If You Think Something’s Not Right, Just Ask It’s time to be upfront and just ask when you think there may be a problem in your marriage. Here’s how. BY SHARON RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
If you have a feeling that something is wrong, don't ignore it.
“ Good communication in a marriage makes it less difficult to approach your spouse, so learning this valuable skill early on is one of the most important gifts you can give your marriage.”
Just the other day, my client who’s not in therapy for marital problems, brought up a different topic of concern. She mentioned that something seemed fishy about her husband’s behavior, which had been going on for a few weeks. They’ve been married for over 10 years and she knows his patterns very well, but something just didn’t feel right.
Specifically, she felt that he didn’t display his typical, affectionate and fun self. I asked her if she talked to him about it. She said, "Well, no." I responded, "Because…?" And her response was simply, "I thought I was just imagining things, and I guess I was just waiting for it to change. But it hasn’t." So I said, "Since it’s still bothering you and it hasn’t changed, it’s time to ask. It could be nothing or it could be a sign that something is wrong. And, if it’s only been two weeks since you’ve noticed, it’s very early on to deal with whatever it is, and a better chance to resolve anything that might be going on."
How did I advise my client to approach her husband? I told her she might consider asking him, "I noticed you haven’t been your usual, funny and affectionate self. I’m concerned. Can we talk about it?"
In my client’s case, her husband’s "nature" of being affectionate and funny wasn’t happening and thus worrisome to her… and rightfully so. At first, she passed it off as her imagination working overtime, but as the weeks progressed her gut instinct prevailed and she really felt that something wasn’t right. I told her she was very wise to pay attention to her instincts, and that no sign is too small to address.
Most of us don’t have a problem calling our partner out if they’re being grumpy, impatient, or curt; because, after all, those types of behaviors we all exhibit now and again, and are very evident and in our face! But what about those subtle or not-so-subtle signs? Why is it so difficult for us to ask our spouse if there’s something wrong at those times when it’s most important to ask?
1. It’s Just Our Imagination. Just as my client felt, we think we’re imagining things and squash our feelings with justifications that include, "but he’s not really being mean to me" or, "I’m just overacting or reading into something that’s not really happening" or, "I’m sure there’s nothing wrong because we’ve been married for years, and I trust my husband." It’s very difficult to trust our instincts because we think we’re imagining what we’re feeling! But those feelings are the signal that something isn’t quite right in your relationship, and 99% of the time, your gut instincts are correct.
2. We’d Rather Sweep Issues Under the Rug. Nobody likes conflict, but sweeping issues under the rug ultimately causes more damage than addressing things directly. You think they’ll disappear by not talking about them, but in reality, issues gain momentum until eventually they wreak havoc and cause resentment. Talking about and addressing problems as they arise changes the potential for disaster to the potential for a wonderfully connected relationship.
3. We Don’t Want to Hear the Truth. Nothing is ever solved by not talking or distancing yourself from your spouse, which includes not wanting to hear the truth of the matter. Fear and worry stop us from asking. After all, the issue might concern our marriage or be about us. However, the longer we prolong asking our spouse, anxiety increases, fear elevates, our own behavior might change, and the problem now becomes bigger. So the sooner you find out if something is wrong, the sooner you can start dealing with it. Good communication in a marriage makes it less difficult to approach your spouse, so learning this valuable skill early on is one of the most important gifts you can give your marriage.
Paying attention in your marriage and immediately addressing those red flag warnings—the subtle or not so subtle signs—that something isn’t right offers a better chance to resolve whatever may be going on. In the worst case scenario, changes could signal job or income trouble, an affair, or even an illness—conversely, it could be that your spouse is just having an extraordinarily challenging week at work. But how are you ever going to find out if you don’t ask? The sooner you find out the quicker you can start dealing with it.
When marriages do fall apart, people always go back to the fact that they had a gut feeling something wasn’t right and they didn’t check it out. So my advice, "Just ask."
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com and follow her on Google+.