I’ve become miserable in my 25-year marriage because my husband seems to have shut down. He vegs out on the sofa watching television at night, isn’t interested in a social life, and has very little interest in sexual activity. When I’ve broached this topic, he retreats even more. I’m at my wits end.

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I’m not surprised by your frustration. Men tend to withdraw for any number of reasons, causing untold grief for many women. I frequently liken this behavior to that of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand—to the utter dismay of a wife and family.

Understanding what could be happening to your husband may help to a certain extent. Could he be stressed or struggling from low-grade depression? Many men, tired and run down from long hours on the job, perhaps believing they’ll never obtain their vocational goals, try to escape. Television is the ultimate sedative for those who struggle with low self-esteem and limited life goals. Having few friends and no real outlet for their angst, they withdraw. Sadly, this becomes a vicious cycle—men lack direction and excitement in life, feel hopeless and mildly depressed, and withdraw into television, only to end up feeling worse.

It’s critical to see the big picture here: Your husband isn’t trying to hurt you. He most likely learned to withdraw into an emotional cave years earlier—and tragically, is comfortable there. A man generally is far less comfortable in the world of feelings and resists this aspect of relating. Most men aren’t aware of the effect their withdrawal has on those around them, and when confronted, resist the help of those closest to them—specifically their wife. But this is no excuse; when a man opts to be in a marriage, with that decision come responsibilities.

Let’s consider what you can do to encourage your man out of his cave and back into your relationship.

First, remember it will take both of you to change. Your first task is to respectfully get your husband’s attention. Let him know you care and are concerned about his possible depression, lack of interests or friendships, and lifestyle absent of joy.

Second, don’t condescend or criticize. Speak with a clear, calm, concise voice. Lovingly share what you want and expect in a relationship with him. Avoid being emotionally volatile or disrespectful. Men almost always withdraw in the face of emotional intensity.

Third, invite him into a caring, loving relationship. Seek his collaboration on this problem and together work on finding a mutually satisfying solution. Encourage your husband to agree with you that together you’ll create something more wonderful than either of you could create alone.

Fourth, don’t enable your husband’s withdrawal. This can be tricky, because it’s often difficult to discern how you might be enabling this dysfunctional pattern. However, don’t coerce him into being more engaged. Stay focused on inviting him into relationship and confronting dysfunctional behavior.

Finally, notice his efforts to change. Men thrive on encouragement. Give your husband reason to come out of his cave. Reinforce his positive efforts. Celebrate gains made.

Progress in any relationship problem is not linear. Don’t get thrown off by inevitable setbacks. Remain grounded in your faith to sustain you both and cause you to grow. As the Apostle Paul said, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5).

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