Marriage at a lull?

Dear Alice,

I have been having a lot of trouble with my husband. It's not necessarily trouble, but I've been unhappy for a long time. Lately, nothing seems good between us anymore. He doesn't want to do anything. Our anniversary came and went without a card. So did Mother's Day and my birthday. We haven't exchanged a hug or a kiss in I don't know how long, and sex between us doesn't even exist. What am I going to do? Please help.

Very unhappy

Dear Very unhappy,

Relationships are complicated and often require a lot of work. Humans rely on relationships to provide stability and fulfillment. Healthy marriages can help keep you mentally and physically happier and healthier, leading to a longer life. While ups and downs are a natural aspect of all relationships, it sounds like it has been down for a long time. Conflicts such as the ones that you have described may often stem from disagreement or general incompatibility. The recommended method to resolve these conflicts depends upon an individual couple’s personalities and attachment styles. However, constructive engagement, as opposed to avoidance or destructive behavior, is considered the best approach to ensure long-term happiness in a marriage.  

Research has shown that marital stability is largely dependent on two categories of factors — interpersonal and intrapersonal. Notable interpersonal determinants, or behavioral interactions, include healthy communication, sexual intimacy, love and attraction, mutual respect and agreement, quality time, and openness to conflict resolution. Intrapersonal components include religion, trust, loyalty, support, forgiveness, acceptance, and other personal characteristics that enable healthy relationships. Understanding you and your husband’s interpersonal and intrapersonal strengths and weaknesses may help you to assess compatibility and find ways to improve upon the relationship together. Nevertheless, many challenges in marriages — such as raising a child or dealing with financial hardships — extend beyond these two categories and are proven to be difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, the research has shown that negative communication between partners is difficult to improve upon as 69 percent of arguments among couples never gets fully resolved. Furthermore, a resolution, if found, doesn’t necessarily lead to greater satisfaction. While it was once assumed that marital happiness declines significantly over time, the good news is that current research has shown, more commonly, that married couples experience long periods of stability as you seem to be looking for.  

If you haven’t already done so, a first step may be to discuss your observations with your husband and to let him know how you’re feeling. It could be wise to find a time and place when you can sit down quietly and calmly to talk about some of these feelings. You may find it helpful to write down some of your thoughts and feelings ahead of time. An open conversation may help the two of you come to a new understanding about the state of your marriage and decide on a course of action to improve the situation.

Similarly, if you’ve tried a discussion with your husband and it hasn’t helped, couples counseling could be a useful next step. If your husband is unwilling to go with you to counseling, it may still be helpful for you to seek support for yourself to work through your concerns. Either separately, together, or with the help of a professional, you could consider where your marriage is right now and where it you want it to go. Often, acknowledging that a problem exists is a first major step towards solving it. It appears that you are aware of aspects of your relationship that you would like to change, giving you a great place to begin. Sharing your feelings with your husband, and trying to come up with ways to create those changes may lead to a revitalized marriage with renewed sexiness, thoughtfulness, and affection. It can also give you the opportunity to figure out in what ways you can move forward that are best for you, whether you remain together or decide to separate. 

To love!

Last updated Jan 28, 2022
Originally published Apr 01, 1994

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