by: Jim Duzak, JD.
Dear Jim: My husband and I have been married just two years, but he’s already started to disengage from me. He spends every night and most of the weekend on the computer. Some of it is for work, but he also spends hours on fantasy sports sites or playing video games (he says they help him “decompress”.) I’m asleep before he comes to bed most nights, and I’m feeling he’s becoming more of a roommate than a husband.
I’ve been looking into marriage counseling as a way to get back on track, but he won’t have anything to do with it. He says things are fine, and that if I have a problem I should just go to counseling on my own. What can I do to get him to work on our marriage together? Signed Frustrated.
Dear Frustrated: Your husband may not realize it, but he’s setting himself up for an early divorce. Most divorces are not the stuff of tabloid headlines. They don’t involve lurid affairs or drunken fights in nightclubs. They’re the result of two people losing their connection to each other — one small episode at a time — until one of them decides there’s nothing left worth preserving. And that person is usually the wife; nearly 75 percent of divorces are filed by women.
The first thing you have to do is impress on your husband that this is an issue that can’t be ignored. Men aren’t usually good at picking up on hints so be as direct as you can while still sounding hopeful. “I’d hate to see our marriage end over this” should be enough to get his attention. After that, you’ll have to stress to him that marriage counseling, by definition, requires the participation of both spouses.
The idea that it’s your problem and you can solve it without him is ridiculous. You’ve got a relationship that is rapidly breaking down, and it’s going to take both of you — probably with the help of a counselor — to address and fix it. And the participation has to be active. If he just sits there glumly with his arms crossed, the counseling is doomed from the start.
According to marriage counselors I’ve spoken to, that’s actually a fairly common scenario. To prevent it, you might want to consider using a male marriage counselor. A lot of men feel intimidated when they’re outnumbered by women, particularly when the women are talking about issues that make him uncomfortable. A male counselor might put your husband more at ease and make him willing to express himself. And my guess is that, despite his seeming indifference, he does have things he’d like to get off his chest. It could still be a struggle — don’t expect everything to be perfect after one or two counseling sessions, but at least you’d feel that you both share the goal of preserving and enhancing your marriage.
Good luck, “Frustrated,” and please let me know how this turns out.
Jim is a graduate of Boston College Law School, and practiced divorce law in Boston for over twenty years. After moving to Arizona, he became a full-time mediator for the family and divorce court in Phoenix.
His experience in working with divorcing couples, plus his own life experiences---he was a 20 year-old husband and father and a single father for several years after his divorce---prompted Jim to write a book entitled, Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment, that helps people avoid divorce by teaching better ways to communicate and resolve disputes.
Jim is currently an advice columnist, relationship writer, and personal coach. He is a contributing expert at HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, and LAFamily.com. He also puts on workshops dealing with marriage, divorce, post-divorce dating, and other aspects of men-women relationships. His website is attorneyatlove.com.