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Coping with an emotionally unavailable partner when you need support

(32 Posts)
Quarantined Fri 19-Jun-20 13:19:47

I just realised yesterday that there is a "thing" to describe my husband. He's often emotionally unavailable... which is fine day to day, but I am going through a really stressful, emotional time right now...

Two weeks ago I discovered that my dad's cancer had spread and he needs treatment. But he felt confused and overwhelmed on the phone with the consultant (possible early stages dementia - the GP will not refer for tests until "Covid is is all over") so he asked them to post the info out and ended the call. I got my siblings involved and we've grouped together to arrange support and move things forward. As you can imagine there's been a lot of phone calls, video calls, messages etc exchanged over the last couple of weeks. Yesterday he has his pre op and we're waiting for a date for major surgery. It's been hard.

At the beginning of this two week period, my husband shrugged his shoulders and said "you've just got to try not to worry about it". A few days in, he said something that upset me and I've only had minimal discussions with him since.

Not once in all that time has he asked how my dad is doing, how the rest of my family is doing, how I am doing. He's on a family what's app group which my dad messaged to say about his operation, but my husband hasn't even acknowledge that. He has been grumpy and argumentative, shouting at me and the kids and fighting with me about unrelated things. I asked him today if something was bothering him or if I had done something wrong - one word "no" answers to both.

I just don't know where to go with this - I don't understand why he's being so unsupportive and uncaring, why he has such a lack of empathy and awareness...

Any advice or experience?

OP’s posts: |
AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 19-Jun-20 13:34:21

I am sorry to read about your dad and hope that his treatment goes ahead soon.

Getting back to things at home your H being emotionally unavailable day to day is not actually fine either. This is who he is and he is not going to change now or infact ever.

What do you get out of this relationship now?. Why have you put up with this from him to date?. What do you think of him now, are you starting to wonder what life without him in it day to day would be like?.

What do you want to teach your children about relationships and what do you think they are learning here?. Is this really the role model your DC should be seeing in a relationship?.

YesSheCan Fri 19-Jun-20 14:19:52

Sorry to hear about your dad, OP. I hope he gets his treatment soon and it is successful. I have a similar situation with my boyfriend of 3 years. My dad was recently diagnosed with cancer. Although it is hopefully a good prognosis, I was still obviously worried when I found out via text from my dad while on a socially distanced walk with boyfriend, the first time we'd seen each other in over 2 months. Boyfriend turned round to see why I'd hung back and stopped walking to look at my phone. I told him about my dad. He said absolutely nothing. No acknowledgement, nothing. Eventually later on he talked with me about stuff concerned with himself but did not mention my dad at all. This wasn't the first time he's ignored me when I've mentioned stressful things I'm dealing with (not that it's like I constantly offload on him or expect loads of emotional support). But it's the first time I've called him out on it. I told him I was upset and disappointed that he had not acknowledged me at all when I told him about my dad. He was quite defensive and said he didn't know what to say. I've been considering whether or not to continue the relationship as I think if you have a partner like this, you need to decide if you can accept the level of emotional support that they are willing or able to give you. Have you told your husband how you feel about his response, or lack of?

Sn0tnose Fri 19-Jun-20 14:38:13

I’m so sorry about your dad, I hope he gets a date soon and that it goes well. Bloody awful disease. Enjoy every possible minute with him and cope with it an hour at a time if needs be 💐

If something goes wrong in your husband’s life, would the sky would fall in if you weren’t there comforting him and saying the right things? Is there any possibility he could have difficulties with either processing emotions or dealing with the emotions of others? If not, then he is simply an absolutely self absorbed shit of a man.

@YesSheCan it takes sod all effort to say ‘Oh God, that’s awful. Let’s find somewhere quiet to sit down and you can phone your dad and have a proper chat so you’re not on your own.’ If you carry on with him, you’ll find yourself in the same situation as the OP in a couple of years.

Zaphodsotherhead Fri 19-Jun-20 14:45:36

Does your husband just not like it when everything isn't about him? So it's less 'emotional unavailability' and more self obsession. That he literally can't help you because it is something that isn't revolving around him?

Quarantined Fri 19-Jun-20 15:50:11

Thanks for the replies so far.

I don't think he is self centred or self absorbed. Eg I think he's generous and considerate (because he makes way more effort than me in buying gifts for occasions); he does most of the shopping and cooking (so he doesn't think his time is more important than mine). He'll get up with the kids while I have a long lie, he'll give me a back rub now and then, these are just a few examples - he's not consistently cold and distant in every respect.

We did used to talk about things, but they'd be things like politics, economics, future aspirations, funny stories etc. and not talking about difficult feelings.

We went through his dad's illness and death a few years ago, and I supported him in every sort of practical and emotional way I could but he's just not a very emotional person. He does get upset about his dad, but deals with it by putting a lid on it. That might work for him, and we don't talk about his dad very much, but it doesn't work for me.

All this time not talking about anything doesn't mean I'm not thinking about it, it means all my worries are bubbling around inside with no outlet.

I want to talk to him about it but have no idea how to broach the subject. I feel like it'll inevitably lead to another argument, and I just don't have the energy or strength right now to deal with him telling me I'm wrong about him being unsupportive and uninterested. At the same time, I don't feel I can just leave it because I'm upset/angry that he's so indifferent to it.

OP’s posts: |
litterbird Fri 19-Jun-20 16:47:49

I think some men cant deal with anything emotional. They find it extremely difficult to be able to support and help. This leads them to feel useless as they just don't know how to do it. This then in turn comes out as anger, frustration and unavailability. My last boyfriend wouldn't even come down and be with me if I was feeling unwell. He just couldn't handle illness at all, it stressed him out. I think your husband acting this way as he is incapable of showing a caring side in the wake of a truly horrific time you are going through sadly for you. How you broach this is a difficult one. Perhaps instead of telling him that he is not being supportive perhaps tell him how to be supportive to you. Men like to follow instructions and maybe he needs you to tell him how he can help rather than how he is not helping, if you get what I am saying. Sorry for your fathers illness. Its a horrible time for you all.

NoMoreDickheads Fri 19-Jun-20 16:55:36

Leave. Having him in your life doesn't help you.

The lack of support isn't just a lack of something- each time he does it it causes you pain.

YesSheCan Fri 19-Jun-20 17:57:09

It sounds like you do need to talk to him and tell him how you feel. I've struggled to get communication right in relationships and so read up a fair bit on it - if you frame it in terms of your needs then he cannot tell you that you are wrong. E.g. "I'm feeling so worried about my dad's illness and it would help me to talk about it" - he can't tell you that is wrong. "When you don't say anything about the situation with my dad, I feel unsupported" - he can't tell you that is wrong. But if you say, "why are you so unsupportive?" he can argue with that. Maybe worth a try. If you have this conversation and nothing changes then it's not that he doesn't know what to do, because you have told him what you need.

Pericombobulations Fri 19-Jun-20 19:20:50

I wish I had an answer. My DH is very bad when it comes to needing to mentally support me. He seems to cope better when I give specific instructions and have to be very clear my expectations but it doesn't come naturally to him. We do wonder if he is slightly on a spectrum, but hes never been checked.

This lack of support has led me to an ambulance trip and hospital tests for 5 hours alone and terrified (and in a lot of pain), lack of support when my dad had cancer which when he died, I had to beg him to stay with me and not go away with his work the day after (he did stay but only after I had spelt it out). He even left me the day after I was diagnosed with MS to go and do his hobby for 4 days away.

We have never recovered fully from this lack of support. We still have arguments now as I feel very unstable and I see Attila has suggested not staying and if it was early relationship then I would agree, but its not so easy with marriage or kids. Now I'm mobility limited its even harder, as he is my carer. He does try but none of it comes easy or naturally and its always in the back of my head, if I can't actually tell him to do something I'm not sure he would.

Yes relationships shouldn't be this hard but I wish I had an answer.

Aerial2020 Fri 19-Jun-20 19:32:03

I do wish people would stop stating that if a man is emotionally unavailable they wonder if he's on the spectrum.

I don't think people realise how offensive that is. Not all people with asd have issues with emotions , that is a stereotype.
Lots of men are emotionally unavailable for many reasons. Many reasons.

Pericombobulations Fri 19-Jun-20 19:38:43

Thanks @Aerial2020 I only mentioned it as our relationship counselor who met and chatted to him said he was likely to be, due to his responses to her.

I understand you saying its offensive for suggesting so and apologise. It wasn't coming from a speculative place but he hasn't had testing (but does have other traits in line with them and should have been tested but this was the 70's when hardly anyone was tested).

WashYourFins Fri 19-Jun-20 19:40:49

Have you tried telling him what you want/need from him? I know it's crap that you have to do that, ideally he'd "intuit" what you needed. I don't think this is just a "man thing". I am a "do-er" - give me something practical to do, I'm great. Boil water! Fresh towels! Tell me your worries, I'll try and fix them. Annoys the hell out of DH when he's just looking for understanding and sympathy, not solutions. He has got the hang of telling me "don't solve things, just listen" and I'm getting better. I want to be better. I'm not on the spectrum but in the face of unfixable situations I'm a bit lost without a steer in the right direction.

Aerial2020 Fri 19-Jun-20 19:45:12

It's ok, mo need to apologise.
I'm sorry you're having a difficult time.
It is not your counsellors place to say that after 'his responses'. It takes many many assessments to get diagnosed, they shouldn't be so flippant with like that.

Pericombobulations Fri 19-Jun-20 19:51:33

Thanks, we understood that, its one of the reasons that we felt now pushing 50 it wasnt going to make much difference if he had the tests, and there were children more in need of the tests than him.

I would just like to confirm that I do not think emotionally unavailable people are all on the spectrum, and would just like to say that in case anyone thinks I meant otherwise.

Gutterton Fri 19-Jun-20 20:06:24

I am really sorry OP that you are going through so much stress with you DF in these challenging times. It seems that you have wrestled and dealt with an awful lot already practically with your siblings and you must be exhausted now.

I don’t believe that anyone is unemotional (unless there is a PD diagnosed) - but people express and process differently. He sounds a generous and caring man with his time and energy for you all as a family unit.

He is emotionally avoidant - emotions terrify him - so he withdraws and puts a lid on it.

The emotions are still there even though he can’t articulate them. He will be like a tight spring. He most likely has higher intensity emotions swirling around his body than you have. The current blow outs are telling me that the current situation is overloading his already full state.

But this is unsustainable and can lead to depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms (does he drink, dissociate via gaming etc).

He likely hasn’t processed his grief from his own father. Did he have an angry, critical, demanding or engulfing parent? As this would set him up to think that emotions and emotional intimacy are unsafe.

I know you want to scream and shout and shake him - but that will just prove his point and drive him deeper into his shell.

He needs coaxing out gently, clear instructions and confidence that it’s safe and the everyone won’t emotionally overwhelm or implode - because he is not confident of is own ability to cope. Maybe shame around expression was a big stick he was beat with as a child.

Sorry he is not stepping up effectively and is in fact adding to your burden with his outbursts - but if you can find the strength and focus to deal / communicate with him as PP has said as well as maybe looking at his strengths (practical stuff with the kids) and asking him to step up higher there for now you might find a way through.

madroid Fri 19-Jun-20 20:41:57

He needs coaxing out gently, clear instructions and confidence that it’s safe and the everyone won’t emotionally overwhelm or implode - because he is not confident of is own ability to cope. Maybe shame around expression was a big stick he was beat with as a child.

I'm sorry - but FUCK that!

Poor OP has already got an ill dad and her own feelings round that to deal with and now she's got put her DH's potential childhood trauma above her own needs for a bit of basic empathy?

I think OP you need to look elsewhere for some support. May be siblings? or friends?

When things settle a bit more I'd be having a long hard look at your marriage if I was you. As you get older more things will happen to you directly that need support.

You now know when the chips are down your DH won't provide it. He's failing badly as a relationship partner.

Techway Fri 19-Jun-20 20:45:02

@litterbird, the op isn't a counsellor and won't be qualified to do this level of wor.

Quarantined Fri 19-Jun-20 21:51:54

Thanks everyone for taking the time to reply.

I've been thinking about this some more. He is actually hugely supportive of me in many ways - when it comes to chasing my dreams and aspirations, giving me confidence that I can do things, giving me advice related to his field of work when I needed it, calming my anxieties when it's something he knows about (a legal matter in the past, it terrified me but he's a lawyer and helped me hold my nerve and understand that the other side was playing a game - I got a good outcome thanks to his backing and confidence).

It really is "just" the emotional side that he seemingly can't do without prompting. So he'll hug me when I'm upset and I ask for a hug, but he won't intuit that something's wrong and I need his support.

I'm certainly not going to throw away a decade-plus marriage with children involved just because his coping mechanisms don't match mine. There is a lot of good in our relationship too.

@YesSheCan huge thanks for the useful language you've suggested "I feel..." etc. which you're right, can't be argued with but sets straight what I need from him. This is along the lines of how I'm going to approach this (tomorrow hopefully).

OP’s posts: |
HS24 Fri 19-Jun-20 21:59:52

Tell him how you feel and what you want, if he loves you he will do it
Good luck x

NoMoreDickheads Fri 19-Jun-20 21:59:55

I'm certainly not going to throw away a decade-plus marriage with children involved just because his coping mechanisms don't match mine

This isn't about his own coping mechanisms though, this is about how he treats you.

What does he say when you tell him what you want from him? Or haven't you tried in the past?

YesSheCan Fri 19-Jun-20 22:16:53

Hope that your conversation goes well OP. Ime it's quite challenging to change how you say things in practice and very easy to revert to one's usual ways of communicating. Try to stick to 'when you X then I feel Y' statements and make sure Y is the way you are feeling rather than what it seems he is being (eg 'I feel unsupported' rather than 'I feel like you're not supporting me').
I've only recently started trying to communicate like this with my boyfriend but it remains to be seen whether or not he will step up. Hope things improve for you

Gutterton Fri 19-Jun-20 22:17:59

OP has said that he responds when she asks for a hug - but the issue is that she shouldn’t have to ask - especially at this v difficult time for her - he should be more attentive and looking out for her.

So this needs to be communicated.

Maybe that “lid” he has held down on his own potentially unprocessed grief is being triggered right now - doesn’t excuse his unpleasant blow outs and indifference - but might explore it.

When life gets more complicated, losing parents, terminal illness (on top of the horrors of COVID) etc our emotional intelligence, capacity, resilience is held mot account. OP might well need additional support right now if he is is unable to switch into gear immediately and he might need some individual counselling and/or couples counselling as they enter a more challenging chapter of their lives.

Scott72 Fri 19-Jun-20 22:23:15

So most posters here are advising she should leave him and she would be much happier as a single parent with him permanently out of her life?

Yobringbackthe90s Fri 19-Jun-20 22:33:30

Very sorry to hear about your father op, your husband unfortunately if hes like that, emotionally unavailable.. hes not likely to change anytime soon because he is just wired differently in my experience of unavailable family members and people ive met.. and you need more obviously, you are not doing anything wrong you just need support and you arent asking too much, try and source it from elsewhere and not wait for him to be there because he cant or wont.. there are quite a few support and crisis help organisations to contact when your feeling very low or vent on here as you are, you have to do what you feel is right for you but just dont depend on this person because they will likely let you down and then that is more hurt to endure.. you dont need it right now, take care

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