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A while back we received the following e-mail:
I have sent this query to the websites of several well-known psychologists and psychiatrists, but to tell you the truth, I'm not even sure I want an answer. I'm even worried that what you may tell me will make me feel worse than I feel now. The other possibility is that there isn't an answer; there certainly doesn't seem to be one. I won't be surprised if you tell me that the marriage I have is the way marriage is and I should just accept it.
To begin, I guess the best way to put it is, that for me, marriage is a mystery. It became a mystery a few years after we married, and in the twenty-plus years I've been married to Larry, my husband, it remains a mystery. Larry doesn't know I'm writing this letter, but as far as I can see, it's as much a mystery to him as it is to me. On the surface, we have a good marriage. We don't fight or argue much and, I guess compared to their marriages, my friends tell me I have one of the best marriages in our circle. But it's not good enough for me.
My problem is that there's no spark in our relationship. To put it in two words: It's dull. There's nothing to look forward to. It just goes along month after month, the ups never high, the lows rarely low. Our marriage reminds me of the heart monitor on ER when the patient dies, flat, no more beeps. It's not that we don't do things or see people we enjoy. But the enjoyment is more as individuals than as a couple. For example, with our friends he's with the men and I'm with thewomen. What we don't seem to be able to do anymore is enjoy each other. When we're together by ourselves, there's no real substance to our relationship.
More and more, I think about the beginning, about how much in love we were. How every moment we could spend together was so precious. How just being with each other seemed to be all we needed. It's not that I have any hope we could ever recapture those initial feelings, but this is too far in the other direction. As I look over what I've just written, it sounds stupid. Why would you be interested in the complaints of a disgruntled forty-two-year-old woman? I feel stupid for even bothering you.
Anyway, here's the conclusion I've come to after wracking my brain for a year. And mind you, all I can really speak for are wives. I don't think I know that much about how my husband really feels or what he thinks about, and neither do the women I've discussed this with. If we had that kind of communication in the first place, we'd have much better marriages. When I ask them, most women say, "I'm happily married." And I say it, too. But what we are talking about is the whole picture: friends, family, children, grandchildren, and even the people we work with. What we don't talk about is happiness with our husbands.
So I'm not saying it's all bad. We have the status of being married, which is still important to most women, and my guess is to most men. It's certainly important to me. Marriage gives us more money, help with our children, and a man we can trust in a crisis, much more than we would have if we weren't married. And in so many marriages in our circle, our husbands are like Larry, good men whom we loved when we married them and for whom we still have some affection if no longer any passion.
I would also say that most women don't even want to face what I've written here. As I said, I'm almost afraid to send this to you: I dread that you'll tell me that what I have is as good as it's going to get. Tone down your expectations; the part of your life that you long for is over. You've got a good husband, make the best of it, you could be a lot worse off than you are.
Well, I've decided not to settle for what I have. I'm not going to settle for the marriage I have without trying to find out more than I know now. I'm sick of this being such a mystery-there must be things I can do.I'm also willing to put some effort into any suggestion you may give me that makes sense.Please, if you have anything to tell me, I'd like to hear from you.
Since Carleen and I had just completed the first six chapters of this book, Cheryl's letter couln't have been more timely.We quickly e-mailed our response.
We offered to send Cheryl the chapters but warned her that just reading them wouldn't solve her problems.Repairing a relationship isn't a simple "Do this" or "Don't do that" situation.It requires work and change, and it requires the willing participation of both partners.
We urged Cheryl to show Larry her e-mail and ours, and to get back to us if Larry was onboard.We also thanked her for giving us the subtitle to our book:Solving the Mystery of Marriage.