I’ve been dealing with emotional infidelity from my husband for many years. For many years I’ve felt neglected and ignored by him but I don’t know of a specific reason why; I suspect it’s someone at work. He is an introverted and secretive person and is very negative/angry at me. He doesn’t accept this instead he tells me to change my thoughts. I’m stressed and our daughter is being affected because of our fights. How can I work on this? How can I make him love and respect me and our family?
Shubhangi, UAE resident
Answered by Asma Geitany, Clinical psychologist, Openminds Psychiiatry, Counselling and Neuroscience center
I am sorry to hear that you have been struggling for several years. Being in a relationship with an emotionally unfaithful partner is devastating. However, it is not necessarily the end your marriage.
When a partner chooses to inflict any kind of betrayal; physical or even emotional, no matter what the causes are, how miserable the relationship is, or how weak the person is, at the end of the day, this partner made “a choice”. That being said, focusing on the betrayal itself will not fix any problem, instead it will make things worse. Definitely you have the right to express your feelings, your hurt, in a healthy way and need time to heal. Additionally, in order to solve the issue, it is always best to go back to the root of the problem, which is an unsolved conflict or conflicts that have been accumulating over the years.
It should be a mutual agreement to work on the relationship. Both partners should be willing to work with each other to upgrade their relationship to get to a better and healthier place.
Healthier ways to communicate
The purpose of your communication should not be to find out who’s right or who’s wrong; it will put each one of you in defensive mode, where you will not be able to hear each other and the conflict will escalate to a very aggressive level, a level of blame and criticism. The key for a healthy conversation is to take into consideration the fact that each partner is telling the truth, from his own perspective. “Both partners are right except each one of them has a different side of the story.”
The first step is to help each other understand the other perspective. To do so and to make sure your partner is able to listen to you without becoming defensive, your speech should not include blame nor criticism. Although we do totally agree that it is hard to express differently from how we are used to, but with practice and by the help of the partner, both of you will be able to express in a healthy way. Try voicing your feelings, your emotions regarding a certain situation. Try using “I” statements instead of “you” statements (i.e. I felt rejected when I was standing alone at the reception. Instead of: you left me alone to go to spend time with your friends …). In addition, express your needs or your wishes on how your partner can help you in such situations. Indirectly, you will be giving your partner the key to support you.
On the other hand, the listener should be paying attention without acting defensive and trying to understand the partner’s own perspective. Postponing the listener’s own agenda is key. Try to understand how your partner is feeling, like putting yourself in his/her shoes. Showing empathy can help you bond. Each one of you should have the time to express your point of view while being listened to.
Once each partner's perspective is understood by the other side, you can start to commit to find a balanced solution that suits you both.
Friendship and intimacy
Learning ways to communicate is essential, but it is not the only component for a healthy relationship. Friendship is the backbone of a marriage, if yours is a strong one, not only you will have a closer relationship but also it will be very helpful during conflicts.
Dr John and Julie Gottman explain how friendship and intimacy, creating a shared meaning in between, along with ways to communicate in a conflict are the main modifications a couple requires for a healthy marriage. These are some tips to help usher in the change.
- Building Love Maps: Knowing your partner’s world, their inner space, their deepest fears, their dreams, their future plans, etc. is important. By asking questions and telling stories, you will get to know your partner and will keep your love maps updated throughout your lifespan.
- Expressing Fondness and Admiration: Every person benefits from being admired, what about if the compliment is coming from the most loved one? Notice the good things your partner is doing, express and show your appreciation.
- Turning Toward One Another: Turning toward the bids at connection, i.e. any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. It can be as small as a smile to a request for help. Practicing to turn toward a bid of connection instead of turning away on a daily basis will work as an emotional bank account during the conflicts. If a person is feeling appreciated during non-conflict situations, it will be less frustrating during conflicts.
- Creating Shared Meaning. Each person enters the marriage with unique psychological baggage, including their idea of a family. By exploring each partner's own meaning of a family, by helping each other realise the dream by creating your own, unique, family rituals, roles, goals and symbols, you are creating a shared meaning of your relationship.
Practicing all the above will help your relationship, step by step, to reach a different level; a level of respect, understanding and intimacy, which will sustain a healthier marriage.
Your perception of yourself matters!
In your letter, you mentioned how stressed you are and how you feel neglected and ignored. It is essential to take care of and not neglect yourself before looking beyond. Give yourself the right to be treated well, by treating yourself well. Have your own quality time, alone. It can start, for example, by pampering yourself at a spa, starting a new activity or taking 15 minutes daily for tea time, alone, relaxed, without any disturbances. By respecting yourself and cherishing your own needs, it will indirectly affect other people’s behavior toward you.
On the other hand, by creating a space to express your strong emotions in a healthy way (i.e. going to the gym, boxing, dancing, drawing, listening to music and so on) it will help you feel less stressed and annoyed while communicating with people and family members.
Impact on children
Most of the time, children are the most affected parts in a couple's conflicts, as they are the most vulnerable. Both partners need to be aware of that impact, and agree mutually not to argue in front of their children. Communication should be done in private, especially when discussing serious and problematic topics.
Both partners need to work on helping children feel safe and helping them express their fear without any judgement. In addition, both of you need to express how much you love them, no matter what, and explain to your child that she is not the one to be blamed, as lots of children think their parent’s conflicts are their fault.
Statistics unfortunately show that most of couples wait around 6 years of miserable conflicts to seek help from professionals. Starting couple psychotherapy is always valuable, not only when people are going through divorce. It is beneficial to every couple, to help them get to know each other better, to learn healthier ways to communicate and sustain their marriage.
If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please let us know if you'd rather stay anonymous.
Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.