Monday, September 24, 2018

The Case of the Cold Husband

Here’s a problem for the ages. A woman writes to Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax to complain about her husband’s lack of affection. Apparently, he offers few hugs and few small gestures of kindness. He only seems to care about her when he wants sex. She is so miserable that she is about to call quits on the marriage.

I'd like to warn my husband that I'm unhappy enough that it could destroy us, but I'm not sure how to do it without an ultimatum. I'm unhappy with a general lack of affection, especially the G-rated kind. That bothers me all the more, like I'm only worth an effort when sex is involved.

We've had different versions of this conversation every few months for two years — everything from the serious and tearful, "I'm lonely," to a joking, "Pay attention to me." When I raise the subject, I'll enjoy the sweet forehead kiss, random hug or backrub for a few days, but it never lasts.

Am I overlooking a way to broach this subject? It doesn't seem fair to blindside him with a separation, but I don't want to be a "do this or else" kind of wife and won't stay in a lonely marriage.

She signs herself: Unhappy.

As always happens, she does not tell us anything we need to know to assess the situation. We do not know whether there are children involved, whether the one or the other wants or does not want children. We do not know who has what kind of job. In short, we are flying blind.

We only know that Unhappy is starved for affection… and that she keeps complaining about it. Or better, that she believes that the best approach is to lean in, to assert herself, to demand it. When did that ever work? Never….

She prides herself on not having offered an ultimatum, but that is the least of her problems. Shouldn’t she figure out that asking for affection is not a good way to receive affection? Isn't that the ultimate lesson here?

Unfortunately, Hax gets this one wrong. Here is some of her take:

This isn’t about ultimatums or even what you’re “worth.” This is about who you are and who your husband is, period. You are about regular, G-rated affection. Your husband is not. That’s it. You did the right thing by articulating what you wanted, and he did the right thing when he tried to provide it. But his inability — don’t torture yourself with “willingness” judgments — to show sustained affection contains essential information: His daily-affection set point is below what you want out of life.

In effect, Hax considers this a deal breaker. She condemns the marriage without knowing anything about it. She thinks that the husband is just not very affectionate, but she does not notice that having a whiny and complaining wife constantly demanding affection is guaranteed to produce the response that she is receiving-- no affection.

I would not have offered this letter merely to expose a new piece of bad and, in this case, potentially harmful advice. The letter was part of an online discussion. In the course of that discussion, one participant managed to offer some sane, sound and sober advice.

Here it is:

If I need a hug, I don't wait for hubby to hug me. I go to him and put my arms around him and we hug. Giving affection to him freely makes it easier for him to give me affection freely.

She signed her note: Two-way street.

Isn’t that the point. If you keep complaining about it and asking for it, it cannot be offered freely.


Anonymous said...

Life for the most part is pretty simple. In all things one has to give what they expect. Want respect, give respect. Love, and almost everything, is not just about you.


Anonymous said...

Another issue may be he did try to give affection but was refuted. You don't get to choose the time and place that your husband wants to show you he cares. If he walks up to give you a kiss, for no reason other than he loves you, and you say, "you have the worst timing," it hurts and it doesn't encourage him to try again. Essentially giving him a set of conditions of time, place, and your mood doesn't do anything other than make giving affection a chore instead of a pleasure for him.
This is an issue I have in my marriage but I keep trying. However, I can definitely see how another man would just decide it isn't worth the hurt and frustration.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous's suggestion and with yours. How often has she demonstrated affection? And I mean just giving a hug, saying something nice to him.

I admit I had to learn how to talk lovingly to my wife and to show affection. I learned how much she loved it, and in return she'd talk to me about what she wants. She had to feel comfortable asking, and I had to demonstrate that she could tell me without being belittled or made to feel bad.

A couple decades later, and we're bonded, physically and mentally. We have our differences, and affections can cool, but when we're together and we're both not stressed, we can joke and talk and those feelings come back.

But it took years, and a few tears, to learn to open up like this. To feel comfortable with sharing our needs and desires and to be open about our unhappiness. To trust each other and be worthy of trusting.

Anonymous said...

Adding a determined little lap dog to the mix might help. Mine takes his lap duties very seriously and will not be denied, so he raises the level of affection all around him (excluding squirrels and ups men).


Deana said...

That is really wonderful to hear. It seems more helpful to hear from couples who have had difficulties and worked through them instead of endless advice, even if that advice comes from, well, advice columnists. Rarely do we ever know how things worked out in those cases.

Anonymous said...

American, and perhaps western women are culturally conditioned to demand platonic affection. Fine, if the guy's that way. The wrath of cultural correctness (CC) on him if he is not. Some other cultures do not expect this of men. Exchanges of physical affection are not required. It is chauvinistic to think otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to bet my left testicle that the letter writer herself never expresses "G rated" physical affection to her husband because she thinks he'll escalate it to something sexual (and female orthodoxy demands that male sexuality always be controlled by women).

Why do married women object to their husbands wanting them to be their lovers? It seems to me that many women today want to be married but they don't want to be wives.

Ares Olympus said...

Sure, but the thing about a "two way street", like the golden rule isn't symmetric. We don't "Give to others what we'd like them to give to us", but rather "Give to others what we believe they'd like".

Certainly giving a hug when you need a hug makes a lot of sense. In contrast giving a backrub or massage when you want to receive one doesn't make sense, especially if the person doesn't want one or need one. But to to receive, you don't always need words. You can hint like lifting your partner's hands onto your shoulder, or sitting on the floor in front of them. I've seen this done by couples even in public settings.