It begins with a secret. You start to think that you are unhappy in your relationship, and you keep that knowledge close to your private heart. You are unhappy in your relationship, and you keep getting proof of it. Your partner just isn’t meeting your needs. You’re unhappy. Look – there they go again, doing that same thing again. They’re not listening, they’re not compromising, they’re angry, they’re being critical, they’re stonewalling, they’re not seeing you. Your seed of discontent germinates. It sends down a taproot into your reality of discontent and the taproot swells and brings that proof of your reality back into the truth of your secret. And your seed grows.
You mull your secret for a while. Maybe you bring it up to a close friend, or to a sibling. They might tell you about their own faltering relationships, and you swap tales of discontent.
But you don’t bring it up to your partner. I’ve seen this enough in my practice to know that, often, you don’t bring it up to your partner. Instead, you mull it and get proof of it and maybe get validation from a few chosen others. You mull it and you get proof of it and still you keep it a secret from your partner.
The thing is, it’s not something you even want to bring up to your partner. You hate conflict, and you know deep in your bones that your partner can’t change, so what’s the point? You’re unhappy, but there’s no point in bringing it up. You don’t want to have a big old fight that will get nowhere. So you stay quiet and the resentment grows as your unhappiness grows, as your seed grows.
Your discontent might grow to the point that you disengage from the relationship. This takes time – and normally, this time is spent in doing all the things that couples do – working, raising a family, buying groceries, household chores, pet care, exercise, you name it. You’re doing all the things that couples do, except for the most important thing, which is making time for and nurturing authentic emotional connection.
The thing is, you’re just too busy for that, and besides, your needs aren’t going to get met. You have a few years of proof of this by now, maybe even a decade of proof. You’re running on autopilot doing all the things that couples have to do to get by. You don’t really have time for this, and besides, you know deep in your bones that your partner can’t change, so what’s the point?
Well. The point is this. The point is that by keeping secret your own discontent, you are making a unilateral decision about the future of your relationship. Huh? you might be asking. How so? Well, you are deciding that your partner can’t change. You are deciding you won’t get your needs met. You have proof of it, after all. But I am saying that you don’t know. You just don’t know. You might think that, even know it deep in your bones, but actually you don’t know. And I have seen behaviors change. I have seen relationships resurrect. I have seen change, big change, with couples working together to get insight and input on behaviors. And, by keeping your discontent a secret, you are not giving your partner the chance to do this work.
Because I know what often happens is this: You keep your secret so long and the resentments build for so long that one day you are just done. Your partner could be desperate to keep the relationship going… but sorry, you are done. You have put up with all of this for far too long and you are simply done.
Sometimes, you and your partner might come in to see me at this point. But it’s hard to back up from this point of doneness, where perhaps you’ve been for years. It’s hard to work with someone who is totally disengaged, like you are at this point. And honestly, I don’t blame you for being disengaged. Your needs aren’t being met, after all. I don’t even blame you for keeping it a secret for so long that it’s too late once it comes out. I know that there are all kinds of factors that can contribute to avoiding conflict and thinking your needs can’t be met, usually stemming from your childhood and your family of origin dynamics.
I do, however, have great sadness.
Because it is possible to get your needs met in a relationship. This is what I do with couples all the time – work on this very issue. Not only that, but a pattern in your relationship now (that is, you avoiding conflict and thinking your needs can’t be met) will continue into the next one. It’s the way we are in relationship, unless we take a good hard look at it and work on something healthier. And, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could get your needs met in the relationship you’re in right now, where you share children and years of shared history?
So please. If you’re keeping a secret, it may just be time, before you disengage fully from the relationship, to share it with your partner. There are many couples counselors out there who would love to support you with this. You can get support on disclosing your secret unhappiness. You and your partner can get support in learning healthier ways to be in relationship, where you don’t have to keep hidden resentments to yourself any more. The time just may be now, before it’s too late.