Q: My husband and I are almost at the point of divorce, or at least I am. I’m not sure he’s even aware of how the fighting, and my anger, are leading me to that decision. He is so concerned with his work, his computer, and everything else but me and his kids. Trying to get him to listen to anything I need is hopeless. I’m done, but I wish he would wake up before it’s too late. I worry about my kids if we divorce. Is there any hope or advice you can offer?

A: Your question about marriage and your family life indicates how unhappy you are, with not feeling heard or valued by your husband. I certainly appreciate your concern about the effect of divorce on your children, and I wonder if you’ve tried everything before taking that next step. If you and your husband aren’t communicating, or when you are it’s usually fighting, the chances of divorce adversely affecting your children are much greater. Children can do well, not simply surviving, but often thriving, when parents commit to a relatively seamless transition, with a post-divorce relationship that’s mutually respectful and child-centered. The best interests of children are served when a healthy, strong parenting partnership is established. Whether you stay together or follow through with separating, there is obviously important communication work to do to ensure your children will adjust well. Angry parents often send negative messages about the other parent to their children, which is extremely damaging. Ongoing conflict between parents undermines the integrity of healthy family dynamics, with the children ultimately the unfortunate casualties.

However, your question also indicates you’re conflicted (“I’m done, but I wish he’d wake up before it’s too late”), suggesting you may still love your husband and want to stay in the marriage, if he would only hear your anger, your frustration. In essence, you’re asking him to “come in from the cold,” to establish a deeper connection. It’s typically women who “drag” their husbands/partners into couple’s therapy (of course, there are exceptions to this), asking for more emotional closeness. Intimacy is good for one’s health, for one’s children; thus, you are absolutely right in requesting, even expecting, this. The problem is that, often, by the time a couple shows up in a therapist’s office, the woman is so angry and bitter, her delivery of that message needs a lot of work. Contrary to popular opinion, men are not usually afraid of intimacy, they simply haven’t been raised with the skills to deliver it, leaving both sexes frustrated and resentful.



By the time boys are 4 to 5 years old, they’re already being groomed for traditional masculinity. “Don’t be a wimp ... a girl ... a sissy ... etc.” Boys quickly learn to disassociate from their feelings, to embrace the code of boyhood, which is about strength, performance, toughness. Our culture traumatizes boys with such expectations; thus they will assuredly lack the skills for intimacy when they reach adulthood. Women actually have the capability to positively change marriage and, if given the support and guidance, men can respond to their requests. My guess is that your husband is a good man who has been acting badly, although not intentionally. He has no idea how to meet your needs for emotional intimacy, deriving comfort from escaping those demands. I’m willing to bet he may well be amenable to learning the skills, to opening his heart, and experiencing a full, vibrant, creative relationship. Balancing masculine and feminine qualities creates wholeness in both parties. Men traditionally are raised to fear vulnerability, transparency, revealing their insecurities, and showing emotion as these are “feminine” characteristics. Just as women can be strong and feminine, embracing all these qualities brings wholeness to both parties. Often, some of the impasses are about bad behavior, which is protecting oneself from a shame-based childhood.

I suspect your anger towards your husband has been manifesting as chronic complaints, confronting what you see as his faults, all the ways he just doesn’t measure up. My guess is your delivery is reaping just the opposite of what you’d like from him. While you want him to open his heart, angry complaints will only shut him down, flooding him with negative feelings, thoughts. Try reframing what you want into a request, without a loud volume or intense “punch.” Let him know you want his attention, while you also believe he wants to hear what you need from him. Either way — whether he’s willing to roll up his sleeves to do the work with you, understanding nothing is more important than his relationship with you and with his children, or whether you both agree to divorce — mutually respectful communication is needed. Your children deserve no less, to have their best interests front and center as you move through this process.

Example:

Complaint: “You never listen to me. All you do is work on that wretched computer and ignore us. I’m done with this marriage!”

Request: “I’d like to ask you to come away from the computer for a while to give me your full attention. It’s really important to me that I’m heard and understood. Would you be willing to do that so we can talk? I’m sure it would help for me to listen to you as well.”

Finally, identify and express your needs; listen well and respond with a generous heart; establish healthy boundaries, advocating for what you want; be grateful for what you have, yet pursue professional help when it’s time. Abandon the dance of disillusionment and bitterness, opening yourself to learning some new steps. Without changing the cycle of negative interaction that entraps you, it won’t be possible for you to escape its crippling effects.

“Being able to resolve conflicts peacefully is one of the greatest strengths we can give our children.” — Fred Rogers

Please send me your questions.