A Reader Writes…
I am currently reading “ILYB…”, and fortunately I came across this book in a time when I feel quite hopeless about my current relationship. It has given me a lot of strength and hope, but I feel it might be too late for me to save my marriage. I have been married 13 years, and my wife and I were together 5 years prior to that. We met at university and neither have ever really had other relationships.
I was on the receiving end of the “ILYB” conversation a month ago, but my wife told me her she had been having thoughts about it for years. We started counseling together and individually about three weeks ago and while I thought things were progressing, in our couples session yesterday she said that she did not think what was wrong with us was fixable and that we need to start a plan to separate that makes it easy on our children, aged 5 and 7. I respect her for thinking of the children, but my heart is absolutely broken. I love my wife immensely and am not ready to give up.
We do have communications issues. I have not been the best listener. I am a confrontational person who says what is on his mind; my wife is the opposite. She has kept all of her feelings about us bottled up until the last month when it all came spilling out. She has told me that she needs to start living for herself, not me. She wants to grow as a person, and I am not the person she thinks can help her with that. There are a whole host of other issues, most of which can be summed up as communications related. Many times we are saying the same thing but in different ways, and this creates friction.
There have never been any infidelity in our relationship or any physical abuse. We are currently still living together and sleeping in the same bed, but there is no intimacy. We have placed no timetable on when we might tell the kids, how we might tell the kids, and what a separation might look like. We are still spending the weekends together as a family at our ski house, and still have plans for a family vacation in April.
My wife told me last night that we need to take things day by day, while I told her I am not ready to give up and have asked her to keep her mind open to alternative endings to our problems, i.e. separation is not inevitable. Our therapist has told me to give my wife psychic space, and to be patient.
What else can I do? Can you help me with my next steps? What can I or should I do to help this to a happy conclusion, which in my mind this means keeping my family together?
When someone hasn’t been ‘heard’ by their partner for a long time, they will have a lot of unhappiness inside and it needs to all come out. Part of that process is saying: I’m frightened we can’t fix this. So you’ve got to listen carefully and act on her unhappiness but don’t give up and think: it’s over. The fight has just begun.
If you haven’t been a good listener, you need to make that your number one goal. Use the techniques in Flop Flip and do the opposite of what you did previously. Imagine that every word your wife says is true – from where she is standing – and do you best to accommodate her requests. Don’t wait for encouragement that there is ‘hope’ make those changes right now.
It will take a while for your wife to register your efforts. There will be times when you will be downhearted but don’t plead for reassurance or ‘is there any spark of hope’ – because this will just push her further away. If you’re feeling desperate, open my book and read (or better still get the audio book of ILYB because I have narrated it myself and hopefully my calm measured tones will help you feel calmer too.) I would also get ‘Help your partner say yes’ and ‘Resolve your differences.’ as they will also help you keep working on your marriage (even though alone to start off). Remember don’t beg, put pressure on her, talk her round or sneak up on her for a cuddle. It will just show you are NOT listening. I can’t tell you how many times I see men drive their women out the door just because they want a moment of feeling better. Please don’t fall into this trap.
Your wife will notice the changes but she will fear it is just for today (or until she agrees to ‘try again’). So you’ve got to keep going and keep going (with no encouragement). However, she will stop talking about telling the children and needing ‘space’ and slowly the atmosphere will become less toxic. Once all the bad stuff has flown out, she will slowly begin to remember and be aware of your good points and you will get a fair hearing.
Remember this is not a quick fix (something us men infinitely prefer) but putting right years of mis-communication and being wrapped in your own stuff. It will take time but with patience, resisting the temptation to get reassurance and being cast iron in your commitment to change, you will break through and have the sort of marriage both you and your wife have always wanted.