March 26, 2018

Tell me if this feels familiar:

  • You cannot remember the last time you’ve had a deep conversation with your spouse about your relationship.
  • If you can remember, the memory is not a positive one.
  • When you think about talking to your spouse about _____________, you cringe inside. (Fill in the blank with sex, money, parenting – you name it),

If this is familiar, I feel for you. Because at one point, it was me. It brought me to within a hair’s breadth of pursuing divorce and wreaking havoc on my immediate and extended family.

While there is rarely a single issue that drives a husband and wife apart, the desire to avoid pain or conflict is present in most of the couples we counsel. It’s a core issue because when we can’t discuss what’s hurting us, it gradually oozes out in other ways. Eventually there is no more sharing, no more intimacy, no more of anything remotely resembling what brought us together in the first place.

‘I can’t talk to my spouse about that’

I often hear people say their spouse won’t or can’t hear them. Often it’s about sex. The percentage of people who are unhappy with their sex life is huge! But for whatever reason, they feel they can’t tell their spouse. The same goes with talking about a spouse’s appearance, especially if obesity is in the mix.

In reality – in the vast majority of situations – the spouse who says “I can’t talk to him/her about that” is simply protecting themselves. Specifically, they’re protecting themselves from the anxiety the conversation would cause.  They are worried about the spouse’s reaction. The consequences.  The aftershock.  And so instead, they avoid the topic altogether.


‘I don’t want to hurt their feelings’

I get this. My husband is one of the dearest, sweetest men on planet Earth. Years back, when I was an emotional basket case, even though I was miserable, I didn’t want to tell him. The last thing I wanted to do was make him feel bad about himself. Things about him drove me crazy and yet I wouldn’t tell him. I thought if I verbalized what I was really thinking, what was really bothering me, how deeply unhappy I was, he would take all the blame on himself and things would just get worse.

The truth is though, I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want to face the anxiety it would cause in me if I had the conversation.  I was protecting me.  Guess what else I did?

I aborted any chance of a deeper relationship with my husband byassuming he couldn’t handle it.

How fair is that? How loving is it? Rather than giving him the chance to know me better and help me through my issues, I stuffed it and justified doing so by assuming he couldn’t handle it.

If you’re doing this, you are destroying your marriage. And it’s a death by a million little paper cuts.

If your relationship doesn’t end in outright divorce, it will at a minimum slip into the doldrums, as you find less and less to discuss and fewer activities you enjoy together. Loving affection will become a distant memory and tender moments of closeness will be nonexistent. You’ll become the couple in the corner of the restaurant who’ve been married for 40 years but don’t have a thing to say to one another.

Choose your destiny

If you don’t want this, I encourage you to run – not walk, run – to an experienced, educated marriage counselor.   That’s what we did and it saved our marriage.

Technically, this issue is called a ‘lack of differentiation’. It’s when we have a hard time defining ourselves as individuals. It involves knowing what is important to us, setting boundaries between ourselves and others, and knowing how to handle the anxiety that comes with being intimate with someone else.

A lack of differentiation is rooted in fear. It basically means we’re scared.

We’re scared the other person doesn’t really value us, or that they’ll respond with hostility, or that we’ll just make things worse, or that it won’t change anything.

Is that how you want to operate? Out of fear?

I challenge you to take control of your relationship. Pursue help. . Your marriage is worth it.

Have questions or interested in working with us?

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KIM BOWEN is a licensed professional counselor who offers relationship therapy through her company, The Marriage Place. Her blogs and newsletters have been featured in various publications and she is the author of the

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1 Comment

  1. robyn

    Hi there , just had a small breakthrough with my seperated husband of 32 years. on the topic above, how do i get to be able to have my husband open up and communicate, he just says, no ill leave my feelings in the drawer, he started to cry and i gave him a hug, and told him how much i love him and want to make this marriage work, any form of communcation , no matter how calm, he gets upset and says this is why i want a divorce, im sick of the conflict, i dont like it either, but even if i calmly talk, which is necessary for communicating, a lot of our differences are miss understandings and the nned for me to express how i feel freely without him calling it conflict. i want as both to be respected for our individuality and oersonality as we are both unquiue. how do i get this across and how do i get him to open up so i can understand him.

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