Dear Neil: I’m desperate to salvage my relationship. We’ve been in an on again/off again relationship for the last 6 years. We have three children, and one on the way. We both have full time jobs. While I tend to the children, cook dinner, clean, do laundry, help with homework—his job takes priority over everything, and I feel shut out and unappreciated. Making money is what gets his gears moving, or so it seems. And when he’s home, he’s not engaged. He sits on the couch with the tv on, browsing social media on his phone. When we go out to eat for date night, he’s on his phone, so I feel increasingly disconnected from him.
I often think I’m around only for his convenience, because I take care of everyone, and I am getting nothing in return. I want him to be a partner to me, but I feel he’s put me on the back burner for a long time. It seems as if nothing I do is good enough, and he has one foot out the door. What can I do to be better for him? I could really use some words of wisdom.
What is Wrong With Me?
Dear Wrong: The only thing wrong with you, from what I can tell, is that you are blaming yourself for things you have no control over, and you’re putting up with behavior that would be hurtful and depressing to most everyone.
You are describing that your husband has checked out from both the relationship and the family, and has quit trying to engage or connect with you—and has entirely stopped being a sweetheart and a helpmate to you. So the first order of business is to address how you’re feeling and what you’re wanting from him. Ask him for a conversation without kids and away from all devices, and tell him you would like 5-10 minutes where you could talk without interruption.
Then get right to the point, and tell him you are extremely hurt by his emotional withdrawal from you and the family, and then tell him exactly what you want him to do differently. Include everything you would like, such as more device-free time with you and the kids, help around the house, less tv, more romance and affection—you get the idea. Then let him talk. Hopefully he will address what has caused him to act so estranged from you, and what’s been bothering him.
This is the first step in coming back together. It’s called clearing the air and honestly acknowledging your feelings, and then spelling out exactly what you want or need instead. Give him the benefit of the doubt that he may not fully grasp how detached, unfriendly and remote his behavior has become. But then, the two of you can hopefully map out a set of agreements that will address and repair what’s wrong.
If however, his behavior continues after you have let him know how much it hurts and grieves you, then you’re going to have to decide how long you are willing to live this way before you consider making a serious change.