Mike* and Lisa* felt trapped. The communication between them had broken down so much that when they weren’t arguing, they weren’t talking at all. Mike felt that Lisa had completely “checked out” of the relationship. Lisa felt that Mike was too controlling and that she had lost her individuality.
There had been no intimacy in the relationship for at least the past year, and they felt that they had drifted apart – which is why they came to see me. They had tried, in vain, to fix things themselves but whenever they tried it would become contentious, feelings would get hurt, and neither of them could see clearly enough to navigate their way out of what had become tangled, overgrown and at times, dark.
They both felt that coming to see me for Relationship Coaching was their final chance to save their marriage.
On a day-to-day level, they were functioning well. They had two young children, a reasonably active social life, financial stability. But observing them together in the same room, so apart from each other emotionally, I wondered where the connection had been in the first place. What had brought them together. And when it had all gone wrong for them.
“Has it always been like this?”
I prompted, after 10 minutes of observing them interrupt each other, making dismissive and protective gestures (eyes rolling, head shaking, shoulder shrugging, turning away from each other, arm folding).
Mike shrugged, both of them struggling to remember when it hadn’t been like this. I asked them how they met, and what had attracted them to each other in the first place.
They met at University. Lisa was studying Pharmacology, and Mike Engineering. They were just friends for the first year, each being in a different relationship at the time. When Mike broke up with his then-girlfriend, Lisa, newly single herself, was there to pick up the pieces. Both outgoing people, with the same friendship group, they were inseparable for the next 2 years, having fun together, being sociable, and basically enjoying each other’s company.
“Lisa had a spark – she wasn’t afraid to say what she thought, and I admired that about her” said Mike. “Plus, she was gorgeous”.
“Mike was unusual because he was so open with his feelings, and we would often talk for hours about everything. We had the same world views, the same dreams. We wanted the same things out of life.”
As they were remembering how things used to be, I noticed their body language towards each other subtly change. Lisa’s posture became more open, and Mike was smiling more. They reflected how nice it was to hear those things from each other. These were probably the kindest words they had heard from each other for months.
Giving and receiving praise and appreciation in a relationship is a powerful way to start the journey of reconnection.
So where did it all start to change? Both Mike and Lisa felt that this was a difficult question to answer. They both felt that things had declined so gradually, it was hard to pinpoint anything concrete.
They had moved in together after university, with Mike securing an Apprenticeship in an engineering firm and Lisa working as a hospital Pharmacist. They bought their first house – a small 2 bedroom terrace in London. It had needed a lot of renovation work and it had a damp problem, but they were happy and had fond memories of the next couple of years.
They got married only one week after the house renovation had been completed, and had the big wedding that was expected by both sets of parents and their extended families. Both admitted that the wedding preparations had been stressful. They had both been relatively young – 23 (Lisa) and 24 (Mike) – and they felt that the wedding quickly took on a life of its own.
Their honeymoon in Bali had been amazing and they remembered how much it had been needed after the house renovation and all the wedding preparations. However they were both looking forward to getting home to their newly renovated house and actually spending more time together. They had only been back for one week when Lisa discovered that she was pregnant. Both were surprised and although they both wanted children eventually, it had happened about 2 years sooner than planned. Lisa had wanted to establish herself more in her career before having children. Mike had wanted to be earning more money.
However, they threw themselves into parenthood, which meant for Mike, spending more and more time at work, moving up the ladder and doing his best to provide financially for his family. Lisa put all her energy into being a full-time Mother, having both decided that she would take a career break to raise their daughter. They had their second child, a boy, 2 years later, following a difficult pregnancy and traumatic birth. They both adored their children, but it was hard work. With more money coming in, Lisa and Mike had moved to a larger, 3 – Bedroom detached house on the edge of town. By then, Mike was working 60 hour weeks, and Lisa had built her own community of friends around her through her antenatal classes and parent-toddler groups.
Lisa had started to feel resentful of Mike for never being there to help her raise the children. Her resentment built up until she slowly started withdrawing from Mike. She spent more time with her friends or visiting family on the weekends, and less time with Mike. Mike was starting to notice Lisa’s withdrawal, feeling that she had become cold and distant, and would feel upset when he came home at night to find the children were already in bed asleep. He felt he was working hard for a family he never spent any time with.
Which brought them to the present day. The intimacy between them had significantly declined and realising that they were drifting apart, Mike decided that he wanted to do something about it. It was Mike that contacted me to arrange Relationship Coaching.
During this first session, it transpired that rather than welcoming Mike’s recent attempts to reach out and reconnect, and spend time with her and the children, Lisa felt irritated with Mike. She had become independent and found his new attempts to become involved in day to day activities, or become actively involved in decisions concerning the children or the house, an interference. The more Mike tried to connect, the more Lisa would withdraw. The more Lisa would withdraw, the more anxious Mike would become, and he would pursue more.
The underlying reason for their problems was beginning to become clearer for them; Lisa was holding on to resentment built up over the years, and Mike was feeling excluded and lonely. This had lead to them creating this pursuer/withdrawer cycle, without either of them realising how or why. Until now.
Piecing things together in this way had been a huge breakthrough for both of them. Mike had had no idea that his absence had caused resentment for Lisa. He had genuinely thought that it would have been obvious to Lisa that he was doing it all for her and the children, working hard to secure their future and pay for the things they needed. Learning that Lisa actually resented this meant that Mike now felt unappreciated.
Lisa hadn’t actually considered that this was what had motivated Mike to work all those hours. She had thought that he was spending time away from her and the children to intentionally get away from them. So when Mike had said he wanted to spend more time with Lisa, she couldn’t understand where it had come from, and therefore assumed it was only about Mike wanting more sex – something which had almost become non-existent in the relationship. So any attempts at a physical connection by Mike were rejected.
Critically, neither of them had communicated their feelings to each other at all, each of them working separately and simply co-existing together in the same house, for at least the past 2 years. They had become disconnected from each other, had made assumptions about each other that were incorrect, and were beginning to now see why that had happened.
Sometimes, having an impartial view of a trained expert outside of the relationship, can help you take a birds eye view, or panorama, of the terrain of your relationship. You can see all the obstacles that have been in your way, all the obstacles you have overcome, and the obstacles that lie ahead. You can see where parts of the relationship have become neglected, overgrown, or simply not encouraged to bloom or develop.
And then they asked me the golden question:-
“So what do we do about it?!”
In the next blog post – “Mike and Lisa; Part 2”, I share how I helped Mike and Lisa to begin to resolve their issues and re-build the intimacy in their relationship – using the power of good communication and showing them how to cultivate and grow a new relationship vision.
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Take care for now!
*Client confidentiality is always protected. All case studies are fictitious and for illustrative purposes only.