Vail Daily relationship column: Reader asks ‘What happened to my marriage?’
Editor’s note: Neil Rosenthal is taking the week off. This is one of his previously published columns.
Please help me understand what happened to my marriage. In the beginning of our relationship, we were so close with each other. Now, 10 years later, we barely talk with each other, we sleep in separate bedrooms, we rarely touch and there is constant angry tension between us. We haven’t had sex in almost three years, and there is virtually no romance in our relationship at all.
What happens in intimate relationships that seems to take close friends and lovers and turn them heartless, soulless, spiritless and passionless people with each other?
Bewildered and Disheartened
Most men and women don’t know how to sustain friendship, romance, intimate connection and passion over time. Love takes much less effort in the beginning of a relationship, but it increasingly requires far more patience, effort, communication, compromise, negotiation, good will and trust over time.
It’s the unusual relationship — not the common one — that does all of that. As a result, couples begin to feel less close, less connected, less giving and less responsive. They quit trying as hard as they once did, are more withdrawn and they put less heart into their relationship.
So, of course romance, passion and sexuality wane. Both people may be feeling that they have given more than they’ve received. And many people just don’t have the stick-to-it-ness or the patience to work through the various demands, requests, hurt feelings and angry retorts that are inevitable for two people who are attempting to blend lives. This steady erosion of closeness and passion has a very strong effect on how people feel about their relationship over time.
What Can You Do?
So what can you do about all of this? You could sit down with your wife and tell her you know that things have grown more distant between the two of you — and then tell her you want her back and that you’ll do whatever it takes to make your marriage warm, affectionate, close and intimate again. Then invite her to speak about what has happened for her through the years and why she has felt the need to distance from you.
Your job is to respectfully listen, not to talk. It’s to really understand what occurred for her and how she got hurt or disillusioned. No defenses, no retorts, and no “you did that, too” comments. Your job is to first understand why she withdrew. Then, ask her what she would need in order to let go of these grievances so that she can begin to make up with you. Again, listen respectfully, and, if you can, agree to what she asks of you.
Now, it’s your turn. Ask her to listen to you the same way you listened to her and talk about what happened to you that led you to withdraw. Tell her what you would like from her in order for you to fully come back to her with your whole being. This won’t fix everything, but it’s a strong beginning.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in it’s 23rd year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: http://www.heartrelationships.com. He is the author of the new book: “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Keeping the Flame Alive.”