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When you are not a high priority to your spouse

Posted March 28

Question:

One of the things you said in your last article was: "It’s a good practice once a week to ask your spouse what you could do to make them feel more loved, wanted, admired and appreciated." My question is what should I do if my wife is never satisfied and she may give me a list of things to do for her. By the time I hit the bottom of that list, she has made three more lists and says I haven’t even done the first one good enough. What if I feel I can’t ever do enough to make her happy and I feel like the last priority on her list? If I tell her that what I need is more of her time and attention, she says she will work on that, but it never happens. She appears to value things and tasks over and ahead of her husband. Is this just a fact of life I need to get used to? Or is there something I can do here.

Answer:

We marry our opposite

Most of the time we are attracted to and marry someone who is different from us or even our opposite. We are usually drawn to a person who has strengths we don’t have and is a complement to us more than just compatible. The problem down the road is those same qualities that attracted us tend to drive us crazy.

Your wife is very different from you, her love language, her values, her fears and how she feels good about herself are different than yours. It sounds like you desire more validation and affection, while her sense of value comes from what she achieves with tasks and performance, therefore she projects these needs onto the people around her. As unkind as this feels, we all do this to the people we love the most.

We all tend to assume that other people are the same as us and have the same values and needs (or they should because our way of being feels like the right way). Understanding that she is different and trying to love her to some degree as she is, and work with it, will help you feel less taken from and resentful. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t need to work on valuing people over tasks. She should work on this, but you also can’t expect her to be you, any more than she can expect you to be like her.

We have different needs

Many people with these behavioral patterns and values (around tasks and productivity) belong to the Psychological Inclinations (PI) of Organizer and Producer. People like this need order, productivity and tasks completed to feel safe and on top of things in their life. If these task are not completed, they can feel stressed, overwhelmed and have fear that they are not good enough or their life is not going to be what they want and hoped for. These fears are what drives this incessant need to do and to complete their lists.

Others value connection and affection, and these are what make them feel safe. If you are an Affectionate or an Empathetic PI, you may have an almost insatiable need for time and attention. Would you also be open to the idea that you might have needs that are pretty insatiable also? But your needs are just different from hers? Could you ever get enough physical affection to really satisfy that need?

Your need for connection, touch and validation may feel as insatiable to her as hers do to you. Affection may be what you need to feel important, safe and good about yourself. Similarly, she is the same with tasks. Enough is never enough, as her list of things to complete is just as insatiable.

If you can begin to see each other’s needs accurately and also the fears that drive them, you will begin to see each other with more compassion and less disappointment and frustration.

How to get your needs met

I wish you could just sit her down and tell her to change herself, but it usually doesn’t change anyone to just tell them to please change. Having a good mutually validating conversation about your differences and what you each need to feel loved, safe and peaceful might work, if you can do it without triggering her fear of failure (there are instructions for how to do this in our new Claritypoint Workbook). Make sure that you spend as much time listening as you do talking, though.

Then remember it’s not that she doesn’t value you as high as her tasks, it’s that she has more anxiety (fear) over unfinished tasks than she has over not showing enough love to you. Just as you have greater need for connection and validation to help you feel less anxiety (fear) than you have over whether tasks are completed.

You both feel anxious about your needs not getting met, and this creates the perfect environment for disconnection to occur.

The good news is this can change and you can reconnect when you both begin to see each other’s behaviors as less about you and more about the other person’s fears. People behave badly, selfishly and ignore you only because they are more focused on doing (or getting) what they need to quiet their fears that they aren’t good enough. When you complain that they are letting you down and being unloving, this usually creates more fear of failure in them, and more disconnection, which just makes the problem worse.

How to meet their needs

If you want to create more connection and you want her to want to spend more time and attention on you, then make her feel better about herself instead of worse. If you want to become a higher priority to her, you must get smarter and figure out what her currency is and meet her core needs — productivity, achieving things and having tasks completed. Don’t just help her around the house, though you should do that. Also validate her for how productive and amazing she is in getting so much done every day.

You also want to tell her that that time connecting and being heard and validated by her makes you feel important and loved. But follow that up with doing and saying the things that make her feel important and loved.

Remember most of our behavior is driven by fear, so her putting things in front of you means that these other things quiet her fears and anxiety more than you do. They make her feel safer in the world. If you want to move up on her list, you must become the solution to her anxiety. You must be her refuge place, the place she feels safe and good enough — she will then choose you all day long.

Instead of complaining or criticizing her for being so task focused, love her for the organized, hard worker she is. Tell her how amazing and productive she is and you really appreciate all she accomplishes. When you step into validating all that she is achieving, you begin to show her love according to what she values and you quiet her fear of failure. When you acknowledge and celebrate what she places as most important, you begin to align yourself with the correct way to love her and connect with her.

Now this doesn’t mean you have to be her slave and let her constantly boss you around. It also doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need to learn and grow over time, and see that people are more important than tasks. But for now when her fear and anxiety about tasks is high, you should begin to show her validation and acknowledgement for her productivity. This will dissipate her fear and you will see her soften, lean into you and want to have more connection. She will also have less need and drive to do her tasks.

It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but it works. We all want to be loved and validated, so the disconnect you have been experiencing is that you have been trying to love in her in the way that you need to be loved. When you are able to show up for her outside of your own needs and become her solution to feel more safe, capable and competent in the world — you will notice her desire to be with you will change dramatically.

You can do this.

Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.

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