Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two

Dear Neil:  I am in my late 70’s and have been married 45 years.  My wife and I have raised three children, have helped raised four grandchildren, went bankrupt, grew a successful business, and paid off our house.  We have endured births, stillbirths, financial setbacks, an affair, life-threatening illnesses and deaths of people important to us—and through all of that we have maintained a strong commitment to each other.

But I don’t feel we’re close.  We rarely talk about how we feel, about what pains us,  about regrets, about sadness, about how we feel regarding growing older, about our fears and about what we want from our remaining years.  We are still sexually intimate, but we’re not close.  Our lives together have long since become a collection of roles, chores, duties and routines.  But once upon a time we were wild about each other and we had the closeness I long for.

Is there anything we can still do to improve the connection and intimacy between us, or is it too late?

Not Feeling Fulfilled in New Zealand

Dear Not Feeling Fulfilled:  My first suggestion is to look closely at the relationship you once had with your wife, because that will point you in the direction of what you may need to do once again.

Did the two of you make each other feel special?   How did you do that?  Did you make her feel smarter, prettier, funnier, more sexually attractive?  Did you show genuine interest in her happiness?  Admire and value her special, unique traits?  Did you take pleasure in her triumphs?  Did you support her emotionally so she knew she didn’t have to face life’s challenges alone?  Did you take serious interest in her thoughts and feelings?  Were you a consistent advocate for her and her loyal friend?  Were you the top person in her fan club?  What did you say and do to communicate your admiration?  Pay attention to those questions, because that’s what I’d recommend you aim for now and into the future.

Ellen Wachtel, author of We Love Each Other But… (St. Martin’s Griffin) not only asks those questions, but offers the simple truth that we love and feel close to those people who make us feel good ourselves.  That means that not feeling appreciated by our partner can erode our feelings for each other, especially over time.  So give her those expressions of appreciation and respect yet again.  Many people fail to understand that it is essential to continue to make their partner feel admired, liked and valued day in and day out, year after year.  Especially look for what you saw in her that caused you to fall in love with her in the beginning—and whether any of those traits and qualities are still there now.  If so, rediscover what they are, and verbalize them to your wife.

In addition, communicate to your spouse what you think is going right in your relationship, what you like about the relationship and about her, and what you still enjoy about being with her.  Do the two of you sometimes still have fun together?  If so, express appreciation or gratitude for those times.

Notice and call attention to interactions and behaviors that you like and admire, advises Wachtel.  With practice, you will develop a keen eye for such observations.  Therefore, consciously try to observe and verbalize what you think is positive about your partner.  When you commit to doing this, you are likely to see a lot more than you thought was there.

I will continue this discussion in next week’s column.

Has your relationship turned cold and distant? Neil’s book Love, Sex, and Staying Warm can help you rekindle your passion.

Get My Book Today →
  • Did you find this article helpful? Share it with your friends!
  • Want more articles like this delivered to your inbox every week? Sign up here.
  • To make an appointment, call (303) 758-8777 or email [email protected].