You are not alone if you feel disconnected from your spouse. You are also not alone if your marriage is “OK” but there’s a bit of a gap that has the potential to grow if unattended. Marriages require work to keep them fresh, alive and connected! Many don’t realize that and/or don’t have the tools to repair breaches when they occur.
What are some of the issues couples face leading them to feel so far away from their partners? And what are some ideas about what can be done about them?
Poor communication skills. Many simply don’t know how to talk to each other in a way that alleviates the chances of a build-up of resentment from hurt feelings and frustration. Additionally, conflict avoiding couples tend to minimize the problems and sweep them under the rug. But they always have a way of showing back up. Even couples who aren’t afraid of conflict often do so in such a damaging way it only adds to the resentment pile!
- Repair Tips: In The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples, I walk couples through the basics of a strong marriage foundation with a strong emphasis on communication skill building. If your relationship is high conflict then you may be better suited for a marriage counselor who can help you navigate through.
Resentment. Typically, the more distance that exists in a marriage, the more likely unprocessed anger, frustration, disappointment and sadness exists for one or both partners. I’ve heard couples in my practice say that if almost feels, “insurmountable.” It’s actually possible to work through the mountain and reduce it to a manageable pile of dirt.
- Repair Tips: If you feel like your communication is good, you may be able to tackle some of the issues leading to the resentment on your own. Each of you make a list of things you’re carrying hurt or anger around. Remember, be selective! What won’t be helpful is if you present each other with a laundry list of every incident of distress over the last five years. Really hone in on the ones that carry the most emotional weight and are a current obstacle in your marriage. Use “I feel” statements when sharing your issues rather than critical language. Be sure to validate and provide empathy for each other and apologize where appropriate. Take responsibility for your behavior.
Lack of forgiveness. When an issue has come up in your marriage and there has been unsuccessful genuine repair attempts around it, you might actually have more of a forgiveness problem on your hands. There are many reasons why some people struggle with forgiveness more than others but it’s important to know it can not only benefit the relationship but most importantly, yourself. It takes a lot of energy to hold onto bitter feelings. Forgiveness can do wonders for your emotional health as well.
- Repair Tips: Because forgiveness often ultimately rests with the individual (if every attempt possible to allow forgiveness in has been made by the offending partner), it might require a little personal growth work with an individual therapist.
Change and transition. People change and so do marriages. Circumstances, life phases, likes and dislikes can also shift for people through time. A common complaint heard is, “She’s changed!” or “He didn’t used to be like this before!” Embracing change in a marriage can be a challenge and it’s also important to distinguish between natural changes and behavioral changes demonstrating less care for the relationship. The latter can and should be addressed for the marriage to work. A big challenge for many marriages is having children which inherently would impact intimacy and connection for the couple. The bigger issue is do they reconnect eventually after children are born.
- Repair Tips: The first step in flowing with change is understanding that it’s a part of life. If you allow each other to “be” rather than resist the change you will be more likely to transition well. If the changes are around the treatment of each other, that’s another problem that may be more in the areas of communication, resentment or forgiveness.
Decrease in sexual intimacy. There are many reasons sex can take a hit in a marriage. Kids, time and exhaustion can all play a role in less time connecting on this level. Of course there are medical and hormonal issues impacting libido and performance that must be ruled out.
- Repair Tips: A great workbook for couples to assist in this area is Passion, Sex and Intimacy: Keep the Fires of Passion Burning in Your Relationship. A sex therapist can also be highly effective in helping you find each other again.
Marriage can be one of the most rewarding experiences a couples can have if they have a safe, secure and loving attachment to each other, a “port in the storm” of life. But there are a number of things that can inhibit that bond. The good news things is that with a little effort, all of those things can be worked through if there’s a desire to do so. As difficult as it can be, I find that the strongest marriages often have faced adversity together in the past.
They made it through. Together.