A Reader Writes…
I have been married for 17 years and have 2 young children. My husband and I had a wonderful marriage which I put down to the fact we are so different – I am positive, outgoing and fun – he is sensitive, kind and artistic – we always seemed to bring out the best in each other.
Life became difficult after I went back to work 3 years ago after having had our second child. Both our professional jobs are demanding and we had to cope with a very sickly child (constantly up in the night), problems with ageing parents and a large home to upkeep. My husband is rarely around to help with the children/home and I became more and more resentful and stressed at the lack of support when I was still trying to juggle a professional career.
We talked less, I criticised more, we rarely had sex and my husband brought down the shutters to the extent that by last November he couldn’t even comfort me when I was crying after a bereavement. It was at that point he said he felt no connection with me any more, didn’t want to be intimate with me and couldn’t see us with a future together.
I was initially livid with him not least as I had given up my much loved job a few months before in an attempt to make home life easier for us all. His reasons for shutting down all seemed quite trivial e.g. getting a dog when he wasn’t too keen, too much tidying up but what it boiled down to was the serious issue that I didn’t respect him as I should have done and completely took our marriage for granted – I stupidly thought that we could pick up the romance once life had got a little easier with the children etc.
I discovered in December that he was having an inappropriate friendship with an attractive, young work colleague (who happened to be newly married and pregnant!) – seeing the e-mails between them broke my heart and despite accepting on 3 separate occasions that the relationship had to stop to give our marriage a chance, the contact continued until recently as I threatened to tell her husband (I just didn’t know how else to stop it).
The colleague is now on maternity leave but I am terrified what will happen when she returns to work. We have had 3 months of counselling at Relate and really got to the bottom of why and how things went wrong. I have read I love you but I’m not in love with you, How can I ever trust you again and Make love like a prairie vole and these books have been an amazing comfort and eye-opener for me. I am implementing all your advice – in particular, paying compliments as his self-esteem is low.
We are really enjoying our time together now and he says he loves life with me and children but that he still sees me only as a friend and he needs passion in his life. At times I see a spark but this is only when he is comforting me when I cry or we are watching a romantic film (and he’s had a few glasses of wine).
We had sex once a few months ago (at my instigation) and it was terrible as he had his head turned away from me the whole time. When I stroke his arms or face he can be mean and say something like “Don’t do it for my benefit” but other times he will snuggle up to me in bed. We briefly kiss on the lips but this is always at my instigation.
I am trying not to be pushy but it’s so hard to be ignored. I keep telling myself it will take time (the last drama involving his colleague was only 3 weeks ago) as he says he gradually started shutting down to me years ago but wonder if there is anything else I can do to help as I am mindful the clock is ticking before his “friend” returns to work.
First off, I want to congratulate you on looking deep into your relationship, prioritising your life today (rather than waiting until the children get older) and realising that how you communicate over small things has a HUGE impact on your marriage.
It’s not just that he feels disrespected if you buy a dog against his wishes but that it he feels unheard and that his needs will never be met. If you think your needs are not going to met, you will withdraw (because being ignored is too painful) and switch off. So well done for all the progress to date, it sounds like you’ve made a great start.
However, you’ve got a way to go before you’re out of the woods. So I’ve got three ideas that I want you to hold close and remember every time you are beginning to panic:
- More marriages – at this point – fail because the person who feel unloved pushes for reassurance (and push their partner away) than because the other partner wants to leave.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- The other woman is not the problem.
Let me explain, point one, I know it is horrible to feel ‘unloved’ (but please think of his love being hidden under mild depression, the bubble of an affair and all round exhaustion, if it wasn’t still there waiting to rediscovered he’d be long gone) so when you’re feeling down phone a friend, read one of my books, ANYTHING beyond trying to instigate sex.
Tell him, you’re going to step back and let him make the moves in future—for anything beyond kiss hello and good bye and a hand squeeze. It is ONLY three weeks since the last drama and he will need to get his head straight and feel ready to offer any more. It is far better for him to feel his own desire rather be pressurised (which is just a turn off.)
The way forward is to get him to be assertive—open and honest with his feelings—rather than keeping stuff to himself and backing down too soon. I explain all about this in Resolve Your Differences.
The key is making certain that you are assertive too – rather than demanding, wheedling, manipulating, playing the poor me card etc – as this will model the way forward to him. Also look at Help Your Partner Say Yes – particularly at the section on TA .
Basically when men can be assertive out of the bedroom, their sexual feelings return. So communicate better and everything will slowly get better. Start with small issues (even smaller than the dog issue which I would call a medium to big one) and build up your and his confidence for asking for what you need, saying no if you disagree and negotiating a way forward.
Finally, I think this woman is more a problem in your head. If you make her into a big issue—and drive yourself wild with worrying, you will be stressed angry and push your husband away. Instead of focusing on her (and him)—neither of whose behaviour you can change—concentrate on yourself because this is something you can change. Keep asking yourself: how can I communicate better with my husband?
Report your feelings, rather than act them out and keep believing his feelings are buried not gone forever. It will get better. Honest.