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Husband: We Are No Longer Compatible
A reader walks on eggshells while her husband contemplates leaving the marriage. Dr. K. weighs in and gives advice on what to do.


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It may seem that you and your spouse are no longer compatible. Professional help may be able to turn things around.


My spouse has complained to me, on numerous occasions, that I do or say things that make him miserable and upset: like being overly emotional, sarcastic, negative, closed minded, etc. I have been trying to make a conscience effort to not do these things, but I also tend to forget and slip up, which in turn makes him angry with me. We have had many blowup arguments over these issues, which has harbored a lot of resentment and tension between us. We haven't had sex for over a year and he is no longer affectionate toward me. Why can't I get it through my head to stop doing the things that annoy him? I don't do it intentionally. I am just a little more laid back and carefree than he is. He says we are no longer compatible and wants out of the marriage. I want to save the relationship, but I feel we are very close to the point of no return. HELP!

The reason relationships are so important to us is because, in them, we feel like we and our needs matter most. However, what we sometimes forget is that these relationships—especially in a marriage—need to also provide respect and love. From what you write, your husband isn’t experiencing these from you. As a result, it’s understandable that there are feelings of resentment and tension leading to arguments.

Interestingly, you also say he’s no longer affectionate and sex has stopped. Many people believe that men desire sex regardless of emotions. However, it’s been my experience that many males will no longer want to be physically involved when they’ve been emotionally hurt.

What caught my attention is your statement that you try to make a conscious effort to stop doing the things that annoy him and that you don’t do them intentionally. Yet, they continue to happen. To most people, this would seem like you’re just not trying hard enough. However, I wonder if there is something further that hasn’t been explored.

Many times, people are not present. By that, I mean their reactions or responses, though they’re occurring in the moment, are really a throw back. Something in the situation has set them off and has struck a nerve. Without them even knowing it, the reaction they have is really to something from the past.

If, in fact, this is what is happening, you really can’t help it: it is a "knee-jerk" reaction that occurs instantaneously and will be out of your control. The appropriate name for this is an implicit memory. Without knowing about this concept, you’d have no way of knowing that this could be happening.

Since your spouse is the person you’re most vulnerable with—it’s in couples where you see this happening most often—it’s the partner who’s the most likely to be the recipient of these types of reactions. And just like your husband has experienced, it can be quite overwhelming and lead to lots of negative feelings.

The good news is that these reactions can be worked on. The work is best done by something more than just talk therapy and gaining insight. I have helped couples come to understand why this occurs, help to heal the individual who’s reacting, and how to deal with possible reactions as healing is taking place.

Once someone works on him or herself, life can be far less out of control and much more satisfying. Hopefully, with some education, your spouse will be willing to understand what is going on and move forward in this process.

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Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com



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