Today’s subject is marital difficulties. I will begin by sharing the email I received requesting help. Then I will follow it with a second email that provided more information by answering my questions. After receiving the second email, I gave our reader “homework” to do for three days. You may find these exercises helpful for you as well, and they follow the second email. After the exercises, I answer our reader’s questions. Both the questions and answers are numbered. I then include tips on revitalizing a marriage that has lost its spark. Finally, I will end with some concluding remarks.
EMAIL #1 (Problem)
“I am 37, married for 12 years, and a mother of 2 girls (9 & 5). I love my husband. He is a nice person, responsible, loving. But sometimes I feel something is wrong.
“I feel I am too possessive. Whenever he dances with somebody else, I just can’t take it. I get very upset and just don’t know what to do (1). Anyhow, I have discussed this with him many times. But what he says is that you should be broad minded and never take such things seriously (2). But I find it very difficult not to get upset.
“Until a few months ago, I used to enjoy se~x with him. But one day he told me he likes to fantasize. He likes to imagine us having se^x with others. That gives him more pleasure. This irritates me and I feel if he imagines himself with others, how can he enjoy being with me? Does he really love me? I get confused and overwhelmed with questions, but I don’t have any answers. I just cry and pray (3). Nowadays even if I want to have se~x, I am not interested nor am I satisfied (4). The only problems I’m having with him is this and his attention to other girls. What should I do? Please help. I feel like I am drowning.”
EMAIL #2 (Additional Information)
My Question: As far as you know, has your husband ever cheated on you?
Reader’s Answer: I’m not sure. He had a girl friend while we were dating. He had told me about her and also told me that she was just a friend. But, after our marriage, I found some photos of her in his baggage. He even talked about her during our honeymoon. That hurt me very much (5). Even now, when I think of it, I feel like crying. I was very upset and I threw out the photos. I quarreled with him and told him that I’ll leave him. He said he was sorry and promised not to contact her in future.
After that, I don’t think there was anything between them.
Whenever I remembered this, I used to get mad and fight with him and he would apologize. Later on, I tried my best to forget this bitter incident (6). I prayed and prayed for help. Now I can handle myself and let it go. But I still don’t like to utter her name. I just hate whatever has happened.
Q. How do you spend family time?
A: We go out together during weekends. Sometimes he goes to market during the week, but if he goes somewhere, he informs me.
Q: Does your husband ever complain? If so, about what?
A: Yes, he says that I nag and quarrel a lot, and am not responsible (which is not true). Yes I do fight with him, when I feel that I am right. Most of the time he won’t admit he is wrong. Then I make sure he clearly understands what happened and why it happened. I do not intend to fight; I just want him to realize his faults and correct them (7).
Q: Does your husband come home right after work every day?
A: Usually. Sometimes he has to go to the carwash, market, or something like that. At times he takes long time. I really wonder where he goes.
Q: How often do you go out dancing?
A: We used to go dancing before we had children. Now, we do not go. I suggested we go many times, but wants to stay at home. Even when we get a chance to dance at any parties, he is not very happy to dance (8).
Q: How do your daughters and husband get along?
A: They get along very well. They like him very much. They play, talk a lot, and have fun. In fact, he himself teaches my elder daughter. I teach my younger one.
Q. Does your husband help you raise the children and take care of your house or apartment?
A: Yes, he does. He is very helpful and organized. He really helps with the children and house work.
Q. Is there anything else you can tell me?
A: Overall, he is a nice person. But sometimes, I feel he doesn’t love me. Maybe he doesn’t need me. Maybe he wants somebody else — the list of negative feelings just goes on — then I feel very depressed. I am really worried why such feelings come to me. Does every woman go through this (9)?
Get a sheet of paper and fold it in half. Then on the left side of the sheet, make a list of all the things your husband does that upsets you. Make the list as long as necessary, but keep the right side of the sheet blank.
For every complaint you have listed on the left side of the sheet, write on the right side what you do when that happens.
Begin each sentence with “I.”
Here are two examples of what I mean:
COMPLAINT 1. (Left side of sheet): My husband looks at other women when he is with me. WHAT I DO 1. (Right side of sheet): I get angry (or I tell him to stop, etc.)
COMPLAINT 2. (Left side of sheet): My husband comes home late without an explanation. WHAT I DO 2. (Right side of sheet): I get angry and give him the silent treatment, etc.)
a) Cut your sheet of paper down the middle, separating the left and right sides.
b) Pick up the part of the sheet that lists all the things your husband does that upsets you and crumple it; throw it away. You don’t need that any more. You don’t need a list of your husband’s faults because it is always easy to see the faults of others. But it is difficult to see our own faults or weaknesses.
c) Study the remaining half of the sheet. You never thought of these actions as your faults. They were just reactions to your husband’s behavior. But study that list carefully because it is a picture of what your husband sees.
Here is an example of what one husband may see: My wife is upset, angry, unhappy, complaining, impatient, unforgiving, sulking, uncaring, demanding, jealous, argumentative, frustrated, annoying, spiteful, pushy, critical, judgmental, cold, etc.
If that is what a husband sees, how do you think he will feel?
How do you think he will behave? More to the point, as you study your list of behaviors, how do you think YOUR husband feels? Can you better understand why he does some of the things he does?
Suppose you started to act differently? For example, supposed you started to be less angry and more understanding? If you started to act differently, wouldn’t your husband gradually begin to feel and act differently too?
ANSWERS TO OUR READER’S QUESTIONS
(1) Jealousy is a sign of insecurity. You are afraid another woman may steal him away from you. But jealousy, suspicion, and mistrust are corrosive. They damage the relationship by driving your husband away from you (and possibly into the arms of another woman).
When you argue with you husband you are trying to communicate with him. But arguments and criticism are ineffective. On the contrary, they worsen the situation. Actually, your jealously provides a beautiful opportunity to create greater intimacy. You can do this by expressing your fears and vulnerability to your husband.
For example, imagine if you told him something like this: “I’m sorry for being so jealous. But I’m insecure. Sometimes I wonder how I attracted someone as wonderful as you. I feel undeserving and am afraid I may lose you to another person. Can you understand how I feel?”
Such a statement is likely to strike your husband’s heart. It awakens his desire to act as your protector and guardian. And he will be moved because you have exposed your innermost thoughts.
Each time you criticize your husband, you cause him to defend himself by fighting back. But each time you expose your vulnerabilities, you draw him closer and provide him with opportunities to express his love.
(2) When a woman sees her husband flirting with others and complains about it, her husband may say something like, “Oh, you are just too insecure. You are making a big thing out of nothing.
You are taking things too seriously. Lighten up.” Often this is just a trick men use to control women. It’s called “Blame the victim.” By the way, I’m not saying this is what our reader’s husband is doing. I’m just saying that many men do, so it’s important to be aware of it. Our reader can come to her own conclusion after she studies the big picture.
The important point here is women should not allow their husband’s to trivialize their feelings. If they find something their spouse does or says is painful, they have a right to speak up, and their concerns should be treated seriously and with respect. After all, shouldn’t your better half be your best friend? What kind of friend would do something painful to you?
(3) Is it wrong for someone to fantasize about having se~x with another person while “making love” to their spouse? Psychologists disagree on this point. Some believe there is no harm in fantasies. Others see it differently. Did you notice that in my question I put apostrophe marks around “making love”? I did that for a reason. You see, fantasizing about se~x with another is not about love; it is about lust. And if one does it while having se~x with their spouse, they are not making love, but using their mate’s body for their own pleasure. Making love is about mutual pleasure, intimacy, and expressing one’s love. It makes the spousal bond stronger. But fantasizing about another partner makes the spousal bond weaker.
Since we should not criticize our mate, how should our reader express her frustration to her husband? A good formula is to express the five points below:
3. Fear (Afraid)
4. Desire (Want)
5. Desired behavior
That is, she should explain how her husbands BEHAVIOR makes her FEEL; what she is AFRAID of, what she WANTS, and the DESIRED BEHAVIOR she would like to see from her husband. Here is an example of how she could express her frustration.
“When you tell me you enjoy fantasizing about others while we are having se~x (BEHAVIOR), I am extremely hurt (FEELING). It makes me afraid that I am not desirable enough for you and you will look for satisfaction elsewhere (FEAR). I would like you to stop fantasizing about others (DESIRE). If you enjoy being intimate with me, please tell me because that will excite me and make me a willing partner (DESIRED BEHAVIOR).”
Be careful to express your frustration without criticizing or blaming your partner. Simply state what you find hurtful and the change of behavior you would like to see. By exposing your vulnerabilities, there is a greater likelihood that your request will create greater intimacy, rather than further separation.
(4) Our reader’s frustration, caused by her husband’s fantasy, develops into anger and resentment. Both of which extinguish the fires of passion, so it is not surprising she has lost her appetite for se~xual relations. This is a warning sign that it is time to open the lines of communication and resolve the issues that are tearing the couple apart.
It is helpful for all of us to become aware of what Barbara De Angelis, Ph.D. calls “The Four R’s.” That is, the four stages of the deterioration of intimacy. The stages are Resistance, Resentment, Rejection, and Repression. Resistance refers to the tension, irritation, and discomfort one feels at the first signs of dwindling intimacy. Resentment follows from a build up of resistances. It expresses itself as anger, frustration, and criticism. The pain at this time intensifies because of the feeling that both parties are drifting apart. Rejection signals separation, a wall separates the couple, and the bond of intimacy is severed. This is the stage our reader finds herself in, as she rejects the se~xual advances of her husband. There is still time, however, for our reader to restore the relationship and avoid the final stage, Repression. This is the stage where one grows so weary of carrying toxic emotions that he or she just gives up trying to save the marriage. The couple may continue living together, but lead separate lives.
(5) Our reader was hurt when her husband decided to talk about his ex-girlfriend during their honeymoon. This type of behavior can indicate something as innocent as immaturity or as severe as se~xual perversion. There are some men who enjoy torturing their wives by sharing all the details of their se~xual escapades with other women. Such a man may be dangerous, as he may also poison the minds of the couple’s children. By considering the big picture or totality of her experiences, our reader can decide for herself where her husband falls within the range of innocent immaturity ~ se~xual perversion.
(6) It is difficult for our reader to forget about her husband’s ex-girlfriend. The pain is still festering inside. But if it appears that her husband has long stopped seeing his ex, our reader must work it out, not act it out. No more criticism. No more fighting. No more hanging on to the dead past. To remove the toxic emotions that are clogging her heart, she needs open heart surgery, which is carried out with open heart communication.
(7) Our reader is teetering on the edge of destructive behavior as she points out to her husband where he is wrong and she is right. This is a dangerous game that can accelerate the collapse of the relationship. Did our reader ever stop to think about the meaning of her words? When she tells her husband, “You are wrong and I am right,” she is effectively saying, “You are stupid and inferior to me.” This is hardly the way to win friends and influence people. The assumptions she is making are reckless, for as Henry Winkler said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Instead of trying to be right, I suggest our reader try to be kind, accepting, and supportive. When she changes her behavior for the better, the results she will get will be better.
(8) Our reader is concerned that her husband has lost his interest in dancing. Yet, losing his interest in dancing is not serious, but losing interest in her would be. She needs to be thankful that he remains at home with her. Besides, he may have “lost interest” in dancing just to avoid arguments.
(9) Our reader experiences bouts of negative emotions and wonders why this is so. Negative feelings come from negative thoughts, and negative thoughts are often the result of our programming.
The negative (or positive) statements that were hurled our way in our early years form the basis for our beliefs and behavior.
Psychologists believe that about 50% of our programming takes place between the ages of newborn to five. Another 30% takes place between six and eight years old. And another 15% occurs between nine and eighteen years old. Our thoughts, feelings, and behavior flow from our subconscious beliefs, and most of the time we act automatically. Reacting to circumstances and interpreting events through the eyes of our subconscious inner child.
With study and practice, however, we can break free from our automatic self-defeating behavior. We do this by being conscious of our thoughts, feelings, and choices, and acting wisely. Let’s consider some steps our reader can take to start rebuilding her marriage.
TIPS ON REVITALIZING YOUR MARRIAGE
1. Give your husband space. As Dr. Aaron Stein (1913 ~ 1883) wrote, “Only independent people can choose to remain in a relationship. Dependent people remain out of necessity. The most mature level of love exists only in the face of free choice.
Therefore, loving can be experienced and enjoyed only to the extent that the participants are able to maintain themselves independently.”
2. Become the person you want your husband to be because the world is a mirror. We get back what we give away. People treat us as we treat them. Someone else put it this way, “What you expect in relationships with others you must first find in yourself.”
3. Go on a date. See a movie. In fact, I’ll even tell you what movie to see. See “Fireproof.” It is the story of a firefighter contemplating divorce (75% of U.S. firefighters get divorced) and the help he receives to rescue his marriage. You can learn more about it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5lSu6GkC2k
4. Study the art of marriage. An excellent book is GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT: A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix, Holt Paperbacks, 2007.
For those who want to know the signs of an approaching divorce, study pages 25 ~ 46 of John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver’s book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” Orion, 2004.
5. If you need one-on-one guidance, see a marriage counselor. It can be a very wise investment.
Don’t take your mate or marriage for granted. Once you are married, it isn’t over; it has only just begun. It will need plenty of nurturing along the way. Or, as Richard L. Evans (1906 ~ 1971) said, “All things need watching, working at, caring for and marriage is no exception. Marriage is not something to be treated indifferently, or abused or something that simply takes care of itself. Nothing neglected will remain as it was or is, or will fail to deteriorate. All things need attention care and concern and especially so in this most sensitive of all relationships of life.”
The goal of every relationship should be to move forward, not backward, and as time passes, to experience more, not less intimacy, respect, affection, honor, admiration, love, commitment, and trust. Finally, I encourage our reader and her husband to make this Apache Wedding Blessing their very own wedding vow: “Now we will feel no rain for each of us will be the shelter for the other. Now we will feel no cold for each of us will be warmth for the other. Now there will be no more loneliness for each of us will be companion to the other. There is only one life before us and our seasons will be long and good.”