How much is too much sacrifice in marriage?

q&a with geoff Mar 03, 2021


I have been married for almost 15 years. We met at a dance New Year’s Eve. I went with two couples as the fifth wheel. I stated if no one asked me to dance by the third slow song, we could leave. Well by the third song, he asked me to dance. I didn’t know him, hadn’t seen him before. After the dance he hung out with us at my friend’s house. We played games and exchanged numbers.

I saw him every day for two weeks straight; we spent hours together before he went to work. We got engaged at the end of those two weeks.

One night while in my car, I felt I should open my heart to him. This was before we got engaged. I took that as a sign that when he proposed it was right. He said he felt impressed to ask me to dance that night, as he was ready to leave to hang out with his ex-girlfriend.

Again, it seemed like we were meant to be.

Fast forward eight months to our wedding day. We had a few arguments during our engagement, but none we didn’t work out. But I would question if he was right for me. But the day of our wedding, a voice said to me, “This isn’t right, you can still break it off.” I pushed it aside and went on to get married.

The first three months of marriage were horrible. I cried on our wedding night because of his insensitivity; I cried nearly every day for those three months. Not because he was abusive physically, or even verbally, but I constantly felt alone. He would go off with his friends and just wasn’t emotionally present. I felt like I was giving 200% in the relationship without feeling fulfilled or comfortable with him.

We now have had three children, and every time I’ve had a child, he wasn’t very supportive, so I got a doula for myself for the last two. He wasn’t and hasn’t been there emotionally for me ever. Our “love” is mostly for him. Again, he isn’t mean. We even went to counseling twice with no help.

I just feel I’m trapped in a marriage where I’m trying my best to keep him happy. I take care of the kids, house, appointments. I also work. I make sure he gets time with his friends and a break from work and the kids. I’m in charge of all of the religious practices for our family. But if I ever talk to him about us doing this together, it’s uncomfortable for him. He never wants to talk of spiritual matters, our relationship, our kids or me.

It’s always about him. And I keep giving. I’ve read book after book on marriage. I’ve tried talking to him and telling him how I feel.

And after reading all the books and articles, I feel as if they say, “Don’t withhold sex, it will get better, just be available. Keep serving and giving yourself, don’t be selfish, don’t expect anything in return. He’s your spouse and you’re married and have four kids.” But my love tank isn’t ever getting filled, even after being blunt and telling him what I need.

But because he provides for our family and isn’t abusive, I have no ground to think that divorce will solve this. But can I go another 13 years being unhappy? Should I tolerate him being in charge of our relationship no matter the cost to me? I do so because I made promises to my marriage. I don’t want to break my promises, and I don’t want to hurt my children. I come from divorced parents; I know how it can go.

But I know that once the kids are gone, if life continues this way, we will end up divorced anyways, and I will have lived another 15 years unhappy.

I’m not sure what to do at this point.

When is it okay to want to feel fulfilled and cared for by my spouse? How can we become intimate emotionally so that everything else can fall into place? How do I continue this marriage and still keep my promises?


I can see how confusing it must be to spend your life living faithful to your marriage, family and promises and, at the same time, have everything falling apart around you. It would seem that your efforts should produce more than just heartache and exhaustion. Even though marriage and family ask so much of us and often stretch us to our limits, it’s vitally important that you don’t become diminished as a person.

Let’s talk about how you might find some relief in this challenging situation.

Instead of fixating on the past and evaluating whether or not you should have married your husband, focus on what you need to do right now. Problem solving past issues can distract us from confronting our present issues. Even though your history has some red flags, there is work to do right now that requires your complete focus and attention. 

I don’t recommend you continue redoubling your efforts. You’re a hard worker and have tremendous capacity to give, even when it’s at your own expense. Like a lost hiker in the woods, this isn’t a time to increase your speed and intensity, but, instead, it’s a time to stop, conserve energy, gather resources and figure out your plan.

When we’re desperate for solutions, our solutions can become frantic and actually disconnect us more from ourselves and others. This isn’t about figuring out what more you can add to your list. You’re allowed to have limits and expect others, especially your husband, to balance the load.

I don’t want to minimize how stuck you feel in your marriage. You take your commitments seriously, and you don’t want to disrupt your children’s world. You only feel trapped in your marriage because you’ve not recognized that you still have options. These options may be painful and undesirable, but you are always free to take action to move out of patterns that are crushing you.  

Remember that the success of this marriage isn’t only your responsibility. While it’s important to take personal inventory to make sure you’re doing your part, there also comes a point where it’s important to be clear about your expectations of your partner’s contributions. It seems that you’ve taken all of the blame and made excuses for his neglectful behavior.

Just because he’s a nice person and brings home income doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have abusive attitudes that harm his family. I believe it’s damaging to marriage and family life when we hold onto a narrow definition of what it means to provide for a marriage and family. It certainly includes providing income and the necessities of life.

It also includes providing so much more than that. Think of all of the tangible and intangible things you provide him and the children to make marriage and family life function. A healthy marriage is made up of two people who are constantly looking for ways to provide emotional, physical, sexual, intellectual and social care to each other. Your husband’s refusal to provide these things to you can’t be dismissed or overlooked. 

You’ve spoken up, but have you taken action to do something different? This is a critical distinction that will set new patterns in motion. You’re carrying forward keeping things even and steady, which seems to be working for him, but it’s diminishing you. It may be disruptive and upsetting to him to begin changing patterns, but you’re not responsible for managing his emotions. In fact, it might be a good thing for him to feel something different and make some conscious decisions about his marriage and family goals.

You have to decide where to start changing your responses to him. You can’t change him, but you can change you. You can create a different experience for yourself that preserves your sanity. If these changes don’t work for him, hopefully it will invite him to collaborate and work with you to design better ways of doing things in the marriage. Even if he doesn’t want to attend counseling with you, you can still get the individual support from a therapist to help you strategically move forward in ways that align with your deepest values.

This doesn’t mean that you need to leave the marriage today or in the future. It does mean that it’s time to leave behind patterns that aren’t working any longer. It’s scary and uncertain when we’re confronted with the need to take more direct action. You don’t know what may be on the other side of taking drastic action. However, you already know what’s on this side of the current situation. You have more influence over changing the conditions than you realize.

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