How to Talk About an Unhappy Marriage Before It’s Too Late

Health Information Lifestyle


Former Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City and his wife, Chirlane McCray, announced that they were separating after nearly 30 years in an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday. Their story begins with an “aha” moment in the midst of what the article calls yet another “stale Saturday night of binge-watching television” together.

“Why aren’t you lovey-dovey anymore?” Mr. de Blasio reportedly asked his wife, a question likely to feel familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship who has felt the slow fade of lust and excitement.

Certainly the couple — who are not divorcing, and will continue to share the Brooklyn townhouse where they raised their children — have faced other complicating factors that extend far beyond humdrum weekend plans, among them the grueling pace of electoral politics and Mr. de Blasio’s failed presidential bid.

Still, for those who see a kernel of themselves in the couple’s story, experts say there are simple but helpful questions to ask yourself and your partner before it is too late.

Falling into comfortable patterns is not inherently a problem, nor is it necessarily a red flag if you are not as physically affectionate with your partner as you once were, said Megan Murphy, a licensed mental health counselor and co-founder of Expansive Therapy, an L.G.B.T.Q.-focused psychotherapy group.

“I think it’s fabulous to binge something with a loved one on the couch!” she said with a laugh. But what the article on their separation describes is that moment or scenario in which a couple realizes: “Oh, I think we want something more,” Ms. Murphy said.

Ms. Murphy encourages those in relationships to ask themselves: What do I want from my relationship? And am I getting it?

“Can you be honest with yourself about that, and then can you bring that honesty to the relationship?” she said.

Of course, those are big, often thorny questions to explore, and Ms. Murphy emphasized that therapy could help. Sometimes, it can be useful to start with individual therapy rather than couples therapy, she added, as it offers a safe environment in which to say what you want out loud.

Elizabeth Earnshaw, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the book “I Want This to Work,” often counsels couples who worry about patterns they may have fallen into.

In the case of a couple who is spending a lot of time watching TV, for instance, she encourages considering questions like: Is this a way to distract you both from connecting?

“Be honest and direct about what you’re noticing, and ask what they’ve noticed, too,” Ms. Earnshaw said. “Something like: ‘Hey babe, things have been feeling stale. Have you noticed that?’ Then ask what your partner might need to feel re-engaged in the relationship with you.”

Galena Rhoades, a clinical psychologist and research professor at the University of Denver, said it could be helpful for couples to have “mini evaluations” or “check-ins” in which they ask themselves things like: Are we happy with how things are going?

Experts sometimes recommend having a check-in as often as every day, but the overall idea is to have them often enough so that you can “make those smaller adjustments along the way,” Dr. Rhoades said.

The relationship experts who spoke with The Times did not work with Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray and were loath to speculate about what contributed to the end of their relationship. However, Ms. Earnshaw noted that the partners both described how outside pressures and demands on their time took them away from each other.

It may sound obvious, but sometimes couples need to be reminded that it takes energy to keep romantic relationships feeling romantic, Ms. Earnshaw said — though she acknowledged how challenging that was for anyone facing the myriad pressures of work, parenting and other stressors of modern life. (Dr. Rhoades also noted that Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray were in a privileged situation, financially and in terms of community support and resources, which can make splitting up easier.)

Still, couples should strive to “continually assess” what matters to them and do what they can to set limits and boundaries around the daily tasks that drain the energy from their relationship, Ms. Earnshaw said. She added that it might help to start by asking yourselves: What role is stress and busyness playing in your life together?

“When couples stay in the state of low energy toward the relationship,” Ms. Earnshaw said, “it becomes more and more difficult to get out of.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/05/well/family/marriage-separation-unhappiness-de-blasio.html, GO TO SAUBIO DIGITAL FOR MORE ANSWERS AND INFORMATION ON ANY TOPIC

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