Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Last week we printed a letter from a father who described the pain of losing his only child and of the loneliness he feels in a marriage that’s in shambles and is being torn apart more everyday. 

This week, we share our answer.

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Dear Anonymous,

Losing a child is a great tragedy and definitely affects one’s marriage. However, even in a situation such as your own, with no affection or caring in over 15 years, we do believe that therapy can help – even if you have to go alone. As long as you and your wife are planning to stay together – no matter the reasons – there are things you can do to make things better.

For example, countermoves is an important technique in which you alter the way you normally respond to her. When she complains about something, instead of immediately defending yourself, pause and reflect on the possibility that you caused her pain. And if you did, take responsibility and apologize. You will be surprised at the difference it could make for you and for her.

Do you date your wife? Do you ever surprise her and take her somewhere special and romantic? In order to keep a marriage alive, dating has to take place on a regular basis. We have to attempt to keep the spark alive.

Can you try to be more positive? Complimenting her is a positive step that might make her feel more validated and cared for. Perhaps your wife is angry that you only had one child. Maybe she wanted more children and you were resistant. If you allow her the space to express her anger in a calm manner, and truly listen to her, this may help to break down the walls that now exist.

It sounds like your marriage was not strong before you had your child, but research demonstrates that trauma survivors often report a decrease in relationship satisfaction as well as impaired expression of emotion, intimacy, communication, and adjustment. From what you described in your letter, your son’s death has had a great negative effect on your marriage. Thus, even if your wife doesn’t want to go for marital therapy, perhaps she’d agree to go for therapy to address the traumas you both endured, which may then help you work on the issues in your relationship.

You wrote, “I would love to be allowed to love her. I long to hold her in my arms and say I am sorry for the many times I hurt her. I would beg forgiveness and welcome forgiveness from her.” Have you ever said this to your wife? Would she hear them even if you said them? It is so important for you to be able to express these feelings and for her to hear them. You have both been through so much and it will take a lot of work for you to rebuild your relationship, but it is possible.

Respect and warmth can do wonders to build a relationship. Often we get caught in a trap where both spouses just hurt each other and are cold to one another. This trap can be broken by initiating positive communication. Playing games, taking walks and doing activities that you both enjoy can also help to open up your relationship.

What is your wife’s love language? I have mentioned Gary Chapman’s book and the five love languages we all need. Yet, each person has one language that is dominant. The five are:

Words of Affirmation: Using words to help build the other person’s self esteem.

Gifts: Expensive or simple. Gifts make some people feel thought about and cared for.

Acts of Service: Cooking, household chores, working, making money. And action that shows thought and consideration.

Quality Time: Giving your spouse your complete attention; turning off cell phones and ignoring other distractions.

Physical Touch: Affection or other touch that brings closeness.

If you are not sure which language speaks best to her, ask her. Or take a quiz. The difference it will make in your marriage can’t be measured.

Please try to find a way to reach your wife so she knows how much she means to you. She may be craving the love as much as you are. I wish you much luck in trying to rebuild your relationship.

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.
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