Dear Neil: My relationship with my boyfriend of almost two years has been wonderful. We moved to Colorado from the East Coast, and he started a new job and went back to school, both about three weeks ago. Since then, everything has changed. He went from being a sweet loving and compassionate person, to someone who barely talks to me when he gets home. He no longer calls me during the day, is no longer intimate and doesn’t even respond when I tell him that I love him. He no longer does anything around the house, has been cold and short with me, and has acknowledged that he has put our relationship on the back burner. What can be done to salvage our relationship? Will time fix it?
Put On The Back Burner in Boulder, Colorado
Dear Put On The Back Burner: Your boyfriend may be under a lot of stress with all the recent changes you’ve described, but it’s unclear to me that stress alone is responsible for him turning cold to you and my instinct is to advise you, that time alone is unlikely to fix this.
Here’s what you can do. Tell your boyfriend that you need for him to come back to you—and you need him back now. Tell him the consequences (if you have any) if the relationship were to stay where it is right now. Then, see if you can create and schedule some fun experiences the two of you can do together: a trip to the mountains, a game of frisbee, dancing, a snowball fight, bowling. Something active that the two of you don’t normally do. Try several of your fun ideas in a row. Fun often loosens us up, jump starts us, and makes us appreciate our lives again.
If none of these ideas works, then consider the possibility that he has just plain emotionally left you.
Dear Neil: My husband has enmeshment and co-dependency issues with his father. My father-in-law manipulates and guilts my husband into doing things that negatively affect both him and our marriage. My husband cannot say no to his father, and in turn sacrifices a lot of our time together to cater to his father. I have finally had to say that I will no longer be around his family/father unless it’s a special occasion, and that I must start to enforce healthier boundaries. He feels as if I’m not compromising. Any advice?
Compromised Out in Montana
Dear Compromised: If your husband is co-dependent (a condition where you feel responsible for other people’s feelings, wants and needs and where their desires seem to be more important than your own) he no doubt feels used, endlessly compelled to do for his father. To the degree that this is true, your husband is in a very unhealthy family dynamic, and you don’t have to compromise with it. What you may have to do is to help your husband back to health, which is likely to be a long and arduous road.
You are correct in attempting to set boundaries with your father-in-law, but your husband has to learn, set and honor boundaries as well. In fact, he has to be able to redefine his self-worth and sense of personal value based on what he wants, feels, thinks, wishes and does, rather than on what others want.
See if you can get your husband into counseling. You might also try giving him a copy of Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More, and reading the book with him.