Here’s Jodie, and since the early days of their marriage she’s put on some pounds. She feels fat and she hates the way she looks. Bob, her husband, has never said anything, but what with their having teenage kids and their both being busy with their careers their sex life has tapered off a lot. There’s a lot less physical affection too.
And so Jodie feels that Bob finds her repulsive. That not only feels devastating, it sometimes makes her feel in a state of rage at Bob, that he’d be rejecting her like that. Her anger certainly makes Bob wary of Jodie. So things aren’t good in their marriage.
This is a tragedy. Why? Because it’s all based on beliefs that aren’t true.
Does Bob find her repulsive? Well, there’s certainly evidence pointing to that, in the sense that they’ve been making love less often. But is that because Bob “finds her repulsive”?
Forty-five years of working with couples tells me that this is just the way things work in relationships. For all the time they’ve spent together, they end up knowing each other less, not more. In a way, they’re not married to each other at all: they’re married to images of each other that both carry around, images that—believe me!—are more likely to be false than true.
There’s a great hack that can cut through this tragic mess we all find ourselves in over and over. It’s a super-simple tool we call
“I think that you think...”
And it goes like this.
Either Bob or Jodie can initiate it. Let’s say Jodie decides to figure out what’s really true. So she says to Bob, “Can we talk about something really important to me? All I want is for you to be totally honest. I mean it! I just need to know what you really think and feel. So here goes. I think you think I’m too fat and that you find me repulsive. Please: if that’s true, tell me! If not, tell me what is true.”
Now I can tell you what the real Bob did say in this case, after he had a moment to wrap his mind around this huge question and this tremendously vulnerable moment. He said, “The truth? The real truth? I’ll tell you the truth if you promise to believe me.”
Jodie said she’d try as hard as she could.
Then Bob said, “Okay, here goes. Look, I know you’ve put on weight. You can’t wear skinny clothes. And I know you find that frustrating. But wow! If you’ve been thinking I find you repulsive... I can’t imagine where you’ve gotten that from. I’m so sorry you feel that way. I don’t feel that way AT ALL. You don’t seem fat to me, not at all. I like the way you look. You’re sexy to me. Your boobs are bigger, and your ass is nicer to grab onto. You feel nicer to hug and to hold in bed. So that’s what I think. I think you’re fine. And to me you’re desirable and totally okay.”
Jodie stared at Bob. Finally, “So how come we don’t have sex anymore if I’m supposed to be so desirable? How can I believe that?”
“Babe, if we’re not having sex anymore, or not very often anyway, from my point of view it’s all about how busy and tired we are and also about how angry with me you seem to be all the time. How do I initiate lovemaking with a woman who’s pissed off at me?”
This was Bob’s way of doing an “I think that you think...” “I, Bob, think that you are angry with me all the time. Is that true?”
Jodie picked up on it. “Look, Bob, you think I’m angry with you all the time. That’s not true. I am angry a lot of the time, but mostly because of the kids and my job and the house and stuff like that. And yes sometimes I’m angry with you because I feel rejected by you. But most of the time when I’m angry that’s not why.”
Here's the knot they’d gotten themselves into. Bob desired Jodie. Jodie wanted to have sex, if only as a mini-vacation from all the crap she was dealing with. But they’d boxed each other out because of the mistaken beliefs that Bob was repulsed by her and she was angry with him all the time and wanted to have nothing to do with him.
This is the kind of thing I really hate. When a huge and painful problem arises out of two people not simply checking in with each other.
“I think you think...”
“Oh, no! What I really think is...”
“Oh!! Well, that makes a huge difference. I guess we don’t have a problem after all.”
In your relationship I’d bet a lot there are three areas right now where if you do this hack you’ll find a tremendous overall improvement in how it feels for the two of you to be together. Do it!