I’ve been married 14 years. For about 13 years, my husband has not shown affection to me (holding hands, sending cards, buying gifts, hugs, sitting next to me, etc.). We have pets and he showers them with affection. He says he loves me and shouldn’t have to repeat it, unless something changes. He has also been verbally abusive during our marriage. March 2005, I told him I was considering divorce and seeing a counselor. He refuses to see a counselor, saying he has a brain and knows how to use it to fix his problems. In the last few months, it is obvious he is trying harder. He hasn’t been angry much of the time. The verbal abuse has decreased considerably, although I still get an abusive remark several times a week. He has been exceptionally nice the last month. However, there continues to be no affection. Over the last 11 months, I have talked with him several times to express my need for affection and that I cannot continue to live without it. After typing this, it seems obvious, but I really don’t want to give up on the marriage if there is any chance he is coming around.
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So the question that you have to answer is “what can I live without and what do I need”. The difference between what you can live without and what you need is exactly what you cannot compromise on and still feel okay about yourself. If you really need affection, then, that is a perfectly reasonable thing to leave your marriage for. If you can live without affection but you prefer not to, then you should stay. In either case, you should consider asking your husband explicitly for the things you need. “please hug me and tell me you love me. I know you don’t need that yourself, but it is really something I need in order to feel good about our connection”, might be something you say to him. He may do it only grudgingly, but if he does it at all, that is a good sign, and I would recommend waiting around to see if he will continue to respond to explicit instructions. If he just refuses to compromise, and you can’t compromise either with regard to what you need from him but don’t have, then it is time to leave.
There is a very good book on the subject of being ambivalent about leaving a relationship that I’ll recommend. It is called “Too Good To Leave Too Bad To Stay” by therapist Mira Kirshenbaum. The book offers a variety of situations in which people are usually better off leaving, and situations where people are usually better off staying. It can be helpful to know that other people have been where you are now, and that they’ve been able to make their big decision to stay or go, and that life goes on on the other side of the decision, often in a better form.