Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Couch Potato Gets Dose Of Tough Love

July 7, 2003

This is written on behalf of wives who feel trapped in one-sided marriages where 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 and maybe a hobby.

"Couch potato" is one term to describe them. Another is "lump on a log." These men aren't weak or pushovers. 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 to have interesting conversations.

They refuse to go for counseling and they are convincing enough in their obstinacy to make their wives believe they will never change. They are in total control of what happens and doesn’t happen in the marriage. Efforts to communicate about marital unhappiness go nowhere.

An open letter to such a husband:

Dear husband,

I don’t want 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 is building in me.

I’ve tried lots of things - work, friends, handicrafts, church involvement. You name it , I’ve tried it. Nothing takes the place of a husband who is supposed to care for me, talk to me, do things with me, and listen to me.

Whatever I’ve tried, you don’t seem to mind as long as it doesn’t involve you or upset your routine. I can only live part of life without your cooperation and participation. You are cheating me.

Do you want to know 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 you the love or fun 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, 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 I’m 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 seem to care. Our team isn’t learning anything new. We are in last place, and it doesn't have to be that way.

Here’s the worst of it. In my down moments, I blame myself. I even wonder if I'm good enough anymore.

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 cold shoulder? How about a separation?

It isn’t my nature to be mean or hard. It would be so much easier if you would think of me and my needs and I would blossom. I know I would.

I am getting to the point where I can’t take it much longer. Evidently I haven 't been firm enough for you to take me seriously. I've been too nice and too afraid to take a stand with you. I'll own that part of the problem.

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 word "GOING."

I'm giving you two weeks, and 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.

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 or a couch potato. Life is too short. I need a companion and partner, not a lazy, bossy and self-centered lump. Give us a chance. - Your wife