Q. Our marriage looks good on the surface. My husband and I cooperate well-work together, anticipate needs, take up slack as needed but all without a meeting of minds without intimate talk, without a discussion of feelings. When I push (less and less often), he becomes more silent and stubborn.
I tried a joke: "Say something nice to me; go ahead, lie." He did an instant freeze.
The last time I said, "You don't say anything nice to me," he replied, "That's right, I don't."
I wrote him a long letter and went out for a day of desperate shopping. When I returned, he said he would "try" to be responsive. But there has been no discernible effort.
Why do men refuse to realize what they are missing when they withhold a smile, a pat, a compliment, a kind word? I'm sure there are women like that, but it is more likely to be the man who clams up.
I want caring, warmth, love that's expressed -- not silent sex. A.Whether men or women are more likely to use silence as a weapon is irrelevant. What matters is the way it affects you and what you can do about it, and why it's happening in the first place. In any relationship, both parties inevitably -- and without realizing it -- let each other know the things that hurt them. And then they hit a rough patch and use these recognized weapons on each other -- perhaps again without realizing it.
Your husband's behavior probably goes back even further. He may have learned to withdraw into silence as a child, either because it worked for him or because it was the way people fought in his house.
Whether he's wrestling with his ghosts or not, you're the one under attack.
This silent treatment is a kind of aggression -- one of the most punishing actions a man or a wife can take, and as unkind as it is childish.
Since your husband can't or won't confide in you, you may feel he isn't listening to you, either. This probably isn't true. Nevertheless, such a one-way relationship has put your marriage at risk. Poor communication is the main cause of divorce.
For the good of you both, you have to break his control over your emotions.
This can be done if you change some of your patterns. Continue to give your husband smiles and pats, compliments and kind words -- you don't want to withhold affection just because he does -- but push him as little as possible. It demeans you to ask for attention and it embarrasses him if he can't give it.
You'll find it easier to live with your feelings if you write about them in a journal whenever you're tense -- whether it's four times a day or four times a week. Consider it a private book in which to pour your heart -- and count your blessings.
You also can -- and should -- hire a confidante. A clinical social worker will not only listen to you but will help you sort through your anger. Ideally, your husband would get psychotherapy, too, either separately or with you. Or you would let his therapist or yours place you in a well-chosen group where you and he could apply the lessons you learn from listening to the others. It's often easier to read other faces than to read our own mirrors.
Since your husband clings to his privacy so tightly however, he'll probably find group therapy -- or any therapy -- a shocking idea, and that leaves you to look for solutions alone.
Forget about aimless shopping. You need more and different activities, outside of the house, to repair your shattered self-esteem. If you don't have a job, get one, whether paid or unpaid. If you already have one, take on some volunteer work. Whatever you do, you want to work in an area where you can see the results every day and where people will appreciate you.
At home, ignore most of the routine housework and concentrate on more permanent accomplishments. Every time you see the piece of furniture you've refinished, the marmalade you've preserved, the chair you've covered, you'll feel secretly praised. This should give you back some of the pride your husband has taken away.
And if these or other skills are beyond you, learn them in night classes in the adult education program of your county school system. You'll also meet other people who have the same interests and this will enrich your life. So will religion, meditation, yoga.
These are the same measures you would take if your husband had died. In a sense, they will help you kill his power over you by strengthening your inner resources.
While you can't order him to fit the dimensions you set, you can change yourself so much he'll respond differently. This is another marvel of human nature: if one person changes, even a little bit, the other person has to change, too.
And if he doesn't? Then you have created a life of your own -- not perfect, but one you'll enjoy more than the one you've got.