When one partner is as withdrawn as Brad, which is a form of covert control, this almost always indicates that the other partner is overt controlling—using blame, anger, criticism, tears, threats, and so on to try to get the other partner to give them the love and attention that they are not giving themselves.

I worked with Maggie on learning how to love herself—how to take emotional responsibility for her feelings of anxiety, depression, emptiness, and anger. I helped her learn how to take responsibility for her happiness, self-worth, and sense of inner safety so that she would stop pulling on Brad to do this for her.

Even without Brad learning how to take responsibility for himself, their system significantly healed to the point where Maggie and Brad were again able to connect and to talk about conflict without fighting. And as so often happens with the people I work with, Brad was so impressed with Maggie’s changes that he decided to do some work with me as well. Over time, their relationship improved so much that they were again making love, which hadn’t been part of their marriage for years.       

I’m always deeply gratified when at least one partner, especially when children are involved, is willing to do their healing work. Even when a partner is having an affair, the relationship can be healed and get even better than it was previously, especially when both partners are willing to do their inner work to learn how to love themselves and take responsibility for their feelings. When each partner does this, they stop blaming each other, and they learn to fill themselves up with love to share with each other rather than trying to get love or avoid being controlled—which is what was happening with Maggie and Brad.

If Maggie had done her inner work and Brad had stayed shut down and withdrawn, then it would have been time for Maggie to leave, if that is what she wanted. Then she would have known that Brad wasn’t ever going to connect with her, and she would have had the skills to create a loving relationship with someone else.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For anonymous and confidential help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224) and speak with a trained advocate for free as many times as you need. They’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also speak to them through a live private chat on their website.

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