The Negative Spouse

by: Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC

Dear Toni- My wife has changed over the course of our 15 year marriage. The woman I married used to be fun, upbeat, positive and had a number of good friends. Now she is socially withdrawn, rarely smiles and everything out of her mouth is negative- from the little day to day discussions to those dealing with the larger issues. I have attempted different ways to address my concerns and feelings- from pointing out something she has just said, to encouraging her to lighten up and try to let go of the things that cause her more stress, to suggesting she make time to go out with friends, work out at the gym or just do something nice for herself. Her response is always along the lines of how there is no time, she is too tired and/or has to much to do at home- or that family needs have taken over and she can only cope with so much

There is also always a subtle suggestion that she carries the heavier burden and that I don’t notice or don’t care. I am coming to my wits end with her. I find myself physically and emotionally distancing myself, thinking about other women, and what life might have been like if only I had made other choices- and just feeling trapped and increasingly negative myself. Do you have any suggestions for how I could approach this differently, in a way that might actually bring about some positive change on her part?

-Downer’s Spouse

Dear Downer’s Spouse-

These negative changes in your wife have occurred over time and alongside all the changes that come with years of marriage, the addition of children and all the adjustments they entail. Therefore, the answer will not be a simple, one-step solution like making more time for herself, however, that may very well be one important piece. Several things may be going on here and determining the key issues will be an important beginning. For instance, your wife may be suffering from depression that could be clinical or situational in nature- or both. Clinical depression usually occurs when there is an underlying predisposition that gets triggered by something situational- like significant stress.

Becoming a parent is a life-changing event that is both wonderful and stress-filled- and can lead to clinical depression in women who have to cope with severe hormonal shifts and a major life change all at once. It doesn’t always strike after the birth of the first child- it can happen anytime during the early years of parenting small children. Getting a depression screening from a competent and compassionate mental health provider is a way to determine if this is a key issue. Another possible cause of these changes is the loss of your early couple relationship, which has been subjugated by your young family relationship. Once you were lovers and friends who had the time, energy and desire to put one another and your couple relationship first. Children impact that as their needs take precedence, and suddenly the focus becomes the children and family, and the needs of the couple can get swept aside. Related to this is how you two cope as individuals with the increasing demands and related stress.

Do you put your heads down and tackle each challenge alone, or turn to each other for support, help and nurturance? Do you see yourselves as a team or as two people taking care of themselves and letting the other deal with their feelings and issues alone? These are important questions to ask yourselves and answer honestly if you hope to find your way back together to a happier place. If at all possible I recommend you consider seeing a competent therapist together, even if just for a few sessions.

If you use the time well you can learn to truly hear what she is feeling and experiencing, what needs she has that are going unmet- and mostly, what she will require to see you again as that man she married and herself as the woman you fell in love with. This seeing the world through your eyes will also happen for her. Then together you can decide how to carve out quality time for the two of you and for each of you as individuals to pursue a passion or just do something fun. You can renegotiate your roles and responsibilities as parents and look for ways to be more present for and connected to one another. Every big change begins with small steps- take your first ones today.

Toni Coleman, LCSW, holds a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Virginia, and holds certification in life coaching. She is a member of The International Coach Federation and The National Association of Social Workers. Toni is a well-known relationship expert and author, working with publications, TV, and radio prgrams. She writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, CupidsPulse.com, and LAFamily.com. Follow her on FB at /www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman and Twitter @CoachToni.

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