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What Happened Several Years After the Wedding?

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Soon after the wedding, as a husband you most likely found it easy to quote Proverbs 31:11: "The heart of her husband trusts in her . . ." As a newlywed wife how readily you could probably echo Song of Solomon 5:16: "This is my beloved and this is my friend . . .”

Two people do not wed saying, “You do not trust me, and I hate you so let’s get married.” Two people marry because they have confidence in the other's heart and love each other as a best friend.

However, after several years, or during what many have called the “seven-year itch," many couples begin to feel unsettled in the relationship. The times of relating to Proverbs 31:11 and Song of Solomon 5:16 can become distant memories and feel like unrealistic expectations at this point in the marriage.

I wonder, can you relate to either of the below sentiments?

The husband says to himself,

Here she goes again. She wants to talk about her feelings. The word “talk” is her code for how I hurt her again. She complains about how I am oblivious to her feelings, and this pains her. Other times she criticizes me for intentionally being mean toward her, which grieves her. It seems to me that I can never be good enough. After several years of marriage, I wonder if she feels it is her mission in life to put me down, which baffles me. I don't understand why she disrespects me so much. Yeah, I can be more sensitive, but I am no felon. It feels like she resents me for not living up to her expectations romantically. She has this ideal, and I fall short, so she condemns me. There's no point in talking to her about how I feel; it will only cause us to talk longer and get into another argument. For me, this is de-energizing and accomplishes little, so I try to stay quiet and get through her complaints until she refocuses on the kids, her job, friends, or volunteer work. Relative peace returns then.

Yes, she is a good woman and caring, but when it comes to her view of him, he doubts deep within if she likes him. He knows she loves him, but these ongoing "talks" cause him to wonder if she secretly despises him. He knows that he is imperfect, but she seems to paint him as a cruel monster who never listens because he doesn't care about her.

Once a month comes "the big talk" about how horrible he is. He tries to avoid "the big talk" by staying later at work or having some important project to do in the garage, but that's tough because she is so aggressive in pursuing "the talk." She will demand, "We need to talk!" 

To him, her complaints and criticisms are excessive. He would die for her, yet she profiles him as an unloving man. She has even said, "You aren't the man I thought you were." This judgment feels like a sword through his heart. Though she often apologizes for going off on him in her "talks" and seeks to appease him and solicit reassurance that he loves her, he finds himself confused about her heart toward him. He is suspicious about how she feels most deeply in her soul. He no longer trusts that she believes him to be an honorable man who seeks to be loving.

The wife thinks,

Here he goes again. He doesn't want to talk to me. He withdraws like I am some kind of tigress ready to eat its prey. He puts up a wall like I am his enemy instead of his wife. How can he tell me that he loves me, especially when he wants sex, but he avoids me like the plague when I want to connect with him over a cup of coffee? Why does he treat me this way? After these years of marriage, I wonder why he proposed to me. Why did he want to marry me if he sees me as such a horrible person? It seems I have no part to play in his life. Any time I suggest ways to improve our relationship, he gets angry. I don't understand. I don't understand why he is so unloving. Yeah, I can be less negative. I do gripe when I am tired. But I need to vent. But he takes everything so personally, like I do this to attack him. It feels like he resents who I am. I try to approach him nicely when I need to talk but he rolls his eyes when I make the request to talk. I feel like I walk on eggshells. I guess the only thing I can do is stuff my feelings. I feel like we are roommates, or worse he feels I am his enemy not his friend. The only thing I know to do is busy myself by refocusing on the kids, my job, friends, and volunteer work. I don't know what else to do. The problem is that I can be quiet for only so long and then I need to tell him how I feel.

Yes, he is a good man. But when it comes to his view of her, she doubts deep within if he cherishes her. She knows at many levels he is a devoted husband and father. But his ongoing tendency is to avoid heart-to-heart conversations about their relationship. This leads her to believe that he does not treasure her and may secretly wish he had never married her.

She knows that she is imperfect, and feels bad about those meltdown moments, but he seems to paint her as a witch who wishes to put curses on him. She doesn't understand why when she really needs him that he seems to run to the hills. He always has an excuse to stay away from her. She feels so alone and unloved.

Feeling vulnerable, she admits she panics a bit and feels like she needs to raise her voice and move toward him to talk, but that's only because he doesn't pursue her and she feels abandoned. It seems the only time he stops and really looks at her is when she comes at him with contempt. He shows emotion then, but it doesn't result in serious change. He may say, "I am sorry," but that feels more like his strategy to get her off his back. At times, he says, "You are not the woman I married." This crushes her, and she may go off to cry. She begs God for help, but nothing much changes.

So why does this happen to couples? How, you might be asking, did this happen to you? Put simply, misunderstandings. He misinterprets her criticisms and complaints to mean she doesn't respect him instead of hearing this as her cry to improve the feeling of love between them. She misinterprets his withdrawal and stonewalling to mean he doesn't love her while actually his actions are an attempt to protect himself from what feels like a message of disrespect for who he is as a human being. 

Misunderstanding after misunderstanding results in her feeling unloved and him feeling disrespected. They do not attempt to clarify what is the root cause of the misunderstanding. Because she cannot imagine doing what he does, she concludes that she is right. Because he cannot imagine doing what she does, he concludes that he is right.

If he loved her, she tells herself, he would seek to understand that she isn't trying to be disrespectful when she complains and criticizes but is feeling unloved on the heels of him withdrawing and stonewalling.

If she respected him, he tells himself, she would understand that he isn't trying to be unloving when he withdraws and stonewalls but is feeling disrespected on the heels of her complaints and criticisms.

But what if each halted for a period from what has been a relentless, yet fruitless, attempt to be understood and instead took a moment to try and understand what the other is saying? Whether you relate to these common examples or have different examples of how your misunderstandings came to be, imagine moving towards your spouse.

What if she said, "I know you are an honorable man who withdraws and stonewalls to prevent our conflict from escalating out of control, and I know you feel I am unfairly disrespecting you when I complain and criticize. Can you coach me on how to better engage you since, from my perspective, I have a need that only you can meet? Truth be told, I feel my approach is more of a compliment than a complaint. But I need your help to improve how I appear. Help me better understand how to tap into your strength and gain your reassurance about your love instead of appearing like I am on a mission to diss you"?

What if he said, "I know you are a loving woman who only criticizes and complains because you care. You desire to prevent our relationship from deteriorating so you want to address the issues. I know you feel I am unfairly withdrawing and stonewalling when you do these things. Can you coach me on how to better engage you, or disengage, since, from my perspective, I have a need to drop certain conflicts since they aren't worth the potential of me getting angry with you. The relationship with you is more important than the issue. But I need your help to improve how I appear since this appears unloving to you whereas I feel it is honorable since this is what I do with my buddies. Help me better understand how to act in a way that feels loving to you but also enables me to feel respected"?

Could you say something like this to your spouse? Do you need to? Will you?

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you experienced any kind of a “seven-year itch” in your marriage? If so, what do you feel changed since the blissful honeymoon days? If not, what do you feel has been your secret?
  2. Wives, can you see where your criticisms and complaints to your husband can communicate to him that you do not respect him? Is that his fault for misinterpreting your good intentions, or is there a need for an apology, clarification, and adjustment on your part?
  3. Husbands, can you see where your withdrawal and stonewalling can communicate to your wife that you do not love her? Is that her fault for misinterpreting your good intentions, or is there a need for an apology, clarification, and adjustment on your part?
  4. What would be the most difficult part about saying something like the closing paragraphs to your spouse? Are you going to let that stop you?