Carolyn Hax: Spouse wants to be ‘more loving’ to husband of 53 years


Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I have been with my husband since we were 16; we are now 71, and we have been married for 53 years.

We were insanely in love, and over the years, I have become less in love, more irritable and more short-tempered with him — and everyone else, I might add. There are more and more moments when I think I want to live alone.

What can I do to make myself be kinder and more loving with him? I have tried therapy, which did not help. Help me love my husband again.

Irritable: Can you afford, and manage logistically, some time where you live apart? I’m not talking about a legal separation; I mean things such as alternating solo vacations with ones you take together, or studying for x weeks at y program, or spending a season in one place while your husband spends it in another.

This is where separate interests are a lifeline. One loves golf and the other museums, one loves visiting cities and the other fishing in the mountains, etc. If you have a difference in tastes that has evolved organically, then it’s much easier to suggest you pursue them for a time apart, and it’s more likely to be restorative to your relationship. When you get to exercise some selfhood that you haven’t in a while, it’s easy to see how you could come back to each other feeling refreshed. No promises, but it’s worth a try.

And if it’s about you, not him (thus your impatience with “everyone else”), you may see that more clearly, too.

Because there’s a strong socializing current against doing this, he might take offense, even if he would benefit from it as much as you would.

But to draw some fortitude, think of all the ways people have found this space away from their spouses over the years that had the appearance of social acceptability: men’s and women’s clubs, weekend golf/fishing/shopping/lunching, workaholic tendencies, volunteering at church. Think of the whole repertoire of mid-century battle-of-the-sexes-type yuk-yuk jokes, and underneath the sexism, you can make out the foundation of reality: that too much togetherness can be tough on a couple, and we’ve known this for a really long time.

Aren’t we (over)due to have more realistic expectations, and to take these restorative steps out loud?

· Re: “more irritable and more short-tempered. … I think I want to live alone”: I have never heard a clearer statement of an introvert who is not getting enough alone time, and with it the ability to recoup some socializing energy.

If this resonates with you, can you build some quiet alone time into your life on a regular basis? Even an hour out of a day is immensely useful. As is a room in your home you can relax in with the expectation that nobody is going to come invade it and bring more people into it. Even ones you love. Because even people you love use up your social energy.

· You don’t mention what he is like or whether he is lovable to you. Think of what you really want at this point in your life. What happiness or contentment looks like. Who you want to be, including being pleased over your interactions with others. If you are grouchy because you are not living a life that satisfies you, take time with your values to see what might be possible.

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