Why Connection Is Easier To Heal Than You Think. . . And How To Do It!

150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

Jill and Steve were similar to lots of other couples I have seen.  Both were deeply hurt and angry with the other.  Neither felt loved or cared for.  Both felt deeply disconnected.  But Jill dragged Steve into my office, hoping for a change.  Steve was sure that nothing could be done, telling me “it just isn’t meant to be.  If it were, we would not always be so hurt and angry.”

While Jill was hurt, she was still hopeful that something could change, that there was some solution to this painful spot.  She felt no connection, but still yearned for that connection.  So even against my advice, she begged Steve to come for therapy.  On the phone, I warned her that forcing someone into therapy was no way to start the therapy process.  I asked her to consider whether Steve would be able to even engage in therapy if he felt forced.  And in spite of this, Jill scheduled an appointment and somehow “arm-twisted” Steve into joining. . . for 1 session.  He refused to return, saying “What’s the use?”

He did, however, state that if Jill continued, he didn’t care.  And this was an opening in my mind.  Slight, but an opening.  While he did not see any hope (so he stated), he would not get in the way of Jill trying to do something.

And Jill did return.  For weeks, we talked about their relationship.  I gave Jill some different ways of thinking about relationships in general, and there relationship in specifics.  She began to see where they had become disconnected — and also saw some ways to reconnect.  I wondered if she could use the advice to save her marriage, especially given the resistance I saw in Steve.

Still, I have seen many relationships come back from the ashes — often surprising me, and I have seen lots of relationships!  So, I gave Jill some coaching to approach the situation slowly and calmly.  I worked with Jill to help her carefully begin the process of reconnecting.

While Jill wanted connection, she didn’t really believe much could change.  But desperation sometimes moves us to act beyond our hopes, to pursue even a glimmer of hope.

After a month of coaching, Jill decided she had the tools and wanted to just continue working at it.  In that final session, she told me she was not particularly hopeful, but still wanted to give it a go.  I gave her my blessings and told her to let me know how things went.

In a nutshell, this is the advice I gave Jill:

how to save your marriage connection1)  Humans are built for connection.  We are wired to be in a deeply connected relationship with someone else.  When the connection is not there, the hurt is so deep that it comes out as anger.  But it is really deep hurt — which still indicates a desire for connection.

2)  When people are hurt, they resist connection because they fear the hurt.  People are desperate for connection, but even more desperate to not feel the pain anymore.  So, they reject attempts at reconnection. . . at least initially.

3)  Attempts at connection should start slowly, be low-key, and cannot come from your own desperation to connect.  Ironically, a relationship is made of two people are desperate for the connection, which is why a marriage crisis throws people into such a quagmire.  Each feels the pain, and neither can easily move beyond the pain.  Each feels the connection, and neither can move toward the other in connection.

But if one can take a different path and set aside the hurt, change is possible.  Desperation never feels like genuine connection, so that person has to stay calm.  Huge acts of connection feel insincere and are usually unsuccessful, but small acts can begin to melt the ice.

4)  Because we want connection, once the ice melts, reconnection can happen very quickly.  Deep hurt that comes out as anger can make it appear impossible to be close.  But once the reconnection starts, icy-cold can quickly become warm, which even more quickly becomes a heated connection.

This is a fact that used to surprise me.  I couldn’t understand how such an angry relationship could turn around so quickly.  But once I realized that the reason was because our need for connection is so deep, we are basically wired for connection, and once that spot is hit, the relationship takes off.

Which is my point of noting this!  When we can move beyond our hurt and pain, and when we can reach out and work on the connection, we can heal the disconnection.  Because of our innate need for that connection, once we remove the barrier, we come together quickly.  It is almost like two magnets, held apart by a barrier.  The pull between them can seem absent.  But if the barrier is removed, the magnets pull together with an acceleration that can be surprising.

But what about Jill and Steve?

Over the next few months, I wondered what happened, but was not particularly hopeful.  Then, four months later, Jill contacted me and asked if she could come in.  I scheduled an appointment, and was a bit surprised to enter my waiting room and find Jill and Steve on the couch, leaning into each other and laughing about an article in a magazine.

During that last session, Jill and Steve told me a story of reconnection and healing.  Jill was true to her word.  She stayed calm and continued to work on reconnecting.

At first, Steve was very resistant, but he found himself slowly melting into the conversations and connections.  Then, Steve began to take a risk and worked to return the connection.  This sent them on a recovery path that was of exponential growth as each effort compounded the efforts already taken.

We wrapped up the session talking about strategies for making sure that the disconnection never happened again.  And for the last couple of years, I have received a card on their anniversary, assuring me they had been doing just that.

Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

Dr. Baucom is internationally known for his methods and approaches to saving marriages. For over 25 years, Dr. Baucom has been helping people around the world to save, restore, and create the relationships they desire and deserve. He is the author of the book, How To Save Your Marriage In 3 Simple Steps, and creator of the Save The Marriage System, as well as numerous other resources.

All stories by: Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.
  • Philomena

    Dear Lee, thank you for posting this blog, it came a good moment for me as I was wondering direction I need to go. My husband and I are seperated a year and by geography as well. He does not contact me but when I contact him he is deligthed to respond. I realised this weekend I do not want to loose the connect with him but was doubting things as I felt I was leaving my self open for more hurt. I want my marriage to work and we have been together 22 years and I do not want to give up on it… So thank you for your tips on keeping the connection, making sure it is gentle and open. I hope I will be emailing you some day too with good news of a stronger and better and more loving marrigage. Thank you for what you do, I appreciate it. Philomena

  • Joseph Heid

    My wife and I have been separated about a month in different rooms. Soon she is moving across the country for work reasons for 9 months. It might be permanent depending on the position. I am slowly trying to work on the reconnect. Thank you for the article as It will help me to stay focused and move slowly and not try to rush things. We have been married 7 years and she is in the “Steve” frame of mind. She is not sure things will work out but does not care if I keep trying. She said if Divorce is emanate it will be at least 2 years away still. So that plus your information gives me a glimmer of hope for our future. Thank you
    Joe

  • EMM1416

    This blog is very encouraging, as my husband of 5 years moved out of our home 1 month ago, refuses counseling & claims he wants a divorce…however, he sends mixed messages at times that give me hope that our relationship can be saved. I’ve tried discussing our issues and reconciliation but he only responds with anger and refusals. While I readily devoured this blog, I could use some examples of point three, low-key connectors. For not only my love for my husband, but for our 2 sons’ benefit, I want to work things out. Would you mind giving a few suggestions, please?

  • Mandy

    Hi Joseph,
    I feel sad reading your story as I am in the same boat.. I hope that it works out for you. I find Lee’s advice very good and I hope it brings you comfort and helps you out to think more proactively as it has for me. Don’t forget to love yourself and who you are.
    All the best, Mandy

  • lbaucom

    Thank you for your question. It seemed like a good question, so I decided to answer that in my latest podcast. You can listen to it here:
    http://savethemarriage.com/stmblog/2013/08/how-to-heal-disconnection-podcast-save-the-marriage-episode-4/

  • Joseph Heid

    Thank you Mandy :o)

  • Lee I.

    Everything you write and speak on is accurate but didn’t seem to work in my relationship. It kept me puzzled until the diagnosis came: my husband has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That was a light-bulb moment for me and now I struggle with an even tougher decision; do I stay or do I go? He isn’t willing, nor has ever been willing to meet me halfway (nor be able to stick with any kind of counseling). It’s been close to 29 years now and we’ve pretty much run through every type of counseling program out there. *But yours is the best*. You’ve given me lots of ways to cope, many ideas and motivators and definitely hope. I guess the ball is in my court now…sigh.

  • Melinda

    I have been separated from my husband for over 2 years.He is an alcoholic and has made many comments on getting help but only when he is ready he said.I understand that.But he is also sleeping around.I havent been working on waiting for him.But have you ever seen anything like this turn around? We’ve been married 24 yrs..

  • Guest

    Thank you for this. It sounds like good advise, I am going to try it, love the input as it give me more to work with.

  • Jeff S

    Just found this podcast and can’t thank you enough. Others out there are good or ok for marriages in trouble or needing a boost, but none offer excellent advice on out to start over or how to begin to breath life back in to an ice-cold, hardened heart. Suggested actions and addressing that “0” (on a scale of 0-100) stage in a relationship is exactly what I was looking for. Date-nights, and suggesting counseling which is such a popular recommendation only make things worse in this basement stage. Thank you so much for addressing where to start, actions to take and actions not to take, as well as support for why this is likely to work best based on human nature (desire to connect)!

    Obviously, I listened to a few of your more recent podcasts and felt like this was the right source and lets start at the beginning. Thank you so much for putting this podcast and valuable information out there. I know that the universe will repay you for the positive impact and excellent information you have put out there for those seeking it.

  • Jeff

    Dear Lee,
    i live in England and have previously signed up for your save the marriage system. All of the information you cover has really made me assess my own role in the breakdown of my marriage, i can now see why my wife was unhappy with our relationship and the role i played in contributing to her unhappiness. We are only weeks away from applying for the decree absolute after over 2 years of seperation. During this time we have, for the large part, been on good terms and for long periods we spent lots of time together with our children and came very close to trying again but on each occasion she would back away and wouldn’t take the next step. This has been incredibly frustrating but i’ve tried to stay the course. Unfortunately there have been times when my emotions got in the way of the plan but i am still committed to making the changes in me that may lead to reconciliation. We are both still single and she hasn’t dated anyone in two years. I have a strong conviction that saving my marriage and giving our children a stable and loving family unit is worth the pain this is causing. She continues to refuse all attempts to disconnect though we still get on well. I’m making positive changes for me to keep growing, if that’s not enough for her then i’ll walk away knowing i tried my best. I’ve reverted back to a very slow process of connection in the hope she may see me in a different light. I would dearly love her to listen to some of your material but this is off limits as she’ll only think i’m trying to manipulate her. Thanks again for all the information. Regards, Jeff