QUESTION: I’m certain that I’m losing my husband. He shows me signs of boredom and total disinterest in me. He treats me rudely in public and is virtually silent at home. And of course, our sex life is nonexistent. I have begged and pleaded with him to love me, but I’m losing ground every day. What can I do to save my marriage?

Dr. Dobson: These are symptoms of a condition I call “the trapped syndrome.” More often than not, the man is thinking these kinds of thoughts: “I’m 35 years old (or whatever the age), and I’m not getting any younger. Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with this woman? I’m bored with her, and there are others who interest me more, but there’s no way out. I’m stuck.”

These are the feelings that usually precede esoteric infidelity, and they can certainly be felt in the strain between a husband and wife.

How should a woman respond when she reads the cues and realizes her husband feels trapped? Obviously, the worse thing she could do is reinforce the cage around him, yet that is likely her initial reaction.

As she thinks about how important he is to her, and what on earth she would do without him, and whether he’s involved with another woman, her anxiety may compel her to grab hold of him.

But her begging and pleading only continue to drive him to disrespect her more, and the relationship continues to splinter.

There is a better way that I have found productive in counselling experience. The most successful approach to bringing a partner back toward the centre of a relationship is not to follow when he moves away from it.

Instead of saying “why do you treat me this way?” and “Why won’t you talk to me?” a wife should pull back a few inches herself. When she passes her husband in the hall and normally touch him or seek his attention, she should move by him without notice. Silence by him is greeted by silence in return. She should not be hostile or aggressive, ready to explode when he finally asks her to say what is on her mind. Rather, she responds in kind…being quietly confident, independent and mysterious.

The effect of this behaviour is to open the door on his trap. Instead of clamping herself to his neck like a blood-sucking leech, she releases her grip and introduces a certain challenge to his mind. He may begin to wonder if he has gone too far and may be losing something precious to him. If that will not turn him around, then the relationship is stone-cold dead.

What I am recommending is extremely difficult to express in written form, and I am certain to be misinterpreted by some of my readers on this issue. I haven’t suggested that you rise up in anger – that you stamp your feet and demand your domestic rights, or that you sulk or pout in silence. Please do not associate me with those contemporary voices that are mobilizing feminine troops for all-out sexual combat.

Nothing is less attractive to me than an angry woman who is determined to grab her share, one way or another. No, the answer is not found in hostile aggression, but in quiet self-respect!

QUESTION: I have a friend who was married for nine years before her husband left her for another woman. I think she was a loving and devoted wife, yet she seemed to feel that the break-up of her marriage was her fault. As a result, her self-esteem disintegrated and she has never recovered.

Dr. Dobson: It has always been surprising for me to observe how often the wounded marriage partner – the person who was clearly the victim of the other’s irresponsibility – is the one who suffers the greatest pangs of guilt.

The blame for marital disintegration is seldom the fault of the husband or the wife alone. “It takes two to tango,” as they say, and there is always some measure of shared blame for a divorce. However, when one marriage partner makes up his mind to behave irresponsibly, to become involved extramaritally, or to run away from his family commitments and obligations, he usually seeks to justify his behaviour by magnifying the failures of his spouse.

These questions and answers are excerpted from the book Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions. Dr. James Dobson is a psychologist, author and president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofits organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Correspondence to Dr. Dobson should be addressed to: Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO 80903, ©, 1982, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc