Dear Dr. Yael,
I need your advice. I am developing a strong disdain for my husband of almost 20 years and I don’t know how to snap out of it.
Let me backtrack: My husband and I met and married when we were both 20 and fresh out of yeshiva/seminary. Back then, I was obsessed with him and admired, agreed and enjoyed everything he said and did – he could do no wrong. We discussed our views on politics, childrearing, religion, finance, family, etc. and were on the same page. I was probably living in a unrealistic, fantasy world, because things are very different now. Fast forward 18 years and 4 kids later, and I cannot stand the man.
It is not that he did anything wrong, nor did I. I think we simply morphed into different people. My views have matured and evolved and his have not. For years now, I have disagreed with him and despised his every word and action. He has also lost his zest for life, and nothing I do can bring it back.
As I said, this has been going on for years, but life was so busy with school, jobs and babies that I didn’t have much time to dwell on things, even though they bothered me tremendously. Now that life has slowed down (kids older, secure job) it has really become an issue. I do not enjoy spending time with him at all.
Why am I writing you? I do not believe in divorce, so I figured I should roll up my sleeves and try to get into his world and appreciate his hobbies and interests. I did this for almost two years. I read the same books he read, watched the same films, tried his recipes, hung out with his friends etc. – and hated every minute of it.
I brought up going to counseling, but he refused, so I went alone. This was helpful for a while as the therapist taught me how to navigate this mess, but now I am tired of playing mental chess while trying to figure out which move to make next.
While he is the same person he was at 20 (only heavier, lazier, and more stubborn), I have retained my youthful spirit and figure, while evolving into a professional.
How can I deal with this for the next 50 or so years?
I read your letter with a heavy heart and wish there was an easy answer to your question, but there isn’t. However, as it sounds like you and your husband once had a deeper connection, it might be possible for you to find it again. It will not be easy and, although it sounds like you have tried all the options, I would like to propose some ideas.
My first suggestion is that you and your husband begin dating each other again. Obviously, this can only work if your husband is willing to try as well. If you can get your husband on board, then try the following ideas:
Make your dates fun! If you can’t agree on something fun, then agree that you will take turns doing things that the other finds fun (one week your turn, the next week his turn) and that you will both make an effort to enjoy whatever you are doing. Having fun together and enjoying the time will, hopefully, spark some of those old feelings. As I said, you do not have to have the same interests for this to work. You just have to agree to enjoy whatever it is you decide to do and make it a positive experience.
Dress up nicely. This is important for both of you. Remember, you are going on a date, so put in the same effort you did when you were in the “dating parsha.” Just because you are married does not mean that you don’t deserve to look special and to feel that the other person cares about his or her appearance. Also, once you make the effort to look good, you will feel better about yourself. When a person is confident and beautiful, it generates a level that happiness. When you and your husband are happy spending time together, it will create positive energy that will, in turn, help your marriage.
You and your husband must compliment each other at least three times a day. The compliments must be genuine and must make the other person feel special. You seem to feel very negatively towards him and, since you allude to the fact that you look thinner and have accomplished more professionally, he may feel very insecure and even be depressed. You may have to begin the positive cycle. However, if you both make the effort, a spark will reignite.
Make sure that you do not rely on your husband for all of your happiness (you seem to have already accomplished this one, but just in case you didn’t, it’s an important point). It’s imperative that you want to spend time with your husband; however, you cannot rely on one person to fulfill all of your emotional needs. It’s important to have friends, to work and/or do chessed to give you emotional fulfillment. Being successful and feeling needed will help make you a happier person and by extension a better wife and mother. The same goes for your husband. Try to help him find his own happiness so that he can be a more attentive and loving spouse
Therapy as a couple is also very important. Explain to you husband that you want to learn how to be nicer to him and that is why it’s important for him to join you in counseling. Once he agrees it will be easier to navigate this situation and improve your relationship.
I hope that these ideas help you and your husband reconnect and feel more loving towards each other. I am glad that you don’t want to pursue divorce as an initial option and it is admirable that you are willing to put the hard work into your marriage to try to make it better. Sometimes people feel that they have to just move on and start over, but what they don’t realize is that this is much harder than it seems.
Hatzlocha with your difficult journey and please keep us posted.Dr. Yael Respler