Marriage is meant to last forever—according to wedding toasts, love songs, and various religious texts, anyway—and given our ever-lengthening average life expectancy, forever is a long, long time. It's one thing to pledge eternal love as you stand fresh-faced and beaming at your bride on the day of your nuptials; actually living out that promise twenty, thirty, or forty years later can be quite another.
Even the happiest, healthiest marriages require a certain amount of work to stay that way, but what happens when your relationship has you saying, "I think I hate my wife?" Not the boiling, toxic hate that leads to the ugly crimes of passion recounted in Dateline episodes, but a ... strong dislike. The type that leaves you struggling to remember the last time you enjoyed your wife's company, and even has you entertaining thoughts of infidelity or divorce.
Here's the complicated brew of feelings actually at play when you feel like you hate your wife, according to experts, and what to do if you want to save your relationship.
It's actually normal to "hate" your wife sometimes.
"Every long term relationship has the opportunity to become a breeding ground for resentment, hurt feelings, anger, disappointments," says Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, marriage counselor, therapist, and life coach. Bobby says that's especially true for midlife couples who've worked to achieve the conventionally-agreed-upon markers of successful adulthood: Kids, busy careers, and homes that demand regular maintenance. It's easy to forget that romantic love needs maintenance too, or it withers.
"Just like a neglected garage can become a spidery, dirty mess, a marriage that doesn't have intentional compassion and nurturing sweeping through it regularly can descend into a dynamic with dark corners," Bobby adds.
You may miss the fun-loving wife you used to know.
It used to be all late weeknight dates and pulse-racing adventures with you two. These days, fun seems like the furthest thing from your wife's mind, and that leaves you perpetually bored and frustrated.
Bobby points out that many wives resent their husbands because "they often feel frazzled, frustrated, and resentful about the higher level of mental energy and material energy they are expected to devote to their household, career and families." That can leave her little room for some soul-replenishing me-time, let alone you-and-she time.
"However, men often carry an equal, or sometimes even higher level of anger and resentment towards their spouses," Bobby says. "Male anger tends to be rooted not in frustration over tasks and responsibilities, but in a longing for love, fun, meaning, and a desire for a deeper connection with their partner. All of which they feel increasingly cut off from."
Or, her role as a mom has left you feeling neglected.
For those with kids still living at home, parenthood is a round-the-clock responsibility—and studies still show that moms still put in more time than dads, on average. True as that may be, it's not uncommon for a husband to feel like he's become his wife's last priority.
"What I've often seen in my marriage counseling and couples therapy practice is that men are more likely than women to feel emotionally neglected by their partners," Bobby says. "They often crave the level of interest, attention, and affection they see their wives lavishing on their children. They miss the easy, fun passion their relationship once held."
Not arguing is a bigger red flag than fighting.
Arguing in a respectful, productive way can be a positive sign, Bobby says, because it means both spouses still care. "When people are voicing resentments, when they're being hostile, when they're communicating—badly, but still communicating—that they have hurt or fear related to their relationship, they still have a chance."
Burying resentments, instead of voicing them, can lead to an irreparable distance. That can lead two spouses living under the same roof to start living separate lives: "They sleep in different beds, have different schedules, don't discuss their inner lives, have different friends, and simply no longer look to each other for much of anything anymore."
Consider the possibility that it may be you, not your wife.
Unaddressed depression or anxiety can cause someone to see aspects of their life—including their relationships—in a way that doesn't necessarily reflect reality (substance abuse does this too, Bobby adds).
Professional and financial setbacks, along with the understandable stress caused by the latter, can color their perception of their marital health as well. Cultural expectations based in the concept of men as "hunter-gatherers" have reinforced an idea that equates the ability to provide with bringing value to a partnership or family.
"When a man's ability to succeed in what he most deeply values—such as being a provider for his family, a trusted husband, or productive employee—is threatened, everything in his life starts to be viewed through a lens of frustration," says Robyn D'Angelo, a marriage and family therapist based in California.
"When men lose any sense of their value, the feeling of failure or inadequacy can seep into everything," D'Angelo continues. "Their moods can drop. They can get irritable. They hear their partner's requests for something as criticism that they're bad, or not enough. Then they can even start to view the people closest to them, who are now noticing their lack of energy, engagement, and productivity as the enemy."
In these cases, a person projects perceived shortcomings onto their partner when they actually need to look inward.
A solo retreat could bring clarity on your marriage.
"Before divorce is even mentioned, I suggest a time of solitude in order to reflect," D'Angelo says. She recommends planning a solo trip away for least two days, in nature if possible. To prevent numbing yourself with the internet, unplug as much as any critical real-life obligations will allow: "Put away the phone. Put away the computer. Let your work, family, and friends know where you'll be, and then shut off all distractions."
Once you've created the space to listen to your intuition and your needs, D'Angelo suggests asking yourself these questions:
What's really going on with me?
Where in my life do I feel helpless?
What is it that I'm feeling? Am I mad, glad or sad? What about fear or shame?
Who am I truly feeling these things toward, and why?
What other times in my life have I felt like this?
How do I show up in my different roles when I feel this way?
Then, voicing your frustration to your wife is essential.
Will it be easy? Absolutely not. And if (or rather, when) things get emotionally messy, Bobby says that's not just common; it may mean the difference between divorce and a major relationship shift. "If nothing profoundly regrettable, like an affair, has catalyzed this discussion, it's actually an amazing opportunity to have the fully honest, authentic, and vulnerable conversations that could bring them back together again,"she says.
There will almost certainly be more than one of these difficult heart-to-hearts, and for husbands who find it hard to share their emotions, answering D'Angelo's self-examination questions first can help (whether you've managed a trip away or not).
"It's easy to fall into defensiveness, blame and self-pitying on both sides," Bobby admits, which is why the support of an objective professional like a marriage counselor can be so valuable. And therapy won't work unless your wife is willing to communicate her frustrations, and listen as well.
"For women, the first step is often understanding, sometimes for the first time, that their husbands are just as in need of love, affection, and compassion as they are. Many women I talk to have little awareness that their husbands are craving hugs and kisses, time and attention, empathy, and to simply feel like they're enjoying each other."
Feeling too angry to even know where to begin talking to your wife about it? D'Angelo says seeing a therapist on your own is the best place to start. "If, or when, you're ready to connect with your partner, you can bring them in to the couples therapy process."
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