Dear Neil: I am a married, working mother with 2 young children. My husband and I constantly argue, usually because he spends very little time with me. His work and study take about 80 hours a week, and he has had little involvement in raising our second child. Despite the fact that I earn more than him and do almost everything to keep the house running, he tells me that I am weak and that he doesn’t respect me. Even jobs that are traditionally done by men such as fixing things is left to me. He then criticizes me for for not standing up when people do a poor job. I have asked for his help to manage these things, but he says he is too busy.
For the past few years, I haven’t received a birthday present from him. Contact is usually when he wants something done for him. When I suggest we go out on a date without the children, he doesn’t often take up my offer. He raises his voice often, and when I ask him not to, he says it’s my fault because he doesn’t respect me.
I want to find a way to leave. I am a strong, confident and successful person on the outside, but on the inside I am crying every day. All I have ever wanted is love, but I have nothing left to give. He tells me he loves me, but I have built a wall around me. When he tries to reach out I respond superficially or push him away. What should I do?
Not Enjoying Married Life in Wellington, New Zealand
Dear Married Life: Based on your story, it is hard to believe that your husband actually loves (or even likes) you. He does not appear to care how you feel, he is not concerned with what you need—and he is not friendly to you.
Nathaniel Branden, in his book Taking Responsibility, addresses this topic eloquently: “If we are in a serious relationship and I say I love you, you have a right to expect that I will be interested in your thoughts and feelings, and that when you speak, I will give you a respectful and attentive hearing. If I say I love you, you have a right to interpret this to mean that I will treat you kindly and benevolently. If I say I love you, you have a right to anticipate that I will be an emotional support system for you in times of stress or distress. If I say I love you, I am not promising never to be angry with you, or disapproving of some aspect of your behavior, but I am promising to be your best friend, to be on your side, to give you empathy and compassion. If I say I love you, I am certainly declaring that your feelings and needs are important to me.”
You could try marriage counseling, but I am less confident that he will gain emotions he doesn’t appear to have toward you. So I agree with you—it’s time for you to leave him. You deserve better than this.