At first everything seemed to be going well with my husband Doug and I. We dated for three years before getting married and adding our four children to a family.
But conflicts soon arose. We argued a lot about the kids, Doug’s lack of income, and how much of the housework I did compared to him. At the time, I was the chief financial officer of a large private school and our family’s primary breadwinner.
Doug and I went to marriage counseling where we blamed each other in front of a complete stranger. The drives to our appointments were cold and far away, and we struggled all the way home.
Before I knew it, our lack of intimacy had me begging, pleading, and crying. I felt so unwanted and lonely. This lack of physical and emotional connection seemed to spark arguments about everything.
I finally moved into the guest room when we both started threatening each other with divorce.
Back then, my approach to marriage and relationships was that I knew better and was sure that Doug had the wrong upbringing, should make more money and definitely have sex with his wife. I thought taking him to marriage counseling would make everything okay.
I wanted to feel safe, so I controlled everything. I didn’t know at the time that it was to an unreasonable extent. I thought the more I lectured him and/or explained how he should be a good husband, the more he would jump up and do what I wanted, but nothing changed.
I thought if I got angry or cried and begged he would see how much he was hurting me and change, but nothing changed. In fact, he became more distant and disinterested. I went to the gym, lost weight and got fit, but it didn’t improve the intimacy or connection in our marriage.
I was ready to get a divorce – it would have been my second – but I knew it would have devastating consequences for our four children. None of our former spouses were involved and we tried to create a family life for them.
But we just didn’t know how to manage conflict. I didn’t know how I would move forward without the connection, intimacy, and fun we experienced when we were dating.
I lived in the spare room and didn’t want my second marriage to fail. The Cold War was unbearable. I wanted to do everything I could to make our marriage work. I just didn’t know there was anything I could do. I thought it was Doug who had to change.
I blamed my husband because I didn’t see that I had done anything wrong. I was the breadwinner, I was a single mom before we got married, raised two kids on my own, owned my own home, and had a successful career.
Doug only had his children once a month, during summer and school holidays, so he was not used to bedtime, homework and chores. I was so frustrated and so were his kids because they didn’t particularly like the strict regime I had with strict bedtimes.
My husband was struggling financially and was using credit cards to buy things I didn’t think were necessary. I thought his lack of interest in physical intimacy was his way of punishing me for something.
I didn’t know what I was doing wrong other than constantly complaining and begging him to see my point of view, which never worked. At the time, I felt superior, smarter, and more capable than Doug.
Therapy led to more arguments, both before and after the sessions, but during the sessions we were in front of a professional and therefore were not as forthcoming, or we complained too much and criticized each other. I didn’t learn much except that I didn’t want to go back to marital therapy.
I complained to my friends while I pretended at work that everything was fine at home. The fighting got so bad that one day my best friend told me to either shut up or get a divorce. It was shocking, but she was tired of me complaining about Doug.
I was devastated. I booked a flight to visit my mother. I knew she would listen and know what I should do. I brought a few books with me, including one called The surrendered woman.
When I read this book I felt ashamed and embarrassed. For the first time, I realized that I was responsible for my failed marriages. It was very painful. I sobbed that night and all the next day. But beneath my pain, I felt a glimmer of hope.
I realized how repulsive my control was and how it was having the exact opposite effect that I wanted. I think the reason I became so controlling is because I grew up in an unstable childhood where I experienced physical and sexual abuse.
I checked even though no check was necessary, but I didn’t notice. Being vulnerable or not knowing what was going to happen was terrifying.
I realized that respect is like oxygen for men and that I didn’t have to do so much. The control caused me to do everything and then get angry about it.
Learning to say “I can’t” and focusing on self-care has had a huge impact on my tolerance for everyday life. My nagging and complaining decreased significantly. I have learned to be grateful and look at the glass as half full instead of half empty.
I was so relieved to learn that another woman, author Laura Doyle, saved her marriage from divorce. It gave me hope that I could do it on my own.
I have learned that as a wife, I set the tone in my home. The old saying “Happy wife, happy life” started to come true in my house. I learned to be more vulnerable and receive support instead of doing everything myself. I also learned to listen and not have to defend myself, argue or have the last word.
My marriage improved when I started saying things like “Whatever you think” when my husband asked me what he should do with the cell phone plan. Not only did my husband appreciate that he was trusted, I also felt relieved that I didn’t have to do everything and that I could trust my husband to take care of our finances and decisions like cell phone plans.
My husband started planning romantic trips and pursuing me physically and emotionally. We laughed again, cooked together, traveled, and enjoyed raising our four children together.
After changing my approach to my relationship, I felt dignified and respectful. I felt grateful and happy instead of resentful and exhausted. I felt like I had a whole new husband and a new marriage. I smiled a lot more and the intimacy and peace were back.
Now my marriage is as good as I can stand. We will be celebrating our 33rd wedding anniversary in December and it feels like a fairytale dream come true.
I’ve heard people say it’s incredible, even our adult children tell us how proud they are of us. All of our adult children come over often because they love the love they see and experience in us when we are all together as a family.
We have more physical intimacy and emotional security and connection than I ever thought possible. Our marriage gets better and better through the different phases of our life together. I feel valued and adored and my husband feels respected and appreciated.
I am so grateful for the personal change I have made within myself. My entire family was saved from a painful, heartbreaking divorce, and my personal change from the days of raging and fighting is unrecognizable.
This made me realize that being an incredibly happy wife is not only possible, but also easy.
Kathy Murray is a relationship coach from California.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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