My wife of twelve years and the mother of our two kids decided to end our marriage. It caught me by surprise. We hadn’t been great for a while, but I didn’t realize we were at the breaking point. The relationship decayed over time, she fell out of love and didn’t want to, or didn’t know how to, fall back in.
This can happen to you. Almost 50% of US marriages end up in divorce. It is good people like me and you who routinely fail at relationships. Fifty. Fucking. Percent. Let that sink in. You may be convinced you are in the other 50%. So was I. I had no idea how bad it was until it was too late. For many months after the breakup I felt I was just in a bad dream and would wake up any moment. But it wasn’t a dream, and if you don’t take the responsibility for the success of your relationship, it will happen to you, too.
I’ve heard that divorce is just as emotionally taxing as death of a close family member and I can certainly believe that. It really sucks for everyone — for you, your spouse, the kids, your extended family and your friends. I hope you can avoid it, so here’s some advice on how not to follow my footsteps.
If you’re not fully happy in your relationship, if your man is disappointing you, your responsibility is to tell him early and clearly. You must be sure that he got the message. You must have the courage and do it, you can not avoid conflict. Otherwise, small problems grow into medium ones, and medium ones grow into undefeatable monsters. Give him a wakeup call early, get his attention before you run out of hope. Be explicit! Don’t assume that if he loves you, he will know how you feel. Men are really bad at reading your feelings, even when they love you. You may think it’s painfully obvious the relationship is on the brink of collapse, but he may be clueless. Some practical tips: sit him down, look him in the eyes, and say: “I am unhappy”, “I am disappointed”, ”I can’t continue like this, I wonder whether we’d be happier apart”, “It’s really not working for me”. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t sign up for a couple’s workshop without letting him know that this is a desperate final attempt to save the failing relationship. I’ll repeat, because for some reason women have a really hard time understanding this: don’t assume that if he loves you he will know how you feel. He won’t. Be explicit and direct. Give him a chance to see the problems and fix them before you’ve decided you’re done.
If your woman has become someone you barely recognize, if she’s become angry, bitter, resentful, disrespectful, it’s a good chance that it’s your fault. It may be because you’re doing something wrong, or more likely because you’re not doing something you should be. If she used to be your princess but now she’s a witch, look at yourself carefully first.
Here are a few tips on how to not be a disappointment to your woman. This is not intended to be comprehensive, it’s just a list of my own mistakes.
Never take her for granted
If you think she’ll love you forever because that’s what she vowed on the wedding day, think again. It’s not that she lied, it’s just that her feelings and her truth can change. Don’t expect your woman to keep her word like you’re keeping yours. To a woman, the truth is what she feels righ now. Back then she did feel she would love you forever. Now she doesn’t love you and that’s her new truth.
Love is work. Her feelings for you will grow if you give her proper attention and will wither if you don’t. You must often let her know that she’s special and how much she means to you. If you’re not sure how much she means to you, imagine that she is gone, that she has moved on. This should remind you how much you care. Once you realize this, keep telling her how lucky you feel to have her in your life. Celebrate every day together, be grateful. Always express your gratitude, especially for the things she does for you.
Make her feel safe
You must be her safe harbor. You must always be there for her and she must know she can always count on you. There’s a little girl living inside her and that girl must always know that everything will be okay and that she’s loved.
You may think we live in the age of equality, where men and women are supposed to each carry their own weight, including providing for themselves financially. This is a bad idea. She needs to feel she can rely on you and this includes you ensuring financial security for the whole family. If you are irresponsible with your career and finances, if you don’t live your edge, she will lose respect for you. And if she doesn’t respect you, it’s game over.
Listen to her feelings
When she tells you about her problems, you are probably trying to come up with solutions. And if she’s telling you about problems you’re not in a position to solve, you may get frustrated, stop listening and just tune her out.
What you’re not getting is that she just wants to be heard. She needs to communicate to you her feelings, she doesn’t expect you to fix anything. She just wants to be heard. If you don’t learn to listen beyond her words, to listen for her feelings, she will feel that you don’t care about her, and will resent you for it.
Surprise her, romance her, create adventures
You may not like surprises and assume she feels the same. You’d be wrong — she loves surprises. Make the effort to surprise her with something spontaneous or romantic. She will notice the effort and it will prove to her that she is precious to you.
Create adventures, big and small. Through shared adventures you’ll get closer and she will develop a feeling of safety and security with you that she doesn’t have with anyone else.
Take her out for dates. Show her that you want her just as much as you wanted her before she was yours. I know you now have way more responsibilities, a job, the kids and you may think you’re already doing everything for this family. But if you won’t find time just for her, one day she will be gone.
Touch her, kiss her, and have lots of sex
Maybe you have grown up in a home where physical touch was unimportant or even considered shameful, embarrassing. Maybe you have never seen your father kiss your mother or hold her hand. If so, you must know that this was not okay. Your father was seriously hurting your mother by denying her physical closeness. Don’t resent him, he likely took this away from his home and knows no better. But now, since you do know better, you must break that pattern of abusing your woman by refusing her physical touch. She needs it like she needs water. If you don’t give it to her, she will go and find it somewhere else, because she needs it to survive.
Let’s talk about sex next, this is a big one. Bad or infrequent sex is one of the top reasons for divorce, which should surprise nobody. But, how can we desire something we already have? How to continue being excited about sex with the same person for a decade or five? It’s not natural! Yes, it may not be natural, but you better figure this out. Otherwise, she will feel that you’re not into her, this will crush her soul, she will resent you, and will easily find someone who will be very much into her. I want to believe that great sex with a long-term partner is possible, but you’ll have to research this on your own since I have little first-hand experience. A good starting point for this research is Esther Perel’s talk on sustaining desire in a long-term relationship.
Believe in her
She is driven and ambitious, otherwise you would not be attracted to her. Maybe she’s more ambitious than you. Maybe she will want to commit herself to projects that feel scary to you. Maybe you’ll doubt whether she can succeed and you want to protect her from failure or disappointment. Don’t ever doubt her. Always cheer her on and support her. If she feels your lack of belief in her, she will resent you.
You need to be a better person tomorrow than you are today, you must keep improving, living your edge. You must deal with your past, your humiliations, your shame, your failures, your addictions. If you need help, get help. Don’t expect your woman to accept you for who you are, because she won’t. She does not have to deal with your issues and babysit you. She needs a man, not another child.
We get annual health checkups, we get performance reviews at work. It’s all for good reasons. Similarly, you should check up on the health of your relationship regularly. Sign up for couples counseling / relationship coaching sessions before you discover you have major issues, or just as (semi)annual check-ups. Take time off and go some place boring for a day or weekend with your partner, no kids. Ideally somewhere where there’s not much to do, so you can focus on each other.