I hope you can help. As avid readers of your column for many months now, we are writing to you as a couple who have exhausted all of our options. For some time now we have been part of a marriage that does not make us happy. Any positive changes that we try to make feel to be fleeting and we always end up in the same angry and argumentative state. We have two young children together and we do not want to separate for the sake of them, however it is starting to feel like that is the only choice that we have.
To give you a little background, we have faced major financial difficulty over the years which has put an incredible strain on our relationship and general everyday life. We have been surviving, but not enjoying life and one another.
We have both simply found it impossible to put our negative feelings that have built up over the years aside. As such, this has dramatically impacted our capacity to be intimate together, even to the extent of holding hands or being in the same room. Our intimacy as a couple is now non-existent. As time moves on we are becoming strangers to each other.
Is there anything that we can try?
Thank you for your support,
Sandrine and Rakesh
Dear Sandrine and Rakesh,
The stressful impact of financial difficulties can be massively damaging to not only your relationship, but to your health and overall well-being as individuals as well. Living on survival mode is incredibly difficult to sustain for the long term and it is of no surprise that the dual stress that you are experiencing is creating increasing distance between the two of you.
It is first important to recognise that a lack of intimacy is not just about physical contact, but about emotional connection as well. Re-establishing sexual and emotional intimacy is a journey that many couples face, particularly after having children or enduring hardship for a considerable length of time. You mention that many attempts to heal your struggles end with angry communication and little resolve. The fact that anger is present for both of you, suggests that neither of you feel truly heard or understood. The initial step towards resolve is to listen to one another and to gain a clear understanding of what is causing each of you to be angry. It is highly likely that your sources of anger are different. In order to keep anger at bay, it might help you both to write your thoughts down concisely before you communicate, so that you are able to clearly voice your emotions and feelings. I know this may feel difficult, but try not to overthink this exercise and keep it simple. For example, finish the following sentence: ‘‘I am angry because…’’
Another communication exercise to try is to explore together what binds you, aside from the children. What is it about one another that allows you to have hope that the love you felt early on in your relationship can be restored? Finish the following sentence: ‘‘I love you and stay by your side because…’’
This may seem corny, however, often when we are enduring anger or stress for long periods of time, we forget to communicate clearly and effectively to our partners about how we feel about them and we forget to acknowledge why we choose to spend our lives with them. These statements that used to be so easy for us to acknowledge in the beginning, become lost beneath dark emotional clouds and the stresses and strains of daily routines. These communication exercises are great opportunities to remind one another about the roots of your love. Be mindful to choose a mutually agreeable moment in the day where you have privacy and time to talk things through. Give one another your full attention and listen very carefully and respectfully to what the other is saying.
It may well be that there are other sources of stress existing for one or both of you aside from your financial concerns. There could be a whole host of stress factors that surface, for example at work, or in terms of your physical or emotional health. Tension or pressure of any kind, whether you are male or female can cause your body to shut down in terms of physical intimacy and it can prove near impossible to get ‘‘in the mood’’. This is very common and with a little patience, can absolutely be mended. Finish the following sentence: ‘‘I feel stressed because…’’.
It could also of course be a dissatisfaction with the sexual aspect of your relationship for one or both of you. It is no secret that when it comes to sex, the viewpoints of men and women can be vastly different. Confronting this issue in a gentle and pragmatic way can be very effective and actually draw you closer to one another. Do not shy away from the big questions, remembering here that sexual intimacy is not purely physical, but emotional too, particularly within long term relationships. Do you trust one another? Do you feel valued and desired? Are your needs being met? Are you feeling rejected or unloved? Finish the following sentences: ‘‘I do not feel physically fulfilled because…’’ and also ‘‘I do not feel emotionally fulfilled because…’’. The point here is partaking in a calm, honest and constructive conversation. Transparency is key for both of you in order for your intimacy to be restored. This is your opportunity to be fully open with oneanother.
Couples counselling is an option that you both may wish to consider should you still find yourself struggling. The therapeutic process will allow you to confront your difficulties with anger, with communication and with intimacy in a space that is non-judgemental, supportive and entirely confidential.
It is positive that you are approaching this as a team. The fact that you are in this together and looking for options is promising. Have patience and continue to care for one another. If in time your situation does not improve and you ultimately decide to go your separate ways, then know that the team spirit that binds you does not have to falter. As a team you can negotiate what happens moving forwards with regards to your children and act in accordance of what is best for them after your separation. It is completely possible to separate on good terms and as good friends, maintaining a civil and respectful tone for your relationship moving forwards.
Wishing you love and happiness,
News on Sunday – My Weekly Advice Column
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