I recently wrote a column suggesting we need to change our views of marriage, adultery, and divorce. I proposed that it's up to couples, not society, to dictate what their relationship should look like. And apparently, based on the article's large readership, this is a hot topic because I received over one thousand emails asking for help and marriage counseling.
For example: "My relationship isn't working. I tried to talk with my wife, like you said, and she wouldn't even listen for five minutes about how I feel. We've grown so far apart that I want us to re-think our marriage and fix it, or figure something else out. We haven't had sex in four years! Am I supposed to just roll over and let her dictate my needs?" "We're disconnected." "We have nothing in common anymore." "We grew apart." "I think he's cheating on me." "I just want to end it." "I never loved my spouse. My father forced me to marry him." "I had to marry her because I can't take care of myself financially. I needed a life boat." "I loved him but he got fat and now I'm not attracted to him anymore." "I don't want sex anymore and he wants it all the time. So, unless he forces me to have sex with him, he has to remain celibate forever? That's not fair for me or him." "I try to communicate with my spouse but he's bullheaded and won't listen. He says he's the boss and that's that. I can't live that way anymore. I want out!" "He's a deadbeat husband. He lies around all day and eats, while I support him and our two kids. I'm done being the breadwinner, cook, maid, and mom to my kids and my husband. Help!"
First, understand that I don't condone adultery. I condone honesty. Also, I don't propose that everyone get a divorce at the slightest hiccup in their relationship, or take the covenant of marriage lightly. My goal when I'm coaching someone is to help them gain perspective and insight into the underlying problems before proposing solutions. The idea is to fix the sicknesses of lack of communication and self-awareness, which ultimately mends the symptoms of adultery and dishonesty. This is especially valuable before a marriage takes place, but if you're already married, then heartfelt communication (which I'll define momentarily) is a great place to start today. We're all different, and all of our relationships are unique. Let's have more compassion and tolerance for everyone's situation. If you're blessed and in a good marriage, you're one of the lucky ones, but please don't shame others.
In addition to coaching couples here in the U.S., I've worked in over 60 countries around the world, and I've seen it time and time again: Multicultural relationships, straight couples, gay couples, old couples, young couples, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews -- too many of them feel trapped, lonely, and unable to connect with the person they're with for a variety of reasons that are personal to them.
So what's the answer? Divorce? Extramarital sex? Sneaking around? Suffering in silence? Meds? Porn?
Based on my experience, communication is the fundamental key to preventing adultery and divorce.
One couple I met through my last article (married for 17 years) said that over the past ten years of their marriage, their romantic connection has decreased drastically, and they hadn't been intimate in years. Both felt isolated and lonely, but didn't want to divorce because they knew that disruption would drastically affect their children's lives, and bring unwanted financial instability. After a heart-centered talk, they realized they respect and love each other, but don't feel the sexual bond at all anymore. Consequently, they agreed to be "separated" but still live under the same roof with their kids, spending time reflecting on their individuals wants and needs, while still being present for one another as family. Neither wants to re-marry, but this reinterpretation of their relationship allowed the pressure of each other's high expectations to subside, leaving them the space to reflect on the destiny of their marriage. Now they both feel relieved, and don't feel "the life sucked out of them." They transformed their relationship from being married, to being best friends & co-parents.
During another couple's coaching, the husband revealed he had been having a six-month affair. He claimed his wife was always too busy for him once they had children. After the wife's initial shock and anger subsided, I directed the couple in heart-centered communication, which revealed many secrets and desires both of them harbored for years. The truth exposed, they realized their "Impostors" were driving their marriage, and agreed to dedicate themselves to continued heart-centered communication to begin the healing process. They are now going to renew their vows with new tools to stay connected. I find that beautiful.
So can something as simple as heart-centered communication really be the solution?
Yes! But realize that communication is so much more than just saying words to each other. That's called talking at someone. Real communication is about talking with the other person, sharing your feelings using verbal, non-verbal, and para-verbal skills. Unfortunately, we're all losing the ability to truly talk with others because the majority of what we see and read in the media consists of people talking at each other -- people telling others their thoughts about how everyone should think and behave, rather than sharing their point of view and being open to hearing other sides of the story. In fact, it seems that conscious, thoughtful dialogue has been thrown out the window in favor of hate rants. And if that's the predominant style of communication we experience every day, guess what type of communication will dominate our relationships as well? That's right!
Practice Heart-centered Communication
When people can be real with each other in a relationship, their connection to each other will be stronger. Heart-centered communication fosters exactly that. With heart-centered communication, you're actually listening to your partner speak without commenting, whether you agree with him/her or not. For example, it could go something like this:
Wife: "I'm really upset with the way you ignored me at the party last night. I felt invisible, like everyone in the room was more important than me. You just walked off as soon as we arrived and I didn't see you again until it was time to go home."
Husband: "I hear what you're saying. You're saying you're mad at me because I was not attentive to you at the party."
Wife: "Not exactly." I said, "I'm really upset with the way you ignored me at the party last night. I felt invisible, like everyone in the room was more important than me. You just walked off as soon as we arrived and I didn't see you again until it was time to go home."
Husband: Ok. I'll try again. I hear that you said, "You're really upset with the way I ignored you at the party last night. You felt invisible, like everyone in the room was more important than you. That I just walked off as soon as we arrived and I didn't see you again until it was time to go home."
Wife: Yes. That's what I said.
Husband: "I hear what you're saying and I understand how that must make you feel. You might feel betrayed. You might feel like you don't matter or that I don't value you. I see how that could be painful.
(You say this even if you don't fully believe it. You say it because you're seeing it from the other person's perspective and it's real for them, even if it doesn't ring true for you).
Wife: Yes. That's how I felt. It was embarrassing and it wasn't right.
Husband: I understand you felt it was embarrassing and wasn't the right.
Wife: Yes, that's how I felt.
Husband: I'm sorry I chose those actions. I understand how that can make you feel less than, or not valued. I will make a point not to do that again or communicate with you better about what our intention for the evening is.
Wife: Thank you for apologizing.
Husband: Do you feel heard and seen?"
At this point the wife says either Yes or No. If no, then the husband would go further, trying to really understand how the wife feels. If the wife says that she feels heard and seen; then the husband and wife can kiss and make-up and try to be more conscientious next time. And that's it! Because when you or your partner is angry, "Impostors" take over and say things that you can't take back. The next day, when the couple isn't triggered, the husband might share:
Husband: I would like to address last night.
Husband: "I didn't think I was leaving you. From my perspective, we were at the party so I could make some connections for work. I saw an opportunity to socialize with a decision-maker for a job I want, and I thought I should leverage it. I never meant to ignore you. I felt that getting a better job was a priority for both of us."
Then it's the wife's turn to just listen and see the event from her husband's perspective and repeat the process.
And so the conversation would continue until both people feel heard, seen, and understood. This sort of heart-centered communication gives both parties an opportunity to see the event or relationship challenge from a new light, thereby recognizing that each person's reactions were justified, but neither's initial actions were malicious. Rather than yelling at each other or giving the other person the silent treatment (which only fuels disconnection), heart-centered communication fosters dialogue, enables people to be more forgiving, and shifts the conversation so that problems get resolved rather than escalated. Remember, it's the small arguments that add up that help destroy a relationship, if not addressed. But it takes both people to participate. If you don't have a partner that will participate, then I'm afraid you may be headed to divorce court because a marriage cannot survive bottled up emotions.
Our country is so divided and people are so passionate about certain subjects that it's getting out of control, ruining how we communicate with each other. If we want to reduce the number of divorces and incidences of adultery occurring in relationships, we need to do a better job at connecting with those we love. My intention is to help people express themselves in a conscious way so that relationships, and our world, can heal. This tool is good for all types of relationships, not just married couples.
Note: Please practice sharing your opinions instead of raging them. Anyone reading Huffington Post is interested in growing and learning new ways to be happier and lead a life that has more meaning and purpose. Please try to post constructive advice or share your story from the heart. Let's see what that could look like. Also, feel free to tweet about it at @lisahaisha. I look forward to a healthy dialogue so we can all learn from each other. Remember... Shift Happens!