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Husband Won't Talk Out Any Problems

QUESTION: My husband won't talk out any problems. He won't argue with me, he just walks out. I think he feels as long as nothing is said-there is "no"problem. We have been married a long time and have our only child still at home. (He is 21) My husband and I spend a lot of time in different parts of the house and have almost no shared interests. He lets me do anything I want, buy anything I want, and is very generous in many ways. Maybe you are by now asking, What is the problem? Well, it just seems as tho there should be more to life than this. Give me some ideas or answers if you have any.

ANSWER: Successful negotiation is a vital part of a healthy intimate relationship. Your husband is avoiding negotiating with you. But you and your husband created this pattern of avoidance together over the years. It is probable that neither one of you had experience which caused you to believe that a couple could successfully resolve conflict without destruction. So you may have colluded to side-step tense interactions which set up a pattern of separate living. What you thought was in the best interests of the marriage in keeping it safe from conflict has actually contributed to loneliness and dissatisfaction. Often it is more painful to experience loneliness with someone, rather than loneliness resulting from being truly alone.

You may be mistaking "getting your way" about small things for satisfaction in your marriage. Obviously this is not the case. The amount of personal space your husband affords you may have felt pleasant to you when you were younger, but now you crave intimacy rather than freedom from conflict.

It is possible that you were initially attracted to your spouse because of the very traits that disturb you now. Did you come from a family in which marital conflict was upsetting to you as a child? If so, you may have chosen your husband for the peace and calmness his avoidance of conflict meant to you in your younger years together. Or you may be following the role model of one of your parents in recreating a similar pattern of avoidance in the marriage that was also true in your parents' relationship. Patterns in your husband's family may also contribute. He may be either modeling or reacting to similar patterns of dealing with conflict that he experienced in his childhood.

Both you and your husband have neglected the relationship to some extent by not developing shared interests or activities. Perhaps this was satisfactory to you when your child was growing up, as it gave the two of you a focal point to share in the family. However, now that your child is an adult, you and your husband are facing your relationship and reevaluating what is there. It is natural for you to do so at this time. It is also important to assess whether your adult child is being held back from leaving the two of you because of an unconscious responsibility to hold your marriage together. Sometimes only or youngest children who do not leave home as adults feel a sense of their role in the family is to keep the parents' marriage together. This kind of subliminal pressure to keep the family "intact" can hold them back from developing their separate lives.

Your marriage needs serious attention right now. Let your husband know that you love him, but that your needs have changed in the relationship. Acknowledge your shared contribution to developing patterns of communication and interaction that created distance instead of closeness over the years. And point out to him that the two of you are at a crucial stage in your marriage because you no longer are raising a child together.

Your marriage needs development at this stage! Begin to focus on it, water it, and address the elements from your family of origins that have influenced your behaviors with one another. This can become a time of tremendous growth. You have lived many years together, sharing life side by side. This certainly accounts for something! You are no doubt deeply bonded and may be very committed to each other. So it is now time to really get to know the other again.

Focus your energies on forging new patterns that include the ability and tools to successfully negotiate. Communication will allow you to have the tension in the relationship that promotes connection rather than separation. When you are no longer afraid of conflict, you will find that your partnership warms up. Working through conflict with respect allows you to unleash passion safely. And this is the key to closeness and intimacy. Develop your skills for dealing with the expression of anger in your relationship and you will find that your feelings of warmth, affection and love are also released in the marriage. Right now you are maximizing peace at the price of deadening the marriage. You need to come to a middle ground where tension is tolerated and can be transformed rather than avoided.

Seek support in the form of marriage seminars or group support for exploring intimacy in your partnership through community resources. Make your marriage the central focus. Develop activities and explore new interests together. You may find each other and your child may find his own living quarters!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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