Dear Dr. Elia,
I’ve been married for twenty years, and my husband has become very controlling over the years. I ended up seeking counseling about 2 years ago and I also talked to my bishop (who was NO help, by the way, his basic advice was to pray and read my scriptures and have family home evening…which of course, we’ve done all along) anyway my counselor opened my eyes to the emotional blackmail I’ve been living with. He recommended that we come as a couple but my husband refused. Not knowing what to do, I just tried to fake along like everything was OK, but it only made me more depressed. Then my husband started dropping hints that we would be better off divorced. I can’t explain how I felt about that…mostly anger. I again suggested counseling. He agreed to go this time. But after only a couple of sessions, he was expecting overnight success, mainly- he thinks I should be all kissy and huggy with him, but I don’t feel any affection for him anymore. I don’t know how I should respond to this increased demand for affection. It makes me sick when he touches me. He says that if I don’t show him in this way, that I’m willing to try to make our marriage work, then he will just assume that I hate him and he will leave. I am really confused and need some quick advice because he keeps sending me lovey-dovey text messages and I need to know the best way to respond.
PS- he has never- before now- sent love messages of any kind or
tried to hug me all the time like this. I feel like I’m suffocating!
Your situation is far from uncommon. Clearly your husband feels the most loved through physical affection and is now making demands for it or else… Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work very well for you when
you don’t feel close to him. It appears that his increasingly controlling nature has created some walls in your marriage. It’s quite difficult to open up emotionally to someone who tries to control or threatens divorce.
Most women need to feel emotionally close and connected first, before they can connect physically, which includes physical intimacy. It is not realistic to go to counseling for a couple of visits and then think that all is well. In some ways, he’s reaching out to you by sending you messages and trying to hug you. I realize that you’re feeling suffocated but it’s important not to make him feel totally rejected. Since your marriage is already on the rocks any further rejection might be the final straw.
If you would like to stay married here’s my suggestion. First, acknowledge the fact that he is trying to make deposits into the marriage account through his increased efforts of connecting physically. Tell him that you appreciate the attention. Second, if the two of you can discuss your needs, wants and desires on your own then go for it. It needs to happen in a respectful and attentive environment. If that doesn’t exist then, try it in front of a third party that you trust.
Explain to him that you need to feel closer to him emotionally and safe first. That’s what makes you feel loved the most. Once that happens, then you can begin to open up to him in the way that is the most meaningful to him, meaning physically.
A couple of good resources if your both open to doing some work together to bless your marriage. One is to read (or listen on a cd) The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. It’s one of the best books out there.
Another resource is the book And They Were Not Ashamed by Laura Brotherson (LDS) on the topic of physical intimacy. Finally you could also listen to the cd called The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going From Surviving to Thriving!
Good luck and let me know how tings work out.
Elia Gourgouris Ph.D.