by Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin MS, LGPC
On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you
rate your relationship? Is it what you had imagined when you first
got married? Years go by, and while couples are still technically
married, they have unconsciously filed for an ‘invisible divorce'.
How do couples rededicate themselves to their relationship and move
towards the relationship they originally envisioned?
In order to rededicate our homes, our relationships, we must first
close our ‘exits'. Before a couple can refocus themselves on the
energy between them, they must make sure that no energy is leaking
outside. An exit is an energy leak. It is essentially any behavior
we take when we don't know how to talk about our uncomfortable
feelings with our spouse. These behaviors are conscious or
unconscious ways to avoid dealing with each other. We either
withdraw inside ourselves or we go elsewhere looking to get our
needs met. Whatever we choose, we drain the relationship of its
energy until it becomes lifeless. We, in effect, have filed for an
There are varying degrees of exits. Some are terminal such as
divorce, which permanently ends the relationship. Others are
catastrophic, exits which seriously damage a relationship to a
degree which is often irreparable. The remaining exits are less
severe but are so insidious and parasitical that they can do equal
damage in the long run. These exits can be intentional, a feeling
expressed as a behavior with the clear motivation to avoid
involvement with your spouse, or they can be functional, a behavior
you enjoy but your involvement in the activity clearly takes energy
and time away from the relationship.
While some of the latter are essential activities or valid forms of
recreation, if one of the reasons you are doing this activity is to
avoid spending time with your spouse, it is considered an exit.
Here is a list of thirteen common exits that I imagine many of us
3) Community service
9) Taking care of the kids
11) Talking on the phone with friends
13) Avoiding eye contact
There are surely other exits that do not appear on this list.
Whatever your exits are, it is important to recognize them and
understand that these are forms of "acting out" your frustrations
about your marriage. Just as our children may "act out" when they
are hungry or not getting enough attention, adults react similarly
when their needs are not being met. When we feel unloved, ignored,
or unappreciated we go everywhere but to our spouse to get those
needs met. We find others and/or other activities that will meet
those needs or we withdraw within ourselves, feeling hopeless about
ever possibly getting what we want.
It makes sense why we would exit our relationship when the going
gets tough. We are mandated by our call to survive to get our needs
met. When they are not met we either become angry or afraid, and
avoid intimacy. Without the proper communication skills, it is often
too threatening to share our frustrations about these unmet needs
with our spouse. It is a lot safer to call a friend and complain
about your husband or to do the dishes when you are upset with your
wife. While the mechanics of a safe and productive dialogue is
material for another article, what must be stressed here is that we
can only begin to close our exits when we verbalize our concerns to
our spouse and transform our feelings into constructive
communication. When we do this, we keep the energy that belongs in
the relationship where it needs to be.
When I work with couples, I have them compile their list of exits
and I facilitate a dialogue about them. If you have never done the
Imago intentional/couple's dialogue with a coach, please do not try
this at home. I feel strongly that if you do not know how to discuss
these sensitive issues in a safe way, then you may do more harm than
help. Imagine if your husband told you that the reason he works long
hours is in order to avoid you. While it is great that your husband
is conscious about his behavior, you probably won't be too happy to
hear it. Therefore, what I advise is to do the following exercise on
your own to gain awareness and become conscious of your exits.
Make a list of your exits. Place a check by those you are willing to
change and an x by those that are difficult to change. Then pick one
of the exits that are difficult for you to change, such as staying
late at work, and complete the following sentences:
1) The feeling I am avoiding by doing this activity is ….
2) When I take this exit, how it affects my relationship . . .
3) And if in the future I continue to take this exit what I expect
to have in my relationship is …
4) One thing I could do differently than take this exit is….
5) And if I tried to do this new behavior I would probably feel. . .
This is a great way to become more aware of the behaviors you engage
in to avoid being in relationship. While in this home exercise you
will not be sharing your findings with your spouse, it may motivate
you to start putting more energy back into your relationship.
Through this rededication to the sacred space between you, may you
begin to see miracles in your marriage.
Rabbi Slatkin is a Licensed
Graduate Professional Counselor and Certified IMAGO Relationship
Therapist private practice with the Pastoral Counseling and
Consultation Centers of Greater Washington, serving clients in the
Baltimore metropolitan area. He specializes in working with couples
and families and is available for lectures and seminars on the
spiritual journey of relationships. For more information go to:
www.baltimoremarriagecounseling.com or call 202-449-3789 x706