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Neglect When You Can December 5, 2008

Posted by downton in Neglect When You Can.
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Neglect When You Can

     People usually think of affairs as romantic liaisons. However, there are other kinds of affairs which can undermine love as well. They are affairs people have that cause them to neglect their mates. Guys can have affairs with their careers, racing cars, golf, watching sports on TV, even collecting old beer cans. Women can have affairs with their careers, sports, shopping malls, politics, and community service. A woman with a sport’s fanatic husband can feel almost as hurt from that form of neglect as if he had had a romantic affair. The difference is that a romantic affair is a downright rejection, which causes deeper emotional pain with an accompanying jealous rage in a short amount of time. But we shouldn’t minimize the importance of these other forms of neglect which can span many years. They can undermine love over time.

     Dora was a woman I coached who had a husband with a romantic relationship with golf and sporting events on TV. Our conversation went like this. 

     Dora: “I seldom see my husband anymore. He plays golf a lot and then hangs out with his buddies at the club bar for a couple of beers. When he’s at home, he’s glued to the TV watching sports. He’s not just a football fan; he loves all the sports, so you can imagine how much time he spends in his TV chair. I feel angry and bitter about this, but when I’ve tried to talk to him about it, he turns me off. I wish he’d just turn off the damn TV.”

     Bob: “Does your husband love you?”

     Dora: “He says he does, but I doubt it.”

     Bob: “I’m afraid I doubt it too. When someone loves us they go out of their way to make us happy. Your husband is saying he loves you while demonstrating through his neglect that he doesn’t. Don’t just listen to what people say, watch what they do.” 

     At this point, Dora began to cry.  It broke my heart to see how sad and unhappy she was. There are a lot of women with husbands who are having nonsexual affairs that cause neglect. It’s one of the causes of divorce. When you’ve been neglected long enough, you’d rather live alone than live with someone and not feel that you’re cared for.

     To be fair, women also have their forms of neglect, like not showing interest in their husband’s work or sports fascinations. So, if you’re a woman how do you neglect your mate? If you’re a man, what forms of neglect do you inflict on your mate?

     Neglect will screw up relationships in a hurry, yet there’s a positive side of neglect too. I guess I wouldn’t call it neglect, but independence. A couple needs to have separate lives as well as lives in common. When that balance is achieved, both mates can have their non-romantic affairs and still stay in love with each other. Balance is the key issue here, because some neglect is important for establishing independence from each other. Kahlil Gibran captures the essence of balance in marriage in The Prophet.

“Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master? And he answered saying: You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white winds of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” (The Prophet, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1975, pp. 16-17.)

How can you and your mate stand apart in your activities but also stand together in others? How can you eliminate the forms of neglect that are so damaging, it drives you too far apart, so bitterness arises?

Coaching Tips

■ Read Gibran’s poem about marriage to your mate. Have a discussion about neglect and how it can be healthy if it establishes independence but unhealthy when it’s so extreme that it creates resentment and bitterness.

■ Show a real interest in what your mate does. Keep showing interest. Your mate will appreciate it.

■ Ask your mate to show interest in what you do.

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