It’s typical for a marriage to go through seasons where one or both of you is feeling detached. Or lonely. Or dissatisfied. It’s actually a natural part of any relationship. In a marriage, you will go through stages where you grow apart and one or both of you is more focused on individual desires, hobbies and careers. Given time however, you usually find your way back together. This ebb and flow is a maturation process, for you and for the relationship. You learn to take it for what it is – a stage – and also how to reconnect after a season of feeling detached.
It’s fair to say the healthier the relationship, the more prepared you are to weather these dry seasons, but it doesn’t mean they are easy.
What can be especially challenging is when you are feeling disconnected but your spouse isn’t responding to your attempts to engage in a conversation about it.
When you ask what’s wrong, they say “Nothing” (The dreaded ‘nothing’ that you know is probably ‘something’).
They get agitated with your questions.
They refuse to talk about the relationship.
Everything is “fine”.
It can be incredibly frustrating and lonely – so much so that if we aren’t careful, our ‘’best self” retreats and instead we may be tempted to bring our inpatient, insecure, needy inner child to the party. We end up saying and doing things that only make the situation worse, causing a greater disconnect and a more challenging repair.
Encouraging closeness without talking about the relationship
So how can you encourage closeness without talking directly about your relationship?
You can start with these:
Do something nice for your spouse each day – Go for the understated rather than the large, grandiose gestures. Fix their coffee and bring it to them each morning. Help with a chore that your spouse usually handles. You could also leave a sweet note in their car or on their bathroom mirror. Do something completely unexpected. Last week my husband was packed for a trip and surprised me by stopping at the grocery store on the way out, to pick up groceries and drop them back by the house. He didn’t want me to have to brave the 20 degree temperatures to get out and shop for myself! This is a perfect example of doing something nice and unexpected! Thanks Hon!
Questions you CAN ask. – What can I do today to make your day better? Is there anything you need me to do this week that would help you with your schedule? These are both great questions, but they aren’t the only ones. Keep your questions light, action-oriented, and easy to answer. The goal is to be helpful not annoying, so be careful not to over do it and bury them in questions, or else they may feel smothered. Also, remember they’ve been resistant to talking about your relationship, so avoid heavy, emotional questions for now.
Show gratitude for them each day. – Be genuine and authentic. Notice the little things they do, perhaps something they do each day that often goes unnoticed. Show or tell them you do notice what they do for the family and that you appreciate it.
No strings attached
With each of these, remember your focus should remain on your spouse, not on their gratitude. Read that again. You focus should remain on your spouse and making them feel appreciated, not on their gratitude or how they respond to your kindness. This can be tough, especially if you don’t get the response you want or think you deserve, so it’s important to take an honest look at your motivation. If your actions are driven by what you thought you’d get in return (praise, self-worth, closeness, returned affection, intimacy) then your actions aren’t really about your spouse at all. They’re about your needs, which means you’re likely to be left feeling resentful if your spouse doesn’t respond in the way you’d hoped. Instead, make your motivation simply to show your spouse love and appreciation…no strings attached.
When to ask for help
All marriages have these seasons, but if your seasons of disconnect happen too often or linger too long, it may be time to seek professional assistance from a therapist or coach specifically trained to help couples muddle through these rough seasons and learn to reconnect. If this is you and you feel stuck, I encourage you to reach out. We have options for couples who are ready to tackle this work together, as well as for individuals whose spouses aren’t willing to participate.
Asking for help is a brave first step to closing the distance in your relationship.