Dear Rebbitzen Feige,
I married the man of my dreams four years ago. I can confidently say that at that time I was the woman of his dreams. Now I am not so sure anymore. I feel as though our lives are slowly drifting apart and the worst part is that he seems not to care. I feel unhappy and unfulfilled in my marriage – he seems pretty content. I crave his love and care, and I do my best to be an involved and focused wife but feel underappreciated and unloved a lot of the time… I feel that he is not involved in my life, and does not care enough to get involved.
When I mention this to him, he inevitably replies 'I do love you, I do care about you!' But I don't buy it. Women are intuitive, and I am not reassured by his words.
How can I help him to understand my needs, and in which way can I change my behavior toward him to affect change in him? Talking to him doesn't seem to affect him. Many thanks.
The Rebbetzin's Answer:
My dear reader, you are to be greatly commended for addressing your situation before there is too much water under the dam. I'd like to share with you a number of basic insights gleaned from many years of marriage and counseling.
Contrary to popular thinking, marriage is not a spaceship propelled to its destination by a one-time launch. Marriage is a work in progress; it needs refueling on a moment to moment basis.
In our daily prayers, we address the Almighty as the one that "renews and recreates our world on a daily basis." The continuing existence of the world as it evolves requires new and fresh energy to keep it going. Similarly, our personal world, in microcosm, requires that we, its creator – its molders and shapers – invest every day with fresh energy that addresses the needs of the new day.
Marriage requires constant renewal and vigilance.
Marriages often suffer from the misconception that the happy couple walks off into the sunset and lives “happily ever after.” Yes we can live happily ever after, but the caveat is that the marriage requires constant renewal and vigilance. As with everything exciting in life, there is the danger that with time boredom can take over and rob the marriage of its original passion and vitality. It can become stale and commonplace.
To avert such a thing from happening and to sustain the dream – being the woman of his dreams and the man of your dreams – mandates a paradigm shift. We must let go of our script of our thwarted expectations, of our comparing every moment to what we had envisioned it would be. We must recognize that our dreams were made up of arbitrary thinking and not objective reality.
Drop the Negative Thinking
So long as we are preoccupied with holding on to that thinking, we are missing out on the many possibilities that inhere in the given situation. We would be well advised to drop our negative thinking by refusing to engage it; walk away from it, distract ourselves, etc. If we manage to clear our heads of our preconceived bias and script, we will make room for an altered perception and our mind will be open to a plethora of possibilities and options to explore and incorporate towards the betterment and restoration of our relationship.
Consider Jane, who turned a deaf ear to anyone who tried to suggest that her husband was in fact a fine person who cared about her and wished to make her happy. She insisted he was clueless, totally self-absorbed and content to live at a minimal level of interaction and intimacy. The ebb and flow of her relationship was one that vacillated between utter frustration and begrudging tolerance.
She finally understood that it was hers to assume responsibility for the nature and definition of her relationship. The reality of her life was hers to choose. If she continued to indulge her arbitrary script with her preconceived thinking of what her husband must bring to the marriage she would be choosing a life of misery. If she let go and disabused herself of her contaminated thoughts, and was committed to catch herself when she sensed herself falling back into old patterns of negativity, she would find hidden treasures. She would see and appreciate her husband as the worthy person that he was (not perfect of course).
When I met her husband recently and asked him how they were doing he grinned from ear to ear and remarked, “I always knew she had it in her.”
Needs vs. Complaints
It would be helpful, as well, dear reader, to articulate your needs to your husband. It is not very helpful to make general obscure comments, like “I don’t feel so happy or fulfilled and neither do you.” You need to take time out and identify specific needs: "I’d like to go for a 10 minute daily walk together. I’d like a lunch date once a week. I’d appreciate if you could come home a bit earlier or call me more often from work. I’d like you to bring me a flower once in a while or some gesture that shows me you are thinking of me. Please turn off your phone and look at me when you are talking to me," etc. Be careful not to phrase your requests as criticisms, i.e. “You never…” Don’t start sentences with “you.” These generally end up being perceived of as condemnations and no spouse, or any person for that matter, reacts well to being attacked. Complaints are acceptable, i.e. “We don’t get out much” rather than “You never take me out.”
Give positive feedback for every move in the right direction.
Instead of harboring resentment for what isn’t, paint a picture of what it would look like if it would be to your liking, and present the details, what it would take to make it so. Then have patience and give positive feedback for every move in the right direction. Remember that there is no greater motivator than compliments (only truthful ones). We all thrive on a good word and a pat on the back.
In conclusion, my dear reader, if your husband once occupied that privileged position as the man of your dreams, be assured that he can do so once again. For the most part, (barring of course the existence of extramarital involvement or porn addictions which can seriously compromise a marriage), it would require your adjusting your perception and thinking to make room for a positive reality.
May you – and all of us who seek to enhance our marriages, the primary relationship in our lives – be blessed with clarity and heavenly assistance.