Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Getting Tough Can Change A Lump Into A Husband

September 1, 1997

This column is written on behalf of wives who feel trapped in one-sided marriages in which their needs aren’t being met.

Their husbands aren’t drunks, women-chasers, mean, bossy or jerks. They are good men who have retreated to a simple life of work, television, sleep, routine, meals, maybe a hobby, work television, sleep, routine and more meals.

"Couch potato" is too nice a term to describe them. Try "lump on a log."

These men aren’t weak. They have mastered the art of refusal. They refuse to go out, to go to movies, to socialize with friends, to go on vacations, to explore common interests or have interesting conversations.

They refuse to go for counseling. They are convincing enough in their obstinacy to make their wives believe rocking the boat could mean divorce. They are in control, and all efforts to communicate unhappiness have failed.

Here is an open letter to such a husband:

Dear husband,

I don’t want to get a divorce. I don’t believe in it. Even though the kids are gone, they wouldn’t like it. I am scared. I am scared of my feelings, especially the anger and loneliness that are building up in me.

I’ve tried lots of things - work, friends, handicrafts, church involvement - you name it, I’ve tried it. Whatever it is, you don’t mind as long as it doesn’t involve you or upset your routine. I feel like I’m living half a life and that there is nothing I can do about it. Here’s how I feel.

I feel like a beautiful potted plant that is rootbound and confined to a small pot. I am not watered, cared for or admired. My growth is stunted.

I can’t give what I have the capacity to give. The owner of the plant is too busy looking after a weed patch to notice me. I need sunlight, water, fertilizer, daily attention and more space in which to grow.

I feel like an employee of a company where nobody above me listens or cares about my ideas. I have lots of ideas that would make money for the company and improve the way things are done. I care about the company, but my creative energy is being drained away.

I feel like putting in my time and drawing my paycheck. I’m too close to retirement to quit. I’m getting to hate my job.

I feel like a bench player on a team where I believe I have the ability to be in the starting lineup. The coach doesn’t practice me or let me play in game conditions. Nothing I do seems to impress him. The coach doesn’t believe in pushing himself or the players. Everyone does as he or she pleases.

We aren’t learning anything new. We are in last place, and it doesn’t have to be that way. I signed a "no trade" contract, and the owner takes a non-negotiable bargaining position. I’ve been with the team too long to try for free-agent status.

I wonder if I’m good enough anymore. The pay is decent, but it sure bugs me to play for a loser.

That’s enough of how I feel. Do you care? Does it bother you? Or is your little world so safe and ordered that doing something for me is out of the question?

I’ve been collecting advice about what to do. You won’t like any of what you are about to read. I don’t like it either because I’m deathly afraid of confrontation myself. That’s why I’m in the pickle I’m in.

I’ve been told that the only time people make changes is if they are in a lot of pain and distress. The only way I can get through to you is to upset your apple cart. I’m going to stop doing all the nice things for you until you realize that you have to meet some of my needs.

How about doing your own cooking and laundry? How about no sex? How about separate bedrooms? How about a dose of your own medicine - the silent treatment? How about a separation?

These shouldn’t be considered threats, but consequences if you fail to commit yourself to improving our situation. My problem is that I haven’t made my expectations of you clear and concise enough.

Evidently I haven’t been firm enough for you to take me seriously either. I’ve been too nice and too afraid to take a stand with you. I’ll own that part of the problem.

"Now I mean it. I mean it. I really mean it. Or in case you didn’t get the point, I really meant it! If you don’t make changes and have an honest dialogue with me about my feelings, some or all of the above are going to happen. Pay attention to the GOING.

I’m giving you two weeks. If nothing happens, I’ll expect you to go for marriage counseling with me. If you want to work this out on our own, now is your chance. Otherwise get ready to meet a counselor.

If you think I’m kidding, try me. In fact, I hope that is the way it goes. You’ve got a lot to learn about marriage, and I would love to have someone besides myself try to teach you.

If you don’t love me enough to try, I guess I’ll have to stop living in fear and accept reality. You decide. Getting a separation or divorce isn’t my idea. But neither is living with a lump.

Life is too short. I want to play on a winning team. I need a companion, not a lazy, spoiled child for a mate. Give us a chance. - Your wife