Do you remember the last time you told your spouse that something they did wasn’t working for you? Or maybe you made a request for a minor change of behavior (like spending more time connecting and less time on devices), and you got a less than positive response?
Sadly, this is more the norm than the exception in long-term intimate relationships.
When you hear from your partner that something you did—or didn’t do—was perceived as less than optimal, your response may be:
- But, you did (or you do) _______________ (sometimes referred to as “hocus pocus, change the focus” or a pivot)
- Why don’t you lighten up, it’s no big deal.
- Why are you always nagging me?
- You’re just over-reacting.
When you’re on the receiving end of a response like this, a typical internal translation sounds something like, “If he/she really cared about me or our relationship, he’d listen to what is important to me.” And while this is a common perception when receiving a defensive response, the reality is that your partner’s response is 100% about them, and not at all about you. But it certainly impacts you—in a negative way.
When your spouse tells you that something you’re doing—or not doing—is less than optimal for them, and does so in a relational way, she/he is making a bid for intimacy with you.
Your partner is attempting to get closer to you, and when they make a request they’re offering you a roadmap, with directions on how to get there.
Long after the discovery of infidelity or addiction, many couples struggle to re-establish a healthy sexual connection. There are many reasons sexual reintegration is a challenge for couples impacted by infidelity, including the unfaithful spouse’s fear of relapse and his partner’s sexual trauma brought on by betrayal.
Accountability must be at the top of the list for qualities and conditions required for couples’ sexual re-connection and re-integration.
How accountability works:
- Listen to what your partner is telling you as if you’re a reporter collecting data. This will help keep emotional reactivity at a minimum.
- If you become unsettled, emotionally triggered or activated while listening (one way you can tell is if your heart-rate exceeds 100 beats per minute), take a time-out until you’re feeling grounded and centered.
- When you respond to your partner, lead with agreement. Leading with agreement (a concept from Terry Real) means you start by responding with anything about which you have the same perception. If you consistently leave your clothes lying on the floor in your shared bedroom and your partner is fed up about it, it can’t hurt to start with, “You know, you’re absolutely right. I leave my clothes on the floor several times a week.”
- Apologize if you were in the wrong.
- Carefully consider if you can say yes to your spouse’s request. If you’re not sure, tell him/her that you need some time to think about it before you respond. Using this simple tool will help you avoid a knee-jerk “no” or making an agreement that—in reality—you have no intention of keeping.
- If you agree to your partner’s request, honor it.
And here’s a paradoxical truth:
When you own—and apologize for—your mistakes, your partner’s respect and admiration for you will actually increase!
Following these simple guidelines will get you well on your way to more accountability, and when you’re more accountable you’re exponentially more attractive to your spouse. And when you’re more attractive to your spouse, you’re likely to have more and better sex.
Maybe you’re not perfect, but you’re willing to actually look at yourself and take some kind of accountability. That’s a change. It might not mean that you can turn everything around, but I think there’s something incredibly hopeful about that.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
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