Dear Dr. Michelle:
I am reaching out because things are not going well between my wife and me. Over the last several years we have become very distant. She seems very distracted and I am afraid she is having an affair. She clams up when I try to talk about our problems, but she denies being involved with someone else and she says she does not want a divorce. I have asked her to go to therapy with me, but she refuses and says we don’t need help. What should I do? How can I get her to talk to me and go to therapy?
Thank you for reaching out; I feel your concern.
One truism that remains constant in human relationships is the fact that we have no control over another person’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors; the only person we have control over is ourselves. This is relevant because ultimately, no matter what you do, your wife is the only one who can decide to talk to you, to go to therapy, or to engage in your marriage differently.
The good news is that you do have control over yourself, which means you have complete control over how you engage in the relationship and what you do. You also have control over the information you share with your wife about your own experience. Providing her with clear and direct information is a good place to start.
Share with her how you feel about her and the relationship. Tell her what you think about your current situation and what you need to make the marriage work - specifically what you can live with and where you will not be able to compromise. If you cannot talk directly to her, send her an email or write her a good old-fashioned letter.
The purpose of information sharing is not to threaten or shame your wife into changing or giving you what you want. The purpose is to let her know how important she and the marriage are to you, while also sharing what you need to make it work. This step will allow you to evaluate the response you receive and know the next step you need to take.
Despite how your wife responds, you should identify at least two specific actions that you could do differently that will show her how important the marriage is to you, and start doing them, not just for a day or a week, but make it a permanent practice going forward. There is one caveat – you have to be willing to do these things because you want to do them for her, not because you expect her to change, to notice, to thank you, or to do something in exchange.
If your wife still chooses to not go to therapy with you, go to therapy without her. Therapy can help you identify specific things that you can do to make the marriage work, things that you have direct control over. If nothing changes in the marriage, there may come a point in time when you may want to decide if the marriage will work for you or not. This can be a painful process and a therapist can be there to guide you and support your decisions.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.