My husband and I have been together for going on 10 years. He is a wonderful man, very hardworking, honest, treats me well, is a good father, etc. The problem is me. I have fallen out of love with him. I want to love him. I have tried a lot of things, including both individual and marriage counseling, but I still feel the same, and I have for 3-4 years now. We have no love life because I feel awkward with him now and avoid it altogether, which isn’t fair to him. I want to file for divorce but haven’t brought it up for many reasons, the biggest being that I don’t want to hurt him when he has done nothing wrong. I am having a hard time finding a way to tell him how I feel. How should I bring up this painful, miserable subject? I also want him to know I won’t hang him out to dry and want to solve things very amicably, and will not be seeking alimony or anything.
I’m not going to give you permission to get out of your marriage. I don’t have that right and neither does anyone else. This is a promise you made to him and your children that requires your full accountability. If you were really done with your marriage, you wouldn’t be writing me for help. So, I’m going to encourage you to keep facing your marriage and not give up.
I’m glad to hear you desire to feel love toward him and that you’ve sought professional help to stoke your affections. That desire, though wobbly, is still enough to keep you facing him until you get more stable footing.
Most marriages pass through difficult times, even years, when partners feel distant and struggle to feel close. This can happen during times of transition, such as having children, moves, health problems, and other challenges. It can also happen as individuals realize their spouse isn’t the same person they thought they married. It takes courage and a brave community of support to pass through these difficult times.
Dr. Bill Doherty, a strong advocate for helping couples endure these lonely and difficult stages of marriage, issued the following challenge to disillusioned couples:
I think of long-term marriage like I think about living in Minnesota. You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point. We go to a therapist for help. Some therapists don’t know how to help us cope with winter, and we get frostbite in their care. Other therapists tell us that we are being personally victimized by winter, that we deserve better, that winter will never end, and that if we are true to ourselves we will leave our marriage and head south. The problem of course is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. Do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now–with this person, in this season? That’s the moral, existential question. A good therapist, a brave therapist, will help us to cling together as a couple, warming each other against the cold of winter, and to seek out whatever sunlight is still available while we wrestle with our pain and disillusionment. A good therapist, a brave therapist will be the last one in the room to give up on our marriage, not the first one, knowing that the next springtime in Minnesota is all the more glorious for the winter that we endured together.[i]
You asked how you could tell him the miserable truth about how you feel. The only problem with you approach is that you only want to tell him part of how you feel. You want to share the miserable stuff and leave out the parts about how you used to feel, how you want to feel, and how conflicted you feel. Those vulnerable parts are exactly what he needs to hear and what you need to share.
I want you to try something with your husband. I invite you to tell him the whole spectrum of feelings you’re having right now. Tell him how you want to feel desire, but don’t know how. Tell him how you have tried hard for several years to generate feelings of desire for him. Let him know of your struggle. Make sure to include the fact that you want to love him. Don’t try and fix these feelings in isolation. Pull him close and let him know of your struggle.
I believe there are reasons you’ve lost the connection to him. Often it’s because couples drift apart as the demands of life pull them in separate directions. If there are any unresolved injuries in the marriage, commit to do the hard work of repairing those. If you need to return to marriage counseling, find a therapist who won’t give up on your marriage and has the training to help you find connection again.
Elder James E. Faust taught, “it is the lack of a constant enrichment in marriage” that threatens a couple’s bond. He further defined this as “an absence of that something extra which makes it precious, special, and wonderful, when it is also drudgery, difficult, and dull. We build our marriages with endless friendship, confidence, integrity, and by administering and sustaining each other in our difficulties.”[ii]
There are timeless and wise directives in each of the foundation blocks emphasized in his counsel. I also encourage you to study the nine principles of successful marriages and families found in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”[iii] I’m not suggesting any of this will be formulaic and clean. It will feel messy and difficult as you work patiently, suffer long, and wait on the genuine feelings of affection to return to you heart.
It is soul-wrenching work to build a marriage fit for the eternities. From our own personal repentance, dealing with the mistakes of our spouses, coping with confusing feelings, and other challenges, we will be pushed to our human limits. Please don’t forget you started this marriage with a three-way covenant between you, your husband, and your Heavenly Father. He can breathe life into your lifeless marriage as you seek his help.
As difficult as it is to feel this way, please know that divorce isn’t a simple solution. It’s like an amputation that becomes a last resort when everything else has failed. Give your husband and your Heavenly Father a chance to work with you to restore what has been lost. I am confident your marriage can heal.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.