Humans want to be loved and give love. It’s part of our DNA. Marriage is formalizing this love and commitment between two individuals indefinitely. It’s the theme of every fairy tale, every romance novel, and every rom-com. In many ways, society indoctrinates us all to be on a lifelong quest to “find the one” to then get married to (hopefully) live happily ever after. Of course, we know life and love are more complicated.
Being married with kids can amplify the love between a couple and also cause stress on the marriage. There are many reasons why love can evolve in a marriage when children are involved. For example, disagreements may arise if each parent has a different parenting style. Financial insecurities can also strain a marriage. Regardless of the ups and downs in any relationship, participating in couples counseling can be a preventative method to keep a marriage healthy and strong.
However, sometimes, a marriage can reach a point when one partner feels lonely, dissatisfied, and resentful but does not want to consider divorce. These feelings are not abnormal and, in fact, happen often even though it is taboo to discuss openly. For this reason, we reached out to Tracy K. Ross, a licensed clinical social worker, for her guidance on how to navigate these feelings in a marriage. Tracy supports couples in all phases of their relationships including pre-marriage and post-divorce.
Tracy K. Ross is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Organizational Psychologist, Certified Discernment Counselor, and Collaborative Divorce Coach
Below are tips on how to survive in a marriage when you do not like your spouse but feel divorce is not an option. Spoiler alert: Hope to heal the marriage is still possible!
What can cause married couples to not like each other anymore? Is this feeling common?
Tracy wanted to emphasize normalizing the feelings of contempt that may arise at different stages in a marriage. “Being married means you share the best and worst of each other, and it’s impossible to fully avoid ‘not liking each other’ or getting on each other’s nerves,” she said. She discussed some common causes that may contribute to these negative feelings.
- Incompatible/different habits
- Domestic responsibilities
- Relationship to time (e.g. who is always late vs. who is always on time)
- One partner takes more initiative than the other
- Lack of time together as a couple
- Lack of intimacy
- Lack of fun in the relationship
- Feeling dissatisfaction with oneself (which can be projected onto the spouse)
Out of all of these potential causes, Tracy stressed that having a lack of time to focus on each other can be the underlying cause for feeling disconnected in a marriage. Instead of spending quality time, the relationship has morphed into “to-do” lists rather than true intimacy and connection. Another common cause that can breed negative feelings in a marriage is when couples avoid “difficult or conflict-laden conversations” that ultimately build resentment, which “erodes the relationship.” Tracy reminded us that these “unaddressed issues and feelings don’t go away—they find an expression and outlet in other ways,” such as feeling like you don’t like your spouse anymore.
How can a marriage survive when a partner (or both partners) do not like each other?
According to Tracy, a marriage can survive, but it takes intentionality on both parties to rekindle what has been lost. Remember when you first met and how much time you invested in connecting with each other? Tracy said during this stage of the relationship, “empathy is high and the desire to be your best self” overrides expectations on the relationship. But over time, life happens and negative feelings may arise when the connection becomes strained. “Not liking each other is often a symptom of relationship neglect,” Tracy said.
Feelings of “not liking your spouse” may look like:
- Poor communication
- Lack of fun and intimacy
- Stress misdirected at partner
What has happened is the “bad” or challenging aspects of a marriage took center stage and the “good” qualities of your relationship are now in the background. According to Tracy, “the antidote is to create good will and [meaningful] connection” among both partners. These positive feelings can inspire the relationship to heal and grow. Tracy noted that this investment in the marriage is something both partners must constantly work on to maintain “good will and empathy” toward each other. Additionally, making a conscious attempt to no longer avoid difficult conversations can bridge the relationship divide.
Tracy said couples should address the lack of connection. “The first step is to focus on curiosity and listening. Stop making assumptions about what your partner is thinking and feeling or what their motivation may be,” Tracy suggested. This open-minded perspective can open hearts and minds to bring closeness back into the marriage and for “feelings of dislike [to] begin to dissipate.”
How can you protect your children when you feel disconnected in your marriage?
Kids are impressionable tiny humans who may be unintentionally caught in the crossfire when a couple is not on good terms. Tracy feels it is very important to shield kids from any fighting and adult issues. Tracy advised couples “to avoid turning to your children to meet your emotional needs. This can come in the form of using them as confidants, especially when you aren’t turning to your partner.”
It’s best to not talk about your spouse in any negative or disparaging way to your children, including avoiding subtle jabs at your partner. Instead, Tracy wants parents to maintain healthy boundaries with their kids. She shared that “your children need you to be parents, not friends” to them. If you have involved your children in a disagreement with your partner, Tracy reminded us that it’s never too late to repair the relationship with your children.
What are red flags that married couples should be aware of when divorce should be the only solution?
Tracy would like couples to know there is a difference between abuse in a marriage and a lack of connection. The following are some red flags which may lead you to consider divorce as a viable option:
- Lack of safety
There are two people in a marriage and, therefore, there are two people who need to take responsibility for their contributions in the disconnection of the relationship. If one partner or both partners fail to take any responsibility for their actions and, instead, focuses on blaming the spouse, this may also be another reason to consider divorce.
Is it possible to fall back in love once feelings of dislike and resentment exist? How can married couples rekindle the intimacy and closeness lost, especially if children are involved?
It is absolutely possible to rekindle the connection that is dormant. But intentional work by both parties is required to reignite the relationship.
First, Tracy advised couples to find and express empathy and appreciation for each other “even in small or seemingly insignificant ways.” This requires investment by both partners and a willingness to be vulnerable and explore the causes of the dissatisfaction in a marriage.
Prioritizing the relationship is key to it not only surviving but also thriving. Also, letting go of resentment and other negative feelings can free the couple to find each other once again. If both individuals in the marriage are motivated (or even semi-motivated) to heal their bond, a marriage therapist can help facilitate the steps needed to mend the connection.
It may seem daunting at first, but Tracy said “the way back is surprisingly accessible” if the couple is “committed, motivated, and willing to be vulnerable” in the name of love and respect for the marriage and each other.