This is the second in the series of blogs regarding falling in love. I hope you found the first posting helpful.
Now on to this next blog.
Do you love your spouse?
I don’t mean in some abstract, “I love all people” kind of way. And I’m not asking if you love your spouse like a brother or some other member of your family.
I mean: Do you love your spouse?
Do you feel the passion you had when you first met each other? Do you share a deep connection that runs through your relationship like a powerful current? Is your marriage charged with the electricity of love?
Be honest. There’s no reason to lie or keep secrets here. Unless you are sincere with your answer you aren’t going to help your marriage.
Do you LOVE your spouse?
My guess is that either you or your partner will answer “no” to this question.
If not, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.
You don’t have to be ashamed. You share a common problem. Based on my experience, many couples have hard times and go through periods where one or the other spouse falls out of love.
My follow-up question is to the person who thinks he or she has fallen out of love:
Do you want to be in love with your spouse?
Do you want to spend your life deeply in love with and passionately connected to the person you call your husband or wife?
Don’t hedge. I don’t want to hear any qualifiers. A simple “yes” or “no” will do. Do you want to be in love with your spouse?
If your answer is an authentic “YES” then there is hope for your marriage. You even have a fighting chance to make your marriage happier than ever.
You need commitment, knowledge, and a set of skills that have helped other couples create wonderful relationships.
I’ve seen this work many times.
Before you do any of this work, before you learn the other skills you need to rebuild your marriage, there is one thing you have to do. This one step can change your marriage by starting to reverse the downward spiral and help you find your way back up to being in love again.
Do you want to know what this step is?
You have to learn how to control the caveman within you.
Inside every one of us (me included) there is an uncivilized, crude, brusque caveman lurking . waiting to come out. And this caveman has the power to destroy even the most loving marriages.
The caveman in us still wants to respond as if there were no civilization. In Western culture, its most common form is anger. This is the same anger that helped protect the caveman before civilization was ever born.
Sounds pretty terrifying doesn’t it?
It can be terrifying. I have seen otherwise wonderful relationships fall prey to this awful beast.
But there is good news. Once you accept the truth that there is a caveman within you, one that may be tearing your marriage to pieces, you can learn how to keep this part of you at peace in our civilized world.
I know I’m being vague about all this right now. But don’t worry. This article is dedicated to teaching you about the caveman lurking within you and giving you some strategies for keeping this monster at bay.
Learning how to control your inner caveman is one of the most critical steps you can take if you want to rebuild the love in your marriage. So if you’re facing marital problems of any kind, I urge you to pay close attention to the ideas and steps that follow.
Understanding Your Inner Caveman
Inside every human being is a kind of “psychological wiring” that dates back to pre-historic times. This wiring was designed to help our great, great, great ancestors attack, defend, and flee from animals or other potential enemies that intended to do them harm.
This caveman “wiring” includes “automatic” responses to hunger, sex, thirst, waste elimination, anger, social needs, speech, and so forth.
In today’s world, we have civilized almost all of these responses. Making the decision to do the socially-appropriate response is usually easy.
For example, you would not have sex right on the spot with an attractive person you just met, even if you were feeling horny.
Similarly, at a restaurant, you would not grab food from someone’s plate at the next table even if you were quite hungry.
The choice to follow these rules is easy to make in today’s world.
In caveman times there were no laws, no police, no courts-if you were big enough and strong enough, you could do anything you wanted, anytime, and with anyone.
It was a different world, and cavemen had different responses than we have now.
Yet some of those caveman responses are still with us today.
One caveman response that slipped through the crack of being civilized is anger. Anger was intended to help us deal with a true enemy.
But we rarely use anger that way in today’s civilized world. Just take a moment to think about all of the people you have gotten angry with. How many of them are your true enemy? Probably not many.
One person I bet you have been angry with (especially if you are struggling in a relationship where the love has seemingly died) is your spouse.
But your spouse is not your enemy. In fact, your spouse is supposed to be your best friend.
Nonetheless, your inner wiring-the caveman lurking within you-has identified your spouse as an enemy.
As you can imagine, it is difficult to be “in love” with someone you have incorrectly identified as an enemy.
Hence you have to learn how to preclude the caveman within from appearing. You have to learn how to identify your spouse as you friend again and not your enemy.
The first step to doing that is understanding how and why your inner caveman has identified your spouse as your enemy.
How Your Inner Caveman Makes Your Spouse Your Enemy
In today’s civilized world, we don’t attack each other with clubs and stones. Instead we attack each other with words. We attack with accusation, blaming, personal criticism, name calling, and other hurtful speech.
When we are attacked, our natural, “hardwired” response is to identify the person attacking us as an enemy. After all, who attacks you, a friend or an enemy?
The moment you attack your spouse or your spouse attacks, you set up a situation where you will identify each other as enemies. That age old caveman response called “anger” comes out when we feel we are under attack, and as a result we look at the person attacking us as an enemy.
And guess what happens next?
Yep. That’s right. Out comes the inner caveman.
The inner caveman may respond to being attacked in any number of ways. It might become afraid and run away or “freeze.” It might try to defend you. Or it might try to attack back.
But no matter what the inner caveman does, it is not going to be the best, most adult response you can make in today’s world. It is going to be a response based on fear. It is going to be a response to an enemy. It is not going to be the kind of response you want to give or receive from your spouse-the person you love and cherish most in the world.
This is how the inner caveman can come in and wreck an otherwise wonderful marriage. When hurtful words are spoken, when you treat your spouse like an enemy, he or she will respond to you as an enemy. Then the inner caveman rages and you end up tearing each other apart emotionally.
Over time, this interaction creates more of the same, eventually deteriorating your loving feelings. If you have identified your spouse as an enemy or your spouse has identified you as an enemy this is going to eventually break down your marriage if it hasn’t done so already.
The solution? It’s actually simpler than you think. But as I’m sure your life experience has taught you, not everything simple is easy.
Nonetheless, here’s the solution: Learn to treat your spouse like your best friend instead of your enemy.
Here’s how you do it.
Treating Your Spouse as Your Best Friend Instead of Your Enemy
One of the great things about being modern humans is that we are no longer cavemen. We are no longer completely controlled by our instincts. We have a conscious mind, and we get to choose what we want to do with our lives and how we want to behave.
There is caveman inside you, just as there is one inside me. But you are in control of that caveman. It isn’t in control of you. You get to choose when you want to let the caveman out and when you want to keep it locked away.
When you are dealing with your spouse, when you are communicating with him or her in any way, this is a time you want to keep your caveman safely locked in his inner chamber.
How do you do this?
You remind yourself that your spouse is your best friend and not your enemy.
After all, your spouse is the person you love most in the world right? You may not have those head-over-heels “in love” feelings at this moment. But you did say you wanted to be in love with your spouse at the beginning of this article didn’t you?
To be fully and truly in love with your spouse means he or she needs to be your best friend. So if you’re trying to rebuild those loving feelings (or perhaps ignite them for the first time) it’s time you started thinking of your spouse as your best friend.
Every time you speak with your spouse or every time you listen to your spouse, remind yourself to communicate with this person as though he or she were your best friend in the whole world. Be grateful for whatever communication is offered. Think of it as though it’s coming from your best friend-not your enemy.
You don’t have to like the communication, you don’t have to agree with the communication, you don’t have to do what is being asked or commanded, and you don’t have to like the mode of delivery-which might be harsh or nasty.
But the communication itself is something to be grateful for. When your spouse opens up and shares with you, consider this a good thing. It is your best friend sharing his or her heart with you.
I know you’re probably thinking, “Dr. Gunzburg, this just can’t be done so easily. It’s hard to think of my spouse as my best friend.”
You’re right. It isn’t always easy. And it gets a lot harder when there have been complicating factors in your marriage like an affair.
In fact, it might be downright impossible at first. After all, an affair is the action of an enemy, not a friend. You aren’t going to be able to identify your cheating spouse as your friend-at least not immediately after the affair. And it’s likely your inner caveman will rear its ugly head from time to time in the early stages after an affair.
But assuming that your spouse is committed to rebuilding your marriage, and assuming he or she is taking the appropriate actions to prove to you that he or she is, in fact, your friend, there will be a time when these awful feelings dissipate and you are able to start thinking of your spouse as your best friend again.
If you go on believing that treating your spouse like a friend instead of an enemy is too difficult or simply impossible, you might as well accept that you are creating the next argument and asking your spouse to identify you as an enemy rather than a friend.
You might think this is an impossible task, to always think of your spouse as your friend so the caveman is not released. If you think you cannot do this, there are approaches to make this much easier. However, that takes much more clarification and instruction than I can provide here.
Ideally, you will both be working toward this goal, but even if just one of you succeeds in accomplishing this attitude, you can make a significant difference in your communication and in your marriage.
The previous point is really important and many couples miss it so I am going to repeat myself: even if just one of you succeeds in accomplishing this attitude, you can make a significant difference in your communication and in your marriage.
Learning how to think “friend” toward your spouse will help you manage your inner caveman. This is one of the most important early steps you can take toward rebuilding the love in your marriage and making it better than ever.
If you can accomplish this, then other changes will be much easier.
Being best friends with your spouse is the path to finding that deep, electric, passionate connection you have always dreamed of.
All you have to do is learn to love your spouse as your best friend.
Let me know how it goes with you. I’d love to hear about your marriage. Post a comment to this blog by clicking the comment link below.
As always, I wish you all the best on your road to a wonderful marriage.
Frank Gunzburg, Ph.D.