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If Your Husband is Oblivious to How Unhappy You Are

When you're unhappy, it hurts even more to realize your husband does not notice. Eventually, you may begin withdrawing from the relationship, hoping for a response or perhaps just some time to think. Eventually, you might start thinking about separation or divorce.

You may think you're headed for an amicable divorce. By the time you tell him you're ready for one, he's likely to surprise you by crying that he's loves you more than anything, can't believe you're leaving, and does not want you to go.

While this might have been exactly what you wanted at the beginning of this awful downhill slide, it comes as totally unexpected and quite possibly unwelcome once your heart is done mourning the death of your relationship and ready to move on.

If any of this very common story sounds familiar, here are some things you ought to know to handle it a little better.

First, men generally don't monitor the health of a relationship as often as women do once a woman has said, "I do." If you don't mention your unhappiness, it's likely to go unnoticed.

Second, beyond any leftover childhood attachment issues, your husband has a body in which testosterone pushes and oxytocin pulls. When you cut back on physical contact, he releases less oxytocin, weakening the bond between you, the trust, and the ease of communicating.

Third, you probably measure how much you are loved by how much you get of your particular one of Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. But there is no guarantee you and your husband share the same Love Language. If you cut back on the things that signal love to you as a way to clue him into your disappointment, he might not notice.

So, speak up about your unhappiness. But before you conclude your unhappiness has anything to do with your husband, try this:

  • Ask yourself what it is you want him to do differently.

  • Ask yourself why you want this, what do you need or want. Often it's a neater home, more money, a companion for branching out into a new sport or hobby, or fewer responsibilities.

  • Ask yourself how else you might get this if your husband won't or can't provide it -- or if you were to divorce.

  • In a calm moment when you have his attention, tell your husband what you need or want, without accusing him of failing you. Instead, ask his help in thinking of ways to get it or to get around the obstacles to your ideas for getting it without his help.

This way, you sidestep the natural human instinct to defend oneself and tap into the natural human instincts to solve problems and help those you love.


Patty -Great post! Over and over I hear from men who have no idea why their wife suddenly wants a divorce. They honestly thought everything was fine. She used to complain a bit, but she stopped, so they figured it was all worked out.

Thanks, Paul. It breaks my heart when I hear those stories.

One side not mentioned in this article (which I appreciate btw) is a wife who has repeatedly explained to her husband she is unhappy, explained why and what they can do differently do make things better but receives either no response or no lasting solutions. Whats a wife to do when she mentions it time after time and is met with 'I forgot' or 'I dont know why I do ...' ??

Hello Patty,
I have been married to my husband for five years and he's from another country. He's very quite and closed. Time and time again I have told him how unhappy I am because he don't know how to show affection, intimacy, or emotions. I'm at the end of my rope and ready to walk away. He's boring and has no type of excitment about anything. I'm not in love with him, but I love him as a person. Don't get me wrong, he's a nice guy I just don't think he's for me. We had split up for six months and we went through counseling but, he keeps saying its his nature and that's just how he is. Please advise.

That's when you focus on other ways to get what you need.

If he's doing something that creates more work for you, you can find a creative way to allow him to do what he does without it creating more work. If he's always late to leave for whatever you're doing together away from home, you can tell him everything starts sooner than it does. (I use this one all the time.) If he lets the grass grow too tall between mowings, and it bothers you more than him, shift your budget to pay for a more predictable landscaper.

Before that, there is a trick to how you let him know what you need. First, leave out the "I'm unhappy" part. It comes across as an accusation, like he's responsible for everything you need and failing to provide it. Most spouses WANT to do nice things for the person they married. When you say "you're not doing x," they hear "I don't even notice the nice things you do for me." This puts them on the defensive. All they want is for the rotten evaluation of them to go away. And they "forget" to do x because they are busy resenting your lack of appreciation for a through w and hoping you'll change.

Instead, state what you want. And get to the root of it. Instead of "I want you to call me when you'll be even five minutes late coming home from work," try "I want to feel unstressed, unafraid, and loving when you walk in the door, and I have about a five minute window before I start imagining the worst has happened and go on full alert." Then invite him to help you find a way to get this. If you have already noticed that what you want conflicts with something he wants, acknowledge that you want him to have that, too. For example, "I know it's a pain to pull over and phone while you're driving, and I don't want to ask you to do that. Is there another way I can know when to expect you to arrive home when it won't be at 5:30?"

Now the solution is his and therefore much easier to remember. He has a way to see when it's working (because you welcome him home in a relaxed state) instead of being reprimanded when it's not. And he gets to feel like your man, making your life easier, instead of your little boy, trying to remember all the things Mom said he must do to stay on her good side.

And don't be surprised if he's creative enough to suggest you expect him at 5:40, so that he can be early most of the time and happily resort to some way of notifying you on the rare occasions when he will be later than this.

[If what makes you unhappy seems more complicated than this example, I invite you to share it. I love to find ways to help go after a Third Alternative to the two that are not working for a couple.]

Berenda, it's his nature. It's just how he is. You can change the way you view it, or you can walk away. And because of how he is, he's not likely to make a huge fuss if you walk away.

I know someone who divorced such a man and remarried only to discover that a more emotional man also expresses a lot more anger, gets a lot sadder, and freaks out more easily at her strong emotions.

No one else can make that choice for you, but I can offer some tips if you want to be happier staying with an unaffectionate man.

First, set a time once a week to look around your home and think through the past week to find signs of his love. Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages make a good list: acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time together, and physical touch. I would also add in Emerson Eggerichs' observation that appreciation and respect mean more to most men than affection and intimacy do, so look for appreciation and respect, too. You may see enough to be grateful for, grateful enough to feel his love without any great acts of affection.

Second, initiate affection, but not in public. He's a guy, and holding his hand, stroking his arms or cheeks, or making love will generate a release of oxytocin that will increase his trust of you, the ease of communication, and the bond between you.

Third, he may be unemotional because emotions overwhelm him more easily than they overwhelm you. As a person far more familiar with emotions, watch for signs of emotional flooding when you're being emotional or the two of you are disagreeing. Nothing good happens while anyone is emotionally flooded. The brain goes into self-protective mode, which is physically quite stressful. If you're used to speaking while you're emotional, you stutter and can't finish a sentence when you reach this point. You're red in the face, maybe crying. Your heart is racing. You say things you'll regret enormously later. He may not show any of these outward signs, but everyone needs a quiet, calming break when they get to the point of flooding. If you push beyond this point, you lessen the chances of him letting his emotions show after it passes, so declare a break and go for a walk or pour a couple cups of hot cocoa and breathe deeply.

Fourth, if the intimacy you crave is conversational, find trustworthy friends you have no sexual attraction to, and actively nurture those friendships. While intimacy with friends is not a replacement for marital intimacy, it can help a lot. While working feverishly for some intimate conversation with a spouse, we can forget to seek it elsewhere, increasing our frustration greatly. And watch what you share with your friends. If you share all your reasons for being grateful to him, they will reflect them back when you are questioning your relationship. If you share your frustrations about your marriage, the same protect-my-friend instinct will lead them to reflect back the bad stuff and amplify your current frustration. Find a therapist to listen to the frustrations and resentments. Don't use your friends for this.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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