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 Until recently I’ve been withdrawn and cold.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?
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A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.