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Video: Lonely in your marriage?

TODAY contributor
updated 3/4/2008 11:12:13 AM ET 2008-03-04T16:12:13

Q. I’ve been married for five years, and for the past two I have been feeling alone. We have two beautiful kids. My husband is a commercial fisherman. In his world, this is the order of things: The kids come first, then fishing and then our marriage. He says it’s because we have no time and no money.

He likes to say, “Wait until mackerel season is finished and then we’ll start working on us.” But mackerel season came and went. It was a bad season, so now I have to wait for another good season. I wish he could see me as a woman who needs to feel special, not just as a working mother of two and a housemaid. How do I do this?

A. You are accepting your husband’s reasons for why you must stay lonely in your marriage. You shouldn’t buy into his view.

Loneliness is bred from a feeling of lack of intimacy and connection. You don’t have to be with your husband nonstop or have lots of money spent on you to feel connected.

Show him what you need. I suspect much of your loneliness has to do with what you and your husband talk about. Conversation is a two-way street, and you can converse in ways that are more meaningful to you.

If the kids are a priority for him, discussing ways you feel connected because of the kids is a good way to start. Talk about aspects of their lives, like their upcoming milestones, how they are handling cliques at school or when they might start dating.

Ask him about work, but focus on things like his colleagues on the boat — who annoys him, whom he likes best. What are his work goals for the future?

In other words, talk to him about intimate things and the kinds of things that make you feel connected. Connection comes from feeling you know each other deeply and are sharing things that are important.

Women who feel lonely within marriage also tend to feel dependent and needy. Though it might sound contradictory, it helps to develop hobbies and interests outside of your relationship. This makes you less reliant on your husband for every emotional need, and also gives you new and interesting topics to discuss.

It is the sharing of hopes, dreams, emotions, fears and insights that makes you feel more connected to your spouse. Some men fear rejection if they talk about such topics, so start by leading the way. Ask him open-ended questions. Do this in a nonverbal way, too. Reach over and hold his hand.

Sometimes people feel lonely because their spouse is critical and belittling. In this case, he might be angry with you. Sometimes loneliness stems from anger that hasn’t been dealt with. So ask him about this, and give him an opening to tell you.

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I will add that technology doesn’t replace talk. Relying on e-mail often makes you feel lonelier still — as though you have had your exchange but gotten nothing out of it. Nuance is always lost.

Of course, it depends upon how e-mail is used. If your messages say “Can’t wait to see you tonight,” that’s one thing, but too often messages end up as a way to get things done, like “Pick up a gallon of milk on your way home.”

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Loneliness in a marriage is usually symptomatic of a lack of meaningful communication, which is something you can change.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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