most frequent reason given by married women is that their husbands were unfaithful or treated them badly. That’s the story the courts hear. But feelings of alienation and of sharing a bed with someone who has now become a stranger are often at the heart of the problem. According to the second creation story in the Book of Genesis, God created men and women to become “one flesh” for companionship and as helpmates, so a relationship ceases to fulfil its key purpose of companionship when someone feels lonely and miserable in it.

British surveys show that about a fifth of men and around one in seven women will be unfaithful, usually during the early years of their relationship. An affair is more often than not a pursuit for a more sympathetic companion rather than a better orgasm. I remember one man telling me how much better sex was at home than with his lover. His dilemma was whether to stay with his partner or split and live with his not so hot lover whom he nevertheless felt was his soulmate.

If Ann did have a brief fling, it would be to confirm to herself that her 17-year relationship was over, or to force Bill to react. Her lover would be a catalyst. Maybe that’s why most relationships are in trouble before anyone else comes on the scene and often falter after an affair. It’s also why relationships with lovers don’t usually last long after the couple break up.

Psychologist John Gottman studied the reactions of hundreds of couples in his Family Research Laboratory in Seattle. He found that the way partners resolve conflict is crucial to the success of their relationship. Troubled relationships are marked by four characteristics, which he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – criticism, which can lead to contempt, followed by defensiveness and, finally, stonewalling or withdrawal.

Although Ann complained of alienation and being treated with condescension by Bill, was she contributing to the breakdown through feelings of contempt and by retaliating with defensive putdowns, stonewalling and withdrawal?

When I got both of them together for counselling, Bill did in fact accuse Ann of nagging, being critical of his desire to succeed at work, undervaluing his contribution to family life and not appreciating his personality style. “Ann calls me a cold fish and expects me to whisk her off her feet and take her to a romantic tropical island. But if I did that, she’d complain about the heat and flirt and socialise with others. She only wants sex with me when she’s in the mood, which isn’t often, and it’s always on her terms. I’ve been loving, loyal and tried to make her happy, but I think she has already made up her mind to leave me.”

Bill was right. Like so many unhappy partners, Ann sought relationship counselling only after she had passed the turning point in her relationship. She wasn’t thinking “what if” or “maybe I might leave”. She believed it wasn’t working as God intended and that counselling would help her and Bill confirm they should split. Bill was devastated and tried to win her back. Too late. If only she and Bill had sought help when thoughts of leaving started to cross Ann’s mind. A counsellor could have helped them listen carefully to each other and then maybe the outcome would have been different.


See also:

Surving the breakup >> more
Infidelity: in hot pursuit of a better organsm or better intimacy? >> more
Divorce risk factors >> more



See also
Should we intervene to prevent suicide? >> more
Divorce risk indicator >> more
When you feel like you're sharing a bed with a stranger >> more
Surving the breakup >> more
Suicide terrorism as a desperate weapon of liberation >> more
Ned Flanders — popular face of Christianity >> more
Seven common myths about religion >> more
Moral divide between church leaders and laity >> more
Unholy silence over MPs hypocrisy and greed >> more
Anglican schism over gay clergy inevitable >> more
My agonising path to enlightenment >> more
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The cartoons aren't about secular freedoms versus intolerance >> more

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