I hear from women all the time. They tell me about why they are unhappy in marriage.
The one common reason that wives are unhappy in marriage is that their emotional needs are not met.
Here’s a composite of what I hear:
“I long to have my emotional needs met but whenever I talk to my husband about my needs he gets very upset. He blames me and tells me I’m breaking him down.
My husband won’t talk to me or listen. I feel so disconnected from him.
When I am anxious my husband tells me to pull myself together or go away.
My husband is never at home. He’s always out doing his own thing without a care for me.
I just need some love and affection in non-sexual ways.
At times I feel like my heart is breaking. I can’t breathe, my chest is heavy. I feel distressed and struggle to cope with our kids. I can’t face them with happiness in my heart and they see and feel the effects of my husband’s actions toward me.
I feel like it’s not safe for us to move forward with our lives. I don’t think my husband is someone with whom I should have kids.
I need my husband to talk to me about money, purchases, and to have a plan for our future.
I need my husband to listen to me, hear me, understand me.
My husband won’t learn how to give me sexual fulfilment. He says I have a problem and I’m blaming him for it.
I’ve learned not to expect too much but inside my heart is being squashed.
I’m doing everything I can to meet his needs, but how do I advocate for my own needs?”
Having your emotional needs neglected can affect your own personal well-being, both mentally and physically.
Here are some signs that your emotional needs may be neglected:
There are a number of reasons your husband is neglecting your needs
In spite of your husband’s reasons for not meeting your needs, it is still God’s intention that he meet them.
God gave husbands an instruction: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” Ephesians 5:25
“God wants husbands to understand and do their part in meeting the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of their wives… Husbands are to treat their wives with gentleness, honor, and respect, treasuring them and cherishing them.”I Don’t Want A Divorce, 187, Dr. David Clarke
If your husband is not meeting your needs in a caring manner, then He is not obeying God’s instruction to him and this equals sin.
If you do nothing about it, you are enabling your husband to sin.
Submitting to your husband’s sin hurts him, you, and your kids.
First off, here’s what not to do:
This challenge is going to require you both working together. The difficulty comes when one spouse is not willing to work on fixing the problem (in this case, the husband.)
Surrender yourself to God and be willing to do whatever He asks of you. Pray for the right spirit and attitude. The Lord will fight for you and with you if you stay closely connected with Him.
Be willing to examine yourself and see where you may be contributing to the situation. I’m not saying you are contributing, I’m saying just be willing to consider that you may be contributing.
Sometimes contributing to a situation comes in the form of enabling. By keeping quiet, not saying anything, still meeting all his needs, you are enabling your husband’s behaviour.
You deserve to be treated well. Why? Because you are God’s child and he has commanded husbands to cherish their wives.
You don’t have to tolerate emotional neglect.
Spend time with God and ask Him to reveal to you your true value.
One woman I spent time mentoring received her true worth from Christ during one of our sessions and it changed so much for her. She started expecting to be treated well – not arrogantly – but because she realised her value to Christ.
There’s a huge difference between the two. Instead of rehearsing all his faults in prayer, pray for your husband. Ask God to lead him and help him and direct him. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soften his heart so that he will truly hear you.
Whatever is preventing your husband from meeting your needs is going to be hard for him to change. He needs your prayers.
Related: 4 Ways to increase intimacy in your marriage
It’s important to figure out what caused this. Ask yourself these questions:
If your relationship has always been this way then the issue is more serious, but if you can trace the change back to a specific event or you know your husband is very stressed then it will be easier to figure out.
If being emotionally unavailable is normal for your husband then it’s going to be more difficult for him to change.
You’ve had conversations with your husband about how you’re feeling and it hasn’t gone well. It’s time to have a conversation with him about what this is really doing to your heart and where you feel your relationship is headed if things don’t change.
The Bible tells us to confront someone when they have hurt us (see Matthew 18:15-17)
You can prepare him by saying, “I need to talk to you about something really important and I need you to listen to me. When would be a good time for you?”
Pick a time when you both are not tired, hungry, or stressed.
If your husband refuses to engage with you or fails to make a plan to meet with you, or if the conversation does not go well then move to the next step: boundaries.
Related: 2 Ways to improve communication skills
It may be that your husband has issues from his own childhood that are impacting his response to you, but that doesn’t mean you should tolerate how he is treating you. The only way to motivate him to face his issues and work on them is to confront him.
Implementing boundaries is a very delicate matter, and be easily abused. Boundaries are not meant to be a punishment for someone’s behaviour, but to motivate them to change.
Boundaries help to place the problem in the right place. Right now you are carrying the burden of this problem and your husband seems immune to it. It needs to become his problem too.
In their book Boundaries with Kids, Henry Cloud and John Townsend present a parenting principle that applies to all relationships, including marriage:
“Consequences transfer the need to be responsible from the parent to the child. Consequences make it the child’s problem…” pg 61
Consequences teach a child: “My behaviour is a problem for me.”
They go on to say, “Too many times, children’s behaviour does not become a problem for them. It does not cost them things they value. Instead parents allow the problem to become a problem for them instead of their children… the role of the parent is to help the child want to do that. Consequences provide this motivation.” ibid.
“We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” ibid. pg 72
In this case you are in the role of parent, applying the consequence. I know that sounds a bit awkward, but don’t see it as being a parent. You are entitled to voice your needs and have them met. Applying consequences allows your husband to decide and choose what he wants to do. This is not force or manipulation.
What to do when your husband doesn’t respect you goes into more detail on how to implement boundaries. Please read it!
What I sometimes recommend to women who are chronically neglected is to stop physical intimacy with their husbands. I know that sounds radical, but hear me out. If you are constantly giving your husband sex because you know he needs it, but he is consistently not meeting your needs, then you are enabling him to not meet your needs – why should he? He’s getting what he needs.
You could say it like this: “I really want to meet your need for sex, but until you start hearing me and considering my needs too, I can’t keep giving myself to you. We are in a partnership, and we promised to love and cherish each other. This is supposed to be mutual. I need you to really hear me and work on finding ways to solve the issues we have.”
Warning: this will almost definitely not go down well and you may be accused of all sorts of things. But that’s ok. You are worth fighting for and your needs are as important in this relationship as your husband’s are.
If one of your challenges is physical intimacy – where you are not getting enough sex or your husband is not bringing you to satisfaction, then you will need to find another way of implementing boundaries.
You have to decide what you are prepared to continue living with and what you are not. Either way it’s not going to be easy, but ignoring the problem is not going to change it.
The danger of doing nothing is that your heart will gradually grow cold, and one day you will announce: “I want out. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”
Act now, while there is still a chance of saving your marriage.
How do you advocate for your needs?
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