Is My Spouse the Problem in Our Marriage?
A Conversation With Dr. Joe Beam and CEO, Kimberly Holmes
(0:00) Dr. Joe Beam: At Marriage Helper, we are experts when it comes to relationships. That’s what we do. As a matter of fact, we’re really in the “love business,” helping people learn how to be in love, sometimes even how to find the right love when they’re single people, how to develop and deepen their love when they’re married to each other and, when necessary, how to rescue lost love.
So, that means we also work with people whose marriages are in trouble. (And you could imagine the kind of stories we hear, because the people that contact us are typically the ones who want to save the marriage.)
And we listen to those stories. The people on our team are really amazing about how they work with people. We also have Facebook groups, and we get to hear a lot of stories there as well.
And sometimes in those stories, and Kimberly can attest to this, we listen to a person talking about:
- what he or she has done
- what he or she is doing
- what he or she intends to do
and think..Wow, maybe, just maybe this is not all your spouse’s fault. I mean, maybe you are part of the problem. And sometimes, even, maybe you are the problem.
Now, don’t panic if you’ve tuned in because you’re thinking, “I’m looking for help and you guys are gonna start up by beating me up and saying I’m the problem?” No, that’s not the case at all. That’s not what I’m trying to say.
We’ll actually talk about a balance between what responsibilities you should take, and which ones should you not. And, the balance that can help you if you want to make your marriage good, or if it’s in trouble, what can you do.
But it can’t be just by completely blaming the other person, except sometimes it really is altogether the other person. Now, is rare but sometimes that’s the case.
How to Determine Which Situation Your Marriage is in
Kimberly Holmes: So, how do I know? I mean, the question I’d be asking right now is, “How do I know what my situation is? Am I the one where… Am I a part of the problem? Am I the entire problem? Is my spouse the entire problem?” That’s what I would be thinking.
Dr. Joe Beam: Let’s first talk about general principles, and the first one would be this. Occasionally, it is altogether is the other person.
I’ll give an extreme example, but this makes it come alive I hope. I know a woman who went through this- three weeks after her marriage her husband tried to kidnap two teenage girls. And, of course, she divorced the guy. We wouldn’t say that she had anything to do with that.
Another example: If you have a spouse that was an addict before you met them, they hid it, you wound up with each other, and then that addiction cames to light, we certainly wouldn’t say that you are a contributor to that addiction. It occurred “pre-you,” before you.
But in most situations, relationship problems occur because both people have contributed to it. And sometimes, it’s the person wanting to save the marriage who’s done the biggest amount of damage. So, let’s get into that.
Pre-Marriage vs. Post-Marriage Issues
Kimberly Holmes: Okay, let’s get into that. What I just heard you say, though, was, “I’ve been married. There wasn’t anything pre-marriage that I know of, or anything like that. Now we’re married, and this problem arose.” If my husband is out having an affair, or gambling and spending all of our money, or something else is happening, but it happened post-marriage, are you saying that I could have a part of him doing that?
Dr. Joe Beam: I say you could.
Kimberly Holmes: I could.
Dr. Joe Beam: But understand that even in a situation like that, suppose he’s gambling and you found that out, there probably was still something pre-marriage, even if you don’t know about it, to set up something like that because those kind of addictions don’t just typically appear out of nowhere.
But in most situations that we see (at Marriage Helper), each spouse has some part to play in it.
Most of the situations we see are more alike.
- “We wind up fighting all the time”
- “My husband or wife says I’m dominating or controlling.”
- “My spouse has gotten involved with someone else…” (Now, right there, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, you’re saying if my spouse had an affair somehow it’s my fault?”)
Dr. Joe Beam: What do you think?
Kimberly Holmes: What do I think?
Dr. Joe Beam: Yes, throwing it back to you.
Affairs Occur Because of a “Blend” of Reasons
Kimberly Holmes: Well, first of all, what we teach here is there’s this “blend” of things that happened, it’s not this black and white “here’s the steps that happened and exactly what happened for your marriage to get here.”
It’s this blend of, maybe pulling apart. Maybe you had kids, and life pulled you in separate directions, and one person ended up meeting someone at work and felt that emotional connection, and then disconnected, and it led to this. And it wasn’t your fault completely, but there was something that happened back here that wasn’t addressed when it should have been, that then led to something else happening.
Dr. Joe Beam: Which does not justify what your spouse did.
Kimberly Holmes: It never does.
(5:25) Dr. Joe Beam: But it could be that you played some role. Now, think about it this way, we typically talk about different kinds of affairs.
- The Short-Lived Affair: primarily sexual, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and doing the wrong thing. (If your wife or husband did that, it may not be that anything you did was a contributing factor.)
- Relationship Affairs (most affairs we deal with): occur because the person feels he or she is missing something. (I’m not saying this is your fault if your spouse had the relationship affair. I’m not saying it justifies what he or she did. What I am saying is that if your relationship had been good, and strong and solid, maybe, just maybe that other one could not have developed.)
So, I feel like already I’m beginning to make people feel guilty here, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. So, [Kimberly,] help me balance this out where it makes some sense.
Kimberly Holmes: I will help you balance it out, but I am going to maybe, make it worse before I do that.
Our Culture Focuses on Others’ Faults
In our culture there’s become this sense of, “It can’t be my fault. Things aren’t my fault. I won’t take personal responsibility for things.”
I want to believe that every single person watching this [YouTube Video] or reading this article is not that way, that we are people who can look at things and see our part in it, and are willing to say, “I’m gonna own that and I’m gonna fix what I can because of that.”
But from what we’ve seen here at Marriage Helper, people will comment on things that we post, saying:
- “Once a cheater, always a cheater” if it’s about an affair, for example.
- “I just needed to drop him or her and move on with my life. I had nothing to do with it.”
With these responses, you see that there’s a chronic issue. But after the relationship problems occur multiple times, a person tends to step back and say “maybe something I’m doing is leading to this problem…”
Dr. Joe Beam: Not justified.
Kimberly Holmes: Not ever justified.
Dr. Joe Beam: Not causing what the other person did-
Kimberly Holmes: They get to make those choices.
Dr. Joe Beam: …but it can become a contributing factor.
Kimberly Holmes: It can, yes.
How to Know if You Contributed to Your Marriage Problems
(7:47) Dr. Joe Beam: So, how would you know? What kind of things can you look at to see, “Have I contributed what might be going on in my marriage?” Now, we’re not trying to make you feel guilty. We are not trying to beat you up.
What Kimberly just said I agree with wholeheartedly- we live in a culture where people want to make sure nothing is their fault.
“It’s my mother’s fault.”
“It’s my dad’s fault.”
“It’s your fault.”
“It’s the Government’s fault.”
“It’s somebody’s fault.”
But if we look at this, let’s at least take responsibility for what we have done, not just to find what your spouse did that’s bad.
- It’s Not Your Fault. 2. Are You Being the “Real” You?
If you are a contributor to what might be happening in your marriage, the first thing I would say is this, it’s not your fault.
The next thing I would ask is, are you being the real you? What I mean is if you’re trying to be whatever it is your husband or wife wants you to be, and you’re trying to pretend to be that person. For example, if they want you to be bubbly all the time, and that’s not your nature, but you’re bubbly all time. Or, if they want you to be a social butterfly, you become that because it makes him or her happy.
Let me tell you that when you quit being who you really are, and pretend to be what the other person wants you to be, not just occasionally but always, then the other person, after a while, actually becomes very frustrated with you.
You say, “Why?” Because you, in essence, are trying to become the be all end all for that person, and no one human being can do that.
And when you try to do that, after a while, they begin to sense, it’s not real. They may think, “I don’t really know who you are,” or, “If you’re just gonna bend and blend to be whatever I want you to be, after a while, you become useless to me because you’re more of an imagination than a reality,” (people don’t want that).
And so, I’m not saying don’t try to yield to the other person on occasion. You do.
Kimberly Holmes: Right, that compromise.
Dr. Joe Beam: I’m not saying you don’t try to blend, but at least be the real you. Don’t become somebody you’re not. Because if you do, it actually can contribute to marriage problems.
Kimberly Holmes: [To Joe-] Are you talking about when a person’s spouse says, “No, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to do this instead. I don’t want you to be outgoing. I want to stay home with me..” and controlling what they do?
[To Joe-] Or, are you talking about when one of the spouses, let’s say the wife, feels like, “He’d be happier if I did this, so I’m gonna do this instead,” and then they end up (even though their husband never asked them to do certain things) changing who they are, and end up resenting their husband. Their husband ends up resenting them because there’s this fight that comes out, which is, “I changed because of you,” and the husband says, “But I never asked you to.” So, do you see both of those happening?
(10:45) Dr. Joe Beam: Yes. What I mean is, not only be the “real you,” be the “confident you.” Believe that who you are and what you are is attractive. Now, you might not be a physical 10 on the scale, very few people are, but you’re probably physically more attractive than you think. But be the confident you, believe in you.
An Example of Being a “Chameleon” in a Marriage
Don’t believe that you have to become this “chameleon,” that you’ll always have to try this, change this, or be whatever it is you think the other person wants you to be, because that “chameleon,” first of all, makes you miserable. Secondly, the other person begins to pull away from you.
I’ll give you this example. We had a woman in a workshop a few years ago who lost all respect for her husband because he became, basically, forgive the word, a wimp. You say, “What do you mean?” He was so much trying to do whatever it took to make her happy that he had no backbone at all. And one of the things he actually said to her, in my presence, was, “Just tell me what you want me to do. That’s what I’ll be.” And she said, “That’s the problem.”
So understand, we’re saying be genuine. Be real, but be confident, be the confident you.
Be the “Strong” You
Now, to the other part of what you were saying [Kimberly], I say be the strong you. You say, “What do you mean?” If the other person’s trying to control and dominate you, don’t let them. Because of the fact that occasionally anybody can compromise, I mean, that’s just part of life.
But, when you let the other person tell you…
- what to think
- how to act
- what to feel
- what to believe
…they will dominate you, and a couple things will happen.
One, you will lose your own self esteem. You won’t think that you have any value anymore.
Two, they lose respect for you. Even the strongest of personalities want you to be strong and stand up to them.
Now, I don’t mean to fight all the time. I’m not saying that. But nobody wants to feel that, “I’m the ruler, you’re the servant.” Now, they may think they do and may try to do that, but if you live and act like that, eventually, they have no use for you. It’s as if you’re clay they can bend and mold into whatever they want. So, be the real you. Be the confident you. Believe in yourself. Be the strong you. Don’t let the other person dominate.
Now, if you’re saying, “Wait a minute, are you saying if I’ve let myself be dominated, that I’ve actually contributed to our marriage problems?” And my answer is, yes. Now, listen to me. Listen to me. Don’t panic.
What I mean is, people tend to do whatever it is you let them do. And if that spouse, is dominating, controlling you and doing those kinds of things, the very fact that you allow it happen (and repetitively allow it to happen) means that yes, you are a contributor to what’s going on. You really are.
Somewhere along the line you need to stand up and say, “Look, I don’t want to be mean or vicious myself. I don’t want to control or dominate you, but I will be treated as an equal. I will not be walked on. I will not be your doormat.”
Some Issues With Obsessively Seeking Affirmation
(13:59) Kimberly Holmes: Here’s another type of person I see in a marriage. (I see this a lot.)
For example, let’s say there’s a person trying to save his/her marriage, whatever that marriage situation has been, but they obsess about everything. I mean, they have to have affirmation to know that what they’re doing is right. They’re constantly reaching out. Typically, when we see a person like this at Marriage Helper, one of the things we say (or wonder) is, “Is this how they acted in their marriage? Constantly wanting affirmation from their spouse, constantly…”
…where it’s just every single thing. Or if there’s a problem in their marriage, then they won’t let it go until they feel like it’s been fixed.
Dr. Joe Beam: People who do that often act very possessively. They’ll often be very jealous. And sometimes, they can do what’s called a push-pull behavior.
Here’s an example of someone using a push-pull behavior:
“I need your affirmations so much. I need to know that you love me, you wanna be with me, you’re gonna be here no matter what, that sometimes I’ll even actually push you away. Not hoping you go away, but I’m hoping that you’ll break through that to prove to me that you’ll be here no matter what.”
These people are preoccupied. The preoccupation is, “I’m afraid you’re gonna leave me. You’re not gonna be there for me. And therefore, I’m just gonna keep asking for more and more information.” Until.. the other person can’t play that game anymore. They want to be left alone.
Issues With Manipulation in Marriage
Sometimes people are not so much “control and dominate” about the other person as they allow themselves to be manipulated by the other person. What I mean by that is when a spouse goes off and has an affair, comes back, and says sorry- Now, we’re all for putting those marriages back together. We help people do that all the time- But when a spouse CONTINUES to go off and gamble all your money away, comes back and says, “I’m sorry,” and charms you and you go right back…
…and this happens repetitively, again, and again, and again, and again and again. The problem now is- they’re using you, doing whatever it is that they want to do. If you keep accepting a person back without consequence or even some kind of criteria, then the fact that they keep going and doing whatever it may be, is partially your responsibility.
Now, you’re not justifying what they do, don’t misunderstand. But the fact that you tolerate it, allow it, means they’ll do it again, and again, and again, and again, and again. And so, until such a time as you stand up on your hind two feet and say, “No. No, I’m not going to let this happen again, and again, and again.” I’m all for putting the relationship back together, but certain boundaries and consequences need to be put in place.
Again, people do what you let them do. Understand that you’re the only person in the position to stop this from happening. And in that sense, we’d say, yes, you are a contributor to what’s going on. You’re contributing because you’re allowing this behavior to occur continuously.
Kimberly Holmes: That’s so hard to do, because so many people are taught as they grow up that, “I don’t wanna address conflict. I don’t want people to be mad at me. I don’t want there to be fights. I would rather just complain about it over here, and then just continue to let it happen over here.” I mean, you can see that with your kids, with friends…
…You could have a friend who you’re annoyed with, because of something they’re doing, but you don’t want to talk to them about it because you might hurt their feelings.
And how much more is that amplified, a lot of times, in marriage, because “I don’t wanna push my wife away. I don’t wanna push my spouse away.” And then, they end up not doing anything because they don’t know how to.
And then, if they do approach their spouse, they’re approaching them in a highly emotional state- i.e. once they’ve “had it up to here…” they might blow up in conversation. As a result, we see that they needed to put boundaries in place.
So, [to Dr. Joe Beam] how do people navigate that line?
(18:41) Dr. Joe Beam: Well, understand there’s ample research about couples that never argue having a much higher likelihood of divorce. It’s because, if you never argue, then the other person doesn’t know how you feel. They continue to do behaviors that really just tick you off. And when you do “get it up to here,” it’s glorious to behold.
Again, nothing justifies any bad thing that your husband or wife does. We’re not saying that. But we’re saying, if you want to have a better chance at having a good relationship, be confident, strong, believe in you, and tell the other person what you think or what you feel. But, when you tell them how you feel, remember to be the good you. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t always say negative, mean things to the other. I’ve watched this on so many occasions.
An Example of What Not to Do
One time, I dealt with a couple where for 20 minutes the wife bashed, and bashed, and bashed her husband. Finally, she wound down and I looked at him and said, “What would you have to say?” He talked for about 30 seconds, said one minor negative thing about her, and she exploded. “How dare you talk about me this way.”
Her whole thing was, “I’m attacking this guy because …” in her mind he’s scum. She’s perfect, therefore she accepted no responsibility for any of her actions whatsoever.
So, be the good you. Accept responsibilities for behaviors. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t continue to say all these negative things to the other person and then wonder, when they leave, “Why did he leave me? What doesn’t he or she wanna be around me?”
Another Example of What Not to Do
(20:29) In our intensive three day workshops, three out of four couples that come to the workshop actually stay married, even though, for about 90% of the couples that come, one spouse doesn’t want to save the marriage. So, we say it’s a pretty remarkable weekend. It’s not a guarantee. It’s an intense weekend.
We go through a lot of things, and one of the things we say is: You can’t give marriage advice to other people in the workshop during the breaks. Don’t be telling him or her.
And yet, in one workshop there was one woman who just so mean. That’s the only word I can use. She was mean to her husband. She was mean to everybody else, and I finally realized that during breaks, in violation of our rules, people were going up to him and saying, “Don’t go home with her.” Now, we don’t want that to happen in our workshops, you understand, so I had to stop it. But I was thinking, “I don’t blame them for saying that.”
She’s just mean. And the fact that he wants away from her is not his fault. Actually, she was the one driving him away, then she drug him to the workshop to make us fix him. Well, we don’t fix people. We teach relationships. We teach how to put relationships back together.
So in all of these, be confident, be good.
Be the kind of person people want to be around, including your husband or wife.
Because…if you’re the kind of person people don’t want to be around, and you will not change your behavior…there’s nothing we can do to help you, or anybody else for that matter.
Because nobody wants to be around people who are mean, who are jerks, who are always putting other people down, who are sarcastic. I even saw one couple fall apart because he wouldn’t quit making fun of her, and she said, “This is killing me, stop,” and he wouldn’t do it. He said, “It’s funny.” But you understand, he was being a jerk. And in that sense, yes, he’s definitely contributing to his wife wanting to be away from him.
We Stand With Those Struggling With Mental Health
(22:31) Kimberly Holmes: That’s such a huge one, the positivity factor of a person. And I know that there are definitely people who struggle with depression, who struggle with anxiety. If you’re struggling with that, then it is not your fault at all, whatever is going on in your marriage because of it.
In fact, if you have a spouse who is struggling with depression and anxiety, then right now your “call” is to be there for them, to not make them feel bad or put them down for what they are going through, but to be a support to them. The last thing a person who is struggling with that wants to hear is, “Why can’t you just be happy? Why can’t you just move on from that.” That’s not the way to handle that.
However, if mental health struggles are not something that someone is going through and yet they are still always negative, always finding something to complain about, or always finding the worst in a situation, that negativity will trickle into the marriage.
Then, the husband or the wife who is not negative won’t want to be around the negative one. I mean, who wants to come home to that?
Dr. Joe Beam: They want to be any place else they can possibly be.
Kimberly Holmes: Exactly, exactly.
Dr. Joe Beam: And by the way, if you are struggling with depression, or anxiety or other things, if you really want to make your marriage good, go get the help you need for that first. Find a really good therapist, or a counselor.
Don’t anticipate that your spouse needs to be there for you even if you don’t do what you need to do to take care of your own mental or physical health. You owe that to them as well- to take care of yourself.
Hear Us Out- We Want to Help You Understand
If we have offended you, I’m so sorry.
We certainly don’t intend to.
But you must understand that there’s two sides, usually. Well, as I said earlier, sometimes it’s the other person and you really can’t do anything about it. But if you’re making some kind of contribution to marriage problems, the answer is: you need to become the best you- you can be. Be confident, strong, stand up for yourself, get the help you need for your depression or your physical problems.
All the things we talk about means that you have certain responsibilities, first of all, to yourself to what you need to do to take care of you. But you also have a responsibility to your spouse.
One Final Thing, Your Marriage Needs Sexual Intimacy
(25:38) Dr. Joe Beam: In a marriage, one of the responsibilities we have for each other is to fulfill each other sexually. I have spoken with people in situations where one spouse just doesn’t want to do that, for whatever reason.
In America, for example, we know that statistically a pretty large percentage of married couples (one out of five), between the ages of 18 and 59, have sex with each other 10 times a year or less. Zero to 10 are called no-sex marriages. Another 15% have sex with each other 11 to 24 times a year, called low-sex marriages.
Now, I understand that if you’re having relationship problems you probably don’t want to get into bed with your spouse, and there can be some physical problems you need to deal with because they’re preventing that as well.
One woman, said to me, “I’m really mad. I caught him using pornography. And so, I started asking him questions.”
I understand. I get it. Turns out she would make love to husband five to six times a year. Now, I’m not justifying his using pornography. You understand? I am not. I am not justifying that.
But I said to her, “Don’t you understand that he has certain sexual needs and fulfillment that he wants to have, and it’s not being fulfilled in five or six times a year. So, what he’s doing is he’s sublimating that drive into the pornography. He’s finding at least some sexual release there.
I’m not saying it’s a good idea, not saying he should be doing it, not justifying the fact that he’s doing it. What I’m trying to tell you is, that if you are refusing to be sexually active with your husband (or wife), do you understand that you become a contributing factor to the fact that he’s (or she’s) doing that?
I’m saying, if there’s a sexual need or drive within your husband or your wife and you’re refusing to be sexual with him or her, and then they wind up in that kind of a situation, or even wind up having that one night stand. (God forbid, I hope they don’t.) I’m still not justifying their behavior, not at all. But I’m saying, do you understand that by not being involved with your spouse that way, you’re actually contributing to that possibility occurring.
Sexual Fulfillment & Temptation: Examples in the Bible
For those who read the Bible- There’s actually a passage in the bible, First Corinthians chapter seven, that talks about fulfilling each other sexually, so that you will not be tempted because of your lack of self control. So even for those who are religious, if you’re not fulfilling each other sexually, there is more of a temptation where a person may not have self control.
Kimberly Holmes: What I hear you saying is that, first of all, these things can be fixed but we have to be willing to come to reality of what the real problem is. And if we’re unwilling to go back as far as to figure out “What are the things I have done, possibly, that have contributed to this? Now, what can I do, what is my responsibility in this to help fix it?” I mean, that’s really what it’s boiling down to.
And all of these things can be fixed, they have the ability to, in every situation we’ve talked about.
Dr. Joe Beam: Yes, every one.
Kimberly Holmes: Every single one of them.
Now That You’ve Read This Article- Stay Calm.
(30:08) Another thing people would do at a time like this is, they get this information and they start freaking out about it. And then they say, “Okay, now I have to implement all of this and I have to change…”
…And then, next week they’ll hear something completely different and they’ll say, “Oh, that’s the next thing I need to do,” and then they’ll implement all that. And so, it’s this constant cycle of just hearing, freaking out, and implementing because you’re grasping at whatever you can.
Kimberly Holmes: What we recommend is, first of all, be calm.
Dr. Joe Beam: Yeah, calm down.
Kimberly Holmes: Be the calm you. Take it one day at a time. None of this is going to change overnight, or in the next week, or probably even in the next month. Although, you’ll probably start seeing some progress, at least in yourself, in the next month, but stick with something long enough that you will start seeing results.
Don’t keep grasping at every string and changing everything you’re doing, because your spouse will go crazy with everything you’re changing and the new ideas that you’re having. You’re going to go crazy if you are obsessing about every single thing you can possibly do.
We Want to Help You
(31:17) Dr. Joe Beam: We want to help.
Kimberly Holmes: We do.
Dr. Joe Beam: We offer several things. First of all, go to our website: marriagehelper.com. There are articles, podcasts, videos, and all kinds of things there that are free. When you begin to see what we offer, you may want to work with some of our coaches. You can call us at our toll-free number, 866-903-0990.
Call us, and you can find out about our coaching. Or if you’re ready, think you even might be close, or just want to know more about our intense three day workshop for marriages, you can call us.