Monday 23 October 2017

David Coleman Column: Constant tension is making my marriage unbearable

It is easy to get stuck in a habit of blame where we point out the traits, behaviours and attitudes in the other person that we don't like. Thinkstock Images
It is easy to get stuck in a habit of blame where we point out the traits, behaviours and attitudes in the other person that we don't like. Thinkstock Images
David Coleman

David Coleman

MY WIFE and I met over 20 years ago and are married 16 years. We are in real difficulty with our own relationship. We have three children age 14, 13 and nine.

We still have rows that never get resolved and the same issues come up again and again. We even bring up the comments the other made years ago. Sex has stopped altogether.

I know she suffers from depression but has only ever tackled it half-heartedly and simply does not want to discuss it. I have blown up in anger over the years and said things I should not have said in huge frustration.

I am trying hard to keep harmony with her and doing as much as I can around the house to help out with our children, but the underlying tension is always there. I don't believe there is a quick fix here, but I really don't know where to turn to.

I adore my family and dread the thought of separation but am finding it hard to live with the way things are.

David replies:

It sounds like the heart of your and your wife's difficulties is communication and understanding. You sound like you are each stuck with your own, long-held points of view and are unable or unwilling to see things from the other person's perspective.

When you get to the point that the same arguments keep repeating, it is more than likely because, somewhere along the way, you have probably stopped listening to each other.

I wonder if a lot of the rows or discussions you and your wife have end up as criticisms and blaming of each other?

It is easy to get stuck in a habit of blame where we point out the traits, behaviours and attitudes in the other person that we don't like.

Our intention is usually to try to show the other person the areas that they need to change.

The effect of criticism, however, is to further deepen a divide and it usually brings up a resistance and a resentment in the other person and they may fight back or withdraw.

When we find ourselves talking to someone else about "you do this ... " or "you do that ... " we are slipping into the blame game. We need to shift this to talking about "I feel that I ... " or "I notice that I ... "

It is only when we admit to our own feelings and behaviour that we can begin to change.

Importantly, you can never change your partner or spouse; you can only change yourself.

Most of us are scared to change because we fear that the other person will then take advantage in some way.

However, if there is a mutually felt core of love and care (albeit buried deep) then talking about yourself and your feelings usually leads to understanding, compromise and positive change.

It is great that you seem to have a real desire to improve the situation at home, rather than just walk away from it. This is the positive energy you must try to harness. To harness it properly I think you and your wife should turn to marital therapy.

I think you will need professional help to learn to talk to each other without blame and criticism.

You can start the ball rolling by talking with her and recognising that things are difficult now and have been for a long time. Then, speaking on your own behalf, acknowledge that you probably don't listen any more and have become stuck in old patterns of behaviour.

Tell her that you want to change how you are, and how you interact with her.

Tell her you'd like to get help to make these changes and that you need her involvement, too.

With luck your decision to email me might be the impetus to get the two of you into couple's therapy.

Once there, it will be up to each of you, with the therapist's support and guidance, to work out what you each need to change and how you can do it in order to return to a more fulfilled and harmonious relationship.

Irish Independent

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