When you walked down the aisle and said I do, how did you imagine your life together would look? Did you expect your love to only grow over time? Did you think your happiest moments would always outweigh the most difficult ones? Did you believe that love conquers all?
No matter what the vision of your marriage was on your wedding day, as real life, arguments, misunderstandings, disappointment, resentment, busy schedules, children and other things come up, the fondness, love and closeness you once felt diminishes. It’s natural. And for many couples, rebounding and getting the marriage and relationship with each other back on solid ground eventually happens.
But how do you know if you are there yet? How do you know if what’s happening is a small bump in the road, or a huge pothole you won’t get out of?
And more importantly, what do you do about it?
Here are 10 questions to ask yourself along with tips and recommendations for what to do if you find your answer is “yes”.
1. Do you feel disconnected?
There probably was a time in your marriage or relationship where you could not have felt closer. Where you could talk for hours, really enjoyed each other’s company, and felt so in tune with each other. Then somewhere along the way, slowly, distance set in. Maybe you both got busy. Maybe you never really resolved that conflict. Maybe that misunderstanding was a huge turning point. And that distance grew larger as you both got busier and became used to not spending much time together. At first you missed him, but then you began to see the situation as meaning he doesn’t care about spending time together and that you are not important. So now, you operate in parallel lives. You are doing your thing while he is doing his. And now it feels like you are roommates instead of a united couple. He doesn’t really feel like your friend, and certainly not your best friend. You’d rather talk to almost anyone else about your day and the things you are proud and happy about, as well as your fears and worries. You no longer want to put yourself out there for fear of rejection or criticism. Or maybe you think he just doesn’t even care.
What to Do: The only way to rebuild connection is to rebuild connection. Small steps, consistent actions, even when it’s hard, and even when you don’t want to. Send a text, write a note, invite yourself on an errand, call just to say you were thinking about him. If you take tiny steps to connect – you know, those things that you used to do when you were first dating – reconnecting with each other will be a lot easier.
2. Does everything else come first?
Think about your day or your week. How do you spend your time? I’ll guess it’s some combination of going to work, taking care of the kids, cooking, cleaning, running errands, watching TV, surfing the internet, checking Facebook, talking with friends, exercising, sleeping, etc. And I’m sure there are times when you might say, “if nothing else, I’ve got to get “x,y,z” done. What is your “x, y, z”? Does any of it include something to keep your marriage strong? Or does prioritizing your marriage and husband come much further down the list? It’s so easy to say, I’ll spend time with my husband or take time to work on my marriage later. When things settle down. When I have more time. When I’m in the mood. And guess, what? The time goes, and months later you are saying the same thing. Needing to make a living and being a good parent are essentials. No one would argue with that. But what could you do to begin to see being a good wife, or having a healthy marriage as an essential too?
What to Do: Today, find a way to put your marriage first. DVR that TV show, put your phone down, save 15 minutes after the kids are in bed. Or find a way to take care of the “essentials” together.
3. Do you feel like enemies?
Maybe you can relate. It seems like your spouse does things just to annoy you or get on your nerves. Almost everything he says is intended to hurt you or question what you do. A lot of times he says things just for the sake of arguing. You feel criticized and defensive around most of his comments. It seems like he’s just out to get you. If any of these describe your situation, it’s likely you’ve gotten to a place of feeling more like enemies and opponents. Your mind has been trained to see all the ways he means you harm, all the ways you are not working as a team. If you are willing to, making some small shifts in how you chose to see things will work wonders. If you can fight through all the negativity and look for the ways he is helpful, you will feel better and your interactions will be less confrontational.
What to Do: Write down a list of at least 3 things he has done or said in the last month that have been helpful or supportive. Repeat, again and again. Then find and do 1 little thing each day for him that he would find helpful.
4. Do you rarely have sex?
It’s no secret that for many couples, the frequency of sex diminishes over time. Your life becomes busier, the children need more of your time and attention, your home has to be maintained and cleaned. And all of this leaves you too exhausted for sex. But if the thought of being intimate with your husband feels like something to “just get over with” or you feel no connection or joy out of the act, there is a much larger intimacy issue at play. Maybe you feel a bit used like you are there to fulfill his physical needs while he’s ignoring your emotional needs. Maybe it feels like just one more obligation and the quicker it’s over the better. Maybe you can’t even remember the last time you had sex. In these instances, what may be helpful is to spend time creating connection and intimacy that don’t involve sex.
What to Do: Share that you are having a hard time in this area, and that you want to work to fix it. Ask him what he thinks about your sex life, and share with him your thoughts in a kind and loving way that’s focused on making it better, not just complaining. Then try little ways to connect physically – maybe it’s touching as you pass each other, holding hands, sitting close together on the couch, laying close together in the bed. You’ll know what can work for you.
5. Do you have poor communication?
Poor communication can look like a lot of things. You hardly speak at all. You can’t seem to agree or understand each other. You argue about the same issues over and over again. You don’t keep each other in the loop. You assume things instead of just asking. You have your own agenda when you discuss certain topics. You don’t really listen to each other. You have an attitude when he asks questions. You avoid certain conversations. You make important decisions without informing each other ahead of time. Shall I go on? The truth is, you know if you have poor communication because it’s not the way you would ideally like it to be. No one gets it perfect all the time, but you recognize that you and your husband are really getting it all wrong, and more than likely it wasn’t always this way. Communication is always listed as one of the biggest areas couples want to improve. But what I find is that before you say a word, you have to be really clear about the story that’s already going on in your own head. So many times we come to “communicate” full of assumptions, agendas, and attitudes that make really hearing and understanding each other difficult.
What to Do: Be completely transparent about what you are saying. Be sure to include all of the thoughts, logic, and ultimate goal of what you are sharing. Then ask him for his opinion, thoughts, or reactions. And really listen to his response. Repeat back what you understand, and listen for the hidden feelings he may not be communicating. You can read more on this in a previous post on Communication by clicking HERE.
6. Do you have a scorecard?
Perhaps you feel like you are doing all the work. Whether that’s maintaining your home, taking care of the kids or doing all you can to make the marriage work. If you spend your time thinking about how much more effort you are putting in, how long it’s been since he’s done…(fill in the blank) and how you get little appreciation for the things you do, you are keeping a score. And your husband will never win or catch up.
While marriage is all about teamwork, it is not about keeping score. If this is you, try to break the habit of saying “I’m always the one who” or “he never does”. It may make you feel justified in the moment, but eventually, it will lead to resentment. Have you considered there may be times where he would do more, but that you don’t create the opportunity? Or if you do, it comes along with a long list of do’s and don’ts all specific to your preferences and your timelines? I’m not trying to point the finger at you, but rather it may be helpful for you to let go of some ways of thinking for your own sanity and peace of mind. Do you really want to feel like you are doing everything and that if you don’t do it or say it, it won’t get done or said? That’s an awful lot of responsibility to shoulder. Do you always have to?
What to Do: Here you have to make the choice to continue what you’ve been doing or relinquish control so that he can. Bring up the issue and ask him what are his ideas about how to move forward? Be willing to try it, even if it’s not what you had in mind. Again, the goal here is your own sanity and peace of mind.
7. Does he seem like a different person?
If you find that so many things you used to love about your husband now annoy you to no end, if he seems a lot meaner, stubborn, or controlling, if you look at him now and think he’s almost a stranger, then you’ve got to pause and ask yourself why. Are those things really true? And if so, why? It could be that he has changed for the worse, or it could be that you have now gotten used to seeing the worst in him. There are a million different ways to interpret a comment or a behavior. There are dozens of ways to see and experience a person. But if your perception is clouded by resentment, past hurts and frustrations, and if deep down you are unhappy within yourself, you will see things one way, and one way only. You will point the finger and blame. He is the bad guy and you are the victim. You’ve programmed yourself to focus on what’s wrong. And you’ve gotten really good at it.
What to Do: My recommendation here is to challenge your own thinking. Whenever a negative thought about your husband comes to mind, challenge yourself to come up with another way of seeing it that brings you a little more peace and contentment. And focus on that.
8. Does everyone else seem happier?
It seems as though everyone else’s husband is more caring, more affectionate, more attentive. Everyone else is spending such quality time together, having fun, celebrating their love. Other people have happier marriages, support each other, and really work together as a team. And then there is you. There is your husband and your marriage that looks nothing like that. Everyone seems to be better off and you are left stuck in this mess. You may ask, “why not me too?” How did I get so unlucky? Why can’t he be more like so-and-so, or why can’t he do that too? Let me tell you, asking those questions and comparing your marriage to others will get you nowhere, but to unhappy-ville and woe-is-me-station. Stop it right now. Your marriage is not perfect. Your husband is not perfect. And you are not perfect. But something amazing brought you together in the first place. And it’s time to focus on that, and work to get it back, because somewhere it’s still there.
What to Do: Ask yourself questions that empower and inspire you. Ask, “what about my husband can I be grateful for right now?” or “how can I begin to make the most of the relationship we currently have?” Keep asking these questions again and again. Your brain will go to work to find the answer.
9. Have you stopped caring?
If you’ve ever told yourself “I can’t be bothered with this right now” or said, “I just don’t have the energy to make this work” or thought, “ what I do doesn’t even really matter anyway” you are definitely headed towards apathy and indifference. You. Just. Don’t. Care. It’s bad, but you are tired of trying to talk it out, you are exhausted from the fighting, and you’ve learned to live your life and “do you.” And while you are telling yourself you don’t really care anymore, deep down you do. As human beings, we are wired for deep and intimate connections. And the love and affection you once felt really brought you joy. Everything in life was a little more manageable, other things could be going wrong, but you still had that loving marriage which grounded you and helped you keep things in perspective. Now, you’ve been too hurt, too overlooked, too ignored, too uncared for. And you’ve put up a wall.
What to Do: Be honest with yourself. Admit that you do miss the closeness you once had. Allow yourself to feel the emotions of sadness and loneliness. Acknowledge that you do need to feel cared for, that you would like attention. But instead of being consumed by those feelings, channel them in a positive way to open the door to an important conversation. Find ways of sharing your feelings without placing blame, and identify things you can do to reach out and reconnect in small ways.
10. Do you know you need help, but haven’t done anything about it?
You probably see clearly the areas where things are not going well. And somewhere on this page is your story. You know that something has got to change, but you are not quite sure what to do. Maybe you’ve tried therapy and it didn’t really work. Or maybe your husband doesn’t even want to get any help. Maybe the situation seems a little hopeless. Or maybe you are ready to take some step to move you in the right direction. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t intervene on their own behalf. Shame. Confusion. Learning to be comfortable with the status quo. Fear. Doubt. But the truth is, you recognize that things are headed in a bad direction. And deep down you do want things to get better. That’s one of the reasons you are reading this post. Well now you have a choice. You can keep doing what you’ve been doing, watching your marriage slowly go from ok, to bad, to worse. Or you can take a step to turn things around. The time is going to pass either way.
What to Do: Take one step to get some help. Find a coach or therapist. Find a book to read. (Email me for my recommendations) Start talking to each other about what’s been going on and what you would like to see happen. Do something.
This month, I’m offering a FREE Marriage MakeOver Coaching Session. I’d love to talk with you about what’s going on, and share more tools and actions you can begin right away to create a marriage and relationship with your husband that you love.
And if one-on-one coaching is not for you, but you still want to do something, check out my program Getting to Happily. It’s 8 modules that will direct you to completing the steps necessary to have the happy and loving marriage you want and deserve. You can find Getting to Happily HERE.
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Yours in relating well,