I have a relationship where my husband is either on the computer (although he works from home, which is fine) or watches television all the time. We used to watch programs that we liked to watch before. It seems like everything I say becomes argumentative, and he just does not take time to listen or hear me anymore. He now falls asleep at night on the couch and when I wake him up, he says he is not sleeping even though I have been standing by him for five minutes while he is snoring sound asleep. We have great communication when we are on the phone together but all this changes when we are together. He interrupts me so often that I cannot finish my sentences anymore. At one time many years ago, I picked up his computer and dropped it to the floor because I wanted him to come to bed as I was working two jobs. I know he is not cheating, but his days off I would like to get out of the house. I am handicapped due to chronic pain, and I try hard to not let that get in the way. We have not had love making in years and he says it is due to him. What can I do?
It sounds like you’ve been struggling to create some type of connection to your husband for so many years that you either become explosive or give up. This pattern of pursuing and withdrawing is a signal to you that he still matters and is worth pursuing. Let’s talk about how you can respond in a way that preserves your sanity and hopefully recovers your connection to him.
Like many couples, it sounds like you’ve co-created moments where you’ve felt close, connected, and responsive to each other. These moments can become anchors of hope when you feel lost or lonely in the relationship. Obviously, savoring these past moments without reexperiencing them in the present isn’t a great long-term strategy for intimacy and security. However, they can give you hope and courage to keep trying to find ways to connect.
When our initial bids for our partner’s attention go unanswered, it’s normal to either pursue them through repeating ourselves and getting louder or withdrawing from them by avoiding and giving them the silent treatment. Both strategies have strong energy and are essentially protests for connection and closeness. However, when these attempts continue to be ineffective, we find ourselves in a deeper dilemma. Do we double down on our efforts to pursue or withdraw, hoping they’ll finally notice? You know how challenging this is, as it seems this is the reality you’ve been living for years.
Also, one of the biggest losses from getting stuck in this dilemma is believing that you are unlovable. Remember that there are countless reasons why your husband isn’t responding to you. There’s likely challenging dynamics between the two of you. He may have attachment issues from previous family relationships. There could be mental health issues that make it hard to see or care about connection. The list of possibilities is long, but one thing that I’m certain isn’t on the list is the belief that you’re not worthy of being loved.
When we’re in a long-term committed relationship, we’re highly vulnerable to believing that our partner’s treatment of us is a direct reflection of our worth and value. Yes, it feels amazing when our partner is attuned and responsive to us. We feel more confident and secure. But, when they pull away (for whatever reason) we run the risk of suddenly feeling a drop in our worth and value as a human being. We need something more than our partner’s response to us to hold us intact when we question our worth.
Elder David A. Bednar pointed us to the important truth that, “The Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point in a covenant marriage relationship.”[i] You’ll remember that he used the image of a triangle to help organize our relationship to the Savior and each other in marriage. The Savior is at the top of the triangle and holds both the husband and wife together at the base of the triangle. He taught that as we move toward the focal point, we move toward each other. I also think it’s important to note that even when we feel like the connection point between spouses is weak, we still have a connection to the Savior on which we can rely.
You can lean on this connection to help you see the truth about yourself, so you don’t panic and believe that you’re totally alone. I don’t want to minimize the crushing loneliness of co-existing in a non-responsive marriage. But, we all need to know that we’re not actually alone in the universe. This can help us find “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” [ii]
Even though your husband can’t value you right now, can you see your own value and the worthiness of your need to be connected? Can you let this knowledge help you find healthy ways to stand up for what matters in this relationship? I see how maddening it is, but instead of resorting to aggression or withdrawal, can you seek healthy ways to stand up for yourself and the relationship? Use the strength of your connection to God to make it clear that yourself and your husband that this relationship is worth both of your best efforts. Even though you have very real physical and emotional challenges, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on love and belonging. I’m confident you’ll have ideas, inspiration, and creative ways to find each other again.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] Philippians 4:7