Reader Question: I Checked Out of My Marriage

Reader Question of the WeekHow do you love your spouse again, especially after you’ve already given up your dream of a happy marriage?

That’s today’s Reader Question! Every Monday I like to take a stab at a question a reader sends in, and this week it’s from a man whose wife finally understands how hurt he’s been over the years–but he’s afraid it’s too late.

My wife and I have been married for 19 yrs. For the majority of that time we’ve been a mess. We don’t fight and never have. I very easy going and I have never even raised my voice to her. Our problems began early on. She simply did not pay any attention to me. I spoiled her, gave her everything. Every few years I would break and crumble due to loneliness. She said she loved me but didn’t know how to show it. Last year was the final straw! I melted down completely. I sought therapy and even took pills for my depression. I began to brace myself for divorce. I had done all I could do to get my wife to understand my needs.

I decided to “let her go” and with that, the dream of the wonderful fairytale marriage I had so longed for. Then my wife read your book “The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex”. After that she said she had been illuminated. She all of a sudden became interested in “fixing things”. Here is the problem, I “let her go” already. All my love and desire is just gone. I don’t feel anything anymore. She so wants to have everything I ever wanted and now I just don’t care. My friends say I should just go with it and be happy. But I would be faking everything. I am miserably sad about this and I’m broken. Please tell me you have something! Anything!

That’s tough, and I want to answer it both for the husband and the wife. But first, please understand: there are no easy answers. There’s so much heartache involved here and so much water under the bridge that an easy fix isn’t possible. That being said, let me leave you with some big picture ideas:

How to Love Your Spouse Again--if they've hurt you and now want to work on the relationship, can you decide to work on it, too?

Thoughts for the Spouse Who has “Checked Out” Already

You’ve likely been hurting your whole marriage, and you had to steel yourself to the idea that you’d never get what you want. You couldn’t live in the misery of unmet expectations anymore, so you decided to give up on your dream of ever being happy with your spouse. To do that, you had to seal off a portion of your heart. You decided, “I don’t need you anymore”, which is almost the same emotionally as saying, “I don’t love you anymore.” If you’ve done that, then how do you love your spouse again–after all that emotional turmoil of letting go?

Act Love Rather than Feel Love

We tend to think that love is a feeling, but it’s really not. Love is deciding to act kindly towards a person and to look after that person’s well-being tangibly. Love is just being kind.

I remember how absolutely devastated I was after various breakups in my late teen years. My heart was broken in two, and I really didn’t think that I’d ever be able to move on. Even when I met my husband, and we started getting closer, I still thought about that last boyfriend. I didn’t want to go back to him, but I secretly hoped to run into him in 15 or 20 years, and be able to say, “Ha! Look what you missed out on!” I didn’t think I’d ever really get him out of my system.

But he’s totally gone now. It didn’t even take very long. Even before I married, I realized I didn’t even care anymore.

I’ve heard of similar things from women who have had emotional (and even physical) affairs. Even though they chose their husband, they thought they’d never be able to be perfectly happy again, because they were without their one true love. And now that they knew what true love felt like, the marriage could never measure up, even if they stayed.

Yet a funny thing happened. Time goes on, and the act of being married and being committed changes you. Those heady infatuation feelings fade, and they’re replaced by real love that you feel for your spouse.

I believe a similar thing can happen if you’ve LOST love. You’re hurt, and you’re closed off. But if you stay, you’ll find that little by little, everyday, you start building a new life together. You start growing that love again.

There’s a story I heard about a counselor talking to a woman who was determined to get a divorce. He advised her that before she do so, she take 30 days and treat her husband as wonderfully as she could. Say nice things to him. Be affectionate. Shower him with blessings. And then, at the end of the 30 days, she could tell him she was leaving him.

That sounded like a great idea, she thought. It would be so perfect–like a whammy he’d never expect. She’d lull him into believing everything was alright, and then she’d leave. It would be so devastating, like an extra punishment.

So she did it. She was sweet. She was affectionate. She brought him coffee.

And when 30 days was up, she went to see the counselor. He asked if she was ready to tell him, and she said, “No way! A funny thing happened this month. I think I fell in love with him again!”

As she was nice to him, he was nice to her. And they found a new balance in their marriage that was actually quite fun. But it happened because she started ACTING love out, not because she started FEELING.

Our feelings normally follow our actions, not the other way around. Try acting out love, and you may find that your heart softens.

Think About the Benefits of Marriage

Being married makes you wealthier. It makes you happier. It adds as many years to a man’s life as quitting smoking does. It makes you less susceptible to disease. It helps you to raise better kids. Marriage is a wonderful thing.

Before you throw it away, think about the cost.

If people put as much work into their marriage as they will have to into a divorce, more people would stay happily married. (Click to Tweet)

Work at Your Marriage

Thoughts If Your Spouse Has Checked Out

Your spouse has checked out of the marriage, and you’ve finally realized that you were doing wrong. You want your spouse to love you again. Maybe you had an affair. Maybe you withheld sex. Maybe you just never cared about your spouse’s feelings. What do you do now to show your spouse you’re different?

When You've Broken His TrustI’ve got a post with some great thoughts on what to do when you’re the one who needs forgiveness, and I’d encourage you to read it. Some quick thoughts from that: give your spouse time to be angry; work on a friendship before you work on a sex life; don’t just apologize, show tangible change; get counseling; and decide how much to tell the kids.

Read that post for lots of insight!

But I do have one more thought. I have a friend who is walking through this right now. He has checked out; and his wife is only starting to realize the damage that she has done. Much of that damage, though, has its roots in her own childhood, with trauma that she has never dealt with.

Often the reason that we are unable to give a spouse the love that he or she needs is because we ourselves didn’t receive it when we were young. We thus are in self-preservation mode. We have control issues and trust issues. And so it’s hard to build a good marriage, and we often hurt the one we want to love.

If someone hurt you in the past, do not give that person power over you today.

Do not continue to live with it. Get counseling!  Even if you have to pay a counselor $100 a week, it’s worth it. If you go for a whole year, that’s $5000. That’s a lot, but it’s less than it will cost to get divorced.

Take this seriously and deal with it. If your spouse sees that finally you are admitting you have issues, and finally you are admitting you have a problem, that may go a long way in helping your spouse to love you again.

Whichever spouse you are, this will be a long road. But I firmly believe that God is in the transformation business, and He’s in the reconciliation business. He loves nothing better than to take two broken people and make them whole again. And He can do that, when we finally let our guard down and be honest with Him and with ourselves. That means being vulnerable with each other. That means touching those deep hurts. But there is no hurt that is deeper than God’s love, and when we do become vulnerable, we finally give Him permission to touch that hurt and heal it.

I hope that both of you are able to do that.

Let me know in the comments: Have you ever closed yourself off from your spouse? How did you get over that (if you ever did?)

Reader Question of the Week: Healthy Tug-O-War

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Every weekend I like to throw up a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week a reader asks about conflict in marriage and cooking healthy meals.

My hubby and I are on totally different sides right now when it comes to food- I’m trying to change our diets to be healthier, but he just isn’t having any of it. He wants to keep eating junk, so I cook healthier versions for me and the kids and make him the junk, or I make the healthier stuff and listen to him complain. The tension between us is palpable, and it’s been like this for several weeks. I *know* I should submit, but I feel like I’m serving a death sentence with every bowl of pasta (he’s diabetic, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.). I’ve made some concessions (more gradual changes, “cheat” meals), but with all the hurt between is, they don’t seem to be helping. I’m struggling right now, our marriage is struggling on every level, and I’m just lost.

What advice would you give?

Don’t forget: The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex makes a great gift for any woman!

Trusting God When You're a Natural Fixer

'Rosie-the-Riveter' photo (c) 2011, SOYBEANTOWN - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I’m a Type A personality. When I see a problem, I analyze it. I tackle it. And I jump in! In fact, problems exhilirate me. I love the thrill of figuring out how to fix something and get it to go the way I want it to go.

That didn’t work tremendously well growing up, and God had to hit me over the head a few times to make me trust Him. I was constantly interfering in friendships, in relationships, trying to force them to go my way because I figured I knew best. And I couldn’t just let sleeping dogs lie. I couldn’t do NOTHING. If something was wrong with a friend, or a boyfriend, I had to fix it RIGHT NOW THIS MINUTE.

That’s why I had such a hard time trusting God with the fact that I would marry. I wanted to marry so desperately, and in my late teens I was always on the lookout for possible candidates. When I did start dating my now husband, I sort of barrelled my way all over him. I saw that we would work together, and I made sure he realized that, too. I didn’t exactly wait for him to come to that conclusion; I made sure that he saw it my way.

Unfortunately, that scared him off, and he ended up breaking up our first engagement. I was just moving too fast. I was absolutely devastated and heartbroken, and had to wrestle my life out with God again. I had to acknowledge to God that He was my source of strength, not Keith. I had to acknowledge to God that no matter what happened, I would trust Him, not look for fulfillment in other people.

It was a very rough summer, but in retrospect one that I really needed. And Keith came back to his senses and we married anyway.

A few years later I had to wrestle with God again, over a problem that I couldn’t solve. My baby boy had a serious heart defect, one that was likely to kill him. And there was absolutely nothing I could do. Here I was, someone who would stay awake at night mulling over problems and strategizing my next steps to get rid of those problems, and there was absolutely no strategizing that would help. It was all about trusting God. And so I did. Even though my son didn’t make it, I learned that God was always there, and that He is enough.

And yet lately I have been reminded that God perhaps isn’t finished with these lessons for me. I find in my marriage that “trust” is the last thing I’m able to do. Oh, I can trust Keith fine. I just can’t always trust God to solve my problems. So if Keith and I have a disagreement, I stew and plan and strategize all day, and often call him in the middle of the day, to work it out. I use my brilliant insights. I give him my air tight arguments of what we should do now and where we should go. And usually I end up winning. Yet is it really winning if Keith hasn’t had a chance to think it over, to go to God with it Himself? If Keith hasn’t been able to explain what he wants?

I’m getting slowly better at stepping back and letting Keith process. I’m getting slowly better at going on with life when something is wrong in my marriage, trusting that we’ll be able to work it out later on tonight, or in a few days when we have time to sit together. I’m getting slowly better at taking things to God, and not just bowling ahead and trying to solve everything.

But it is not working in my kids’ lives. I feel as if with them God is asking me to step back, too, and let my kids make their own mistakes. I feel as if He is saying that I have to trust God with my kids’ futures. It was hard enough to trust Him first time around with mine; now I have to trust Him with theirs! I never realized that this, in many ways, is harder.

Some problems can’t be fixed, and sometimes the efforts that we make at fixing them actually prohibit God from working. What if God is trying to let your children go through a period of waiting, or trusting, and you try to fix it for them? What if  God is trying to wrestle with your husband about something, and you try to get your husband to talk everything out before God has really had time to soften him or convict him? What if God is planning a better solution, and you rush in because you can’t handle that uncomfortable feeling where everything is not in equilibrium?

There are times I need to step back. I am not God. I need to listen to what God says about my kids, and I need to trust Him with them. I don’t like doing that. Maybe God is telling you the same thing about your husband. Maybe you and your husband have an issue between you, and you want it solved RIGHT NOW. Ask yourself: why do I want it solved now? Is it because it needs to be solved, or is it simply because I don’t like this uncomfortable feeling? And if it’s the second, then your problem is not your husband. Your problem is your lack of trust in God to work this out.

I’m learning that I have to go to God, put my problems in His hands, and ask Him to show me when I should actually move and do something about it. And I’m learning that this is far less often than I would like.

What about you? Has God been teaching you to wait? How do you handle it?

UPDATE: Cheri Gregory, one of the readers of this blog, left a link to a post she wrote about how trying to help our kids avoid pain and disappointment can be so counterproductive. It’s a great post, so I wanted to highlight it here, too!

Wifey Wednesday: Talk About the Real Issue

Christian Marriage Advice
It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Talk About the Real Issue

Recently I received an email from a woman who was desperate. She’s pregnant, and her husband wants, for various reasons, to rent a house for the next few months until they can get their dream house in a year. She wants to be settled now, because she’s tired of moving and the baby’s coming. How do they resolve this fight?

Here’s what I told her:

Let me try to sum it up. Your husband is looking long-term: we want to build a house, so let’s just sacrifice for the next few months and get what we really want. What’s a few months?

You’re looking short term: I have a baby coming, I’m tired, and I need to be settled.

Both are very valid perspectives. One of the things that often happens in marriages, though, is that you debate the issue rather than the feelings that are making it an issue. In this case, they’re debating real estate rather than their feelings about the future of the family. They’re arguing about what would be the better housing choice, rather than just talking about their feelings for holding the opinions they do. What I would suggest is that they start talking about feelings and dreams instead.

When you’re in the middle of an intractable problem with your husband, make sure you’re talking about how you feel about the issue, rather than the issue itself. In this case, you could say to him, I understand that you want what is best for our family in the long run, and I want that to. But I don’t know how I can do this for another couple of months. I am just so tired.”

Now the issue is that you are tired, and need help, and not real estate. If he could find a solution that involved his dream house, but did not exhaust his wife, then that may be a solution that they both could live with.

She could say: I could rent for a few months and build our dream home, but during that time life is going to be so chaotic for me with the new baby, and our current one, and the move, that I couldn’t continue to do what I’ve been doing so far. I couldn’t make dinner every night, for instance. I couldn’t do the laundry. So if we could agree that you do the laundry, and that twice a week we ordered out, or we bought frozen meals, that would be better. And if we agreed that we wouldn’t unpack everything, but just what we needed, and that you were in charge of the contractors during the building, and not me.

When you’re looking at a big problem like this, break it down into what you are willing to do and what you just can’t do. Talk about what you would need from him, and how much more it would cost (in housekeeping, grocery bills, etc.) Talk about who would be in charge of the contractors. If he can agree to that, perhaps she could go along with it?

In this case, the issue is that the woman is tired, and she wants a  place where she can feel settled because the baby is coming. She feels a lot of expectations on you to “create a home” and “keep the family going”, and finds it almost impossible to think of doing that with two more moves coming up. So if she talks about her exhaustion and what she feels is expected of her, and see if she can work out more of a partnership, or get people to help you temporarily, then perhaps his plan is actually possible after all.

Whatever the issue is, identify your feelings, don’t fight his logic. That way you’re giving him a chance to solve your problem, rather than telling him why he’s wrong, and getting into loggerheads because you both have different opinions.

You don’t want to get into a fight about something like real estate when that’s not the real issue. Then you both just dig in your heels and nothing gets done. Instead, try to get on the same page: we want what’s best for our family, but we’re tired and we’re running out of time. What’s the best way to manage our time, energy and money in the next year so that our family will be stronger and better off in the end? Talk about it that way, and figure out what you both need, and then you’re on the same page again.

If you can find a new way to talk through this, then you put your marriage on much firmer ground for the future.

Many marriages get stuck in these conflicts because spouses are in a “win-lose” scenario when it comes to fighting. You both want opposite things, so obviously only one can “win”. You need to find the “win-win”, and to do that you need to identify what the real issue is (feelings) and see if you can figure out creative ways to deal with that so that you both are happy. I think if he could  understand how tired his wife is, and understand that building a house needs to also involve a budget for housekeeping and some frozen meals so she’s not overwhelmed, then perhaps they could be on the same page.

So next time you face a decision where you both hold opposite opinions, try to find the real issue: the feelings. And then see if you can come up with a win-win!

Marriage is either a win-win or a lose-lose

Have trouble figuring out what the real issue is? Do you go around and around and never get anywhere? Listen to this download of my husband and me talking about How to Resolve Conflict!

Wifey Wednesday: When Conflicts Don't End

Hi, everybody! It’s time for Wifey Wednesday, when we talk marriage, husbands, sex, and family!

I launch the topic, but then I hope you’re join me, writing your own marriage post and linking in back here. (and I’m going to cheat and make this a Works for Me Wednesday post, too! Go on over and see more Works for Me Wednesday posts here).

Last week we had a really interesting discussion on what to do when your husband won’t try new foods and doesn’t eat particularly healthy (healthily?). We continued the discussion here.

And I got thinking about this whole issue quite a bit. What do you do when your husband acts “just plain stupidly”? I’m talking down, aren’t I? And it’s never good to talk down to your husband. We should always guard against that. But let’s be honest (and I do want to be honest here in Wifey Wednesday, or else what’s the point?). What if you have a conflict with your husband, whether it’s about food or not, where he just doesn’t get that there’s a problem, and he has no desire to change, even if it’s really, really bothering you?

Some of these things may be serious, but I don’t want to address the ones that are actually really sinful (like if your husband’s an alcoholic, or a pornography addict, or something). I’ve dealt with those elsewhere. I mean the run of the mill, everyday conflicts where you just can’t get him to see. It could be the food issue, where he won’t try anything new. It could be that he watches really inappropriate television shows in front of the children, and refuses to give in. Maybe he won’t eat dinner at the table but wants to watch TV all the time, and you have no family time. Maybe he won’t ever play with the kids or put them in bed. Whatever. Things that really bother you, but he just has no interest in changing.

What do you do?

Here are my thoughts, in order. They’re a little harsh, and I’m sorry. But we’ve got to speak the truth here.

1. Realize that you cannot change anyone else. In my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum I dealt with this quite a bit. Often when we’re upset in our marriages we think the problem is all him. If he would just smarten up, we’d be fine. But what’s the point in thinking that? You cannot change him. You need to stop trying. I know that sounds difficult, but keep reading, because I do offer hope.

2. Try to see him in a different light. He is God’s gift to you. As someone wrote in the comments last week, perhaps 20% of what he does really bugs you, but focus on the other 80%. Learn gratitude for what he does do and accept him for who he is. The more you accept him, the more he feels competent and strong, and the more likely it is that he will want to grow as a person. Men have a deep-seated need to be competent. If they feel disapproval, they often retreat (into television, work, etc.). Treat them well, and they’re more likely to grow. But don’t do so in order for them to grow. Do so because you want the best for them and you honestly are finding things to be grateful for.

3. Pray God’s will for your husband. Instead of praying that he will improve in the areas that you find difficult, pray for him that God will help him in his various roles. Pray that he will become the man God wants him to be, not the man you want him to be.

4. Pray that you will be the best wife you can be for him. I know he’s hurting you. I know he’s doing things that you wish he wouldn’t and that really bother you. But ask God what you can do to show your husband love. What can you do to be the best wife you can be? Instead of focusing on what he is not doing, focus on what you can do. God will honour that, and you will feel better. Dare yourself to be as good a wife as you can (which doesn’t mean excusing sin; it just means learning to love). As you build gratitude for who he is (#2), pray for him (#3), and focus on your own roles (#4), you’ll likely find your attitude towards him changing.

5. Change what you have control over. If he is treating you disrespectfully, for instance, you don’t need to nag him about it. You don’t need to fight about it, or withhold from him. Tell him how you feel, but then put yourself in a position where he can’t treat you that way. I list a whole bunch of different scenarios like this in To Love, Honor and Vacuum, but let me give you an example. If he wants to eat in front of the television, that is completely his perogative. But that doesn’t mean you have to serve him there. Set the table, have the kids sit down, and if he wants to bring his plate elsewhere, he can. He’s an adult; he can do what he wants. But you don’t need to facilitate it. This one’s kind of controversial, and some of you may disagree with me here. Feel free! But I think it is important to make it a norm that the family does things together. If he chooses something different, that’s fine. But family togetherness is the norm.

6. Work for your children’s benefit. If you feel that they are losing out on time with their dad, then you should still give them that time. If their dad isn’t leading family devotions, you need to do it with them. If their dad isn’t reading to them at night, you need to do it. Always leave the door open so he can join you, but don’t abandon something important simply because he won’t do it.

7. Find your own peace in God. If you are feeling put upon and taken for granted, then go to God for your peace. Don’t rely on your husband to meet all your needs; he never will. Get involved in a good Bible study. Fill your time focusing on God, and not on your husband’s shortcomings. Put praise CDs on and let music fill the house. Seek out a godly mentor that can help you grow in the Lord (not help you vent all your frustration about your husband). Look to Jesus, not your husband, and probably the problems you have will minimize in importance.

If you want more encouragement for how to handle your marriage when you want it to change, but you don’t see any hope, check out To Love, Honor and Vacuum!

(Here’s a quick 1 minute look at the book:)