It happens to many people. Maybe it’s happened to you. You found the person you want to share your life with. You start down that path together and understand that relationships take work to do your best to be a good partner. There are moments of true intimacy and sharing of wonderful experiences that have built a path of memories to look back upon.
But along the way, the necessities of daily life have required a larger piece of your life. Demands of work, raising kids and family obligations may today have you asking, what happened to the person I used to be? Did I lose myself in my marriage? This question might be shadowed by a sense of guilt if you feel duty-bound first to be a good spouse or parent.
It’s a common issue many individuals, especially women, face. And if not dealt with in a constructive manner, it’s easy to start resenting your spouse or blaming your marriage. But that will only make matters worse and, over time, damage your relationship.
So what can you do?
Understand first that this is a common issue many couples face. One spouse may feel just fine about the marriage, while the other person may feel stagnated and dissatisfied. If your spouse is happy with how their life is going, instead of resenting him or her, focus on what it will take to make yourself happier.
This is when it can be very helpful to work with a psychotherapist or counselor who will walk you through the process of regaining your spark and enthusiasm for life. When you do, you’ll have some new energy to bring to your marriage, benefitting your partner also.
Among the different types of psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective approach for enacting change in your life. Cognitive therapy focuses on retraining your thought patterns to be healthier and more constructive. Behavioral therapy outlines actions you can initiate to start creating the life you want. The two approaches work together in CBT to create a happier and more fulfilled “you.” Here are some steps you can take on your own that incorporate some of these techniques.
Understand first that your current depression or dissatisfaction with life is not a reflection of your partner or your marriage. You can do this by looking back on the more fulfilling times of your marriage. Think about the fun days you had together and what qualities drew you to your partner in the first place. According to marriage researcher and psychologist Dr. John Gottman, 96 percent of couples who see their marriage history in a positive light are likely to enjoy a happy future. Now that you’ve recalled the positive sides of your partner, think about your expectations of him or her. Have you consciously or unconsciously been placing the responsibility of your happiness on your partner’s shoulders? Realize that no one person can fill another person’s emotional, social and intellectual needs.
Take time to reconnect with the parts of yourself that you feel you have been missing. Writing down your thoughts in a journal is a helpful technique to reflect more deeply within yourself. Which qualities that previously fueled your happiness may need nurturing? Did you use to enjoy more adventure or spontaneity? Or maybe it’s been too long since you’ve felt a sense of personal growth. Because we’re all unique individuals, the answers to those questions will be different for everyone. Whatever your answers are, remember that you can’t expect your partner to fulfill those needs.
Once you identify what’s been missing, start creating a plan to reignite those passions. Set some goals about how you’re going to nurture the qualities that you've been missing. It’s crucial to plan ahead to start making changes in your life. If you find yourself thinking you don’t have time, think again. There are always ways to create pockets of time – whether it’s waking up earlier in the morning or using windows of time after the kids go to bed.
Do you need time on the weekend to work on your art? Is there a class you want to attend? Or are there friends you would like to reconnect with? Schedule these activities in your calendar and try to do something at least once a week that nurtures your inner joy. If you need to schedule a babysitter for a few hours, include that in your to-do list for the preceding week.
Relationships thrive when partners share their lives with one another. That includes sharing your emotional challenges with your significant other. You may want to start by setting up a time to talk with your partner so that he or she is not distracted by work or the kids. Let your partner know about your journey to recapture some of the dimensions of yourself that you feel you’ve been missing. Your partner is likely to not only be supportive of you but be inspired by your plans, as well. You could also use this opportunity to talk with your partner about ways the two of you can add new dimensions to your life together. Are there things you used to enjoy doing together? Sharing new experiences together is essential for any lasting relationship. As Dr. Gottman says in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “You don’t have to be two peas in a pod to have a stable marriage, but the more shared meaning you can find, the deeper and more fulfilling your relationship will be.”
Making changes in your life and sustaining those changes can be challenging to not only move beyond your own subjective perspective but to stay on track with your goals. This is where working with a therapist, counselor or personal coach can greatly increase your chances of creating sustainable change. Forging new paths to rediscover and develop the happiest version of you can take time. It’s helpful to not only have someone to help guide you, but someone to be accountable to as well.