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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 5334
Experience:  Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology helping with relationships
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Hi, I am 49, married for 5 years and together with my husband

Customer Question

Hi, I am 49, married for 5 years and together with my husband for 8 years. From early on in our relationship, he became angry out of the blue, for what I consider small reasons. He doesn't talk about his feelings AT ALL and actually lost his temper when I asked him in the past, though he is not violent. I now believe that he has long-term issues and that I am co-dependent, something I am only recently recognising although I am a therapist myself! He always puts his mother before me and is at her beck and call (although his four brothers all live closer, one next door and one in the house!).
I am going through a particularly stressful time having just completed a masters degree, and am working part-time in two agencies as well as doing private work, but have a HUGE amount of debt which I am struggling to keep on top of. He works full-time in a reasonably well-paying job, but also has huge debt, and I don't know where his money goes (we have separate bank accounts). He had two properties when we met, and I bought the house we live in (which I love) just before the recession, so pay the mortgage which is huge. He pays the household bills and one of my loans, as well as buying the food.
Last week I had just finished my thesis and he arrived back from taking his mother to the doctor. We were talking and he asked me a question about my dad who had fallen, and I was a bit abrupt as I had already answered the question he was asking the previous night. He exploded and we got into a huge argument. I suggested that we needed to go for couple counselling and he said that was what I had been angling for all along, to go for counselling (!?!) and that was that. That was over a week ago, I moved into the spare room and we haven't spoken since. If circumstances were different (if I didn't have such debt hanging over me - and I don't want to loose my house) I would kick him out. I think we may have to live together for the short-term, but need advice on how we can get on together until that time comes. I have had enough of men, so have no interest in meeting someone else, so maybe this could work?
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 4 years ago.

Hi! I'll be glad to help you with this issue.

First, let me say I can imagine how frustrating and distressing this situation must be for you. You are clearly a capable and intelligent woman and this is all very hurtful. It really seems as though both of you have settled into an adversarial relationship. I'm truly sorry it has gotten to this situation. You are both clearly hurting.

It is possible that the marriage has no life any longer left in it. As I said, you are an intelligent person, so I don't want to just say make believe hopeful statements. Sometimes it is the case that the adversarial nature of the relationship is such that couples therapy won't help, even if you find someone who you connect with as a counselor. Therefore, let me answer your immediate question:

Yes, it is possible for you two to recognize that you need to separate but also need to live as "roommates" for a period of time until your economic situations allow a complete separation. It can work. It depends on the personalities of the people involved. Only you know your and his ability to be civil and not explode periodically because there is still lingering love and desire that is not being expressed or fulfilled by one or both of you. But if this is not the case, then such an arrangement can work. And it may be the best solution given that the two of you are no longer communicating with each other as a married couple.

Communication is the muscular system of love. And love is the circulatory system. Let me repeat that because it's so important: it's not sex; it's not beauty or looking good; it's not being smart or clever. Communication between the two people is the love muscle; it's the muscular system of love. The desire to give to the other person, to make the other person happy is the heart of love, the circulatory system.

My sense is that you would still like to try to make being married with him work but you're not at all confident he is willing to make real efforts. You might be correct, but I urge you to make one more try at it. You can always fall back to the roommates strategy, but first, we'll try to see if we can get him to be willing to put his "heart" back into this, to reactivate his giving circulatory system.

I want you to print out my answer and take it and him to a Starbucks or other quiet place and discuss it and commit to the program to try to make your marriage a success. You're going to start with a book. You'll get 2 copies, one for each of you. Each night you're both going to read a few pages or a chapter and do the exercise there if there is one in those pages. Every other night, or at most, every third night sometimes, you will get together, either at home or at the Starbucks and talk about what you read. What you think of it, what it inspired in you. Make notes in the margins. And each one talk about the subject of the pages and what you think. That's your assignment and dates.

The book: It's by the foremost researcher into relationships in our day, John Gottman. He's famous for being interviewed on TV and being able to tell when a couple will get divorced within 5 minutes and having 90% accuracy. I've studied his therapy and use his therapy in my practice and that's why I'm concerned that you two do this. So the book is the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. You can get it cheaply online or see if you can get it locally to save time.

Now, a secret: the magic is not in the book. The exercises and Gottman's insights will be very useful and important for the two of you. But the magic is in the act of working together on your marriage! The two of you paying attention every single day to your marriage and making effort every single day: that's the magic ingredient in great marriages that GROW in love as the years pile up. I want to make sure you both understand this. Because that's the key to our work here. Okay?

Our hope is that this work gets you two to first base enough for him to consider therapy: the two of you MUST work on how emotional connections are made and maintained. The two of you together need help in learning how to make your marriage more emotionally intimate and positive.

One type of therapy is called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Why this type for you? Because it focuses on how there have been created emotional barriers and how to get through those barriers. Here is the web address for their therapist finder:

On the website you'll also find excellent books by the founders, Sue Johnson and Leslie Greenberg.

There are not that many therapist who work in these therapies and so I recommended EFT couples therapy knowing that often it's a way to orient you on the type of work you want the therapist you do choose to focus on. Because whatever couples therapist you go to, you need to use the framework of my answer to help guide the healing between you and your husband. There has to be a recognition of what truly is the problem here.

Given that you didn't have success with your last therapist, here is the web address for Psychology Today's therapist directory. You can sort by zip codes and when you see someone who seems like they might be helpful (they show you a photo of the therapist!) look at the listing and see if they list couples therapy in their orientations. Interview the therapist and make sure he/she shares your values and you each feel confident in him or her.

Okay, I wish you the very best!

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Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 4 years ago.
Hi. Have things improved at all in the relationship? Were my suggestions helpful? Or do we need to consider more options? Let me know,

Dr. Mark