It can be easy to get caught up in daily life and drift apart within your relationship. In episode 276, I received a question from an individual who has been feeling anxious and disconnected from their partner, worried they are being left behind while their partner works on herself. In this post, I look more deeply into the fundamentals behind this question and offer my thoughts on how you can address these issues within your relationship.
Hello Mr. Duff
I have been married for 17 years. Good marriage till the last year. Last year my wife feels like she has been distant, new job, new responsibilities, kids, and other life changes have hit us. She has been working on herself for a while. I love it.
Question for you now, This has left me with feeling anxious, not connected, not prioritized (our talks are merely transactional, and about her work only now). I hardly get texts/calls from her during the day. How do I turn this into a positive? How do I give her space without feeling left behind?
Thanks for writing in! I love this question because I think it comes from a really good place. You are proud of her and are trying to do things right. But you got some feelings going on. That’s valid. I think that this can be something that works out well for you.
The first thing to talk about is the timeline. Imagine the timeline you talked about. Like literally if you need to pull out a piece of paper and draw a line. Now for 94% of that line, you can give it the label of good. For 6% of it, you can give it the label of different and harder for me. When you actually visualize it like this, it highlights how little time there has been to adjust to these changes. For both of you. You have your own adjustments and improvements that you are trying to make. But for her too, she is still learning how to balance things the best way. New can be exciting. It can also be hard. Be patient with yourselves. You are allowed to want a different vibe in the relationship. You are allowed to crave what it feels like you “used to” have. But don’t take the fact that things are still feeling different as a sign that something is wrong or that you guys are doing something wrong. That’s expected. It might seem like it’s taking forever but remember that timeline. When you combine that timeline of having things one way for so long vs what you are experiencing right now and sprinkle in the fact that you actually really care about your wife, of course, you are going to be feeling some strong things. So hopefully that helps you feel a little more normalized in this. You are still adjusting and these feelings are not a sign that you are losing her.
Now, what can we do about this? What can we do to try to reclaim parts of your relationship that you miss and what can we do to help you with your own feelings about the whole situation?
Let’s talk communication
The first question I will ask you is whether you have communicated about this at all. Probably a pretty obvious question, but it’s important in a situation like this to not make assumptions. To you, the changes that you are mentioning are obvious and have a significant impact on you. To her, she may not even be super aware of them. So as a first step, bringing up what you have noticed could be helpful. You will want to do this in a way that avoids assumptions. So, for instance rather than saying – “so you’ve been really distant lately and I just want to know what’s going on with that” you might lead with something like, “things have been busy for you lately. How are you feeling about the balance between work and home, our relationship, and stuff like that?” She may have some of the same feelings that you do but feels as though she doesn’t know what to do about it. Or she might have no insight at all. She might just be like “yeah. it’s great! You’ve been great about it all.” Either way, that would give you an opening to talk about your feelings. You could say “You know… I’ve been having a bit of a hard time recently. I am super proud of you and you aren’t doing anything wrong, but I have felt like we’ve been a bit disconnected lately. Like we used to chat about anything and everything. Right now it feels a bit more like logistics and schedules and stuff. Do you notice that?” From there, you can try to clarify if there are any shifts in feelings for her or if it’s just a byproduct of having more to focus on.
You don’t need to shy away from your feelings about it. Your feelings are not an accusation. For instance, saying that you have been feeling less prioritized or that you are sadder about what seems like her not keeping you in her thoughts is not an accusation that she’s doing something wrong. It’s how you feel. Again, trying not to make too many assumptions and also recognizing that nobody is doing anything wrong here. This is just something to adjust to and work on.
Embrace opportunities to connect
Since things are different now, it may be the case that things that once were natural and took no effort will now take some work and active effort on your part. Maybe the issue is less that you are disregarded or not prioritized and more that you could use more opportunities to connect. Think of what you CAN do. Rather than trying to stop something or remove something, think about what you could potentially add. So, could you work out a date night every so often? If you don’t eat meals at the table together, could you start doing that? How could you set the stage to feel more connected even if you aren’t getting texts throughout the day etc. Again with the assumptions, be careful about assuming what the lack of texts means. If you do assume that it’s because you are less interesting to her or something like that, we can very easily see the typical CBT thing happen where your assumptions lead you to feel poorly, and then that emotional change based on those assumptions leads you to behave differently and you might actually have a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy thing going on. Like if you feel disregarded, you might feel like it shouldn’t be your responsibility to shoulder the burden of keeping your relationship afloat. That could lead you to text her less because why should you bother if she’s not texting you. And in the end, you are just communicating less and gain nothing. You also sort of prove yourself right, when in reality her behavior might be impacted by your actions.
Watch out for thinking traps
I mentioned it recently, but it might be a good time to review the common thinking traps through the podcast ep (211) or my other resources. Your job would be to recognize the thinking traps you might be falling into when interpreting events in your life right now. Then to work on giving yourself the space to process and challenge your assumptions before deciding on a course of action.
I would also ask what you have going on in your life. I think that part of what you are feeling is a little bit of jealousy but not like toxic jealousy that you might have romantically, it’s closer to FOMO. You don’t get to be a part of all the things that are occupying her thoughts and time, so that leaves you feeling left out. You are allowed to feel that way. It can be tough and I can definitely empathize with the feeling. One thing that helps that out a lot is to have your own stuff going on. The feeling of being left out is way more glaring if it’s in contrast to your lack of activities or interesting stuff going on. Is there a hobby that you’ve been passionate about? Are there people that you can call on to spend more social time together? Is there anything that you can do for yourself to make your life more interesting and exciting? How can you build yourself up and improve your own self in the same way that your wife is doing for herself. These things aren’t going to solve the entire problem, but it can be helpful to lessen the focus on the issue. So you aren’t just sitting waiting for a text or acknowledgment all the time. You have your own stuff going on and you are feeling great about that. You also at the same time would like to have more interaction and behaviors that communicate care and consideration from your wife.
The last thing to mention here is that if you feel like you guys have trouble communicating, that your concerns are being disregarded, or that this is just a big issue worthy of intervening with, you can always get some couples therapy. That and/or workbooks such as ‘Couples Therapy Workbook’ by Kathleen Mates-Youngman, and other resources designed to help you connect and rediscover the beautiful aspects of your relationship.
I strongly feel like things are going to be okay with you guys. A little bit of communication and a little bit of patience will get you far here. Good luck!
You can listen to this on Episode 276 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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