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The Woodsfellow Institute for Couples Therapy
The Woodsfellow Institute for Couples Therapy

Hurt and Lonely Feelings

The Woodsfellow Institute for Couples Therapy

When you feel hurt and lonely in your marriage, it may be time to seek help. For couples therapy that really works, request marriage counseling or a marriage intensive online, or call (404) 325-3401 for your preferred appointment time at The Woodsfellow Institute for Couples Therapy in Atlanta, GA.

Learn about our approach to hurt and lonely feelings:

Reaching Out for Intimacy

There’s so much talk about intimacy, it’s hard to know what intimacy really means. Here’s a definition from marriage research (done by Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington):

Moments of intimacy start when one person "reaches out" to the other. The spouse’s response determines whether or not intimacy occurs.

We reach out to our partners in all kinds of ways — some smaller, some larger.

For example:

"Did you see that article in the paper?"

"Can we talk about our Holiday plans?"

"How about making love?"

When one person reaches out, there are three types of responses. They are called turning toward, turning away, and turning against.

So if you say, "Did you see that article in the paper?" Your spouse might:

  1. Turn toward you and say, "No I didn’t see it, what was the article about?" or,
  2. Turn away from you and say, "I’m busy right now. I don’t have time for talking about the paper." or
  3. Turn against you and say, "Why are you always hassling me and distracting me! Don’t you know I like to have my coffee in peace! What’s wrong with you?!"

The combination of one partner reaching out and the other turning toward creates intimacy.

I suggest that you make a point of noticing when your partner is reaching out to you, and being thoughtful about how you respond. Whenever you can turn toward them, do it.

When you can’t turn toward, and you’re really too busy right then, turn away in a kind, loving way. Say something positive to them and suggest another time when you will be able to turn toward them. For instance you could say, "I love how your mind is always working. I’m busy right now, so I don’t have time for talking about the paper. But I’d be glad to talk with you about it tonight."

If you catch yourself turning against them, work hard to stop doing this.

How about when they turn away or turn against you? This is difficult. It hurts, and it hurts your relationship. You both need to talk about it, discuss your feelings and try to find ways to make things better.

So, be aware of these moments when you reach out and when you respond. These are the moments you create intimacy.

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Don’t Let Fear Stop You

Sometimes, we don’t know the right thing to do. We each have our methods for trying to find out. Some wait, some think, some talk, some get in touch with their feelings, some pray, some call their mothers. There are a lot of possibilities. Sometimes the answer comes quickly and clearly, sometimes not.

Many people spend a long time pondering the right thing to do, because they really don’t know what’s right. Should I be letting go or should I be trying harder? Sometimes it’s right to ponder.

But, then, there are other times when we really DO know, deep in our hearts, just what we should do. At those times we need the courage to go ahead and do it. These are the moments when the problem isn’t indecision; the problem is fear. We know what’s right; we know what to do; we’re just scared of what could go wrong.

These are the times for Nike’s, "Just do it," and T-shirts that say, "No fear."

These are times to trust what we know to be right. And trust that our path will take us where we need to go. Perhaps the things we fear won’t even happen. Or, perhaps we will triumph over the things we fear. Or, perhaps, in dealing with our fears, we may come to know a deeper, more ultimate truth — one that we might have never found any other way.

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You Don’t have to be Perfect

In some ways, each one of us is flawed. Each of us has some good traits and some bad traits. It’s the human condition. It can’t be any other way.

But, at moments of conflict, many of us lose sight of this. We see the other person’s faults, but not our own. As you probably know, this doesn’t work out too well. Denial, projection, and blame don’t lead to a happier life.

What does?

Admit you’re not perfect.

See how your flaws contribute to the conflict.

Apologize for your part.

Continue working on improving your flaws.

Of course, we all want to see ourselves as good. But don’t confuse good with perfect. You don’t have to be perfect to be good. The truth is: You are good AND you are flawed.

You’re not perfect. You can’t possibly be. No one can. You don’t have to be. Just don’t pretend that you are. And don’t forget to apologize. And keep working on improving.

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Good Times and Bad

Sometimes life feels good and full and wide-open and wonderful. Other times life can feel bad and narrow and constrained. Sometimes we feel the exhilaration of freedom and success and the ability to fully be ourselves and do what we want to do. Other times we feel restricted and constrained and unsuccessful — not able to be our fullest selves.

Sometimes things get difficult and it’s hard to see our way through. Sometimes we get fearful, sometimes discouraged. And yet, we all know that difficult passages are part of life. Just like winter is the cold and dark season, so our lives are sometimes cold and dark. Warmth and light may be in our future, but maybe not be here now.

So what’s a person supposed to do, when his or her relationship feels that way too — when things are difficult and dark, and the cold seems to be getting colder.

Well, it’s a curious paradox:

We need to do everything we can to try to make things better.

And we need to accept that sometimes there are larger forces at work that are going to take their own sweet time.

When I lived in the state of Maine, I heard the saying:

"Pray to God, but row to shore."

That pretty well sums it up. We need to do both. We can’t just sit idly by as things drift worse and worse, we need to make effort in the right direction. But it also takes time, and grace, for things to work out. And, for that matter, sometimes things don’t work out the way we thought they would. The universe sometimes works in mysterious ways.

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In Sickness and in Health

It’s tough when you’re sick. You don’t feel good. You’re worried about how bad it’s going to be. You worry about how much your life is going to be affected. Sometimes, you feel exhausted by your illness, or by your treatment. You have less energy; you’re more needy; yet you wonder how much you should let others know. You wish it would all just go away.

And, from the other side: It’s tough when your partner is sick. It’s no fun. There’s more work; there’s less play. They feel bad, and you feel bad for them. Sometimes, they’re not as easy to be with, because they’re not feeling well. Sometimes, you’re not as easy to be with, because you’re feeling tired or frustrated.

Also there’s the fear. How serious is it? There’s the tension of waiting for results — or watching for recurrence. What if things get worse? What would we do then?

As kind and generous and caring as we want to be, most of us fall short at times. We get selfish, or thoughtless, or busy.

A serious illness is especially scary. What if things don’t get better? What if things get worse? Is this going to be a permanent disability? Is this going to be fatal? What then?

These questions aren’t a lot of fun. But they are part of life — and part of every long-term relationship. All relationships have challenges. One of those challenges is coping with illness.

Our path through life, unfortunately, is not all sweetness and light. Some of the path is bitter. We need to bring light to those places too. That’s hard. But not impossible.

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Change versus Stability

There’s a basic tension in life between tradition and innovation. Between maintaining-the-old and developing-the-new.

In most relationships this isn’t a problem at first. Everything is new — and wonderful. However, as time goes by, habits develop, and patterns get established. Then, when one person wants a change, there can be difficulty.

In couples therapy, I frequently hear one person say, "I want you to do some things differently." Sometimes the reply is, "I can’t. It’s just not the way I am. It’s not my nature."

This couple’s first challenge is to not get caught in a cycle of criticism and defensiveness. Then, they face the legitimate debate between innovation and tradition.

Both sides are understandable. Both sides have validity. The goal is to honor and support both. Not either or.

In a power struggle, these two sides seem squarely (and hopelessly) in opposition. One demands, "Change!" and the other replies "No way!" Or one says, "Conform!" and the other replies, "Never!"

Instead, how about developing your own unique blend of maintaining-the-old AND developing-the-new? How about a blend that changes over time, in response to each of your needs, in keeping with the seasons of your lives.

100% innovation doesn’t work. Neither does 100% tradition. Go for the best of both. Work it out together. That’s the high road.

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Inner Connection and Inner Peace

I think that each one of us needs to have some inner place where we touch our deepest selves. We need a place where we sense what’s right, where we hear what is most important, and where we see with our greatest clarity.

This is the place of our deepest values, of our highest truths, or loftiest aspirations, our firmest dedication. It’s the place of right thinking, right feeling and right acting.

This is also the place where people get to know their own higher power. It’s where we know about universal principles like beauty and truth and justice and mercy. It’s the place where some people pray and commune with God.

In our very center we are connected with things way beyond us. "Trust the force, Luke" was how Obi-wan Kenobe put it. By searching inwardly, we encounter the beyond, and get in touch with powerful forces that can help us.

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