Image: Her World June 2016
Few moments in life are as defining as when you walk down the aisle and make a solemn vow to cherish the man standing before you “till death do us part”. But the sad truth is that love doesn’t always prevail, even in the absence of obvious triggers like cheating or domestic violence.
Andrew Marshall, a marital therapist in Britain, discovered that 24 per-cent of the couples who attended his counselling services identified “I love my partner, but I’m no longer in love/My partner no longer loves me” as a problem causing the most distress in their relationship.
This is a key theme in his best-selling book, I Love You, but I’m Not in Love with You, which has sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide in 16 languages, and was republished in January to mark its 10th anniversary.
Despite the occasional difficult patches, the couples Andrew saw had stayed married for years. They cared deeply about their partners, but somehow, they also wanted to end the relationship. How does one go from envisioning a lifetime of happiness to resolutely wanting to end the union?
Unfortunately, the busyness of everyday life can cause many of us to lose sight of the importance of working at our marriages. “When couples fail to recognise that it’s normal for passion to fade in a stable long term relationship, they assume that something is wrong,” says Andrew in a Skype interview with Her World.
“Instead of trying to resolve the problems, they decide to end things or find someone else to love.”
Stressed-out and sleep-deprived
This was nearly the case for 35-year-old Sharon*, who found herself falling out of love with her husband six years into marriage. “It was a crazy year as we were juggling the birth of our second child, new jobs, and renovations for our new home. Most of the time, we were so stressed-out and sleep-deprived that we simply let disagreements pile up.
It felt like we were becoming increasingly incompatible as the years went by,” she shares. Unresolved conflicts and a lack of proper communication are the most common reasons why Singapore couples seek counselling, according to Larry Lai, principal counsellor at Focus on the Family Singapore. He says: “These couples often face disappointment over unmet emotional needs or marital expectations.
When these issues are not dealt with, they breed anger and resentment, resulting in a loss of intimacy and passion.” Even though Sharon initially wanted a divorce, she and her husband decided to give counselling a go.
The sessions helped them to reflect on questions they’d never had time to think about, like how certain issues arose because of their different family backgrounds.
They also realised that the lack of couple bonding had taken a toll on their relationship. Most importantly, they were able to let go of their doubts and guilt, and forgive each other. “My husband wanted the marriage to work as much as I did. Seeing a counsellor helped us understand things from each other’s perspective,” shares Sharon.
When arguing more helps
According to Andrew, anger at your spouse can be a good thing – if you use it in the right way.
No one likes a fight. But telling yourself “it doesn’t matter” and “we’ll agree to disagree”, or walking away from a potential row only serves to bottle up anger temporarily.
Over time, feelings get dulled and that’s how you wake up one day to a passionless marriage. As he puts it in his book, “too few squabbles can be just as bad for relationships as too many”. But before you let it rip with your spouse, it’s important to understand how to manage an argument so that it doesn’t spiral out of control.
First, don’t try to reason when he is sharing his emotions with you. Just listen. Really hear what he has to say and stop trying to rehearse your defence. Ask questions to clarify, and before moving on, check if he needs to say anything more. Also, it’s important to understand how your actions – no matter how small – might have worsened the problem and to apologise for them.
The last part: Take action. While it may be tempting to jump straight to this stage, trying to come up with solutions before all feelings are out in the open can leave one partner feeling resentful.
Talk about what you have both learnt from the fight, if you would do anything differently if similar circumstances come up again, and think of compromises or trade-offs, if the former is not possible.
Ultimately, thinking that your marriage is at the end of the road is a phase that many couples go through. The good news is that it may well just be that – a phase that will pass. The key lies in not sweeping things under the carpet until it’s too late.
This story was originally published in Her World June 2016.