Ask a Therapist: Stop being the silent partner

Question: I am not satisfied in my marriage even though everything seems fine on the surface.

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  • Question: I am not satisfied in my marriage even though everything seems fine on the surface. We co-parent fairly well most of the time, socialize with friends a few times a month, do things together as a couple, have an adequate sex life, and don’t really “fight.” I’m fairly sure our friends and family would be surprised if they knew my feelings. Most of all, my spouse would be surprised.

  • Just below the surface I feel resentment toward him. He does fewer chores at home and takes on less for the kids than I do. He is a poor listener and doesn’t seem to really care about how I feel or what is going on with me. It always seems to be about him, his job and his interests. In other words, he’s fine, so what’s the problem? I don’t bring my feelings up because I don’t want any conflict or angry feelings impacting our family.

  • Am I overly sensitive, asking too much or creating problems where there really are none? Any feedback or advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • -Silent Partner

  • Dear Silent Partner,

  • Your signature nails the problem you are having with your spouse. You carry negative thoughts and feelings just below the surface, but you don’t verbalize these with the goal of addressing them and resolving them to the point where you both can get some of your needs met. Like many men, your spouse probably believes that if you are not expressing unhappy feelings then all must be well. I encounter this frequently in my work with couples and have observed that the male spouse is usually stunned and even angry when his wife pours her negative feelings out in a session.

  • Avoid falling into that old trap of, “if he really loved me, he would know how I am feeling.” No one is a mind reader and most of the time guys are less intuitive and tuned in to nonverbal messages than are their mates. It’s a Mars vs Venus thing that doesn’t make one person right and the other wrong — it just means we are different. Ironically, this difference is part of the attraction for many couples yet can lead to frustrations down the road if we don’t learn how to effectively bridge the distance between us.

  • It is important that you begin to raise issues at the time they are occurring

  • For instance, if you are anticipating or already feeling overwhelmed with childcare responsibilities on a particular day, talk to your spouse then. Use “I” statements such as, “I’m feeling overwhelmed today and would really appreciate getting your help with this.” Then, ask him specifically to handle the morning carpooling, run that errand, make some of those calls or pick up or prepare dinner. You should have a good handle on what is reasonable and workable in his schedule so that what you propose comes across as a real plea for help and not just as taking out your generalized anger on him.

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  • You should do this as well when you need for him to listen and offer support. Just tell him what you need in so many words and ask him for the time and attention it will take. When you do this with an open heart and with an attitude that says you value and want him engaged, it would be hard for him not to respond positively.

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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.

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