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Today’s Question: I am the mother of a son and four daughters. At some point when my daughters began blossoming into teens and my husband’s career was going badly he began to express a lot of anger toward me and eventually withdrew all physical affection from me. Instead, he would lavish physical affection on our daughters. They are now adults. This still goes on. I have chosen to remain in the marriage and to continue to have weekly sex with him, at my initiation, because I did not want to put him in the position of needing to go elsewhere for sexual intimacy and being tempted to go to his daughters for those needs. To have a loving father is a wonderful thing but the dynamic in this family still feels very unhealthy to me. I have gone on as if this does not bother me or is normal but I still feel like he is playing the daughters against me with all the sweetness and physical touch for them and total coldness toward me and no physical touch except for sex. Help?!
Answer: I’m sorry for what you’re going through. Sometimes this happens in an unhappy marriage. A father turns to his daughter or a mother turns to her son for the comfort and affection that is missing in the marriage. Instead of addressing his own unhappiness, your husband used his daughters as an emotional wife “surrogate” hopefully without the sexual component. That’s developed an unhealthy bond between them all and you feel ignored and left out.
But let's for a moment not focus on what he has done and look at you. You’re miserable. For years now, you have silently put up with this arrangement. You have serviced him sexually (seeing it as your duty to prevent his acting out towards your daughters) and behaved as if this is all normal and okay with you. Obviously, it is not. But as he solved his unhappiness by turning to his daughters, you’ve ignored your unhappiness by staying a silent victim of his indifference and coldness towards you. Now it’s unbearable. What’s next?
Let me ask you a question. What do you think you need to do to solve your problem of unhappiness? It’s not about blaming him or even confronting him at this point. You’ve colluded with this arrangement for years believing it was best. But you now see the fallout, especially on you. My advice would be to take some time to honestly reflect on why you have put up with this for so long. Why have you allowed yourself to be emotionally ignored, and yet sexually used by a man who has shown no genuine care for you as a person, a woman, or a wife? What’s happened with your own relationship with your four daughters and your son? Have you stayed in the background, more as a role (mom) than as a person? Did you grow up being ignored and used and this just feels normal and comfortable? Is it hard for you to stand up for yourself with other people and so your default mode is to simply go along with what is, rather than challenge things or change them? Is this what you’ve believed a good Christian wife does or allows to be done to her?
This can be a huge wake-up moment for you. Possibly for him too, but definitely for you. You don’t like doing life this way anymore. But to change your own pattern of passivity you will need to dig deep as to why you put up with it so long. You have some internal beliefs that you must recognize and confront in order to change things. Once you come up with some answers (and you may need some counseling or coaching help to do this), then it’s time for a conversation with your spouse. I’ll give an example of what this might look like, but ONLY after you have done your own work. This isn’t about confronting or blaming him, it’s about solving your problem.
What would possible solutions look like to you? Obviously, a restored marriage would be the best option. But if he’s unwilling to work with you then what? Your problem is your unhappiness, your loneliness, and possibly your anger or resentment. [Tweet “If your entire happiness rests in having a happy marriage, you’re sunk.”] But if you know that your marriage is going to stay the same, what would you need to change to feel happier inside? Would having a boundary against token sex with him help you? What about developing a good network of female friends? Perhaps get a job you love where you sense a real purpose for your life. Maybe divorce? Once you are clear on what you want and what you need and think through your possible options, then initiate a conversation with your husband. Here’s how it might go.
“I have a problem I’d like to discuss with you, when would be a good time?” (Do not go any further if he refuses to show care about your problem enough to give you time to talk about it. It shows you the level of his indifference towards you. To try to force him or guilt-trip him to care for you or see you is like casting your pearls before swine. It will only crush you. (See Jesus’ warning on this in Matthew 7:1-6)).
Scenario # 1. He’s willing to discuss “your problem”. Tell him it will take about 15-30 minutes of time for him to listen and possibly respond. (It might be less, so you put in how much time you need). Here’s an example of what you could say after you’ve done your own work.
“I’m not exactly sure when things started to go wrong between us, but I am not happy in our relationship and I know you aren’t either. I’m lonely, bored, hurt, and feel like we have zero connection. I initiate sex once a week, but even that feels flat. I’m not willing to continue our marriage like this anymore. I’ve done a great deal of soul searching and I think I entered this marriage thinking …..that everything would be easy and natural ….(Or whatever other insights about yourself you gained). I don’t believe God is honored by you and I pretending we have a marriage when we are like strangers, roommates who live together but have no relationship. I don’t know how you feel because we don’t talk but I’m interested in how you feel and what you want to do about our marriage going forward. I’m willing to try to work on things to make it better (if you are) but I’ve observed over the years you’re pretty checked out regarding us. So I want to put this on the table. Where do you want to go from here because I’m not willing to keep going like this anymore”. Then stop and invite his response. If he shares, listen respectfully.
Scenario # 2. He’s not willing to discuss “your problem”. If that’s the case, then the option of “us” working on making the marriage better is off the table because he won’t even give you any of his time to discuss your problem. So now you can say something like this:
“I accept you don’t want to talk about my problem. But to me, that means I don’t matter to you nor does our marriage matter to you. Therefore, I will no longer be available to you sexually and I will be giving some thought as to my next steps forward. THEN STOP, do not say another word. Do not beg, do not threaten, just walk away. Go have a good cry by yourself if you need to but understand that for now, he has closed the door for an honest conversation. You cannot make this relationship work all by yourself. Accepting it and moving on with taking care of yourself is your next right choice.
Depending on how things go you may also need to have a conversation with your daughters at some point. Do not blame them or disparage their father who they adore or you will look like the resentful bitter woman. You can simply say, “I’m so glad you have a good relationship with your dad. But I’m sure it’s obvious to you that dad and I do not have a good marriage. I’ve done what I can to see if we can repair that, but right now dad is not interested.”
Or, “I’ve talked with dad about my concerns and I’m not sure where it’s going but I have been deeply unhappy for many years and I believe it’s because I stayed silent with this situation for way too long. I thought that was what I was supposed to do as a godly woman. I don’t believe that anymore. I know your relationship with your dad is precious to you and I hope we can do more to build our relationship into something that feels good for both of us too.”
Dear one, I know this is painful for you. In your pain, it’s tempting to look at him as the cause and you can do that. But when you do that, there is nothing else you can do but blame and accuse. Which leaves you still hurt and angry even if right. I want to provide a way out of this miserable place for you by looking at you and what YOU can do to bring more joy and happiness into your life. [Tweet “God cares about you and will show you the next right steps to take.”]
Friend, how about you? When you have faced something hard and realized that you played a part in allowing it to get to this place. What did you do to change your own dance steps to create a new outcome for yourself?
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Excellent response, Leslie. I hope that the others on this blog will share their stories. We haven’t heard from many of them lately, and I miss our friends.
I also thought the answer Leslie gave was excellent. I agree with the counsel given, and I wish I would have heard it 30 yrs ago. I stayed in a very destructive relationship, where my husband had no interest in building ‘bonding’ together . I didn’t really understand this concept was missing till I was ready to separate and divorce. For me the issue wasn’t him being too close to daughters, but that he used that closeness to manipulate what they believed about me. Today I am paying the price, for not acting much sooner, and struggle with alienated daughters. If I had a chance to start again, I would question the lack of bonding with my spouse, and realize his lack of interest should have been dealt with in the early stages. I did bring it up, and his response was always about sex, not working on us. I love the way Leslie laid out for this woman, what she can do. It’s so hard in destructive marriages to not be confused and think it’s all on him and his behaviors. I hope this good word will reach many, struggling with this issue now rather then when it’s gone too far.
So agree with you Robin. We try to be patient, forbearing, longsuffering to our own peril. Some of our best Christina virtues come back to bite us when we are living with destructive individuals. That’s why it’s so helpful to be in community with other women who know what your life is like. xoxo
Yes me too. Thanks for chiming in.
Agreed JoAnne, not sure if poeple are not seeing their comments like Connie suggested, or people have gone elsewhere so chime in here community and let me know if you’d like this format to continue?
I look forward to your weekly blogs,Leslie.I may not always respond,but am here! Your wise teachings are so valuable to this community.
I love this format and find it SO helpful! But like Connie, I have trouble posting–sometimes it shows up and often it doesn’t. I thought it was me; maybe lots of others are having the same issue.
You work so very hard on these discussions. I too, hope more people contemplate its content and take the opportunity to dig into the discussions.
I have seen technical issues also. I kept wondering why?
Just a thought Leslie, but if people are having trouble getting their comments to post here, they may not be able to successfully post telling you if they want this format to continue either…If you don’t get a lot of input, that might be part of the problem..? I Love this format and so appreciate the heart and thought you put into it!
I love this format and always read your blog. I also gave up replying when my replies didn’t show up. I hope this one will.
We discovered a problem that has hung up the comments. HOpefully it is fixed and we can regain our momentum. Thanks for your feedback.
I agree. Maybe one in every three posts actually attach. The process of writing a response and thinking through whatever issue is presented is still valuable.
I had thought maybe my entries were being reviewed and censored from the blog board. I have spoken very boldly at times, so just assumed my comments weren’t welcome .
I have a further question. I have read this approach in “But I Don’t Want a Divorce” as well. I’m wondering if it would be more effective in a setting with a very supportive pastor or counsellor? Doing this all alone would, in my case, just cause huge contempt and stonewalling. What I mean is that he sees me like a fly on the wall, and anything I say is just not worth even one consideration. I think that they know that most other men think the same way and that they can do whatever they want because nobody, and I mean nobody will keep them accountable. Like a thief that always talks his way out of it or is so sneaky that nobody would every believe that he would do such a thing, or even care. Would it not be helpful if he knew that there was someone out there in her corner? Not that I’ve found that someone yet, I’m just saying. So many of us are now divorcing these jerks, but they just go from one supply to the next, not caring for how long. Why not? NOBODY CARES!!!! Or, it’s, “Oh, he must have had a rough childhood. No wonder he’s like that.” Boo-hoo. I told mine that narcs know how to flatter and flirt their way into a woman’s heart, and he copped a sneaky sneer and said, “Yup, I know the routine.” And the world and church think that’s normal and ok! Why do we even try?
Yes it would be amazing if we could “get” someone to change if another person just “endorsed” our pain, or hurt or point of view, but i have not found this approach to actually lead to any significant internal change in the one who is doing the neglecting or abusing or ignoring. He may get better at image management, but it’s still the same at home.
One more thing. Of course you need support, but not for “getting him to get it or change” but for you to detach and move forward without him.
Of course, I totally get that…have for some time and have worked hard at doing just that. I don’t expect him to ‘get’ anything. I do think it would be helpful if they knew that there are actually mature guys out there who don’t do this and who actually respect women. And, I still think that if the church was doing what it was called to do, there would be mature mentors, there would be a making of disciples, like Jesus did and told us to do, instead of the, “Say this prayer and you’re good to go” approach to Christianity. Then everyone would know that there is growth and maturity expected, and would not quickly try to fake their way along. Or would quickly be taken to task, and quickly understand that they will not be coddled or accepted here. Like in a family. I baby-sat some children years ago. They were difficult behaviour cases. One, I’d had for a few years. A new little girl came. She started whining, and the first one whispered to her, “You don’t get nothin’ whining around here!” The whole family worked together to get that sort of environment.
Here in this time and place, if you want to be mentored, you have to pay through the nose, and then it’s only an hour a week or less. I don’t see that sort of thing in the Bible. Discipling was a serious, daily thing, with a real relationship between the disciple and the Rabbi. We went to a 3 day intensive, and I was told that this problem would take a few years of steady work. Who can afford that? No wonder the church is dead. The only program that seems to have a bit of success is Center for Peace. It’s a year-long thing.
On another note, I don’t come here very often anymore because I often don’t see the comments. Mine often don’t go through, and then I get a few email notifications. They may be an answer to someone’s comment, but then when I click reply, that comment doesn’t show here, either. I might show up several days later, or not. I wonder if someone else has this issue?
Thanks for letting us know Connie. I see your comments here this week, but I will check with our tech people.
Thanks COnnie. I think we have figured out the problem. But when no one communicates that they are trying to post or don’t see their comments, we don’t know that there is a problem. We assume we are losing interest from our readers. So please respond and if you don’t see your comment, or can’t get through please contact our staff at firstname.lastname@example.org and they will help figure out what is wrong.
A person has to submit themselves to accountability. It’s impossible for the most Godly of men, to make another man accountable.
Thank you for this post.
I am new to your Blog as well as your resources. I am in my second round of “ Divorce Care” and was recommended by a dear friend ( leader of my group) to follow you. I recently read your email on “ manipulation “ and at the risk of being transparent for the desire to help myself and others I can say that At times that may have been me😔. While I accept my part of a failed marriage I know God wants us to move forward and move into forgiveness. My spouse was very silently controlling and was a great provider but always referred to me as “ a kept woman” oh how true that seems…. It is close to two years now and we are STILL not even separated legally. I am now seeing that the legal system is truly not for women in general. My Question” How do we learn to protect ourselves from our x spouses when we are not valued, we are begging to be part of the actual process of the ending of our marriage and we are trying to move forward and it’s just being dragged along? …. Speaking for myself this is very emotional and can wear us down to the point of just giving up. I don’t want to hate , I want to live in a way that is pleasing to my savior and still attain my needs. I was married for 33 years and he left me after we moved into our “ forever home” 2 months later. I apologize for lengthy text here. I DO have a councilor but we seeem to be “ stuck”. Thank you in advance for your insights
Kim, I truly sympathize with where you are right now, but please be assured that there is light at the end of this tunnel. You have a journey ahead of you. I would encourage you to sign upper Leslie’s Conquer group, which, I think, is still open. Getting the right kind of help is so very important. Also, perhaps you should consider seeing a different counselor. Sometimes it’s just the right thing to do, find someone with a different approach. The one you have now has helped you get this far, and someone else can help you go farther. Pray about it. I’m glad you’re here.
Kim, watch some Patrick Doyle videos on you tube. Read “How he gets into her Head” by Don Hennessey. Try Natalie Hoffman’s site, Flying Free too. Education is power. The information contained on all those sites will add to your knowledge base. It will be much easier to make decisions when you block all contact with your abuser. Then you can listen to your thoughts and trust your gut instincts without gaslighting.
The other day my h asked me if I would be ok if he read my letter to a group.
I wrote that letter 5 years ago after going out to dinner with him and telling him everything verbally first. The letter was to ensure that my words would not get twisted. I was separating from him, the reason why, and if he wanted a relationship, what he needed to do to begin to gain my trust.
I wrote that letter following Leslie’s advice in emotionally destructive marriage and then I ran it by my counsellor.
My h, it turns out, is not a narcissist. But I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I couldn’t live that way anymore.
Please resist the urge to diagnose without a professional.
Just do your own work and leave the outcome to God.