Please help me think through a marriage that's hollowing out from the inside. Survival strategies needed.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Hi. I've been married for almost 15 years, and the last five have been tough: death in the family, major health event, moving, major job change, all in addition to parenting and work and heavy daily responsibilities that we have chosen, but which are now mandatory. His small business is emotionally demanding, especially because he's somebody who needs a lot of time to be quiet and recharge. I'm running everything at home. That includes caring for our kids and dealing with emergencies, all the housework (except dinner, he's an awesome cook), and a fair chunk of the outdoor responsibilities. We are both doing a lot, and we're not as young as we used to be, and the connection in our marriage has suffered.
As far as support systems go, we have no family nearby, friends are few and busy with their own lives (I have several friends here; my husband has a few acquaintances and gets together with them once every two months or so), and the larger surrounding community is...foreign... to us. I have found a few places to volunteer and do so once a month. My best friend is a couple of hours away, so I only see her every six months, but she is a terrific support by phone and email. This by way of saying that my husband and I are largely what we have in terms of a social life, of emotional support, and of intellectual life.
We're pretty self-sufficient. But I may have hit my limit and I don't know what to do.
He has mostly abandoned our mutual large project, saying that I'm in charge of it (we usually plan together and work on it together). He does not participate in parenting as much or in the way that I'd like him to, though I am aware of differences in parenting styles and the fact that I can't make him do it my way. He works hard in his business; he goes to bed early and takes as many naps as he can, because he needs the energy, and that takes up a good portion of the time he's at home. He often skips breakfast and gets fast food later because (he recently told me) he's grumpy with me because I don't make him something hot to eat before he goes to work/pack lunch for him. He mostly doesn't talk about work until something goes wrong. I encourage him to maintain connections with his friends because his tendency is to let friendships drift. He would rather throw things away than maintain them. Broken objects will sit for months because he just stops seeing them.
Which brings me to the most painful thing. In five years, we've had sex four times. Three of them at my request. I approached him about this a little over a year ago, and was open, clear, and direct about how painful this lack of intimacy was for me, and proposed several solutions for him to consider. His initial response was to admit that he hadn't been showing up for our marriage. Then he ordered some books on marital intimacy for me to read. Then he bought me a vibrator.
I know it was meant to be a gift to help me satisfy my needs, but the message I got was that he wasn't interested in helping me meet them beyond doing some online ordering. I can tell that story to my best friends and laugh, but it hurts.
And still, no sex. Failing connection. A real sense that if I want our daily existence to continue, I have to be the one to do it. If I want anything to change, I'll have to drive it. That I am sustaining this partnership by myself. He is a terrific man -- I love him and will not consider divorce -- and we are exhausted and I have been as clear and direct and understanding and supportive as possible (including refraining from talking about emotionally-laden stuff when I know he is tapped for energy and problem-solving) and I don't know how to do everything we do without him. I am strong, resilient, and skilled. And I want my partner back.
I am aware of John Gottman's work. For good reasons, counseling is a long-shot ("Pray harder" isn't helpful advice, and we both know most of the rest of the local counselors personally). Got some reading on the shelf. Have lots of other duties to keep me busy and active. I have some perspective -- I know that marriages wax and wane, but five years is a long time to wane, isn't it? -- and in many ways, my life is good. I have to emphasize that there is no abuse or yelling or particular anger. I still like and respect him. He's just... absent, even when he's doing something with or for family. Direct and open conversation has not changed anything. We continue to show up for the jobs in front of us. Is it time to let go of the hope for connection, and accept parallel lives within our marriage?
What do I do? What else can I try? What else can I say to him? What do I tell myself when I'm tired and lonesome?