Ask Dr. Zoe — How Do I Revive My Disconnected Marriage After Retirement?

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‘Sandytoes’ Asked:

My husband and I have been together since ‘83—married for 30+. He’s been retired for four years at 55—I’ve been a stay-at-home mom-wife for more than 20. I’m lonely in my marriage. He climbed the corporate ladder—after more than 12 moves across the country, for many years he was married to his job, our two kids and I were taken care of with no emotional or physical abuse by him. […]

During our many moves I just started to see our relationship take a back seat as far as communication. (The kids are in two different states from where we are, and it’s very hard for me.) I came close to divorce about 16 years ago. I couldn’t stand his ego and wanted him to invest at least the same amount of time in our marriage and raising our children.

Now it’s just me with him and we enjoy each other’s company and have a few similar likes. But I’ve been reflecting, and am kind of sad to realize that I seemed to follow him, rather than become my own person. I’m always the one to try to start a conversation on deeper subjects—but he doesn’t have much to offer and gets the deer-in-the-headlights look—or gets defensive and thinks I’m telling him everything that is wrong with him and how he needs to .

I’m a Christian […] I love to volunteer—I’m a people person. He’s pretty much opposite […] doesn’t wish to get involved in any Bible study or men’s group—doesn’t reach out to make new friends or community. He takes care of himself first and if he’s not too tired, he’ll watch a movie with me or go to dinner […]

We sit on the same sofa, watch a food or home or discovery show, I cross stitch—he’s on his phone and the only talk is about the show or “I want a cookie or a glass of wine or popcorn.” I’m not sure what to do. I’m not abused—I know he loves me and wants to take care of our lifestyle. I’m I asking for too much?

-Lonely Sandytoes in Franklin, TN

Dr. Zoe Answered:

You are not asking for too much. Ladies, read that again!

I have never had a male client ask me if he’s asking for too much in a relationship, but I get this question from women on the daily.5 ways you can revive a stale marriage

You are describing a disconnected marriage. You feel it, you know it and you are grieved by it—as you should be. We often imagine that ending the relationship is the answer. Sometimes it is, but I would suggest that you first learn how to find your own happiness in your life, separate from your relationship. It’s exactly what you would have to do if you divorced him anyway, so you’re not losing any time or energy taking a season to focus on yourself.

The fear could be that your paths will continue to diverge and eventually there will be nothing left of the marriage. I wouldn’t suggest this to a couple who is healthy and happy in their marriage, but your paths have already diverged. You are just miserable in trying to cross them on a daily basis. You may discover that by finding your own path, you will be less reliant on him to fill your need and you will find ways to connect from a place of fulfillment.

Additionally, it’s common that without intention, many partners take their spouse for granted. You are ever present and he doesn’t have to wonder or seek you out at all. Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, explains the lack of physical and emotional intimacy that can occur in a long-term relationship when there is little distance and nothing left to the imagination. This reduces attraction and sometimes reduces connection.

I know your desire is for you and your husband to live your retired life together, connected, intimate, and enjoying each other’s company, but that’s not where he is right now. You have to deal with what’s in front of you and pivot. You have poured your life into your family and kids. Now it’s time to pour back into you.

So, how do you do this? Go ahead and imagine that you are separated. What would you be doing with your life? Your husband is already living his best life. This leaves you on the outside looking in, waiting for him to spend time with you and pay attention to you. Take a page from his book and pursue your passions. What were you interested in as a child? Is there anything you would like to learn about? Take some classes, maybe increase your volunteer work for or even get a part-time job doing something you’re interested in. This does not make you a bad wife. This makes you a more fulfilled person.

Sometimes, those early interests and passions get buried over a lifetime of caring for children, so it can be hard to figure out what you may want to pursue. That’s expected. Take your time, but keep pursuing. You may find that when you’re not his follower anymore, he will feel that void and move closer to you.

You are not asking or expecting too much from your husband, but unfortunately, he’s proven to you that he is only willing to offer less than you deserve. When your behavior changes (not being fully available to him all the time), you may find that his changes as well. Always be clear and open with him that you would like more in your relationship, but don’t sit around and wait for it. Live your life.

You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace.

If you’re having doubts about your marriage and are thinking about calling it quits, Darlene and Julie urge you to take another look:  

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