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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.

Comments

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.

Hello Patty,

My husband and I have been married for almost a year. After dating for 6 years and having one child together we got married last September. I'm beginning to become very unhappy in the fact that he does everything his mother still askes him to do even if it compromises our family plans or work schedule. His 3 siblings are very close in age to our 2 year old. And she refuses to work her own schedule around their school schedule so he constantly is taking them back and forth and then coming to me to complain how tried he is because of lack of sleep from watching them all the time. He is losing valuable time with his own son because his days off are always filled with her errands or things she wants him to do for her. I'm very unhappy and he doesn't see it. When I try to talk to him he says he will always do for her and make her happy, but I'm growing unhappy in yhe fact that every day that we both have off its filled with watching his siblings even though our son is in daycare. I'm unsure what to do, I try and talk to him but he says its his mom and she has no one else but he is 25 and has his own family now and we barely are having any of our own family time. Please can I have some advice please and thank you.

Quanisha, whenever you get frustrated by a disagreement with your husband, try to find a Third Alternative, one that meets both your needs. It works so much better than arguing over whose needs are more important.

Before I get into how to do this, let me just encourage you not to let this frustration push you into thinking you'd be better off as a single mom. Single moms depend a LOT on their children. Children of single moms learn to earn mom's love by being helpful. Sons of single moms often become very protective of their moms, too, for reasons that have to do with their hormones and their need to protect themselves by protecting her. We already have way too many adult children of single moms, and their paths are often difficult ones.

When looking for a Third Alternative, you start by jumping the net and assuring your spouse his needs are important to you: in this case, his love for his mother and his desire to offer his young siblings a better, perhaps even safer childhood than his own. Both are highly admirable. He is kind, caring, and loyal, a great choice for a husband. But he's also, at just 25, a bit inept at juggling all of his opportunities for being the sort of man others look up to.

So your Third Alternative must help him find a better way to use his wonderful strengths and show his love to his mother and siblings. It also must give you two some private time and some family time for your immediate family and let you feel like the most important woman in his life. And it must give him back the time he needs to sleep.

It's important to make it clear that you're not asking him to choose your needs over his own, just refusing to attend to his needs in the way he's been asking you to, because it doesn't meet your needs. Be really clear that the answer you're seeking takes care of you but also lets him be an important part of his mother's and siblings' lives. That's a Third Alternative -- for each of you, it's as good or better as the alternative that meets only your needs and for the two of you as a couple, it's a path you can both happily and jointly stick to until those needs change.

You two may need to think creatively and ask others to join you in brainstorming to find this solution. The key is to put as much as possible on the table and take none of your current circumstances for granted. As long as you know you will accept a solution ONLY if it meets all of those needs, this is less scary than when you're trying to negotiate what you need.

I'll throw out a few to get you thinking. I have no idea if any would fit your situation at all, so just skip over the ones that would make things worse. And remember that your Third Alternative may need more than one idea. Here goes:

Find a place to live where both families are next door to each other, eliminating travel time but preserving privacy. Help your mother-in-law get her kids into a school with transportation and after-school care. Set up a together-time schedule with your husband and send it to his mother as a calendar of when he will and won't be available to assist her.

Help your husband start a business he can run from home while there are a bunch of kids in the house. Get your husband to help you advance your career so that you can make more money and use it to cut back his work hours.

Move far away and agree to take the kids for a month each summer. (As a single mom after my husband died, I can tell you that even a week off is a wonderful thing and a chance to get a lot in order to make it through the rest of the year.)

You watch the siblings sometimes while your husband takes your son to the park or the barbershop or the library one-on-one. Schedule weekend time when you leave your son with his grandmother and cousins and go somewhere (maybe even a luxury hotel once in a while) with your husband. Hire a babysitter or two to watch his siblings at their own house when your son's in daycare.

Hire a responsible adult with a car to pick up and drop off the kids, trading money for your husband's time and control of his own schedule.

Create a tradition or two that celebrates your relationship with each other over your relationships with others who matter to you, and schedule days for them that will always, no matter what, unless someone's dying, be held for this tradition.

I love my husband but he seems to have some unresolved mental health issues with anxiety and depression, and refuses to get any help for them. When they are active, which is more often than note lately, I become very bitter. He isn't working anymore so I thought he could at least be a "stay at home Dad" but he barely keeps the house clean regularly and I have to argue about what I want and pull teeth to get it done... now I understand his other frequent job losses... I work upwards of 60 hours a week and just have no tolerance for this, and losing patience FAST. He isn't even showering every day, and bringing this up is another argument in itself. He has issues with one of our tubs because its too small, and the other one has see through glass (even though nobody sees him in there!). The 3rd shower has to be kept clean for guests and he doesn't feel he can do this regularly. The smell is horrible and unattractive. I know a lot of it is depression and anxiety... but its not getting fixed. I know there is a good man underneath all that... but I'm stuck. I just don't know where to turn or what to do. We have two young children so packing up is not an option.

LF any chronic illness adds stress to a marriage, and anxiety and depression are definitely chronic illnesses. If you've read my author page, you know my first husband had a chronic illness. He was also frequently depressed, even saw first a social worker therapist, then a top psychiatrist from our local med school, but both of them thought it was normal to be depressed when living with a chronic illness, so they offered him little of any value.

At the time, I had a 50-60 hour a week job and a commute of 1:20 in each direction. And we had a child in a private school (n buses) 30 minutes in the opposite direction.

I hear you. This is what I would do today if I were in your situation. It's not what I did back then, but what I did back then made me miserable, and him, too.

The problems you list with showering sound like they could be easily solved. Order replacement doors for the see-through shower. If that's too expensive, put up a tension rod with a shower curtain inside the shower.

Or decide that keeping the man you want to adore smelling adorable is more important than having guests, and invite him to use the guest shower.

Or, if they are old enough, offer to pay your kids to clean the guest shower daily, on any day that dad uses it. They'll be encouraging him to use it every day.

Or put a cleaning service on speed dial and have them come clean the guest bathroom right before guests arrive.

Instead of comparing the costs of these options to some imaginary life in which your depressed husband is actually able to shower behind clear doors or shower knowing he must clean the shower if he does, compare them to the costs of living without him, without his daily presence in the kids' lives, without another shot at feeling the daily emotion of love with him and not just the distant whisper of love. That emotion is not available when you're angry.

Before he suddenly dropped dead, I imagined my husband was doing practically nothing of value for our daily lives. A day later, I saw how much longer my to-do list became, and I finally did something about my screwy life that had left me no time for loving. I got rid of my commute to have more time with my son (and be nearer in an emergency) and I hired live-in help. Then I focused my efforts at work and doubled my income in 14 months to make up for his lost income and my new expenses.

Another thing I have learned since then is the vital importance of respect in loving a man. It's biological -- put them on estrogen therapy and it changes. But until then, respect is not an extra. It is the very foundation of any relationship. And when they feel they've lost it (as when their wife decides what he'll do instead of work and when his efforts at doing the work she doesn't want to do are good enough), most of them cut off all loving gestures until it returns. We women don't take the hint because we think men think and feel like we do, so we show even less respect. Emerson Eggerichs calls this stepping on each other's air hose.

My first husband told me he did not have the energy for the tasks I kept trying to offload on him. I reasoned that they were easier for him to do -- because he worked near home, worked fewer hours, and got off work much earlier than I did -- so he should be the one to do them. His doctor said his health was improving. Said it again the day before an organ failure cascade took him down. Only then did I take his word for the lack of energy.

When my second husband fails to do something I hoped he'd take care of, I let it go undone or I find another way to get it done. During those years between husbands, I learned that I could buy or trade my more enjoyable talents for almost everything, but they would not get me love. I Expect Love from my husband, but this time it's up to him to choose how to show it, because my approach in my first marriage -- tapping my foot waiting for the particular sign I wanted that day -- was quite ineffective. I ask for what I want, but I don't expect it.

The emotion of love -- which releases oxytocin and stimulates the vagus nerve, improving vagal tone -- happens when two people share another positive emotion in sync, according to Barbara Frederickson, a very highly regarded positive psychologist who does research into positive emotions and their physical effects.

I tried to tell my husband that I think we should go our separate ways last week. I've grown very unhappy in our marriage. We are on two different pages when it comes to future plans for success and our priorities are not the same. I recently took a pay cut to start a new job at a hospital so I can already have my foot in the door after I graduate next year. Since I've done this, we have struggled so badly. I've been sacrificing meals to make sure my 3yr old is still eating. In the midst of me doing so, he still pops up with a beer and marijuana. I've had these issues in the past with him and used to fuss and argue with him about it all the time, but nothing has changed. When I tried to tell him that I didn't want to be in the marriage anymore, he insisted that we work things out. He's a very good father and very helpful with cleaning around the house. I work overnight and can't apply for a new position until I've been on the job for 6 months. He's at home with my daughter while I'm at work. At this point, I'm ready to ask my mother to help me at night until I get a day shift position. He works at a fast food job and is almost 30. I have plans to open a business with my best friend when my pension from the last job arrives. I also have plans to start doing real estate investment with another friend. His mind is no where near wanting to invest in a successful future. We don't go out on dates because the night is eventually ruined due to his drinking. I'd rather have a girls night out than to be with my own husband. He doesn't buy me anything, but I've grown accustomed to doing for myself. He constantly asks me for money which is annoying. He literally asks me if I have any spare change in my purse. How broke can you be?! And at what point will he realize that no woman wants to deal with that?! I literally cringe when he touches me. When he wants sex, I literally give him oral just so I can walk away when I'm done. I don't even think I can get back to loving him as I used to. He just came and asked if I wanted to go to Biloxi soon. But guess who has to pay for it. I'm so outdone with this marriage and I see myself being so much happier without him. He can continue to be a good father under a separate roof. I picture myself traveling and just enjoying life without him. I really don't like this man. What do I do to fix this problem?

KT, I believe we should all expect love from those we marry, but all the rest of our expectations lead to resentment, and you've got a lot of that eating at you. You can fix your current resentment by divorcing, but you'll be likely to experience new resentment with another partner in the future if you carry so many expectations into your next relationship.

Your husband may not be a saint, but you can't change him nearly as easily as you can change your expectations.

I've gotten pretty good at letting go of expecting everything other than love from my husband since the first one dropped dead on me when I was 34 and full of anger over unmet expectations. But still they crop up, especially when I've put myself in a difficult spot (less money, higher expenses, greater time obligations, etc.) and can picture being rescued by a white night of a husband who would -- at a time when the family can least weather a risk gone wrong -- do something different that would change our fortunes for the better.

Here are some of the unnecessary expectations I believe may be causing your anger, in case you'd like to consider dropping any of them. (1) If I prioritize future income over current income while my husband does not, and I decide to take a pay cut to increase my future income, my husband should cut his expenses and find a better paying job, and it's his fault if I must skip meals if he doesn't. (2) My husband should buy me things. (3) My husband shouldn't ask me for my spare change, and he should understand no woman wants to deal with such a request, even though I understand some women are willing give up all their evenings to provide grandchild care when asked. (4) My husband shouldn't ask me if I want to go to Biloxi if he can't pay for it. (5) If my husband drinks too much when we go out on the sort of date where alcohol is available, we can't date. (6) Even though we share the child care and housekeeping, the child we created together is *my* daughter, and I am the one who decides who she stays with while I work and who gets custody if we divorce. (7) Even though I must currently go hungry to feed our daughter even with a second income in the house, he's keeping me from a life of traveling and enjoyment. (8) He should put a priority on future income, but he should not object if I use retirement savings to start a business that must fund current expenses, current retirement savings, replacement retirement savings, and lost interest or capital gains on the retirement savings I used to start it -- or if I invest those retirement savings in real estate instead of stocks and bonds.

If you decide to try letting go of this picture of the sort of husband he should be, take some time to appreciate anything you can about the sort he actually is. This will usually bring you more signs you're loved. Then see if you can dream up some dates where you'll both have a good time without alcohol: kayaking, swimming, hiking, miniature golf, a museum, the movies, a play, a Civil War reenactment, an amusement park, bowling, taking swing dancing lessons, a walking tour. Don't use these dates to share any complaints about the man he appears to have become. Use them instead to see if he's still the man you chose to marry, aside from any money issues.

If you decide to give your marriage another shot, it's not easy to sort out future plans and priorities or what's worth spending on in the present. For help with this, I recommend you check out http://habitudes.com for a great card game that provides a healthy way to discuss them.

You may also find it very helpful to read my blog posts about Finding the Third Alternative, a wonderful tool for making decisions together without anger.

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

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