This is my first marriage and my wife’s second. She was left during her first marriage and things are now going pretty well with us. But I feel that, after four years, I still don’t know her that well. We spend time together, but not nearly as much as I’d like. She’s very independent and says all that mushy stuff and deep sharing is for teenagers, not mature adults. I understand her point and agree with it to some extent. But it seems that when I tell her something deep about myself — a childhood memory, a fear about our children — she’s a great listener but rarely shares the same. Otherwise she’s a fantastic person. So I don’t know if it’s me and that I should just understand, that this is the way it should be.
Answer: It’s probable that your wife is shying away from this type of sharing because it will make her extremely vulnerable to you. You will know her better than anyone else. She can hide somewhat from your children or from her parents. But you, as her spouse, will know every detail of her weaknesses and strengths. You will know what she really thinks about her parents, boss and friends. You will know the truth about who she is deep down, even when she’s been able to fool the rest of the world.
Being close to your spouse means being an open book. Perhaps she’s not as comfortable with herself as she thinks. Perhaps she’s hiding from herself emotionally and is therefore avoiding the closeness of a loving bond, as it will force her to deal with her own issues. Perhaps she’s afraid to become so close to you. Closeness will make both of you depend on each other. Maybe she can’t handle that, or is afraid she’ll disappoint you. Maybe she feels deep down that she’s just not good enough to deserve a wonderful marriage.
When we love deeply, we lose control, and we’re apt to get hurt and suffer deep emotional pain. Her first marriage may have demoralized her so much that she might still be dealing with guilt and self-blame, even though it may be far from the truth. She is simply afraid of being vulnerable, thus leading to being burned again. Therefore, she’s chosen to diminish her emotional risk.
I’m not suggesting that we consciously use these fears to sabotage our marriages. I don’t believe you get up in the morning and say, “I’ll put time and effort and deeper sharing into every other relationship except my marriage, because that closeness makes me uncomfortable.” I am merely pointing out that the potential push-pull struggle of being so close to your spouse, so much so that all your feelings are bared, can be frightening.
People are surprised to learn that they may be shying away from the very thing they say they desire. But we are complicated beings. We say we want to eat more healthfully and then we sneak a candy bar. We say we want to work harder but we find ourselves leaving the office early. We say we want a fabulous marriage, but we find clever ways of avoiding the necessary emotional intimacy. Your wife has found herself an excuse. In order for her to change, she’ll first have to recognize it as such. You can’t force her to be more open, but you can reassure her of your love and how you’d never use what she tells you against her (i.e. in a fight) and that you’re not going to “leave” her.
She still knows there are no guarantees, but love is always a gamble. All you can do is diminish her emotional risk by helping her know how much you love her and desire to know her deeply. Then you need to be patient. Most important, make sure that when she shares a little more, you simply receive it with kindness and understanding. That will prove to her that she can trust you and, over time, you’ll find her sharing more and being just a bit more like a teenager — in a good way, of course.
RABBI NEUMAN is a Florida licensed psychotherapist and author of two books, Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way (Random House) and Emotional Infidelity, How to Affair-proof Your Marriage and Other Secrets to a Great Relationship (Crown). He and his work have been featured many times on The Oprah Show, Today, The View and in People, Time and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and five children in Miami Beach, Florida. For more information on his work, visit www.mgaryneuman.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.