It’s all too easy to fall into a funk about your marriage problems. Old issues on replay keep looping.
New problems crop up on the regular that bring surprising challenges.
Intense proximity during Covid-19 can exacerbate any one of those problems that once simmered in the background.
As my mother likes to say, “There’s always something to disturb you.”
Problems to resolve? Well, that’s just life for us humans.
Surprisingly, some seemingly intractable problem are actually solvable. although some will linger for months, years or even decades.
The key to finding happiness despite problems may sound counter-intuitive but it’s quite practical.
Intentionally shifting your focus away from discussing and dissecting the problems can relieve the pressure.
My experience with therapy has always been of the problem dissection variety. Intensely and totally a deep dive into my unhappiness.
During my first marriage, I sought therapy was a way of life. So many problems and dissatisfactions. See one of my earlier posts if you want to read about how miserable an experience that was for me.
I’d lug my problems from home into the therapist’s office and describe them in exquisite detail. The therapist would listen with great empathy. Done.
Once I returned home, I had nothing to show for my 50 minutes but a debit to my bank account. I was no closer to understanding what I could do to make a difference. I desperately wanted to be able to do something, anything, to positively impact my situation.
All that rehashing of my problems led to a hyper focus on my problems. And that only led to greater resentments and frustrations.
I couldn’t seem to extricate myself from the downward spiral of feeling more and more alienated from my husband.
When I lost sight of anything positive about my marriage or my husband, I could only recite a litany of complaints.
We reached the point where we lived separate but parallel lives.
As a stay at home mom at the time, I cared for our children while he worked to support the family.
Family dinners rarely included him. He came home too late.
Just the sound of the garage door opening was my signal to busy myself and avoid him.
He’d watch sports or Law and Order on TV.
I crawled into bed with a self-help book and was asleep by the time he came in.
He left early and I heaved a sigh of relief.
We bickered or fought about issues large and small. A general coldness and resentment characterized many of our interactions.
We had spiraled down the rabbit hole of criticism, contempt and stone-walling, exactly the behaviors that John Gottman identified as key predictors of divorce. I couldn’t see any other way out.
What you focus on grows stronger.
The brain is funny like that. First, it’s designed to protect you from danger, and an unhappy marriage feels pretty threatening. Second, it likes to prove you right, so it’s on the lookout for all the evidence it can find to support your thoughts..
Of course my brain offered up 1,001 examples of all the things my husband was doing wrong to prove me right that he, single-handedly, was destroying our marriage.
This is what I wish I knew then.
With a steady emphasis on all that was wrong, I was unable to muster even an ounce of gratitude for all that was right.
Since I resisted spending time with him alone, as the years went by we rarely did anything enjoyable, just the two of us.
Here’s what I wish I had known then: focusing only on the problems, intensifies the problems.
When things are at their worse, it’s important to rebuild a scaffolding of support, friendship, compassion, caring, interest, humor, a glimmer of good feeling around them.
That’s how you can begin to loosen a brick of resistance here and there to actually examine the problems without total negativity influencing your perspective.
Are you are willing to take the lead to build a happier marriage despite seemingly intractable problems?
Here’s my RX: You make the first move to do something positive and enjoyable.
It could be something solely for him or something for the two of you to enjoy together. Anything that communicates some level of kindness, consideration, compassion or interest.
The goal is to pick something that you can build a positive experience on. Create a moment or a few hours where you put the criticism, contempt or silence aside.
Make a list about things that are important to your husband and that he likes. Or that, as a couple, you still like or used to like to do together. It can be something very small and seemingly insignificant. Grand gestures are not appropriate at this time.
Pick something on that list and plan it. Just do it.
It could be as simple as offering a smile or a kind hello or goodbye. A hug. A back rub. A gentle touch. Eye contact when he talks.
It could be a walk, a picnic, a tennis game, listening to music together, watching a TV show or series together.
Plan to think thoughts that make it easier to follow through.
If you want to find a way back to enjoying your husband despite seemingly intractable problems, I can help.
Fixing a suffering marriage is work worth doing.
Contact me right here for your absolutely free, no-nonsense Strategy Call to see if coaching with me can help you get the results you want.
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NOTE: If you are in an abusive relationship, your next best step is to seek appropriate medical and legal counsel.