You’ve suddenly found yourself being told by your wife that your marriage is over. She doesn’t love you anymore. You are stunned. You still love her very much and you thought things were fine. Yes, you have had your arguments but you had no idea she would consider it so bad she would want to end the marriage. How did this happen? Why so suddenly?
You have most likely been cruising along in a companion marriage. You and your wife do things together, raising kids and enjoying some of the same activities. You also have some great history together and your sex life is satisfactory too – at least from your perspective. Your marriage, as it is, meets your needs just fine. You could go on like this for the next 50 years! The problem is your wife cannot. It is not what your wife wants or needs out of the relationship.
When your wife married you she believed that she had found the one man with whom she could share her heart, her dreams, and her feelings. She expected to open her heart and have you listen, accept and protect her feelings. She believed she could be vulnerable to you and feel safe and cherished. She was expecting marital intimacy; a much deeper form of relationship than a companionship marriage. We learn from Terrence Real in his new book, The New Rules of Marriage that there are five areas of intimacy:
Intellectual: The mutual sharing of ideas in respectful, nonjudgmental ways.
Emotional: The expression of one’s fears, joys, sadness, anger, etc. and the receiving of each other’s feelings with respect and compassion-without disqualifying, attacking or withdrawing.
Physical: The active participation in mutual activities. Support in each other’s physical care, physical nurture and affection.
Sexual: Honoring the mutuality of sex. Being open to your partner’s desires without doing something you don’t want to do. Being open to your own desires and expressing them.
Spiritual: The sharing of a spiritual life, however defined.
These are the foundation of a much deeper relationship experience. Let’s be honest. Very few of us had marital intimacy modeled for us in our parents’ marriage. Those were usually traditional patriarchal marriages. A husband was doing all he needed to do if he was a good provider, kind to his wife and children, engaged in raising his children and not prone to excessive drink or a violent temper. This was the model that shaped our image of a “good marriage” and therefore most of us rock along blissfully ignorant of the volcanic eruption that awaits us. But times have changed now and our wives need and expect something different than our moms and grandmoms did.
Our wives need something more but they aren’t always successful in communicating those needs. They may try unsuccessfully or they may assume we already know. There are several myths regarding marriage to which many wives subscribe:
– If you truly loved me, you’d know what I need. I shouldn’t have to tell you.
– If I have to explain it to you and ask for it, it cheapens the act.
– My body language and moods should have made my needs clear to you.
When our wives believe these myths they become very frustrated with our bone-headed inability to get the message, resulting in an escalation in their attempts to communicate with us. They stop hoping we will figure it out and they move on to trying to control us with demands. They are angry and fearful they are trapped in a marriage in which they cannot be happy. To us husbands, this often comes across as an illogical, exaggerated, unfair attack. We become defensive, feel unappreciated, and usually respond by dismissing or minimizing our wife’s statements as untrue, irrational, and purely emotional.
Some of us are so uncomfortable with talking about our feelings we simply shut down and refuse to participate. We go into our emotional man cave and become even more emotionally unavailable. We may say we agree and comply with orders for change, but our motive is simply to end the uncomfortable argument. Others of us respond with our logical arguments as to why our wife’s “attack” is without merit. We find ourselves trapped in circular arguments over “who is right” and our marriage becomes distant and strained.
At some point many wives simply give up the struggle to communicate. They become resigned and stop trying to get their needs met in the relationship. In our parent’s generation, wives just accepted this as the nature of marriage and instead would look to meet their needs through their children and friendships with other women. In today’s world, women are no longer willing to settle for a companionship marriage! They demand their needs be met and they are empowered by our culture to leave the marriage if it’s not satisfying those needs. Divorce is no longer looked down upon and “If you are unhappy, then leave!” is the norm. Some wives will try to endure the unhappy relationship for a time, perhaps until the children are older. Others will take part in emotional or physical affairs to get their intimacy needs met. All of them will plod on until the day when their building volcano of resentment explodes and you hear these words: “I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore”, “I’ve never loved you” or “My love for you has died and I know I can never get it back”. And your world shatters.
What do you do now? We do not believe that marriages have to end at this point and we’ve helped many couples in this exact situation save their relationship. We would like to join you in an attempt to “Divorce your Marriage, Not your Spouse”, a blog by Kim Bowen that I recommend you read next.