Relationship Connection: My husband is going through the motions

Question

I have been married to my husband for 10 years and we have three boys who are all close in age. We have had our ups and downs.

I can say I genuinely see my husband as a good, loving and honorable husband and father. We were married young, so we worked together to establish boundaries in our marriage.

In the last year or so he has changed and is now withdrawn from the kids and me. After months of this behavior and me begging and pleading for his love and affection, he finally “submitted” to my demands and is now just going through the motions.

I am at a breaking point.

I know he has pressures at work that contribute to his stress. I don’t think he’s cheating. I stooped so low as to put a tracking device on his phone. I later told him about it.

What do I do? He doesn’t want to go to counseling and says he doesn’t want a divorce. He does say this is the best it’s going to get and if I don’t like it then I can divorce him. Please help.

Answer

I can’t imagine how agonizing it must be to have your husband shut you out of his world and treat you like an obligation. Though terrifying, I want to encourage you: Don’t panic and assume the worst about him during this dramatic change.

The more reactive you become, the less likely you’ll create conditions in which you can learn what has changed for him.

Even though an affair is a possible explanation for his distancing behavior, it isn’t always helpful to jump in with such strong assumptions. If that becomes the reality, then you can certainly address it. Instead, I encourage you to give him the benefit of the doubt and approach this from a different angle.

Please know that his behavior isn’t healthy and it isn’t your fault. He’s choosing to withdraw and blocking any of your attempts to reach him. He is ultimately responsible for the effect this has on your marriage.

There are lots of reasons your husband may be distancing himself from you and the children. He could have depression. He might be unhappy at work and not have the emotional or relational skills to address it with you or his employer. He could be unhappy in the marriage and not know how to talk about it. He could have an addiction to a substance or a behavior. He could be overwhelmed by your begging and pleading and pulling away further to keep the peace.

Regardless of the reason, ramping up the intensity isn’t going to give you answers. Instead, I recommend you simply acknowledge to him that you don’t want to overreact and increase the distance between the two of you. Let him know that you recognize something has changed for him and that you want to do things differently so he feels safe talking about these changes with you. Even though you’re not the one who initially pulled away, you can recognize your influence in widening the gap.

He has chosen to stay with you and even go through the motions to make peace. While not the healthiest solution, it’s an attempt at trying to improve things. Continue looking for ways that he’s turning to you and the children. Slow things down in your life so you can both have time to do more things together. This is a time to close any gaps in your relationship and let him know you are there for him.

If he allows you to have more time together, recognize that you don’t have to dive right into deep conversations about his feelings and thoughts. Enjoy the time together and recognize that he’s turning toward the marriage. It’s in these types of interactions that issues are more likely to surface.

If he pushes you away and has no interest in spending more time with you, then I encourage you to insist on marriage counseling. If he refuses to get help for the marriage, I encourage you to work closely with a marriage-friendly therapist who can hold a place for your marriage while you figure out how to respond to your husband’s distance.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

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Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • Hataalii October 7, 2015 at 9:29 am

    My first thought when I read this, is to wonder if hubby has suddenly decided he likes men better than he does women. My second thought is that perhaps he has a medical problem that he is either trying to ignore, or to hide from wifey.
    When I read the statement “He does say this is the best it’s going to get and if I don’t like it then I can divorce him” it makes it obvious just how screwed up he is, in some way. This is telling you that he just doesn’t care any more.
    You can try to work your way through this, but keep in mind that he has already told you what is in his mind. Divorce. Only he doesn’t want to be the one to initiate it. Could be due to religious beliefs, could be due to cowardice, could be due to a lot of things. But his actions are speaking much louder than his words. He is saying “I want out of this marriage.”

  • anybody home October 7, 2015 at 10:18 am

    People change. You were married young, so you’re probably around 30 now, both of you. I’ll just take a wild guess that this was a shotgun wedding and the heat of young love produced a couple more kids. He sounds pretty cowardly if he wants out but won’t take the step. Or so passive, he’ll stay and “go through the motions.” Good luck with this one, but don’t get your hopes up. He’s given you the word: if you don’t like it divorce me. Since you don’t like it,………

  • Billy Madison October 7, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Just ask him and then stop trying to read between the lines. Men tend to say what they are thinking and listen to that instead of thinking he meant to say something entirely different.

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