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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Advice for Her
Advice for Him
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.