My best friend from high school hadn’t had sex with his wife in years. She was also a financial adulteress, generating huge bills on luxury items for herself while not working, putting the burden fully on him to pay for her extravagant spending.
They had other issues as well, but he couldn’t get her to discuss them at all, much less rationally.
The divorce took years, and he needed therapy to move on with his life.
Another friend, this one from college, had a similar situation. He married his college sweetheart, a woman with a huge heart and absolutely no self-control. She never worked, and gained weight to the point of becoming morbidly obese. She had initially provided the emotional nourishment he lacked growing up, but later her own issues sunk their marriage. Like my other friend, he is remarried now, and seems much happier now with a woman much more emotionally mature. She got a huge alimony payment, and found a new husband quickly.
Then there was a close female friend from college who divorced her husband after he stopped coming home much, preferring long business trips and a job far enough away from home that he got an apartment in the city. Both she and her husband both had extremely demanding careers that they put first, and their awesome young sons wound up spending most of their days with grandma. The resentment of neither one of them being willing to sacrifice their careers for the other, or for the family, became a source of constant friction, fights and anger. Nasty fights evolved into sullen silences, and then eventually mutual hated. The relationship ended in a divorce that was brutal for both its emotional and financial toll, as well as a particularly nasty custody battle.
These stories probably sound familiar. We all have friends who have separated, especially if we’re of a certain age.
And those are just the divorces; other relationship issues are everywhere. Relationships are lousy with frictions between partners.
The difference in those who stay together and those who don’t is probably most often around communication, commitment, expectations and willingness to forgive, to accept and to be grateful.
Some Relationships Can’t Be Saved. And Shouldn’t Be.
If you’re having issues, you need to decide first whether the issues are ones that can be worked out, or the kind that can’t.
What kind of relationship issues have a low probability of getting worked out? Here’s a partial list:
- A spouse who unrepentantly maintains has a string of affairs.
- The spouse who won’t connect emotionally.
- The spouse who won’t control their spending to the point the family faces major issues, including eviction.
- The abusive spouse.
- The husband or wife who refuses to address an alcohol or other addiction
- The spouse who just turned out to be batsh*t crazy, and can’t or won’t change.
- The spouse who won’t admit or address big issues.
- And, perhaps, the sexless marriage.
In some cases there may be reasons to stay with a bad marriage. Perhaps for the good of the kids. Perhaps it’s tolerable, and better than the cost of divorcing. Perhaps the spouse is okay with a spouse having sexual relationships outside marriage. Perhaps, for all the flaws, you love the other person, and can’t imagine being without them.
But, if there are issues of safety involved, for you or your children, I would say that you have a moral obligation to really consider leaving the relationship.
And if you are miserable and your spouse does not care about you enough to treat you with respect, or is incapable of changing, then you have a responsibility to yourself to weigh the options and decide if a life of endless unhappiness and lack of fulfillment is fair to you. Life is short; if you spend it being miserable, are you really making the most of your life? I would say no. And while the idea of happiness is very much a Western idea that is not globally accepted as important, I would say that at the minimum, you have a right to make sure you’re not living in misery.
Some Relationships Can’t Be Fixed
Sometimes, couples just grow apart. They may find out that while they married for what seemed like good reasons, but there was no real glue holding their relationship together.
Others find that after the kids are gone, that they have nothing in common anymore.
Some find that they did not expect the exhaustion and lack of time that comes with adulthood, raising kids, and having a career.
Some folks discover sooner that they have different expectations. Expectations that they never talked about –or thought about– until after they had married. Maybe they have different expectations on vacations, how to spend leisure time, how much time to spend together, or what their sex life is going to be like.
If you’re in a situation that sounds like one of these cases, and you are emotionally remote from each other and the intimacy has disappeared from your relationship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t fix things.
Many Relationships Can Be Fixed. Remember that Relationships Take Work.
In these cases, honest discussion and hard work can be enough to work through these disagreements. Not that it’s easy. But taking the time to identify the problem, then talking through options, can be huge in finding a solution. But it will require honest communication and maturity. It may take going back to square one, identifying what each of you want out of your relationship and partnership, what you like about each other, and coming to agreement on a new, shared purpose.
Sometimes emotions can be a huge part of the issue. For us, talking about money has always been that killer issue: for her, money is very much connected to the issue of independence and control, and having someone tell her –or even just suggest– how to spend money makes her defensive at best. So two people can view money very, very differently. But they can certainly still love one another despite the disagreement.
If you want to make your relationship better, though, don’t avoid the issues. The next time that the time is right, ask your spouse what your two biggest relationship issues are. Not how to fix them, just see if you agree on what they are. Then, from there, you can think about them and hold a series of less stressful conversations about various points of the issue over time.
It won’t solve all your problems instantly. But at least you’ll be working on the top priorities. And notice that you’re asking your spouse for what their issues are. You’re investing in them. But fair is fair, and it is inevitable and fair that you will bring up your own top issues in matter of course.
If you each have different views on what the problems are, you can work through that, too.
Consider Marriage Counseling
If you have trouble talking about things, or even identifying the issues, then seriously consider marriage counseling. You’d see a doctor if you had a health problem that was threatening your life; why wouldn’t you consider meeting with a trained professional if you have a relationship issue that’s threatening your marriage? Position it as something to help you work through what you can do better in the relationship, not as something to address your spouse’s faults. Say “me” or “us,” not “you.” No one likes “you.”
The key point is that you are committed to your marriage, and are willing to do the hard work it takes to save your marriage. Even if it hurts. Even if it means conflict, and hurt feelings as you work through the issues. And, if you’re willing to accept that, then you should also be willing to admit that there are professionals who see these kinds of issues all the time, and can help you work things through faster, better and more completely than you can do on your own if you find you’ve hit a roadblock.
You are important. Your marriage is important. First, talk, respectfully, and try to figure out the issues and then try to solve them on your own. It’s amazing how many couples just haven’t talked about their issues, in the interest of avoiding fights and hurt feelings. And when they talk, the find out what they thought their spouse thought, or what their own assumptions were, are totally different than what they thought.
And if you can’t do it on your own, there’s no shame in getting help. If anything, you should feel proud that you’re both willing to do whatever it takes to address your issues… even asking for help.
Read the next post in the Keeping the Spark Alive Series: Why Relationships Cool: What You Can Do About a Dead or Dying Marriage