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Are You Emotionally Checked Out? (Is He?)

What happened to your relationship?

You and your husband rarely focus on each other anymore. Instead, you’re at work, on your phones or wrapped up in the kids’ activities. You aren’t really sure what’s going on in each other’s lives – and you’re not interested enough to ask.

It’s all so different from when you first fell in love and couldn’t get enough of each other.

If one or both of you are emotionally checked out from your marriage, it doesn’t mean that passion and deep connection are gone forever. But it does mean that it’s time to give your relationship some TLC.

What Happened to the Spark?

There are some good reasons you and your husband were so irresistible to each other when your relationship was new. You gave each other your undivided attention, made each other feel important, and did interesting things together. It probably didn’t hurt that you were also at the mercy of powerful hormones that filled you with desire and made you emotionally open.

But in every lasting relationship, those intense feelings eventually subside. Because novelty eventually wears off, all the things that attracted you to each other at first seem routine now.

On top of that natural evolution, unrelenting work and family commitments can pull you away from each other: it’s hard to connect with anyone when you’re distracted, tired, and just need to decompress.

How to Check Back In

But here’s the good news: Even though passion and connection aren’t automatic anymore in your relationship, they can still flower again with some cultivation. Here’s how to do it.

  • Prioritize you marriage. I get it: You have lots of other priorities. It’s hard to find time for your relationship. But it’s imperative that you do. Otherwise, you’re at risk of slipping from distraction into complete disconnection. Investing in your marriage pays off. When your marriage is strong and you feel connected to your partner, it’s easier to face life’s other challenges.
  • Change things up. As I mentioned above, one of the reasons people emotionally check out of their marriages is that everything feels routine. Even a small change — like vacationing somewhere new — can reignite a sense of novelty and intrigue. If your husband isn’t game to explore something different right now, do it yourself. The energy you’ll get from taking a class or pursuing a new hobby should rub off on him and get him onboard.
  • Get curious. False assumptions about each other might be behind your disengagement in the marriage. For example, maybe it seems like your husband works constantly to avoid time with you. You might be right, but it’s also possible there’s something else going on. Maybe he’s putting in extra time because he’s nervous about his job security. Take some time to plug back in and find out the real stories behind each other’s behaviors. My blog post about curiosity can help you get started.
  • Tame your phone addiction. Those little devices can be a huge distraction in a relationship. Your phones make it easy to keep each other at arm’s length. Try some gradual shifts to change your phone habits. For example, make it a point not to glance at your phone when you’re talking with your husband.
  • Seize every moment. You probably checked out of your marriage gradually over time. In the same way, rebuilding your connection is also a process. Even if you have just a few minutes each day to focus on your relationship, they can be powerful if you are truly present for each other.

If you’d like to further explore the ideas from this blog post, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love. It has many more strategies for maintaining a connection with your partner amid our busy, stressful lives.

How Your Husband Really Feels about Your Miscarriage

Miscarriages are heartbreakingly common. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Although we are becoming more open in talking about pregnancy loss, the topic is still sometimes surrounded with anxiety and misunderstanding — even with the people who are closest to us. That can include our husbands.

There’s not a universal way that men deal miscarriages, of course. But oftentimes women feel hurt and confused when their partner seems unemotional or indifferent about the loss.

Take a look at these posts from an online forum about miscarriage:

“Since my husband is the only person who knows about the miscarriage, I am seeking comfort from him, but he is not giving much!!”

“When we lost Michael, my husband had no reaction whatsoever.”

“It freaked him out and he wanted to be like my cheerleader and just make it go away and pretend nothing was wrong, etc. and carry on life ‘as usual’.”

Trying to Hide His Hurt

So why do some men react this way to miscarriage? Believe it or not, it’s often out of a desire to protect their partners. If you’re going through this with your own husband, realize that he might be hiding his feelings because he believes that sharing them would only add to your burden. You can see this pattern in some of the responses Cosmopolitan magazine got when it asked men to talk about their experiences with miscarriage:

“I’m trying to be strong and put my feelings on the backburner to be there for my wife.”

“Of course I was disappointed and bummed, but I had to be the support system because my wife was 10 times worse. I was so focused on being there for my wife that I never really dealt with it myself.”

The irony is that when a husband hides his grief over a miscarriage in an effort to spare his wife more pain, he can end up adding to her hurt by making her feel more alone.

It’s also important to remember that your grief may be different simply because the miscarriage happened in your body. Both the pregnancy and its loss affected your entire being. If his grief seems less profound and visceral than yours, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about the loss — or that he doesn’t care about you. He just had a different connection to the pregnancy.

Getting the Support You Need

I can just about guarantee you that your husband wants to help you with your grief. But he may not know how to do it. The most loving thing you can do for him and for yourself is to be very clear about the support you need. Tell him you need to talk about the loss without him trying to fix you. Ask him for a hug or reassurance. It may feel strange asking him to do things that seem so obvious to you, but give it a try.

Others who have experienced miscarriage can also be a source of comfort. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. If you would rather learn more about coping with pregnancy loss on your own, consider reading A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss-Guidance and Support for You and Your Entire Family by Ingrid Kohn, MSW and Perry-Lynn Moffitt.

Some Key Truths about Honesty In Marriage

Overall, strong marriages are built on honesty and being authentic with your spouse. But is it ever OK to tell a little white lie to your husband? What about withholding information?

Two spouses can have different, but equally valid, ideas about honesty and boundaries in marriage. The key thing is recognizing and working with your differences. Here are a few key things to remember.

Your Past Is Yours

For some people, intimacy means that partners are open books to each other. They want to share all the details of their past and want their partner to do the same. But other people may be less forthcoming. And that’s fine.

You should, of course, be honest and share with your husband information that affects your marriage (and expect him to do the same with you). For example, if your first marriage ended because of your ex’s infidelity, being aware of that helps your husband understand who you are in your relationship with him.

But being honest doesn’t mean you are obligated to reveal every detail of your past. If the discussion about your ex turns to your sex life with him, you’re within your rights to keep that information private between you and the other person.

Think Before You Critique

Here’s another way that couples can have different ideas about boundaries and honesty in marriage. Let’s say you have a blunt, let-it-all-hang-out philosophy. You were raised to “be real.” You don’t hesitate to tell your husband he loaded the dishwasher wrong or that his brother’s political views are crazy.

While this type of openness may have been normal in your family, your husband might interpret your behavior as an attack on him or his family. When it comes to honest critiques of your husband, it’s possible to tackle even a big issue – like the fact that you’re doing more than your share of housework – with kindness and respect. And consider letting the little stuff (like his quirky dishwasher-loading technique) slide.

The same holds true when you give your honest opinion about others close to him. You’re in emotionally charged territory here. There might be a time when you do need to call out one of his family members (“When your brother was talking about politics, he said something really sexist and disrespectful to me.”), but be careful about being “brutally honest.” Your husband might be perfectly fine rolling his eyes about his brother’s latest theories right along with you…or not. In any case, if you need to set a boundary of respect, go ahead and do it honestly, clearly, and respectfully.

Answer With Care

So we know unsolicited feedback can be risky. But what about when your partner asks you a question and you know your honest answer won’t make him happy? The cliche example of this situation is a wife asking her husband if an outfit makes her look fat, but either partner can find himself or herself on the receiving end of a tricky question. Before you answer, think about why your partner is asking the question in the first place. Chances are, he’s seeking affirmation or reassurance from you. Think about how you can answer the question with kindness and gentleness in addition to honesty.

You can use this article as a springboard to talk with your husband about how each of you approaches honesty and openness in situations like these. Does talking about past relationships make you feel intimate — or uncomfortable? Would you rather know what’s on each other’s minds, even if it’s hard to hear? Again, there are no right answers. The important thing is that you’re curious about understanding each other and committed to navigating differences in communication styles and openness.

Is Talking to Your Ex on Facebook OK?

Even amid all the political bickering these days, Facebook can be a pretty romantic place. We’ve all read stories of people who knew each other in high school and even earlier reconnecting on the site and finding lasting relationships. When the reunited lovebirds are single before finding each other again, these stories make our hearts flutter. But if you’re married, talking to your ex on Facebook can be a little more complicated.

Social Media and Emotional Affairs

If you’re tempted to look up an old love, ask yourself what’s motivating you. Maybe your marriage is happy and you’d just like to know how your ex’s life turned out and wish him happy birthday every year. But if your marriage is struggling and you’re thinking about how perfect your old love was, now isn’t the time for a trip down memory lane with him.

Talking to your ex can put you at risk for an emotional affair — especially when you’re spending your energy reconnecting with your ex on social media, instead of with your husband in real life. It’s easy to idealize your ex on Facebook because we tend to present only the most positive parts of our lives on social medica. And when you’re typing on a screen, instead of talking face to face, you can lose your sense of what crosses the line from friendship into something more.

A piece of advice I gave in my blog article about emotional affairs also applies here. If you wouldn’t want your husband seeing the Facebook messages between you and your ex, your contact with your ex might be bad for your marriage. Now I’m not saying that your social media accounts have to be a completely open book for your husband. Or that his should be for you, for that matter. You both deserve some privacy and trust. But that trust comes with a responsibility to act in a way that doesn’t threaten your marriage.

Cultivate Intimacy at Home, Not Online

Another red flag? Talking to your ex about things you aren’t discussing with your husband. Your husband can’t be, and shouldn’t be, your only emotional outlet. But if you find it easier to be emotionally intimate with your ex on Facebook than with your husband, that’s a sign to focus on your marriage and your real-life social network, not your old acquaintance.

To head off any issues with social media use, I recommend that you and your husband be a part of each other’s social networks. After all, it’s easier to drift into trouble with your ex on Facebook if your husband is not on the network and doesn’t see you interacting with him. Being proactive about keeping your marriage strong also lessens any online temptations. You’ll find lots of tools to work on your relationship in my book Strong Women, Strong Love. Of course, you can also follow Strong Women Strong Love on Facebook.

Should You Stay Together for the Kids?

It’s a crossroads that countless couples have encountered: Their marriage has become unhappy and unsatisfying. But they fear hurting their children by divorcing.

Should you stay in your marriage for the kids, or end it? Both choices are painful. Which one is better?

Each couple has to ultimately decide what’s right for them and their family. But I do believe there’s a wise way couples can approach this life-altering decision.

A caveat before I go on: This advice is for people in unhappy marriages, not relationships that are marked by abuse and aggression. If you’re in a situation like this, please seek professional help.

Have You Given Your Marriage a Real Chance?

For most unhappy couples, the decision about ending a marriage when kids are involved isn’t so clear-cut. You may long for an escape from your marriage, but you also know the stakes are high for both you and your children. A divorce can complicate all your lives for years. And no matter what you decide, you and your husband will still have to co-parent.

Because divorce is a serious decision, it’s not one that you should rush into. Especially since some studies have shown that a good percentage of people who divorce end up regretting their decision.

That’s why my advice to most couples on the brink is to make sure that they’ve done everything they can to save their marriage before calling it quits.

Using the Research on Marriage to Help You

If you’re intent on working on your marriage, there’s very good news. Research has given us clear insight about what makes marriages succeed or fail. If you are determined to give your relationship a chance, you can be smart and focused in your approach. If you’re both willing to put in the work — reading books, getting therapy, going to marriage workshops — you have a better chance than ever of salvaging your relationship.

Have you educated yourself about what makes a marriage work? Do you know about the four horsemen and the best predictor of divorce? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you have some work to do.

As a parent, if you do divorce, you want to be able to honestly tell your kids that you did everything you could to try to make the marriage work.

Sadly, not every marriage can be rescued. If that’s the case for you and your husband, you’ll at least have the peace of knowing you were thoughtful in making the decision to divorce, and that it is really the better option for you. You’ll move forward with fewer “what ifs” and regrets. And the efforts you put in should help the two of you with your post-divorce relationship as co-parents to your kids.

If you are looking for ways to work on your marriage, I want to point you toward my book Strong Women, Strong Love. I wrote it to help busy couples nurture their marriage amid their stressed and demanding lives. If you’re ready to seek couples therapy, seek recommendations from people you trust, consult your insurer’s director of providers or browse Psychology Today‘s listing of therapists in your area.

Beware of Emotional Affairs

You have a great friend at the office. You enjoy working with him and sometimes you even grab lunch together. He’s funny, considerate and easy to talk to. So easy to talk to, in fact, that you find yourself sharing things with him that you don’t share with your husband.

You’re in dangerous territory.

Emotional infidelity can be a stepping stone to a full-blown affair. And even if it doesn’t turn into one, it can still damage your marriage.

When Does a Friendship Cross the Line into an Emotional Affair?
It’s fine, of course, to have friends outside your marriage, but it’s important to know the difference between a friendship and an emotional affair.

One of the first signs you might be engaging in emotional infidelity is that you’re talking with your friend about things you don’t discuss with your husband. The following questions can also help you determine whether you might be crossing the line. Ask yourself:

  1. Would you talk with your friend about the same things if your husband were present?
  2. If your husband doesn’t know your friend, would you feel comfortable introducing them? If not, why not?
  3. Can you honestly say that you don’t have any feelings other than friendship for this person?
  4. Are the two of you communicating secretly, either on the phone or in person? Why?

Worried that you might be drifting into an emotional affair? You can take a quiz on the website of Dr. Shirley Glass, an expert on the topic, to see if your friendship has become an emotional affair : Just Friends or Emotional Affair Quiz.

The Cost of Emotional Infidelity
One common reason that people commit emotional infidelity is because they feel an emotional disconnection from their spouse. Addressing that sense of loneliness or estrangement is hard work. It can seem easier to avoid issues between you and your husband and distract yourself with attention from someone outside your marriage — all the while rationalizing that it “doesn’t count” because it’s not physical.

But it does count. An emotional affair can be a slippery slope to a physical affair. But even if the relationship never becomes physical, it still harms your marriage because of the secrecy and betrayal that is often involved.

People who find out about their spouse’s emotional affair may feel just as devastated as those who find out their partner is having a physical affair. In fact, some would even argue that emotional betrayal is worse than physical infidelity. Sometimes it can hurt more to find out your spouse is physically present, but deeply emotionally connected to someone else.

Putting the Brakes on an Emotional Affair
Lots of aspects of our lives today make us vulnerable to emotional affairs. Working long hours can lead to more closeness with your “work husband” than your real husband. And Facebook puts old flames at our fingertips.

If you are having an emotional affair, consider it a signal that you need to put your marriage front and center again. Ask yourself what’s driving you to look outside of your relationship to get your needs met, and see if you can address that problem directly. If it’s that you don’t feel good about yourself, get some counseling and work on yourself. If you’ve become resentful of your husband and feel distant from him, work on your marriage.

You can find more advice on the factors that lead to infidelity in my book Strong Women, Strong Love. Don’t wait to address this critical issue in your marriage.