This is a spot… and I have sat with many married and divorcing couples who have said very similar words to these, so thank you for the tender question and the opportunity to share what I have learned.
I believe that there is a fine line between compromise and self-sacrificing. Compromise is necessary in relationships, whereas self-sacrificing is anti-self-love and will, without a doubt, result in resentment. I need to put this on the table, because I am about to share some perspective that has the potential to sound like self-sacrificing, but really is about compromise.
There is a golden rule when it comes to relationships, and it is to never threaten the state of the relationship. When we threaten to end things, flippantly mention or even insinuate not being together one day, we are fracturing the foundation of the relationship. These comments may result in your wife feeling emotionally unsafe in the relationship, which can in turn appear as if she is putting up a wall, running away or just plain shutting down. Her thought process may be saying, “Why on earth would I share my heart with him when he’s just going to leave me?” Whether she says these words or not, this is undoubtedly under the covers.
I hear you say that you love her, and that you want to stay together. If this is your truth, then I would fight for it, and for her heart. This means knowing her love language and making a deposit every single day in the form of HER love language. The heart needs oxygen, just like an engine needs oil. If you never change the oil, the engine will seize… as will the heart.
When she says something that pokes you, bite your tongue. It’s not about you, even if she’s telling you to parent a certain way, or to be a certain way. We have a tendency to jump right to not feeling good enough and to being triggered and reactive. Try to simply hear her words. Repeat back to her what she says to you, so that you hear her words for what they are, not what you think they are. Then, do something with it… as in show her through action that you hear her. Words are empty and meaningless when actions don’t reflect the words. (See a thorough breakdown of this communication style here.)
When you get poked or annoyed, do your very best to take a deep breath and see the forest through the trees. The forest is your end game and the trees are what need to be dodged along the way. Put your goal front and centre, literally. A note on your bathroom mirror, or a daily reminder in your phone that reminds you what you’re fighting for. You will indeed need the reminder, regularly. Here’s the thing… it will take time to undo her story. In all honesty, this is her piece in the process and you have zero control over this. What you do have control over is how you show up. Your loving actions may not be received at first, so this may need to be an on-going, and more importantly, consistent effort. Slow and steady does indeed win the race.
In closing, I cannot help but feel that there is one more thing to consider when we are communicating … and it is the word YOU. “You” is often perceived defensively. When you are communicating with her, how often do you use the word “you”? Is there room to increase some awareness here and refrain from using the word you? I am curious to hear how this might shift something because when it comes to getting our message across we need all the help we can get, however little the effort may seem.