A reader writes:
I hit the bottom yesterday in my relationship with my fiance. We used to be so close. Now he says I’m too clingy, and that broke my heart. He’s never done this before. He never used to hide texts. I never hide my texts or anything from him. We used to be so open with each other but now he is spending less time with me and he’s been nonstop texting a woman he says is just a friend who is married that he met at work, giving me hardly any attention at all. He’s angry all the time and yet he says he wants me to stay and work things out. Can you help us? I feel so isolated.
First of all, I want to point out that even though your fiance is telling you he wants to work things out, you need to realize that actions always speak louder than words. I see a lot of language that indicates he is pushing you away or shutting you out (aka – Stonewalling). Furthermore, he is telling you that you are clingy (aka – Criticism to your character, and Contempt by name-calling). He is hiding texts and making excuses (aka – Defensiveness) for turning away from the relationship by putting so much energy into texting another woman – married or not doesn’t matter – instead of turning toward the relationship to make it stronger.
It is likely that you have felt, whether consciously or subconsciously, that your fiance has progressively been pulling away from your relationship. When this happens, it is a natural instinct to try to hold on tighter to keep it from slipping through your fingers. The trouble is, doing this usually ends up pushing people even further away.
What I recommend for you is to offset the negatives that have built up in your relationship. This is going to take some communication and commitment from both sides to be successful.
Dr. Gottman explains that the opposite of a criticism is a complaint. Instead of going to him with a criticism on his character (i.e. “I can’t believe how selfish you’re being! You don’t care at all how I feel.”), go to him with a complaint on the specific behavior (i.e. “I feel really insecure and afraid when you text this other woman. When you hide this from me, it makes me feel like something is inappropriate about it. I feel like you aren’t respecting my feelings when you continue to talk to her so much when you know it hurts me. I feel like you’re pulling away from our relationship and I don’t know the best way to react to that.”) Dr. Gottman calls it complain without blame. You also need to ask for what you want, because no matter how obvious it may seem to you, it may not be obvious to your partner.
Try to communicate with him in a way that will keep him from getting defensive. Let him know that your goal is to come to a resolution, not necessarily to point out what he’s doing wrong. Figure out how you want the conversation to go before hand, and then ask yourself what is the best way to go about the conversation to get what you want out of it.
To offset contempt in a relationship, which by the way is THE Number 1 predictor of failed relationships, is to adopt a culture of Fondness and Admiration. Remember when you first started dating and things were really great between the two of you? What types of things did you do together? The longer our relationships go with people, the more comfortable we get and we start neglecting some of those things that we take for granted will always be there. Don’t stop dating your partner just because you’re married, or about to be! Plan a weekend getaway together or a date night at least once a month. Give compliments and let them know what you appreciate about them. Don’t let the only feedback you give them be what they’re doing wrong.
This leads into how to offset the stonewalling in your relationship. You need to create more positives than negatives in your relationship. In fact, you should incorporate Gottman’s magic ratio – 5:1. There should be FIVE positives or benefits in your relationship for every ONE negative or cost. When you see your fiance beginning to shut you out, you need to give him a little time to calm down or help him calm down by soothing him, and go back to your “complain without blame” technique explained above by letting him know what you want or need from him.
Finally, I want you to be sure you are not truly isolated. You need a support system to cheer for you when you’re happy and bring you up when you’re feeling down. You need to hang on to your friends and family outside of your relationship. It is not healthy to make one person your entire life for many reasons. For one thing, if things don’t work out, you’re left with nothing. For another thing, what do you possibly have to talk about with each other after a while if all you ever do he’s right there with you?