I recently had a woman come into the office and describe her loveless marriage. She stated that she and her husband had nothing in common besides raising their four children. They kept different hours so they rarely saw each other. They did very little together socially. They spent zero time appreciating each other. This woman could not remember the last time she had said something nice to her husband. She defended herself, saying, “At least I do not criticize him as he does me. This couple had a sex life, but it was not a satisfying one. The woman complained that it was obligatory and sterile. There was no tenderness or pleasure in the experience for her. How could this marriage have developed into such a loveless experience?
The more she spoke, the more I heard her say that she did not represent herself in her marriage. She kept her opinions to herself because they were always criticized. She didn’t know what she wanted in her life. She had become numb to her marriage- the result of repressed anger.
When I asked her how her husband felt about her discontent, she stated that he was oblivious to her feelings. She wasn’t comfortable asserting herself for sharing her vulnerable feelings with him. She had learned how to co-exist, but as a result her life lacked luster, passion or enthusiasm.
Her therapy initially focused on getting to know herself better. I asked her to list what she wanted out of life. I encouraged her to be very specific. Initially she wrote down statements like, “I want to be happy.” I insisted that she identify what types of things or experiences would make her happy.
The next step was to ask her to review her list and identify which statements required the cooperation of others and which statements were achievable solely on her own. She had written, “I want more communication in my marriage.” I asked her to identify ways that she could communicate more directly in the marriage. We broke it down and she outlined viable times to talk to her husband She committed to be more honest and direct with him.
She recognized that her assertiveness might not be a catalyst for her husband to change, but it would help her to know herself better. This would enable her to have more clarity about her own thoughts. An even tougher assignment was to ask her to communicate her appreciation of him. It had been a long time since she had made an “emotional investment” in him because of her resentment resulting in numbness. As you might expect, she resisted this idea because she wanted him to appreciate her first.
I have worked with many clients who have lost themselves after the numbness sets in. It’s a “double causality” to be in an unhappy marriage and to lose your zest for life in the process. I wish I could tell you that this client’s marriage improved as she began to rediscover herself. In actuality, the marriage changed for the better, but it wasn’t enough for this woman, and eventually she separated from her husband. For other clients, this rediscovery results in improved relationships and regenerates the marriage.
As you recognize your needs, it puts the responsibility back on you for finding ways to meet those needs in safe and healthy ways. It gives you back the control you lost when you gave your partner that responsibility. It is the first step to making things better in your life.