Vail Relationships column: How do I keep loving someone who does not love me?
Dear Neil: My husband doesn’t say that being at home with me and our children is what stands in the way of his happiness, but it’s obvious that he feels that we are interfering with his ability to have a much more successful musical career. It’s clear he doesn’t feel the same about me anymore because saying anything nice to me appears to actually hurt him. I no longer hear positive things from him at all. Only criticism.
How long should I go on fighting alone for this marriage? How do I learn to ignore his criticism and teach our kids to not follow in this path? How do I learn to keep loving someone who does not love me?
Trying to Hang in There
Dear Hanging: I suspect you already know that loving someone who does not love you is an extremely empty experience that saps your spirit and ruins your self-esteem, and it becomes increasingly harder to do the longer you feel that you’re receiving little to nothing back.
I would recommend you have a heart-to-heart conversation with your husband. Tell him you can feel that his emotions toward you are not warm and loving, and ask him what he would need or want from you in order to warm up and put a lot more effort into the marriage. You can openly address your suspicion about him being resentful because you and the kids may be holding him back from being more successful in his career.
If he confirms your suspicions, then the next step is for the two of you to talk about how he would like to fix this dilemma. Again, what would he want or need from you in order for his coldness, criticism and hostility to dramatically lessen? Then you could decide whether or not you can live with what he requests.
Every adult makes sacrifices when he or she marries and has children. If he is no longer willing to make those sacrifices, especially with his time and attention, then you have a problem that may not have a solution. But perhaps I’m drawing the wrong conclusion. He may simply be angry with you. He may feel he is no longer your first priority, or he may feel rejected by you. If that is what is driving his criticism, then the two of you might be able to talk about what you might do differently in order for him to be more loving and accepting toward you.
But sooner or later, you need him to be an active co-participant in the marriage, because a relationship requires two. It takes two people to make a relationship work, but only one to destroy it. There’s a difference between a couple fighting for their marriage and you fighting for your marriage alone. Certainly there may be some things you can do alone that would help your marriage, but eventually he has to show up and be a participant.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 24th year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website at http://www.heartrelationships.com. The second edition of his book: “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating A Vital Relationship,” recently hit the No. 1 best-seller list on Amazon.
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