‘She thinks I’m dismissive but I feel I give her so much attention’ (Picture: Neil Webb)
My wife and I separated in 2019 and six months into the separation I went on some dates with a lovely girl but my heart wasn’t in it.
Eventually, my wife and I reconciled and although it felt like a second honeymoon for a while, our old issue around attention resurfaced.
She thinks I’m dismissive but I feel I give her so much attention. We have regular Sunday meetings but we’re continually going over old ground.
After a particularly disastrous one, I texted that girl and we’ve been chatting. I knew it was a bad idea at the time but now I’m thinking about her frequently.
Am I wasting my time trying to make my marriage work?
A good guiding principle in life is that there are always two or more sides to every story. You say you give your wife attention. She says you don’t.
‘It’s clear the two of you have different understandings of what it means to be attentive,’ says Rupert Smith. ‘I imagine these understandings were formed in your early childhood and deeply entrenched.’
For you, it seems closeness is something that is best managed and contained — in your weekly meetings, for instance — and on a cognitive level.
‘Your wife, on the other hand, appears to need more consistent connection and reassurance, and lives in fear of that attention being withdrawn,’ Smith adds.
Understanding each other’s point of view and showing empathy is possible, though.
‘The goal should be to enable yourselves to adapt,’ says James McConnachie.
It’s admirable that you’re attempting to tackle the issue through your regular conversations but since they’re reinforcing the chasm between you, consider a new approach.
‘I reckon you need a ritual,’ McConnachie says, ‘a special moment where you draw a line under the past and agree to move forwards — and move as a team, not in competition.’
Marriage therapy will help you understand what’s driving each other’s interpretations of your emotions and needs, and will also perhaps make some connections to your early lives.
‘You can’t clean up ingrained dirt if you don’t know how it’s getting in, and it’s the same with ingrained habits,’ says McConnachie. ‘You need to understand what’s causing them. Start here.’
As for your other woman, you know she isn’t the wisest way out of this.
‘She may appear to be someone who won’t demand much but focus on what needs to be done right now,’ says Dr Angharad Rudkin.
Always be careful about being pushed towards somebody — being pulled towards them is usually a more reliable sign.
- Dr Angharad Rudkin is a clinical psychologist and co-author of psychology guide What’s My Teenager Thinking? out now
- James McConnachie is the author of Sex (Rough Guides)
- Rupert Smith is an author and counsellor
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