If Your Husband is Oblivious to How Unhappy You Are


When you’re unhappy, it hurts even more to realize your husband does not notice. Eventually, you may begin withdrawing from the relationship, hoping for a response or perhaps just some time to think. Eventually, you might start thinking about separation or divorce.
You may think you’re headed for an amicable divorce. By the time you tell him you’re ready for one, he’s likely to surprise you by crying that he’s loves you more than anything, can’t believe you’re leaving, and does not want you to go.
While this might have been exactly what you wanted at the beginning of this awful downhill slide, it comes as totally unexpected and quite possibly unwelcome once your heart is done mourning the death of your relationship and ready to move on.
If any of this very common story sounds familiar, here are some things you ought to know to handle it a little better.
First, men generally don’t monitor the health of a relationship as often as women do once a woman has said, “I do.” If you don’t mention your unhappiness, it’s likely to go unnoticed.
Second, beyond any leftover childhood attachment issues, your husband has a body in which testosterone pushes and oxytocin pulls. When you cut back on physical contact, he releases less oxytocin, weakening the bond between you, the trust, and the ease of communicating.
Third, you probably measure how much you are loved by how much you get of your particular one of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. But there is no guarantee you and your husband share the same Love Language. If you cut back on the things that signal love to you as a way to clue him into your disappointment, he might not notice.
So, speak up about your unhappiness. But before you conclude your unhappiness has anything to do with your husband, try this:

  • Ask yourself what it is you want him to do differently.
  • Ask yourself why you want this, what do you need or want. Often it’s a neater home, more money, a companion for branching out into a new sport or hobby, or fewer responsibilities.
  • Ask yourself how else you might get this if your husband won’t or can’t provide it — or if you were to divorce.
  • In a calm moment when you have his attention, tell your husband what you need or want, without accusing him of failing you. Instead, ask his help in thinking of ways to get it or to get around the obstacles to your ideas for getting it without his help.

This way, you sidestep the natural human instinct to defend oneself and tap into the natural human instincts to solve problems and help those you love.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Patty -Great post! Over and over I hear from men who have no idea why their wife suddenly wants a divorce. They honestly thought everything was fine. She used to complain a bit, but she stopped, so they figured it was all worked out.

  • One side not mentioned in this article (which I appreciate btw) is a wife who has repeatedly explained to her husband she is unhappy, explained why and what they can do differently do make things better but receives either no response or no lasting solutions. Whats a wife to do when she mentions it time after time and is met with ‘I forgot’ or ‘I dont know why I do …’ ??

    • This is me right now. I’m on month 8 from first airing my concerns and my unhappiness. I’ve done so 3 times now within this 8 months and now I’m ready to give it all up because how can I be the only one fighting to maintain a happy marriage?!

      • Amanda, I am so sorry that this is happening to you. It was a real shock to me when my husband died suddenly and I started to deal with my list of what was making me unhappy. If he had been the cause of my happiness, I should have been happier with him gone. I was not. I had full custody and 100% of our assets, and I was definitely not happier.

        One by one, I discovered how to get the things I had been missing, even as I also had to replace all of the things that were never missing but had gone unnoticed, thanks to my unhappiness.

        That work has been so helpful in my second marriage that I recommend considering how you would make yourself happier if you, too, came home to a dead body. Then do it.

  • Hello Patty,
    I have been married to my husband for five years and he’s from another country. He’s very quite and closed. Time and time again I have told him how unhappy I am because he don’t know how to show affection, intimacy, or emotions. I’m at the end of my rope and ready to walk away. He’s boring and has no type of excitment about anything. I’m not in love with him, but I love him as a person. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy I just don’t think he’s for me. We had split up for six months and we went through counseling but, he keeps saying its his nature and that’s just how he is. Please advise.

  • That’s when you focus on other ways to get what you need.
    If he’s doing something that creates more work for you, you can find a creative way to allow him to do what he does without it creating more work. If he’s always late to leave for whatever you’re doing together away from home, you can tell him everything starts sooner than it does. (I use this one all the time.) If he lets the grass grow too tall between mowings, and it bothers you more than him, shift your budget to pay for a more predictable landscaper.
    Before that, there is a trick to how you let him know what you need. First, leave out the “I’m unhappy” part. It comes across as an accusation, like he’s responsible for everything you need and failing to provide it. Most spouses WANT to do nice things for the person they married. When you say “you’re not doing x,” they hear “I don’t even notice the nice things you do for me.” This puts them on the defensive. All they want is for the rotten evaluation of them to go away. And they “forget” to do x because they are busy resenting your lack of appreciation for a through w and hoping you’ll change.
    Instead, state what you want. And get to the root of it. Instead of “I want you to call me when you’ll be even five minutes late coming home from work,” try “I want to feel unstressed, unafraid, and loving when you walk in the door, and I have about a five minute window before I start imagining the worst has happened and go on full alert.” Then invite him to help you find a way to get this. If you have already noticed that what you want conflicts with something he wants, acknowledge that you want him to have that, too. For example, “I know it’s a pain to pull over and phone while you’re driving, and I don’t want to ask you to do that. Is there another way I can know when to expect you to arrive home when it won’t be at 5:30?”
    Now the solution is his and therefore much easier to remember. He has a way to see when it’s working (because you welcome him home in a relaxed state) instead of being reprimanded when it’s not. And he gets to feel like your man, making your life easier, instead of your little boy, trying to remember all the things Mom said he must do to stay on her good side.
    And don’t be surprised if he’s creative enough to suggest you expect him at 5:40, so that he can be early most of the time and happily resort to some way of notifying you on the rare occasions when he will be later than this.
    [If what makes you unhappy seems more complicated than this example, I invite you to share it. I love to find ways to help go after a Third Alternative to the two that are not working for a couple.]

  • Berenda, it’s his nature. It’s just how he is. You can change the way you view it, or you can walk away. And because of how he is, he’s not likely to make a huge fuss if you walk away.
    I know someone who divorced such a man and remarried only to discover that a more emotional man also expresses a lot more anger, gets a lot sadder, and freaks out more easily at her strong emotions.
    No one else can make that choice for you, but I can offer some tips if you want to be happier staying with an unaffectionate man.
    First, set a time once a week to look around your home and think through the past week to find signs of his love. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages make a good list: acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time together, and physical touch. I would also add in Emerson Eggerichs’ observation that appreciation and respect mean more to most men than affection and intimacy do, so look for appreciation and respect, too. You may see enough to be grateful for, grateful enough to feel his love without any great acts of affection.
    Second, initiate affection, but not in public. He’s a guy, and holding his hand, stroking his arms or cheeks, or making love will generate a release of oxytocin that will increase his trust of you, the ease of communication, and the bond between you.
    Third, he may be unemotional because emotions overwhelm him more easily than they overwhelm you. As a person far more familiar with emotions, watch for signs of emotional flooding when you’re being emotional or the two of you are disagreeing. Nothing good happens while anyone is emotionally flooded. The brain goes into self-protective mode, which is physically quite stressful. If you’re used to speaking while you’re emotional, you stutter and can’t finish a sentence when you reach this point. You’re red in the face, maybe crying. Your heart is racing. You say things you’ll regret enormously later. He may not show any of these outward signs, but everyone needs a quiet, calming break when they get to the point of flooding. If you push beyond this point, you lessen the chances of him letting his emotions show after it passes, so declare a break and go for a walk or pour a couple cups of hot cocoa and breathe deeply.
    Fourth, if the intimacy you crave is conversational, find trustworthy friends you have no sexual attraction to, and actively nurture those friendships. While intimacy with friends is not a replacement for marital intimacy, it can help a lot. While working feverishly for some intimate conversation with a spouse, we can forget to seek it elsewhere, increasing our frustration greatly. And watch what you share with your friends. If you share all your reasons for being grateful to him, they will reflect them back when you are questioning your relationship. If you share your frustrations about your marriage, the same protect-my-friend instinct will lead them to reflect back the bad stuff and amplify your current frustration. Find a therapist to listen to the frustrations and resentments. Don’t use your friends for this.

  • Hello Patty,
    My husband and I have been married for almost a year. After dating for 6 years and having one child together we got married last September. I’m beginning to become very unhappy in the fact that he does everything his mother still askes him to do even if it compromises our family plans or work schedule. His 3 siblings are very close in age to our 2 year old. And she refuses to work her own schedule around their school schedule so he constantly is taking them back and forth and then coming to me to complain how tried he is because of lack of sleep from watching them all the time. He is losing valuable time with his own son because his days off are always filled with her errands or things she wants him to do for her. I’m very unhappy and he doesn’t see it. When I try to talk to him he says he will always do for her and make her happy, but I’m growing unhappy in yhe fact that every day that we both have off its filled with watching his siblings even though our son is in daycare. I’m unsure what to do, I try and talk to him but he says its his mom and she has no one else but he is 25 and has his own family now and we barely are having any of our own family time. Please can I have some advice please and thank you.

  • Quanisha, whenever you get frustrated by a disagreement with your husband, try to find a Third Alternative, one that meets both your needs. It works so much better than arguing over whose needs are more important.
    Before I get into how to do this, let me just encourage you not to let this frustration push you into thinking you’d be better off as a single mom. Single moms depend a LOT on their children. Children of single moms learn to earn mom’s love by being helpful. Sons of single moms often become very protective of their moms, too, for reasons that have to do with their hormones and their need to protect themselves by protecting her. We already have way too many adult children of single moms, and their paths are often difficult ones.
    When looking for a Third Alternative, you start by jumping the net and assuring your spouse his needs are important to you: in this case, his love for his mother and his desire to offer his young siblings a better, perhaps even safer childhood than his own. Both are highly admirable. He is kind, caring, and loyal, a great choice for a husband. But he’s also, at just 25, a bit inept at juggling all of his opportunities for being the sort of man others look up to.
    So your Third Alternative must help him find a better way to use his wonderful strengths and show his love to his mother and siblings. It also must give you two some private time and some family time for your immediate family and let you feel like the most important woman in his life. And it must give him back the time he needs to sleep.
    It’s important to make it clear that you’re not asking him to choose your needs over his own, just refusing to attend to his needs in the way he’s been asking you to, because it doesn’t meet your needs. Be really clear that the answer you’re seeking takes care of you but also lets him be an important part of his mother’s and siblings’ lives. That’s a Third Alternative — for each of you, it’s as good or better as the alternative that meets only your needs and for the two of you as a couple, it’s a path you can both happily and jointly stick to until those needs change.
    You two may need to think creatively and ask others to join you in brainstorming to find this solution. The key is to put as much as possible on the table and take none of your current circumstances for granted. As long as you know you will accept a solution ONLY if it meets all of those needs, this is less scary than when you’re trying to negotiate what you need.
    I’ll throw out a few to get you thinking. I have no idea if any would fit your situation at all, so just skip over the ones that would make things worse. And remember that your Third Alternative may need more than one idea. Here goes:
    Find a place to live where both families are next door to each other, eliminating travel time but preserving privacy. Help your mother-in-law get her kids into a school with transportation and after-school care. Set up a together-time schedule with your husband and send it to his mother as a calendar of when he will and won’t be available to assist her.
    Help your husband start a business he can run from home while there are a bunch of kids in the house. Get your husband to help you advance your career so that you can make more money and use it to cut back his work hours.
    Move far away and agree to take the kids for a month each summer. (As a single mom after my husband died, I can tell you that even a week off is a wonderful thing and a chance to get a lot in order to make it through the rest of the year.)
    You watch the siblings sometimes while your husband takes your son to the park or the barbershop or the library one-on-one. Schedule weekend time when you leave your son with his grandmother and cousins and go somewhere (maybe even a luxury hotel once in a while) with your husband. Hire a babysitter or two to watch his siblings at their own house when your son’s in daycare.
    Hire a responsible adult with a car to pick up and drop off the kids, trading money for your husband’s time and control of his own schedule.
    Create a tradition or two that celebrates your relationship with each other over your relationships with others who matter to you, and schedule days for them that will always, no matter what, unless someone’s dying, be held for this tradition.

  • I love my husband but he seems to have some unresolved mental health issues with anxiety and depression, and refuses to get any help for them. When they are active, which is more often than note lately, I become very bitter. He isn’t working anymore so I thought he could at least be a “stay at home Dad” but he barely keeps the house clean regularly and I have to argue about what I want and pull teeth to get it done… now I understand his other frequent job losses… I work upwards of 60 hours a week and just have no tolerance for this, and losing patience FAST. He isn’t even showering every day, and bringing this up is another argument in itself. He has issues with one of our tubs because its too small, and the other one has see through glass (even though nobody sees him in there!). The 3rd shower has to be kept clean for guests and he doesn’t feel he can do this regularly. The smell is horrible and unattractive. I know a lot of it is depression and anxiety… but its not getting fixed. I know there is a good man underneath all that… but I’m stuck. I just don’t know where to turn or what to do. We have two young children so packing up is not an option.

  • LF any chronic illness adds stress to a marriage, and anxiety and depression are definitely chronic illnesses. If you’ve read my author page, you know my first husband had a chronic illness. He was also frequently depressed, even saw first a social worker therapist, then a top psychiatrist from our local med school, but both of them thought it was normal to be depressed when living with a chronic illness, so they offered him little of any value.
    At the time, I had a 50-60 hour a week job and a commute of 1:20 in each direction. And we had a child in a private school (n buses) 30 minutes in the opposite direction.
    I hear you. This is what I would do today if I were in your situation. It’s not what I did back then, but what I did back then made me miserable, and him, too.
    The problems you list with showering sound like they could be easily solved. Order replacement doors for the see-through shower. If that’s too expensive, put up a tension rod with a shower curtain inside the shower.
    Or decide that keeping the man you want to adore smelling adorable is more important than having guests, and invite him to use the guest shower.
    Or, if they are old enough, offer to pay your kids to clean the guest shower daily, on any day that dad uses it. They’ll be encouraging him to use it every day.
    Or put a cleaning service on speed dial and have them come clean the guest bathroom right before guests arrive.
    Instead of comparing the costs of these options to some imaginary life in which your depressed husband is actually able to shower behind clear doors or shower knowing he must clean the shower if he does, compare them to the costs of living without him, without his daily presence in the kids’ lives, without another shot at feeling the daily emotion of love with him and not just the distant whisper of love. That emotion is not available when you’re angry.
    Before he suddenly dropped dead, I imagined my husband was doing practically nothing of value for our daily lives. A day later, I saw how much longer my to-do list became, and I finally did something about my screwy life that had left me no time for loving. I got rid of my commute to have more time with my son (and be nearer in an emergency) and I hired live-in help. Then I focused my efforts at work and doubled my income in 14 months to make up for his lost income and my new expenses.
    Another thing I have learned since then is the vital importance of respect in loving a man. It’s biological — put them on estrogen therapy and it changes. But until then, respect is not an extra. It is the very foundation of any relationship. And when they feel they’ve lost it (as when their wife decides what he’ll do instead of work and when his efforts at doing the work she doesn’t want to do are good enough), most of them cut off all loving gestures until it returns. We women don’t take the hint because we think men think and feel like we do, so we show even less respect. Emerson Eggerichs calls this stepping on each other’s air hose.
    My first husband told me he did not have the energy for the tasks I kept trying to offload on him. I reasoned that they were easier for him to do — because he worked near home, worked fewer hours, and got off work much earlier than I did — so he should be the one to do them. His doctor said his health was improving. Said it again the day before an organ failure cascade took him down. Only then did I take his word for the lack of energy.
    When my second husband fails to do something I hoped he’d take care of, I let it go undone or I find another way to get it done. During those years between husbands, I learned that I could buy or trade my more enjoyable talents for almost everything, but they would not get me love. I Expect Love from my husband, but this time it’s up to him to choose how to show it, because my approach in my first marriage — tapping my foot waiting for the particular sign I wanted that day — was quite ineffective. I ask for what I want, but I don’t expect it.
    The emotion of love — which releases oxytocin and stimulates the vagus nerve, improving vagal tone — happens when two people share another positive emotion in sync, according to Barbara Frederickson, a very highly regarded positive psychologist who does research into positive emotions and their physical effects.

  • I tried to tell my husband that I think we should go our separate ways last week. I’ve grown very unhappy in our marriage. We are on two different pages when it comes to future plans for success and our priorities are not the same. I recently took a pay cut to start a new job at a hospital so I can already have my foot in the door after I graduate next year. Since I’ve done this, we have struggled so badly. I’ve been sacrificing meals to make sure my 3yr old is still eating. In the midst of me doing so, he still pops up with a beer and marijuana. I’ve had these issues in the past with him and used to fuss and argue with him about it all the time, but nothing has changed. When I tried to tell him that I didn’t want to be in the marriage anymore, he insisted that we work things out. He’s a very good father and very helpful with cleaning around the house. I work overnight and can’t apply for a new position until I’ve been on the job for 6 months. He’s at home with my daughter while I’m at work. At this point, I’m ready to ask my mother to help me at night until I get a day shift position. He works at a fast food job and is almost 30. I have plans to open a business with my best friend when my pension from the last job arrives. I also have plans to start doing real estate investment with another friend. His mind is no where near wanting to invest in a successful future. We don’t go out on dates because the night is eventually ruined due to his drinking. I’d rather have a girls night out than to be with my own husband. He doesn’t buy me anything, but I’ve grown accustomed to doing for myself. He constantly asks me for money which is annoying. He literally asks me if I have any spare change in my purse. How broke can you be?! And at what point will he realize that no woman wants to deal with that?! I literally cringe when he touches me. When he wants sex, I literally give him oral just so I can walk away when I’m done. I don’t even think I can get back to loving him as I used to. He just came and asked if I wanted to go to Biloxi soon. But guess who has to pay for it. I’m so outdone with this marriage and I see myself being so much happier without him. He can continue to be a good father under a separate roof. I picture myself traveling and just enjoying life without him. I really don’t like this man. What do I do to fix this problem?

  • KT, I believe we should all expect love from those we marry, but all the rest of our expectations lead to resentment, and you’ve got a lot of that eating at you. You can fix your current resentment by divorcing, but you’ll be likely to experience new resentment with another partner in the future if you carry so many expectations into your next relationship.
    Your husband may not be a saint, but you can’t change him nearly as easily as you can change your expectations.
    I’ve gotten pretty good at letting go of expecting everything other than love from my husband since the first one dropped dead on me when I was 34 and full of anger over unmet expectations. But still they crop up, especially when I’ve put myself in a difficult spot (less money, higher expenses, greater time obligations, etc.) and can picture being rescued by a white night of a husband who would — at a time when the family can least weather a risk gone wrong — do something different that would change our fortunes for the better.
    Here are some of the unnecessary expectations I believe may be causing your anger, in case you’d like to consider dropping any of them. (1) If I prioritize future income over current income while my husband does not, and I decide to take a pay cut to increase my future income, my husband should cut his expenses and find a better paying job, and it’s his fault if I must skip meals if he doesn’t. (2) My husband should buy me things. (3) My husband shouldn’t ask me for my spare change, and he should understand no woman wants to deal with such a request, even though I understand some women are willing give up all their evenings to provide grandchild care when asked. (4) My husband shouldn’t ask me if I want to go to Biloxi if he can’t pay for it. (5) If my husband drinks too much when we go out on the sort of date where alcohol is available, we can’t date. (6) Even though we share the child care and housekeeping, the child we created together is *my* daughter, and I am the one who decides who she stays with while I work and who gets custody if we divorce. (7) Even though I must currently go hungry to feed our daughter even with a second income in the house, he’s keeping me from a life of traveling and enjoyment. (8) He should put a priority on future income, but he should not object if I use retirement savings to start a business that must fund current expenses, current retirement savings, replacement retirement savings, and lost interest or capital gains on the retirement savings I used to start it — or if I invest those retirement savings in real estate instead of stocks and bonds.
    If you decide to try letting go of this picture of the sort of husband he should be, take some time to appreciate anything you can about the sort he actually is. This will usually bring you more signs you’re loved. Then see if you can dream up some dates where you’ll both have a good time without alcohol: kayaking, swimming, hiking, miniature golf, a museum, the movies, a play, a Civil War reenactment, an amusement park, bowling, taking swing dancing lessons, a walking tour. Don’t use these dates to share any complaints about the man he appears to have become. Use them instead to see if he’s still the man you chose to marry, aside from any money issues.
    If you decide to give your marriage another shot, it’s not easy to sort out future plans and priorities or what’s worth spending on in the present. For help with this, I recommend you check out http://habitudes.com for a great card game that provides a healthy way to discuss them.
    You may also find it very helpful to read my blog posts about Finding the Third Alternative, a wonderful tool for making decisions together without anger.

  • Hello
    My husband has done nothing wrong, is an amazing dad and good husband – I just don’t feel any connection to him anymore. We don’t communicate on any ‘deeper’ level and I think it has pushed us apart?
    How do I tell him?

  • Brenda, I feel your pain. No negatives, just less in the way of positives than you expect from marriage. Here’s how to use my three healthy marriage tools to address the problem.
    **Assume Love** This will help you figure out WHY you’re not finding that deeper level. It can help to picture your marriage as a movie with other people in it, behaving just like the two of you. In the early scenes, we see enough of each of you — writing things in a journal, talking with friends, agonizing over the choice of a gift or the destination for your date night, etc. — to feel the love. Then kids come along, and we see each of you trying to live up to the great parenting your received or make up for the lousy parenting you received but being great parents.
    But now, mid-movie, there is so much to do to build a career, save for their future and yours, and raise those kids that your interactions become more like pre-flight checklists than the amazing conversations that made you fall in love with him. But we know from those early scenes how deep his feelings for you go, so there’s no question to us movie-goers that the problem is not that he’s disinterested in you. (This is what it means to Assume Love, to set aside the question of whether he’s stopped caring for a moment, long enough to see what we might be overlooking in our fear that the relationship’s dead.)
    So, since you know our leading man best, help the scriptwriters with this next scene. What might explain his lack of attention to deepening your relationship? Lack of skill, because he grew up with lousy relationship role models? Lack of time and confidence that all is well and this can be set aside for a while? A distaste for deep conversations that’s bred of the culture he grew up in or mental wiring like Asperger’s? A sense that any of that might take away from what he owes your children? Or perhaps some hint that he’ll learn you respect him less if he learns more about you or will respect him less if you learn more about him, which appears to be a brain chemistry-invoked fear for most men?
    The purpose of the Assume Love exercise is to see if you actually know enough to have an aha moment about the source(s) of the problem. Such insights are really hard to come by until we temporarily set aside that awful fear that we’re not loved or not known, so loved only superficially.
    **Expect Love** is the second tool. It reminds us to let go of as many expectations as possible about HOW we will be loved. But not to deny ourselves what we need. So the first step is to get clear on what you need. Perhaps you need deeper communication with your husband, but perhaps wrapped up in all that is a more general need for deeper communication, something that hits a lot of us when we’re home raising children or working a job that calls for lots of superficial conversation with customers.
    If you need more of this sort of conversation in general, a good place to start on getting it from your husband is to ask his help finding ways to get more of it with other folks. It will give you the chance to explain to him what sorts of conversation would feel deeper to you (it’s not the same for everyone, so I assure you he does not know yet) in a way that’s not at all threatening to the security of his relationship with you. It also signals him that you’re doing something about your own need, which is good, because sometimes when we’re looking to our spouse for something we’re getting way too little of in general (praise, encouragement, deep conversations, feeling known, help with our workload, etc.), our level of need seems like more than they can handle, an invitation to failure if they even try.
    **Find Third Alternatives** Disagreements aren’t always obvious, but a wife who wants a different form of communication than her mate is giving is a disagreement. You may be sucking up your dismay and disconnecting to avoid confrontation, but your unmet desire is creating resentment, too, and that’s going to destroy an otherwise good marriage. So, here is how you find a Third Alternative.
    First, you jump the net. You decide to let go of your idea of how you’ll get this deeper connection in order to find a way that gives you BOTH what you need.
    Then you create your specs, what each of you needs and what each of you seeks to avoid, and you make them as specific as possible. Deeper communication is probably too vague a need for him to know if you two are getting better at it, and it’s about the means, not the ends. Ends are better. For example, I want to get better at predicting your choices because I understand your goals better. Or I want to feel appreciated by you for my thoughts and my aspirations, not just the things I’m doing at this point in our lives. Once you have those specs, you brainstorm together to find a way to get what each of you needs (instead of arguing for what you need — that’s a given, no need to argue for it or justify it; you need it — and turning this into a competition when it does not need to be one).
    If you’ve used the Assume Love technique, you may have a new clue about what he needs to engage in a deeper connection (more free time, less work pressure, better feelings about how he’s doing as a dad, new skills without feeling like a jerk for arriving here without them) and maybe about what he fears (losing your respect, risking losing you). You’ll also want to ask him, but it’s helpful to have a starting point.
    If you’ve used the Expect Love technique, you might have some better ideas about what you’re seeking, in general and from him. And if you’ve asked for his help getting what you need from others, you may have reduced any fears he has about your needing something from him.
    You can make that 2×2 grid with your names down one side and WANTS / WANTS TO AVOID across the top and say what you think might go next to his name as a way of getting him to discuss this. But remember — before you make that grid for him — you must jump the net, stop the competition, join him on the same side, announce that the only solution you’re interested in is one that gets the two of you all of the WANTS and none of the WANTS TO AVOIDs. Getting what you want at his expense gets you nothing, because what you want most is the partnership.
    So, in answer to your question, the way I would tell him I want more of anything is to do my prep work, then find some quiet time to create that grid and open the discussion of what goes on it and how to make it all come true as a couple, not as opponents. No need to tell him his marriage is in jeopardy or to make a demand that could put your marriage in jeopardy. Just a search together for a Third Alternative.
    Please let me know if any of this sounds impossible or confusing, as I’d love to explain myself better to help you (or anyone else reading this) enjoy being married.

  • Another, “It’s the woman’s responsibility to mind-read and assume all responsibility for her man” article. Granted it *is* tiring to listen to female friends dog their husbands when they should be working things out with them, but the fact is in a hetero marriage, the man is HALF the married couple and needs to take part of the responsibility to help the marriage thrive.

  • Hi, Dory. I appreciate your comment. It helps me realize I didn’t say what I had to say very clearly, because I definitely DO NOT believe it’s a woman’s responsibility to mind-read or assume all responsibility.
    I found myself in my first marriage getting caught in a trap of thinking my husband was assuming too little responsibility and I was therefore stuck with a crappy marriage unless I wanted to divorce him.
    What it took to shake me out of this self-defeating set of beliefs was something I would not wish on anyone (his sudden and completely unexpected death), so I try to share what I know now, which works pretty well for me in my second marriage.
    Several times a week I hear from men willing to stand on their heads to fix their marriages, almost always after their wives have announced a separation or divorce. Most quickly realize what they should have done to preserve their marriage if they’d had a clue it wasn’t as healthy as they thought. They had been doing different things, because they had been attending to different signals.
    Often, they had their own complaints about the marriage, but they felt helpless to do anything about those, because they imagined them to be their wives’ responsibility, something they thought she was surely aware of and deliberately ignoring. But they were very clear that while they hoped it would get better, they did not want the relationship to end. And they had been doing what they believed they should be doing to keep it from ending.
    Their wives had also been doing what they believed they should be doing. But what the men did affected the parts of the relationship the men paid attention to. And what the women did affected they parts the women paid attention to. They just wasn’t a lot of overlap in what they were paying attention to.
    My blog post intended to say that before you dismiss your spouse for failing to fix whatever is making you unhappy, try drawing his attention to it. And if you want to increase the odds that he’ll fix it instead of arguing with you about whether it needs fixing (a natural and human reflex), draw his attention to it without simultaneously blaming him for not yet having done something about it. Give him a chance to jump into action and show you some love, instead of apologizing and walking around with his tail between his legs, which never feels very loving to either of you.
    I hope this makes my intended message a bit clearer. Thank you again, Dory, for pointing out that what I wrote could be taken so differently.

  • This sums up my situation pretty well, except we’re not married. It actually terrifies me to think that he might propose because I really don’t know what I’d say.
    We’ve been together for four years and own a house, which means splitting could be messy. He’s just boring, unenthusiastic and difficult and when we first got together I thought I could live with that because I loved him. It’s not his fault that I made that decision and I can’t expect him to change, but I just can’t cope with it anymore. I love him but I’m not in love with him.
    As discussed above I’d mentioned things previously but nothing ever changed so I gave up and have resigned myself to the fact we’ll have to break up, however this’ll mean losing my house, friends, possibly pets, and moving back in with my parents until I find somewhere else to live. For a year now I’ve just told myself I can live being miserable as that’s the easiest way out, but I feel so trapped. He’s even slept downstairs on the sofa for the last two months but is still completely oblivious to anything being wrong in our relationship!
    Splitting up is my only option I just need the balls to do it.

  • Hi Patty,
    I came across this article when I was desperately looking for help online as my husband doesn’t want to go see counselling with me.
    I’m from another country and married my husband 1.5 years ago. The culture and tradition difference already add a lot challenge to this marriage, but I do believe if both people could communicate effectively with patient and open minded attitude, it will work out. However, it turns out to be so difficult for us. English is my second language, I always try to find an accurate word to express myself. When I tell him it’s a culture thing, he thinks I make excuses. When I tell him how I feel, I have been told I feel wrong..
    He claims that he doesn’t want an argue wife. I think argument is not the real problem but the attitude.
    What makes me unhappy is I don’t like to be forced to admit the things I didn’t do, but if I don’t admit it, he will make things be a big deal and accuse me of arguing. Both of us take responsibility of things in this house, I don’t like to be blamed all the time. The vaccume stopped working when I was using it, so I was the one who broke it. He twisted my words and make another story to against me, of course it will lead to argument. What scares me is sometimes he seems like really believed the story he made up.
    I want to let him know all these, but I don’t know how. And I don’t want to bring up old stuff, but all those things piled up together make me can’t breathe. I’m not sure if he understands it if I don’t give him example of things happened in the past.

  • Carolyn, for some reason, your husband needs to assign blame when things go wrong. Since he’s pretty sure he’s not at fault, he assumes you are. It’s a common fallacy. Trying to bridge two cultures probably makes you even more sensitive about being seen as at fault than you might be with someone who grew up in your culture, speaking your language.
    Lots of people hope that if they go to counseling, the counselor will make him more open-minded by showing him the fallacy in his thinking. But openmindedness is a character strength (as is patience), and assigning blame is a side effect of a different character strength: justice. If your husband was raised in America, there’s a good chance it’s a big strength for him, as it’s an especially American strength. It may also be tied to some bad childhood experiences in which he was treated unfairly. Pretty weird, isn’t it, that he would treat you unfairly because a strength that grew out of being treated unfairly himself — or watching others being treated unfairly? But it happens a lot.
    Instead of trying to change who he is, why not work with his strengths to change how you two interact? Look for his strengths and put them to work on this problem.
    For example, people who are less open-minded often have a better sense of humor than others. If your husband is one who laughs easily, you could try something like this when he accuses you of breaking the vacuum: “I understand there is a difference in English between ‘the vacuum stopped working’ and ‘you broke the vacuum.’ But this seems like a really unhelpful difference for a married couple. We need to fix our problems together. Could we please just say ‘gremlins stopped the vacuum’ instead of disagreeing about why it stopped? Then we can work together to fix it.” If there’s a better name for imaginary mischief-makers in your language, consider using it, especially if it might sound funnier to him.
    If humor’s not one of his top strengths, gratitude might be. If so, can you reframe the situation to give his gratitude strength a chance to shine? “I have no idea why the vacuum stopped working, but I’d like to take responsibility for getting it fixed. Will you allow me to do this for you?”
    In other words, while you’re avoiding accepting his crazy version of why something went wrong, use your own strengths of patience and openmindedness to see how to turn the situation to one in which he’s at his best (using his own greatest character strengths) and a lot less likely to continue to need to deal with his frustration about the problem by assigning blame. It could become one of those loving rituals that makes your marriage feel special to both of you if you can make it work. And you may find yourself a lot less angry at him for the past screw-ups once you find a positive way to distract his habit of blaming.
    If he cannot be distracted by appealing to one of his top strengths, then you may want professional help. Never hesitate to see a counselor on your own for specific tips on what to try in your situation.
    For a list of character strengths, see https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths

  • I want to start off by saying I love my husband. My only issue is that I feel like I have to sacrifice my own inner sanctum in order to love him. For many years my husband has struggled with addiction. Before we married I was aware of this. I came into my marriage knowing this would not be easy. Currently my husband is trying to quit smoking. I’m very proud of him, but he also has had issues with binge drinking, drug use (past), and pornography. I have become bitter recently because without even snooping, I discovered he was back at pornography. For months, I thought there was something wrong with me, and that my husband had low testosterone, when really it was that he was just desensitized from the porn use. It was heart breaking to discover this. My respect and trust in my husband has since disintegrated. I don’t want a divorce, but I almost feel he is resistant to change. I am seen as a nag and not fun anymore. I’ve lost my sense of self, because I feel rejected emotionally and physically by my husband. I’ve become withdrawn and depressed. I have tried to express my feelings gracefully, and he becomes angry quickly. I am beginning to think that I shouldn’t express my feelings at all. I’m not saying I’m innocent, but I do my best to put my best foot forward in my marriage. We argue often, and I’m confused how we are incapable of communicating when we used to have no problems in this area. We were a long distance couple before our marriage, but being with each other everyday has become exhausting. Most of the time my husband is on his phone or playing video games when he’s home. Even during dinner our conversations are dull and monotonous. Last night during dinner he picked up a bill and started reading it, instead of us having a conversation. I feel less like a wife and more like an appliance in our home. I’m tired. I don’t want this. I want us to communicate and connect again. I don’t understand. I feel so lost

    • Hi CJ… I read this post and it’s like I wrote it… Did you receive an answer from Patty, as I’d LOVE to know what she said… Thank you

      • I, it appears that I failed to answer CJ, perhaps because I was touring Spain with my son, whom I had not seen for several years, when CJ posted. So, let me answer both of you now.

        First, at least it appears both partners agree that their conversations have become dull and monotonous. One keeps pressing for a different response while the other searches for something else to pay attention to, but neither is communicating. Step one is definitely for one of them (preferably the one who wants more responses) to do enough new things during the day to bring something new and different to the next conversation.

        But all the rest–smoking, binge drinking, drug abuse (current or past), frequent porn viewing, video games, and checking for new text messages or YouTube videos to the point that it affects one’s relationship is addiction.

        Initially, each of these provided enough quick boosts in dopamine and other pleasure chemicals that dopamine made sure the brain would continue to be be motivated to experience them and would learn to associate environmental triggers with them. The brain would also reduce the amount of dopamine released or the number of dopamine receptors in response to the overwhelm when it gets too much, which means the motivational itch goes unsatisfied, even with a bucket load of booze or a real, live sex partner.

        The brain seeks the novelty that will make things right again, and it just keeps swiping the phone for the next game or the next sexy photo or trying the next way to get high.

        Only the person dealing with addiction can decide to do the challenging work of letting go of any of these learned, triggered, chemically motivated, and less and less effective ways to find a good time. But you, as the person married to them, can make it easier for them to do that work.

        You can shake up your life. It will be easier for you than dealing with addiction, and it just might stop you from repeating the same boring conversation or die a small death watching your spouse look for happiness inside a smart phone day after day.

        Part of addiction is behaving in ways you know are harming you, like ignoring your wife or refusing to talk to her because you know it will be boring again. But one of the single greatest feelings in this world is showing love to someone you care about. That’s another motivation that’s still in there, fighting with the motivation to do the same, pointless thing to try to feel human again.

        If that wife is suddenly not nagging or rolling her eyes but, instead, painting something beautiful in the next room or busy volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or taking country dance lessons, the motivational fight in that disordered brain is a very different one.

        You can also minimize the things you find most painful about the addictions. If you know sex is going to be bad, go get a massage once a week, so at least your body feels better. Go visit a friend or attend an Al Anon meeting when he’s binge drinking. It’s really scary not to be there to help him deal with the consequences, but those consequences are the only thing likely to give him the motivation to do the work of changing his drinking. And your disgust isn’t helping your relationship one iota.

        After you have made a few changes of your own, you can ask him to make a change. Just be sure to make it a specific request (AA meetings, switch to a flip phone, show up to go out together every Friday evening, etc.) and make the reason for your request one about your well being, not his moral failings.

        Here are a couple of articles on addiction that might help:

  • I’m having a similar but different issue. Similar in the fact that I’ve tried to tell my husband so many times that we need communication in order for our marriage to flourish, not only that but much like Tina who posted Sept 28th of 2014, The lack of communication has led to a boring, unexciting lifestyle, in which we NEVER talk about anything other than kids or dinner….. I’m drowning and the emotional side of me is slowly dying!!!! He always wants to have sex but never wants to make an effort to fill my “love tank” so to speak! However he wholeheartedly (even though I’ve expressed my disdain) feels like I may want to, even though I’m given nothing to go off of, I mean honestly who wants to engage in a sexual manner with someone who feels like a complete stranger……. I just don’t even know what to do anymore or if I should just stop kidding myself and walk away!?

  • Heidi, I want to move carefully here. I want to avoid suggesting you should live without communication with your husband on topics that make you feel close to him. And I definitely want to avoid suggesting that you are the problem here, because neither of you are the problem.
    You two have a difference in what you expect from your marriage. He’s not getting what he wants: sex with an unenthusiastic partner may meet a physical need but it’s soul-robbing. And you’re not getting what you want: sex on someone else’s schedule with diminishing feelings for him is just as soul-robbing.
    To someone whose idea of communication is enthusiastic sex and working out the details of sharing kids and food, “we need more communication” comes across as an impossible challenge. He doesn’t know what you mean or what would make you happy, only that it’s clear he’s not making his wife happy, which probably puts him in a defensive posture as he listens.
    What is it that you’d like to talk about?
    Do you want to tell him things and feel listened to and understood? If so, you might benefit from establishing a specific time period each day or week or month for such discussions, so he doesn’t feel blindsided while trying to do something else and doesn’t spend the entire time listening to you wondering just how long he’ll need to do this thing he’s not so good at yet.
    Are there specific things about him you’d like to know? After a long period of no communication, you’re in danger of asking too much if you ever get an answer. To avoid this, make yourself a schedule and ask just one at a time. Or ask them in love letters in your own handwriting. Give him some stationery and a nice pen for his reply.
    Are you longing for an adult conversation about politics or religion or cooking? Again, your level of need for such things is probably through the roof by now. Let some steam off by making a real effort to meet people who want to talk about them, and do a lot of talking with them. You’ll be a bit less amped up about discussing them with your husband. You’ll also get some interesting ideas for hooks to get him interested in the discussion.
    Are you hoping that talking with your husband will bring a bit of shared excitement into your life, because you’ve been limiting who you see, where you go, and what you try since you became a mother? In most cases, if you’ve been limiting your life, he’s been doing the same. The starting point for great conversations is to do new things. Make time for photography or painting or tree house building. Plan day trips, with or without him, to local places of great beauty. Sign up for classes. Do something that interests one of your kids but you’d never do on your own.
    Do you want more communication so you feel more loved? Keep a notebook of the loving non-verbal communication in your marriage: touches, gifts, favors, smiles, eye gazes, making time for you, putting in extra effort to bring in more income, all of those untalkative ways of showing he respects and cares for you. Be sure to write it down, because that is likely to change your own nonverbal communication in a way that encourages more from him.
    Is your Love Language words of affirmation? If so, and that’s the sort of communication you’re truly longing for, you may need to write out the words for him. It’s rough when someone who needs those words marries someone for whom nice words were a cover-up for rotten treatment in the past. When they say the words, they feel mean, not loving. But you can write the words on little cards or slips of paper and put them in a glass bowl and ask to be given one daily. At first, you may receive a random one at the same hour of the day, but eventually your reaction to such words will let your husband see they fill your love tank, and he’s likely to start looking for the right one to give you at the right time.
    You really can’t get more communication by asserting there’s something wrong with your marriage without it. If your husband needed more communication in your marriage, he’d be doing something about it. So you are telling him something that sounds as nutty as him telling you your marriage is failing because you don’t go fishing together (even though you don’t like fish or sitting still) or don’t go to church daily (even though you’re an atheist) or don’t post photos of the family in matching pajamas on Instagram (even though you’re a private person with more delicate or erotic tastes). It’s just irritating and not at all convincing. Instead, you’ll do lots better if you make it easier and more inviting for him to share the types of communication you long for.

  • This sounds like a bunch of coddling an ADULT man. I wasn’t put on this earth to train men. Why does the onus of explaining how to communicate and act like a decent human being fall on women?

    • Don’t coddle, Nunya. Speak up. But if you want your speaking up to be effective, try to speak up in a way that invites conversation, not self-defense. People are human, even husbands. When we feel accused of doing a bad job, self-defense is our most common response. When we feel invited to do something that will be appreciated, our response is generally different.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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