Friday 22 September 2017

After 22 years together, his selfishness is killing off my love for him

Patricia Redlich

Q: I think I'm at a crossroads in my marriage. After 22 years together, I now realise that I'm married to a very selfish man who has always put his own needs first. I am so happy in all other aspects of my life, with wonderful teenagers whom I adore and who I know adore me, four wonderful long-term girl friends with whom I am very close, and no major financial worries.

In the early years of our marriage, I put up with a lot and just got on with it because I was busy working part-time and raising the children. My husband worked hard, played a serious level of sport, travelled regularly to away games, and spent a lot of time in the pub with his buddies. I didn't complain much because I was always happy with my own lot and loved him dearly, and we always made up. Our sex life was always fantastic, because I was, as you might say, always "up for it" and enjoyed it. I had a high sex drive and still do, in my late 40s.

You would think, then, that my husband should be on top of the world. Instead, he has become moody, impatient and a bad communicator. I have tried several times to discuss matters with him and tell him how I feel, but got nowhere. He just dismisses me completely, or else we have a row. And I've become tired of that. All he offloads onto me are his problems at work, which I am also tired of listening to, particularly as I have now returned to work full-time and have enough to be getting on with.

I don't doubt for one minute that he loves me, but I'm finding it difficult lately to make love with him as I just don't like him. I'm afraid I might be falling out of love with him, which is scary. I think he's killing my love for him -- is that possible?

I know I have been his backbone over the years, but I feel at this stage that I get very little in return. I always put so much energy into my marriage and now wonder where it got me. I am basically lonely, I suppose, and don't know what to do.

A few years ago, I went for counselling to find out whether I was imagining things, or to what extent the problems were my fault. I found the counsellor wonderful and she more or less told me that I "mothered" my husband and had to make changes for myself. I did, and it worked a treat.

I am at the stage now, however, that I can't bear to look at his grumpy face, I am fed up with his impatience, and I can't say a word out of place in case it drives him insane. Living with him is like walking on eggshells a lot of the time, and he invariably creates a downbeat mood when he is around.

Even the kids notice it and comment on it, but I laugh it off, even though they are only echoing my own thoughts! I am dealing with him at the moment by "blanking" him out and trying not to let it get to me. This, however, is having an impact, as you can imagine.

The older he gets, the more like his father he becomes. His father is a very difficult man and his mother puts up with a lot. I wonder if this change in my husband is down to his upbringing, as his father was an alcoholic who was often abusive. I, on the other hand, come from a normal and very loving family and have two wonderful parents.

I fear for the future of our relationship, but I just can't let this man beat me down anymore. He is always such a bloody pessimist, never able to relax and "enjoy the moment". I have often told him how lucky he is, and he'd agree with me, but he never tries to improve himself. I feel sad.

A: WHY do you laugh it off when the kids comment on your husband's downbeat mood? Why not validate their entirely correct perception, and in the process create the conditions for them to give him some honest feedback? What's wrong with saying to them that he's driving you crazy?

Walking on eggshells around someone is an attempt to avoid conflict. Why are you doing that? I know you say it's to stop him going insane. But what does that mean? Are you afraid of him? Are you afraid of yourself? Are you afraid of the "fallout" if you break a few eggs, to stay with the metaphor? Is it, perhaps, that your happy family upbringing left you without the skills for confrontation?

No, I'm not challenging the fact that you had a happy childhood. I'm just saying that some blessings bring their own problems.

By pussy-footing around and "blanking" your husband as you put it, you're blocking communication. And that, as you know, is a recipe for disaster in any relationship.

Yes, I know you have tried to tell him how you feel and he either dismissed you or it ended up in a row. But rows are often just another way of avoiding real confrontation. Getting angry usually involves exaggeration and a widening of the issues to include everything bar his golf handicap. Even if you do say something truthful in anger, like letting him know that you're thinking of leaving, it can be dismissed as part of the shouting match. Rows are no substitute for steady, courageous, and consistent communication about what's really going on.

And by the way, why do you let him dismiss you? Why don't you stop the whole domestic world turning until he sits down and listens to what you say? Why go on making love, cooking breakfast, paying bills, sitting together as a family, until he really listens? Why play happy families?

You want your husband to change. Yet you're denying him the wherewithal to do just that. Instead, you are preparing yourself to leave. You are accepting defeat, letting a 22-year marriage go without a fight, abandoning the man who helped make your life so happy.

Yes, he did. If nothing else, he created, by his very presence, the framework for you to have children, a fulfilling sex life, the time and space to nurture your female friendships, and economic security, just to mention the issues you've raised. Don't be foolish enough to think you did it all by yourself. That way lies disaster.

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