How can I connect with my busy husband?
September 1, 2017 1:55 PM   Subscribe

I have often begged my husband for time out as a couple. I would be happy with a low-key date night once a month. He is proud of his job and sees that as his main contribution to our household. He has angrily told me "You have a big house and two beautiful children and that's STILL not enough for you?"

We are both in our early 40s and have three children, one with a mild disability. My husband has an job that requires a lot of travel.

I am desperate for some time with him and for the opportunity to connect as a couple. Last year I told him all I wanted for my birthday was a night out. He worked late, brought me Arianna Huffington's Book, and threw a frozen lasagne in the oven. He couldn't understand why I was upset, after all, I didn't have to cook. Our 20th anniversary was also not acknowledged. When I try to get him presents to celebrate his special occasions, he often throws them in the back of his car and never opens the box.

The other day I asked him to send me a picture of his office (I've never been there -- just never have been invited). I am an artist and and a graphic designer. He sent me a picture of his office and the walls were white and bare. It just sorta .... crushed me. He doesn't value the things that I love, and is not interested in having a little piece of me at the place where he spends the most of his time.

I will ask him if he is interested in going out with me, maybe to a movie and dinner. He will tell me that he is just as happy watching Netflix on the couch, to him that is special enough. He makes me feel like crap for wanting anything more than that. He spends most of his evenings in front of the computer playing games.

I realize that I can plan date nights. I planned one earlier this year. I feel like I am always the one building the bridge. He will talk about his job and the things that he's interested in. When I try to bring up my interests he says "Yeah, I'm just waiting for you to GO with that" -- meaning to be more commercially successful. It just makes me sad to feel like I am dragging him out against his will.

I have recently lost weight, dedicated myself to taking care of my skin and visiting the salon regularly, and I try to do as much as I can at home so he doesn't have to worry about it. We still have sex often but I need more than that.

He will happily make time for happy hours at work, birthday celebrations for him mom and dad, nights out with his MBA cohort. I believe that he loves me, but I feel like a roommate, maid, cook and nanny. Clearly there is something that I am doing wrong -- how can I get through to him that my requests are completely reasonable? Most couples go out occasionally, right? And how can I make him want to spend time with me?

I know people are going to suggest it, but he will not go to couples therapy.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
You should go to therapy for you. Just by yourself, so you can talk to someone who's going to be on your team.

Your husband married a support system, not a friend. He does not want to connect with you.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:01 PM on September 1, 2017 [125 favorites]

Just because he won't go to couples therapy doesn't mean you shouldn't go to a therapist for yourself. You need to talk out methods of talking to your husband with a professional. Also- get your assets in order and make sure you'd be supported in the event of a divorce. Not saying that's the endgame, but if all your husband is using you for is sex and childcare and is completely ignoring your emotional needs, don't be surprised if he dumps you for a younger model eventually, as it really doesn't sound as if he loves you anymore. Protect yourself, protect your kids.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:02 PM on September 1, 2017 [20 favorites]

What makes you believe that he loves you? I don't mean that rhetorically, I mean for you to consider the question seriously: What does he do to make you feel loved as a human being, not just as his house-keeper, child-raiser? Just saying "I love you" isn't enough. People have to demonstrate it. Love is an ACTION. So what does he DO?

What if you told him that you don't feel loved? That he gives you less consideration than he gives to his MBA colleagues? That he treats you as an intellectual/commercial inferior?

He sounds like a lucky man to have you. You, on the other hand, may have a big house (etc.), but that isn't very satisfying to the human soul.
posted by Halo in reverse at 2:04 PM on September 1, 2017 [23 favorites]

Clearly there is something that I am doing wrong
I don't think so. I think it's not you, it's him. You don't need to be beating yourself up in addition to enduring what sounds like a sad and lonely situation!
posted by anotherthink at 2:04 PM on September 1, 2017 [101 favorites]

"Clearly there is something that I am doing wrong" -- no. That is not clear at all. It is not obvious that there is anything you can do that would make him change.

Agreed with the above on individual therapy. "How can I make him want to spend time with me?" is not a question you should have to ask about someone who allegedly loves you.

And something you didn't mention: does he make time for the children and their activities? Is he an active participant in their lives? Because a lot of what you're describing reminds me of my own father, and his lack of interest in my activities and so forth really did a number on me that I'm just now figuring out, three decades later.
posted by katemonster at 2:05 PM on September 1, 2017 [18 favorites]

I'm so sorry, honey, but your husband's words and actions do not seem like love to me. He isn't doing right by you at all. The advice above is sound. This is categorically not you. It's definitely him.
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:07 PM on September 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

"You have a big house and two beautiful children"

"We are both in our early 40s and have three children, one with a mild disability."

Uh, either he said that a long time ago, before kid 3, or he doesn't consider your third child beautiful? If the former, whatever, but if the latter, he sounds like a fucking monster, and you should leave him immediately.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:08 PM on September 1, 2017 [123 favorites]

Now old are the kids? Does he ever be with them and let you go out with friends?

Text him: "Can you be home by 7? I'm going to catch a movie at 7:30."
"Can you keep the kids Saturday 12 - 5? I'd like to go to ... event".
posted by at at 2:12 PM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

Please, do not think that this is a problem with you. You are not the problem here. The advice above to see a therapist on your own and to make sure you and your children are financially secure is very valid. And again, you are not the problem here and I am so sorry that he is making you feel that you are.

I don't normally comment on relationship asks but your quote from him at the top really set off red flags for me.
posted by halcyonday at 2:13 PM on September 1, 2017 [15 favorites]

It's not clear how much of this you have told him directly. If you have difficultly saying these things directly, you could give him a slightly edited written version of this question.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:19 PM on September 1, 2017

To the people bitching to her, it's not like she's asking him to do more around the house, take time off work, stop doing anything he loves or hell even to spend time with the kids. She wants to go on a monthly date with a man who supposedly loves her whom she loves? How is that a bad thing? He couldn't even put himself to put himself out on her freaking birthday?

Wanting to spend time connecting with a spouse that isn't just sex is a perfectly normal, healthy & reasonable thing to want. I nth the advice, that if he won't go see a therapist that you should. If only to help you work out what your options are going forward. You can't make someone want to spend time with you, all you can work on is what you are going to do about it about the fact you're married to someone that doesn't seem to actually like you.

Honestly I'd be researching lawyers, getting copies of all our combined financial information & checking for a girlfriend at this point, but I'm an old cynical suspicious bastard.
posted by wwax at 2:22 PM on September 1, 2017 [49 favorites]

How can I connect with my busy husband?...
And how can I make him want to spend time with me?

This is like the lightbulb joke. How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one, but the lightbulb has to want to be changed.

You cannot connect with someone who doesn't want to connect with you.

While I also recommend therapy for you, I think the answer is...disconnect from him. Run hard and fast after what you want in life in the other direction - find amazing friends, a great book club, a hiking gang, whatever it is you want short of an affair.

There is a book about this by Harriet Lerner called The Dance of Intimacy and how if you stop chasing sometimes the other person starts, but to be honest, I'm not sure that will happen from your description of his callous remarks to you. But even if it doesn't, then you have all those supports as you move into the next phase of your life.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:33 PM on September 1, 2017 [21 favorites]

I try to do as much as I can at home so he doesn't have to worry about it.

Well, stop doing that. Focus on you and your needs, your kids and their needs. Figure out what you want to do in your life and instead of cleaning house, stocking the fridge, making dinner, guarding his alone time, etc., work on your own things. Including making sure that if he doesn't come home after work someday that you aren't totally adrift without adequate financial access and a good understanding of where all the accounts are.

Your life seems out of balance with him the wage earner (and therefore "done" with his duties, supposedly) and you as the stay-at-home spouse doing all the things. I think barring moments of great need, both partners need to contribute to the domestic chores and harmony. So, I'd advise to just start dropping some of the things that you do to make his life so easy and let him figure out how to pick up the work.

Give him some space to miss you but don't let the grass grow, focus on you. And I don't mean manicures and salon visits. Do your art stuff. Take a class. Get out of the house. Make him do more and participate. If he won't be an active parent, get a sitter more often and do your own thing. You might consider getting a job out of the house to even the scales, have more independence and refresh your worldview.

What it sounds like to me is that he doesn't respect you. He doesn't feel that your contributions are worth it. He might even feel that since you have so much time to make his life so easy that you have the better deal. If your child who has special needs takes up a lot of your energy, he may feel that his needs should come second and so he both resents the attention the child takes but also is angry about feeling second place...and then might even resent you for having the strength of character to do the hard work.

Of course, this is all speculation. Time to hit up a therapist. For you and then for both of you. If you want to make it work or even find out if it can work.
posted by amanda at 2:33 PM on September 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

"You have a big house and two beautiful children and that's STILL not enough for you?"

If this isn't a mistype, and he doesn't consider the child with a disability to be a "beautiful" child, you need to GTFO for the protection of your children. Like, "secretly meet with a lawyer tomorrow" GTFO.

This question breaks my heart and I am so sorry you're going through this. You don't deserve this treatment, at all.
posted by lalex at 2:43 PM on September 1, 2017 [20 favorites]

This is heartbreaking. Big hugs. What you do is all up to you and what you want from life. I think therapy could help on that. Even books that inspire you could be great. A support system could help, too; you sound like you feel a bit isolated? He sounds a bit depressed, but the "why"s within him don't matter as long as he's still governed by them. The place to start isn't going to be asking him for the right thing or doing it in the right way; the improvement in your life is going to be a change that comes from within you that either makes him sense that he needs to connect more with you, or that allows you to seek out what you want from life somewhere else (... be that a satisfying art career and the same marriage, a different marriage, the same marriage with a different balance of power and level of connection... whatever), or maybe something in the middle. For now, focus more on shoring yourself up and really absorbing what everyone is saying in this thread. As that belief takes root, you'll know the right next step to take. Big hugs, I'm sorry.
posted by salvia at 2:51 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
He said "You have a big house and two beautiful children" before the third child was born, and while he was pursuing his graduate degree. That was a particularly hard time as the kids and I barely got to see him for two years because he was working full time and going to school. I was begging for a little bit of time and that was one of the responses I received. He does love all of the kids.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:13 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I want to start by saying, what you want is completely reasonable, however, given some of the comments you've quoted here and the birthday gift etc, I assume he is the main breadwinner? How are your finances generally? The little jabs about you not being commercially successful - maybe he's just a jerk who believes you are your job and how much money you make defines how successful you are, but maybe he's feeling the pressure of being your family's main source of income. Its a big burden to carry especially if you have debts - eg. a large mortgage and car payments. Maybe deep down he wishes that you'd shoulder more of that burden yourself. Maybe that has made him a little resentful.
Its easy to overlook everything our spouses do for us, especially household stuff. In general, women are socialised to feel the guilt and shame of an untidy/unclean house so much more than men are that if you're really good at it, everything will be clean, tidy and fixed before he's even noticed anything needed doing. It sounds like he's had a very traditional upbringing.

Its normal and reasonable to want what you want but there could be reasons beyond him just being a jerk as to why he doesn't want it too. If he wont talk about it and wont go to couselling though, you're still a bit stuck. I would recommend separating the going out from connecting with your husband. Connect with him through netflix on the couch and go feel special with your girl friends
posted by missmagenta at 3:13 PM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

> You cannot connect with someone who doesn't want to connect with you.

True, but the husband, like OP, is not a static individual. He's lost that loving feeling, or won't put in the effort to be a husband. So in order to change, he needs an incentive-- a threat of losing something, or a tempting opportunity to gain something. The first one's kind of obvious, but the second one would mean finding out what he wants and if the price isn't too high (and I don't mean money, but time, patience, forbearance, and OP's own willingness to change), then try offering that.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:25 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

There have been times in my marriage when I was very lonely because my husband, who did and does love me very much, was nevertheless consumed with work and its attendant stress. He too wanted nothing more after work than to stare at a screen and once even pulled out his phone to play games while we were at dinner on my birthday. He did this not out of contempt (although it did not feel great, I can tell you) but out of anxiety fidgets.

A few things helped and I will share them in case they are possibilities for you.

1. I came to understand the seasonality of his work - there are months at a time when it just consumes his whole self. I adjust my expectations during these seasons, and try to schedule something reconnecting, like a trip, when they're over.

2. I realized our together time had to be a place where you physically couldn't have screens. I suggested and arranged date nights at a hot tub spa place, instead of dinners out. Couples massage + hot tub together afterwards led to more relaxation, and more conversations about stuff other than work. Particularly during stressful periods where he doesn't really have anything on his mind OTHER than work, this is much better than going to dinner and effortfully trying to make conversation and failing.

3. It did take a crisis to really bring home that his anxiety response of detachment was destructive to our marriage. Unlike your guy he was ok with getting therapy and it has helped.

Of course, this is all in the context of a loving marriage that both parties want to do as well as possible; I have no idea what's in your husband's head. But that work anxiety really can feel like "I don't care about you" when it gets bad.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:29 PM on September 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

OK, this is going be long-winded and unpopular advice, but I am going to give it anyway. You are not wrong for wanting to spend more time with your husband. He is a acting like a jerk for tossing away your gifts and promising you a night out on the town and then saying you should feel elated with a frozen lasagna. It is not OK.

I'm a little younger than you with no kids, but I have to say that I see a part of myself in your husband. In most relationships, there is one person (you) who needs the other person (your DH) to be around more than the other. Similar to your DH, I have a demanding career that requires a lot of extra-curricular activities, late nights working, and happy hours. I also have more close friends who I enjoy spending time and activities with friends that my SO would prefer I do with them instead of my friends. In addition to the demanding work activities, and the social activities, I enjoy a lot of solitude. All of these things mean that my SO is often upset that we do not spend enough time together. However, I make time for my SO regularly. I frequently express appreciation for SO's work to maintain our home (I do little to none). I make time when SO says that something is very important.

However, my SO still resents the fact that I am away so much and do not help out with the home and I can tell that you feel the same way. I would be happy if my SO found more outlets for their social needs outside of always being with me, do you think your DH would feel the same? What is your social and personal life like outside of your husband? Could you get a sitter for the kids and see a movie with some girlfriends? I think if you start not needing him so much it would really help you and could possible make him want to be with you more. Jealousy is powerful and absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

People here are already suggesting contacting lawyers, which is a bit premature. I would encourage you to go to a therapist solo, I think nearly everyone can benefit from it especially someone in your challenging situation.

Just because I think contacting an attorney is pre-mature does not mean that you should not think about it. It's definitely possible that your DH may be having an affair based on your description of his behaviors on the internet. But the real question for you is what you want. It's unlikely that he will change significantly, people rarely change. Are you OK with continuing the relationship if not? I urge you to think this through. It sounds like you have three young children and no real career. What would the loss of your husband's income mean for you and your children's lifestyle? What about caring for your special needs child? Have would you feel about split custody of your children? In some cases divorce is the best option, but I'm not sure if this is one of them based on what you have written.

TLDR: Get therapy for yourself first. Do your best to find ways to make yourself happy outside of your husband and then re-evaluate.
posted by seesom at 3:30 PM on September 1, 2017 [13 favorites]

This guy sounds like someone who considers a wife and children to be a set of possessions and not a network of relationships. He won't spend time with you, throws your gifts in the garbage without opening them, and repeatedly rejects every effort of yours to have more intimacy and togetherness in your relationship. Why does this guy even have a wife and kids if he takes so little pleasure in them and makes so little effort to know them?

None of these questions are your job to answer, but you should not assume that this is because of a failing on your part.
posted by Autumnheart at 3:35 PM on September 1, 2017 [13 favorites]

This is a man who will be blindsided by a divorce.

You should blindside him.
posted by Automocar at 3:38 PM on September 1, 2017 [53 favorites]

True, but the husband, like OP, is not a static individual. He's lost that loving feeling, or won't put in the effort to be a husband. So in order to change, he needs an incentive-- a threat of losing something, or a tempting opportunity to gain something. The first one's kind of obvious, but the second one would mean finding out what he wants and if the price isn't too high (and I don't mean money, but time, patience, forbearance, and OP's own willingness to change), then try offering that.

Yes, she can definitely continue to look for the magic formula that will make him realize that spouses are supposed to occasionally talk to each other as if they cherished each other's happiness or even like to spend 1 in 30 evenings together. She can attempt to transact love through her Givingness and her Takingawayness.

I still recommend live your best life, OP. Let him ride along if he notices but I suspect if you put half the effort into enjoying your life that you are in trying to get him to notice it, lots of clarity will come along for both of you.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:58 PM on September 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

When you have reached the point that you are begging your spouse for something, and they do not respond to your request, it's not that they don't understand what you are asking for. It's that they don't care.

I was required to attend a parenting class while I was divorcing. The instructor pointed out that as marriages fail, the participants go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance. I looked back at the trajectory of my marriage struggle and, sure enough, that fits. I remember the constellation of feelings very well at each of those four first steps, and I feel like I understand them a lot more clearly now.

I bring this up because when people post relationship questions on AskMe now, often they'll resonate so strongly with those phases.

My friend, you are bargaining as hard as you can. That's where that sense of "I must be doing something wrong" comes from.

I agree that going to therapy is a good idea--for yourself, or with him if he'll agree to go. But--gently, respectfully--I suggest you brace yourself for the sadness as you come to terms that he's already left you; he just hasn't done you the courtesy of actually vacating your house or your bed.

It is soul killing to live with someone who shows you such disdain. There's really no other way to describe it when your spouse knows full well how much you're hurting, but still keeps you around because it's the path of least resistance, and also you perform some important duties.

You deserve better.
posted by Sublimity at 4:12 PM on September 1, 2017 [72 favorites]

I believe that he loves me, but I feel like a roommate, maid, cook and nanny. Clearly there is something that I am doing wrong

Your beliefs are wrong, your feelings are correct, you are doing nothing wrong.

Get a good lawyer and get things all lined up perfectly for divorce NOW. Then get your own therapy, knowing that you have things sorted such that you and the kids will be financially secure. The worst-case scenario here is that you find out about a current or future affair and are not prepared when the divorce comes from the other side. You will wish you had prepared.
posted by tillsbury at 4:14 PM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I believe that he loves me, but I feel like a roommate, maid, cook and nanny.

He may love having you in these capacities, but he doesn't seem to love having you as a partner or anything personal about you.

Clearly there is something that I am doing wrong

The only thing you're doing wrong is blaming yourself. You've spent a lot of effort trying to make your emotional needs clear and he has repeatedly made clear that he isn't interested and unfortunately you can't change that. None of us have the power to change how other people feel.

Ask yourself how much longer you want to live with someone who sees your emotional needs as this trivial and unimportant. File for divorce accordingly.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:38 PM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Supporting all the comments that say, "expect this will not change - he does not care about your needs or interests; decide how long/if you want to put up with that; take appropriate actions." If you don't have a financial existence apart from him, now is definitely a good time to start.

Divorce may sound like a shocking reaction to "he won't take me on a date," but: are you content with this pattern not changing for the next 15 years? Because he has said, very clearly, I don't care if I never go on a date with you again. Dating, in his mind, is part of courtship - it's something you put up with in order to acquire a marriage. He already has a marriage; why would he want to go on dates? It seems he puts all "relationship-building" activities in that category - he has the relationship he wants, and doesn't believe it requires any attention to maintain.

While you're looking into long-term options, consider going out with friends, or by yourself. Rookie Magazine has a terrific article about Life Skill: How to Take Yourself Out to Dinner. Pick a nice place, set a date and time, dress up as much or as little as you want, and go out by yourself. Savor rich foods and pleasant atmosphere at your own pace. Enjoy your own company.

And then decide if what you're getting out of your marriage is worth what you're putting into it.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:02 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go somewhere terrible, but are you certain there isn't someone else in the picture? It sounds like he is providing you and your family basic needs, and getting emotional connections elsewhere. I would look into protecting yourself and your family. Sorry.
posted by Toddles at 5:12 PM on September 1, 2017 [15 favorites]

Yeah, this sounds a lot like my parents' marriage before the end. What really helped my mother was going to individual therapy, building up her own self-esteem, and learning how to stand up for herself and her children. *Begging* for anything in a marriage is a mug's game and never leads anywhere good. This guy has no interest in giving you what you need; even if you stay together I think the most important thing you can do is to stop waiting for him to.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:37 PM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Divorce will be much more horrible than what you're going through now and you need to think carefully what you're willing to put yourself and your kids through. It will be emotionally and financially devastating even if he pays child and spousal support. You will be doing all the same work now but with even less support. It will be very difficult to date as a 40-something single mom with three kids. However, don't take divorce completely off the table.

Your husband needs a firm Come to Jesus talk about how you feel and he needs to know that divorce is a possibility. He may not know how strongly this is impacting you. You need to be VERY DIRECT and say something like "We cannot go on like this. When you [do or don't do specific things], I feel unloved. I feel like a roommate, maid, cook and nanny. I need you to [do specific things in specific timeframes]." Listen to what he says. He's probably going to be defensive. He is definitely not going to change overnight. You could cut and run but I'd give him a chance to come around if you're sure you've impressed upon him the serious of the situation.

This is going to be very difficult for you because you are not used to asking for what you need. This is why you need to see a therapist to get your confidence up.
posted by AFABulous at 6:49 PM on September 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

Being lonely in a marriage is heartbreaking. I truly know how you feel. Begging for time and attention shouldn't be part of your life. I finally gathered the courage to proceed with my divorce and have never been happier. I am alone, but no longer lonely. If you decide to divorce, it will be hard, but it's doable. I miss being part of what I thought my life was going to look like. I don't miss the emptiness and ache in my heart.
You deserve better. You deserve love.
posted by jennstra at 6:59 PM on September 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

Yeah, maybe one more shot is all he deserves. Maybe.

Consider showing him this thread, so that he can see how many people think he's done you wrong and you deserve better.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:10 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

>>He spends most of his evenings in front of the computer playing games.

So do you play games with him? Might be worth trying as a way to connect with him in a different way. Maybe try arranging a date night at a VR arcade.

And, yeh, get the workbook at, cause even if you don't divorce something could happen and it would be good to know where you stand.
posted by Sophont at 7:47 PM on September 1, 2017

OP, would you consider asking the mods to post a throwaway email?
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 8:02 PM on September 1, 2017

And how can I make him want to spend time with me?

I don't think you can, but I do wonder what would happen if you decided to work on fulfilling some of your needs for emotional intimacy elsewhere. I'm not suggesting anything like an affair, but to work on building your own circle of friends of spending time with them. If you can't have a date night once a month, you can at least go out on the town with some other people once a month. Or more. This is just a guess, but I suspect that if you really working on developing meaningful connections outside of your marriage, two things would happen. (1) It would partially make up for the lack of connection you have with your husband. (2) It would rebalance the power dynamic in the relationship. Right now, from his perspective, he doesn't need anything from you that he isn't getting, but you need something from him. You're out of balance. If you need him less, you move closer to equilibrium, and that might motivate him to rethink what he wants from the relationship. I also think you should figure out a gameplan for initiating a divorce. Figure what your assets would be, income, what you could get in a divorce. Consult with a lawyer. You don't have to set your plan in motion, but when you know, deep inside, that you could leave and be okay, that's going to change the power dynamic further.

You said that he told you once "You have a big house and two beautiful children and that's STILL not enough for you?" How did you respond? What would happen if you said "No, that's not enough. I want an emotional connection with a husband. I could've had a house and kids all by myself."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:31 PM on September 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

When you have reached the point that you are begging your spouse for something, and they do not respond to your request, it's not that they don't understand what you are asking for. It's that they don't care.

It's not that obvious to me. Some of us men can be pretty oblivious.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:41 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some of us men can be pretty oblivious.

As a choice and a strategy, because it makes it easier to live in a selfish and exploitative way. Well, strategies have consequences.

OP, if you didn't have kids, I'd be telling you to get on the phone to a divorce lawyer yesterday. But you do, and one of them has special needs. It doesn't take a crystal ball to tell that your husband is going to be a total shit if you ever do start divorce proceedings. He is going to resent every dime he pays out and he is going to abandon or semi-abandon your kids, especially the special-needs one. This makes your choices much harder than I think some people above recognize. Because, yes: you are married to someone who does not love or respect you, who thinks of you as staff he got in. That is a terrible situation and will almost certainly not change. But divorce under your particular circumstances may be substantially worse for you and your kids. You will really have to balance the pros and cons.

In the meantime, it sounds like you're not currently working? You need to get back to your career. Both to start establishing some kind of foundation for a financial future without him, and to nourish your sense of worth and interest in the world. Even if you decide to stay with him, there is a very non-trivial possibility he will meet someone younger, blonder, and more submissive, and leave you.
posted by praemunire at 9:05 PM on September 1, 2017 [35 favorites]

Is there anything good about him? Anything at all? Why do you love him? Maybe a better way to ask that would be, what do you love about him? Why do you want to keep this cruel lump who enjoys making you feel bad?

Everyone who responds by talking about how much he does or doesn't love you and how you can make him either love you or show his love or simulate some fake love is accepting the supplication frame and contributing to the problem. because love from a worthless man is worthless. But you are not cruel, and your love has worth. What do you love? You are the judge, not the judged. he is not God on the throne telling you your value. You can do some valuing of your own. What is this man's value to you -- why?
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:10 PM on September 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

My heart goes out to you, OP.

I second all the others in this thread telling you that what you want is important, and that your needs are valid. I cannot find any explanation or excuse for how your spouse is treating you.
I know the feeling so many of us have that if we ONLY could somehow break through to the other person's heart, make them really understand, make ourselves more lovable in their eyes, then they'd start treating us right.

All this repeated reaching out and coming up empty is truly demoralizing, and spirit-crushing.

I would like to encourage you to seek out people who already love you, to gather your Team You around you. If you don't feel like you have such people in your life, I'd look for a therapist - with the caveat that it might take a few tries to find a good fit and it's not worth it to spend money on a therapist who isn't.

Also, yeah - money can create great imbalance in a relationship. You need your own money that you can spend however you wish without having to explain yourself to your husband. If it's possible to get legal advice about your standing, I'd do so. Would it be possible for you to get free legal advice by calling a DV hotline? (I might be off the mark but this is where I'd probably ask first - they might have good resources).

Finally, I've known men who think this way about marriage. They bring in the bacon, the wife gets "the nice house and beautiful children" and in their eyes, that's it. I don't know but to me they seem emotionally stunted. It's almost like there is no water in that well, if you know what I mean.

Reading through your post, I had the feeling of a person who is thirsty.
I know friends and family cannot quench this thirst for a deep, intimate, romantic relationship. But it looks like reaching out for this special kind of love to your husband is just exhausting.
So maybe, giving yourself a break from trying could give you some strength. Being a bit selfish for a change. Or even giving this clueless guy the middle finger in your mind, occasionally.

All the best.
posted by M. at 9:35 PM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

A number of guys have been socialised to believe that they are the provider and that's considered "what you do" and you have the big house, the wife, the three kids and that signifies how successful you are. The concept of attending to your wife's needs is not a factor in this equation.

A number of women have been socialised to believe that you create the perfect home - you attend to how you look and ensure that your partner doesn't have to do anything when he gets home.

Now, this type of relationship can exist (has existed, does exist) if both people want the same thing and like the arrangement (he enjoys providing; she enjoys homemaking - deep emotional bonding not really necessary), but it all falls apart if that is not the case.

"The provider" may then be resentful of the role and regress when not at work, and "the homemaker" feels devoid of emotional connection and lonely.

He thinks he's doing more than enough already and doesn't have the energy to do anything else, and she feels bored.

So, if you're really truly unhappy then something has to change - you might have to talk to your partner about whether he's really happy doing all of the work he's doing; you might need to think about your own career and what you want to do there. If you want to celebrate your birthday, you might need to rely on your friends and not your partner. You might need to stop buying presents for him and buy them for your friends (or yourself!) instead. You might need to be out of the house more with people who aren't your partner. And, if you don't want to do that, if you would really rather have a partner who you do all of these things with, you might want to think about whether you should be in a relationship with someone else instead.
posted by heyjude at 9:59 PM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I spent 3 years (at least) asking mefites how to fix my irretrievably broken marriage before taking the step I knew was inevitable. The next 2 years were very difficult and I wondered if giving up companionship (?) for freedom and dignity was worth it. It was. It really was. It is far, far, far better to be unpartnered and doing your own thing than walking on eggshells and desperately trying to fix things when your "partner" won't. This is one of those ask-me's that fucks with the asker, because you want to know how to accomplish the impossible - to get your partner to partner you. I don't think he will. I don't know why. I think after a terrible split, you can find a better life. I think you're not ready yet to know this - it takes time to give up on what you thought the rest of your life was. So, in the interim, build your networks, your friendships, your social life, so that if you do decide to go down that road, you're ready. It's hard, I know, but not as hard as living with someone who doesn't listen or care.
posted by b33j at 10:00 PM on September 1, 2017 [23 favorites]

I will ask him if he is interested in going out with me, maybe to a movie and dinner. He will tell me that he is just as happy watching Netflix on the couch, to him that is special enough.

Does the conversation end there? If so he seems to think it's all about him: "Would you like to go out?" "Nah, I'm good."

Is there room for you (in case you haven't done this) to tell him what you need rather than request it? As in "I need you to put me on the calendar once a month for a date out of the house." Or "we need to go to couple's counseling. You can do the research and scheduling or I can make the appointment myself." And if he says no, your answer is "That's not acceptable" and "There are some serious problems and this is an effort you need to make for the sake of your marriage."

To clarify: I really don't think you've been remiss in not doing this, if in fact you haven't. I also think that he sounds like a self-absorbed jerk and strongly agree with the answers above about getting your ducks in a row just in case you do decide to divorce him (or if he decides having a wife who wants to spend time with him is too much of a hassle and decides to divorce you.) I think it would make a lot of sense, both practically and in terms of giving you a sense of control, for you to make sure you're in a solid position before you make changes to your approach with him.

That said, I do think the assertive approach might be at least interesting to try with him. He really seems like he doesn't respect you enough and that he's decided that only "go-getters" count or something (what's with that book he gave you? I'm curious if he read beyond the title.) So it's possible he might at least be jolted out of his complacency by you talking with him like you're business associates rather than like a subordinate asking him for favors.

I had a couple of questions while reading: do the two of you ever go out for social events with other friends? When he goes out with his MBA cohort, can you/have you come along (has he introduced you to his cohort, do any of their SOs hang out with the group, does he show any interest in them knowing you)? How often do the five of you do things outside of the house as a family? Does he ever take the kids out himself?
posted by trig at 12:54 AM on September 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

He's not going to change. He has no reason to, because he's getting everything he wants already. Why would he give that up? So you need to ask yourself, "Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?"

I suspect the answer is no, but you're afraid of what will happen if you leave. So I'm going to tell you what will happen: things will be hard for a while, and then one day you will find yourself wondering why the hell you stayed with him as long as you did.

You deserve better. You deserve to be happy, to be valued, to be cherished and cared for.

And that part about him not even bothering to open the gifts you give him? That is incredibly cruel, and it tells you exactly how he feels about you. I would have left him just for that one thing alone. Don't waste your love and your life on this psychopath.

Find the most vicious lawyer you can. Ask a women's shelter for a recommendation. If they can't help you, come back here and ask for a referral in your area.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:11 AM on September 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

He's not busy. He doesn't want to do things with you and he doesn't care what you want.

I was in a marriage like yours for 20 years, also with three kids. I wish somebody had made it really obvious to me that my (ex)husband's choices were his and there was nothing I could do to reframe his mindset. Dude wanted to live a certain way and the rest of us had no say. (Reader, I divorced him.)

You're describing a few different issues but what it boils down to is that your husband is perfectly happy with the status quo and it's really unlikely that's going to change. His level of contempt and disdain for you is truly appalling. The most you'll be able to do about his behavior is force him to go to counseling with you in a "counseling or divorce" ultimatum. And you may be devastated when he chooses divorce.

It's important that you see you're not going to be able to change him and it's nothing you're doing wrong. He chooses how he treats you and he chooses how to work on his relationship with you. You can't force any of this and it doesn't matter if you gain weight or lose weight or dye your hair. This needs to come from his desire to work on making a better life with you, with respecting you, and with him fully committed to joining Team Us.

What you can do is to start seeing someone for your own clarity, force him to see someone with you because otherwise it's divorce, and try to do things that increase your personal satisfaction. Get a job, volunteer, start training for a 10k. Find something so you're not putting all your mental energy into your marriage.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:07 AM on September 2, 2017 [19 favorites]

Make couples therapy an ultimatum.

"This marriage is no longer working for me. I want to attend therapy together to fix that. If you refuse, I will take that to mean that you want to end the relationship."

Have this conversation after speaking with an attorney and making a plan to get out.
posted by pecanpies at 8:56 AM on September 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't wish to add to your burden of guilt - do I or don't I undergo the trauma of forcing change on this bully if it actually might mean divorce - but think of your children. They are much more savvy about relationships and power in families than generally given credit for, and they see their father now as someone to be deferred to and cleaned up after. It might not be physical trauma, but his attitude and behavior borders on abusive to you, and neglectful to your children. How much better would it be to see their mother stand up for herself and insist that parenthood and families need genuine input from both mother and father? They see you giving and giving and giving, unhappy and without genuine joy in your marriage. They deserve more, and so do you.

I think therapy will be important for you. It will support you and connect you with your strengths, which you may have forgotten you have, what with all the childcare and housework and devotion to your family. And if you ever did have a fun and intimate relationship with your husband (so you know he is capable of it) and now all you get is an exhausted man who disdains your gifts and contributions and is not interested in giving anything to the relationship, then I have to agree with many posters above that it is likely that there is another woman he is sharing himself with. She is likely a go-getter he met through work, who demands what she needs and he respects her for it. However, I'm pessimistic that he can ever turn around his relationship with you. If he does love the children, and the real threat of divorce knocks him back enough, he might focus again on them. And possibly you. It requires honesty from him, and vulnerability. You would probably know if he has ever displayed these qualities.

I wish only the best for you. Whatever you choose, please start with therapy. It will help you clarify your thoughts and be a supportive and safe place for you to explore all your options.
posted by citygirl at 11:31 AM on September 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Although there's a difference of degree and detail (no kids involved, I'm doing most of the housework recently, the inciting incident involves Mrs Straw being absent from my life for a while due to her family issues), to some extent I could see myself on the other side of this scenario. We're pursuing therapy, both individually and together, but we have some of the same communication disconnects you describe. So a set of random suggestions based on some feelings I've got bouncing around right now:

N-thing therapy for yourself, but: As you search for therapy for yourself, be aware that you'll want a list of possibilities for couples therapy who are not the person you choose for yourself. I found a therapist for me, had two sessions, therapist (rightly) said "gee, sounds like the real issues here need two of you", but now I'm looking around for another therapist for just me (And this is couples therapist #3 for us).

And your husband is dealing with depression. He's got himself into a situation which society told him would make him happy, and he's not, and, worse, to some extent, the patterns of interactions he's had with you over the years is what got him there. At some level he knows this, and wants to do something different, which is why you need outside help to change that interaction pattern.

Thinking of his reactions as "right" or "wrong" isn't productive. I too had the "ugh" reaction to the "two beautiful children" comment, but demonizing him isn't gonna help (unless you've already made up your mind to divorce and you need to steel yourself for battle). The perspectives we take to a situation are the stories we tell ourselves about the situation, and there's some value in correcting a perception about the other side's view, but there's more value in understanding the other person's view. If I can remove the judgment of "how could you?" and get to "why do you?", I think there's more room for connection.

My experience of some of the "let's go do something to get back into connection", whether that's a weekend away or an evening out doing an activity, is that having the distraction from the elephant in the room doesn't really help. If anything, having a weekend away where there's the spark and great sex and lots of fun and then coming home to our usual patterns of grinding against each other drives a bigger wedge: "Wait, was that feeling of connection just a lie?"

I will take "sit here and give me your undivided attention and talk about just the here and now" over dinner and a movie every time. At best, dinner and a movie is a catalyst for that. At worst, it feels like a lure and a trap. And then it becomes more work, because dinner and a movie is a game of playing the meta game, trying to figure out how I can get out of this what I want (even harder when I'm not sure what it is I really want: Great sex? Sure, but is that short-term goal really helping me be happier over the next month, or is there an other cost?)

Some of the feelings of disconnection come from trying to be too involved in each other's "other" life: When I log out of work, I want to stop doing work. Talking about my work is just more work (especially if I can't talk about my work at the level of my work, and have to try to re-cast it to a different audience, then it's just make work). Similarly, talking about her work is me doing two jobs, the second with a whole different cast of characters. The things we connect over need to be things we can be peers at, otherwise they're more struggle.

I guess all of this is the long way of saying that if you're up to being the one to do the work to reach across that divide (and I count no points off for saying "I'm done" and leaving, though that presents its own challenges), seek professional help, but also understand that your husband feels like he's done everything society (and you, though it's not your fault) have told him would make him happy and be fulfilling, and it hasn't worked. So if he's going to be re-engaged, he needs a new model and a new set of goals. And, likely, you do too.
posted by straw at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2017

So there is a thing that has happened in my long relationship with Georgia that at a distance looks somewhat like this, but is not where everyone else is going, so I'll throw it out there.

When OP asks for a date night, their partner may well not be understanding what the true purpose is. It sounds like the OP wants to get dressed up and go out, while the meal itself and having it provided are not what the OP is looking for, just something that goes along with it. SO then makes dinner, eats with OP, does the dishes, etc, and then gets negative feedback on that because the actual purpose of the exercise isn't shared between them. That then Spurs a negative cycle of resentment on both sides and things go to shit until someone looks deeper and sees what is actually going on. Sometimes everybody can be trying and good intentions are had all around, but stuff doesn't work because people aren't on the same page about what the actual underlying needs are.

So make clear that the purpose is to get out of the house and feel like an adult. Maybe suggest a fundraising dinner or a live action show or something instead of things that can be done at home. Maybe SO won't want to do those things often if they are already near their limit of socialization they can do, but the response would be instructive.

The best course of action is to more directly communicate your motivation behind wanting to do things like go to dinner, rather than just asking for the specific thing. It makes it easier for everyone to find a workable solution when everybody knows what is being requested and why. (Not that you should justify your needs, just state them as such..that's what I mean by the why)

There are definitely some red flags here, but there are also some common ones that don't seem to be present, so I think that it's entirely possible direct and frank discussion can get everybody in a happier place.
posted by wierdo at 12:15 AM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can't. He likes how your relationship is right now and doesn't care that you don't. This is why repeated conversations and requests on your part have gone ignored. Not because you aren't doing something right. You can't make someone do something they don't want to do and he does not want to.

He does have time to play computer games and go out with his work friends. It sounds like he views you more as a possession than his partner.

When I've been with people like this the only thing that worked was leaving them and finding someone who cared about and respected me, who was eager to spend their free time with me and cared when they were hurting me and weren't using me as a servant.
posted by Polychrome at 4:46 AM on September 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Wierdo, I agree that it is important and helpful to peel back the surface-level request and discuss the emotional driver's of the dynamic. That's why therapy is so often required--having a facilitator for those conversations is often necessary.

However, I think you're totally off the mark in interpreting "wanting a night out" to mean "OP wants to dress up and be and adult for an evening". OP herself says, I am desperate for some time with him and for the opportunity to connect as a couple..

The time he is or isn't willing to share with her is the most easily quantifiable aspect to their lives together, but there are many examples cited that have nothing to do with time spent or taking a break from mom/dad roles--and everything to do with clear disregard and devaluing. This, incidentally, is why I read this question as a plea about bargaining: OP is grasping for something measurable, inarguably quantifiable, that can be seen as a metric of investment, that can be monitored for change or improvement.

Peeling it back to the vulnerable emotional questions underneath is crucial, but also so hard because the answers are devastating. That's why denial is the first phase of grief: the truth is too terrible to confront directly.

If she pulled back the surface requests and got to the heart of the emotional issues, they might be something like: Do you even like me at all? Is there anything about me that you value and cherish? By his actions, and how he chooses to allocate his time and attention, the answers seem devastatingly clear.

The bitter gift of peeling it back like that is that only by confronting the emotional truths can you truly find the solution to the problem.

OP, last thought: the really important thing for you is that, regardless of what your husband and thinks or feels, you are still valuable, loving, important. His ablility to love or not is no reflection on your own self-worth. That's incredibly hard to hang on to in this situation, but it's really the lifeline here. MeMail me for some great resources that can help you, if you wish. Best of luck....
posted by Sublimity at 6:56 AM on September 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

He doesn't value the things that I love,

And you don't value the things that he loves, either (staying home, an ambitious career, etc.). Not everyone has to love flowers on their walls.

You might understand him a little better if you read the often-recommended The 5 Love Languages. It's possible that he does love you, but simply doesn't express it the same way you do.

I'm not sticking up for him, by the way; constantly dismissing your concerns and belittling your ideas is totally not the way to go. Just as it might help you to read the book to see what drives him, he totally needs to understand that not everyone thinks the way he does. Especially his spouse. He does sound depressed, which doesn't help. Since he seems resistant to do anything about it, yeah, the suggestions above about giving an ultimatum seem the way to go. Good luck.
posted by Melismata at 8:27 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll echo what others here are saying: the devaluing he's doing of you sounds a lot like marriages where the breadwinner husband is secretly having a long-term affair. Ignoring your 20th wedding anniversary, never bothering to open presents from you, and giving you the exact opposite of that simple night out you had asked him for for your birthday shows he's no longer romantically connected to you and might have some narcissistic tendencies.

In your shoes, I'd actually not confront him, or beg him to love you anymore, or try to get him into counseling -- understand that he has already said he does not want to attend. Rather you should find your own individual counselor who understands Caretaker recovery-- helping you get your precious Self back. A private investigator should be able to clear this up in short order so that you don't waste years of your life in a loveless, faithless union. Quietly see a divorce lawyer, and pay the consultation fee in cash, to find out if you are in a fault state and get your financials in order. You might not want to rush back into the workforce depending on alimony in your state. This is the type of info you need. Plan strategically as if he's about to drop a sudden divorce suit on you in 6 months' time, and already be several steps ahead of him. Plan for the worst, be pleasantly surprised if you're wrong, but definitely find out.
posted by edithkeeler at 11:21 AM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

« Older Read anything good lately? Yes!...Uh, I remember...   |   Best fancy / special cocktails SF Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.