Q.  My husband and I lead separate lives together. We live in the same house; however, he is usually in his home office while I am taking care of the house and the children. Our kids don’t see us hugging, touching or having conversations together. I wonder, “Does my husband love me?” and “Do I love my husband?” I seem to recall that before we married, and in our early marriage, we were “in love.” Was this attraction lost as we aged and had so many chores with three young children to raise? I wonder how our relationship will affect our children’s choice of mates and their view of what a marriage needs to be. I also wonder why my husband is so distant. Could you give me some suggestions on what I can do to try to get my husband to show some loving behavior? I want him to let the children know he loves and respects me as a  woman, wife and mother.

A.  Relationships can be difficult. When both people are positive, happy people, relationships are easier. But more often than not, one person can be negative, show signs of
depression or display traits of various personality disorders, such as narcissism or borderline personality. These conditions can be difficult to live with.

There are other reasons for difficult relationships. People may withdraw in a marriage as a means of protection from a mate’s criticism. Sometimes having a difficult childhood causes people not to trust those they are closest to. They have trouble believing that they will be treated kindly. Even without a difficult childhood, most men don’t respond well to repeated criticism.

Before I offer some suggestions to help your husband behave more lovingly, let me share a bit of advice that will help you the most. The most successful way to change your husband’s behavior is to change your behavior toward him.

Here are some other suggestions to try to elicit more loving behavior from your mate: Ask yourself if you ever criticize your husband or whether you choose your words carefully so that they are seen as kindly.

Give your husband thanks for things he does that you like. Perhaps he pays the bills and keeps track of your household budget. If you appreciate this, tell him so.

Ask for a hug. You can tell him that research has shown that we all benefit from eight hugs a day. Perhaps you start with a request for two hugs and slowly up the ante.

Leave him love notes. Your kids could make Dad some cards and you can tuck your card in with them. Sometimes surprise him with just your card on his pillow that tells him, “I love you.”

Try different activities until you find one that you both like. Doing things together, especially trying new activities, can lead to bonding as a couple. Remind him of
things he used to do that you liked. For example, you might tell him, “Before we were married, you used to reach for my hand when we walked. I enjoyed those walks. Can we try them again?”

Invite couples who exhibit loving behaviors to share a meal or a coffee. It may be best not to point out their behaviors, but let your husband see it. You could suggest marital therapy, but don’t be surprised if he resists. Most of the time, before suggesting therapy, it’ good to first try lots of changes in your behavior in an effort to shape his.

Regarding your concern for your children, they will see not only the relationship of their parents but also the widely varied ones of their friends’ parents. Your behaviors will affect them, but they are not clones of their parents. The actions that you take to improve your marriage will also teach them that they can work at relationships to try to better them.

Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.

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