Sometimes, you have a feeling that your marriage is deteriorating, but you hope that perhaps you are making things worse than they are. That is until your spouse says something that leaves you with no doubt that you were right. Sometimes your spouse uses extremely hurtful adjectives that can leave you unsure as to how to respond or where you go from here. Examples are words like “miserable,” “loveless,” or “dead.”
Someone might say, “I have long suspected that my husband wasn’t happy in our marriage lately. Until yesterday, he had not come out and said anything, but he’d just moped around and he was no longer very affectionate to me. Last night, we got in a fight about something that really didn’t matter. It was something petty like household chores. I got defensive and told my husband that he’d been very distant to me and then he sarcastically replied, ‘Distant? Well I’m still here, aren’t I? And this says a lot because honestly, our marriage is miserable, but we’re both trapped in it right now, so we just have to endure it.’ I was actually very stunned by this. I didn’t think that my husband was happy in our marriage. But his words were very harsh. He made our marriage sound like a prison or something and I have no idea why he would even say this because how does it help? How am I supposed to respond to it? How do you even come back from something like this? I don’t know if he would tell me this because he just wants a divorce and this was his way of firing the first shot, or if he actually wants me to take action. Perhaps he was just trying to hurt me? When he talked about being stuck, he was probably talking about our kids. Neither of us has ever wanted to break up our family, but that’s no excuse for saying what he did.”
I think that if he really and truly wanted to hurt you, he perhaps would have actually taken action to initiate some time off. He may have alluded to being “stuck,” but at least he’s making no plans to leave immediately. So that gives you some time to evaluate what you truly want and how you want to respond. When you evaluate this, try to do it at a time when you can be the most objective. What he said has hurt you, so it would be natural to allow that hurt to cloud your decision making. But it’s important that you try very hard to really ask yourself what you would want if you could put the hurt aside. It sounds as if you are both committed to your family, so I’d suspect that what you’d truly want is a happy family where both parents are content in their marriage.
That may sound sort of silly considering where you are right now, but it’s important to have your optimal endgame in mind. Then, ask yourself how you can get from where you are now to where you want to be. I am living proof that it is not impossible – even when you have a husband who claims to be “miserable.” (My husband used this word several times.) And now that we are no longer separated and I have some hindsight, I realize that what he was really trying to tell me was that our marriage had changed drastically and that he wasn’t happy (at all) with those changes. When you take the message at face value, then you have to ask yourself what is valid about that message.
There are some aspects that you won’t be able to change – like the fact that you both have to devote time to your kids and jobs. But there are other things that you absolutely can change, like making intimacy and connection a priority and trying to improve the way that you currently interact with one another.
I know that you are concerned with what to do with this or how to respond. As someone who has received this type of hurtful message and then separated before I ultimately saved my marriage, here is my very best advice about that: I would take the message as a call to action. If I had all of this to do over again, I would read the message as my husband saying, “hey, I need you to make some changes before we really go off the rails. I want what we used to have.” No these weren’t the words that he said, but that is what he meant. I wish my reaction would have been to take an honest look at myself and my marriage and to immediately make the necessary changes. Instead, I got angry and defensive. This is a natural reaction, but it doesn’t (and didn’t) help.
If I had it to do over again, my reaction would have been to calmly ask him what bothered him the most and what he most wanted to change. That would have served us much better. So you might try something like, “I’m really sorry and hurt to hear you talk this way. But I want to hear the message of what you are really saying. I don’t want for you to feel trapped. So what bothers you the most? What can we work together to fix?”
Your husband might be taken aback that you are having such a direct conversation. That’s okay. Because you can’t start to fix it until you know what is really broken with him. I know that his words hurt, but try to see this is as the necessary beginning to making the needed changes that might make you both happier.