Feeling disconnected from your spouse can be as confusing as it is concerning. You might be wondering if you’re imagining things. (We all do this at times.) Or is this a normal feeling during a hectic season of life? (We all go through those times.) Is it a sign of something deeper and perhaps more troubling? (Maybe. But let’s not rush there.)

The question is: What will you do about this feeling of disconnection?

Here are five suggestions to help you get to the bottom of this situation. 

1. Tell your spouse how you feel.

Sounds obvious, right? We often sit with these feelings for far too long without dealing with them directly. You can be as straightforward as I just wanted to let you know that I feel disconnected from you lately. Can we talk about it?

Your spouse might feel the same way, and you can begin to address it together. Your spouse might explain how they’ve been stressed out lately and offer to plan time together to reconnect.

2. Share your need to feel more connected with your spouse and include the actions and activities that help you feel connected.

We’re all wired differently. We experience connection uniquely. Your spouse might think that if there aren’t any obvious problems, all is well in your marriage. (If we’re keeping things real, this is often the default setting for many people.)

3. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

This is not a roundabout way to say this is all in your head. This is human nature. If you’re mentally burned out, emotionally spent, and/or physically exhausted– disconnected from your best self –you’ll feel disconnected from those around you. 

You might need some alone time. Engage in some things that recharge and reenergize you. Don’t feel an ounce of guilt for taking care of yourself. This equips you to connect with others in meaningful ways.

4. Take a look at your circumstances.

Have there been some significant changes? Have you or your spouse’s schedules become crazy? (Has your child’s schedule become crazy?) Have your usual routines been disrupted? New career demands? Travel? Are in-laws stopping by more often? Any of these things can easily disrupt the typical ways you connect with your spouse.

If you can’t change your circumstances, you can intentionally carve out time to connect with your spouse. You might have to try some new approaches. Get creative. Be sure you’re getting the most out of your time together. (Don’t just sit on the couch and watch a movie. Snuggle it up on the couch and watch a movie.)

5. Don’t be afraid to get help.

By disconnected, do you mean things like:

  • Uninterested in spending time with your spouse?
  • Uninterested in resolving conflict?
  • Uninterested in connecting emotionally?
  • Uninterested in physical touch or sex?

These can be signs of deeper relationship issues that a date night isn’t going to fix. If you feel like your spouse is more of a roommate and less of a soulmate, it’s time to seek some counseling. Whatever you have to do to connect with your spouse is worth it.

BONUS: Focus on giving love, not receiving it. Watch what happens.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from FreePik.com

In marriage, it’s common for one spouse to initiate sex more often. But if you’re the one every time, it can easily lead to resentment, frustration, and feeling undesirable or unwanted. If you’re there, it is not your fault. And it may not be your spouse’s fault either. Let’s take a look at steps you can take to get to a more balanced place in your marriage.

Identify any barriers.

There may be reasons your spouse doesn’t initiate sex. Here are some questions to consider. These aren’t to be taken lightly, either.

  • Are there any underlying physical issues that make sex difficult? When is the last time your spouse has seen a doctor for a checkup?
  • Does their view of themself make them feel less desirable?
  • Are they under increased stress from work demands?
  • Is this stage of parenting exhausting them?
  • Do you two have differing views of when and where sex should happen?
  • Is there sexual or physical trauma in their past?
  • How was sex viewed in their home growing up?

The answer to all of these can help identify if there are barriers to your spouse initiating. They may want to initiate more often (as the previous research indicates many men and women do), but there may be a barrier that has nothing to do with you or your marriage. 

Some of these barriers may require the help of a therapist or counselor. If your spouse is open to discussing these roadblocks with you, be supportive. Offer to walk with them in whatever way possible to help them find healing. We all want our spouses to be their best selves.

Have the right conversation.

Let’s proceed as if there aren’t any traumatic barriers. If you want your spouse to initiate more often, you have to tell them.1 I know this seems obvious, but sex isn’t always the most comfortable conversation, even for married people. Think back to those barriers; maybe your spouse grew up in an environment where sex was a taboo topic. Perhaps you did, too. 

And maybe you have already  tried to bring it up, and nothing has changed. Keep in mind, if your spouse isn’t a natural initiator, it will take time to make this change! Keep trying. And maybe try a few of the conversation starters below to get the right talk happening.

Ask your spouse…

“What is one way you like to show me you love me?”

“What’s your biggest turn-off and turn-on?”

“When I initiate sex, does it make you feel desirable?”

“What is one thing we can do to increase emotional intimacy in our marriage?”

“Do you ever feel like one of us should be taking the lead when it comes to initiating sex? Why or why not?”

Invest in a lifestyle of intimacy.

Did you know intimacy is about more than sex? Sexual intimacy is just one expression of an intimate relationship. There is also emotional, intellectual, experiential, and spiritual intimacy. Living an intimate lifestyle means focusing on all of these. It’s about growing each type. A great starting point is “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. We all speak a love language, and knowing your spouse’s language builds intimacy in your relationship.

When you invest in the other types of intimacy, sexual intimacy grows. You also feel more desired, seen, and loved when there is a holistic approach to intimacy.

Schedule sex.

Yes, schedule it. My wife and I are extremely busy with work and other commitments. Add two kids with their own schedules, and sex can easily take a back seat. Scheduling sex doesn’t make it boring; it can actually enhance it by building anticipation. Agree on how often you both want to have sex and put it on the calendar. You can also determine who initiates, so the pressure and guesswork are off. This gives you both freedom to express yourself.

Set realistic expectations.

Every marriage goes through seasons. And in some seasons, sex may be difficult for one or both of you. Be gracious with your spouse. If both of you are committed to an intimate marriage, you can navigate those times when sex isn’t feasible. Focus on those other areas of intimacy and be there to support one another through difficult times. When you walk hand in hand, helping each other through the ups and downs of marriage, your passion will grow.

Take other possibilities into account.

It’s very possible that your spouse really never does initiate sex. But it’s also possible that they initiate differently than you! Are their cues so subtle or different that you have missed them?

There are two types of sexual initiation: direct and indirect. Direct is, well, direct. This could be telling your spouse you want to have sex or physically touching them. Indirect is less obvious. Maybe it’s kissing them or complimenting their appearance. Research finds that indirect initiation is more common than direct.2 But, guess what! Direct is more effective. Maybe your spouse utilizes indirect initiation and it’s not as easy for you to recognize.

So, what do you do? You gotta talk about it. I know, I know, I’ve already said that. But communication increases connection.

Sexual intimacy is a vital part of your marriage. Protect and nurture it. Keep the conversation going in your marriage. 

Additional reads:

How to Talk About Sex in Marriage

Be a More Supportive Spouse – First Things First

How to Talk About Sex With Your Partner

Sources

1Curtis, Eddy, L., Ashdown, B. K., Feder, H., & Lower, T. (2012). Prelude to a coitus: Sexual initiation cues among heterosexual married couples. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2012.734604 

2Gonzalez-Rivas, & Peterson, Z. D. (2020). Women’s Sexual Initiation in Same- and Mixed-Sex Relationships: How Often and How?  https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1489489

How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage

Even though it may be hard or even painful, a healthier relationship is worth the effort.

Resentment in marriage is a dangerous emotion. It’s a silent killer of relationships. Resentment is bitterness at having been mistreated. It’s anger too, but it’s so much more. When you feel resentment, you’re reliving whatever caused the anger. This builds an emotional wall between you and your spouse.

Resentment is complex, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. Resentment can be a mixture of anger, surprise, disgust, contempt, shock, and outrage.1  

Here are some common causes of resentment in marriage:

  • Being taken advantage of by your spouse.
  • Your spouse spends too much time with their family or friends and not enough with yours.
  • Your spouse is married to their job.
  • You don’t feel recognized or appreciated by your spouse.
  • Being put down by your spouse.

Any of these would cause you to be justifiably angry. When that anger is ignored or left unresolved, it festers and grows into resentment. Anger is a healthy emotion, but resentment is not. 

Built-up resentment doesn’t have to be a relationship killer. Your marriage can overcome it. It may not be easy, but it is possible.

Where do you start if you want to overcome built-up resentment in your marriage?

I’m so glad you asked.

Get to the root of the resentment.

To overcome resentment in marriage, you have to start at the root. Ask yourself, “When did it start? What happened that caused me to feel this way?” Maybe you feel there are several causes. Grab a notebook and start writing. Think through the timeline of your marriage. It may seem like you resent your spouse for several things, but there is likely a root cause. Remember, resentment builds an emotional wall between you and your spouse. Many issues may have compounded after that wall was built.

The intention isn’t to list all your spouse’s wrongdoings. Like a good detective, you need to gather the evidence. The exercise of writing down the wrongs will help you identify the root cause. Once you have identified the root, don’t let the other issues compound it.

Let yourself feel.

Resentment is an intense emotion. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re sad, be sad. We often bottle up our feelings when we think others don’t care. Bottling up those emotions isn’t healthy or helpful. To overcome resentment, you must process the feelings that come with it. And as you work through this with your spouse, you must let those feelings be seen. Let them know how their action, or inaction, makes you feel. Remember to use “I” statements like “I feel hurt” or “I feel neglected.”

Focus on the good.

Your spouse is your partner, the love of your life. You may not always like them, but you married them because you love them. While resentment can cause us to dwell on the negative, overcoming resentment can only happen if we remember all the good in our marriage. Grab that same notebook and write all the good about your spouse and marriage. Write down what you love about them, how they care for you, good memories, and cherished moments. 

You’re going through this process of overcoming resentment because you cherish and value your spouse.

Talk to someone you trust.

Whether it’s a therapist, a friend, or a relative, you may need someone to talk with through this process. This isn’t about bashing your spouse. You must address your feelings first. You can’t fix someone else; you can only fix yourself. Surround yourself with a support system as you find healing. You may have someone in mind as you read this. Take out your phone, text or call them, and invite them to coffee.

★We get it: Sometimes getting the help you need can feel like it’s out of reach for so many reasons. Here are some free/reduced options for counseling and help in your personal and relational wellbeing.

Acknowledge that we all make mistakes.

We’re all human. Mistakes are in our nature. If we want others to forgive our mistakes, we must offer the same to them. However, this doesn’t mean you should excuse your spouse’s behavior when they wrong you. It means you should acknowledge their mistake and look deeper into the circumstances. If the mistake is repetitive, intentional, or crosses a boundary and they refuse to address it, you should speak to a counselor to get guidance.

Work toward forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a process. It would be ignorant of me to tell you to just forgive your spouse. I’m not a person who easily forgives. It’s often easier to forget and distance yourself from the person who harmed you. But resentment hurts you more than anyone else. If you’re looking for healing, forgiveness must come. 

It may take a lot of time, depending on the depth of the hurt. When you choose to forgive your spouse, you decide to heal yourself. Take your time and be aware of your emotional well-being through the process. Don’t let anyone rush you to forgive. Let your spouse know your feelings and the cause of them. When you are ready, let them know you forgive them. Be honest with them. 

Holding on to resentment hurts you. If you want a healthy, happy marriage, don’t let resentment keep you from working toward that.

Other blogs:

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges – First Things First

What to Do When You Feel Disrespected in Marriage – First Things First

How To Have More Meaningful Conversations With Your Spouse – First Things First

Sources:

1TenHouten, W. D. (2018). From ressentiment to resentment as a tertiary emotion. Rev. Eur. Stud., 10, 49.

Miceli, & Castelfranchi, C. (2019). Anger and Its Cousins. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073917714870

Additional articles:

Dealing with Resentment in Relationships I Psych Central

How to Fix Resentment in a Marriage | Loving at Your Best

5 Things to Do When You Start Resenting Your Partner

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

How to Keep Intimacy Strong in Your Marriage

Growing closer can be a wonderful journey.

Marriage can be a wonderful experience when both spouses are connected and headed in the same direction. Life can be beautiful when you walk side by side, working together. But marriage isn’t always this way. My wife and I recently celebrated 18 years of marriage, and we haven’t always been on the same page. But we’ve learned having a happy, healthy marriage takes intentionality and commitment. And it requires a healthy level of intimacy. It’s important to keep intimacy strong in your marriage.

Let me clarify what I mean by the word intimacy. Intimacy is not sex, although that’s part of it. Intimacy is so much more! It’s the close connection you have with another person and feeling comfortable around your partner. It’s communicating your needs and feelings, and appreciating each other for who you are, not what you do or bring to the relationship. Intimacy is the intentional, ongoing process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse.

Did you know there is more to intimacy than just sex?

There are several types of intimacy: Emotional, Intellectual, Experiential, Spiritual, and Sexual. And they’re all intertwined.

Nurturing intimacy in your marriage requires building up these types. As you strengthen one area, the whole becomes stronger. Think of it as your health. Being healthy is more than just working out. It’s eating right, getting plenty of rest, hydrating, and exercising. When you focus on one area, you feel better. But to get healthy, you have to work on all the areas. Here’s a cool thing about strengthening intimacy in your marriage: When you strengthen one area, others are boosted as well.

So, if we want to keep intimacy strong in our marriage, we must do some work. Marriage isn’t easy. But having a happy, healthy, thriving marriage is possible for any couple who commits to the work. And it’s so worth the effort.

Let’s look at each type of intimacy and some workouts to strengthen them.

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s happening inside your spouse (and feeling like they know you the same way). It’s demonstrated through communication and requires vulnerability. You have to listen and share. This is often the toughest intimacy to build, but it’s the glue that holds them all together. These conversations usually involve tough topics like feelings in response to someone’s actions, perception of yourself, or a difficult childhood. They may also include your hopes, dreams, and desires.

Take The First Step:

When you and your spouse see each other next, ask, ‘What is one thing you wish had gone differently today? Why?'”Listen and validate their feelings. This creates a vulnerable and safe environment. 

Intellectual Intimacy

Intellectual intimacy is about getting to know how your spouse’s mind works and letting them understand you better. Don’t get scared! And no, this doesn’t mean you can learn to read their mind. We all have a worldview shaped by our values, beliefs, and experiences. You and your spouse grew up in different families, work different jobs, and may have grown up in different cultures. 

Take The First Step:

Ask your spouse, “What’s one thing or topic you’ve always wanted to do/learn? Let’s find a time to put it on the calendar and learn it together!” Sometimes, intellectual intimacy can lead to talking about things you disagree on. If you disagree with your spouse, ask questions about why they believe what they believe and make sure you’re asking those questions to learn more about them, not change their mind.

Experiential Intimacy

Experiential intimacy is the experiences and quality time you spend together. It’s bonding over shared interests. You don’t have to do everything together, but experiences together are often how relationships begin and grow. 

Take The First Step:

Ask your spouse, “When is the last time we did something new together? Let’s decide on one new thing to try this month!” Setting regular time in your schedule to experience new things together can help strengthen your experiential intimacy. 

Spiritual Intimacy

Spirituality means different things to different people. For some, faith and religion are essential. For others, meditation or nature may feed their spirits. Spirituality involves your belief and values.

Take The First Step:

If faith is an integral part of your life, worshipping and praying together is an ideal way to grow your spiritual intimacy. Ask your spouse, “What’s one thing you do to help you feel grounded? Can we try it together, or do you prefer to do it alone?” One of my favorite ways to increase spiritual intimacy is by getting into nature. Take a walk in nature with your spouse, hand in hand and device-free. 

Sexual Intimacy

This one seems straightforward, but there is so much more than sex. It’s the physical connection between you and your spouse. It’s all the touching, kissing, and hugging.

Sexual intimacy may be hard for some people because of past trauma or abuse. Be attentive to your spouse. If there is past trauma, offer to walk alongside them as they seek help to address it. 

Take The First Step:

I could say have more sex, but it takes a lot more than that. Ask your spouse, “How many times a week would you say is ideal for us to have sex?” Scheduling sex doesn’t have to mean it’ll be boring! Sometimes the anticipation can add to the excitement.

But don’t just focus on the sex. Be intentional about physically connecting with your spouse in ways that make them feel safe. Maybe that’s cuddling, holding hands, or a massage.

Choosing to strengthen the intimacy in your marriage is a beautiful journey. It takes trust, acceptance, vulnerability, compassion, communication, and time. Enjoy the journey!

Other resources:

How to Talk About Sex in Marriage

Why People Really Have Affairs

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges

Sources:

Weinberger, M.I., et al. (2008). Intimacy in young adulthood as a predictor of divorce in midlife. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2008.00215.x

Sinclair, & Dowdy, S. W. (2005). Development and Validation of the Emotional Intimacy Scale. https://doi.org/10.1891/jnum.13.3.193

Kardan-Souraki, M., et al. (2016). A Review of Marital Intimacy-Enhancing Interventions among Married Individuals. https://doi.org/10.5539/gjhs.v8n8p74

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

,

What To Do When Your Spouse Is A Bad Parent

You can come together and move forward as a family.

Parenting has evolved since I was a kid. But not necessarily because of cultural shifts as much as access to information. Research, blogs, and social media have made it easy to access information about how our parenting impacts kids. This information can help us to better understand the long-term impact of our parenting. It also reshapes what this generation sees as good or bad parenting. Parents often search for information to help them when they view their spouse as a bad parent.

Before we look deeper into this, let’s clarify what a “bad” parent looks like. 

If your spouse is emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to your child (or you), this article isn’t for you. I strongly urge you to stop reading and seek help. Contact the National Children’s Advocacy Center. The following information is not intended for your situation or to condone that type of parent.

For our purposes, let’s take a look at the parenting styles to define what a bad parent looks like. There are four main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. An uninvolved parenting style is typically characterized as being distant with little communication. They may ensure their child’s basic needs are met but are involved little beyond that. An uninvolved parenting style is considered bad parenting.

If you think your spouse is a bad parent, you may feel like they:

  • Show little or no affection to their children.
  • Don’t provide emotional support for their children.
  • Don’t set rules, boundaries, or expectations.
  • Don’t know their child’s friends.
  • Have no involvement with their child’s education.

We have to acknowledge that parenting, like life, has seasons. You may look at this list and say, “Yep, my spouse isn’t involved with our child. They’re a bad parent.” I would ask you two questions first. 

  • Is this a busy season?
  • Do they have a desire to be more involved?

Your spouse may be in a busy season due to work or life demands. I don’t want to justify their actions, but there is a difference between a bad parent and a busy parent. 

If you think your spouse is a bad parent and you’re reading this, you know something needs to change.

How do you help them become a more involved or better parent?

→Open the lines of communication.

You recognize there’s an issue. You may have to take the first step toward your spouse. A good rule is not to bring up these issues when frustrated. An argument isn’t going to bring resolution. 

Schedule a coffee date with your spouse. Let them know how you feel without being accusatory. It may be challenging, but using “I” statements to express your feelings is an excellent way to discuss frustrations in a relationship. 

Perhaps you could start the conversation like this: “Lately, I’ve noticed some distance between you and our son. I want to ensure that you’re getting the time with him he needs. Is there something I can do to help us get on the same page?”

→Seek to understand.

Our parenting style is often a result of how we were parented, good or bad. Your spouse parents the way they do for a reason. Discuss these questions to dive deeper:

  • What were the parenting styles in each of our homes?
  • Which patterns do we want to change about how our parents raised us?
  • What healthy habits do we want to maintain?

This conversation is as much about your parenting as their parenting. You may gain insight into why your spouse parents the way they do. You may learn something about yourself. This may open up some emotional wounds. If so, don’t be afraid to seek help from a coach or counselor.

→Find common ground.

Look for good parenting resources that you can discuss together. Identify the common parenting values in your family. Do you both value responsibility, hard work, or helping others? Establish goals for your parenting. What do you want your parenting to result in? Write down the positive parenting contributions from your spouse. Build on these positives.

→Avoid good cop, bad cop.

There will be disagreements over how you both parent, but those are conversations for the two of you. As you and your spouse become better parents together, try to avoid fighting in front of your kids. Present a united front. Remember, you’re a team. Your child needs to see that the two of you care for each other and them.

Just because you think your spouse is a bad parent doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. You can come together and move forward as a family. It’s gonna take work, some compromise, and lots of conversations. The process is worth it for your kids, your marriage, and future generations of your family.

Sources:

Baumrind. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior. https://doi.org/10.2307/1126611.

Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x.

Other blogs:

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**

Image from Pexels.com

What To Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic

Evaluating your situation can bring clarity.

Concern and confusion about your relationship are completely understandable. On the one hand, people say things like: No marriage is perfect. Marriage requires work and self-sacrifice. Every marriage experiences ups and downs. On the other hand, you might be wondering: Are my spouse and I an explosive combination? Is my spouse toxic? What do I do now?

This marriage is draining the life out of me. 

Sure, no marriage is perfect… but your overall marital experience should be positive, nurturing, and safe. Your marriage should be a positive, fulfilling part of your life, even with ups and downs.🚦Certain aspects of marriage may be hard, but simply being married shouldn’t be hard. Being married shouldn’t threaten your well-being.

A relationship is toxic when painful dysfunction with your spouse is the norm.

  • You’re hurting and feeling drained daily because of your spouse.
  • Your sense of self is spiraling down because of your spouse.
  • You aren’t receiving the support or encouragement found in marriage. 
  • Your marriage isn’t a refuge or a safe place. It’s an explosive minefield. 
  • Your marital day-to-day with your spouse is a drama-filled act of survival.

I want you to repeat after me: 

My marriage is not meant to feel like this.

Before we talk about your options as the spouse of a toxic partner, you first have to make some crucial distinctions. You must evaluate your welfare and safety. (This is non-negotiable.) How are you?

1. You have to reclaim yourself.

It’s not uncommon for people in toxic relationships to literally abandon and lose themselves. They’re busy focusing on navigating the minefield of their marriage. 

Here’s how to reclaim yourself. Here’s info on the value of mindfulness and meditation.

  • Affirm yourself daily. Your “inner voice” may have become your spouse’s critical, demeaning voice. Tell yourself the truth each day. Listen to your own voice. Here’s a clear explanation of affirming yourself with practical tips and suggestions. 

2. You need to understand abuse in its various forms.

  • Toxic relationships are definitely unhealthy. They aren’t necessarily abusive but frequently have abusive elements in them. Get help making any distinctions between unhealthy and abusive. Often, the individual enduring abuse is the last one to realize it. Victims frequently make excuses for their abuser, downplay abusive behavior, or blame themselves. This is the time for some reality-based honesty. 
  • Let the experts on abuse help you sort it out. Commit to call, text, or chat online with a specialist. It’s anonymous. You’re worth it. Believe what they tell you. Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. Chat securely with an expert on abuse online here.

3. You need a dependable support system.

  • Take some time to consider and write down your immediate needs. When was the last time you had a health check-up? Be clear about any physical or emotional symptoms you’re experiencing. You should also seek care from a qualified therapist or counselor. 
  • You need people in your life who:
    • Believe in you, not people who blame or shame you.
    • Let you safely vent, and will empathize with you.
    • Can get you out of the house and help you recharge.
    • Will join you in your journey and help you reach your goals.

DO NOT LET MONEY MAKE YOU FEEL HELPLESS.

Yes, money can be a thing. It’s a hard reality. And finances can be entangled with your spouse’s toxicity. Think of your time as a valuable currency. Invest it in the search for resources. Use this guide to therapy for every budget and the resources at the end of this blog.

Internet time! (Delete your browsing history if it helps you feel safe.) What low-cost or no-cost physical and mental health services are available in your area? (Check here and here.) Are support groups available locally or online? What apps can meet critical needs? Hotlines, like the ones at the end of this blog, can steer you toward local resources. Give yourself permission to ask for and receive help.

Is your marriage or your toxic spouse hopeless? What options should you explore?

Hope? Find a mirror. Take a long look. You’re looking at the face of the person who is your best hope. Let this empower you to create a future characterized by hope and not hurt

Facts! There isn’t an option on the table that isn’t challenging. Nobody knows your situation better than you… but this blog has some important things to consider.

More Facts! Research has identified two significant “at-risk” periods for marriage. The first at-risk period is the first two years of marriage, which obviously makes sense. The second at-risk period is roughly years five through 10. 

Catch This: The average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is eight years. The divorce process takes about a year. On average, an individual takes two years to consider divorce before taking action. Crunch those numbers. It’s clear marital troubles frequently hit couples about five years into marriage. This makes so much sense.

About five years into marriage, there’s a good chance that:

  • Marriage has become less fun and more difficult.
  • Circumstances like demanding careers or raising children have caused relationship drift & disconnection.
  • Unhealthy relationship habits have hardened into an unhealthy marriage. Poor communication, poor conflict management. Not being proactive & intentional about strengthening intimacy & connection. It’s all finally caught up with the marriage. 
  • Someone has inflicted significant personal hurt, often fueling bitterness, resentment, and contempt. (Left undealt with, those feelings are marriage-killers.)

Press pause if your marriage is in that window, generally between years five through 10. Barring abuse in any form, there are many reasons to hope that change is possible in your spouse and marriage. Research also indicates that couples who work through years five to 10 experience a “second honeymoon” period from years 10 to 15. 

Hear & Know This: You are not responsible for your spouse’s toxic or abusive behavior. Period. Full Stop. You are one-half of your marriage. 

This Is Critical: Was your spouse always a toxic person? Or is this something they have become? Can you see a possibility where you, your spouse, and a therapist might do the hard work to sort your relationship out? It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t happen overnight. But if your spouse was willing and actually did the work, could they (and your marriage) get back on track?

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author, explains the critical factor in whether a toxic relationship is doomed. “If only one partner is invested in creating healthy patterns, there is, unfortunately, little likelihood that change will occur.” Put another way, WE can move toward a healthier marriage. But a willing ME stands little chance of experiencing change with an unwilling ME.

Can you and your spouse work toward a WE? 

As in, WE are:

  • Responsible for choosing to be the best versions of ourselves.
  • Open to seeking whatever individual and marital help we need.
  • Willing to prioritize and invest in our relationship and each other.
  • Committed to doing less blaming and more team building.
  • Agreeing to learn from the past and leave it there. 

REMEMBER: These are commitments to foundational principles for a healthy marriage. The way these principles translate to specific behaviors depends on your particular situation. Ideally, a counselor or therapist would help you and your spouse identify the behaviors, routines, and habits that honor these principles in your marriage.

★ If you’re married to a toxic spouse, RELATIONSHIP EXPERTS consider these principles a fundamental shared “minimum requirement” for BOTH spouses to work toward a healthier marriage. The proof these principles have become integrated into a spouse’s life is when their behavior moves from hurtful to helpful. NOTE: This is more than promises to change. This is change.

★ MARITAL HEALTH cannot begin to be addressed unless you are first in a place of PERSONAL SAFETY.

If abuse in any form is present in your relationship, your personal safety is your TOP PRIORITY. The appropriate professionals must address this. Don’t wonder if you’re experiencing abuse – reach out. 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. 

If your spouse is abusive, you need to safely remove yourself from the situation. Do that as soon as possible. 

As much as YOU might be committed to WE, your spouse must meet you there. You can’t make them move from ME to WE. Regrettably, some spouses can’t or won’t move to WE. 

After professionals have helped you determine you’re not in danger of abuse, you need to decide if you can be healthy with a spouse who is unwilling to function as your marriage partner. This is a critical decision to consider carefully. Please: Allow professionals to walk with you through your options. I wish you all the best in this challenging situation.


TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

The Relatable Report handpicks the latest and greatest relationship content and delivers it straight to your inbox every week.


Relationship Resources

Mental Health Care

The Importance of Self-Care 

The 13 Best Meditation Apps of 2022

Calm: App for Sleep, Meditation, Relaxation

Headspace: App for Stress, Anxiety, Mindfulness

5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors

Hotlines & Helplines

National Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Or dial 988)

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Support Groups & Group Therapy

What Is Online Group Therapy? How To Find It

Find Support Groups | Mental Health America

The 6 Best Online PTSD Support Groups of 2022

6 Best Online Depression Support Groups for 2022

7 Best Anxiety Support Groups of 2022

DomesticShelters.org

Free & Affordable Therapists and Counseling Services

8 Affordable Therapy Options

FindTreatment.gov

MentalHealth.gov

Online Therapist and Counseling Services

10 Top Online Therapy Picks for 2022

7 Best Free and Affordable Online Therapists, 2022

Best 8 Online Psychiatry Services in 2022

Reviews of 4 Mental Health Chatbots

TalkSpace Online Services: Individual & Couples

BetterHelp Online Services: Individual & Couples

Sources

Meditation: In-Depth | NCCIH

Everything To Know About Stress: Causes & Prevention

The Effects of Stress on Your Body

Stable Negative Social Exchanges And Health

4 Negative Behaviors That May Be Making You Sick

Dispositional Contempt: A First Look At The Contemptuous Person

The Dark Core Of Personality

19 Signs Of A Toxic Relationship & What To Do If You’re In One

10 Necessary Steps To Fix A Toxic Relationship

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional Abuse Test

The Problem With Online Toxic Relationship Quizzes

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

What Is Emotional Intimacy?

Being close with the one you love has major benefits.

Cultivating emotional intimacy in marriage makes me think of a road trip. Having a destination is essential, but the journey is where adventure lies. My wife and I love a good road trip. I could tell you countless stories of getting lost, taking detours, traffic jams, and discovering beauty along the way. 

Marriage is a lot like a road trip. Some days are blue skies and sunshine, driving through the countryside with the wind in your hair and music cranked loud. Other days are roadblocks, traffic jams, and detours. When you head out, you never know what lies ahead. The road you travel won’t always be easy, but the journey is where your marriage is strengthened and thrives. 

The journey begins the day you say, “I do.” It won’t always be easy, but all the bumps in the road help the two of you grow closer. When you tackle all those hazards together, hand in hand, it strengthens your connection. 

Researchers at Cornell University found that the most successful marriages involve communication, knowledge, and commitment.¹ Those three components are vital to a happy, healthy marriage. They also contribute to building emotional intimacy in your relationship.

What is emotional intimacy in marriage?

It’s the ongoing, intentional process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse. Intimacy is often equated with sex, but it’s so much more than that. There are actually five types of intimacy: emotional, intellectual, experiential, spiritual and sexual. For right now, let’s focus on emotional intimacy because it’s crucial to the other types. Emotional intimacy is the “glue” of all relationships.²

Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s happening inside your spouse (and feeling like they understand you the same way). It’s knowing all their feelings, hopes, dreams, vulnerabilities, fears, motivations, and desires. It’s gaining a better sense of what drives or moves your spouse, what interests and intrigues, and enthralls and enchants that person you’ve committed yourself to. Emotional intimacy is simply growing deeper in your understanding of your mate. 

Emotional intimacy requires couples to take on the role of a compassionate detective – an invested student of each other. Developing emotional intimacy is a continual process of learning, understanding, and empathizing with who your spouse is on the inside. Both men and women view emotional connection as crucial to a long-term, healthy relationship.³

So, what does emotional intimacy look like in marriage?

I’m glad you asked!

Here’s what people in marriages with strong emotional intimacy may say: 

It feels like I’m heard whenever we talk, even if we disagree. 

When we’re together, we’re not just two people in the same room; we really connect. 

They don’t try to fix things when I’m explaining a problem unless I ask for it; they simply listen to try and understand what I’m feeling. 

When we have a disagreement, it doesn’t feel like we’re on opposing sides necessarily; it feels like we’re on the same side trying to solve the same problem. 

We’re busy, but we make time to spend with each other. That’s important to us. 

Couples with emotional intimacy…

  • Have a stronger sense of trust and security. Knowing and being known chips away at the need to wonder how much you can rely on your partner to be on your team. You can feel safe, secure, and accepted just by being yourself.
  • Are more accepting of each other’s faults. Understanding who your spouse is gives you a better appreciation and compassion for them. It’s beautiful when that’s a two-way street in a relationship. 
  • Have a stronger physical intimacy. Emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy have a substantial effect on each other. 

How do you build emotional intimacy?

Emotional intimacy needs to be foundational to your marriage. All the other types of intimacy need this foundation to thrive. Here are a few ways to build that foundation:

  • Communicate daily.
  • Express appreciation for your spouse.
  • Be curious about your mate.
  • Make yourself emotionally available.
  • Be vulnerable.

Check out this article for some exercises to strengthen emotional intimacy in your marriage.

Marriage is a beautiful journey. One day, you’ll look back and take joy in the detours and roadblocks because those things strengthened your emotional intimacy. Enjoy the journey and take every turn hand in hand with your spouse.

Other resources:

Help! Our Intimacy is Gone – First Things First

7 Questions Every Couple Needs to Ask Each Other to Improve Their Sex Life – First Things First

MARRIAGE COURSE | Discover Deeper Intimacy In Your Marriage

Sources:

¹Cornell University. “Love, factually: Gerontologist finds the formula to a happy marriage.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150617134613.htm>

²Gaia, A. Celeste. “Understanding Emotional Intimacy: A Review of Conceptualization, Assessment and the Role of Gender.” International Social Science Review, vol. 77, no. 3/4, 2002, pp. 151–70. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41887101. Accessed 27 May 2022.

³Wade, TJ and Mogilski, J. (2018) Emotional Accessibility Is More Important Than Sexual Accessibility in Evaluating Romantic Relationships – Especially for Women: A Conjoint Analysis. Front. Psychol. 9:632. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00632

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

How to Keep Your Marriage Strong Over Summer Break

Be intentional and turn toward each other this summer.

School’s out, and my kids are excited about a fun-filled summer. Mom and Dad… not as much. Don’t get me wrong; I love summertime. But summer schedules can be hectic when you’re juggling different camps, vacations, and activities. Sure, the school year is crazy busy, but at least it’s consistent. Summer schedules are a little more challenging. Are any other parents feeling the crunch?

Summertime can add more stress to your marriage as well. Focusing on our relationship can get lost in the frenzy if we aren’t careful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can keep your marriage strong over the summer, too.

Here are a few ways to get you started:

Date each other.

A regular date night is crucial to the health of your relationship. It can be so easy to fall into a routine in your relationship, especially when kids are in the picture. This is where date night comes in. Dating your mate takes a little more coordination if you have young children. If you don’t currently have a regular date night, now’s the time to start. Create a shared calendar on your phone (if you don’t already use one) and schedule one date night this month. Then flip to next month and plan another one. Keep it going. I mean it! Stop reading right now, and get those summer date nights on the calendar. I’ll wait…

Okay, now that you have dates scheduled… they are scheduled, right? Here are a few more ways to keep your marriage strong.

Make time for intimacy.

Before you put the calendars away, go ahead and schedule some time to get intimate. Wait a minute! Isn’t sex supposed to be spontaneous? Sure, but if you have little kids, you know the reality. Spontaneity is hard to come by. If you’re not intentional, it’s easy to let your sex life fall into the background. But your marriage needs sexual and physical intimacy. And what gets put on the calendar often gets done, am I right? So, decide how often and when and schedule it. Just to clarify, this is a conversation for the two of you. And don’t worry, just ’cause it’s scheduled doesn’t make it boring. [Read 3 Ways to Have Better Sex in Marriage.]

Share a hobby or activity.

Identify at least one common hobby or activity and make time to do that together. You may need to break out the calendar and schedule it depending on the activity. But there may be hobbies you can do at home while the kids play. This doesn’t have to be a family activity, but it can be if you both agree that you’ll enjoy it just as much.

Daily check-ins.

As you’re going in different directions, getting the kids places, and working, it can be easy to spend less time talking as a couple. Carve out some time each day to check in with each other. Maybe it’s over coffee in the morning. Perhaps it’s 30 minutes outside together at the end of each workday. 

When you check in on each other, give your spouse space to vent. If one of you is working from home while the kids are out of school, you may need an avenue to let go of stress. Give each other space to share what’s going on.

Show appreciation daily.

Nothing says love like appreciation, so don’t forget to show your appreciation to the one you share a life and home with. Here are some easy ways to show how much you appreciate your spouse:

  • Send a text telling them how much they mean to you. (Bonus points if you’re specific about why you appreciate them.)
  • Leave Post-it notes for them. If they leave for work, leave them in their bag or lunch. If your spouse stays home, hide notes somewhere they will find them throughout the day.
  • Say it out loud and often. And say it in front of others, especially your kids. 
  • Give them a break (or at least a few hours) to do whatever they enjoy most.

Invest in your marriage.

Take an online course together. There are loads of resources to help strengthen your marriage during the summer or any other season. You can focus on intimacy, communication, parenting, or other topics. Investing in your marriage now strengthens it for the future.

Speak your spouse’s love language.

If the two of you have never taken Gary Chapman’s Love Languages assessment, now is the time. We all have a primary love language, and when someone speaks it to us, we feel loved and appreciated. We also usually express love using our primary language, so learning your spouse’s love language is crucial to helping them feel loved. 

Hold hands.

An easy way to keep your marriage strong is to simply hold hands. Holding hands releases endorphins, a mood-boosting chemical. It also releases oxytocin, making you feel more bonded to your spouse. And it’s a stress reliever, too.

Make this summer a great one for your marriage. Not because of a big trip, but because you both chose to be intentional and turn toward each other.

Other blogs:

The Importance of MeaningLESS Conversations – First Things First

How to Talk About Sex in Marriage – First Things First

8 Ways To Care for Your Spouse’s Mental Health – First Things First

Sources:

Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction

Walsh, C. M., Neff, L. A., & Gleason, M. (2017). The role of emotional capital during the early years of marriage: Why everyday moments matter. Journal of family psychology: Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 31(4), 513–519. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000277

Goldstein, P., Weissman-Fogel, I., Dumas, G., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2018). Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (11), E2528-E2537. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1703643115