Episode 13: A Return to Fine

by | Last updated: Aug 28, 2023 | Podcast

If your marriage has become disconnected and lonely, you may yearn for “a return to fine,” even knowing, deep down, that isn’t enough.

Even when pain is pushing you toward a place of transformation in your relationship, it may feel easier to simply let it all go, releasing that tension. But is that truly what you want?

In this episode, I will share with you how fear factors into our relationship hesitation and how to combat it with purposeful, actionable steps to start steering toward a life you want to live, whether that’s in your marriage or out of it. You will discover how to do the hard things and stop denying the desires of your heart.

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

  • Avoiding “a return to fine.”
  • Recognizing when you’re playing it safe
  • Utilizing the catalyst for relationship growth
  • Finding your reason to stay
  • Setting honest and determined intentions
  • Leaning into life-changing discomfort

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If you have a suggestion for a future episode or a question you’d like me to answer on the show, email us.

Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you’re serious about finding that answer?

Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.

“Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now your host, relationship expert and certified master life coach: Sharon Pope.

“Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Today we're talking about the ways in which we talk ourselves out of things or the ways in which we talk our partners out of doing things that would make our relationships better.

“So there's a phrase that I learned, gosh, probably eight or ten years ago from my business coach at the time – her name's Angela Laia – and she called it “a return to fine.” Now, she was using it in the context of business and business coaching, but I'm gonna use it in the context of the struggles inside our marriage. Here's what I mean.

“Let's say that you are really struggling in your marriage, and the marriage has gotten to a place where you're feeling it's lonely, it's disconnected. You feel like your partner doesn't understand you or doesn't want to understand you, that they don't appreciate you. You know, you're starting to feel more and more hopeless about your relationship, and you will get into some degree of pain that will cause you to take action.

“Now, why is this? Think about it. The reason why human beings will take scary action is only really for two reasons. Either they have great pain or they have great desire, right? Very few of us will just wake up on a random Tuesday and go, you know what? I wanna make my life better today, or I wanna make my marriage better today.

“It usually requires a motivator. And oftentimes inside a struggling marriage, that motivator to take action is pain. So they get to a place of really deep loneliness or really deep emotional pain, and now they're ready to do something about it, or at least they're ready to think about doing something about it. Now, you might start thinking about what you could do to see if you could improve the marriage.

“You might read a book, you might listen to a podcast, you might purchase a course or join a program that might help support you in that effort. But what you'll find, and I'm sure all of us can find these situations in our own lives, is that we're really motivated at the beginning. And then we get into the work a little bit.

“Like, we're in chapter one of the book, or we are a week or two weeks into a new program, and that first week we are really, really motivated to create change, and we feel like we've made a great decision. But then something will happen, such as the person who's the teacher will ask you to do something that will feel uncomfortable, or the chapter that you're reading will give you some piece of information that you can understand intellectually, like a relationship tool that you should have been applying for the last ten years, but you haven't been, and you really don't feel like doing it now, right?

“So there's gonna be something that's gonna come up that's going to make you uncomfortable. And when that discomfort occurs, what also naturally occurs is that the brain stem part of the brain, the amygdala, which is where fight or flight lives, is going to send you fearful messages. That'll give you tons of reasons why you should just stop now, right? Because that part of the brain, its entire job, is just to keep you alive, just to keep you safe. So it doesn't want you doing anything uncomfortable. It doesn't want you doing anything that feels scary or doesn't feel like a guaranteed outcome.

“So you get into something a little bit, and then that fear shows up because the discomfort shows up. And then we do what's called “a return to fine.” We let our brains talk us into going back to the way it was, giving up on these efforts. I mean, it probably wasn't gonna work anyway, right? He's not so bad. He's a good guy. It's not like he's beating me, right?

“These are the things that we tell ourselves that will then be a return to fine. We talk ourselves into, ‘You know what? I just need to learn how to love him. I just need to learn how to make this work because it's way too disruptive if this marriage doesn't work. So I just need to learn how to make it work. I just need to suck it up, right?’

“And that's what our brains will tell us, and we let ourselves be talked out of making the relationship better so that it could actually have an opportunity of feeling good again. Now, we don't only do this within ourselves, we do it with each other as well. Because when someone is asking something of us that feels uncomfortable, and human beings, we just hate discomfort. We don't wanna have anything to do with discomfort. So whether it's ourselves asking something new of us that brings along that discomfort, or someone else asking something of us that brings along that discomfort, the discomfort in and of itself will alert the brainstem, send a bunch of fearful messages, because this is gonna get scary.

“And we don't wanna do that, right? We'd rather stay safe. That part of our brain, its entire job, just is probably telling us all day, ‘You know what? Get in your jammies. Just turn on the TV, grab a glass of wine, it'll all be fine. Just go back to the way that it was, right?’ Because that's not scary, that's not uncomfortable.

“But any type of growth or change in our lives is going to bring about some degree of discomfort. So nothing's gone wrong, but I wanna share with you the story of a client of mine that I've been working with recently. And I sent her an email the other day and I was just like, ‘I am so damn proud of you.’

“Here's what was going on. So when we met, when we first started working together, she had a lot of fear. And that's not unusual because she was really afraid that her marriage was gonna end. Now she has a big family, she has lots of kids. She has oriented her life around the family and taking care of the kids. She even said to me the other day, ‘I was built for this. Being a mother and taking care of my children is the greatest joy of my life. It's what I've always wanted.’ It doesn't mean she doesn't have other dreams and other goals, but this was something that was very, very important to her. And she has created that for herself.

“So from the outside looking into her life, her beautiful family, her beautiful kids, her beautiful home, everything looks like it should be pretty picture perfect. The problem is she doesn't feel that way, and she hasn't felt that way in more than a decade as it relates to her kids. Things are great, but as it relates to her marriage, things are not great. And they haven't been great for a long time.

“But when we first started working together, she was really, really hesitant to bring those things up with her husband because she was so afraid if she rocked the boat, that the boat would sink, right? If she made any waves at all, that it was all gonna crumble. And then she didn't know what she would do. So she was operating from a place of fear, but wanting change.

“Now, what did she want at the beginning, what she really wanted was for her husband to change. And probably if I asked her today, that would still be her wish and desire. It's just that she knows now that doesn't work and that she doesn't have any control over that.

She has influence over it, though, about whether or not he changes. So she started having these really difficult conversations with her husband. We would be on a coaching call together, and I would offer up like, ‘Hey, I think the next conversation you have with your husband, you should talk about this.’ And she would do it.

“Like, I don't know if you realize how unusual that is. Sometimes I will talk to my clients and I will coach them and give them an idea of what their next step is. And they're like, ‘Yeah, yeah, that sounds good.’ But then we get on a call a few days later and I'm like, ‘Tell me how that conversation went.’ And they're like, ‘Yeah, I didn't have it. Here’s why.’

So she just, every time I would offer up an idea of, ‘Hey, here's another step of how you can continue this conversation to see, can the relationship evolve to a new place that can feel really good for you?’ And she just kept walking through that door, and she kept having those difficult conversations, and I was so dang proud of her.

“Now, we had this conversation recently where I said to her, you know, just from the sounds of everything that was transpiring inside their marriage, it wasn't like either of them were blissfully happy in their relationship, right? He was probably fine. And to be honest, a lot of people are fine with a perfectly fine relationship. The problem was, is that it wasn't fine for her.

“If it was fine, she probably could have just, you know, let her brain talk her into ‘suck it up, buttercup.’ Like, this is fine, this is good enough. This is just how marriage is after twenty-some years, right? So the next conversation that we had, I said, ‘You know what? Here's what I would love to know.’

“And I think you really do want to know the answer to this too, because we had done so much work around, why are you still in this relationship? It doesn't feel good to you. Why are you still here? It's really important to know that. And we had done a lot of work around that. I said, ‘Wouldn't it be interesting for you to bring this up with your husband and to understand why is he still in it?’

“Because it's not like he's blissfully happy in the relationship either. I think that's pretty apparent. They go out to dinner every Saturday night, and sometimes there are these long moments of silence where they have nothing to talk about. And he'll go, ‘Well, what else?’ Which means, ‘You offer up something in the conversation, cuz I'm not gonna get anything, but what else you got that we could talk about to break this silence?’ Right?

“So they just had gotten really, really disconnected. So she brings up, ‘Why are you still in this relationship?’ They were out on a walk together. She had asked him to take a walk and she said, ‘You know what? I know why I'm still in this relationship, and I'm working through a lot of those things through the work that I'm doing with Sharon.’

“He was very aware of the work that we were doing together. And she said ‘I'd really love to know why are you still here? Cuz it doesn't seem like you're really, really happy either.’ And he said things like, ‘Well, you know, I made a vow and that's a promise that I wanna keep. And because of our children.’ And he had a couple of other things, but those were the primary elements of it.

“Now, she also in that conversation shared her intentions with him. I told you that her husband was really familiar that she had been working with me for the last few months. She said ‘I've decided that I'm not yet ready to give up on this relationship. I know that I haven't done everything that I can do to make the relationship feel really good again. And so I wanna give myself that opportunity. I wanna give our family that opportunity, and I wanna give us as a couple that opportunity. And so I'm gonna take the next year, and I'm going to make a determination for myself by the end of this year.’

“Now I'm gonna come back to what that means because a lot of people would say that, but what they're doing is they're kicking the can, and they're gonna talk themselves into a return to fine. Now, in the context of this conversation, as they're out on this walk, she's bringing up a lot of uncomfortable things that he has to answer that he probably wasn't expecting on that particular walk on that particular day.

“And he said, ‘You know, it seems like you're just looking for a reason to leave.’ And she goes, ‘No, let me be really, really clear with you. I am looking for reasons to stay. I really want to remain in this marriage. I just really want to feel good about it too.’ And he said to her, ‘You know what? I think all this relationship stuff, it's just gotten to be too much. Why can't we just live our lives and let's just live our lives and be happy.’

“What he is essentially saying is, ‘Let's go back to doing things the way that we've always done it so that I don't have to do anything uncomfortable. You'll stop asking me all these really difficult questions, and then we can just return to fine,’ return to, for him, what was a perfectly fine relationship. And then he doesn't have to feel any of that discomfort. He doesn't have to create new habits. He doesn't have to show up to the relationship in a new way. See, most of us, we want the path of least resistance, which doesn't often require us to change our habits or to challenge our thoughts or to show up in a new way or to give a little more, when we've taken our foot off the gas for, I don't know, twenty years.

“So he wanted to do a return to fine because he's perfectly fine with their perfectly-fine-looking family. Now nobody knows the background behind that. Nobody really knows what's going on inside his heart and mind, but there's something because he has a pattern of numbing his life every single night. So there's something going on there that he's sort of shut down to, and he's not able to communicate. But that's his lane, that's his business.

“Okay, so here's the other thing that I want you to know. For her, it wasn't going to be a return to fine. She said to me, she goes, ‘Sharon,’ and she said this to him too, she goes, ‘On a one to ten scale, let's call it the loneliness scale on a one to ten scale, I am a ten out of ten in the lonely department.’ So it wasn't a return to fine for her, it was a return to lonely. So inside of this year-long experiment, let's call it, she said, ‘You know what, I'm gonna give it this year, but I'm not going to return to fine. I'm not gonna return to lonely. I'm taking that option off the table. I'm not going back to the way that it was. So we're either going to move forward and we're gonna do it together, or we're gonna move forward and we're gonna do it separately, but I'm gonna give it my very best effort during that timeframe.’

“Now, a lot of people would say, ‘Look, I'm going to give it a year and we'll see what happens.’ But what do they really mean? What they mean is I'm gonna sit back and wait, and I'm gonna watch to see if my partner just magically changes, just wakes up on a Tuesday and wants to magically change how they show up inside the relationship, which never, ever happens, never happens. That's just not human nature, right? And so then we know how this story ends.

“This is not what this client was talking about doing. What she said is, ‘Look, I'm going to take the rest of this year to figure this out, but in the meantime, I'm gonna pay attention to what I can control, how I show up. I can't control what my husband does. I can't control what he chooses to do, but I for sure can control how I show up to the situation within a week.’ She had a plan for creating real structure around their relationship to make sure that there were opportunities for connection. She had made a reservation for a weekend away for the two of them, a month or two months from now, something like that. And she just started making more of what, like Gottman would call bids, just invitations to connect, invitations to come into the relationship. And she was going to keep doing that. She was committed to that because ultimately she wanted to be happy with her husband and she wanted to feel really good about her marriage.

“She didn't wanna blow up her life, right? So she wanted to make sure that she was doing everything that she could. And the truth is, is that even if the relationship ended, she could look at herself in the mirror for the rest of her life and go, you know what? That was a really difficult situation. That was a really difficult decision. But I'm proud of how I showed up in the midst of that decision. And if the relationship ended, she wouldn't say, and he wouldn't say, ‘Oh, I was completely blindsided by that. I had no idea that you were that unhappy.’ He wouldn't be able to say that because she's been so open and honest and transparent about her feelings throughout this process. She's not holding things back. She's really letting him know. And now he gets to choose and make decisions for himself about how to deal with that, right?

“So here's what I want you to realize. The things that she's doing. So first of all, she has taken a return to lonely, or for all of you a return to fine, off the table. Like we're not going backward. Cuz if we go back to the way it was, just so that we can feel comfortable, why would we ever think that these feelings of wanting more would go away? They're not going to go away. They're going to resurface again and again and again. We think we can stuff down our feelings and just deny and betray ourselves, but that little voice in us doesn't stop talking to us. It just doesn't.

“So then she's also gonna take responsibility for her side of the street, right? Which she can control and how she shows up. And so she's gonna give it her very best and she's gonna do that consistently. She's going to have support around her as she does that so that someone is holding her accountable and challenging her as things come up and things get hard, as of course, they will. She is also going to continue to invite him to connect, to create a bit more structure, which just means giving the couple opportunities to connect, right?

“So instead of just going out to dinner every Saturday night and just staring at each other and waiting for the other one to come up with something interesting to say so that they have something to talk about, she's gonna go with a plan of, here's the questions that we're gonna ask of one another. Here are some conversation items she's gonna prepare so that that evening is successful.

“Now, you might think that's stupid. Why would you do that? You shouldn't have to do that in a marriage, except you don't show up to any business meeting without having an agenda, right? Without giving it some thought before you just walk in the door and sit down at the table. If you want it to be successful, if you want that interaction to be successful, you're going to give it a little bit of thought beforehand. And so this is no different, especially when you've been disconnected for a long time, right? So it seems like it would be really easy and it should be really light and easy.

“Well, it was when everything was new and you didn't know everything about one another, and you hadn't spent twenty-plus years together raising children and building a life and taking care of a home and all of those things. Now is the time we gotta put in some effort. It was easy then now is the time. We gotta just do a little preparation. And we're not talking about lifting fifty-pound weights, we're talking about taking five minutes and thinking about what are the things I want to connect with my husband on tonight? What are the conversations that I would love to have tonight that would be really interesting for me, right? Just giving it a little bit of thought in advance.

“Now, her husband is going to do whatever he wants to do because he is an adult, just like she gets to do whatever she wants to do. But we have to live with the ramifications of those choices, right? That's adulting. You get to do whatever you want, but you're going to live with the outcome of your choices. And so at least what she can say is, a return to lonely is off the table. I'm not going back there because then we'll just end up right back here in the same place and waste another several years doing the same dance over and over. I'm gonna show up and take responsibility for what I can control, and I'm going to be honest and transparent with him throughout this process in terms of where I am. And in some period of time we'll know if this relationship can evolve to a new place or not.

“So I want you to really challenge yourself. Take this client's example, and even if every element of it doesn't represent your story or where you are, take what you can. Look for those areas of where you use the discomfort that you feel to return to a place of, it's fine. It's not so bad. I should just learn to live with it. I mean, I can make this work. He's a good guy. Those are the sentences that are the language of people who are trying to convince themselves to return to fine.

“And if you are reaching for more inside your relationship, like let's say you say, ‘Hey, I would like to hire a coach to work with, or I think we should go to couples counseling because that might help us open up opportunities for connection.’ And your partner says, ‘No, no, no, we don't need that. We're fine.’ Or, ‘You don't need that coach. You're fine.’ What they're doing, what they're saying is, ‘Don't push me. Don't push me outside of my comfort zone. Don't expect anything more from me than what you're getting today, because that feels uncomfortable to me.’

“So here is what's happening in the background; we as human beings dislike discomfort. That's just the nature of it. But until we can get a little bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable, we will never create any kind of change in our lives and create some positive momentum in the direction of what we want. All right?

“I hope that this has given you something to think about. I hope it's helped you give you a little bit of juice to be able to lean into your relationship knowing that discomfort is going to show up, expect it, know that nothing has gone wrong, but then don't let it talk you back into being fine with a perfectly fine relationship if you in fact are not fine with fine.

“All right? Until next time, take really good care.

“If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and me to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage.

“Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now. That's clarityformymarriage.com.”


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