You can still reach his heart.
He then made you feel like you're making a huge deal out of something small: "If you would just think like a man, you wouldn't get so upset about everything," he says. (Men don’t like anybody telling them what to do. They feel that already know what to do themselves.)
So, what can you do now to help save your marriage?
After 40 years of both marriage and being a marriage counselor, I believe you can help your relationship more than you realize. I encourage you not to give up on your marriage — don’t turn to hopelessness or an affair.
You may not believe this, but research over the years shows that one person can change the way both partners experience the relationship.
However, you may have given up hope of making a difference. In fact, you may feel like you've already turned yourself inside out for your mate.
I have no doubt you've put the effort in, I'm just telling you: You may not use have used your energy effectively. In fact, you've probably heard the saying: "If you do the same old things in the same old way, you will get the same results."
So let me just state the obvious — Nagging seldom produces the affection you want. Criticism acts like sulfuric acid to your relationship. Never spending time with your spouse leads to distance and both of you feeling abandoned. Fighting all night, makes you both convinced the other doesn’t care about what matters to you.
Instead of those negative actions, I want you to try doing the five following positive things in your relationship. I've seen them work on my clients, helping those couples turn their relationships around.
If nothing else, once he sees you putting this effort in, your spouse may come to appreciate your wishes for marital counseling.
Here's what I'd like you to do:
1. Show him how much you appreciate him.
You're always telling him he never comes home at the time he promised, and that leads him to believe that you think he's a loser. Likewise, giving him the cold shoulder because he doesn’t "get it," leaves him feeling abandoned.
Expressing frustration with your partner’s lack of empathy will stand out as the only feedback he hears from you. When you get frustrated, you lose sight of the values you both share. My advice is to do an about-face.
Recall the reasons you decided to marry this man. You knew he was going to become a great father, and sure enough, he is. You also knew you could count on him to support your family financially.
Tether yourself back to things you admire about him ... and then tell him what those things are. For example, when your mother was sick, he was there for you at all times, so tell him how much that meant to you. When you had to do a speech at work, he helped you with it. Tell him how much you appreciated his efforts.
As you look for things to affirm, you'll notice you start to feel differently toward him. The picture of him that hurts you will change. What we focus on is what we see more of.
Remember the old Gestalt picture where you could see either a beautiful young woman or a grandmother figure? You cannot see these two different pictures at the same time. Your brain won’t let you do that. So, start catching the moments when your husband goes the extra mile for you.
2. Call time-outs when either of you need one.
You may get your teeth in the bone of a fight and refuse to let go. Many men will stonewall and pull back because they don’t want to get angry. They're afraid of becoming too aggressive or violent, and they love you too much for that. So they try to pull away.
If you find this unforgivable, let me suggest something: A driving need to keep the fight going is usually a need to be "right" (by making your partner "wrong'). Your inner critic turns on you, prompting you to prolong a scathing attack. You're need to be right keeps you hurling epithets of scorn.
You may feel that only by forcing him to admit the error of his ways, will you experience relief from your inner accuser. Give it up. Fighting more will only lead to distance and heartache the next morning when you both recall the things you've said things that you didn’t mean.
So, know when to pause and step away from the argument before you say something you'll regret. Telling your husband that you feel he never loved you in the first place feels valid at the moment, but you don’t want to leave him with that impression. Things said with that tone of resentment will stick in his mind.
3. Learn the fine art of self-soothing.
When your hubby triggers your inner voices, you have to learn to tame them. Perhaps you had a parent who blamed everything on you. Guess what? You are doing the same to yourself with no mercy. Instead, let yourself imagine that each of you may have had a bad day. You're both feeling drained and hopeless and just want some reassurance, but the other’s bucket no longer has any reserves.
Distract yourself by reading, taking a long walk, or doing whatever will take your mind to another place. Most of all, don’t ruminate about how narcissistic your partner has become. Ruminating will convince you that your marriage should never have happened in the first place.
Instead, find ways to nourish your soul with self-affirmation. Remember what you have accomplished and how excited you feel to be alive.
By rehearsing (and revisiting) the moments of joy in your life, you overcome the need to make your partner responsible for lifting your spirits. Of course, we all want our partner to support us. It feels good to know we can turn to them when we need them. But, they don't always have the bandwidth to do that all of the time.
Your ability to self-soothe will usher you through moments when your partner’s bucket has nothing to give you.
4. Make sure you know his "Love Language."
The book The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman explains that we all like to experience love differently. It's like if you said "I love you" in English, but your main squeeze only speaks French. He may not understand. The way you want to receive love is likely different than what your husband wants. He might prefer physical affection or quality time spent together, while you prefer words of affirmation or gifts of service (like helping you with the dishes).
If you offer him love differently than how he prefers to receive it, you’re wasting your time.
But, he will feel very loved if you find out what makes him feel loved and then take action on it (consistently). To discover his Love Language (and your own), read Chapman's book and then talk to your husband about it. Share moments in your relationship when each of you felt deeply cared for by the other person. Then, do more of that.
5. Learn to overcome your depression or anxiety.
I once got upset at a church service because a minister had people laugh about a woman who was upset over her son’s hyperactivity. The doctor gave the son some ADD medication and the mother an anti-anxiety pill. When the doctor saw them later, he noticed that the son seemed focused. He asked the mother about how she was doing with his behavior. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "Now that I am taking my Valium, who cares?" The congregation laughed.
I explained to the minister how hard I work to help people feel comfortable with taking medication if needed. He had just caricatured and trivialized the results and probably made it harder for people to consider using medical drugs when appropriate.
The reason I say this is because many times marital upset does stem from one spouse struggling with depression or anxiety. And people become more critical and despairing about their relationship (and their spouse) when they're personally feeling hopeless and despondent.
In a similar manner, your anxiety may lead you to become far more critical or controlling than you realize.
If you can have a fit when your spouse doesn’t do what you expect and if this happens often, beware. Expecting your spouse to show up at an airport three hours earlier than necessary just because you've panicked yourself to thinking that you’ll miss your flight, does not lead to a feeling of loving compliance, but rather a feeling of manipulation.
I'm not suggesting that you go on medication. However, do consider seeing a therapist if you feel your mental state may contribute to your marital conflicts. You may say that you're depressed because your husband won’t listen to you. Perhaps you're right, but ask him if he thinks that you’re have drawn into yourself or that you've lost your initiative to take leadership in your own life. Consider his feedback.
Applying these five steps will usher you into a different emotional space with your intimate other.
You will notice that both of you begin to soften toward each other. If things still feel stuck, he may not consider using outside resources for help because he senses you’re the best game in town.
As a marriage counselor and partner to his wife for over 40 years, Dr. Jim Walkup helps couples build their relationship to last a lifetime. Visit his website for a copy of his eBook "A Marriage Counselor’s Secrets To Making Your Marriage Sizzle". Or, if you're in the state of New York, to schedule a Skype appointment or an in-person office appointment, call 914-548-8645 or drop Dr. Walkup an email.
This article was originally published at Dr-Jim.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.