A Reader Writes…
My wife recently told me that she loves me but is no longer currently in love with me. I have read your book I Love You but I’m Not in Love With You and am actually reading it again to make sure that I haven’t missed anything important, however something just doesn’t seem right and I don’t think is really covered in your book.
First a little background. My wife and I have known each other for over 12 years and have been married for 6 of them. I am in the Navy and deploy often so I know that this is an added stress to the relationship but she has said that she is fine with it and there is no need for me to worry. We have had our problems early on in our marriage but worked through them with the help of counseling and also just talking to each other.
Up until now, it seemed as everything was amazing and it couldn’t be better. I am currently deployed and roughly 1 month from coming home and was receiving the nicest emails about how she couldn’t wait to see me and how excited she was. Then all of a sudden, she stopped talking to me entirely. I could tell something was wrong so I asked and she told me that she wasn’t in love with me anymore. She told me that she feels like we have always been just best friends and also that all of her life she feels like she has been someone else’s (in a relationship) instead of being herself (single) and her own person.
I immediately did what you said not to do in your book and just asked a million questions including “why” and “how can I fix this”. I have since pulled the reigns back and given her space that she has asked for. I stopped talking to her and writing her everyday like we have done for the past 6 months. Now when finally do talk to her, all I want is to ask her all of these questions again and her exact same response for everything is “I don’t know”.
My questions are how should I approach the situation of not only coming home and seeing her for the first time in 7 months and dealing with this situation at the same time? What happens if when we finally do talk about the issues, all she can muster is “I don’t know”? Should I approach the “trial separation” even though I have just been gone for an extended period of time? Isn’t that separation enough? Thanks in advance for your help and advice. Your book is great by the way.
The good news is that she’s told you ‘why’ she’s fallen out of love and what you need to do to ‘fix it’—unfortunately, you weren’t listening or discounted it.
She has told you that she can’t be ‘her own person’. In other words, she has been suppressing her own feelings and needs – either to keep you happy or because that’s what she thinks married people do. That’s fine in the short term but eventually she becomes someone who she does not recognise and falls out of love with you. (I know this is maddening – because you haven’t been giving a list of demands and she’s seemed happy enough—but stick with it.)
So how do you fix it? You need to improve your communication skills as this will have the knock on effect of encouraging her to improve hers (and say what she truly thinks rather than be nice and keep the peace). In essence, she needs to become ‘assertive’ and ask for what she wants and needs. You need to learn to listen—truly listen—rather than go into fix mode or try and convince her to stay. For more on this topic read Resolve Your Differences and Help Your Partner Say Yes.
So when you’re back home, don’t have long discussions about ‘what went wrong’ and ‘where to go from here’—enjoy your time together and use the tiny everyday interactions to ‘flip flop’ your behaviour (see Ch 9 of ILYB) and truly listen to her (check out what you’ve heard: ‘So what you’re saying is….’ and ask for more information ‘when you say…. what do you mean?’).
So if you’re off to the cinema and you’re not certain she wants to see that film, double check, be aware of her body language. Is there a difference between what comes out of her mouth and how she seems? Ask her: ‘Do you really want to see that film?’ If she feels her opinions, needs and beliefs are taken seriously and truly count, you can slowly become a team to solve this problem.
If she says ‘I can’t change my feelings’ tell her ‘I don’t want you to change them, what I hope is that we can be together in a different way and have a better relationship.’ That’s why I don’t recommend a trial separation or chunks of time, when separated, when you don’t communicate but to use this time to communicate differently.
Photography by Chris James Dade.