He got cold. She got colder. Is it too late to warm things up?

This came in from a reader:

For two years I have focused on my career and lost track of what was important, the love of my life. Until recently I’ve been withdrawn and cold. I did not realize what I was doing, however, until a few months ago. That’s when  my wife admitted that she had been having an affair. The affair was over, though, and she wanted us to work. I decided to forgive her and move on. I love her so much. I am totally over the fact that she fell in love with another man and cheated on me with him over an extended period of time. I’ve realized, however, that, at some point over the past couple of years, my wife turned something off inside so my coldness wouldn’t hurt her anymore. That’s when she searched elsewhere for the love she needed. Now that we are past the affair, she can’t seem to let me back in. She tells me that she loves me, but I can tell that she is not in love with me. She can’t kiss or hug me without cringing, not to mention the zero intimacy thing. I have made it my purpose in life to show her how much I love her with notes, flowers, cleaning, cooking, taking care of the kids. I’ve tried everything. The more I do, the more I smoother her. I’ve even pretended like none of this bothers me to see if that space helps. Nothing helps. I am in desperate need of some advice. Please help!–Desperately Seeking Warmth 

Dear Desperately Seeking Warmth,

There was a time, not all that many years ago, when I was your wife. I wasn’t married to you, of course, and I didn’t have an affair, either. But I did feel zero warmth for my husband. Like you, he’d been cold for many years, focusing most of his energy on a business that he was struggling to launch. He was touchy and distant, and that was when he was home at all. Like your wife, I found myself fantasizing about other, better options.

I came very close to trading him in.

He’s now my best friend. When I think of him, a smile comes to my face.

I’d like to tell you that the road back to warmth was quick, easy, straightforward and replicable. It wasn’t. The two words that come to mind are words that you probably won’t enjoy hearing: “time” and “consistency.” In the beginning, it seemed my husband could only be warm and engaging for short periods of time. He quickly regressed. There were many times that I had to remind him that his cold facial expression and words hurt me. As a result, I often doubted his sincerity.

Over time, however, warmth became more habitual for him. I saw his coldness less and less, and I also got better and better at pointing it out. Almost as soon as “that look” would come across his face, I’d call him on it. This often startled him. He often didn’t even know he was coming off as cold.

While flowers and notes and a clean kitchen are nice, what a cold marriage really needs, in my opinion, is sincere affection. Flowers, store-bought items and even proclamations of love can feel hollow to someone who is used to coldness. Affection must ooze out your pores for it to seem sincere. It’s not a monetary item you can buy. It’s something you must show.  For me, I feel truly adored when my husband:

  • Sounds so happy to hear my voice at the other end of a phone line.
  • Lights up when I walk into a room.
  • Stops everything he’s doing to comfort me when I’m stressed, anxious, or otherwise struggling.
  • Asks me about something I told him earlier. It proves to me that he’s been listening.

But, most important, it takes time. Only time can erase the cold memories of the past and replace them with a treasury of warm ones. If you hang in there and keep up what you are already doing, I predict that, a year or two from now, you’ll look back on this time and think, “I’m glad we got through that.”

Readers: What do you think?

IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU’LL READ THIS: I’m thrilled to learn that ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com has been nominated for a Reader’s Choice Award by About.com. I *just* found out about this, which means I’m, ahem, in last place! Please help me get up in the rankings and vote for the site. It will only take you a minute, and you’ll earn my unwavering gratitude in the process. Click here to vote.

And, after voting, if you are still in the mood to help someone in need, consider helping a graduate student at Clark University by taking  a survey about couples and alcohol use. When you and your spouse  complete the survey, you will each be entered into a raffle for one of four $50 Amazon.com gift cards! The survey will take each participant approximately 20 minutes, and survey responses will be anonymous.

10 comments… add one

  • Carla March 6, 2013, 10:22 am

    I was virtually a single parent in this world, even after being married for 10 years, abandoned for the career path. I had shut down. I was tired of the coldness, of waiting for him to come back. I was on the verge of moving on until he was “let go.” With work his world, he finally realized that work was NOT his life and that we were. Jobs can change and so can people. Granted, it took a LONG time….a lot of depression and guilt and lifestyle changes and a job change that required a long period of time apart (1 month and now 3 weeks) to be exact…thousands of miles away. What actually brought us back was the long period of time apart and the frank discussions by email about what we wanted for us, for OUR future. We are closer now than we have been in a very long time and I am very happy to say that I feel I am married to my best friend again. I guess what I’m saying is that you both want to have a future together regardless of the past. It does take time to heal the wounds, on both sides, and it has to be up to her to let you back in. In the meantime, just be sincere, show affection, let her catch you looking at her, give her time alone, ask about her day, just BE there even when you aren’t physically and SHOW her that work is not your #1 priority anymore…she is. Oh…also, try using “you” before “I”, i.e., “You are the love of my life,” “You make it so easy for me to…”, etc. Good luck.

    Reply
  • Hadiyah March 6, 2013, 12:52 pm

    Both this post and Carla’s comment are so inspiring. I have felt like a single parent in the past due to my husband’s work schedule. It made me very lonely, depressed, and feeling as if he only worked because he didn’t want us (me and the kids). It took a lot of frank discussions to get past that but we still have a long way to go. I find now that I am the one who’s being cold. Maybe because I am still holding on to past resentment? I don’t know. It’s something I’ve been working on for some time now. In a way it’s good to see I am not the only one.

    Reply
  • Mike Spenceley March 6, 2013, 5:45 pm

    Congratulations on being nominated for a “Reader’s Choice Award”. Relationships grow cold because the couple fail to continue to grow together. Either one outgrows the other or they both grow in different directions. If you don’t grow together, then the relationship will get as you say “cold”. To bring this back, you have to find new ways/interests you can do together or you need to get back to committing to growing as a couple.

    Reply
  • Doug March 7, 2013, 6:49 am

    I am Carla’s husband and her description of what our marriage had become and what it is now is very accurate. Today’s world drives competion, a desire to be successful, pressure to want and have more in a material world. But this all comes at a cost to relationships, health and person well being. In many cases, it is going to take a tremendous jolt to bring someone back. I certainly do not advocate affairs nor do I wish a job loss or the threat of divorce but there needs to be that wake up call that so many of us miss on a daily basis. My current CEO recognized the lifestyle I had lived before and recommended a read to me that not only described me, but also described where I truly wanted to be. With no disrespect to Alisa, I would recommend anyone in a position of “work first” read and digest “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari”. Career and drive has to be shared by your spouse as what you may believe you are doing “for the family” may not be what the family truly needs.

    Reply
  • Jennifer Margulis March 10, 2013, 7:35 pm

    I think they should buy a copy of your book PROJECT HAPPILY EVER AFTER, and read it together, and DO everything you and your spouse did to get back to a loving place. It will work if they are both committed. For the record, notes and flowers sort of annoy me. What works so much better is asking — what do you want? What can I do to help you feel more loving towards me? and NOT being offended if the answer is — for you to take the kids away for a weekend so I can have the house to myself…

    Reply
  • Sheryl March 10, 2013, 7:41 pm

    After being married for many (31) years, what I know is this: you must always put a lot of work into a marriage for it to work. I wonder if people think that this is not necessary on an ongoing basis, and this is why communication breaks down. Even I have to remind myself of this!

    Reply
  • Jane Boursaw March 18, 2013, 12:37 am

    It does take work, and variably more or less, depending on the people involved and their history. But you know what? Sometimes a little thing like smiling at your spouse or hugging them can make all the difference in the world.

    Reply
  • Jerry April 4, 2013, 10:53 pm

    Amen to your comments and advice Alisa. Although the particular circumstances of your reader’s were not identical to mine, I can truly relate to his frustration, especially after showing his forigiveness and doing little deeds to demonstrate his deep affection for his wife. But you’re right. I also learned from my own experience that those less material but equally (or more important) signs of affection (the listening, the asking, the show of facial happiness of sighting the wife when she makes an appearance etc) are the ones that can make a big difference. It took me a while to work it out but it did work for me and I’m so glad that I took the time to better understand what really “tripped her lights”.

    Reply
  • Anonymous October 26, 2013, 1:19 pm

    I hope the writer will still read this–peek back at his post and see if there are any late comments…
    I’m sorry to say that you are in deep trouble. When a woman cringes when she touches you and fails to respond to heartfelt gestures, she has checked out of the relationship. I can tell you this from experience.
    You need intensive therapy. If you have a local marriage and family therapist that is marriage friendly and is willing to help you through this challenging time, you may make it. It is critical that you identify someone who is truly marriage friendly because many will not be willing to work with you if one member of the couple has already checked out–it’s just too hard and the success rate is too low. I also know this from painful experience. If there is no one local, find an intensive marriage retreat where it is either only you or a few couples focused on identifying and fixing your problems and start working on them.
    If she is not willing to do any of this, then work on your own happiness, keep your heart open to her, and maybe she will see that there is a loving man living in her own home who is every bit as good as any elsewhere. Maybe she will open her heart. But the longer a woman keeps her heart closed, the less likely she is to ever open it again.
    I also know this from experience. My wife never opened up her heart again, and we are in the process of divorce, and believe me, as bad as you think your marriage is now, divorce is at least a thousand times worse.

    Reply
  • Gail November 1, 2013, 4:11 pm

    This site is amazing. My husband asked for a seperation a few weeks ago. He moved out , he is very close by and sees the kids regularly. He has a very busy job and travels a lot. He says he has not been happy fora few years, but I always put his moods etc down to fatigue a d work stress. I have been a stay at home mom for 9 years. I did not realise ,until he had moved out, that I had kind of checked out and become very cold to our marraige, i guess resenting his job being on my own a lot with the kids, not having him around for meal times bed times etc. This I believe has caused him to back off from me and we got stuck in the perpetual circle neither of us realising. He cannot understand that I did not realise how unhappy he was, again I put his moods down to work stress etc. Now he has gone it has hit me like a bullet, I realise how much I love and miss him and also,how my lack of understandingnhas hurt him. I am now on the receiving end of coldness and being pushed away and it hurts so baldy. I really understand that we have to work at putting things right, and that our communication has been really bad, however he says that he is not sure he wants too as it has gone on for so long, he is not sure he can trust me with his feelings, he is really hurt. I am backing off and giving him his space and only contacting him when it is to do with the kids, at his request. We have seen a very pro marraige councellor , although at the moment he has stoped seeing her just to give him a break, he says he will start going again soon. He is such a good hardworking and honnest man, we have been together 13 years and to me marriage is very important . I truly never saw this coming and there is no one else involved. Can anyone help me understand why I did not see this coming, and how I can help him see that we can have again a ver happy marraige .

    Thanks

    Reply

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