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Monday, Sept. 9, 2019

Feeling distant and detached from your spouse?

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Don’t let life’s stresses push you emotionally and physically apart

Dear Andy, My wife and I no longer seem to like each other after 12 years of marriage and seem to have little in common anymore. About the only thing we do still have in common is the love for our kids. Is this a phase? Will we ever be a close couple again?

– Signed: Love Lost.”

Dear Love Lost, I truly hope you two can find your way back to being close again. Many couples who have been together for many years find that they have grown apart over time. It’s important to think of your marriage kind of like a garden. If you don’t tend to it by watering, weeding and pruning, the garden will eventually wither and die. In a marriage, you need to tend to it, or the closeness, love and friendship can wither and die. So, what is “tending” to a marriage? Here are some examples.

If you, like many couples, are not careful, the stress of life can make you become emotionally and physically distant. Kids, money, extended family, jobs, level of intimacy can all cause stress in a relationship. Over the years, people can drift far apart. I like to tell couples to put problems in front of them instead of between them. This puts the focus on the challenge facing them both so they can tackle it together instead of letting it cause a divide between them. Certainly, couples are not always going to agree on how best to solve an issue, but brainstorming and negotiating as a team is the goal.

Sometimes, hobbies and interests can push couples apart. Picture in your mind the capital letter “Y.” Like the letter, couples may be as one at the beginning of the relationship and then over time start to grow apart like the letter does. The further couples grow apart, the harder it is to get back. This is why counseling works better the earlier you notice the distance and not let it go on for years and years.

Do you and your wife have similar hobbies and interests? It’s OK to have some things you enjoy that your spouse does not. I know couples where one person is into playing tennis, and the other is into golf. When they work together and decide on how much time and money should be spent on their hobbies, it can work well. You can support a partner’s interests without participating. Listening shows interest in your spouse’s hobby and can be really helpful. It’s a good way to stay connected. Another way is to buy hobby supplies like tees and balls, a golf magazine or accessories.

It can also be very helpful to have some interests to do together. This could be attending church, camping, watching TV, vacations or weekend getaways. It’s important to do “family” things and also “couple” things to revitalize the closeness.

Keep in mind that being unhappy in a relationship is subjective to each partner. I often find that one partner thinks that everything is OK while their partner thinks things are not. This is when it’s important to “talk things out.” If you can’t communicate well by yourselves, try letting a counselor help you. Over the years, there may be some hurt feelings that need to be healed before couples can feel close again.

It is so important for couples to meet each other’s needs. Do you know your spouse’s needs? If so, do you try to meet them or allow them to meet yours? Often, I find couples tend to take turns trying to meet their partner’s needs. It’s like a teeter-totter on a playground. While one person is down, the other is up, then they teeter the other way. When this happens in a relationship, one partner may notice emotional distance and try harder to meet their spouse’s needs, then get frustrated when this is not returned, and they stop. Then a little while later, the other partner notices the emotional distance and tries to meet their spouse’s needs only to find their partner hurt and unresponsive to the kind gestures. So, make sure both of you know the types of things your partner wants, and you each do them at the same time. Don’t keep score! Just be generous and show caring and appreciation in a way your partner can feel it.

So, Love Lost, keep these things in mind and consider couples counseling to work toward getting back to liking each other and finding more in common. Set aside about an hour a day without TV or cell phones to talk and share and stay connected. All long-term relationships ebb and flow like an ocean. Over the years, sometimes you will feel close, and sometimes you will feel distant. This distance can be gradual and hard to notice at first. People in successful long-term marriages become good at recognizing the “not so great” times and quickly get back to building the foundation of friendship and love again.

Andy Sibley, MA, LPC, LMFT is a psychotherapist in private practice and contracted counselor for “The Dr. Phil Show.” To Ask Andy a question about a difficult situation you may want advice with, please email him at Andy@AndySibley.com or go to his website at www.AndySibley.com.

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