Relationship Connection: My husband has no motivation to improve his life

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Question

My husband of 18 years has slowly become more and more withdrawn since we have been married. We met in active and adventurous circumstances, had big dreams and plans to make them happen, and I thought that was part of the foundation of our relationship (even though his family doesn’t value that). As time has gone on, he sleeps significantly more, has gained nearly 100 pounds and lacks interest in going out and doing much more than dinner and movies.

His “withdrawal” has been more than his lack of physical activity. He at times just seems depressed and has no interest in talking to anyone and wants to stay home if we are invited to be with people. Invitations are happening less and less as he/we tend to stay home more. When I ask him about it he just smiles and says he likes things the way they are and we don’t really need to discuss it.

I have been to therapy for my own depression and have suggested a number of times that he go and he simply won’t. This is also trickling over to our children, and my oldest has gotten to the same point where she just wants to stay home and “veg” all the time. I have to force her into getting involved in social activities and a sport.

I can’t stand it and don’t want the home life of being lazy and giving up that this has created. Any change I try to make feels like I’m doing everything on my own with both my husband and children resisting my efforts, and when it’s all said and done no change happens.

Quite frankly, I have gotten to a point where I am ready to just go do my own thing and live my life, but I love and really miss my husband and dream of times when we would go do things together. I worry about the potential health problems he will likely develop and how I am going to take care of him.

This is affecting my marriage much more than he wants to admit and I really think that he feels that if I would just be OK with this our marriage would be everything we ever wanted. I have run out of ways to discuss this with him. Sometimes I gently ask for change and other times I do so much more bluntly, which of course turns him completely silent and the conversation ends. But nothing will change it.

What do I do when no amount of conversation will change anything? Do I just withdraw from him and go do everything by myself? How do I influence my kids to be positive, active, ambitious, etc., when they are getting a strong opposite example at home?

Answer

Your husband’s descent into this unmotivated and complacent state can be the result of several factors. Regardless of the cause, there are things you can do to save yourself and your sanity. Although it’s not your personal responsibility to solve this for him, you can still take action to send a clear message that living like this isn’t the only option.

Your husband could have anxiety or depression. He could have an addiction to substances (food, drugs or alcohol) or behaviors (video games, porn, gambling, et cetera). He could be suffering from unresolved childhood trauma. He could have thyroid, low testosterone or other health issues. He could simply be following the example of what he believes is normal from his family of origin. I don’t know the cause, but I can tell you that gaining that much weight, going into social isolation and checking out of the marriage are symptoms of a much deeper problem that won’t self-correct without some help.

If he is unwilling to get the proper screenings and work to identify and fix this decline into passivity and isolation, then you’ll have to make some decisions on what you can and can’t live with. While I don’t know what to call his behavior, I do think it’s helpful to approach this from an addiction recovery framework. He is living in a numbed out state and denies that he needs help. You feel powerless and are looking for ways to pull him out of this slump. These patterns are common in marriages where one person (or both, in some cases) has compulsive behaviors.

Instead of trying to cajole him into changing, start by getting help for yourself. I’m glad you’ve started attending counseling. Continue to get personal support from professionals, readings and even 12-step support for family members of those with addictions.

It’s common to seek resolution by getting your loved one to behave a certain way. Your ultimate peace won’t come from how your husband behaves. It will come with an assurance that you are doing what is in the best interest of yourself and those you love. And, what may be in their best interest may be uncomfortable for them.

For example, you may be directed to set certain limits with your children, even though their father isn’t living the same way. You may decide to remove all junk food from your house to support a healthy lifestyle. You may set up physically active family outings or vacations with your children that may not interest your husband. As you seek clarity about your situation, I am confident you will be guided to set healthy boundaries for yourself and your family. This will keep you from feeling resentment if your husband doesn’t participate.

There is nothing wrong with teaching your children about the need to be active, ambitious and proactive in their lives. If they bring up their father’s example, you don’t need to make excuses for him. You can speak respectfully, but honestly, to them about how he gets to ultimately choose the life he lives. You can teach them that they can choose for themselves, but you’re going to set up regular expectations and experiences that will encourage healthy living. Just because your husband is playing small in his life doesn’t mean you have to descend to that level and let your children miss out on the joys of active living.

Seek help and support so you don’t feel so powerless in your own life. Share what you’re learning with your children so they can see the difference between a shrinking life and an expansive life. Your children will have to choose their own way and they have two very different examples in their own home. Yes, this will make it difficult to connect to your husband, as he’s choosing to disconnect from you and from life. You will receive clarity and answers on how to respond to him in your marriage as you do your own personal healing work.

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 his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

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

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • ladybugavenger January 10, 2018 at 8:41 am

    I deal with peoe all day at work. I enjoy my vegetative state at home, away from people!
    I wish i could hibernate in the winter.

  • Redbud January 10, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    I am the same way. I deal with lunatics at work, so all I want to do is come home and relax. If he is looking at porn, maybe try to spice up the bedroom a little bit so he doesn’t have to. Not everyone wants to be a busy-body, and sometimes people need their alone time, even if married. People who always have a requirement to be entertained have a hard time realizing that not everyone wants or needs to feel entertained all the time. Sometimes people change too. I used to love to travel, but now I loathe long car trips and the hassles of airports. Perhaps divorce is the best option. Find someone else that likes to be nagged constantly and live with a hag.

  • STGLivekindly January 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

    Marriage should involve encouraging each other to progress. Gaining 100 lbs and becoming unsocial, disinterested is a problem. I think it’s interesting how many people in marriages do not realize how they affect others and their family. I’ve served as both a horrible warning and a wonderful example to my kids at different times! This man seems to have checked out of the family. A very selfish thing to do. If you are married, you need to take on each other’s needs and desires and do your best to fulfill them. Any partnership is created so some goal can be reached. If there is no goal that is shared, then there isn’t much of a partnership.

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