Direct Answers – Bystander


I’ve been married to my wife 16 years, together for 17. We were both young, moving from place to place with the military. She was 19; I was 21.

Now we have three kids, two teenagers and an about-to-be teen, I feel our love was at the surface, not a deep love sharing all the feelings within our hearts.

Her parents died when she was 15, and she managed to survive until we met. I am normally a quiet person, who tends to keep things bottled inside. At the beginning of our marriage she tried to open my heart to no avail.

We would talk, mostly about the kids, rarely about us. I don’t suspect any infidelity. We share a mutual understanding of our responsibility toward our family and toward each other in keeping our marriage vows.

The past few months I have been trying to open a lot of myself to her. I realize I am lucky she stayed with me this long. We’ve had good conversations, and she says her life is incomplete. She has a void in her heart. She says she has to find herself and that she felt this way even before she met me.

She always says, what is life all about? She tells me about the problems within herself, and I listen. But she is afraid to resolve them. For example, she will say she wants to take college courses to better herself, but when I offer my help, she gets upset.

I am currently a drill sergeant in the army. When I offer encouragement, she gets offended and tells me to stop controlling or training her.

I really love her and want to know her better. I know what I did in keeping my feelings in a bottle was wrong, and I have to change. When I see her down, it brings me down as well.

~ Dylan

Dyaln, part of this is the classic difference between men and women. Women don’t want something fixed; they want to talk about it. Your wife wants to talk and talk until she decides what to do.

It doesn’t mean she will do something, or plans to do something, or wants to be pushed to do something. She wants to be heard. She doesn’t want to be coached. She wants you to look at her and hear her, not nod your head while you watch TV.

You don’t explain why you are a changing man, but the same applies to you. For years she tried to get you to open up, and you weren’t listening. She had no idea if you would ever open up. You did it when you were ready. It was up to you, and you chose to do it.

So it is with her. She confessed to a hole that may never fill. It is especially hard to fill an old empty space, because we cannot undo our past. How do you fill the hole where her parents were?

It may be, at some point, she will accept that void. For now, she needs you to say, “I hear you. I’m with you. I’m willing. We are together.”

A year ago, Tamara was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. She’s in pain and sometimes afraid. I can’t take that from her. All I can do is agree, “This really sucks.” To satisfy my man desire to do something, I give her heart-shaped, helium-filled balloons. She accepts them, and so it has been a year of heart-shaped balloons.

Your wife struggled to survive between 15 and 18. That struggle created a hole, ancient and unfixable. She needs you to listen and reply, “That really sucks.”

~ Wayne

Send Letters to: [email protected]
Wayne & Tamara answer as many letters as they possibly can.

Column for the week of February 11, 2019

Relationship column
read more relationship advice


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here