'What Resources Can Help My Therapy-Averse Husband And Me Through Our Separation?'

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people, relationship difficulties, conflict and family concept - unhappy couple having argument at home
people, relationship difficulties, conflict and family concept - unhappy couple having argument at home

Reader A For Effort writes,

I am currently separating from my husband after 9 years. My main question is, since my husband is opposed to marriage counseling, individual counseling, anything that involves reading, and most of what I say is met with "Well you do the same thing", what are some resources we could use? I was thinking a workbook, something that is quick and to the point and he could give answers to?

I'm not opposed to us getting back together, but I do harbor A LOT of resentment, and if we can't figure out a way to communicate and me a way to forgive him for what has happened, then it cannot happen. I do go to individual counseling and it is credited with getting me to where I am now, and getting me to the point that after using several mediums (including forwarding MULTIPLE Dr. Psych Mom articles), that I told him he had to leave and I don't know how long and I don't know how it works, and I don't know if it will help or hurt, but we just had to change something.

We were in a rut of him feeling he didn't need to change anything and I just needed to learn how to deal with who he was, and me being hurt that he wouldn't actually hear me and how his actions and words make me feel, or notice the changes I was doing to change what I had been doing to make it easier for him. (And there were no changes from him.) There's probably two main arguments that can sum us up: "Yes, as your wife I do get to expect certain behaviors from you and for you to respond to what I say to you in a meaningful way, I am pretty sure that it is in our vows somewhere" and "Yes, I do know making the bed is a one-person job, however, so is life, but it is a hell of a lot better when you do it with someone."

Are there any work books or marriage flash cards or something you would recommend that might help us navigate this separation that will at least lead us both to where we should be?

Dear AFE,

I commend you for your effort, but there is a possibility that your approach may just never work. As I discuss here, many men are averse to couples counseling, and it is not for everyone. In fact, I discuss the types of people that it's best for here. You can try to convince your husband to go into counseling, which I discuss how to try to do here, but this isn't successful for everyone. (This is actually why I wrote my upcoming book, 52 Emails To Transform Your Marriage, which takes people through different emails to discuss deeper level issues to facilitate closeness and repair trust ruptures. It is good for people who find it difficult to communicate via conversations that devolve into stalemates and arguments. But then again, your husband may not even try it, which brings me to my main point.)

Your husband is constantly being told by you that he is inadequate, and I think he is experiencing what psychologists called "learned helplessness," which basically means that when you feel hopeless at ever changing your situation, you become depressed. He knows you want him to "act more like a teammate," or however you phrase your needs or desires, but he literally has no idea how to do it and likely no template in his upbringing for doing what you want. He likely feels just as distant and disconnected as you do, and whatever he did (infidelity? It's unclear from your post) makes him feel guilty and ashamed to boot. He feels that nothing he does is ever good enough for you and has his guard up to protect him from feeling constantly hurt by your disappointment.

If you don't 100% want to separate, then take a new approach. First, take a long hiatus before recommending any more resources, including books, therapy, retreats, whatever. During this time, start seeing your own psychologist, who can help you explore the patterns in your family of origin that likely led to you finding your imago in your husband. I would imagine that you had at least one emotionally distant parent who did not respond well to your need for closeness, and now your fantasy is getting your husband to respond to your overtures and meet your needs in a way that your parent never could and never did. Unfortunately, your husband is not wired to respond the way that you want him to, and, paradoxically, he can only learn if he feels accepted and loved as he is. You, and only you, should read more about this in the book Getting The Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. Also, figure out both of your love languages if you hadn't already, as this may give you some more insight into how rejected he may feel.

Separation and divorce are extremely difficult, so don't start these processes without knowing 100% whether your own anxiety and pressure on your husband is making him into the worst version of himself. It is extremely possible that if you explore your own issues in depth, you will recognize that your "pursuer" role has made him into the most detached and hopeless type of "distancer." You aren't to "blame" for his behavior, nor is he to blame for yours. Both of you are locked into a difficult dynamic where you each feel that the other can never give you what you need. But your needs originated long before your current marriage, which is why you find it nearly impossible to heal one another now. At least for you, who processes things through reading and verbalizing, if you understand the origin of what I believe is your preoccupied attachment, then it may give you insight into how to get out of this dynamic as well.

Note: Since you asked for separation resources, if you decide to separate or divorce, you can read my book How To Talk To Your Kids About Your Divorce and a million other books on divorce. You cannot, though, ask someone whom you are divorcing to read books about it. His coping mechanism isn't reading. Yours is.

Thanks for writing in, and keep me updated. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Don't Separate Before You Look Inward.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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