Marriage is hard work


Marriage is hard work


your avatar   Steve (38 year-old man) from Wrightwood, CA

My wife and I have been married for 20 years. We married right out of high school. We have two children, ages 10 and 15. We grew apart as a result of poor communication and the effects thereof. I recently did about 6 months of soul searching and dealt with several main issues that were causing me to be emotionally remote from my wife. I then approached my wife about 2 months ago and apologized for NOT being the husband I should have been for too many years. I asked for and received (she says) forgiveness. I then asked for the opportunity to help rebuild our marriage. I told my wife that although I am still not perfect, I am a changed man and I do love her with all my heart. We have gone to couples communication classes that have helped tremendously.

My wife is still extremely remote emotionally. When I'm making love to her, she does not respond with kisses or a hug or a caress. She does have multiple orgasms but refuses to touch me or become emotionally attached. She says this is because she fears that I will revert to old habits. When I try to reassure her of my commitment, it doesn't seem to help. I have explained that we have new and effective communication skills that should allow us to talk about any problems that arise. She still continues to dwell on the past instead of working towards our future. She says she cannot say she loves me or show me any affection because of this fear. Yet she insists that she wants to save the marriage but only how and when she feels HER needs dictate. I know that we both have needs that are different at times but I think some compromise is called for here. I cannot keep loving her with no return forever and expect to have a healthy relationship.

Can my wife really work on the relationship if she continues to hold onto this fear and remains emotionally remote? Wouldn't it be healthier to set aside the fear, put some faith and trust in me and as problems arise, use our communication skills to solve them? I'm afraid this rejection will cause a "new disconnection" for me. Your help will be appreciated.


    Susan Maroto,

Dear Steve,

It's hard for me to answer your question as to whether or not your wife is currently working on the marriage because I don't know her and haven't heard her perspective about the way things are between you right now. You do have several indications, though: she went with you to the communications classes and obviously did more than simply "go through the motions," since you noticed great improvement from the classes. Both of those factors indicate that your wife is indeed making efforts to improve your marriage.

Whether or not it might be "healthier" if your wife were to let go of her fear is not really the issue right now, as it's something that she does not seem able to do, at least for the moment. People can make changes only when they are ready to do so. It will take some time for her to adjust to the fact that you have made substantive changes in how you relate to her. She probably needs not only to HEAR you verbalize your commitment to relating to her in a different way, but also to SEE you continue to do so over a period of time before she really believes that you have truly abandoned the old patterns. This process calls for some patience on your part. If you insist that she change immediately, you are likely to drive her away.

It sounds like you are feeling quite frustrated with your wife right now. After all, you've gone ahead and done the hard work of soul searching, admitting mistakes, and making changes - so why can't she just get on board with the new program, right? It is incredibly frustrating. You can't change another person, though. Your wife will make changes if and when she's ready to so. Meanwhile, the effort and energy that you expend trying to get her to change only make you more exhausted and frustrated.

It can be very freeing to simply realize and acknowledge that you don't have any control over her or whether or not she's ready to build more emotional intimacy with you. I encourage you to continue to communicate to her your feelings, including your frustration and hurt that she doesn't fully trust you yet. But do so because it will be good for you to express your feelings rather than keep them bottled up, NOT in an effort to push her to change.

During the time in which you can only wait patiently for your wife to move towards you on an emotional level, you need some emotional support from people other than her, whether it be family, friends, or a therapist of your own. You have opened yourself up and made yourself vulnerable by communicating your feelings to your wife. Now it is hurtful to you, and rightfully so, that your wife does not seem willing or able to meet you halfway in the process of reconnecting emotionally. At some point, you may need to assess how long you are willing to wait for your wife to become more emotionally available to you, and individual therapy would be an excellent place to explore this question further.

Your commitment to your marriage and your willingness to work towards change within it are admirable. If your wife is willing, why not pursue couples counseling together? I believe that you and your wife would make excellent candidates for marital work. You've made considerable progress on your own and are both expressing a desire for an increase in closeness. The benefits you derived from the couples communication class is further indication that the two of you could utilize marital work to move towards your shared goal of increased emotional intimacy. I wish you the best of luck.


Susan Maroto, LCSW

This question has been answered by Susan Maroto. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker working out of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She uses an eclectic approach to holistic healing, mind-body relationships, life transitions, depression, and anxiety.For more information visit:


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