You said, “I do” and set out on a journey that you thought would last a lifetime. A few years go by and life feels more chaotic than ever. It seems like tyranny of the urgent always takes precedence over spending time together.
“In general, what you get out of something in life is what you are willing to put into it,” says author of Divorce Remedy and marriage expert, Michele Weiner-Davis. “If you think about how fiercely people love their children, part of the reason for this is that they are super cute, but another explanation is how devoted you are to them – waking up at 2 a.m. because they are sick and throwing up, reading bedtime stories when you’re plum out of energy. Your investment results in intense love.”
The same is true of our partners, Weiner-Davis says. Early on in our relationships, we are obsessed with thinking about them and being flirty, attentive and kind. These actions lead to connection. We are enamored with each other.
Over time, however, one person might start taking the other person for granted and stop doing the things that lead to connection.
“When this happens, people say to themselves, ‘I’m not getting my needs met so why should I do anything for you?’” Weiner-Davis says. “That’s when most people start living separate lives. When people resent that their needs aren’t being met, they start to keep score – ‘If you aren’t kind or attentive, if you don’t initiate date night, I’m not going to have sex with you or invest in quality time.’ That’s when people say they don’t like their spouse anymore.”
Weiner-Davis describes a classic example:
- Women often want to feel close and connected emotionally before they are physical.
- Men want connection on a physical level before they invest in meaningful conversations or quality time together.
- Both people end up going to their respective corners and waiting for the other person to change.
It’s this slow drip of disconnection over time that leads to people questioning their feelings about their spouse. And when this happens, irritability is a by-product. People start focusing on everything they don’t like about their partner. They micromanage how the dishwasher is loaded, how their partner chews their food and how laundry is done.
Even when things seem pretty hopeless, Weiner-Davis says there is a remedy.
Focus on Exceptions
“I encourage people to focus on exceptions,” Weiner-Davis says. “I tell them, ‘Ask, what was different about your relationship when you enjoyed your spouse and your relationship more?’ Some reflect on aspects of their lives that are irretrievable such as spontaneity before they had children. Although spontaneity may no longer be possible, people can plan carefree time together. They can get a babysitter or barter with a friend to watch the kids.
“People often discuss other ‘exceptions’ such as ‘We used to talk more, have more sex, go to the movies more, try new restaurants – most of which is possible to reproduce.”
Be the First
Next, Weiner-Davis tells couples, “If your spouse started paying more attention to you, making suggestions about trips you could go on, new hobbies you could do together, how would you be different in return?” Most say, “I would be nicer.” Then Weiner-Davis asks people to describe the ways in which they would be nicer and start doing that immediately. She always encourages people to be the one to tip the first domino.
“Don’t wait for your partner to be more likable – you be more likable,” Weiner-Davis says. “Ask yourself in what ways have you pulled back from your relationship? Your partner’s distance might be the result of you pulling away, too.”
Another mistake people make is putting all of their emotional eggs into one basket – assuming their spouse will satisfy every emotional need. And as a result, when their spouse falls short, there’s major disappointment.
Find Healthy Ways to Fill the Void
Find other ways to get your needs met. Be with friends. Get a new hobby. Once people feel more inner peace and happiness without the expectation that their spouse has to do all the heavy lifting, their spouse starts looking better. Consider areas of your marriage that do work and be grateful for them.
“Women will often come to me saying they don’t like their husband anymore,” Weiner-Davis says. “My first response is to assess how happy they are in their own lives. One woman said, ‘I don’t know why I am here, I should be seeing a divorce lawyer.’ She had no plan for her life after divorce. I told her, you can always get out of your marriage, but why not get all your ducks in a row first. She shared that she had an interest in horticulture and that a friend had offered her a job. I suggested she take the job and get herself financially stable.
“She took the job and started feeling better. Then, she didn’t want to divorce her husband at all. Her newfound happiness in her own life created new, more positive feelings about her husband.”
Instead of blaming your spouse for your unhappiness, find healthy ways to fill the void. This will make your spouse look a lot better to you. If you are lonely, go find something you enjoy doing and avoid the temptation of telling your spouse it’s their fault.
All too often people walk away from perfectly good marriages. If you find yourself in this place, take the time to examine what is really going on. The odds are probably in your favor that making a few changes could actually get your marriage back on track and on the road to thriving.
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 7, 2020.