Episode 21: Step into the Gap

by | Last updated: Aug 28, 2023 | Podcast

Do you ever feel disconnected in your relationship, like there’s a gap between you and your spouse? Are you stuck repeating boring conversations about work, the kids, and the weather without any real connection? If so, you’re not alone – and the solution may be the opposite of what you think.

Here’s the key: complaining does not work on men. Women understand that language, but most of the time, men struggle with knowing what to do with that information. Instead, the gap that you’re feeling is the love that you’re not giving. What do I mean by that? Find out in today’s episode!

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

  • What is the gap?
  • Why doesn’t complaining work?
  • How to identify the love you’re not giving
  • How to bridge the gap
  • How to communicate about connection
  • How to foster continued connection

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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.

Want more help rekindling the “spark” in your marriage – or determining
whether it’s possible at all?

Sign up for my free on-demand training, Living Like Roommates, where we’ll dive deep into what’s caused the distance in your relationship so you can understand how to move forward in a new direction.

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. It's Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Today, I wanna talk to you about what it means to step into the gap of your relationship.

Now, stepping into the gap is a phrase that I use a lot in my coaching practice, and what it's meant to signify is the gap or the space between what you are actually experiencing in your most intimate relationship and what you want to feel and experience in your most intimate relationship. And so the gap represents what's missing, and it represents a disconnect that needs to be bridged.

Now, ladies, we are often the first ones to notice that there even is a gap at all. That there's something to be done here, that there's some disconnect, there's something that is missing inside the relationship. And often, because we're the first ones to notice it, we are also the first ones to go looking for answers or a solution to help bridge that gap.

Now, the problem here is that the way in which we express ourselves as women oftentimes comes across as complaining or criticizing. Now, there's a whole reason for that. The reason that women will go to complaining or criticizing is because that works on us. If someone complains to us or criticizes us, we will probably change our behavior. So let me give you an example.

Let's say that I was wearing green. You'll notice I never wear green. I don't even have a single element of green in my closet. But let's say I was wearing green, and someone came up to me and said, “You know, that's not really your color. Maybe you should change your shirt.” Do you think I would ever wear green again? Do you think I'd ever wear that shirt again? I probably wouldn't.

Whereas men, someone might come up to them and say, “You know what, that tie - hmm, not so sure about that.” Men would often be like, “Well, I like it,” and they move it right along, right? So women, we often will react and respond to criticism or complaining in a way that men would not, right?

That's one of the many, many, many distinctions between men and women. So it's not, ladies, that we're bad people; it's just this is our way of communicating when there's a gap, when there's something wrong. And so what does that look like? We go to our partners and we say things like, “I'm not happy,” or “I've been struggling,” or “I feel really disconnected. I feel like we're living like roommates.” That's a really common one. But because a confused mind always does nothing, he doesn't know what to do with that, right? And oftentimes, he will take it as a criticism, or that his wife is just complaining. And complaining means eventually it will stop, right? So that's why it's not very effective for us.

And so the idea of stepping into the gap. There's a teaching called A Course in Miracles, and it says, “The only thing that is ever missing in any situation is the love that you are not giving.” And so that means there is some gap there. And that thing that we think is missing is what we are holding back on, what we are not offering to the relationship.

And so what we do when we go to our partners to complain is we want them to step into the gap, right? If we say to them, “I feel like we're living like roommates,” we want them to do something that will help us feel more connected, but he doesn't know how to do that, and we are not being very specific or very clear on what it would take to help you feel more connected to him.

So the only thing that is ever really missing is the love that you are not giving. That's the teaching. And that's what I mean by being the one to step into the gap. Someone's got to step into it. If it's gonna be bridged, someone's going to need to do it. And maybe we shouldn't go to our partners with a complaint or a criticism in order to motivate them to do something different so that gap can be bridged.

Okay? So let me, let's make this really clear with an example from a client of mine. I'll refer to her as Jill. Obviously, that's not her name. So Jill has been married for 24 years, and her two kids are 18 and 20 now, and she feels really disconnected inside of her marriage. She doesn't feel understood, she doesn't feel seen, she certainly doesn't feel appreciated, but she thinks it's easier just to remain in the marriage. You know, she says he's a pretty good guy. Actually, what she says is he's a good enough man. He's a good enough guy, right?

So she just goes and pursues the interests that she wants to pursue. Hence, living like roommates is - she's living her life. He's living his, but she’s out pursuing her interests and living her life. It doesn't come from a place of joy and freedom as it relates to the relationship. It sort of comes with some screw-you energy, like, “Oh well, you don't wanna do these things with me, so I'm gonna go do 'em on my own.”

Right? That's that screw-you energy. And while the actions might look the same, the energy we bring to it is very, very different. Now, she doesn't wanna get a divorce. That's not something she's anxious to do, but when she feels that gap, she goes to him. And, like many women, says things like, “I feel so disconnected from you right now. I feel like we've been living like roommates for at least a decade.” And remember, a confused mind always does nothing. He doesn't know what to do with that. So nothing happens.

And she might take that and interpret it as he doesn't care, or he doesn't love me, or he's an idiot, right? Something like that. But none of those things are gonna be helpful to the relationship. So it's not that she doesn't have a point, and it's not that he's an idiot, but these are the ways in which we don't quite communicate in a way that the other can understand. Okay?

So let's talk about what this looks like. Literally, let's get into some tactics of, what does it look like to actually step into the gap? Let's say that you're feeling disconnected from your partner, you're feeling like you're living separate lives, and you're wanting that to change. Okay? So then what you do is, instead of going to your partner and complaining or saying something that they might interpret as a criticism in order to motivate them to do something different, to step into that gap - I want you to be the one to step into the gap. I want you to be the one to create an opportunity for connection.

Connection takes two people, right? And so you can't force your partner to connect with you, but what you can do is you can create space and opportunity for something good to grow, right? It's like in a garden; you can cultivate the soil, you can make sure that sunlight hits it, you can water it to see if something good will grow. So you can create a space in which good things can grow.

So I will give you an example. There was a time recently when I was feeling disconnected from my husband, Dee, and we had had a lot on our plates for several weeks in a row, and I was noticing the disconnect. And as I need to do, I call it eating my own dog food, I need to practice the tools that I teach to my clients. So I knew what I had to do. I was like, “Oh, I just need to step into the gap. What does that look like? Oh, I know.”

So I went to the wine shop and I got a bottle of rosé. My husband almost never drinks. And if he does, he takes like two sips, but if he's taken two sips of anything, it's probably a dry rosé. So I knew he liked that, and he loves grouper, specifically grouper nuggets. So I went to his favorite fish store, and I got a big old filet of fresh grouper, and I brought it home. Now I always have a stash of cards at home as well. So I wrote 'em out, just a nice little card and just said, “I love you and I appreciate you,” and some other nice things.

So this is what I call grouper nuggets and rosé, people. It's not that hard, right? I went and I got some fish, I got a bottle of wine, I pulled out a card from a cabinet, I wrote some nice things down. I know what my husband's love languages are. It's acts of service, and it’s words of affirmation. And then third is affection. So I did several of those things in order just to help him feel loved.

That was it. I didn't have an expectation of what he needed to do in return. I wasn't doing it with a motive of, here's what needs to happen next. I'm not doing it from a place of trying to make or force something to happen. I'm just like offering love. Like I want to connect. Let me get a dinner that he really likes. So grouper nuggets and rosé, folks. When in doubt, you don't have to overthink it. It doesn't have to be steak and lobster, and you don’t have to go out to this fantastic meal where you're going to spend $200. It can be grouper nuggets and rosé. But that's what it means. If you want to reconnect, just create an environment where connection might be possible. Do something nice. Know what your partner's love language is and offer that. Okay?

Now, let's say that you're not talking much, okay? Or maybe when you talk, you're talking about the kids, you're talking about work to a certain degree, and you're talking about the weather. Those are the only things you talk about because those are safe, right? So if you want to open up the lines of communication, then instead of waiting for your partner to step into that gap, I want you to step into that gap by asking lots of questions and by getting curious about what's going on for your partner. What's happening in their lives? What are they interested in? What are they thinking about? How did whatever they're sharing with you make you feel? And are you sharing? Are you sharing elements of your day?

I feel like sometimes when we get into our long-term committed relationships, we just stop sharing the details of our lives. We give like the high level, like “How was work?” “Well, it was fine.” Or “How was work?” “Yeah, it was good, it was good.” But we don't say, “Well, why was it good? Tell me about it.” “Well, you know, I actually had a win today where I wasn't sure I made this pitch, and I wasn't sure it was gonna go over. And it did. The client loved it, and now we're able to move forward with a project. So I felt really good about that. And then Joe and I went out to lunch.” We stop sharing and we stop asking about the details of one another's lives.

So if you want to communicate more and you want to be known, and you want to be seen, and you want to be understood, then first, seek to understand. First, seek to know. So you be the one to ask the questions and to share part of your day or part of your life, or what you're excited about or what you're scared about or what you're worried about. Anything. Just open up, crack yourself open a little bit, and then ask more questions of your partner. Just to be curious. Again, not to make anything happen, not to force anything, but just to open up the lines of communication.

Whatever you do, don't just limit it to the weather and the kids. It's way too safe. You can do that with a roommate. You can do that with someone in the PTA group, right? Another mom or dad on the soccer team, not with your spouse. It's fine to talk about the weather. I'm not saying you can't; I'm just saying that cannot be the only thing you all talk about. Okay?

Now, the third thing; let's say that you would like to have more affection inside of your relationship. Well, affection, folks, does not equal sex, right? That's a big jump. Affection. When I'm talking about affection, I'm talking about non-sexual touch, where there's a hand on a knee or an arm around a shoulder. It's a touch of a hand across the table when you're making a point or you're wanting them to know that you hear them or understand what they're saying. That's the kind of thing that I'm alluding to.

And so you can do that by smiling more, right? When you smile, it's an invitation. You can laugh more; you can just be more open. I want you to know that, literally, when you place your hand anywhere on a man, it automatically calms his central nervous system. So just the simple act of reaching for a hand or reaching for an arm or a leg and just putting your hand on their skin will automatically calm things down and bring him back to presence there with you.

All right? So if you want to have more affection, instead of saying to your husband, “Why aren't you more affectionate with me?” - now it starts to feel contrived. Instead, just be the one to reach for him, right? When you walk behind him in the kitchen, touch his lower back. Just as you're reaching into a drawer, touch his back; it doesn't have to be awkward or contrived. It can just be natural. And the more you do it naturally and gently and slowly, it becomes less awkward and it feels like just a natural thing to do, and the way that the two of you sort of move through life together. Okay?

Now, one thing I want to point out is that I want you to tell your partner what you're doing and why you're doing it. I don't think that we should like come up with these ideas or these tools and start using them in the dark as if we're like trying to do something manipulative in the background. For instance, if you're gonna do the whole grouper nuggets and rosé, which I know sounds funny, but let's say you're going to do something like that. That night as you're enjoying your dinner, you can say, “Are you wondering why I did this?” “Well, maybe, no, I just thought you wanted to do something nice or thought you wanted grouper and rosé or something,” right? We don't know what he's gonna say.

But you could say, “Well, let me tell you the reason why I did it. I just felt kind of disconnected from you, and I wanted to create an environment where we could reconnect and I thought this would be good. Did you like it? Does it work for you? Do you think it's a good idea?” It just starts opening up more dialogue. Let's say you do it, you step into the gap one or two times and you tell him what you're doing and why you're doing it. The next time you say, “Next time, I want it to be your turn,” right? “When you notice a gap, I want you to do something about that,” right?

Women, we will notice it first. And if we wait for them to notice, it might be a year later. But let's say you notice that there's a disconnection and you wanna do the whole grouper/rosé thing. Do you just say, “Hey, I think it's time that we reconnect. Can you take the lead on this one? Let's make something, let's just have dinner together tonight. Just something fun, light and easy. Can you take the lead on that? Would you be willing to take the lead on that?” Right? So it doesn't mean that it all has to be you, because I know many of you are probably sitting here thinking, “Well, why me? Like, I hear you, Sharon, but why me? Like why do women always notice the gap? And why are we always the ones going out looking for solutions? Why can't men notice and why can't they step into the gap?”

Here's what I always say to the “why me question” - why not you? Someone has to do it. In order for that gap to be bridged, someone's going to have to take an initiative, someone's going to have to do something different than what you've been doing in order to create a different result. So we could sit back and wait for our partner to notice it and know what to do, or we could be willing to play to our strengths. And here's what I mean - why not you?

Number one, you are the one that wants change. You notice the gap, you want that gap to be different. You want change, so why not you? Secondly, when it comes to the stuff, the reason why women notice it first when it comes to relational dynamics or communication, when it starts to break down our connection, when that connection starts to break down, the reason why women notice that is because relationships are our sweet spot.

Relationships for women are consistently at the top of their priority list in terms of what would create a happy life for a woman. Relationships are number one, the health and quality and closeness, connectedness, of those relationships is number one. It's not number one for men. Also, if you go back thousands of years, men would go out hunting for the food; women would be back in the community taking care of the kids and taking care of one another, right? Because it was very much a community. And so we had to communicate, but when men were out hunting, they weren't communicating with each other. Even talking would just scare off the prey, right? So they had one job - to go catch the food, to bring back to the community for the women to then take care of inside of the community, right?

So we have cultivated communication and relationships over the course of, I don't know, tens of thousands of years, whereas that's not something that men have done over the course of tens of thousands of years. They have other talents, they have other gifts. But when it comes to relationships, ladies, this is our sweet spot.

So I would argue we are better equipped. Now, it doesn't mean we have to do all the work, and it doesn't mean we have to do all the heavy lifting, but I also think we can look at it as, hey, this is a strength of mine and I want to bring my strengths to bear to make this relationship better. He's gonna have his own set of strengths that he's going to bring to bear to make the relationship better. And to start having some conversations with one another about that. I'm not necessarily saying that men cannot get better at this. Of course they can. Of course they can.

And I think that there are a lot of men that honestly are getting better about this. But in the moment in your marriage, if that's not a strength of your husband, your partner, your spouse, then remind yourself that the only thing that is ever missing in any circumstance where you feel a gap is the love that you're not giving. And so why not you?

You got this. I'll see you next week. Until then, take good care.

Has the spark gone out of your relationship? Are you concerned by the growing distance between you and your spouse? While you may feel lonely, you are certainly not alone. Fifty to seventy-three percent of marriages today suffer from disconnection. I'm exploring exactly why that is and how to know whether your marriage can feel good again in my free, on-demand training, Living like Roommates. We'll dive deep into what's caused the distance in your relationship so you can understand how to move forward in a new direction.

Sign up for the training now at livinglikeroommates.com. Again, that's livinglikeroommates.com. I look forward to seeing you there.


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