Dealing With A Distant & Avoidant Husband

Question: “I’m so conflicted on whether to leave my husband or not. We’ve been married for almost 25 years and have 3 grown children (youngest is 18). We have no emotional relationship. What I mean by this is that we live in the same house but it’s more like we are roommates instead of husband and wife. There is no physical contact between us unless it is initiated by me – I have to be the one to give a hug – I have to be the one to hold his arm or grab his hand – he never does it. Any communication we have – which is minimal – is him telling me all about his work or his bowling. He has NEVER asked me about how I’m doing or how my day is. When I am sick he has never asked me how I’m doing or if there is something he can do for me. Up until a year ago I made sure that we had the physical contact and also made sure to ask how he was doing, how his day had gone, ect. When I ask him why he doesn’t hold my hand or ask me how I’m doing he always says that he doesn’t remember to do it and that he has a bad memory. I started leaving little notes “have a wonderful day’ type messages on his car, the bathroom ect. He never responded. So I tried again put reminders on the bathroom mirror things like “ give me a hug, ask me how my work in going, squeeze my shoulder, ask me how I’m doing. I felt for sure this would get some type of response from him but he didn’t even acknowledge that the writing was there. So now, this last July, I wrote him a long letter that I gave him when I went to visit my family (I felt he needed time to read and think about what I was saying). I wrote exactly how I was feeling about his actions / inactions, and what I needed from him. I told him that I could not continue to live like this, that I was emotionally drained and that I would have to leave if things did not change but that I was willing to work on the relationship if he could show me, by his actions, that he was willing to make some changes too. When I came home, there were a few minor changes and he gave me a hug everyday for a about a week, and then the frequency swiftly dropped off. Again, in December, I said that nothing had changed since the summer and asked him to not buy me any gift, that the only thing I wanted for Christmas was for him to re-read that letter and take it seriously. Still nothing has changed. So now comes my dilemma, I’m not getting from him what I desperately need but is it right for me to leave him. He has never physically or mentally abused me. I don’t have to worry about him cheating on me he is a hard worker and generally a good person’ but we have no real relationship. I know that I could continue to live like this but it would be me giving up a part of me settling with existing. I know I can be happy on my own but part of me doesn’t want to be alone. I feel like I am staying with him just so I don’t have to be alone. I also know that leaving him would hurt him and be financially difficult for him. I do care about what happens to him because we have been married for so long but I don’t love him anymore. I don’t know what is right to do.”

Answer: Sounds like you are living in a marriage but most of the time still feel single. It is sad to hear about all your attempts to reach your husband with notes and other cues to help him wake up and catch a clue as to what your needs are. I find from your post above that you really have attempted to reach him with the notes, with the letter, and your verbal requests. You mentioned that the relationship is not caustic or contentious. I might add that damaging relationships need not be contentious only but they can be quite the opposite and still be unhealthy, silent treatment, avoidance, and stonewalling are all maneuvers that spouses engage in that take little energy but are really unhealthy. From what you stated it sounds like avoidance is his primary function, to work, provide and otherwise cohabitate. I say cohabitation since there is no physical and emotional intimacy between you both.

I’d recommend a few things. I’d first read John Gottman’s book on healthy marriages to get a good baseline on what healthy marriages look like. I’d then not get hung up on the details with your husband, you’ve got 25 years behind you and I don’t think you should end it just yet. I’d rethink the nature of your friendship and slowly start building it. If he is checked out and avoiding and comfortable with it you likely will not get him to respond to all your cues or any of them right at first. I’d suggest instead work on building the friendship and moving to a position of baseline friendship, the foundation of healthy marriages. Now, I realize you don’t feel close to him or that you don’t currently don’t feel like you love him. That is fine, but you need to start with slow friendship in a manner to parse out the marriage and what can happen.

He sounds pretty self-focused as well. I’d instead try and not get him to ask about you, instead have him talk about himself something he’s willing to do by asking about him. This is natural, any man or women wants their spouse to speak to them and inquire as it shows love and genuine interest. He is shut down enough you will likely not get him to engage with you even per your asking. If you can’t beat him, join him. I’d line up some solid conversations with him about bowling. Listen to him, hear him out, ask, and otherwise build the friendship on that note. Hey, if you go all the way, get a date lined up to go bowling with him! Again, the thought here is not to build his ego or manipulate him at all but to instead generate conversation with him and build friendship. Also, it may not be comfortable at first but this is just opening the door a crack.

I cannot answer all of this complex phenomenon that distant avoidant spouses engage in during this short post but don’t give up hope, you have a lot of options you really need to be open to thinking ‘out of the box’ and be open to doing some of your own work so as to be able to work with him.

Working with a husband that is emotionally shut down is difficult, even for therapists let alone a wife that is trying and lonely and hurt. I’d recommend starting to work with a counselor, just you at first to get some of your bases covered and start to get your own hurt and pain worked through. I’d then suggest a good dose of couples counseling.

Please see the video below for more specifics on divorce and marriage.

One Response to 'Dealing With A Distant & Avoidant Husband'

  1. LDS Wife blogger says:

    I just wanted to give you a talk that I just love and found so helpful. It’s called “falling out of love… and climbing back in”

    I read it on the Ensign back when it was first published in Jan 2005. It made such an impression on me that five years later I still remember it.

    Much love and healing,
    LDS Wife