Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m worried about my marriage. We’ve been married nine years now and for the last couple of years especially I feel more and more distance between my husband and I. We have had a stressful five years – trying to get pregnant, dealing with my mom’s cancer, and moving. We get along OK. It’s just that it feels like we are living separate lives. We don’t talk much. We don’t share much at all – except for a few favorite TV shows that we watch together. I just feel so alone when we are together. I don’t know what to do about it. I try to initiate conversations but it just doesn’t go anywhere. Our sexual life is practically non-existent. What can I do?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Marriage does not ensure closeness or even a buffer from loneliness – although our common cultural belief is that it does. It’s common for couples to operate as if now that they’ve found their partner it’s time to focus on other things, like career development, or having children. Career development and having children are important next steps, however, the marital relationship continuously needs nourishment for it to remain alive and vital in both partner’s lives.
In life, what you attend to and care for thrives and develops, whereas what you ignore tends to wither and die. To remain vital and alive all relationships require the nourishment provided through shared times together. In “A General Theory of Love” (Lewis, Amini and Lannon, 2000), Lewis reminds us that “relationships live on time. They devour it in the way that bees feed on pollen or aerobic cells feed on oxygen: with an unbending singularity of purpose and no possibility of compromise or substitution.”
These authors also assert that recent research demonstrates that true emotional intimacy is reflected on a neurological level as a limbic resonance that occurs between two lovers – one that has a direct, reciprocal and beneficial effect on health and well-being. This resonance requires spending time in each other’s presence.
With the pace, demands and stressors of life, it is easy to lose touch with that which best sustains us: a deep mutual intimate connection with another. The common bi-products of this lack of true intimacy are loneliness, anxiety, depression and a sense of meaninglessness in life.
For your marriage to become vital and nourishing to you and your husband, you must choose to spend time together really sharing and getting to know each other in depth. This must be a commitment and a priority for both of you. As Lewis points out, truly intimate relationships are not a 50-50 or tit-for-tat set up. Rather they are 100-100. Whatever benefits one of you, benefits both of you. Whatever hurts one of you, hurts both of you.
See if you can find a way to encourage your husband to consider this understanding. Consider what changes the two of you could initiate to make your relationship a priority. Success at this will help inoculate both of you from the negative effects of life’s stressors, enhance your well-being on all levels, and provide for a more meaningful, vital and fulfilling life. The payoff is well worth the effort!
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2013 Chaitanya Counseling Services