My husband and I married ten years ago for all the wrong reasons. We both had difficult childhoods and didn’t have many friends and were very lonely. Neither of us had much money, and we both thought we’d be more financially stable if we married. Both of us felt a profound passion for each other and became sexually involved before marriage. Now, we both feel empty and are not as happy as we thought we’d be. We’re committed to staying in our marriage, but I can’t stand the thought of living such a drab life. Where did we go wrong, and is there hope for our empty marriage?
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Dear Unhappy: You’ve made a smart decision to stay married and seek help for the problems you face. You asked where you went wrong. In my opinion, your problems stem from rushing through the pair-bonding process and becoming sexually involved prior to marriage. (For a complete understanding of pair bonding read Chapter 10 in Smart Love—a guide to finding lasting love for single adults.) The result of this is a damaged bond. Can a damaged or weak marital bond be repaired? The good news is, YES! But you will have to go back and do the relationship work skipped before marriage.
First, spend time communicating with your husband daily. It’s likely that you and he never established good communication habits. Once couples turn their sexual motors on, they neglect verbal communication. Then many get caught in a web of ineffective communication habits from which they think there is no escape—especially if the habits have become deeply ingrained through time.
How much anger, judging and blaming flows when you are talking to each other? Are you using silence to communicate to him that you don’t like something he is doing. If you talk at all to each other, your conversation probably doesn’t flow easily. It may sound more like you are making speeches at each other.
If you are serious about changing your empty relationship, you will have to make some changes in the way you communicate with your husband (and he with you. But since you are the one who wrote me, it begins with you.) It begins by listening with respect to your husband’s thoughts and feelings even when you don’t agree with him. This opens the door for an atmosphere of respect. Act like you enjoy hearing about his daily experiences. Express empathy and support when he talks. Last but not least, spend more time looking directly into your husband’s eyes when he talks. (Remember, you did this when you were dating him!)
When you change the way you interact with him, he’ll feel the difference. Then you can begin to recapture the magic you felt when you were dating, but it will take time, eye contact, touch, and persistence. Begin by sitting across from your husband at a table. Look directly into his eyes and say something like this: “Something is gone from our relationship, and I’d like to see what I can do to bring the magic back.”
Here’s a project I’d like to have you try for a week. Do everything in the world you can think of to meet your husband’s needs for seven days. Fix his favorite foods. Be a stimulating sex partner for him. Tell him how handsome and wonderful he is three times a day. Make your home a heaven for your husband.
Then let me know if your marriage is still “empty.”