Reader Avoidant Annie writes,
My husband and I have been together 8 years this year, married 4 and we have a beautiful, amazing, 18 month old daughter.
The problem that my husband and I have is us. I am not a very emotional person and when I do get hurt and tell the other person (in all of my previous relationships) they make such a big and awful deal about it and try to turn it back on me that I don't want to share what I'm feeling anymore. He, on the other hand, is very emotional. In his past relationships, he felt like the doormat where he didn't have say, and when the breakup occurs he's always the one to get left.
We used to be friends but right now we're really not great together. It feels like all we do is fight.
He'll get hurt and out will come a litany of complaints. "You treat me like s&*" and I try to ask him specifically what I did and an answer never surfaces. "It's always your way" - It's really not. It's almost always our daughter's way. "I did everything you asked and you bossed me around. I'm not your servant!" I asked him to hang two pictures. He's had trouble on the work front either being underpaid or laid off and he thinks that I don't respect him and that I don't love him. Which isn't the case. But his response of "Show me" is rather frustrating because he's not telling me HOW to do that in a way that he understands.
I know his love languages are words of admiration and touch and I usually fail at both of those. I'm touched out with a young kid, and it's honestly hard for me to get past the fact that I have to constantly praise a grown man in order for him to be a good husband and partner. I know that's something I have to get over. But it honestly feels like I have to smile and clap the way I do for my one year old in order to reinforce good behaviors and that's EXHAUSTING.
I'm not a day at the beach either. I really can be cold. I respond to overwhelming emotion by shutting down. Comes from growing up with an angry father and never wanting to act out of control in that way. I do have to work on being complimentary, and taking my husband's needs into account more... but I have a small child, and a job, and a household to run.
I just don't know how to fix this. I know we need counseling, but we can't afford it. Together we make quite a bit of money but we also have quite a bit of debt. (I went to an expensive school and we made some dumb credit card choices in my 20s). I don't think sliding scales would even work for us. And even then how do you choose someone you can trust?
I don't want to get divorced. My husband is an excellent father. And I want us to grow old together. I just don't know how to push past this and lighten our load.
I hear you that it is frustrating to have to work on a marriage on top of all of the other stressors in your life. But if we look at this situation objectively, you are, as you note, both responsible for getting things to this point. This is a classic pursuer-distancer dynamic; in attachment terms, you are avoidant and he is preoccupied. He complains and whines and you pull away in disgust from the rawness of his emotional need, which makes him feel even worse and more likely to complain. He says you're cold and you think he's a child.
Your husband may have a litany of complaints but you have a litany of excuses. You say that you don't know how to show him love, but in the next breath note that you don't use either of his love languages when interacting with him. Then you say you can't afford therapy, and that you wouldn't find a good therapist even if you could.
Basically, what is happening here is a tragedy in the making, or, more specifically, a divorce in the making. And as I have said, divorce can be particularly tough for only children, and blended family issues are no walk in the park either. It's like you're able to see what's happening on one level, but then your avoidant tendencies come out and paralyze you such that you can't take any concrete steps to prevent disaster.
I feel for you and your husband. It is likely that neither of you saw functional and loving marriages, and you had many disappointing prior romantic relationships yourselves as well. You don't know how to love each other in a healthy way, and this is why you need to start couples counseling. Stop making excuses about why you can't go. As a classic avoider, you are using money as another reason to avoid! There are so many counselors on insurance plans and who use sliding scales to determine their fees. (If you cannot even afford a co-pay, use the cost-cutting tips I gave this financially struggling mom in order to save some money for counseling.) Do this for the sake of your marriage and your daughter. Even if you guys don't make it, what you will learn in therapy will prevent you from falling back into yet another bad relationship after you divorce.
Don't avoid the hard work of loving your husband anymore. Be the partner you want your daughter to see and emulate. Be a wife that you can be proud of, knowing you're doing all you can in this marriage. Be someone that is a safe space for your loved one (and it's a Very Big Deal for guys to have work trouble; it can severely decrease their self-esteem) rather than an emotional underminer. And since all this is easier said than done, find a counselor who can help you tap into the most loving part of yourself, and who can help you and your husband have a marriage that you would be proud for your daughter to see.
Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Also Read Getting The Love You Want.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.