134. My marriage is going through a rough patch... do I stay or go?
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Dear Dr. Smith

My marriage is going through a rough patch and I am at a loss as to what to do. My husband and me have been married for five years and had what I thought was a good marriage. Things changed when his sister who had gone through a divorce came to stay with us. My husband stopped paying me any attention. He even stopped helping with the house bills. It all ended with me confronting him. During this row I am not proud to say I said some pretty hurtful things and my husband said some hurtful things too. I ended up moving out to my mum for a fortnight. We have since spoken and I have moved back home. The problem is I feel I am back to the same situation of being ignored. I feel as though my husband doesn't really want to try again. He won't talk about it, he will not go to counseling, and he will not do anything together with me. I have tried the approach of loving him anyway and that has not worked, I have tried ignoring him but its still not working all I am doing now is crying and praying. Do I stay or go?

Dear Do I stay or go,
You have described to me a troubled marriage that is dying and needs some injection of love, care, affirmation, support, communication and God’s grace. Clearly, your husband is acting up in an inappropriate way and your sister-in-law seems to be the catalysis to this problem. Here are the issues raised and my response to them.

1. Things changed when his divorced sister came to live with us. I know you cannot re-live the past, but you certainly can learn from it. There is always a delicate line between sanity and insanity when you allow an adult relative to live with you indefinitely. This should have been a short-term arrangement and especially when things started getting out of hand was when it was time for her to go.

2. My husband stopped paying me any attention. What was he doing, spending the time with his sister? It is not an uncommon thing for siblings to form an alliance against a spouse and with your marriage so young (5 years) it is easy for such an alliance to jeopardize the relationship.

3. He even stopped helping with the house bills. This is not an option your husband has, helping out with the house bill is not a favor he is doing to you, it is an obligation he has to carry out. By the way, if he is not helping with the bills, how is his sister living, on whose budget? I certainly hope it’s not yours.

4. During this row we both said some hurtful things to each other. This is call “symmetrical escalation” when both parties are trying to outdo each other in an argument and is handing out punishing blows of heated words, the marriage is at it’s lowest ebb. In the future, try to compose yourself and take responsibility for your action. Impulse control is your best asset in any situation.

5. I ended up moving out to my mum. Big mistake. Never leave your matrimonial home unless your life is at stake. The moment you leave your sister-in-law and your husband in your home you have de-powered your self and empowered your sister-in-law. That is your home, you are the queen of your castle, hers is broken up, don’t give her yours to control.

6. I feel I am back to the same situation of being ignored. You did not say if your sister-in-law is still living with you. If she is, then it’s time for her to go and don’t tell me that she does not have anywhere to go. Let her find another relative, friend or rent an apartment. Now matter how your husband wine about this, her staying there will only worsen the situation.

7. I feel as though my husband doesn't really want to try again. Five years is a very short time to give up on a marriage. I would hope he isn’t, at the same time you have some serious steps to take. You should, a) engage your husband in a discussion and let him know how you are feeling, b) ask him to set a time when you both can sit down and discuss the situation without interruption, c) address the issues, not the person, d) ask for a change of behavior, e) promise a change of behavior, f) make a commitment to strengthen the marriage, g) pray together and ask God for His guidance and help.

If he refuses to enter into this discussion with you, you may choose to take the matter to your pastor and ask for his intervention or maybe the head elder of the church. If he still refuses to talk to anyone and the relationship is getting more sour, then what you do next will be between you and your God. It is not for me to say that you should leave or not leave. I am only hearing one side of the situation and cannot make a professional call on the matter. I trust, however, that by the grace of God, your husband will come to himself and somehow you both will find congruence in your marriage before it is too late.

I will be praying for you. God bless.

Dr. Smith
For more information about Dr. Smith's services go to www.familyfixers.org