From Soulmate to Roommate: The Disconnect Effect
If anyone claims that they haven’t experienced the trials and emotional struggles we witnessed in Satisfaction, I’d respond by telling them to enjoy their honeymoon because they’ve basically only been married for 24 hours. What I’ve learned is that although challenging, marriage doesn’t always require “a lot of work” and can truthfully be so much less stressful when spouses resolve themselves to stay awake, alert and connected with the needs, desires and activities that are important to their mate. This is not to say that a happy marriage is one in which a person is expected to fulfill every request or desire of the other. However, it is imperative for each spouse to at least be conscious of what is important to the other, and to acknowledge awareness of needs, whether they are intending to fulfill them or not.
So often couples awake to find themselves in a state of detachment, and although they may not know what led them down this path toward disconnection, they are certainly aware of the pivotal moment that illuminated the marital discord. Whether it’s a sudden attraction to a workplace colleague, or searching for exes online, there comes a point when a spouse realizes their feelings of dissatisfaction. Often, it’s not merely feelings of discontentment with the relationship, but rather resentment stemming from the inability or reluctance to articulate the needs they assumed their spouse would be incapable of fulfilling. Once one spouse develops bitterness resulting from what they unilaterally concluded the other will or will not do to correct the climate of the relationship, the seemingly abandoned spouse may give themselves permission to look for satisfaction outside of the marriage, which typically comes in the form of a physical or emotional affair.
In this episode of Satisfaction, it becomes painfully obvious that Neil and Grace are co-habitating and coexisting rather than displaying the emotional connection of marital companions, lovers and friends. Unfortunately, when friendship replaces the romantic and emotional side of a marriage, a total disconnect and autonomy develop, which often causes couples to check out of each other and check in to themselves. Neither Neil nor Grace had the slightest idea as to what was going on in the other’s life, nor were they even aware of being unaware (they may talk but they don’t seem to be communicating). Their marriage had obviously been on autopilot for a while, with each person awaiting something magical to happen and whisk them away to some unforeseen euphoric place. Consequently, they both sought excitement and validation outside of the marriage, which is the main reason they are dealing with their current crisis.
Neil and Grace were not only disconnected in terms of sharing important experiences such as feelings, needs and emotional intimacy, but they also seemed checked out when it came to simple issues like schedules, appointments and day-to-day interaction. How could Neil not remember that Grace had a monthly book club meeting? How could Grace not know that Neil had an important presentation the next day? I think it’s because they spent the majority of their time talking at each other, with neither opting to listen to, nor hear, what the other needed to convey. This is a prime example of what happens when you constantly tell your spouse what you need for them to know without in turn being receptive to what your spouse needs for you to hear.
Another major sign of marital discord was when Grace informed Neil after her bar fight that that was the first time they’d seen each other in public in six months. The fact that they hadn’t regularly made date time for one another was alarming, but even more so was that Grace was keeping count of the months (and Neil wasn’t). These are the things that lay the foundation for bitterness because, until that point, rather than articulating the fact that they hadn’t been on a date, Grace cultivated resentment while ignoring the obvious and expecting matters to fix themselves. At every juncture, both spouses seemed far more interested in finding external fixes for marital issues rather than collaborative solutions, which are accomplished by addressing problems head on. For example, when Neil discovered Grace’s affair he attempted to gain a deeper understanding of her actions by talking to her paramour and seeking revenge rather than confronting her directly. When Grace felt marital dissatisfaction she sought outside excitement and then an affair, as opposed to developing innovative ways to spice up her own relationship. At no point did either of them choose to address their discontentment with the other prior to making destructive marital decisions, nor did they seek to address their issues afterward. Ultimately the temporary fix each opted to pursue consequently turned into something far greater than previously anticipated, while the marriage further spiraled out of control.
So, can this marriage be saved? Sure it can, but only by returning to the level of connection and communication that we witnessed a glimpse of at the end of the episode. Unfortunately outsiders are now involved, so it will not be a simple task to “un-ring” this bell, as affairs rarely terminate immediately upon discovery. Unless or until Neil and Grace can find their way back to the intimacy, friendship and level of communication that was the basis of their relationship, resentment will continue to fester and outside fixes will remain a constant viable option for instant gratification and satisfaction. The Truman’s marriage should serve as an example and reminder to all as to why it is imperative to address feelings of discontentment and emotional detachment early, before outside influences and external options expose the vulnerability of an otherwise loving, committed relationship.