Dr Cecilia d'Felice's Step-by-Step Guide to Modern Life

How to be Happy: 'My husband is getting me down'

"I have been married for 25 years. My husband has never been a caring or nurturing person. He gets involved in his interests and mostly we just co-exist and raise our children. I am depressed and have no interest in anything. I used to be busy and had dreams and plans. I now realize that maybe my marriage is my problem. My husband is faithful, honest and a good provider. He is also critical, rude and has little empathy with others. After living with him for so long, am I just beat down? We never discuss the future, as he gets so defensive and we fight. What is your advice?" Sue

Step 1: Challenge despair

The overwhelming disappointment that suffuses your feelings about your marriage suggests that you have lost hope that your relationship could ever change. Perhaps this is why you despair. You no longer discuss your future, as if you have no voice. It feels as if you have backed into a place of passivity, slowly becoming invisible, emotionally fading away, unable even to feel angry. No wonder you have lost interest in your life, it's as if you have lost interest in yourself. Challenge your despair by acknowledging your feelings and rediscovering your voice.

Step 2: Accept that our partners can't complete us

We often look to our partners to fill in our "gaps", to complete the puzzle that is us, to make us happy. This puts enormous pressure on them. How can they complete us, when they have their own puzzle to finish? Your husband provides for you, he is also honest and faithful after 25 years, which is no mean feat. Perhaps the overwhelming sense of neglect that you feel from him reflects how much you neglect yourself. In accepting that our partners cannot complete us we move closer to accepting that we are responsible for our own happiness.

Step 3: Relationships must change or stagnate

Our relationships can't stay the same: unavoidably we and our lives change. When we cannot accept these changes or cling to an idealised myth about how things are "supposed" to be, we and our relationships stagnate. Once we shed the need for someone else to take responsibility for our life, we begin to explore our unique potential for growth. We can respond to the inevitability of change by rethinking how we relate to ourselves and others.

Step 4: Be the change you want to see

In the past you were excited and engaged in your life. So what has changed? You feel "beat down" by your husband and this might well be so. A helpful question might be, however, how are you treating yourself? If we want our relationships to change, paraphrasing Gandhi, we need to be the change we want to see. Can you reconnect emotionally by treating yourself with empathy and care, showing yourself love, compassion and respect?

Step 5: Redefine and value yourself

Can you be curious about and invest in your personal future, knowing that your family are engaged in their own lives? Helpful questions to ask are: "What am I interested in? What do I care about? What excites and motivates me?" By actively choosing to pursue things that give your own life meaning, you will begin to fill a reservoir of well-being which will help you to become more expansive, less depleted. This in turn will give you the resources to tolerate your husband pursuing his life, rather than feeling envious and abandoned, while creating a new energy between you that could, in time, positively influence the way you feel about each other and your future together. You have given so much to your husband and family, it is now time to give to yourself. s

If you have a problem you would like me to address (anonymously), please email details to c.dfelice@independent.co.uk - unfortunately, I will not be able to respond personally to all of them, but will use as many as possible in the column

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