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My wife and I have had our share of marriage highs and lows, but my wife tells me that she is tired of trying to make it work with me. I am in fear that she has shut down and entered into the grief stage or is waffling in and out of that phase. We don’t have any children, so there really isn’t anything keeping her in our marriage besides our history together. Do you have any suggestions or thoughts about engaging her with some tools or exercises we can do to reconnect to improve the security and trust between us?
This is a scary place to be, for sure. Like any crisis situation, the key is to stay calm and not panic. If your wife is emotionally shutting down and pulling away from you, it’s a normal reflex to want to chase after her and smother her with attention. Instead of focusing on using “tools” or “techniques” to win back your wife’s affection, step back and focus on the environment of your marriage. You can’t make your wife love you, but you can certainly create conditions that will make that choice easier for her.
One of the first conditions you have to create is an atmosphere of emotional and relationship safety. Please ask yourself the following questions: Have you betrayed her in any form in years past? Have there been financial, sexual, emotional, or family betrayals? Have you left her isolated by being physically or emotionally unavailable? Do you have any secrets you haven’t revealed? If there have been betrayals, have you been accountable and repaired the damage? Have you made excuses for your behavior or been completely humble and willing to do whatever it takes to restore trust?
If there have been betrayals and you haven’t thoroughly addressed them with honesty, humility, accountability, and a willingness to repair the damage, then you can’t expect your wife to move toward you in connection and vulnerability. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described how betrayal will damage the secure foundation of marriage. He taught, “Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.”[i]
If betrayals aren’t the problem in your marriage, then what is the culture of your marriage like? Have you stopped nurturing the relationship with your wife? Like an unattended garden, plenty of marriages have died from drying up. Have you had regular date nights, getaways, and time during the day to share your thoughts and feelings? Have you worked to pay attention to the ways each of you feels loved? If you are both guilty of neglecting the marriage, go ahead and do your part to nourish it without focusing on fairness.
Recognize that your presence matters in this marriage. When someone is in a coma, family and friends still show up, hold their hands, and stay by their sides through all the uncertainty. Your wife is in an emotional coma and needs your presence. This is an important time to cut things out of your schedule and make yourself more available. Don’t be dramatic and expect her to be instantly responsive. Instead, make it clear that she is the most important person to you and make the necessary adjustments so she can experience your steady devotion.
Your wife is still married to you. Don’t take this for granted and hope things will get better with time. Turn to your Heavenly Father and beg Him and the Savior to help revive your ailing marriage. President Howard W. Hunter promised “whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives. If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives.”[ii] Of course your wife still has her agency to decide what she wants to do, but if you’re both turning toward the Savior and wanting to save your marriage, your marriage will live. If she doesn’t want to pray, then continue pleading and asking Heavenly Father to direct you and show you what you can specifically do to make any needed changes. We all have things we can improve.
I believe the Savior delivered a powerful relationship manual in Doctrine and Covenants section 121 when he instructed us to use “persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge” in our relationships with others. I believe each of these deserves it’s own sermon, so I encourage you to study and ponder on how you can apply these principles in your marriage. [iii]
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.com
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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[iii] D&C 121:41-42