If You Think Somethingís Not Right, Just Ask Itís time to be upfront and just ask when you think there may be a problem in your marriage. Hereís 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 whoís not in therapy for marital problems, brought up a different topic of concern. She mentioned that something seemed fishy about her husbandís behavior, which had been going on for a few weeks. Theyíve been married for over 10 years and she knows his patterns very well, but something just didnít feel right.
Specifically, she felt that he didnít display his typical, affectionate and fun self. I asked her if she talked to him about it. She said, "Well, no." I responded, "BecauseÖ?" 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 hasnít." So I said, "Since itís still bothering you and it hasnít changed, itís time to ask. It could be nothing or it could be a sign that something is wrong. And, if itís only been two weeks since youíve noticed, itís 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 havenít been your usual, funny and affectionate self. Iím concerned. Can we talk about it?"
In my clientís case, her husbandís "nature" of being affectionate and funny wasnít happening and thus worrisome to herÖ 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 wasnít 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 donít have a problem calling our partner out if theyíre 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 thereís something wrong at those times when itís most important to ask?
1. Itís Just Our Imagination. Just as my client felt, we think weíre imagining things and squash our feelings with justifications that include, "but heís not really being mean to me" or, "Iím just overacting or reading into something thatís not really happening" or, "Iím sure thereís nothing wrong because weíve been married for years, and I trust my husband." Itís very difficult to trust our instincts because we think weíre imagining what weíre feeling! But those feelings are the signal that something isnít quite right in your relationship, and 99% of the time, your gut instincts are correct.
2. Weíd 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 theyíll 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 Donít 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 warningsóthe subtle or not so subtle signsóthat something isnít 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 illnessóconversely, 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 donít 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 wasnít right and they didnít 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+.