Dear Neil: Over the years, my husband has gotten increasingly negative and grumpy, and I am finding it harder to cope with him. I get no positive comments, and he tends to say something negative about everything. As a self-protection, I have begun to harden myself when he comes home; and I snap at him. Then I think, “That is no way for me to behave,” so I try to be warmer and share my thoughts or my day with him – and still the criticism comes. The negative comments chip away at me. If I am happy about something and tell him, it’s like he pricks my balloon. I have told him I would be happy if he would make an occasional nice comment or tell me I look nice, but he doesn’t do it.
I come from a broken home, and I really do not want my children to go through what I did. If we split, I would have little money and it would be a real struggle. Yet I just don’t know how much more I can take. I feel like I give so much – I am a devoted mother, I cook healthy meals for my family, I am fit and slim, I arrange dates with my husband and I work and earn half the money. But when it comes down to it, I feel like no one cares for me. Just being liked and cared about would be enough.
Is this relationship worth preserving? How do I let him know that I am unhappy?
Feeling Unloved in New Zealand
Dear New Zealand: See if you can facilitate a talk about what’s eating at him – because it sure sounds as if something is. Is he disillusioned by his work or career? About parenting? About being married to you? Why? What is he disappointed about regarding himself, his life, his dreams and his ambitions? What did he expect that is different from what he’s got?
Normally, when someone is as critical, judgmental and negative as you’re describing him to be, he will have a very strong inner critic as well. That means he likely has a voice inside of him criticizing, shaming and judging him at least as much as he is judging you. See if you can get him to talk about the large things that he’s so upset about – because being so negative, jaded and cynical is invariably related to him not achieving his goals or realizing his dreams. Something is eating away at his spirit and his hope. If you could help him uncover the wishes, hopes and dreams hiding under his negativity and sourness, you may be able to help him: turn his attitude around.
Further, it sounds as if you’re doing a lot to enhance your marriage and family, and that your husband is doing too little. So begin by making a couple of requests of him. You could, for example, ask him to greet you with a smile and a kiss every day, or ask him to invite you out on a date every week, or tell him that for every sour thing he says, you want him to follow it up with something positive, hopeful or complimentary.
Your task is to help him make a greater effort to be warmer and friendlier toward you – and way less sour to be around. And yes, you can outright tell him that he’s being sour, grumpy and distasteful to be around, and that if he doesn’t make a greater effort to clean up his attitude and change his demeanor, you’re going to wall yourself off from him completely.
If nothing changes, expect that nothing is going to change, so it really boils down to a lifestyle choice for you and your kids. Can you live with him the way he is now without it jading you or destroying your own spirit? If your answer is no, you’ve just determined your bottom line about remaining married to him.