Dear Dr. Chani,
My wife, Esty, is beautiful, bright and interesting. I love her very much, and I treasure the time we spend together. But sometimes I feel that our relationship is not that great.
We have been married for seven years. I try to be a wonderful husband and a great father to our two children (a girl, age 5, and a boy, age 1). I get up early in the morning to watch the kids so that Esty can sleep late. I do most of the shopping and cleaning around the house. I am incredibly attracted to Esty and I make sure to tell her so. I express that she is beautiful and I love her. But when we are alone, Esty does not seem interested in me. I feel like she does not respect me or love me. I am just a person she is married to. When we are in private, I feel very distant from her.
One of the things that bothers me the most is that my wife retreats into her own world every night before we go to sleep. When we get to our room, I look forward to spending special time together. I imagine having close conversations and being able to relax privately. But she doesn’t seem interested. The bedroom door closes, and out comes her iPhone! As soon as Esty is in bed, she spends tons of time on her phone. She checks her email and messages, reads through her Facebook timeline, responds to the posts, and catches up with her friends on social media. She completely ignores me. I feel like I am the wallflower just watching the show from afar. I disappear into the woodwork. It is as if I am not there!
It gets worse. It’s not only that I feel ignored (because I am!). Esty becomes a prisoner of whatever she saw on her phone. She laughs and she cries, and it stays with her. The laughing part is somewhat nice. But then comes the sadness. Very often, she finds out upsetting news. It can be about the world, or about her network. Someone she knows indirectly is battling cancer. A person was the victim of an aggressive attack. Someone lost their loved one. In general, she usually gets a negative vibe and then she gets into a bad mood before we go to bed.
I have asked…no, begged…her to stop using her phone in bed. She says that she needs it to relax and she cannot go to sleep without it. (What about the bad moods? I don’t know.) I feel so hurt. I feel like she does not desire me, respect me, or even care about me. It is a really horrible feeling when we are alone together and she is spending time on her iPhone instead of with me. It is like she is in another galaxy.
When Esty finally puts her phone down, it doesn’t get any better. Esty is still not in the mood for anything. Sometimes she makes small talk by reporting back to me some of the things that she reads. I pretend that I am interested. But I am not! I want to focus on Esty and me—not on some of her friends and their meaningless posts.
I am jealous of Esty’s iPhone! How can I convince Esty to put her phone away or turn it off earlier in the night so that we can have private time to relax and unwind before we go to bed? How can I get my wife to be interested and attracted to me?
I can only imagine the pain you are feeling. You are a dedicated, devoted and loving husband. You adore your wife and enjoy spending time together. You go above and beyond to help with the household responsibilities and taking care of your children. Yet, the recurring disappointment you feel when your wife turns to her phone at night makes you feel hurt. You would love for your wife to turn to you! Each time your wife turns to her phone instead, you feel rejected.
This disappointment and tension affects how you feel about your relationship altogether. That makes a lot of sense. A marital relationship has many aspects to it. A husband and wife need to balance the responsibilities of managing a household, earning a livelihood, and, often, parenting as well. One of the foundational parts of a marriage that sometimes fades into the background as life gets more complicated is the friendship between a husband and a wife. When a spouse ignores this aspect of the relationship, it directly impacts other facets of the relationship. If your private time together is not valued, nurtured and focused on, your entire relationship will feel under tension. Even parts of the marriage that are going well will be affected by the strain of the resentment that originates in the bedroom.
Even though your wife may be contributing to running your home and raising your children, her lack of interest in you at bedtime is likely to cause tension in other aspects of your relationship. The pain you feel in the bedroom tends to spill out into the kitchen, dining room and the car. You may fight about small issues that come up when you interact in these places, but, deep down, what you are really expressing is a frustration that arises from the lack of harmony in your bedroom.
It is essential for Esty to realize how much is at stake when she ignores your request to turn to you instead of her phone. You need to communicate the rejection, loneliness and hurt you feel every time your wife focuses on her phone in your bedroom. Although you have repeatedly asked her to stop using her phone, you may not have done so in a way that she can listen and understand you. You may have focused on her stopping the behavior instead of focusing on explaining how her behavior makes you feel. In addition, you might have criticized your wife for her behavior and unwittingly caused her to become defensive. It’s time for you to try a new approach.
When you have a conversation with Esty to express what is upsetting you, keep four steps in mind:
First, start by sharing something positive about your wife and about your situation. What do you appreciate about Esty? What is Esty already doing right? This frames the conversation to be positive and hopeful.
Second, convey your feelings. What do you feel? What are the factors that led you to feel this way? Be sure to describe the details of your situation that contribute to your feelings so that your wife can understand you better. You might want to explain your past experiences or your expectations that have led you to feel this way.
Third, explain what your core need is in the situation. What need do you have that is not being met?
Fourth, detail your expectations for the future. Clearly explain: What would you like Esty to do from now on to address your need?
For example, you might say the following: “Darling, I love you and I love spending time together with you. You are so smart, interesting and fun to be with. Our life is busy and we often do not have time alone together until we go to bed. When we are alone in our bedroom and you read your phone, I feel hurt and lonely. I feel like I’m not important to you. Throughout my long day at work, I look forward to talking to you and relaxing together. I need to feel that you want to be with me and you want to spend time with me too. I would love for you to take more of an interest in relaxing together with me. I wish that we could think about ways to relax that we will both enjoy together.”
Framing your conversation this way allows Esty to hear how you feel. It can prompt her to empathize with you and express to you that she can understand why you feel this way. This will open the door for you to have a conversation to share more about your feelings.
There is an important part you need to play in listening to Esty, too. During this conversation, and follow-up conversations, you will need to be open to hearing her feelings about why she turns to her phone before going to bed. Her perspective might surprise you. She might bring up an issue that bothers her about you. Be prepared to listen to her feelings non-defensively and, even if you do not agree with her perspective, express that you can understand why she feels the way she does. As you both gain awareness of what each of you are feeling and your individual needs, you will be able to find ways to work together to find solutions and improve your dynamic.
These four steps are an effective way to communicate about something that is bothering you with your spouse. They frame your feelings for her, enable her to understand you, and allow her to hear clearly what you would like her to do.
It is possible that even with these four steps, your discussion will not progress positively, or you will hit a roadblock at a certain point. One reason this could happen is because there are several explanations behind why your wife is reading her phone at bedtime. She may not be ready to share those feelings with you. She also may not be fully aware of those issues herself. If you find that you are unable to resolve the issue by communicating on your own, seek out a therapist to help facilitate your conversation.
You are making an impressive effort to improve your relationship by communicating openly with Esty about how you feel. Although your initial conversations may be uncomfortable and challenging, discussing your deep feelings with one another and working through this issue can be a catalyst for tremendous growth in your relationship. Speaking heart to heart often builds trust and emotional intimacy, so that you naturally turn toward one another to express your feelings. This will bring you closer together as time goes on.
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About the Author
Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships, and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Find out 10 creative ways to show your love in any relationship at chanimaybruch.com/showyourlove.