I have been married to my husband for ten years and we have three boys who are all close in age. We have had our ups and downs. I can say I genuinely see my husband as a good, loving, and honorable husband and father. We were married young, so we worked together to establish boundaries in our marriage. In the last year or so he has changed and is now withdrawn from the kids and me. After months of this behavior and me begging and pleading for his love and affection, he finally “submitted” to my demands and is now just going through the motions. I am at a breaking point. I know he has pressures at work, which contributes to his stress. I don’t think he’s cheating. I stooped so low as to put a tracking device on his phone. I later told him about. What do I do? He doesn’t want to go counseling and says he doesn’t want a divorce. He does say this is the best it’s going to get and if I don’t like it, then I can divorce him. Please help.
I can’t imagine how agonizing it must be to have your husband shut you out of his world and treat you like an obligation. Though terrifying, I want to encourage you to not panic and assume the worst about him during this dramatic change. The more reactive you become, the less likely you’ll create conditions where you can learn what has changed for him.
This is an important time for you to yoke yourself to the Lord so you can receive the comfort you’re craving and discover your next steps. Stephen R. Covey described this desperate dynamic between married individuals when they neglect to include God in their marriage. He said:
“If marriage partners see themselves as primarily yoked to each other rather than to Christ, they will feel straightjacketed, controlled, governed, dominated, possessed, intimidated, nagged, held down, by the other. Then they will fall into a pattern of collusion with each other wherein weaknesses of each confirm the other’s perceptions. This vicious cycle feeds upon itself and grows into deeper bitterness, stronger self-justification, more anxious validation from the outside, and more confirmed accusation of the other. Rather than sidestepping negative energy, the partners engage it and collude with it and magnify it.”[i]
Even though an affair is a possible explanation for his distancing behavior, it isn’t always helpful to jump in with such strong assumptions. If that becomes the reality, then you can certainly address it. Instead, I encourage you to give him the benefit of the doubt and approach this from a different angle.
Please know that his behavior isn’t healthy and it isn’t your fault. He’s choosing to withdraw and blocking any attempts to reach him. He is ultimately responsible for the effect this has on your marriage.
There are lots of reasons he could be distancing himself from you and the children. He could have depression. He might be unhappy at work and not have the emotional or relational skills to address it with you or his employer. He could be unhappy in the marriage and not know how to talk about it. He could have an addiction to a substance or a behavior. He could be overwhelmed by your begging and pleading and pulling away further to keep the peace.
Regardless of the reason, ramping up the intensity isn’t going to give you answers. Instead, I recommend you simply acknowledge to him that you don’t want to overreact and increase the distance between the two of you. Instead, let him know that you recognize something has changed for him and that you want to do things differently so he feels safe talking about these changes with you. Even though you’re not the one who initially pulled away, you can recognize your influence in widening the gap.
He has chosen to stay with you and even go through the motions to make peace. While not the healthiest solution, it’s an attempt at trying to improve things. Continue looking for ways that he’s turning to you and the children. Slow things down in your life so you can both have time to do more things together. This is a time to close any gaps in your relationship and let him know you are there for him.
If he allows you to have more time together, recognize that you don’t have to dive right into deep conversations about his feelings and thoughts. Enjoy the time together and recognize that he’s turning toward the marriage. It’s in these types of interactions that issues are more likely to surface.
If he pushes you away and has no interest in spending more time with you, then I encourage you to insist on marriage counseling. If he refuses to get help for the marriage, I encourage you to work closely with a marriage-friendly therapy that can hold a place for your marriage while you figure out how to respond to your husband.
Finally, please consider the counsel recently shared by Elder Larry R. Lawrence regarding seeking specific direction from the Spirit. He taught that, “the Spirit can show us our weaknesses, but He is also able to show us our strengths. Sometimes we need to ask what we are doing right so that the Lord can lift and encourage us. When we read our patriarchal blessings, we are reminded that our Heavenly Father knows our divine potential. He rejoices every time we take a step forward. To Him, our direction is ever more important than our speed.”[ii] It is critical for you to see clearly so you can know what you’re doing right, what your husband is doing right, and what you can do to improve yourself and the situation.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Covey, Stephen R., The Divine Center