Should We Be Able to Expect Fulfillment From Our Marriage?
Question Submitted to Natasha for advice:
I recently found your blog through strengtheningmarriage.com/blog where I have participated frequently. I am LDS, and my wife and I just celebrated our 18th anniversary yesterday.
I find one of the greatest difficulties in my marriage is the difference in our dependency. My wife is very independent. She is a go-getter. She has many, many friends and literally knows most of the people in our community. She gets great satisfaction out of serving, helping, and being busy. She does not have a full-time job but does substitute teach occasionally. She prefers to not be at home as she is very social and wants to be with people. As far as marriage, my perception is that she doesn’t think about our relationship; she is happy with the status quo. She loves me and wants me to be happy, but in my opinion, she wants me to be happy largely without her involvement.
In many ways, I am the opposite of my wife. I’m a home body. I prefer to be at home but try to accompany my wife when possible in her different activities. In comparison, I am overly dependent on my wife. I have very few friends. I constantly think about our relationship, about the great distance that I often feel between us, and about how I can help reduce that distance to have a close, intimate relationship that I feel is the purpose of marriage. I love my wife but am unsure of even how to show this love as I usually don’t feel a sense that my wife needs me. In short, I would say that my wife is a very happy, positive person by nature and that she is content with our relationship; I am more of a serious, analytical, pensive type, and desire much more closeness, connection, and intimacy in our relationship. Here are the general questions that I would ask:
How important should marriage be to a couple?
About how much time and effort should a couple spend on their relationship for it to stay “healthy”?
How should a couple deal with differences in dependency to reach a good balance where both spouses are happy? I realize we are each ultimately responsible for our choices, including how we feel, but at the same time, we each influence and are influenced by many outside factors that can contribute to or detract from our happiness.
In your opinion, how much should we be able to rely on or to expect happiness or fulfillment from our marriage?
I’m trying to sort out some of these things in my head and appreciate any comments that you might have. Thank you.
First of all congratulations on your anniversary! Your questions and comments bring to mind the concept of balance. And although it may be a basic concept to understand, it is much harder to apply in real life. We all struggle with creating balance in many different areas of our lives. Extremes are generally not healthy and "rigidify" situations. Here are some thoughts and suggestions:
Your marriage should be the most important relationship in your life, with parenting in close competition. Some people struggle with putting spouse in front of children. The kicker is that one of the best things you can do for your children is to provide them with the example of a loving, sexual, healthy, problem-solving spousal relationship. Therefore, it is imperative that couples spend the time needed to communicate, resolve, date, have fun, grieve, etc.
It sounds like you have a wonderful wife with many strengths that you seem to admire. Some of these traits were probably what attracted you to her in the first place: her independence, friendly nature, ambition, sociability, and willingness to serve. However it is a classic phenomenon that the traits that we were once attracted to can become the same traits we struggle with later in the relationship (i.e. “I love how he is so in charge of things and takes initiative” turns into “I can’t stand how controlling he is!”)
It also sounds like as a couple you are great complements to one another. And if you can get to the point where both of your needs are being met, you have an incredible amount of potential as a couple.
Is your wife aware of your feelings? Have you taken the time to speak to her in a non-attacking approach to let her know that your needs are not being met? Something like, “I love and admire so many things about you (make a list) and it makes me happy that you seem so fulfilled with your life. Although I do not want to take away from the many things that you love, in order for my needs to be met I need more time with you and I need our relationship to hit a deeper level.”
As far as time spent with one another it can depend on the couple, but I wholeheartedly agree with the church’s recommendation of taking the time for a date night at least once a week. And in your situation, this should be a date just with you and your wife (not other couples) where you can enjoy each others company and feel close. Surprise your wife with one of the games sold on simplysweetmarriage.com and use it as a creative way to reach out to her in a different way. Agreeing on a certain amount of daily shared time can also be beneficial (even if it’s just 10-20 minutes) where the couple can shut the door to the bedroom (keep kids out if you have them), lie in bed together (not sexually), take the time to look each other in the eyes and share some of the highlights or concerns of the day (but have this be a time where you empathize and listen to each other, not try to solve problems or begin an argument). We are all incredibly busy but making time as a couple is imperative to any relationship. Absolutely essential!
If I was working with you as a couple, I would dole out the challenge of switching roles a bit. You probably need to work on becoming more like your wife (i.e. forming appropriate friendships outside of your spousal relationship, develop your own interests and hobbies, find opportunities to serve others, etc. – the moping around and ruminating about your sad state of affairs is probably not overly attractive 🙂 ). And your wife could follow your example (i.e. look for times to stay at home with you, and opportunities to create more intimacy within your marriage). Again, it’s all about creating balance and you both seem a bit off kilter.
Ideally we should expect much happiness and fulfillment from our marriages. Where it gets tricky is that we only have control over our own behaviors. And although we may not always be able to control our feelings, we can control how we react to them. If you are not currently happy then you can and should take action. Try communicating about the issue with your wife. Make sure that she understands that you do not want things to stay “status quo.” It is just not acceptable to you. Hopefully she will understand and be willing to make changes as well (more than likely if you’re not happy, she’s probably not as happy as she could be either). If not, you can still change the dance. If you’ve been the pursuer and it’s pushing her away, try a different approach – give more space and see what happens (over at least the course of a month). Find different ways of interacting with her than what you are both used to. Start thinking about what are other ways you can achieve some happiness in your life and start focusing on those as well. Your wife is probably never going to be able to provide all of your needs – what can you provide for yourself? If we are happy, confident and positive about ourselves, it can be more appealing for our spouses to want to be around us. If things continue to go downhill, consider going to marital counseling – and invite her to go with you as a positive, fun date-type of situation. The best time to begin counseling is when things are not as bad as we think they should be to deem counseling. If she refuses to go, start the process yourself and continue to invite. Ultimately, work on self is all we can ever really do.
Is depression part of the equation here? If you are depressed or feel like you could be, it would be beneficial to go in for an assessment. Depression can be difficult for any couple to deal with and you would want to get professional help. You can start this process with your primary care provider or a therapist of choice. The best treatment for depression according to current research, is a combination of talk therapy along with prescribed medication.
Marriage is basically one huge compromise after another. The whole concept revolves around putting another person’s needs at equal status or ahead of our own. Hopefully you and your wife can both find ways to serve and be fulfilling to each other. It is what all couples should be striving towards. And it is an ongoing process with lots of ups and downs, joys and disappointments. This is the relationship where, if we are willing, we can experience most growth.
Good luck to you both!
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Natasha Helfer, LCMFT, CST, CSTS is the owner and founder of Symmetry Solutions. She is a Licensed Clinical Marriage & Family Therapist in the states of Kansas and Wisconsin and a Certified Sex Therapist. Natasha has been in practice for over 20 years and works with adults and adolescents. She specializes in mental health therapy, sex therapy and sexuality concerns, family/couples services and faith transitions within spiritual journeys.