Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson
QUESTION: You have described the “trapped” feeling that causes some people to withdraw from their spouses. I think that applies to my wife, who has been strangely distant from me in recent years. Can you tell me more about what such a person might be thinking?
DR. DOBSON: The feeling of entrapment begins with disrespect for a partner. For example, a man may think these kinds of thoughts about his wife: Look at Joan. She used to be rather pretty. Now with those fifteen extra pounds she doesn’t even attract me anymore. Her lack of discipline bothers me in other areas, too — the house is always in a mess and she seems totally disorganized. I made an enormous mistake back there in my youth when I decided to marry her. Now I have to spend the rest of my life — can you believe it? — all the years I have left — tied up with someone I’m disinterested in. Oh, know Joanie is a good woman, and wouldn’t hurt her for anything, but man! Is this what they call living?
Or Joanie may be doing some thinking of her own: Michael, Michael, how different you are than I first thought you to be. You seemed so exciting and energetic in those early days. How did you get to be such a bore? You work far too much and are so tired when you come home. I can’t even get you to talk to me, much less sweep me into ecstasy.
Look at him, sleeping on the couch with his mouth hanging open. I wish his hair wasn’t falling out. Am I really going to invest my entire lifetime in this aging man? Our friends don’t respect him anymore, and he hasn’t received a promotion at the plant for more than five years. He’s going nowhere, and he’s taking me with him!
If Joanie and Michael are both thinking these entrapment thoughts, it is obvious that their future together is in serious jeopardy. But the typical situation is unilateral, as in your marriage. One partner (of either gender) begins to chafe at the bit without revealing to the other how his or her attitude has changed. A reasonably compassionate person simply does not disclose these disturbing rumblings to someone who loves him or her. Instead, a person’s behavior begins to evolve in inexplicable ways.
He may increase the frequency of his evening business meetings — anything to be away from home more often. He may become irritable or “deep in thought” or otherwise noncommunicative. He may retreat into televised sports or fishing trips or poker with the boys. He may provoke continuous fights over insignificant issues. And of course, he may move out or find someone younger to play with. A woman who feels trapped will reveal her disenchantment in similar indirect ways.
To summarize, the trapped feeling is a consequence of two factors: Disrespect for the spouse and the wish for an excuse to get away.