Marriage in a Rut

Dear Dr. Diana

My wife and I used to be sweet to each other. Now we don’t treat each other as well as we treat our friends and even strangers. I’ve talked to my wife about this and she says it’s my fault that I don’t listen to her and that she’s irritated with me most of the time. Needless to say, that didn’t feel very good and I’m not eager to open the subject again. I know the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt but I don’t think I’m so bad. My wife left her first husband because she got “bored” and I’m worried that she is drifting away. Admittedly, the way it’s going is killing our love.
Do you have any suggestions for me? What can I do on my end?

- Sincere Husband

Dear Sincere,

It’s not uncommon for a couple to find themselves stuck in a negative pattern of relating after years of being together. With familiarity, sometimes people take each other for granted and aren’t as patient with each other as they once were. Because your lives are closely intertwined, you occasionally step on each other’s toes, sometimes without even knowing it. All couples feel hurt, frustrated or disappointed with their partners at time, but unless you understand what went wrong between you, it’s impossible to know how to make it better.

I can understand how hurtful it must be for your wife to tell you that she finds you irritating. After the sting subsides, have you thought about why she might be feeling this way? Has she told you things that bother her and yet you continue to do them? Has she tried to tell you her needs or feelings and you don’t really hear her? If so, it would be natural for her to either turn up the volume by being angry or withdraw and numb out to protect herself from hurt and disappointment. It would make sense that you might withdraw too. When people go numb, ‘life’ as they know it can get boring.

Much of the time, people don’t know how to ask for what they need very directly so it’s easy to miss it. Both people have to be aware enough of what they are feeling in order to express it. And then speaking your needs without blaming can help the other person to hear without getting defensive. Effective communication between loved ones also requires emotional presence from both people. In our hectic day –to- day lives, we can miss our partner reaching for us because we are distracted by something or other. They can try to tell us and if we blink or cough, we can miss their tentative attempt to express their heart. It can be scary to be vulnerable and speak about our needs and deepest feelings with the person who matters to us the most.

In the meantime, what did you do in the beginning of your relationship with your wife to show her your love? How did you treat her sweetly in the beginning? You might invite your wife out on a date to a place that you know she really likes. With the soft lighting and romantic ambiance, you could tell her that you really want to get it right with her. What she like in the relationship that she is not getting from you? Does she feel like she is precious to you? If not, maybe she can tell you what would help things be better between you. If she is hostile in her style, you can tell her it hurts you when she speaks to you that way and makes you feel hopeless and like pulling away, but you don’t want to. Hang in there. Step up to the plate and work on it. Give it all you have. Then if it doesn’t work out, you will know that you did everything you could. But hopefully, it hasn’t gone that far. The number one cause of divorce is emotional disengagement. When both parties withdraw and go numb toward each other…the connecting fibers in your marriage start to fray.

Try some bibliotherapy: by reading the following books:
“Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Life” by Sue Johnson Ph.D.
“What Makes Marriage Work” by John Gottman, Ph.D.
If progress isn’t made, consult with an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist (the only approach to marriage counseling that is based on empirical research where 75% of couples experience a reduction in marital distress and increased satisfaction within 8-20 visits.

The next Marriage Enrichment Program: A Hold Me Tight Workshop is May 18-19, 2013. or call (858) 259-0146

Author's Bio: 

Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist in Rancho Santa Fe, California. She specializes in marriage counseling, stepfamilies, and blended families. Her book, “Wisdom on Stepparenting: How to Succeed Where Others Fail” is available on
The next Marriage Enrichment Program: A Hold Me Tight Workshop is May 18-19, 2013. or call (858) 259-0146