Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m feeling sad and lonely in my marriage and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve been married for 18 years and my husband and I are raising two wonderful children together. We are marvelous parents. The problem is that we seem to misunderstand each other often and it ends up feeling very hurtful to both of us. We have a full life – just not with each other. He is very hurt to find out that I’ve been so unhappy for many years. I thought it was good that I could finally share this with him. I’m worried about the future, when the kids are gone. We are so distant from each other. My husband is not open to marital therapy so what can I do?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Your sadness and loneliness leak out between the lines. I’m sorry that you are experiencing such emotional pain. Even your attempts to connect through engaging in marital therapy leave you feeling helpless and alone.
You cannot make him engage in marital therapy but you can focus on what you can do to help yourself to feel better. You say you have been unhappy for years and that you did not communicate this to your husband until recently. It sounds like you have been putting your needs on the back burner. These unmet needs always eventually force us to attend to them.
Taking care of ourselves is an important responsibility that arrives with adulthood. Unfortunately, many of us learned to ignore or put off our own self-care needs. This could be due to guilt (that we are being ‘selfish’ to focus on ourselves) or as an early survival mechanism. Putting others’ needs before our own may have been the only way to connect with our parent(s) when we were young. Healthy relationships with others require a healthy relationship with yourself. You can’t have one without the other.
My suggestion is that you focus on consciously and lovingly attending to your own needs the way you have attended to your kids needs. An added side benefit is that in doing so you are providing a healthy model for them as they move more and more towards creating their lives. As you change, your relationship with your husband will change. Please be kind to yourself on this journey. If it feels right to you, individual therapy can jump start you on this journey.
(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. 2010 Chaitanya Counseling Services