My husband and I have been married for 20 years. I still care for my husband, but for the most part, I avoid him. I find him difficult to be around. I really don’t enjoy his company. I have felt hurt, disrespected and uncared for so many times that I have up some serious walls that I don’t know how to tear down. I have prayed for God to help me change, but I don’t see much progress. I know we have a lot of communication problems, but I feel powerless to change them. I have tried counseling, but my husband refuses to go. I’m not even sure why I’m writing, honestly. It feels hopeless.
Going it Solo
Dear Going it Solo,
The fact that you wrote in tells me one very important thing: it’s not hopeless. You still care. There’s something in you that knows miracles still happen and wants a miracle to happen. And where there’s hope, where even one spouse wants a change, there can be change.
But right now, there are two big truths to confront.
First, here’s the thing about avoiding your spouse: the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the harder it is to reconnect.
Picture what happens when you’re in, say, a really fantastic small group from church, with really tight friends… and then one of the friends moves away. You can stay in touch and try to stay “as close as ever,” but it usually doesn’t work out that way. You’re still friends, but you don’t share the closeness you used to. Life — and miles — gets in the way.
The same thing happens to a husband and wife who aren’t up-close and personal anymore.
In my research about what makes happy couples, ninety percent of the happy couples I surveyed said they spent quite a bit of time together. Hanging out (even if it means via email or text sometimes!) is one of those simple little things that fosters closeness — and without which, closeness just doesn’t happen. The happiest couples don’t necessarily do extravagant date nights, they simply go shopping together, go for walks together, or even just sit and have coffee in the mornings before work while reading the newspaper and maybe mentioning here and there the things they’re reading. On the flip side of that, only 35% of the struggling couples I talked to said they hung out at least twice a week.
Think about your best girlfriend. I’m guessing the reason she’s your best girlfriend is because you hang out and talk a lot, right? And you wouldn’t be best pals if you rarely interacted, right? Certainly not if you avoided each other!
You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.
It’s time to start making time to be with your husband. One counselor I know suggests literally just making time for thirty minutes of hanging out and talking each day, with no arguing allowed. She says “You can start fighting again thirty minutes later if you want, but for that time simply don’t deal with the conflict stuff. Just be friends again.” Build your friendship, and the feelings of closeness will follow.
But there’s a second truth to confront as well: dealing with your hurt in a healthy way is essential. You don’t deserve to feel hurt and disrespected, and “building your friendship” might sound good in theory — but it is hard to be friends with someone who you feel doesn’t care about you.
So this is where you need to enlist help. From both a qualified counselor and positive, encouraging friends who will support not just you but your marriage. You need help and guidance because you’re confused. Because you don’t know the next steps. And because if you’re feeling hurt, it is highly likely that he is too. The stuff that hurts you looms large, and needs to be addressed — but have you thought through what looms large for him? Maybe you shutting down has hurt him deeply. Maybe you don’t realize it, but he has felt like a complete failure as a husband for a long time and has (as is common for men) shut down all affection as a result.
Now, he could be a complete failure as a husband, for all I know — but it is highly unlikely that he’s a jerk who doesn’t care. He probably cares about you deeply. Statistically, most husbands (and wives) intensely care about their spouse. They just don’t always know how to show it correctly. And because we’re all imperfect people, that most likely applies to not only him – but to you.
All of which is why you need help. Sure, he should be willing to go to counseling — but even if he won’t right now, you can. It is absolutely critical that you go to a counselor who is not only licensed and experienced, but one that is committed to helping to restore your marriage. And you need someone capable of guiding you through this, who can help you to see the best in each other again. (One way of doing that is called the 30-Day Kindness Challenge. Take a look at it and strongly consider doing it.) Because it would be such a tragedy if two people who did care about each other fell apart simply because both had been trying hard in the wrong areas and didn’t realize it, or hurting each other without really intending to. Both people would be feeling hurt, disconnected, and uncared for. Both would be feeling like “I’m trying so hard, but my spouse isn’t.” Both would be feeling powerless.
It will take work to restore your marriage, and you will need help doing it, but as you get to know your husband all over again you’ll realize that you can reconnect again, and you’ll see that it is worth it to try.
Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.