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ASK ELLIE: Communication breaks down in 21-year marriage

When communication’s cut off, at least one partner in the relationship has given up. You both need to find out why.
When communication’s cut off, at least one partner in the relationship has given up. You both need to find out why. - 123RF Stock Photo

Q:

Like many families with children, pandemic-parenting and pandemic-life is taking its toll on ours. A huge breakdown of communication between my husband and me is now a huge stressor and getting worse.

I feel that a marriage with great communication builds a positive foundation to weather storms. My husband of 21 years actually wrote me poetry about this when we were dating!

Now, after 21 years, he interrupts when I’m speaking to him and often doesn’t stay on topic. Anytime there’s a new idea or plan that requires discussion he shuts down and discourages me.

When I’ve encouraged our getting marriage counselling, he says that it will never work. It’s affected the way we interact because I just don't want to talk with him anymore because I don’t feel honoured.

We recently had an argument about toilets. I’ve seen two of our toilets malfunction since last year. I’ve expressed multiple times that these should be changed. His answer is that it’s my son’s fault and my fault, and since they work fine for him the problem is that we’re doing something wrong.

I find him passive-aggressive and uncaring. We never agree on renovations even though we have plans in place.

I don't want to be right all the time and I’m not a nag. But I want to be heard, respected and need a partner who listens. I have already shared my feelings with my husband about this.

Our communication has not improved, and I’m finding myself drained of energy to help things along.

Any advice to encourage positive communication and rebuild a foundation worth fighting for?

- Desperately Seeking Communication

A:

Try something different other than what’s clearly not working.

For reasons you don’t know, beyond having to deal with the wearying effects of the pandemic, your husband is no longer interested in shared conversation, not with you and perhaps not at all.

Compared to your earlier years together, he has shut down. It’s time to try to discover why.

It’s not unrealistic, for example, to wonder if some matters may be worrying him too much to focus on others e.g., financial issues, work-related changes and/or general malaise due to lack of control over plans and wishes for now and the future.

Meanwhile, you’re an equal partner in the marriage/ household and should be able to look after some matters on your own.

Generally, toilet malfunctions require some repair. But these aren’t COVID-safe times to have strangers in your home unless absolutely necessary.

Still, you could call a plumbing company yourself and ask some questions or search online for related information. You don’t need your husband’s permission to do so, and there’s no cost to argue about unless these toilets are about to fail.

Being heard within a relationship is crucial to staying connected. But your husband won’t consider marriage counselling to improve things because he has checked out during this stressful time.

Find a counsellor yourself to discuss the situation, virtually. Your husband may be depressed, a condition which you can’t lift on your own.

He’d need to see a psychologist who can diagnose his state of mind and/or a doctor regarding that and any other health factor. He’d have to have therapy for himself and/or couples’ counselling.

This isn’t a situation that communication alone can improve until he’s interested and motivated toward change.

Then, the right counsellor who’s a fit for you both, can help you re-build the foundation for great communication that you once shared.


Feedback regarding the pet-sitter thrown “under the bus” by her employer (Feb. 10):

Reader: It’s unclear where they’re located. If this occurred in Ontario, I’d strongly recommend she see an employment lawyer before doing anything else.

The pet sitter was harassed by her employer. This violates employment law and human rights. The employer must compensate for her stolen items and false accusations.

Part of the employer’s restitution would be for him to send a letter to her governing body to explain that the accusations are false and issue a letter of recommendation she can give to new prospective clients.

She should not send a letter to the girlfriend. This could be construed as harassment. The issue must be directed toward the employer only, via an employment lawyer.

Ellie: Though I’d recommended her writing “a polite letter” to the girlfriend, it’s better to avoid any interpretation of harassment.


Ellie’s tip of the day:

  • When communication’s cut off, at least one partner in the relationship has given up. You both need to find out why.

Read Ellie Monday to Saturday. Send relationship questions to [email protected]. Follow @ellieadvice.

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Ellie Tesher
Ellie Tesher

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