Life Hax: Husband only makes an effort for sex

by DGO Web Administrator

I’d like to warn my husband that I’m unhappy enough that it could destroy us, but I’m not sure how to do it without an ultimatum. I’m unhappy with a general lack of affection, especially the G-rated kind. That bothers me all the more, like I’m only worth an effort when sex is involved.We’ve had different versions of this conversation every few months for two years – everything from the serious and tearful, “I’m lonely,” to a joking, “Pay attention to me.” When I raise the subject, I’ll enjoy the sweet forehead kiss, random hug or backrub for a few days, but it never lasts.Am I overlooking a way to broach this subject? It doesn’t seem fair to blindside him with a separation, but I don’t want to be a “do this or else” kind of wife and won’t stay in a lonely marriage.UnhappyThis isn’t about ultimatums or even what you’re “worth.” This is about who you are and who your husband is, period. You are about regular, G-rated affection. Your husband is not. That’s it. You did the right thing by articulating what you wanted, and he did the right thing when he tried to provide it. But his inability – don’t torture yourself with “willingness” judgments – to show sustained affection contains essential information: His daily-affection set point is below what you want out of life.

So, tweaking your original question: Knowing he’s not affectionate, what do you want next? To make one last request? To try living in the marriage for a while KNOWING this is how it’s going to be? (Never underestimate the burden of believing a marriage will change if you only do A, B or C just right. It’s exhausting. And embittering.)

Do you want to separate?

There’s no “blindsiding” someone after eight discussions in the past two years. That’s a lot of notice. Say this, even. And: “I’ve run out of ways to ask. I also don’t think it’s fair for either of us to stay in a marriage where we’re being asked to be people we’re not.”

Before “seeya,” you can also say you’ve contemplated leaving over the affection problem and may still, but you want him to know this is how seriously lonely you feel.

He’ll either change permanently or he won’t.

That after all is the ultimatum problem: It’s basically a threat to make someone do something to keep you, and you certainly wouldn’t want someone marrying you, for example, under threat. But this is a case where the source of the result isn’t as important as the result itself.

When I was about 20, I got my girlfriend pregnant. She was 23 and wanted the baby whereas I was not ready to be a father, so she broke up with me and had the baby pretty much on her own. Her family helped her, and she didn’t ask me for child support until I graduated college and had a steady job.Still, it was a burden on my entry-level salary and I resented both her and my daughter, so I wasn’t an involved father. To explain myself to my family and others who knew I had a daughter I hardly saw, I made up stories about how horrible and crazy my ex was and how it was all her fault.I know that was cruel and cowardly, but it was hard to backtrack.My ex contacted me last year to let me know she had a terminal illness. As a new father to a year-old son, I saw I couldn’t let my 18-year-old daughter, “Lynn,” go through that alone, so I reconnected with her, made peace with my ex and have been trying to make amends.Lynn naturally resents and distrusts me, but she is slowly becoming a part of my life. The problem is that my wife, my parents and my friends think the worst of her late mother. No one would be cruel enough to speak ill of her late mom to Lynn, so I could let sleeping dogs lie, but my conscience says I should set the record straight. I just don’t know how to begin to do that.I don’t see what would be gained, too, while a lot could be lost by doing so. Must I confess, or can I just make it up to Lynn by being the best dad I can now? The truth could really ruin our fragile relationship.Truth or Not


Tell your wife, parents and friends what you did. Immediately. Anyone who received your bad information.

When Lynn is older, more mature, and not freshly grieving, tell her, too. Admit that your choices surrounding her birth were almost uniformly terrible, and beyond checking the box, “Didn’t dodge support payments,” you had many opportunities at decency and you passed on virtually all of them.

Repeat: Save the specifics for when it’s useful and better for HER. What’s better for you is something you forfeited the right to consider when you chose to act so selfishly at 20-plus, and then doubled down well after immaturity expired as an excuse.

And if you can’t see any gain by telling your people now, then you’re not looking hard enough. I can think of three off the cuff, and we can all can quit counting after No. 1 anyway:

(1) Clear your ex’s name.

(2) Allow your people to know the truth about you. You’ve misrepresented yourself to everyone.

(3) Dare to live a life of real trust. That’s when you carry yourself with integrity and find out whether your people are still your people when they know the real you. All of it. The ones who stand by you will represent a higher order of intimacy that’s worth the risk to achieve.

I’m grateful to you for being honest here. Keep going.

My sister owns a few apartment buildings and my mother lives there rent-free. My mother plans to give my sister slightly more in her will. Our brother is angry about this, he wants my sister to just charge our mother rent. My sister thinks our mom will spend the money on medical expenses anyway and doesn’t mind missing out on rent. My brother thinks my sister is doing this to get credit of some sort. It’s annoying. What do you think?Heir

I think your brother needs to stop bean-counting and start living as a fully-fledged human being. And if there were some way an advice columnist could get a writer to get a sibling to do this, then I’d have published a book on it and retired on the proceeds. I’m sorry.

I will keep a good thought about his discovering, soon, that our spiritual side is some of the best factory-installed equipment we have and that we shouldn’t ignore it just because we can’t be bothered to read the manual. Kind of like Bluetooth.

I suppose you can suggest to your brother that if he’s so sure your mother operates on a credit-for-kindness system, and if he’s so adamant about getting in on the credit himself, then he’d probably do better to increase his kindness contribution than to lobby for reducing his sister’s.

I’m not saying this will go over well, just saying you’re welcome to give it a try.

Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at [email protected]


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