Unhealthy Marriage

Q: Until my husband and I got married four years ago, our relationship was pretty passionate. A few months after he moved into my home, he began cooling off. He would abandon me regularly and often, saying he thought he could handle being with me and now he can't. During his time away, he got into legal trouble and is using "the court date" as another reason to ignore me. He never calls to see how I'm making out. I've been reading a book about "safe people," those with whom who you can have emotionally healthy relationships, and I'm finding he has ALL of the characteristics of an unsafe person (I even have many of them myself).

I want this so-called marriage to work. I am finding help for myself and want him to work on himself, too, but I don't know how to approach this. Demanding that he get help through my church won't work, as he then says I'm controlling. If I calmly wait for him to grow, I feel used by his "Hi, bye" attitude. What can I do to keep my marriage and my dignity? -- Stephanie, 41

Dr. Susan: Forget about demanding anything, because of course that's going to come across as controlling. And it won't work anyway. You can't make someone want to work on a relationship. Besides, in your husband's case, he seems to have additional problems beyond the relationship itself.

Work on your dignity first. Don't keep taking him back when he disappears ("regularly and often"?!). Stop having expectations that he will call you or care about how you're doing. He's busy making a mess of his life and seems only to come back to you for whatever you can give him, or maybe when he runs out of options elsewhere. That's hardly a marriage. Don't just sit around waiting for him to grow! The reason you feel used is that, absolutely, you are being used. Put a stop to that and you'll immediately feel better about yourself. It might even change the unhealthy dynamic between the two of you. Get all the help and support you can. Not all marriages are salvageable, though I hope yours turns out to be.

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