(This letter has been edited for clarity)

Dear Dr. Deb,

I have spent years trying to communicate my feelings toward my wife. We do not see eye-to-eye on certain topics, which I’m fine with. But what bothers me the most is not being able to compromise on things that matter to us.

When it comes to intimacy, my wife complains that “It’s always about sex” with me. But I’d be lucky if we’re intimate once or twice a week. Part of the issue is we don’t sleep in the same bed so she can be with our kids, who I know won’t be kids for a long time. And when we have been intimate, it’s almost like a joke or game, and I can’t fully enjoy being with her.

Another thing that bothers me is that she and the kids spend too much time on iPads and iPhones. I would rather that we spent time with one another. I’ve made that clear, but my wife doesn’t agree. She’s so busy at work that she considers her phone time as a chance to decompress. I don’t understand, since I also work, cook, clean, and take care of the kids as much as she does, but I don’t feel I need to be on my phone to destress.

I value my wife and I do my best to listen to her. I consider myself a very considerate and understanding person. I’ve changed in many ways to compromise for her needs, but I don’t feel like my needs are being respected or honored.

What am I missing?

Mr. Wits-End

Dear Wits-End,

I can feel your frustration and hopelessness vibrating right through my computer screen. Having the same conversation again and again that turns into a cold war gets old fast. 

A lot of couples experience “cooling” periods, when it becomes challenging to listen and talk to each other. It seems to be no different in your case. In these situations, instead of physically leaving the relationship, one partner tends to check out emotionally.       

The first step is to figure out why your wife won’t talk to you. If you don’t know why she won’t communicate with you, try your best to find out. Your situation sounds like it has been a slow slide into complacency or a gradual deterioration. 

Which leads us to the next step: dig deep and take a good look at your relationship. Not as how you would want it to be, but as it is now. 

Examine yourself honestly. It’s easy to blame your partner but often faulty communication and ineffective interactions are a two-way street.

I would even hazard a guess that you know more than you realize. You need to ask yourself some tough questions:

  • Might you be acting in ways that make it harder for her to talk to you?
  • How sure are you that she feels like her needs are being met?
  • Could you have inadvertently hurt her and distancing herself is her way of protecting herself from being hurt again?
  • Are you hesitant to raise conflicting topics for fear of her reaction? Or do you only talk about yourself?
  • Are you locked in a power struggle, trying to establish control?
  • Are you able to effectively communicate your feelings?

It goes without saying that there are also things your wife has to deal with, and she may be withdrawing from you for selfish reasons. But since you’re the one I’m responding to right now, I would encourage you to take action for yourself. After all, the only person you can do anything about is you.

That said, for you and your wife to work through this emotional distance, and get better at the art of exchange, both of you will need to agree to talk.

Identify some of the root causes of the unresolved issues between you and make a mutual commitment to listen to each other’s concerns. Neither of you has anything to gain by holding back your true feelings. It’s easier said than done, but be honest. Lay your cards on the table.

Re-establishing an emotional connection will only happen if you both make your relationship a priority and spend quality time together.

Lastly, but maybe most importantly, if you know your wife’s “love language*,” use it. This may not erase months or years of silence, miscommunication, and hurt feelings, but expressing your love using her primary love language shows consideration for her (and let’s admit, it’s romantic!) and would definitely be a step in the right direction.

Wishing you the best,
Dr. Deb

*The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts,” by Gary Chapman.

Do you have a burning question – Your comments in response to a column are welcome. ​I will do my best to answer as many of your questions as I can. Please email me at deb@drdeborahhecker.com


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