At first, everything with my husband Doug and I seemed to be going well. We had dated for three years before we got married and blended our four children into one family.
But soon there were conflicts. We fought a lot about the kids, Doug’s lack of earnings, and how much I was doing around the house compared to him. At the time I was the chief financial officer of a large private school and the main breadwinner for our family.
Doug and I went to marriage counseling, where we blamed each other in front of a perfect stranger. Rides to our appointments were cold and distant, and we’d fight all the way home.
Before I knew it, our lack of intimacy resulted in me begging, pleading, and crying. I felt so undesired and lonely. This lack of connection both physically and emotionally seemed to spark fighting about everything.
Eventually, I moved into the guest room when we both started threatening each other with divorce.
At the time, my approach to marriage and relationships was that I knew better, and was sure Doug was parenting wrong, should be making more money and definitely having sex with his wife. I thought taking him to marriage counseling would fix everything.
I wanted to feel safe, so I controlled everything. At the time, I didn’t know it was to an unreasonable degree. I thought the more I lectured and or explained how he should be a good husband that he’d jump up and do what I wanted, but nothing changed.
I thought if I got mad, or cried and begged, that he’d see how much he was hurting me and would change, but nothing changed. In fact, he became more distant and uninterested. I went to the gym, lost weight, and got fit, but that didn’t improve the intimacy or connection in our marriage.
I was ready to get a divorce—which would have been my second—but I knew it would be devastating to our four kids. Neither of our previous spouses were involved, and we were trying to create a family life for them.
But we just didn’t know how to overcome conflicts. I didn’t know how to go on without the connection, intimacy, and fun we experienced when we dated.
I was living in the guest room and didn’t want my second marriage to fail. The Cold War was excruciating. I wanted to do whatever I could to make our marriage work. I just didn’t know I had anything I could do. I thought it was Doug who needed to change.
I blamed my husband because I didn’t see how I was doing anything wrong. I was the breadwinner, I was a single mom before we married, raising two kids by myself, owned my own home, and had a successful career.
Doug only had his kids once a month, during the summer and school holidays, so he wasn’t used to managing bedtime, homework, and chores. I was so frustrated and so were his kids, since they didn’t much like the tight ship I was running with strict bedtimes.
My husband struggled financially and used credit cards to buy things I didn’t think were necessary. I thought his lack of interest in physical intimacy was his way of punishing me for something.
I didn’t know what I was doing wrong except constantly complaining and begging for him to see my point of view, which never worked. At that time, I felt superior, smarter, and more capable than Doug.
Therapy created more fights, both before and after sessions, but while in sessions, were in front of a professional so weren’t as forthcoming or we overindulged in complaining and criticizing each other. I didn’t learn much except I didn’t want to go back to marriage therapy.
I complained to my girlfriends while pretending at work that everything at home was fine. The fighting got so bad that one day, my best friend told me to either shut up or get a divorce. It was shocking, but she had become sick of me complaining about Doug.
I was devastated. I booked a flight to visit my mother. I knew she would listen, and she would know what I should do. I brought some books with me, including one titled The Surrendered Wife.
Upon reading that book, I felt ashamed and embarrassed. For the first time, I realized that I was responsible for my failed marriages. It was very painful. I sobbed that night and all the next day. But under my pain, I felt a glimmer of hope.
I realized how repelling my control was, and that it was creating the opposite result I craved. I believe the reason I became so controlling was because I was raised in an unsafe childhood where I experienced physical and sexual abuse.
I was controlling when no control was necessary, but I didn’t realize it. Being vulnerable or not knowing what was going to happen was terrifying.
I realized that respect is like oxygen for men, and that I didn’t need to be doing so much. Being controlling had me doing everything and then being resentful about it.
Learning to say “I can’t” and focusing on self-care was so impactful in my tolerance for everyday life. My nagging and complaining went way down. I learned to be grateful and look at the glass half full instead of half empty.
I felt so relieved to know that another wife, the author Laura Doyle, saved her marriage from the brink of divorce. It gave me hope that I could do it single-handedly too.
I learned that as the wife, I set the tone in my home. That old saying “happy wife, happy life” began to be true at my house. I learned to be more vulnerable and receive support rather than doing everything myself. I also learned to listen and not have to defend or argue or have the last word.
My marriage improved when I started saying things like “whatever you think” when my husband asked me what he should do with the cell phone plan. Not only did my husband appreciate being trusted, but I felt relieved that I didn’t have to do everything, and that I could trust my husband to take care of our finances and decisions like cell phone plans.
My husband started planning romantic trips and pursuing me physically and emotionally. We were laughing again and cooking together, traveling, and enjoying raising our four kids together.
After changing my approach to my relationship, I felt dignified and respectful. I felt grateful and happy instead of resentful and exhausted. I felt like I had a whole new husband and marriage. I was smiling a lot more, and the intimacy and peace were back.
Now, my marriage is as good as I can stand it. We will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary in December, and it feels like a fairy tale dream come true.
I’ve had people say it’s unbelievable, even our adult kids tell us how proud they are of us. All of our adult children come around often because they love the love they see in us and experience when we are all together as a family.
We have more physical intimacy and emotional safety and connection than I ever knew possible. Our marriage continues to get better and better as adventure through different stages of life together. I feel cherished and adored and my husband feels respected and appreciated.
I’m so grateful for the personal change I made within myself. My whole family was saved from a painful heartbreaking divorce, and my personal transformation from the days of raging and fighting is unrecognizable.
It made me realize that being a ridiculously happy wife is not only possible, it’s easy.
Kathy Murray is a relationship coach from California.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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