You’ve heard lots of advice on how to save your marriage. But when you heard it you didn’t really pay attention because you never thought your relationship would need saving. Now there is an uneasy, unsettled feeling in the air between you and your husband. You’re experiencing one of the most accurate warning signs that your marriage or relationship needs attention–your gut instinct that something is amiss in the vibe between you.
It’s frightening to think that your most precious ‘asset’–your marriage or committed relationship–doesn’t have the closeness and easy back and forth it did at the beginning. That something has changed. The natural and almost universal reaction is to ascribe the change to something other than him or you or the relationship, such as stress on the job, or sickness of other family members, or the economy.
Know your instincts are right on: Change in your husband’s behavior is the biggest indicator that the relationship needs active attention.
Changes in Behavior
The type of change could be any one or more of the following:
— Distancing. He distances himself from you–emotionally by being less caring, less understanding, less interested in knowing about your day, less interested in sex or affection. Or he distances himself physically by being away from the house more or doing fewer things together with you
— Withdrawal. You have a sense he is pulling away from you.
— Critical. You notice that he is critical of more and more things that you do or say. It seems that in almost every remark he is critical, short-tempered or impatient. He may especially pick things to criticize that you are good at.
— Disengaging emotionally by deliberately starting a fight.
— Changing his schedule, such as spending more time at work, spending his weekend hours differently, taking up a brand new interest even something that he previously said he would never be interested in.
— Not helpful. He used to do certain things around the house or for the family, even offering additional help from time to time. And now he doesn’t.
— He doesn’t validate you, so you feel unsure in the relationship.
— Too nice. He buys you more gifts, or more expensive gifts, than before. Or he takes you out to eat more, or goes shopping with you more. Or he offers to help in ways he never did before. This is driven by guilt over the way he has been treating you.
In any marriage or relationship there are normal cycles of closeness and distance but this goes beyond that. The distancing continues.
Your observation skills and your gut feeling are telling you that something is not right.
Here is a test you can use to confirm your intuitive feelings: If your usual method to reconnect with your partner doesn’t work, then you know your feelings accurately reflect something negative going on.
You’ve made a big step forward by acknowledging to yourself that you have to do something, something different. If you just keep doing what you’ve done, you’ll just get more of the same. It won’t work. If you aren’t the one to change, he may leave.
What to do?
But what to do, what to say, how to overcome your fear that the things you choose to say or do will make it worse.
For starters, know that you have something to offer the man in your life, something almost all men want — an intimate relationship. They want quality emotional goodies such as sex, being appreciated, doing things together, being loved, having a warm place to come home to. You can give him this.
Even though men like variety, new partners, and at times would like to be rid of the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood, they also want all the things that an intimate relationship and a family can provide–all the things you have to offer.
Speak to Him
Now the hardest part–speaking to him directly about what you sense in the air between you. You have a head start because usually women find it easier to talk about their feelings. But there is also something in our culture and in women’s upbringing that may make it harder. Women are advised to be sweet, accommodating, non-confrontational and accepting. In this situation you havealready said to yourself that there is something in your relationship that you cannot accept and that is not sweet. So you know that you will have to confront things with him that at first may make for an unpleasant conversation. On the other hand, know that men don’t find it appealing when a woman doesn’t stand up for herself and acts dependent.
To start the conversation: Try to find a quiet, unrushed, unpressured time when you can say “I feel there’s something not right between us. I’m aware you’re being critical. What’s going on?”
How you say it is important. Don’t say anything in an accusatory way. And whatever you do, don’t use the phrase, “We need to talk about the relationship” because men are turned off by this approach.
If, after you’ve begun the conversation quietly and appropriately, he responds with an attitude of “OK, let’s talk. What do you mean? This is what’s bothering me. I see you acting very critical and cold too. You just don’t understand me,” then you’re a huge step ahead in finding the underlying source of the unease in the relationship and going on to saving the marriage.
He’s expressing his feelings and a willingness to communicate. Yes, some of the words are insulting and hurtful. But try to put those feelings aside for now. Listening and encouraging him to talk further can put things on the right track to understanding each other better.
You can encourage him even more by actively bringing up feelings about sex. Yes, he may again be dismissive or negative. But push on. You can even mention that you notice that he finds other women attractive. It’s natural to think that this would only push him further away from you. But in fact it most likely will bring him closer to you because he will see that he can talk to you about anything.
It could be (and maybe it is even more likely) that your husband will be resistant to talking about the changes you sense in the relationship. He may well dismiss and pooh-pooh what you’re saying, even tell you you’re seeing problems where there are none.
Don’t be dissuaded by his initial resistance.
You can respond, “How come you don’t want to talk about it? Why are you doing this? Why are you pushing me away?”
He may again be resistant. You can say, “I miss when we used to talk. Remember when we used to just walk along the beach and talk. How close we felt to each other. I’d like to spend more time together.”
You can bring up how you’ve had positive outcomes before when you addressed things together. You can say “I want to understand what you’re unhappy with so we can change it. We’ve dealt with other problems successfully.”
Remember Your Courtship
Think back to what attracted him to you and what attracted you to him. True, that was during the romantic courtship period and undoubtedly a lot of things about your life have changed since then: You are married (or maybe living together) and have the responsibilities of marriage or a committed relationship; you may have children; you have job stresses to handle; you have all the burdens of everyday living.
Still thinking back to what made the good times good and trying to put some of that back into your relationship can have a positive effect. It may be things like paying more attention to your appearance the way you did when you were courting; it may be cooking him his favorite foods; it may be keeping the house the way you kept your first home when you were probably making every effort to make it as appealing as possible; it may be trying to appreciate the things he does to please you and trying not to mention relatively minor things that annoy you.
Be Prepared to Leave
On the other hand, if none of these approaches is working, be prepared to leave. It may seem like a counter-intuitive way to save the marriage but it can scare him into seeing what he will lose and thus push him into actively addressing your unhappiness (and probably his unhappiness even though he hasn’t brought it up) with the way the relationship is going. You shouldn’t say you’re going to leave as an idle threat. He has to see you mean it. In most situations this means you have to prepare in advance for how you will carry this out–where you will live, how you will support yourself and your children, what resources you can call on.
Saying you will leave and the work involved in preparing to do so is admittedly drastic action but you will get his attention and force him to face the choices he has–lose you and all the relationship has to offer or get up the courage to face the problems and do something about them.
As you consider all this and start to take action, you may think to yourself “Why do I have to do all the heavy lifting? Why do I have to be the one to bring up the problems? Why do I have to continue to listen to his critical comments? Why do I have to keep pushing on when he shows no interest in talking about the anxious feelings in the air between us? It’s not fair.”
True, it’s not fair. But women usually have to take on the major responsibility for the upkeep of the relationship. Listening to your gut feelings, taking the first step, pushing on in the face of resistance, showing appreciation when it seems there isn’t much to appreciate–all of this can save your marriage.