There’s few phrases that are more dreaded in a marriage than a husband saying “I’m just not happy.” This is such a loaded phrase. You’re left wondering if the problem is you, or him, or the marriage as a whole. And, it’s quite common to wonder if he’s allowing other stressors from his own life to invade into your relationship so that he’s projecting things like problems with his boss, his family, money issues, or other things onto you. It’s frustrating to think that things about which you have no choice or control could be tainting everything that you’ve worked to build.
The other day, I got an email from a wife who said “my husband came home today out of the blue and announced that he’s just unhappy right now. How am I supposed to respond to that?” I asked her if she knew specifically what he was trying to imply because I wanted her to see that she shouldn’t blame or beat up on herself. Did this mean that he wasn’t happy in the marriage? That he was miserable at his job? That he was disappointed with where he is or what he’s done with his life? That every thing’s just not gelling for him right now? The wife couldn’t pinpoint specific issues and said that he was just generally stating that he was miserable. I’ll tell you how I told her to respond in the following article.
You Are Not Responsible For Your Husband’s Happiness, But You Should Care Deeply About It: I need to get one thing out of the way. One human being can not control how another feels or experiences life. If your husband has a tendency toward self criticism or pessimism or seeing the glass half empty, it is not your responsibility to take this onto your shoulders. You can not change this for him. Trying to do so is a losing game. Because once you do this, then suddenly everything that goes wrong is your fault and he begins to look at you as something or someone that lets him down and he begins to see you as the problem rather than the solution.
With that said, it’s optimal that your husband sees you and your marriage as a safe haven against life’s hardships and obviously, he’s not seeing things that way right now. The good news is that he is still communicating. I can’t tell you how many wives write to me after the husband has already announced that he’s moving out or seeking a divorce. You are ahead of the game here because he gave you this heads up and he’s trying to communicate. By being honest and telling you that he isn’t happy, he’s basically asking you to help him fix this before things get worse. And, that’s exactly what you should do.
How You Should Respond When Your Husband Announces That He’s Unhappy: The real question here is what you do with and how you respond to this information. First off, you should do your very best to remain calm. Your overreacting or making a big deal out of this is just going to intensify the problem in both of your minds. I know that this is weighing heavily on you, but you don’t need to constantly harp on this to blow it up bigger than it already is. If you can’t deliver a calm, compassionate, and rational response, then wait until you’re able. Because the message that you leave with him is vitally important.
You want to get across that he is the most important person in your life. Because you love him deeply, of course you want him to be as happy as he can possibly be. Explain that it would help you if he could share specifics on the things that are troubling him. Tell him that there are some things that only he can control. You can’t repair his relationship with his boss for example, but you are more than willing to listen and provide a shoulder to lean on and unwavering support. If it’s your marriage that he’s unhappy with, then you’re more than willing to work with him until you get to a place where both of you are very satisfied with the results. Your basic message is that his well being is also yours, that you’re absolutely in his corner and have his back, and that you’re going to control what you can – your attitude, the way that you interact, improving your marriage – while providing support on the things that you can not control.
Following Through With What You’ve Said: It’s vitally important that you do exactly what you’ve promised. You can’t say all these pretty words, wait for the storm to pass, and then go right back to the faulty way you’ve been doing things. Take a hard look at your marriage, identify where it could use improvement, and get to work.
With that said though, the last thing you want to do is to make this process read negatively to your husband. He just isn’t going to want to roll up his sleeves and “work on your marriage,” especially when he is struggling. You want to give him something that he can get excited about. Rather than having tough and awkward discussions about what is wrong, focus on what is right. Think about how you used to have fun together and recreate those experiences with an eye on what the both of you enjoy today. Unplug your obligations for a while and prioritize reconnecting with out all of the pressure. Don’t try too hard. Don’t constantly ask him where he is in the process. Just focus on creating pleasurable experiences that leave you both with smiles on your faces.
His telling you that he’s not happy is usually a passive aggressive way to ask for more attention and to ask for more fun and excitement in both of your lives. Make sure that this is the message that you hear. Don’t take it as criticism and don’t get defensive. Use this as an opportunity to create the lives that will bring both of you joy.