Wow, I am home at last. It's been a long, long road trip. Sleeping in my own bed with my own pillow feels so good. Thank you for your prayers. I’m quite sure I would not have gotten through these days without them. Lesson learned: I do not like to travel (personally or professionally) for too many days a row. It’s too draining. So, shorter trips from now on.
This is the thing. Every experience gives us a chance to reflect and realign. In my 40’s I could have managed traveling this much without too much fatigue. Now, not so. For many of us, gaining awareness leads to shame. We beat ourselves up when we “can’t” do something or don’t do it as well as we think we should. But every glimpse into our weakness is a win if we allow it to teach us something.
I had the opportunity this week to hear Susan Garret speak. She is an internationally recognized dog agility trainer and competes in national dog agility events. She said, “I always win. Every time. If I don’t win the gold medal, I win because I learn from my losses, my failures, what I did wrong and what I could do better.”
This is the mindset of a person who owns her life. She doesn’t blame second place on circumstances or other people. She doesn’t see losing, weakness, or failure as a bad thing but another opportunity to grow and to learn. On Tuesday, December 4th I’m going to be doing a webinar at 12:00 PM EST and 7:30 PM EST on this very topic: Moving Out of Victim Mindset to Owner Mindset. You will not want to miss it.
This week’s question: In your book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, many of the abuser’s behaviors are external manifestations of issues – they are the man doing something that is unacceptable. What about a husband who is ‘avoidant', ‘withdrawn' or 'emotionally detached'?
The wife in these situations lacks connection, which is emotionally destructive to her well-being. How in the process of confronting her husband can there be an appropriate consequence for his inaction?
Or is it that he has to deal with the root cause in individual counseling?
My experience is that any change ‘stick's for 3-4 days and then regresses. For example, if one request is that you have couple time every day but he doesn't ‘show up' or contribute, what is the consequence then?
You can't force a person to connect with you. If a wife is to ‘stay well' in this marriage how is she to have her deep emotional needs met by another human being?
Answer: Great question and I do speak of indifference in both of my books, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage and The Emotionally Destructive Relationship as a form of emotional abuse. Indifference isn’t something you DO, it’s something you don’t do.
When a spouse is indifferent, he or she fails to show care for his or her partner in the most basic ways. He or she ignores the emotional, financial, physical, mental, sexual and/or spiritual well-being of someone they’ve committed to care about.
The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. Click To Tweet
It’s an attitude that says, “you don't mean enough to me for me to give you my time, my energy, or my money to meet your needs.” It means, “I want you to meet my needs as a maid, a cook, a mother to our children, a paycheck, a sexual object, but I don’t want to give back or expend myself or sacrifice myself to meet your needs.”
Indifference is rarely spoken about as abusive and it’s hard to prove if you are looking for outside validation from your pastor or Christian community. I wrote about this topic in my blog post Is Marital Indifference Emotionally Abusive?
In your question you describe a chronic lack of emotional connection. That may indicate a pattern of indifference or it may be another issue that your husband struggles with, which of course impacts you.
Therefore, the first question for you to ponder is: “Does he show care for you in other ways?” For example, is he a good steward of your family finances? Does he help you with your children? Does he help maintain the house and/or pitch in with household responsibilities? Is he kind to you when you “need” his specific help with a project or a problem like fixing a flat tire, helping you do something that is important to you, or making sure that the house is safe, or making dinner for the family?
If you answer no to these then your husband isn’t just emotionally disconnected, he’s indifferent. He is failing to take his responsibilities of providing for your care in every way, not just emotionally. His lack of care is hurtful and over time can be toxic to you because it communicates that you are not important enough to him to give you his time, his energy, his money, or his care.
If that’s true, you have to ask yourself why you would want to stay with someone who shows absolutely no concern for you or your well-being? Is it even possible to stay well in that situation? You might also consider having a tough conversation that says “If you don’t care about me or my needs, why are we still together? I don’t want to pretend to be something (a happily married couple) we are not.”
However, if he shows care and concern in various other ways but lacks the ability to connect intimately, his problem may be more around attachment issues. The book How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich may be helpful for you, and even him if he’s willing to read it. What is his family of origin like? Are they emotionally connected? Is it possible he’s never learned how or never experienced those connections?
You’re correct. You can’t force someone to emotionally connect or into emotional closeness anymore than you can force someone into physical closeness. You indicate that when you speak up or complain, he complies for a few days but then he reverts back. This is not uncommon when trying to change behavior. Just think of all the failed New Years resolutions we all make. We start in earnest and with all sincerity but then we stop. Not because we didn’t want to change or have good intentions, but because change is hard.
When you press into this problem with him or share with him your loneliness or hurt, does he show compassion or care? Does it matter to him that this affects you or that you’d like more of an emotional bond and closeness? If so, then suggesting some individual counseling for him to unpack his resistance and fear around this may be helpful.
I ask you these questions because the truth is, no husband or wife can meet or fulfill all of your needs/wants. Some spouses are great with emotional connection. They can be romantic, have deep conversations, and you can feel very close and special during those moments. But if the toilet leaks or there isn’t enough money to pay all the bills, they don’t know what to do. This can quickly put a damper on that emotional closeness you just felt. Other spouses are kind, decent people, helpful and handy with things that a family needs done, but are not very deep in the emotional intimacy department.
Your question asked me how do you get your emotional needs met if your husband refuses to “go there with you or doesn’t know how?”
Let me ask you a question. How would you get them met if you didn’t have a husband?
There is a huge myth in our culture that sells a lot of romance novels and movies. That myth is that if you find the right man, he will meet all of your deep emotional needs, and all your other needs for that matter. But when we have a story line that our spouse is supposed to fulfill us and make us perpetually happy, we can live chronically disappointed, hurt, and angry.
The truth is, most long-term marriages are C+ to B relationships most of the time. There are A+ moments and probably a few D- moments, but overall, a good marriage is a safe and loving partnership experienced over the long haul.
Marriage was never designed to meet all of your needs and when that is an expectation, you will live disappointed and angry. What can you do to start meeting some of your own deep emotional needs?
Do you have close friendships with other women? That’s a start. How about your relationship with God? Does that meet some of those needs? And, how do you live peacefully, trusting God, even if some of your needs or desires aren’t met in this life?
I think of women who are unmarried. They do not have a husband to meet their sexual needs. Yet they can still be a whole, fully alive, and healthy person even if their sexual needs are unmet? I believe they can.
So first ask yourself is your spouse overall indifferent to you and your needs or is it just in this one area?
Second, if it is primarily in this one area, remember to be appreciative and grateful for the other areas where he does show care for you instead of solely focusing on his deficits.
Third, speak up about this area, although it will be hard for him to address it because there is a deep wound there that keeps him shut down. Therefore be as kind and respectful as you can, showing empathy and compassion for his wound, while still asking him to take some steps to address it so that your marriage can get even better, at least better for you.
Fourth, remember you too are not a perfect wife and there are areas where you are not and cannot meet all of his needs either. This helps you to have more realistic expectations for marriage so that you are not overly dependent upon one person to meet all of your needs (nor is that person that way towards you).
Fifth, deepen your female friendships as well as your relationship with God. I believe as you do this, you will have greater clarity as well as peace in living well with an imperfect, yet caring partner, even if he can’t show care in the way you would most like.
Friends, what do you do to meet your deep emotional needs when your spouse is unwilling or afraid to go there with you?