Stick Together, Fix What’s Wrong

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Neil Rosenthal
Marriage and Family Therapist (lic.)

Dear Neil: Everything seems to point to the fact that my 30-year marriage is dead and I should leave my husband. But I keep thinking that something will happen and everything will change.
It started about 10 years ago, when he received a sizable inheritance. He became secretive, controlling, and verbally abusive. One time he said: “I’m going to make you so miserable that you’ll have to leave.” Recently he lost his temper and yelled at me to “Get out of my house!” (It belongs to both of us.) He maintains that I am fat—but I am a mountain climber (I trekked to Everest Base Camp last year) and I am in great shape. All the same, he maintains he is not attracted to me, and we have not had intimate relations in many months. Indeed, we hardly ever touch.
Why do I persist in holding onto the dream that something will change and our marriage will be revived?
Should I Throw in the Towel? in Golden, Colorado

Dear Towel: A relationship can be profoundly unfulfilling but still feel familiar and stable—and still feel like the two of you belong together. Simply being together can keep a couple trapped in a relationship long after it has grown frigid, unfriendly, and unloving. Perhaps even more troubling than the sexual distance is the emotional distance between the two of you.
Ever since his inheritance, he has been telling you he is not happy in the marriage, and you have either ignored that message or you have not taken effective action. So your husband, who apparently isn’t strong enough to leave you, has progressively withdrawn and has become increasingly angry and hostile.
A relationship requires emotionally checking in with each other. It is important–and maybe essential–to ask your spouse such questions as: “How are you feeling about us?” or How am I doing as your wife?” or “Is anything troubling you about me or about our relationship that we need to address?” Otherwise issues and hurt feelings can grow big very quickly.
Right now, he’s pushing you away and dropping not-so-subtle hints that he’d like you to move out, and you keep hoping and waiting for everything to clear up. Unless you take the bull by the horns, this scenario is likely to continue in the direction it has been heading.
It is unclear to me whether your relationship has passed the point of no return, but at the minimum, you’re going to have to ask him what’s eating at him, why he has withdrawn and why he has grown more and more angry with you. What does he want you to do differently, stop doing or change, and what has he been so unhappy about?
Only then will you know if your relationship can weather this challenge. This marriage requires you to speak up, uncover what’s wrong, and to attempt to fix it. No amount of hope in the world is going to replace effective action.
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