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How to Open Up Communication To
By Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.
QUESTION: My wife dropped a bombshell on me last week. She told me that in our eight years of marriage, she hasn't ever really been happy and that she wants a marriage separation.
She says that I don't share enough with her, that I don't talk to her, and this makes her feel left out of my life.
Sometimes I don't share things with her because she gets too involved in my work situation and gets mad at the people I work with. Other times, I just don't want to bother her with my problems--I just want to have a peaceful, quiet time at home.
If I tell her what's happening, she'll dissect everything and go over it and over it again. I don't want her to worry, and things usually work out in the long run anyway.
I do have to say that it's hard for me to talk about my problems. I guess it's a family thing. My father was the same way. He always taught me to handle things myself and not to complain. I guess I'd feel weak if I complained all the time.
ANSWER: This is a classic situation--the silent man who tries to handle everything himself and doesn't say much, and his wife who is going crazy because her husband never talks to her.
To Win Back Wife, Consider Emotional Needs
It can sound trite to say that females are usually the relationship nurturers and men are the problem solvers, but there is some truth in those stereotypes.
Your wife just wants to feel connected to you, to feel like she understands what you're going through so she can be supportive. If the two of you never talk about your feelings or what you're experiencing, then your emotional intimacy is negatively affected and this makes it difficult to repair your marriage. Your wife wants to give you support and be there for you.
By not sharing with her, you have created a marriage crisis and closed the door to deeper closeness, which also can affect your sexual relationship. For most females, the lack of emotional intimacy with a partner will result in decreased sexual desire.
Silence Does Not Win Back Wife
While your motives are good in wanting to protect your wife from the worry of your problems, in reality you are contributing to an unhappy marriage by depriving her of the feeling of satisfaction she would get from feeling included and needed.
And without those feelings, she feels shut out, unnecessary, and devalued. Her emotional needs aren't being met and she now feels distanced from you emotionally, creating a spiral downward toward marital crisis.
It would be helpful if you could work with a marriage counselor to learn to express your feelings and share more about yourself and your world. You could do some sessions with the counselor individually and then you and your wife could do some joint sessions together. This will help to stop divorce.
It will take some real resolve for you to change your long-standing behavior, but many wives feel a sense of relief at even small changes in the right direction by their spouse. And that will go a long way toward avoiding a marital separation.
To Win Back Wife, Set Boundaries
It will also help if you can learn to set some boundaries around your talks with your wife. If you want to talk about things for five or ten minutes and then let them go without having them brought back up later in the evening, you'll have to tell your wife how you feel.
The same goes for your wife's tendency to get mad at your co-workers when you have a problem. You'll need to share with her that this isn't helpful to you. Discussing this issue in the setting of a marriage counseling session would be ideal.
You'll also need to work on letting go of trying to control your wife's moods by withholding news of problems. If you confide in her and then think she looks worried later in the evening, you have to be able to back off and realize that you can't control how she feels. A marriage guidance counselor can help you to become more comfortable with letting go of trying to control the situation.
Opening up and starting to share more will certainly push you past your comfort zone, but that's what growth is all about---and it may be the only way to do what you so clearly want -- to save your marriage.
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