Dear Amy: I've been married for 40 years. But I have always felt like something was missing. Every time I try to reach out and connect emotionally, my husband becomes angry and withdraws.

Frustrated with his distance and indifference, I recently said that I needed to know if he loved me enough to work with me on improving our relationship. He stated that he doesn't know if he loves me because he doesn't know how to feel love because of the way he grew up.

He grew up without a father. His mother had five kids and no education. Her menial jobs kept her away from home, and the kids had to fend for themselves. She was briefly married to an abusive man, but I don't know the extent of the abuse.

My sons and I had nothing to do with the way he grew up, yet we are the ones who are being punished, with a father and husband who cannot feel or express love and connection.

I know that childhood trauma and neglect can affect a person in adulthood, but isn't it possible to work through this to be a better partner and parent, if you want to be?

We went to joint counseling once several years ago, and that did not go well, so he is not willing to try again. I have been in counseling by myself, but I never seem to get much out of it.

I feel like my only choice at this point is to walk away from a 40-year marriage, and that makes me sad. What do other women do when married to an empty shell of a man who is unwilling to be a better partner?

Amy says: You know from your own experience that good parents create a sense of security, safety and well-being. Children who grew up with neglect and trauma protect themselves by forming a hard shell around their feelings. It's all about survival.

I wonder if you and your husband are aware of any ways he does try to show love. Maybe it is through work, supporting the family or pride in you.

Some spouses in your situation cope by retreating into their own shell, co-existing in an angry standoff. You're not willing to do that, and I think it is quite brave of you to lean into your own needs, diving into a different future.

I suggest that you explore a trial separation, and that you give therapy another try.


Dear Amy: When attending a wake, the family of the deceased usually says, "thank you for coming." What is an appropriate response? "You're welcome" or "My pleasure" don't seem to be heartfelt. Any suggestions?

Amy says: Words often fail in situations like this, but you could make eye contact and say, "I'm very sorry for your loss" and/or "I was very fond of (name)."

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