My wife and I are in a loveless marriage and very unhappy. We are seeing a therapist, and I feel like it’s helping, but my wife is unsure. We both try to do the work of being in a relationship, but our best efforts fall far short of meeting each others’ needs. Our “love languages” are so starkly different that it’s counter-intuitive for us to give each other what we need or want in the marriage. If it were only us involved, we would get divorced, but we are staying together for our son, who is 5. We both come from divorced families. We’ve seen what a terrible effect divorce has on kids — effects that can last a lifetime. Our son is extremely sensitive and we both believe our divorce would be very traumatic for him. So, we feel compelled to endure our loveless marriage. We don’t fight or yell or disparage the other partner around our son (at most, once every month or two he witnesses a heated discussion), and we are never violent, but he is already starting to notice the subtle signs that we are not acting like people who are in love. We are often sullen or otherwise disengaged. What strategies can you recommend that I pursue on my own as the one partner who believes in the prospect of therapy?
A: Thank you for your heartfelt letter. I understand the complexities of being in couples therapy and how difficult it can be when you’re both there, but nothing productive is happening. I would strongly encourage you to begin individual therapy as you continue with the couples therapy. Even if you decide to get divorced, it will be important to have good communication between the two of you. The couples therapy can help with that, but you need to sort this through apart from the work you are doing together.
The other suggestion I would run by your couples therapist is if there is any value in having a weekend couples workshop run by a skilled professional. There are many vehicles for this and I know when I’m working with a couple who is stalled that sometimes an intense weekend run by a skilled facilitator can move the process along. It tends to be that the weekend workshops will either help the couple decide they want to work more intensely on the relationship — or that they need to find ways to bring it to an end.
Tomasulo, D. (2013). Loveless Marriage. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/08/21/loveless-marriage/