Dear Neil: My husband and I have been married almost 38 years. He does not speak intimately or lovingly toward me during sex, and I’ve given up on getting him to tell me he loves me. He avoids conflict and gets reactive if I attempt to address issues that concern me. I’d love for us to create a better marriage and a more loving environment, but that would take both of us, and I don’t know how much he is invested in our marriage—or in improving it. I fear he remains married to me because divorce could financially devastate us. I don’t want to pretend anymore that our marriage will get better—that would take both of us—and I can no longer accept the marriage as it is any longer. He is not open to doing the things a marriage counselor advised us to do. Can you guide me about how I move forward with this?
Married But Alone in Grand Junction, Colorado
Dear Alone: The problem with you giving a lot of effort when your husband appears to not have interest is that it will inevitably lead to you feeling hurt, rejected and resentful. But if you quit trying—and it remains financially untenable for you to divorce—you are essentially agreeing to live in a loveless and disengaged relationship, and it is very hard to like your life if you can’t tolerate being at home.
So I would recommend that you employ several different strategies to attempt to fix the lack of closeness. The first is to continue to act caring, friendly and interested in forging a closer relationship with your husband. It sounds like you are wanting a closer relationship with him, so pursuing such a relationship and not giving up would appear to be in your best interests. Perhaps, over time, your husband will grow to see you as the person he can trust the most and the person who he feels closest to. But even if he doesn’t, you will be doing your best to keep your home life as good as you can.
The second recommendation is to pursue close relationships with friends, family members and other people you find a connection with. The third is to pursue some course of self-improvment, such as journaling, meditation, yoga, personal therapy or any other activity or endeavor that would be meaningful to you.
The second and third recommendations are meant to attempt to take some pressure off of your marriage and to explore how you might get closeness, friendship and a sense of community through other sources: through friends and family, a spiritual community, an art class, a dance collective, through taking adult education courses, through volunteering or through finding a job that you would find satisfying. Hopefully, joining (or creating) a community of kindred spirits would help you to not feel so alone.
The fourth recommendation is to talk with your husband about this whole dilemma. How is he feeling about your marriage—and about you? In order for the relationship to feel warmer and closer, what would he need to be different? Then tell him what you would need in order to feel happier and more connected with him. Perhaps the emotions you describe require a very honest conversation about what is wrong and what it would take to make things right. But if you are unable to change things in the marriage, you will then be facing the choice you have been avoiding: whether it’s in your best interests to stay or to leave.