No one has to be lonely in their marriage
Read and Learn from My Client, Janet
Janet had been married for 15 years but told me that she had been feeling emotionally lonely for the last 14 years. Her husband was not abusive and spent time with time with her. They talked and laughed together, went for walks and had sex on a regular basis. But, she felt that her husband didn’t really know her and that she was holding a lot inside. Sometimes she just felt like letting it all out—letting her husband know all of her feelings and thoughts, which confused even herself. But she didn’t. Although she didn’t really like the way her marriage was, she was afraid to make it worse. Her husband wasn’t a bad man and she didn’t want to hurt him and say things that she would later regret. She was also afraid that it would interfere with their love making. Although she valued an emotional relationship more than a physical one, it was when she was making love with her husband that she felt the most loved.
The Underlying Problem
What Janet told me is not so different from what I hear from a lot of women. Her situation was perhaps a little more emotionally difficult for her because her husband was not doing anything really destructive, although he didn’t know how to connect with the deeper part of her that she wanted him too. If he had been some kind of scoundrel, she could have blamed the distance on that, but that still would not have dealt with the basic problem which was related to her fear of rejection. That she would be rejected if her husband really knew her, or that he wouldn’t care, which really amounts to the same thing.
When women do coaching with me, one of the questions that I ask them is if they feel lonely in their relationship, even when they are with their husbands. For troubled marriages, the answer often is “yes.” I also ask them if their husbands feel alone, even when they are together. They almost never know. It is quite possible that their husbands do, but that they are also afraid of upsetting the apple cart and not being able to deal with all the spilled apples. When I get a chance to talk with their husbands in couple’s coaching, their husbands are often stunned to find out their wives were feeling lonely. It is a time of tears when the secret comes out, but I have yet to find it to be a time of rejection. I’m sure that could happen if it was presented in a way that puts the man on the defensive, but that’s not the way we talk about things in coaching. I have many times witnessed husbands and wives crying together when we get to this point. As a marriage coach, I think it’s a beautiful thing.
The most basic choice is whether to do anything at all. Although it is difficult for most people to understand, this is the hardest part of the whole process. This is the question which can literally be struggled with for a lifetime. It is the immobilizing, paralyzing decision. Psychologists call it an avoidance-avoidance conflict. This means that internally, the woman is struggling to decide between two terrible choices. The one is to continue a relationship that she feels is fake and the other is to risk losing the relationship altogether. The other possibility, that things will go better if she “lets it all out,” does not seem like a realistic one. She has been with her husband long enough to predict how he will respond. She thinks that maybe if she had a more sensitive husband, then…But, in fact she doesn’t. She has the one she has.
The Lonely Woman’s Choice Impacts Her Husband
You see, often the things lonely wives are doing are making their husbands feel needed, but not accepted. Their husbands often get the feeling that their wives think they are inadequate to the ability of loving them the way they need. It presents a world of hurt and rejection in the mind of the husband that he may only pick up on on a subconscious level. The lonely wife, who doesn’t say anything for fear of feeling rejected, unwittingly makes her husband feel rejected in the process. Men respond differently to this, but they often don’t respond well. It can mean fighting, but it can also mean shutting down, alcoholism, workaholism, or affairs. If it sounds like I am blaming the woman for this, that is not true. Men also have good choices open to them like talking, counseling, and coaching and never have to do any of those destructive behaviors. I am just saying that many men who do such terrible things often have been feeling rejected and especially unaccepted by their wives prior to their doing them. Everyone deals with rejection in a different way.
Love is the Answer
If you notice from my other articles, I work with many women who are needy and insecure. The lonely woman syndrome is part of the married version of this. It’s not realistic to ask someone just to overcome the fear of rejection that fuels all neediness. So, instead, I take the approach of helping them to love their husbands more. Although they risk rejection by communicating their true thoughts and feelings, they reject their husbands if they don’t. Whether they say it or not, they think “You are not capable of loving me as I am, so I have to hide myself from you.” It is a vote of no confidence which affects how much love she can feel for him, and how much love he feels from her. But, I agree that just blurting everything out would not be a good approach. I work with women to specifically craft the way they talk with their husbands. And, as is often the case, I help them to have very specific secure and loving responses to any damaging behaviors their husbands are doing. Men may get angry when you reject their behaviors, but that anger can be managed. But, when you reject them personally, the hurt cuts deep and men are typically very poor at dealing with such rejection. I am constantly helping women to put strength and love in their words and their actions. Perhaps that is not always necessary, but I work with women with the most severe marriage problems. If it works for them, then it is probably good advice for lesser problems as well. We always need to combine strength and love when we are working to make a relationship better. The basic thinking that can help women to break out of the lonely wife syndrome is, “I love him enough to help him have the best relationship with me that is possible—even if he rejects me in the process.” It is a real test of love, but this test is passed by the women who really love their husbands. The biggest test of whether we love someone is not whether we feel it at the moment, but whether we do what is best for them. It works for God, it works for parents, and it works for spouses, too.
Love is Stronger than Fear
Why do I use this approach? Because I have learned that love is stronger than the strongest fears than a human being may have. That, although we can’t just get rid of our fears, we can love enough to act in spite of them. It is not strange for me that a woman wants to stay with her husband even though she feels lonely. Love motivates people to make sacrifices. What I have learned about marriages though, is that many of those sacrifices are unnecessary and actually destructive to the marriage. Being lonely turns out to be a destructive thing. The easiest way to tell a good sacrifice from a bad sacrifice is by the amount of regret you expect to have later. If you believe that you will later regret holding back, or regret not giving your husband the opportunity to love the whole you, or regret not having taken a loving stand against something that your husband is doing that is harmful, then what you are doing is not loving. It is fear based. And, the person who is hurting you most is the one that you see in the mirror. Love your husband despite your fear and learn to live your marriage without regrets. I would be happy to help you to say and do things in a way that is secure and loving at the same time.