Vulnerability can leave you lonely even in a marriage relationship.
Have you ever had a fabulous relationship exchange with your spouse, and then, an hour or a day later, you feel emptier, or lonelier than ever before?
Today we’ll return to my marriage framework of Partner, Lover, and Friend. We’ll discuss
- What it means to consummate your marriage (hint: it’s not what you think).
- And you’ll get a habit to practice that involves a magic trick of connecting completely
Vulnerability is normal in happy relationships
The empty or lonely feeling happens regularly in happy relationships because you’re suffering from a vulnerability hangover. And it’s just because one role of your relationship—partner, friend, or lover—surged forward, and now—by contrast—the other roles seem lacking.
Think of the three roles of your relationship like a triangle. A triangle has three points. Let’s name each point Partner, Friend, and Lover. When one of those roles surges forward, picture how that leg of the triangle gets longer. Suddenly your equilateral triangle is all stretched out and wobbly.
Here’s a quick reminder about the three roles:
Partners make good teammates. You and your spouse are partners when you accomplish something together, like pay the mortgage or clean the kitchen. Friends make good confidants. You and your spouse are good friends when you understand or feel understood by your spouse. Lovers ignite the excitement in your relationship. Lovers embrace adventure: like taking a hike in a new area or trying a new move in bed.
Let’s look at the specific flavors of wobbly triangles you might taste in your relationship when one or two of those roles surges forward and you feel imbalanced.
- When you’re great lovers and great friends but not great partners = you might feel used and taken for granted.
- You’re great partners and great lovers but not great friends = your connection might feel shallow and you won’t feel truly understood.
- When you’re great friends and great partners but not great lovers = you might feel deserted, as if you were naked, then not wanted by your spouse.
Typically, we think of consummating a relationship as that first sexual encounter immediately after a wedding. It’s a one-shot deal. Right? But is it possible to consummate your relationship over and over?
I’m not talking about sex necessarily
When I consult Meriam Webster about what does consummate mean? The definition is “to complete in every detail.” The second definition is “extremely skilled and accomplished.”
What if you consummated your relationship—completing that relationship triangle in every detail in an extremely skilled manner—over and over in dozens of different ways?
Let’s explore this word—to consummate—in your relationship and see how it really helps shore up your happily ever after.
You feel wobbly in your relationship when one leg of that triangle surges forward and the others are left shorter by comparison. You might be left with a feeling of incompleteness.
What happens when you don’t consummate your relationship?
Let me tell you a story about a recent evening in my marriage when our friendship and partnership surged, but that lover role was left incomplete:
Because my husband works weird hours as an emergency room physician, sometimes we go many days without seeing much of each other. But last week we both had the evening off and went out to dinner.
We went to our favorite restaurant—Bin 707—where we know the wait staff and we feel special occasion and comfortable at the same time.
I ordered a martini and he got a glass of cabernet.
The conversation started with me bragging that I upped the weight I lifted at the gym that day. My husband is in love with Peter Attia and he’s devouring Dr. Attia’s thoughts about staying strong while you age. David wants to make sure we can take our great grandchildren camping decades from now.
So, he asks me how much protein I’ve had today. How rested do I feel? He’s trying to help me dial in on what I’m doing right that’s helping me lift more today. I like this conversation because I feel like he’s on my team. He’s celebrating with me. He’s a good partner to have in my corner.
What details set you up to feel close to your spouse?
This conversation and the martini shake themselves together and my tongue loosens up. I had a particularly challenging client that afternoon and was proud of my choice of tools to help untangle the confusion my client felt.
Obviously, I never reveal anything personal about my clients, but I found myself talking through Carl Jung’s dream analysis with my husband, using details from a dream my husband recently told me to describe the breathing work I do with clients to set the intention.
I told him about the transformation I see in people as they become the objects from their dream.
Suddenly, my husband was staring at me. Intently. I felt a little shy. Was I talking too much? Did I seem like I was bragging? Was there a piece of spinach in my teeth? Why was his gaze so strong?
“Is this OK?” I asked. “Is it OK I’m telling you this?” I was feeling vulnerable under his intense stare.
“Oh! It’s great,” said my husband. “I’m just trying to follow what you’re saying.”
What a kind thing to say. He made me feel so smart. I felt washed in his respect.
Have you ever had a moment—a truly specific moment—when you felt the respect of your spouse?
I’m sure if I asked your spouse if they respect you, they’d say yes. But that’s different than feeling the respect.
And that moment—at dinner—while I drank a martini and he sipped a glass of cabernet, I felt like my husband was eager to know me.
After 35 years, this doesn’t happen every moment. Mostly, we know each other very well. So that leaning-in feeling doesn’t happen so much.
This is the feeling of being good friends. I want you to have this feeling in your relationship.
I was feeling especially understood by my husband, and that made me feel connected as friends. I was feeling supported as I did that not-always-easy thing of heading to the gym. We’re good partners.
It’s exciting when you have a new level of intimacy in a long relationship, and it can also make you feel a little vulnerable.
Vulnerable? To the person you’ve lived with for decades?
Vulnerability can create security in your relationship
Actually, you probably have the most opportunity to feel vulnerable to the person who shares your front door and your toilet, because your spouse sees so many of the faces you have in the world.
Your spouse knows the “behind the scenes” you. That can feel vulnerable. It’s also delicious when you feel loved there, and this is what creates such an enormous capacity for security.
But, still, any revelation feels vulnerable. Especially when it’s a part of you that your spouse doesn’t typically see—like the coach-me who walks people through tools.
My husband and I had a lovely dinner and, when we got home, we crawled in bed and did the New York Times mini crossword puzzle together. I love playing games with David and getting to play a game cozy in bed is the best.
After a few puzzles, our eyes got droopy and we turned out the light and fell asleep.
A great date night. …. Until…
Until I woke up at 2:00am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I felt anxious. And empty. I felt lonely even as I slept right next to the man I’ve loved for more than 2/3 of my life.
What had happened?
That’s when I realized the importance of consummating your relationship. That word—consummate–was hanging in my heart at 2:00am and that’s why I looked up what Meriam Webster had to say about consummating: To consummate is to complete.
When it comes to marriage we typically think about consummating as a singular event.
But I’m gonna suggest you are regularly consummating your relationship. Each time there is a new level of intimacy, revelation, or vulnerability of any kind, you have an opportunity to complete the triangle of that intimacy, revelation, or vulnerability.
This particular night, consummating in my marriage truly was about sex.
What helps you feel less vulnerable and more secure in your relationship?
Sex turns off insecurities—like the reason I asked David, “is this OK I’m telling you this?”—with a promise of not only is it OK, I want you. When you feel wanted—passionately, tenderly, or hungrily—desire calms the insecurity that comes from vulnerability.
Sex completes—it consummates—your new level of intimacy.
But what happens if you don’t have sex? What happens if you get distracted by the crossword, and sleep descends more quickly than you expected?
Then you might wake up at 2:00am with a vulnerability hangover. You might feel suddenly shy around your spouse because you feel exposed, and you didn’t get all those orgasmic hormones washing your brain with oxytocin: the hormone of connection.
The next morning you’re a little agitated and you’re not sure why. You can’t focus as easily. Simple tasks are more difficult. When you don’t complete—or consummate—a moment of intimacy you aren’t reassured of your belonging. Your triangle of marriage roles is wobbly.
As humans, we crave belonging
When we feel our sense of belonging is threatened, we’re distracted and nervous.
I’m not saying you have to have sex to feel a sense of completion to any moment of vulnerability, but I am suggesting that the lover in your relationship is powerful and has a role to play in securing your intimacy.
Sex is the capstone on all the other intimacies.
The pressure builds: magnetism, chemistry. All the sparks are flying. And then, when you consummate, it’s like popping that balloon, there’s a moment of explosive connection.
When you have all that magnetism and chemistry and there’s no sparks, then the balloon of pressure just gradually drizzles and fizzles. There’s no magic. Just a fade back to everyday life.
But you missed your chance at the magic. And that shriveled, stretched out balloon mirrors the way you feel.
What does that feel like inside? Lonely. Left behind. Incomplete. Empty.
How does that make you feel about your spouse? Why doesn’t my spouse want me?
You’re gonna miss the magic sometimes
That’s just how it goes. If you’re married for 50 years, you can afford to miss some magic. But if you miss the magic habitually, something dies for your lover relationship. Even if you have sex regularly, if you miss the magic moments, you miss that spark of connection.
I told you this story—about what it’s like when you connect as partners and friends, but you miss the lover connection—because it’s easiest to illustrate the importance of consummation or completion in this part of the relationship triangle.
But it’s equally important to complete the triangle in the other elements of your relationship.
What’s it like when you neglect the partnership connection?
Let’s imagine you shared a great adventure learning how to make sushi with your spouse. Adventures strengthen the lover role in your relationship.
You feel exhilarated. Explorers bonded by seaweed wraps.
This culinary adventure inspires your spouse to tell you a childhood story about a dinner shared with family. Knowing one another’s stories strengthens the friendship role in your relationship.
When you feel understood, your relationship bond deepens
You feel bonded. Understood. Newly known and newly knowing.
All this bonding means you abandon the dishes to head to bed for some great sex.
The next morning you head out early for a long day of work and don’t have time to tend those dishes. But your spouse has the day off, so you’re surprised when all the sushi mess is still lingering on the counter. Suddenly you feel taken advantage of. How come I’m expected to clean up this mess even though I worked hard all day?
Your spouse says, “I didn’t expect you to clean it up.” But your spouse also didn’t take any initiative of their own to clean up. Your spouse didn’t consummate—or complete—your fun sushi evening by cleaning up.
Imagine this sort of scenario plays out over and over. You’re good friends—learning each other’s stories, so that line of your connection triangle grows. You’re adventurous lovers—exploring new things together—so that line of your connection triangle grows.
But your partnership bond is strained. Shortened. Over and over.
What happens when your partnership is strained?
Imagine the partner leg of your relationship triangle getting shorter and shorter, even as the other two legs grow.
Can you see how that triangle flattens out? Just two lines, running parallel rather than that supportive triangle at the base of your relationship.
When the partnership role of your relationship is neglected, you will feel used and taken for granted.
What happens if you neglect the friendship in your marriage?
You have the adventure of making the sushi. You both tidy up. There might even be good sex that evening. But there’s no stories. You’re not leaning in to understand your spouse and your spouse isn’t leaning in to know you.
Then, when you’re out one night with friends, you hear your spouse tell your friends about a terrifying moment at work. You never heard this story before now. You can tell it was upsetting to your spouse, but your spouse never told you.
You become haunted by questions like, “Doesn’t my spouse trust me?” or “Why don’t you want to include me in the big moments of your life?” Your relationship will feel shallow when you neglect the role of friendship.
Your relationship is bound to feel off kilter at times
You’ll go through seasons when you are the greatest of friends, but you’re struggling to be on the same page with spending and saving.
You’ll go through seasons when your chemistry is on fire, but you can’t agree whose turn it is to cook dinner.
The job of this podcast is to help you secure your foundation. To keep you mindful of that triangular base you’re trying to build. To foster habits that will help to build that happily ever after you crave.
Don’t expect every time you have sex to be a magic. Don’t expect every time you have a conversation to be completely understood. Don’t expect that every chore will make you feel like you’ve got your teammate.
Those are simply the targets.
It’s normal to wobble on that base you’re creating. Today I just want to give you an awareness of the edges of that triangle and how to keep that base securely growing point by point. Conversation by conversation. Chore after chore. Adventure after adventure.
When I was exploring the word consummate, this video came up. It’s an experiment in fluid dynamics.
I couldn’t have come up with fluid dynamics on my own to explain this idea of strengthening each leg of your relationship triangle, but wow! It shows you exactly the magic that happens when you’re connecting with your spouse on every level.
Missed try? No one’s fault
You’ll see all the missed tries. That alone is a great tool for you and your spouse to name. No one’s at fault. We just aren’t connecting completely. No worries. Wash out the tank and try again (This experiment happens inside a fish tank of water).
When you hear Destin say, “There some complex fluid dynamics going on here” just substitute the words, “There’s some complex relationship dynamics going on here.”
Later, Destin will say, “You can’t google this. I realized I’ll have to do it myself.”
That’s you and your spouse. There’s no way to buy, google, or trade-in for your happily ever after. You have to create it yourself. But that’s what’s so exciting as well. Because your happily ever after won’t look like anyone else’s and what you and your spouse create between the two of you is uniquely lovely, and a custom creation that suits you perfectly.
In this experiment they blow two bullets of colored ink at each other and, when those two bullets—a red one and a blue one—collide precisely, they spin off a whole bunch of tiny rings.
Your relationship connection is similar
Think of your relationship this way. When you and your spouse can get your three roles—partner, friend, and lover—to align with consummate precision, you will spin off all sorts of bonus beauty.
When your partner, friend, and lover are aligned with your spouse, you might spin off a new career for one or both of you. You’ll be able to raise kind children. Maybe you set out on a dreamed of adventure. You might feel at home for the first time in your life.
Patience is key
As you watch, however, I want to draw your attention to all the needs for patience. The water in the tank had to be changed out over and over. They experiment with all sorts of dye intensities. Spacing, shape and speed were all considerations.
Notice how many times they went back to the drawing board. How many times did they change the water in the tank?
The desire to create something so precise is contagious, and I hope it inspires you to think about your relationship in a new way. As you watch, notice the vocabulary you and your spouse want to adopt to describe happily ever after experiment of precise connection.
Allow yourself to remember how much patience, resilience, and tenacity are required to return over and over to complete your experiment. To consummate.
I invite you to notice the pattern in your relationship today. Which feels like the “neglected leg of your triangle?” If you were to pick one of the legs of your triangle to focus on completing so you avoid the wobbles, which would it be?
Would it be The Partner role that allows you and your spouse to share a sense of accomplishment?
Would it be The Friend role that deepens your understanding of each other?
Or would it be The Lover role who keeps your relationship vital and exciting by sharing adventures?
Maybe you’ve got good execution on the three roles, but you sometimes fail to connect in that burst that creates the magic of spawning lots of baby circles like in the video.
How can you remove the pressure to complete the triangle or achieve a perfect connection in your tank of togetherness?
Name the “miss-fires” in your relationship
Find a way to name those “miss-fires” so you can simply notice and name that phenomenon in your relationship. This allows you and your spouse to have patience while you wait for a moment when the third leg of your foundation can grow on its own. Or to be forgiving when you’re both reaching out to connect, but something in your tank of life prevents a perfect collision with bursts of magic.
And here’s a bonus discussion prompt that I should have offered first :
When have you had that feeling of perfect, explosive connection? When everything connects so beautifully that zillions of other baby moments of togetherness are spawned? Talking about this with your spouse does two things:
- It helps you both remember and focus on the times you do connect well and
- It lets you hear the moments that have felt magical to your spouse. Who knows, you may find there are connection points your spouse has felt that passed you by. Now you can go back and celebrate those.
How can you “consummate” or complete your relationship? Text me today at 970-210-4480 and let me know.