Wisdom/support for serious marital rough patch

Advice from PSP members about dealing with rough patches in a marriage/ partnership.

 

Original Poster:

"I'm looking to the larger PSP community for both a little support (i.e., you're not the only one) as well as perspective on the possibility of getting to the other side of a serious rough-patch in my marriage. My husband and I have not been married all that long (6 years) but now have two kids and the normal stresses that come with two little-ish ones.  Pre-marriage (really, pre-kids), we didn't have any major points of conflict and so I think didn't really ever test out how we would negotiate major conflicts. 

Over the past year, we've had several particularly stressful issues on top of juggling two jobs and two kids and have argued far more than I've ever argued with anyone and over the course of this year - the arguments end up making me feel worse and seem to trigger defense mechanisms that prevent us from actually coming out of the arguments with any kind of greater understanding of the other's perspective. I have gotten more and more unhappy with our marriage and now feel an underlying resentment which feels awful and insidious. I would be very interested in going to couples therapy since I think there are some relatively simple communication-related issues that we could work on that would help things immensely but he's extremely resistant and gets angry at the suggestion.  

Though there are days that I feel desperate and that there is no solution, I know he loves me and I love him and I want to work through this and come out the other end both for us as a couple and for our kids. I generally don't talk to other people about what's going on because I want to protect my husband and because it feels like a pretty private issue and of course this ends up making me feel more isolated and more like there's something majorly wrong with our marriage (since others aren't talking to me about their marital problems either).  

So two things:

1) Is there anyone else out there having similar marital struggles and trying to get through them? Any bright ideas for moving things forward and coping, and doing so without couples therapy (or success stories of bringing a highly-resistant partner to couples therapy)?

2) Are there any longer-married couples out there who went through a rough patch but came out the other end?  

Thanks for any words of wisdom or support.

 

Responses:

 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE - OTHER COUPLES GO THOUGH THIS!

Remember, you are not alone!

"You are so not alone. Yes there are others going through this. My husband and I were pretty good pre-parenting days and becoming parents changed things for us relationship-wise and we have never recovered, I'm sad to say, many years later. I don't have advice myself as I'm struggling as well, but did want to commiserate and look forward to reading others responses to this anonymous post - which I could have posted myself, at least a few years ago perhaps. Now I'm less hopeful than you seem to be, so my only advice is, don't put it off too long, if you think the marriage can be saved take solid action in that direction, if possible.  Inaction can be the enemy of improvement, especially over longer periods of time."

Again, you are not alone!

"I am in a similar situation. I've been with my husband for 14 years, married for 8, one small child. Communication was never our strong point and we went for counseling before children. Now that we have a child it's at it's worst. I am resentful of a lot of things, especially his selfishness. I would love to return to counseling but at this point with 2 full time careers and a child we have neither the time or money. I also don't know what to do. We don't argue because I am mainly shut down, not even worth it. I would love to hear any advice you receive but want to let you know you're not alone."

 

RECONSIDER THERAPY:

It is especially hard with small children and try talking it out with a therapist:

"First, I've heard that having small children is the toughest time for a marriage, and there really is light at the end of the early-childhood tunnel. That perspective could relieve some of the pressure you are feeling while you try to work through the problems. Second, going to therapy on your own can still be immensely helpful, even if your partner is not ready to go with you. I would probably start there, and see what happens."

 Reframe the case for therapy:

"Sorry you are going through this- it is sooo stressful. I was in your husband's shoes- did not want to see a couples therapist, sure I would be blamed for the problem. My husband framed the idea in such a way that made it okay for me. He said he wanted to go to couples therapy to help recover our trust and so he could learn ways to do that for me. So it was not framed as my problem."

 Approach therapy in non-confronting way:

"All I can offer is that my parents had a very rough patch where they weren't talking to each other and were talking about divorce. What you (or your partner) might not want to hear is that therapy was the key to them turning it around. They went into marital counseling and worked very hard and seriously at it, and were married 20 more happy years, until death did them part. It takes that commitment and work. I think the best approach would be to focus on getting your partner to join you in therapy. Some ideas on getting him to go: Bring it up at a non-confrontational time. Ask him to just try it out for a set number of sessions (four? though the problem is therapy can make you feel worse before you feel better). Ask him in a non-confrontational way about his reasons for not wanting to go. And if he absolutely won't go to therapy, then you start going on your own... it will help you and the situation."

What therapy taught me:

"My marriage (16 years now, 2 kids) has had a few rough patches. We've done couples counseling, but I feel just seeing someone alone can help so much, too. So if you aren't in therapy yourself, that is a good place to start. It can help you get clearer about what you are bringing to the relationship, and what changes *you* can make, whether during conflicts or regular times. The only person you can change is yourself, anyway."

Sometimes you have to hit your lowest to be open to therapy:

You are so far from alone. I feel like I could have written exactly this multiple times over the last number of years. My husband and I have been together for more than 15 years, married for a decade. I knew it was bad and I knew we needed help but my husband refused to admit it and I could not get him to talk to a counselor. We both have high pressure jobs and our kids are still young. We got along day to day but were basically just going through the motions to get through each week. We rarely had fun together or saw friends and forget about intimacy. I was very lonely and depressed. He felt pressured constantly by me and just wanted to withdraw. We didn't fight much because we just didn't talk - but when we fought we were really brutal because there was so much resentment built up it all came to the surface every time.
We hit a final low at the beginning of the year and he finally had no choice but to talk to someone. I had accidentally opened his credit card statement and found that he'd been going to strip clubs on night when he told me he was working late. So he wasn't given a choice about therapy.
Before we were able to get to our first appointment we bought a book called Hold Me Tight which we found very helpful. It really spoke to us and gave some good exercises for us to do.
I too was worried about telling friends because I didn't want them to think poorly of him. But I eventually realized that it was ok to tell a limited number of people as long as I knew they would be the friends I could count on to support me and not make it worse.
Therapy has been so helpful. We still fight but it is actually productive now and we are getting better at expressing frustration before a problem starts. I actually look forward to time with him now and it's clear to everyone around us that we are happier.
The other thing that has surprised me in the last year is the number of friends who have revealed that their marriages were also on the brink. These are friends who all live in different parts of the country so I hadn't seen in person that they too were struggling. Maybe it's just that we are all at or approaching 40 so careers are getting harder or people are having to admit they aren't going to achieve their wishes. Maya be its that we are all hitting 9/10/11 years of marriage. Maybe it's that the kids are out of the baby stage and as a result things have built up for years. All but one are now stronger and only one other couple went to therapy but all did a lot of talking to resolve things."

 

DO THINGS TOGETHER MORE: TALK, ACTIVITIES, CUDDLE, SEX:

Talk with friends, do more activities with your partner, talk honestly with each other:

"I think every partnership goes through rough patches.
I have found talking to close friends I trust really helps. And it puts things into perspective.
Some other things that may help: spending time together without the kids doing fun things. Maybe things you did before kids. Depending on your interests you could take a class together, a day -- or even better an overnight trip just the two of you, a spa day or hour, lunch, playhookey from work together and have a adventure. Try to set aside time after the kids go to bed and be silly together, don't talk kids or stressors -- play around and just try to let loose. Laughter helps. Try to laugh at the little ridiculous things in every day life. Like the things your kids do and say.
Also having honest conversations while holding hands helps to lessen defeneses, keep you connected and I find helps cut tension and lead to some resolution.
When in a heated discussion having a time out word can help. Saying the word would mean you need a break to cool off and come back to the conversation. Some find that picking something silly is also helpful to cut tension and sometimes can lead things in a different direction.
Sometimes therapy certainly helps -- individual or couples -- but if your partner is resistant then I don't think I'd push couples therapy right now. I would try to talk honestly. Knowing that you both love each other and are committed is the most important thing in my opinion.
Relationships grow in times of difficulty and stress. They make you stronger. Try to keep in mind (as a couple) that you're both in a period of stress with two little ones, work, etc... And that it is going to be difficult. And that you will get through it."

Identify the stressors in your relationship and keep nurturing your relationship/ couples unit by making time for acitivies, physical contact and more:

My husband and I are also going to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary next month and have two small children. We never had any issues nor arguments before becoming parents. And during the past two years we've struggled tremendously with happiness, our marriage and everything in between. We got to the point that we couldn't hold any type of a civil conversation. So we decided to begin talking and figuring things out....
We both realize that most of our "problems" stem from the stress(es)of juggling two freelance careers, shaky finances, sleep deprivation and a total lack of personal space time. On top of that we have no time/patience/ energy to do couples' thing. As we are both proud, independent, opinionated, and stubborn people, communication is becoming difficult. On top of that I am "a foreigner" so a lot gets lost in translation so to speak....
But after going through a tremendously rough patch, we decided that the rings on our fingers and those sweet little munchkins obligate us to figure things out. We have to try to control our emotions and talk about what and how we feel. We know that we love each other and our little family and there's simply no other option but working on bringing the happiness back.
What's important is to realize that we as a unit, predating children, had a life and that must be brought back in whatever capacity so the old order is restored back in balance.(there's a philosopher/ therapist, Herlinger, I think, who talks at great length about that balance of a couple must always come first, before the kids, because that was the original unit.... Couples go through problems when that balance is compromised with the arrival of children).
Anyway, with that in mind we swore that we are going to set aside time to do 2 things:
- take frequent ( as much as our finances would allow) weekend/field/ mini trips;
- dates: at least one evening/lunch or whatever every 2-3 months, 3-4hr alone without kids doing whatever you used to love doing together on a date
Also:
- trying to cuddle up every day
- have regular sex ( at this stage still a couple of times a month at best for us)
- do nice things to each other ( cool him his favorite meal, buy her flowers, take turnus sleeping in etc)
- try to let small things go and focus on the bigger picture ( ie happy parents happy family)
It's only been about 2 months for us, but we are already feeling better and seeing the difference. One step at a time. You will too! You have to-- if you love each other all you need to do is to dig  out all those positive feelings that brought you together and got you to marry each other. Marriage is hard and always will be. But nothing that's worth anything is ever easy....
I am not an expert in relationships or anything, I am only sharing our experience.  And you always need to talk to somebody, if anything else to gain perspective on your feelings and thoughts.... So if you need to talk to me or write please continue. I will be happy to share our experiences.....
Or learn from you whatever technique ended up working for you two.
Good luck unearthing the good in your marriage and yourselves!"

 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES FROM PARENTS:

"I am so sorry you are going through a tough time.  It is very, very common.
I cannot recommend highly enough the following books/websites:
1) The Five Love Languages
2) Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman
3) Divorce Remedy, Michelle Weiner Davis.
These are what I now consider required reading for a successful marriage, and only wish I had known about them sooner.  Davis will teach you that one person can, in fact, change the whole dynamic of the relationship. Read the whole thing.   These resources have been life-changing for me."

 

"We also loved the book Hold Me Tight. My husband is not into parenting or relationship books, but after I read the book, he saw such improvements in our relationship, that he decided to read it too. It's really been transformative for us (although there's still a lot of work to be done). My mom and step dad even read the book and loved it!!"

 

Further help on PSP:

 

PSP Recommended Couples Counselors