Question: My spouse and I have reached a kind of stalemate in our relationship. We discuss the house, children, and logistical topics — but somehow the intimate conversation and deeper connection have disappeared. It seems that, without noticing it, we have grown apart. We spend much of our time at home in separate rooms, focused on family responsibilities or individual interests.
I miss the “just the two of us,” and I suspect he does too. He occasionally talks to me about a new interest of his that he wants me to embrace — but when I do not feel or show enough excitement due to bad timing or exhaustion, he becomes sullen and more detached. Too often, any conversation ends with one or both of us becoming agitated, shutting down, or walking away without anything ever getting discussed and resolved. It is very lonely and I am beginning to fantasize about what it would be like to be with someone who would meet my needs.
Do you have any advice regarding how we could begin to come back together or does this relationship sound hopeless?
-In Relationship Limbo
Dear In Relationship Limbo,
If the problem you have described is an indication that your relationship is hopeless, then many couples would be headed for divorce. The multiple roles of partner, parent, employee, friend and adult child tax a couples’ time, energy and patience. Add to this the financial and other stressors that are inherent in family life and your marriage can get pushed to the end of your priority list — along with the dangerous assumption that it will still be there when you are able to focus on it. A marriage is much like a garden: it needs regular care and attention or it will wither and die.
The way back together will consist of small steps
A smile and warm good morning, a gentle hug or touch on the arm, a small helpful act that lets your partner know you want to help or are thinking of them. These are all examples of things you can begin to do today. It will be important to keep your focus on your marriage, even in the midst of a chaotic morning or difficult day at work or a problem with one of your children. Taking the relationship for granted is something you want to avoid as it is the glue that will hold your shared life together and give you both the caring and support you need.
Even with limited resources it's important to carve out couples only time
You can do this only partly at home by spending time together after the kids go to bed or when they are out of the home. Watching TV should not be considered together time. Instead, a dinner for two, quiet conversation or any activity that allows you to focus on one another without the distractions of daily life would fit the bill. Ideally you need to plan time to go out together on a date. Some ideas can include dinner, going to hear a band, an evening stroll visiting a local attraction, or an afternoon at a museum. It may seem a bit awkward at first, but if you choose something you both enjoy, you will set the stage for a more intimate connection.
One last important piece is to learn to listen well and let your partner know you are listening. This can be tough over the noise and chaos of daily life. One easy technique is called reflective listening. When your spouse speaks to you, turn physically towards him, nod and listen to everything he has to say before offering a response. Then paraphrase back what you heard. He will feel valued and respected, and your connection will be less likely to get lost in the minutiae of your daily lives.
Toni Coleman, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist. She is a well-known relationship expert and author, working with many publications, television and radio programs. Follow her on Twitter @CoachToni and FB at www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman. Toni writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com.