BRENT STOLLER

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Advice for the Modern Man: Can I Still Save My Marriage?

Couple

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(Questions have been modified for space and clarity.)

I know this is supposed to be advice for men but perhaps you could make an exception for a confused wife. My husband and I have been married for two years, together for a total of seven. Problems surfaced long before we got married.

I am a very logical person, but also tend to believe the good in people. I, being very honest and a bit blunt, expect the same from others in return. So I am always at a loss when people don’t follow through on their word or lie to me.

I am very forthcoming about what I need to be fulfilled. My husband, on the other hand, is rather complacent about his relationships. He has promised to change things in our marriage, but time and again, he’s done nothing. I know people don’t change overnight, and I don’t expect that. But he has shown no initiative whatsoever.

I have suggested therapy, doctors, books and articles. I’ve sent him information to read. He’s done nothing with any of it.

If I scheduled therapy I’m sure he would attend, but he wouldn’t open up. And if I have to make the appointment after a conversation where I tell him that I need him to take some initiative, it feels like a hollow gesture.

I calmly try to have these conversations and use “I feel” statements because I don’t want him to feel attacked. He says he doesn’t want me to feel that way swears that he cares, but it never changes. I feel like he just wants the conversation to end so he can go back to watching TV.

He is not a bad man. He goes to work without fail, and he never cusses at me or hits me. That doesn’t make his behavior OK, though. Sometimes I feel like he is looking for a mother and not a wife.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, and at this point, I’m not even sure what my question is. Is this marriage salvageable? Am I settling? How do you get someone to follow through on their word?

I told him a couple days before the wedding that I didn’t want to go through with it given the way things were. He swore to me that he would change and try harder, but it hasn’t happened. Am I delusional?
–Desperate and Confused Wife; Indiana

Thanks so much for reaching out. Like I said a few weeks ago, you do not have to be a man to submit a question. There’s value in hearing concerns from everyone, as it broadens the reach of this column.

There could be, for instance, a guy reading this article who realizes he’s treating his wife the same way your husband is treating you. Which obviously isn’t well, meaning this type of behavior must be addressed.

You asked if, given the current circumstances, you were settling in terms of your relationship. It sounds like you know the answer and have for some time. After all, two years ago, you almost called off your wedding.

I don’t doubt that your husband is a fine man. Honestly, it feels weird giving somebody brownie points for not being physically or verbally abusive, but I guess that no longer qualifies as “No s***” behavior.

However, just because he’s not hitting or yelling at you doesn’t mean he’s not mistreating you. Negligence is abuse, and it can be every bit as devastating.

Marriages have to be complementary and cooperative, the definition of a two-way street. It’s the only way they can survive.

Yours is anything but at the moment, leaving you two courses of action to consider…

Leave your husband. Nobody could blame you for choosing this option. Your relationship hasn’t been right since before you got married, and your husband has had ample opportunity (and support) to fix things. Instead, he’s done nothing.

While I’m a proponent of people doing everything possible to preserve their marriage, it sounds like you’ve already done that. You’ve expressed your concerns, made your wants/needs clear and offered solutions for solving them, all the while using all-important “I” statements.

Yet none of it has worked. But there could be a reason for that, which brings me to your second choice:

Introduce consequences. As long as you’re interested in salvaging it, your marriage is still (potentially) salvageable. You just have to raise the stakes.

While we’re motivated by things like money and accomplishment and altruism, the most common — and arguably strongest — call to action is (fear of) consequence.

Why do you show up for work? To not get fired. Why do you slow down when you see a cop? To not get a ticket. Why do you change the channel from E!? To not see another Kardashian photo shoot.

It sounds like there have been no repercussions for your husband’s inertia. Look at it from his perspective: You say you want change, he doesn’t change, and nothing changes. Why wouldn’t he stay on the couch?

Granted, for most of us, living with an unhappy wife would be incentive enough to get moving. But just because he hasn’t changed doesn’t mean he can’t.

Think of how things work in the military. Lord knows the last thing I’d want to do is get up at 5 a.m. to do calisthenics, scrub communal toilets with a toothbrush and crawl under barbed wire as live rounds buzzed my cowlick.

But tell me I can do all of that or have a bald, pissed-off drill sergeant make my life hell, and you’d be amazed at what I’m capable of.

This is not to say you’ve done anything wrong or that you have to go Full Metal Jacket. You just have to give your husband something to lose:

You.

If you could wave a magic wand, what are some things you’d have your husband do to start changing himself and your relationship? Go to couples therapy? Do something else he’s been promising to do?

Outline what you need from him, demand he get started and make it clear that if he doesn’t, you’re gone. You can even come up with a deadline to which he’ll be held accountable.

The time for generalities and hollow threats is over. It’s about action now. And if, for whatever reason, he still won’t get off the sectional, you have to be willing to walk away.

What do you think? What advice would you give this reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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