Episode 30: Want to Feel More Connected in Your Marriage?

by | Last updated: Aug 28, 2023 | Podcast

Relationships are a core priority (particularly for women), which is why disconnection from our most intimate partner leads to so many problems.

Disconnection leads to resentment leads to blame and opposition.

How can you rebuild the connection… when you’ve got one foot out the door?

In this episode, I’ll explain what it takes. You’ll walk away knowing the 5 most common things that only make things worse… plus a handful of tools that can open the door to reconnecting with your partner.

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

  • Why you need to STOP waiting for your partner to solve the problem
  • What to do before disconnection becomes resentment (and blame)
  • How to take the lead and reconnect with your partner

Featured On The Show:

Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage? Book a Truth & Clarity Session.

Want even more tools to navigate a disconnected marriage? Join me on social media: Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTube

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.

Hey there, loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Today we are going to talk about when you want to create more connection with your partner, but you just don't know how.

Now, here's what I want you to know. There has not been a single person that has ever worked with me – now, think about this. Thousands of women around the world over the course of 10 years, not a single one, when they began working with me, they felt connected to their partner.

So the reason why I use the term “disconnected” all the time is because that is the term that I hear day in and day out. There might be lots of reasons for that disconnection, but inevitably it all boils down to a sense of “I'm not connected to this other human being.” Now, the problem is that inside our relationships, the place where we begin is oftentimes a place of resentment because we don't want to be disconnected, particularly for women.

So let me just back up and explain something. Women, in terms of their hierarchy of what is important to them, for most women relationships and their relationships, feeling good is literally the top of the pyramid. If those things are good, they can manage almost anything else. But when their relationships start to break down, that's when everything else feels insurmountable.

So when we feel disconnected from the person who is supposed to be our person, the person who is supposed to be our most intimate relationship, we get kind of resentful that we're not connected. And because we're not trying to do anything to create that disconnect. We're not actively trying to do that. And honestly, nobody believes that their actions are “wrong” or “hurtful,” because they're not trying to do that. That's not their intention. And your partner, by the way, is the same way.

So we feel resentful that we are disconnected, and then we blame our partner for that disconnection. So what I see women do, because I often ask them, “Well, what did you do? You've been struggling for years inside your marriage. What have you done? And what's your hunch as to why hasn't it worked?” And the answers that women will give me are things like, “Well, I've told him I feel really disconnected.” Or “I didn't do anything. I shut down and I hoped for the best. I hope that change would come and it never did.” Or “I just start doing more things with my girlfriends” or “I pour myself into my kids,” or “I pour myself into my work.” Things like that.

So I want to talk through those actions that we're taking and why they haven't been successful before we get into what you can do to create reconnection in the relationship. So this idea that I'm going to go to my spouse and say to you, “I feel really disconnected from you,” and then not really give any additional detail beyond that, what we're essentially doing, folks, is we're putting our problem, our disconnection problem, on a platter, and we're handing it to our partner. We're saying, “I feel disconnected. You, my friend, should do something with that. You should do something constructive with that so that I can feel the way that I want to feel.” So we're putting it in their hands.

Now, ladies, I'm talking to you specifically – when we do that, what do you think? Many times our partner is going to say, assuming you're in a heterosexual relationship, because men's way of connecting with you is often through what? Through physical intimacy, through sex. And so they're like, “Great, let's get naked. You feel disconnected, let's get naked.” It's not that simple, obviously, but their way of connection is not your way of connection.

So when you just say, “I feel disconnected from you,” but you offer no path to come back to feeling more connected, then you leave it in their hands and you hope they'll do something good with it. But their approach to connection may or may not be the same as yours, right? So they might be offering lots of things that help push you further away and not closer in. And they're not doing it intentionally. It's just that men and women connect differently most times.

The other option is, I'm going to ignore and hope that it just magically changes. Look, nobody believes me when I say this. When I ask people the question, “Look, if you do nothing different than what you are doing today, the same things you're doing today, what is your life going to look like a year from now?” You know what they say every single time? It'll look the same.

What they don't know is that the relationship will look far worse. It will feel far worse. The circumstances around that relationship might not have changed. That might look the same. From an outside perspective looking in, it might look the same. The problem is you are the one that's in the relationship, and it's going to feel a lot worse because now you've spent another year in disconnection, another year feeling lonely, feeling confused, feeling hopeless. You are going to feel much different, and the relationship is going to feel much heavier a year from now if nothing is done. So this idea of “I'll just ignore it and maybe it'll magically go away” – my friends, denial is not a strategy. It's just denial. It's just, “I don't want to deal with this, so I'm going to pretend that it doesn't exist.”

Sometimes what women will do when they're feeling really disconnected is they'll use tools that they think will get the point across without actually having direct conversations. This is one of the ways that I feel like women today, when we were young girls, we were not taught or encouraged to speak directly. And even when we did, when we were very blunt with people, we often got corrected. We kind of got put in our place when we were really blunt with people and said, “No, I don't like that. No, that's not okay with me.” Our mothers or the teachers or whoever didn't necessarily protect us or want us to stand up for ourselves.

So what did we use? We used tools that could be described as passive-aggressive; we used things like sarcasm, right? A way to get our point across without ever being vulnerable. Or we used humor so that we could say, “Oh, I was just kidding. It didn't mean anything.” But honestly, I see a lot of men doing that as well. Like when they have that moment of trying to reconnect with their spouse, they do it in an awkward way, trying to use humor. But that just means that they're super uncomfortable and they're afraid of that rejection. And so if you reject them, then they can just be like, “Oh, it didn't matter. I was just kidding.”

It's all about, am I willing to open the kimono? Am I willing to be hurt? Am I willing to be rejected? And then there's a big group of women who spend a lot of time in disconnection in their relationship. And I'm just going to be honest here, and only you know if you fall into this group, but there are a lot of people who really have no intention of ever solving the issues inside their relationship. And certainly not for them to do anything different. So what they're going to do is they're gonna bitch and moan and complain and resent and blame and criticize their partner, which only serves to deepen the disconnection between them and their spouse.

So that's really not productive; even if you're not doing it with them, you're doing it with your girlfriends, you're doing it with your sister or your mother or whatever. And even if it's a cultural thing where everybody does it, that is not helpful to your relationship, and for sure, it is not going to help you create a deeper, more meaningful connection with your spouse.

So that's all the stuff that does not work. I want to tell you a story. And this is about a current client of mine. So I use a scale oftentimes. I say the scale is 1 to 10. And this gives me a barometer where everyone on this scale is struggling in their marriage. But people down at one or two, they're struggling, but they wanna do everything they can to make the relationship feel better. And 10 is “I'm struggling and I'm done. I am not trying. I am done. I am over this. I am ready to move forward with divorce.”

Now, because people want clarity, they oftentimes reach for that 10, right? They want to know if they're going to end their marriage; they want to know it's a hundred percent sure. And what I tell people is, “Look, if you can get to an eight or a nine, and you're solidly at an eight or a nine, I think you just have to trust that, because knowing with a hundred percent certainty that leaving the marriage is the right decision is just a very high bar to reach,” right? And so I'm like, “Look, if you can get to an eight or a nine and you're consistently there, I think you can move forward and make peace with that decision.”

This particular client came to me, and I'm not going to say she's the only one that's ever said she's a 10 the first time I met her. She had just started working with me. I meet her, I'm finding out all about her and her relationship and how she got here and where she wants to go and all the things. And she says, “I am a 10 on that scale. I am done, done, done, done, done.” And she was very, very clear about that. Now, I only remember that because it never happens. Nobody comes to me when they're a 10. So it was unusual. Here's why I tell you that.

So she, as well as a few other of my clients right now, they have gone through – I don't wanna break their confidence. I just want to say they've gone through things and everyone has traumas and pain is pain and all pain matters, but the stuff that they've gone through as mothers, which means this impacted their children, is no joke. And it's real trauma and it really matters. When it impacts your children and you're a mother, it really matters.

And all of these women have been in marriages that are 25 years or more. So they've been in these long-term marriages, and they've been carrying these long-term hurts that have been a result of or a condition or circumstance around the trauma of what's been happening in their family and specifically with their kids.

So this particular client had a very frank and open conversation with her husband. This is the same woman who said she's a 10 on that scale, which means I'm over this. I am done. I am out of here. No interest in working on it. So she has a conversation with her husband, and it's an open, meaningful, vulnerable conversation where they were both able to express to one another how what had happened with their child had impacted each of them personally and their relationship.

Now, you might think, wait a minute, 20 years later, you're just now having that conversation? Yeah. Because what had happened with their child meant they had to give all of their focus and attention to that. They weren't giving their focus and attention to what was going on for them and how they were processing it or the challenges that was creating in their marriage. They just kept putting one foot in front of the other and showing up for their child every single day, but they never sat back and went, “Wow, that took a toll. That took a toll in a couple of different ways.”

And so when they had that conversation, she reaches out to me and she says, “We talked, I softened, I have more compassion for him now that I didn't have before.” And you know why? It's because he opened up and he shared something that was vulnerable, which is how did this circumstance in our lives impact me personally? And how did it impact my marriage? And maybe even, what did I not take care of? What did I not pay attention to that maybe I should have?

And now I'm sitting here telling you that there is a possibility in their marriage that did not exist three weeks ago, right? She was ready to hire divorce attorneys. She was ready to move through the process. She was done, done, done. They were already separated. They were not living under the same roof. Like she is far down that path.

And now there's an opening, right? I don't call it a guarantee. I don't say, “Oh, everything's great. They're happier than ever.” No, no, no. This is three weeks, right? And this is 25-plus years. But there's a possibility that now exists that didn't exist before because they got vulnerable. So all the things that I was talking about before of how we approach that disconnection of “I feel disconnected from you,” do something with it or ignore it. Bury my head in the sand, use humor or sarcasm to kind of bring it up, but not be direct in my communication about it, or just bitch and moan and complain about it. None of those things work because they don't make you vulnerable.

And we use all those things because we want to avoid that feeling of vulnerability. Our ego does not like being vulnerable. I often use this term of open kimono. If you're willing to open that heart space, that means that you can connect deeply with another human being. But it also means you take the chance that you'll get hurt, that you'll be rejected, that you'll be left out, that you'll be made to feel insignificant, that you'll be invalidated, any of those things. But the only path to connection is through the heart space. So we've gotta be willing to take that risk. And as long as we're not willing to take that risk, we are not going to be successful.

All right? So let's talk about how to do it differently and how to allow ourselves to be more vulnerable. And by the way, I'm not going to give you some kind of magical answer where here's the way that you can be vulnerable and never uncomfortable. That doesn't exist. That's not a thing. So vulnerability will always feel uncomfortable. And until we can get used to a bit of discomfort, until we can get comfortable with a bit of discomfort, we will never be able to recreate or create connection inside of relationships.

So first of all, there are probably easily a hundred opportunities every single day to connect with our partner, but we don't often take them. And these are little things. These are sending a text going, “I hope you're having a great day, babe. Love you. See you tonight.” No agenda. Just sending well wishes. Just saying, “I'm thinking about you.” Those little opportunities for connection can be little tender moments of a wink, a knowing smile. It can be laughter, it can be fun, it can be playfulness. It can be we're in the kitchen and our kids said something funny, and we kind of jab and joke with our partner. Like all of those little moments of connection, right?

I'm a relationship coach. So lots of people assume you must be just perfect at relationships, and you must never argue and you must never feel disconnected. That is not true. Life happens to everybody. Life happens to me too. Maybe I get too busy in my work and then I feel disconnected from my husband. But the difference is that I step into the gap. I notice the disconnection, and I'll notice it in a day. And I bet you do too. You'll know in a day or two. You're like, “Mm, yeah, we're getting disconnected.”

But instead of sitting back and waiting for him to do something about it, first of all, for him to notice it and then to do something about it and do the thing that would help me feel more connected – instead, I know what to do. I'm equipped. And by the way, you can be too. When you notice the disconnection, someone has to step into that gap. And the problem is, most people sit back and wait for their partner to step into that gap, to fix, to build the bridge, to create that connection where there is disconnection. And you know what it is.

If you know anything about love languages, which sounds like almost most of the world does by now, you can use that. I know that one of my husband's love languages is acts of service. So when I feel that disconnection, I'm like, oh, I know what to do. I know what to do. I'll just make a bid for spending time together. I'll be like, “Hey babe, I made a smoothie. Do you want some? I was thinking I would make dinner tonight. What would be good?” And then I just make dinner. Like whatever. It's simple, simple stuff. But it's like, what can I do for you? How can I care for you? When he feels cared for, he feels loved, right?

So I know that. And so when I feel that disconnection, I step into the gap. And so our disconnection doesn't go on for weeks, and then weeks turns into months and months turns into resentment, and resentment and blame turns into years. We're not going to do that. We're gonna nip it in the bud after a day or two so that a little thing doesn't become a big thing.

Okay? So the first thing is just recognize you have tons of opportunity throughout each day, every day, to connect with your partner. Stop waiting for your partner to connect with you. Instead, you take the lead. I promise you're more equipped than your partner. Take the lead. Do anything. It can be lighthearted. It can be humorous. It can be just sweet and sentimental. It doesn't have to be a big deal. It doesn't have to take a long time. It doesn't have to take a lot of energy.

But our relationships do require work. They do require effort. And that's the same with every single thing. If you want your health to be good, it's gonna require some effort. You can't go to McDonald's every day. If you want your child to grow up happy and healthy and emotionally mature and able to be a productive, responsible, kind adult, it's going to take some work. It's going to take some effort, isn't it? So anything we want to thrive, it's going to take some effort. I'm talking about a text message once or twice a day. If we're not willing to do that, I don't know what we're doing. Like why are we married? If we're not willing to spend 30 seconds thinking about our partner when we're away from them, how in the world do you think your relationship is ever going to thrive? It's just not. All right?

Number two, when we get into that place of blaming our partner or feeling resentful – and I hear you right now, you probably are like, “Yeah, but I have good reasons.” I love that. Yeah. “But Sharon, you don't understand. Yeah, but my situation is different.” All of those things I hear all the time, and it's okay. You probably do have really valid reasons on why you don't feel connected to your partner. And I know that you hearing me say you step into the gap is kind of confronting. But what I also want you to realize is that the reason that you can stay in that place of resentment and blame for your partner as the path through which you are now disconnected is that it requires zero vulnerability to blame someone else. It requires nothing of you, right? And your ego loves it. Your ego loves the hardness of that shell exterior, the self-righteousness. Your ego loves that; your relationship does not, okay?

So just to understand why you're doing it and when you can start to see like, oh, I get it. I do have an ego side of me, but I also have this very real side of me that includes all of my needs and what I really desire in this life. And those two things can sometimes butt heads. So while it feels safe and secure and a little self-righteous to be in blame and resentment, it doesn't get us where we need to go, never there. You can't get there from there. You can't get to connection from blame and resentment. That's not the path. If it was, I'd tell you to do it. It just isn't.

The third thing I wanna share with you, because I think when we're talking about connection, I think we've got to talk about sex. And we've got to talk about that age-old issue of how – and this is a generalization, so it's not universal where a hundred percent of the people feel this way a hundred percent of the time, and obviously I'm talking about heterosexual relationships, although sometimes in same-sex relationships – there is someone who takes on more of what heterosexuals would call the male role versus the female role.

So here's what I want to say. That age-old problem of women will tend to connect emotionally before they can connect physically. So if I don't feel emotionally close to you, I cannot connect physically to you, whereas men tend to connect emotionally by connecting physically. So I'll feel closer to you when I am able to physically connect to you. And so then it becomes this thing where sex is sort of the weapon, or it's the thing in the middle of the table that the woman doesn't want to give up, and the man is trying to get, and it's this cat and mouse game of something that we should both technically want and desire in a healthy, productive way so that we can feel closer as a couple.

So this idea that when you feel disconnected, and again generalization, but if a man says, “Well, great, let's just have sex; that'll solve it,” it really might solve it for him. It might pull you further and further away if you have to connect emotionally before you can connect physically. Because the issue is that you're going to feel like you were pressured into something that you didn't want do, and that makes you feel like, “I can't trust you,” and now that distance is going to get further and further away. Now I'm going to feel less trusting in you, which makes me not want to be any closer to you. So it's served in opposite purpose.

I love what Vanessa Marin, she's a sex therapist, talks about on this topic. You know, most of the time when we talk about this topic of how men and women connect very differently, no one ever takes a stand. And she actually did. And she said, “Look, if the person who has to connect emotionally first before they can connect physically, I'm sorry, but they have to win this argument because the result is that I don't feel safe with you.” And so you want me to have sex with you without feeling safe with you? That's a recipe for disaster. And this idea that, wait a minute, you want me to pretend that I want to be close with you physically, even though we are operating like absolute strangers in our household and we both know it?

So when you want me to just pretend that I want to be with you physically, even though we are not emotionally connected at all, it's such an insult. And that's something that I learned from Vanessa Marina as well. So when it comes to that, I don't want to say the woman wins, but whoever is in that position of they have to connect emotionally before they can connect physically, that's got to come first. I agree with her. It's got to come first because if you're not safe, you can't connect. Many people cannot connect physically. And I don't think that there should be a professional on the planet that would tell you, no, just do it because it's your obligation. Just get naked, have sex with your partner, and then you know what? If you need to, just cry yourself to sleep afterward, which happens a lot. I know that there are people out there that would say that I'm not one of 'em, right? But we've got to find our way through that as a couple.

So here's where I want to land, as it relates to creating more connection inside your relationship. There is no path to creating connection with another human being that does not walk through the town of vulnerability. You can't bypass it. I know you want to. I know you want there to be a different answer. There just isn't. It means we're going to have to have some tender moments where we're gong to have to speak what's true for us, even when it's hard to say it or hard to hear it. We're going to have to say what we're really scared about, what we're really fearful about, right? Instead of “All you care about is your work.” So much easier to say than “I'm scared I don't matter to you anymore, babe.” Right? One is super vulnerable, but it's the truth. The other is a circumstance that we've framed and given meaning to.

We can say, “You know what? I gave up on us. I gave up on us in this way and this way and this way. And I never told you that I gave up. I just quietly stopped trying. I stopped opening up, I stopped trying to have conversation, and I stopped sharing with you. And so through all of that, both of us have created a very deep disconnection, and it's going to take both of us to resolve it.” Or when it comes to sex, instead of being like, “We haven't had sex forever,” which is a criticism that your partner's going to take as a criticism, imagine if you said, “I miss us. I miss you. I want to feel close to you.”

Again, this is what I'm talking about. You can't bypass the vulnerable stuff if you want to create connection. So my question is, are you willing? Are you willing to share your heart? And are you willing to be vulnerable? There's no guarantee you won't get hurt. There's certainly no guarantee that your partner will react and respond in the way that you want them to. But at least maybe like my client, it gives you a possibility that didn't exist before. It doesn't mean everything gets fixed in one fell swoop. It means you could create a possibility that didn't exist before.

All right? So give it some thought, open your mind to it a little bit, and recognize that the path that created the disconnection, when you keep using those same tools to try to create connection, of course it's not going to. So we need new tools to create new points of connection, new habits to maintain and sustain connection in a long-term relationship. All right, I hope that was helpful for you. Until next week, 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 I 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.