How do I live with a detached, defensive husband?

Hi Everyone,

I’m writing this blog from sunny California although I haven’t gotten to be in the sun much because I’m visiting with my new granddaughter and cooking meals for my daughter and husband. I’m 3 hours behind so to me it’s still early morning. It is so fun being a grandmother. See my Facebook page if you want to see pictures later today.

Today’s question is long and has many twists and turns but I think it merits answering because I find so many women facing the same dilemma. I’ve shortened it but my answer will need the context of the larger story here.

Question: When my husband does something that hurts me, if I try to tell him how he has hurt me, he usually replies that I have hurt him too in some general way. By the end of the conversation, it is all about him and his feelings and how horrible I am but with no specifics. He never can focus on what he has done or can apologize without me making some sort of apology first. I have specifically asked him what he would like me to do when I feel he has hurt me, and he has finally said he does not want me to tell him. These conversations end with no resolution to the problem I felt, and often escalate to him calling me names that assassinate my character, or repeating everything I say in a mocking way.

Often I am so upset that I may cry, or lose control by yelling and a couple of times hitting him. I feel so helpless when he will not express caring, but instead is insulting. I feel scorned. He either remains silent or even eggs me on. Though I have thoroughly repented and told him how wrong it was for me to behave like this and how ashamed I am, he throws this back in my face. I have told him many times, “I’m leaving” or “I’m done.” And, I have left, sometimes for days always with the invitation to reconcile. I want to talk things out but we never can. I am very grieved at my behavior but I can’t seem to stop the adrenaline that goes through me when I am treated this way. He has never hit me but a couple of times he has been right in my face yelling at me. We have 3 children, all teens. This has been going on for 20 years but is increasing in intensity.

The more he becomes uncaring and detached, the more I feel helpless to change my situation. I know I can only change myself but I’m becoming more and more detached myself. We live 30 miles away from everything, school, work, church. I feel very isolated.

I’ve talked with my pastor about what happens and he says I should never leave and never go to my mom’s house, no matter how I feel, even if I think I might lose it. He does not tell me what I should do, except to go to God with my troubles. My mom’s house is a safe place for me. She loves us both and is grieved by all this too. She is always nice to my husband despite this.

I used to be a friendly person, still am, but I have no time and ambition to form close friendships and am ashamed to tell people of my problems when they may become apparent. I don’t want to break up my home but the tension of living with this cycle of conflict with no resolution and the behavior that sometimes follows is actually probably shortening both of our lives. I turn to food and am now about 75 pounds overweight. I never was until the last 10 years.

I feel I have no time or energy to take care of myself. I have little motivation. I feel like it doesn’t matter, but I know that this attitude is not fair to people who do love me. My husband says he loves me and does not want me to leave. But it is apparent he does not want to have a real and growing relationship. He wants me to always be amiable and never bothered by anything he does. I have tried this the last three months, and he seemed much happier. But when I mentioned that I still do not feel loved and that if he could say some encouraging things to me that would help, he responded that I am selfish and he can never make me happy. The truth is he never tries to make me happy.

My question is this: How do I deal with an uncaring, defensive, detached husband in an isolated setting with 3 teenagers?

Answer: Your dilemma is one many women face when they are married to a man who is uninterested or unable to look inward and face hard thing about one’s self. You’ve tried to get your husband to wake up and see that there are some things in your marriage that are hurtful to you. You’ve pleaded, begged, cried, gotten angry, left him and even hit him in your frustration and hurt and nothing is opening his eyes and through it all you’re only giving him more ammunition to attack you with. It’s time you change tactics. I know you want me to give you one more strategy to try to get your husband to change his ways and see the light, but he is a man who prefers to dwell in comfortable ignorance verses uncomfortable truth. You will not change that. Even Jesus couldn’t change the Pharisees when they did the same.

But his indifference and unwillingness to change and grow is hurting you. That is where you need to make some changes. This is where I hear you are stuck. I’m going to describe what I see happening. You want a better marriage than this. When you try to get your husband to want one too, he resists, even attacks you for bringing up the fact that you have a C minus/D plus marriage. You want to work harder to have a B-plus marriage but he’s OK with the way things are as long as you don’t bug him about wanting more from him. If you do, he will make things feel worse and then it feels like the marriage is moving from a C-minus to a D-minus. When that happens, you get hurt and afraid and in your adrenaline rush, escalate and then it turns into a disaster.

Then things cool off for a while, your relationship goes back to the C-minus/D plus range and all is well if you act like that’s OK with you. But if you start complaining that you are not happy or asking for more, the whole cycle repeats itself. So what I’m going to share with you is how you learn to be happy in a C-minus/D plus marriage. Otherwise it’s going to kill you.

This may sound harsh but your marriage has become an idol for you. It is the center of your life and you’ve given your husband the power to define you and control your feelings about life and who you are. When you complain to him that he’s hurt you, instead of repenting and realizing that he’s failed you (what you wish he would do), he turns it back on you and reminds you that you’re failing too. So then you apologize for hurting him (in some vague undefined way) and hope that he’ll do the same. But he won’t and it’s driving you crazy with hurt and rage. So your first step of healing is to dethrone your husband from the god position in your life and work to put God there. He knows how hard you’ve worked to be a good wife and he knows your hurts and heartache at having a less than satisfying relationship. He also knows your failings and shame at how you’ve lost it with your husband but I think at this point, your emotional well-being has become too dependent on how your husband loves you or doesn’t. That gives him a lot of power.

Second, it sounds to me like you are or are getting depressed. I would encourage you to take the steps necessary to get help for yourself. That means finding a trusted counselor who you can talk with about these things. Sometimes life is very hard and we do need people to help bear our burdens and help us figure out the next step. You sound like a bright and insightful woman who longs to grow as a person. Part of your marital frustration comes because you are so deeply grieved that your husband seems perfectly content to stay right where he is. You’re not, but don’t let his apathy toward his own personal growth stop yours.

I know you live far from your resources, but you will need to allocate some of your emotional energy now to good self care instead of trying to get your husband to change or improve your marriage. Perhaps you can schedule appointments after work so that you get home later but don’t have to take a second trip out. Your children are old enough that they don’t need you home every minute.

Third, you need some good girlfriends. Please don’t let your embarrassment at your C-minus marriage stop you from making friends. I’ve been a Christian counselor for over 30 years now and I would say that many, many Christian marriages are C-minus marriages. Hopefully there are some or many B-plus or A-minus moments but most marriages don’t stay there. Understanding that may help lower your expectations and give you more contentment for where you and your husband are right now.

Lastly, I’d encourage you to invite your husband to do some things you would enjoy together without talking about “what’s wrong”. Men who are typically defensive and unwilling to look deep within themselves may not be totally bad husbands if you stay away from criticism. In fact, it might be that you can find some B plus moments in shared fun and positive conversation about what’s good rather than what’s wrong. It may surprise you that once you stop asking your husband to be what he isn’t, that you may remember some of the reasons you liked him in the first place. Let him try to operate from his strengths instead of focusing on his weaknesses.

Bottom line: There are some real deal breakers in a marriage. From what you’ve indicated in your letter, you are both are close to that line. But you’ve said you don’t necessarily want to break up your family over this. The question you’ll have to ask yourself is if you stop wanting more from your marriage and husband, can you learn to live contentedly with less? You can learn to be a happy person even in an unhappy marriage.


  1. Anonymous on September 21, 2010 at 1:08 am

    Why are christian husbands this way ? So defensive ….even though i try my hardest to be the submissive , polite, respectful ,honourable wife.This is the first time i have ever written to a blog ..i think i have reached point of desperation………I read these letters and can identify with a lot of it .

    If they have Godly wives ..then shouldnt they be Godly husbands in return . RAther than be passively controling and punishing their wives in subtle ways …..out of some form of resentment ?

    I only hope my sons dont one day behave this way to their wives. It would be sad to see them mirror that aspect of their dad.I doubt their wives will tolerate it ….the younger generation of women dont abide by the old fashioned biblical ways, do they?
    I feel for the lady who wrote in for help ………..I know what its like.
    Breaking your wives spirit with control, power, detachment ,coldness surely cannot bring forth any Good for either husband or wife …..or the childeren.

    It is sad …………everything i say is turned into criticism,and the entire issue is then twisted so that I am the one at wrong.

    I have put my husband first in everything ….I work all schedules around him . My fault.

    I often wonder of men like this are actually hiding something of their own .

    Maybe , just maybe when these men who behave like this toward their wives go to God for questions, answers, requests…………….tney might just discover their own response…not from thier wives , but from God.

    • Love God First on January 13, 2022 at 3:45 pm

      Not all Christian men are like this. My first year of marriage, 20 years ago, we were in group counseling. One big thing I learned is many if us Christian women put our husbands first not God. We really need to evaluate this. First commandment, “Have no other gods before me”. God says he is a jealous God. Honor God first. I have always had a difficult time with because naturally I am a people pleaser. Even now I have trouble keeping my focus on God with husband, kids, work and home. You know the most attractive woman have something they are passionate about. How about God? Husbands may find it curious and do the hunter gather thing for you? If you aren’t totally available for him and you are totally inlove with God. You maybe the most interesting thing in his life? May the Lord bless you.

    • Miz Eeyore on September 28, 2022 at 7:15 pm

      They don’t care and will continue to use you for everything you give. Stop giving. And turning it over to your imaginary friend won’t help him be who he was when he wanted you. Once he gets you, you’re an appliance. Make yourself happy, he won’t and doesn’t care to
      He’s completely self absorbed and can’t believe there’s anything wrong with him because he has the best intentions.

  2. Anonymous on September 26, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I know this doesn't apply to all women "wearing these shoes"…but, I can identify with much of what's being said. What we just recently discovered (after more than 30 years of marriage) is that my husband is on the autism spectrum. Much of the way he's related to me can be partially explained by the characteristics of men who are on the autism spectrum. Especially "borderline". There's finally literature being written on late-diagnosis AS disorders…and how it impacts relationships. Couple that with how I related to him, coming from an abusive childhood, and feeling so not seen or cared about by my husband for so many years…and well, we really have clashed. It's only by God's grace that we can be in this stage now of putting the broken pieces back together with new understanding of the challenges. It's not easy. And it doesn't mean that his behaviors and attitudes can continue "just because" he has "a diagnosis". It means that there are factors underlying certain responses (or lack of) that I now need to, at least partially, try to "put the lens of the disability" on so that I can frame his motivation into something other than arrogant, self-righteous, cruel or rude. At least partially. Did I already say, it's not easy?

  3. Anonymous on February 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Thank you for this blog! It is refreshing to find insights on how to work on the relationship you have committed to, instead of throwing in the towel as so many folks do today.

    Your advice is right-on; we each have to work on ourselves. I was given a recommendation to read The Dance of Anger several years ago, and I re-read it every couple years to remind myself how to defuse escalating situations. I am, by nature, a little hot-headed, and I know I need to remind myself how to handle certain situations. I hate to be cliche and blame my parents for how I've learned to deal with my husband, but I've definitely had to retrain myself to act differently than my mother did to my father. She knit picked everything he did, and I clearly picked-up on those behaviors, and it is difficult to change.

    One thing I've learned over the years is to act like my husband's girlfriend, not his wife. Girlfriends are complimentary, flattering, and impressed with things their partner knows and does. Men need that acknowledgement just as much, if not more, than women. We need to be that source of pride-building for our husbands, and I find as I build his spirit up, he is less defensive and more loving/giving towards me as well.


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