Dear Dr. Chani,
I am feeling really confused about my marriage. I feel like my relationship is not the way it is supposed to me, but I cannot put my finger on what is bothering me. Even though my marriage is normal, I do not feel happy. Things used to be different between us.
My wife and I met in high school. Then we held on to our relationship while we attended different colleges and got married during our senior year. It was exciting to date in high school, and cool to have a steady girlfriend in college. We both were in graduate school at the same time, and it was challenging to make time for studying and for each other, but it was also energizing.
Now we have been married for seven years (three years after graduate school was over for both of us), and I miss the excitement of high school or college, or even graduate school. Things are still great, but I feel like we are on autopilot. We each take care of our responsibilities and we set aside time to talk to each other. I think we consider each other best friends. Yet, I go from day to day wondering what I am supposed to do so that I can feel the energy I would have thought I would have. Each day rolls into the next. I think it affects my mood and perspective on life, too. I feel like I am surviving, but not thriving.
I thought it might be something to do with me, so I went to my general practitioner for a blood workup. Everything came back as normal, even my vitamin D. I also consulted with a diagnostic psychiatrist who ruled out clinical depression and did not see my case as classic dysthymia either. Can you help me understand what might be going on? Why do I feel this way about a good relationship, and what can I do about it?
You have been blessed with many happy years with your wife, yet lately, things seem boring and dull. It makes sense that if you feel that way about your marriage, it affects the way you feel about your life in general. When your relationship is vibrant, life’s problems seem lighter and life’s joys seem brighter. Life has more purpose and meaning. Yet, when your most important relationship is lukewarm, your general feeling about life will reflect that.
It sounds like you and your wife have a long-standing, loving relationship. Yet, at this point, you do not feel the same passion and energy in your marriage. Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out on your own what is lacking in your dynamic. You might find it helpful to speak to a therapist with whom you can explore the background and context for the way you feel.
It might sound surprising, but there could be something significant that is bothering you about your relationship with your wife, but you are not allowing yourself to be in touch with it. Why might this be the case? Sometimes, when you love someone, you do not want to recognize any issues or faults in your relationship. You may partly feel like you are betraying your loyalty and commitment to your wife by acknowledging that there is room in your relationship for improvement.
Also, you may not want to admit to yourself what is bothering you because you feel like whatever it is “should not” be bothering you. Perhaps you feel your reason is shallow or shameful. When a person feels like he “should not” be feeling the way he feels, his mind can bury his reason for his feelings so that it is not conscious. Yet, even if the reason remains hidden in his subconscious, he can still notice the rippling effect of his negative feelings.
So what can you do if this applies to you? One way you can help yourself is to permit yourself to think honestly about your wife and your relationship. Instead of asking yourself if something is bothering you, take another approach. Allow yourself to presume for a minute that something is bothering you about your relationship with your wife. Ask yourself, “If something was bothering me about my marriage, what would it be?” This exercise can help you think about what might be standing in your way and allow you to deal with it.
Regardless of whether or not something specific is bothering you about your relationship, it sounds like you can benefit from investing more into your marriage. You expressed that, “I think we consider each other best friends.” Your choice of words suggests that you have some uncertainty about this. Combined with your general lethargy about your relationship, it sounds like your relationship could benefit from intensifying your emotional connection.
Emotional connection is a way that two spouses connect with each other through expressing and understanding each other’s thoughts and feelings. When a relationship has a high emotional connection, it usually feels like the relationship is satisfying and nourishing. On the other hand, when you have little emotional connection, it feels like the relationship is trudging along, but it is not thriving.
Sometimes, when you are on “autopilot” and you are used to a routine, you limit your conversations to typical topics. You tend to forget to discover more about each other like the way you did when you were dating and building your relationship originally. You might also not be carving out time from your schedule to relax, enjoy time together, and have in-depth discussions.
You can bring more excitement and energy into your marriage by creating opportunities to spend more quality time with your wife and by talking about meaningful topics. Even though you have known each other for a while, there is always more to discover about one another. Take turns sharing your feelings about various aspects of your lives. Share your goals and dreams or your worries and regrets. Expand your conversations to new areas that you have not explored in a while or maybe ever.
A key aspect of emotional connection is to express your thoughts and feelings to your spouse, and for her to do the same. When your conversations mostly center around planning, problem-solving, and dealing with the day-to-day, they are in the realm of facts. Dealing with facts is important, but it does not usually increase the connection between two people. On the other hand, when you express your thoughts and feelings about things going on in your life, you increase your understanding, insight, and connection to each other. In each conversation, try to share some of your feelings, and reach for feelings from your wife, too.
One of the topics you can explore together is how you can enjoy each other more and bring more energy into your lives. Explore new ideas together and try them out. As you partner together to rejuvenate your marriage, you may already start to experience the vitality you are searching for.
Wishing you much success,