Dear Patricia: Only sex seems to help my husband cope with his moods
Q We are married nearly 30 years. My beloved has always had good core values, is very hardworking, honest, faithful, and a real family man.
Socially, he is outgoing, charming, witty. At home, he can be very moody, is easily stressed, touchy, defensive, restless, driven, judgmental, impatient and can get angry easily. He will not address any of this, even at the level of stress management. He has always been like this.
Recently, I've noticed a pattern of behaviour which I missed over the years, since I was always so busy dealing with the latest crisis. There is a strong correlation between our sex life and his "mood swings". For a couple of days after a bit of "hanky panky" he's on a high, full of affection, full of chat, literally smothering me with love. Then, inevitably, the bubble bursts, quite suddenly, and it's like he's a different person -- withdrawn, unloving, in bad humour.
And he will not, or cannot, snap out of this sulk until I humour him with the next "hanky panky". And so the cycle continues. I mentioned this to him, treading very carefully, but it just triggered another cycle of silence and resentment which lasted for weeks, blowing everything I said out of all proportion and leaving me wondering if I should have kept my mouth shut.
He generally feels insecure and anxious, and on the rare occasions when I confront him, as gently as I can, he automatically gets defensive, will not listen, becomes irrational, and there is no reasoning with him, no matter what the issue is. I'm left feeling drained and exasperated.
In the last couple of years the "mood swings" have become worse, and more prolonged. The silences can last months. Perhaps the phrase "mood swings" is wrong, since the silences are aimed only at me. He shuts me out of his life. When he is socialising, he is the life and soul of the party. We then sleep in separate bedrooms -- his idea, ironically. And in the last few months, these silences have sunk to an even more unacceptable level -- his anger is palpable, he can be deliberately rude, making no effort at all to be even half-civilised, barely answering any question.
I confront him occasionally and at one point I asked him did he want me to pack my bags and leave. He said no, but didn't change his behaviour. And he never seems to see that he has done anything wrong. So, for the sake of peace, I usually end up doing all the apologising, he's off the hook, and we're soon back to square one.
I know I'm no saint. I can be controlling, and over the years I have mostly called the shots when it comes to sex, so much so that my husband always leaves the initiation of intimacy to me. When he is down and withdrawn, I am down too and don't feel comfortable in my own home. And then, to break the ensuing silence, I eventually muster up the moral strength to try and forgive him and initiate sex. But I know it's only a temporary fix. I feel so battered and heart-broken.
I need a daily sprinkling of basic unconditional respect and niceness, and sex takes second place. For my husband, however, love is conditional. He needs sex first and then I will be rewarded with a couple of days of normal affection, but it's only temporary and limited.
I am honestly not sure if he is simply ill and cannot help the way he is, or whether he is just so self-absorbed and immature that he is clueless, or perhaps just cold, calculating and manipulative. After 30 years, you would imagine I should know, but I don't. I'm not good at socialising, haven't got much self-esteem and feel so lonely.
AHOW terrible for your husband to be trapped in the emotional world of a two-year-old. And how terrible for you to be so psychologically dependent on such a vulnerable man-child. He needs constant positive attention. And requires you to read his needs, without him articulating them.
He also needs to be regularly rewarded with sexual intimacy, because that's when he feels you are close and approving -- the nearest he can get to being in a mother's arms. He's a hopelessly insecure human being who cannot bear any form of feedback, let alone outright criticism, and who is therefore shut out from any chance of change.
You, for your part, depend on his positive mood to feel good, not just about yourself, but about life. You, too, need the closeness. As you say yourself, you need a daily sprinkle of niceness. And you've no real emotional life outside your marriage to help stabilise you when your husband is off on his punishment routine of emotional withdrawal.
Yes, it's a tangled web of mutual dependency, which we can't possibly untangle here. All I can do is paint part of the picture. The only way out is to break the cycle of dependency. And since we cannot change others, you have to concentrate on changing yourself, somehow hoisting yourself out of your dependency.
Difficult as it may seem, you have to start finding a life outside your relationship. It doesn't have to involve serious socialising. What we're talking about is finding some way of comforting yourself, of creating an oasis of calm to which you can retreat. At the moment you keep comforting your husband because you need comfort yourself. So you buy into his moods.
There is, of course, no point in punishing your husband. That's just another form of control. And your task is to relinquish control -- in a wide range of situations. You need to move into "dumb blonde" mode, if I'm allowed to use that awful cliche, or just friendly, loving vagueness.
Do you understand? Your husband punishes you with his moods because he sees you as the arbiter of his happiness. You have to hand him back the responsibility for his well-being, on every front. You have to stop playing the game. Let him break his diet, wear the wrong tie, forget that important appointment, make a mess of some communication with the kids -- whatever it is, get out.
That, of course, is a tall order, but entirely necessary. And of course you are exhausted. Go to a good therapist and get support. You'll need it.