As I venture further into adulthood, I’ve been surprised how often infidelity ends marriages, but even more surprised by how many marriages end for no dramatic reason.
There is a more insidious type of betrayal than infidelity that can be just as destructive: disengagement. Feeling ignored is worse than criticism, and invisibility feels worse than a fight.
In her amazing book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, which everyone should put in their Amazon carts right now, Brené Brown writes:
“…this betrayal usually happens long before the other ones. I’m talking about the betrayal of disengagement. Of not caring. Of letting the connection go. Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship. The word betrayal evokes experiences of cheating, lying, breaking a confidence, failing to defend us to someone else who’s gossiping about us, and not choosing us over other people.
These behaviors are certainly betrayals, but they’re not the only form of betrayal. If I had to choose the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connection, I would say disengagement.”
When you’re falling in love, you listen with rapt attention to everything the object of your affection says. You notice all the nuances of his speech and actions. You ignore distractions and wouldn’t think about getting out your phone during a date.
Familiarity, which is comforting and intimate, can also breed lack of interest. Where it was once easy, it takes work to listen and stay fully engaged.
The human tendency to pursue what we don’t have and to take for granted what we do have can cause us to disengage.
It’s the same desire that caused Adam and Eve to fall for what they might be missing out on, and it can seize marriages if we allow it.
While Mike finished his PhD, we had to work hard at engagement. He was constantly thinking about his work out of necessity, and it was hard for him to set it aside mentally to discuss weekend plans or one of my projects.
I could easily feel that anything I was doing paled compared to the all encompassing life’s work he spent his days on.
Thankfully, he went out of his way to regularly tell me how important my goals, plans and discouragements were, that my work mattered to him just as much.
The discussion really wasn’t about whose work was more important. What I thought and did ranked high in Mike’s world because I matter to him, regardless of what I’m doing.
Staying engaged doesn’t depend on your spouse being endlessly interesting (although we can make an effort to be so).
It depends on us to put down our phones, turn off our televisions, listen when we’d rather talk about something else, and to ask about the important meeting he mentioned over breakfast
What if I fully listen to my husband simply because he’s the one talking, and that is reason enough?
Question: How do you stay engaged with your spouse, kids, friends or parents?
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