Seeking Guidance on How to Support Him

Good Morning Ron,  

I am enrolled in the online pre-cana course with my fiance, Paul. We have completed the first 2 assignments and upon receiving our answer key to assignment 2, I wrote an email to our instructors. They replied suggesting me to forward my email to you because you would be able to assist me/us better. Here is what I wrote:  

I have been praying a lot more often lately and have faith that this course (pre-cana) will help Paul and I with our struggles. I know that it is not easy, but Paul struggles with the love that you described in the answer key as: 
"Man cannot truly be himself until he has the companionship of a woman. Love is our first and main vocation because we are created in God’s image, God whose nature is love. God wants man to also understand that true love is self-giving and requires death to self." 

He has shared with me, often, that he has a fear of losing himself (his individuality) if he comes to love me as himself and gives himself fully into the love I have been asking for. I know that he loves me in his mind, but I struggle to feel that he truly loves me from the heart, in the way I quoted above. How can I encourage him? I have tried to talk to him about this and explain that he does NOT have to lose himself, and I want him to be himself because that is the man I fell in love with.

But, I also need him to show selflessness and giving and kindness to me on a daily basis, instead of reacting with anger, defensiveness, or self-serving actions/behaviors. I have encouraged him to pray more, which I think he is, but I'm not sure. I often feel afraid to talk to him about my needs or feelings for fear of his reaction or receiving anger. I am even nervous to share that I discussed this with you in an email because I worry he will be upset I shared his faults with 'strangers', although I don't see you as strangers, rather as guides and teachers working in our best interest. I am doing my very best to lead by 
example and we have begun to pray every night before our dinners together and he sees me pray at night before bed. I am struggling to forgive the anger I receive which causes me hurt and sadness. I know this impacts how affectionate I am and should be toward him. I do this because I feel so vulnerable being loving toward him then feel even more hurt when he raises his voice or becomes defensive or acts selfishly. I will certainly attest to being imperfect and working daily to improve upon my faults to become a better daughter of God, partner to Paul and mother to our son. This has been a struggle for many many years (we celebrate our 7th anniversary of dating in August) so at this point I have been patient as he works on his faults for so long and have seen such little progress (sometimes even back to square 1 again) that I'm not sure how much longer I can feel this way. I am reaching out to you in hopes of support and guidance on how to support him better in his journey because what I have tried sofar hasn't seemed to be effective. I appreciate your taking the time to read this email and look forward to your reply. Thank you very very much. Eleonor

Eleonor,

Your question resonates with me; we, male and female, are presented in marriage with what is truly a mystery.  Let’s try to demystify it; I’ll do that in a way which is decidedly Christian but also scientific.

A mentor of mine, author Doug Weiss, points out that Adam was not himself complete, he could not procreate.  Eve was not complete, she could not by herself procreate.  As a mother, however, you know that the union of you and your fiancé has created a miracle (your baby); that is the Miracle of Marriage (and also, the name of a book by Doug).  The Bible states: “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24. That is certainly a mystery.

Let’s add some science.  In our miracle union, that tiny little creation has no hope of survival unless it gets care from adults like you and Paul.  To optimally raise just one child, the couple must live together virtually 20 years after that child’s birth. Further, we can easily see that to properly raise that child (and those grandchildren), we really ought to stay monogamous for life.  That might seem to be a difficult task in 2017 when relationships often seem so disposable but ethologists have noted that we humans are designed to be monogamous.  We have been provided with an internal system of brain chemistry which helps us accomplish that goal.

Why then, with an internal chemical system which promotes lifelong monogamy and a spiritual system which certainly promotes monogamy does it seem so hard?  Why are we sometimes mean?  Why do we get defensive?  Why are we selfish? These are all great questions but one thing we know for sure; we come into relationship as broken beings, bringing our character flaws, our weaknesses, selfishness and even addictions.  What should we do about that?  Should we simply accept a dreary life of anger, defensiveness, hurt and sadness?  I surely hope not.

A little more science: you claim that you can’t even raise your issues of concern for fear that Paul might react in anger. John Gottman, PhD and pre-eminent relationship researcher predicts, based on his scientific observations, that couples who avoid confronting issues will last, on average 16.7 years.  If I understand your situation correctly, that means it could reach the breaking point in 9 years or less.  I’m not trying to be alarmist on the eve of your celebration but if you don’t change your dynamics, the odds aren’t with you.

If I’ve gotten your attention, I must point out that it is not hopeless Eleonor.  Consider this: I’ll bet that seven years ago, relationship problems were the least of your thoughts.  Did you see Paul as mean and defensive?  Did Paul worry about losing himself?  What has changed?  Probably a lot.  My experience tells me that relationships are usually neither won nor lost in a moment.  My experience tells me that EVERY relationship slowly dies when it is neglected AND that relationships only grow when they are nurtured; they don’t automatically grow.  I’ve talked a bit about some ways to nurture relationships in other posts on this forum. Here are some basic tips.

I realize that it will take both of you to start to turn the tide, maybe we can brainstorm how to get that started.  Why don’t we find a time to speak ?  This week is and end-of-the-month catchup week and is a good time for me if you can make it work in your schedule.  If you can do that, please reply to this email with some times when you are available.

Ron Kaufmann, MA, CO LPC #11336, EMDR Clinician
National Certified Counselor #267299
AASAT Certified Sexual Recovery Therapist
Recovering Hearts Counseling

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