You would have thought that after finding one’s life-partner and soulmate, one would not lack motivation to give as much time as possible to being with him or her. That is not necessarily how things turn out. It is amazing how quickly life goes back to normal for so many of us. Our initial excitement over getting married quickly wanes as real life takes over. Usually, it is just one partner that has this back-to-real-life reaction, and the other partner is likely to struggle with this. The other partner starts to feel “taken for granted” and often feels neglected and ignored. It is not hard to see how this could lead to marital strife.
What is often misunderstood in these situations is that in the vast majority of cases the “guilty party” is still very committed to the marriage and remains very much in love with his or her marriage partner. We are not typically talking about a scenario where the person doing the ignoring has lost interest in his or her spouse. The conditions that give rise to this issue are the existence of other distractions or demands, be they the arrival of babies, pressing work demands, or social commitments. When they are not busy doing something, they are very happy to participate intently in the relationship; it is just that they seem always to be busy doing something. This person would give his attention fully were it not occupied with some other activity, but so often there is something else that requires attention.
The party who feels ignored may at some point raise concern about the situation. It may even be made rather clear that a fair degree of discontent is brewing. This could even have risen to the point in which a real argument ensued, along with heated and critical words. In most instances, it is not that the “busy person” is unaware that his or her spouse is unhappy and has significant complaints. It is just that it appears to that person that the circumstance forced the issue, and that there is not a lot that can be done. In fact, the person withholding their attention feels indignant at the criticism, believing that he or she is doing their absolute best and faithfully devotes every spare moment to the marriage – whenever time is available. Just that having time available is not something that happens too often.
Let us spend a moment trying to understand why this is happening before we discuss what to do about it. Imagine we are discussing a man (it could just as well be the other way round) who has started a new job and is also studying part-time to get his accountancy certification. At face value, he has a strong case. Beginning a new job is always demanding. There is pressure to get to know one’s new teammates, which may involve going for drinks socially after work. There is also a great deal to learn about the company, so he is most likely having to read up more than the other workers. He is also studying part-time, which requires focused concentration for a decent chunk of time. Study also includes examinations, which are stressful and typically involves intensive cramming. If you put yourself in his shoes, it is not hard to empathize with his predicament. It can feel really unfair to question his behavior when he is juggling such a demanding life. He is really happy to be married and truly loves his wife, but there are only so many hours in the day. Give the man a break!
Here is the problem: this guy has a major blind spot. If he continues to remain oblivious to what he is doing, he is storing up major trouble for himself. It is not what he sees that is the issue. He correctly notes all his work and study demands; he sees them clearly. But he is blind to something that he cannot ignore: relationships are fragile and cannot be undermined without a heavy price. He does not get that whatever the other demands – it really makes no difference how heavy and how onerous – cannot justify the extent to which he is ignoring his wife. On no planet will this work out well for him. In the end, this is capable of eating up much more of his time with marriage problems – if only he could see. He does not comprehend that a marriage cannot function with this level of neglect. His reasons could win him an international debating competition, but it will not save him his marriage. His marriage does not care about his compelling explanation. His wife cannot sustain that level of inattentiveness without great emotional harm – and that is simply unviable.
What we have his is the old conflict between rationality and emotions. He is trying to win an intellectual argument, while she is enduring psychological stress. He is insisting he is right, while his marriage is dying. She is trying to get him to realize that she is in pain, while he is focused on practical necessity. While he is busy justifying why he “must” stay late at work, her heart is breaking. These are incommensurable elements; they are different languages. She “hears” his predicament and is being reasonable, but the arrangement is not working. If you are too busy to eat, no amount of justifying will stop your stomach rumbling. However busy someone is, they will somehow find time to deal with their ruptured appendix! This situation has evolved because he does not seem to realize that he has a ruptured-appendix-level issue on his hands (or will have at some point if things do not change).
If anything written here can help him to shift his mindset and change his attitude, that would be great. But that may not be sufficient. The chances are that the wife has tried multiple times to convey her displeasure – so clearly that is not working. She probably has had numerous emotional outbursts, and those have not got through to him either. Someone with the right skills needs to get through to him. This could be a rabbi, community elder, family member, or a professional (such as a therapist or life coach). It is way too trite to say that he should manage his time better; but I have no evidence he is wasting even a single minute. It is too obvious to say that he needs to look at cutting back on other demands to make time for his marriage. Of course, this is likely to be true, but it is self-evident. The reason for this problem is not because he does not understand the meaning of restructuring a workload. The reason we are in this situation is because he has a severe mental blockage. He does not comprehend what he is doing to his marriage and the risks he is taking in doing so, and seems resisting to hearing the message. The solution is to bring in someone capable of changing his perception. Haranguing is not going to be effective. He needs someone to help open his eyes.