Although women sometimes complain that they have an overactive, demanding husband, the complaint most often heard is the opposite – wives experience their husbands being withdrawn and disinterested.
We are well aware of the so called ‘absent father syndrome’ that refers to the father of the house being present in body, but absent emotionally. These fathers do not participate, support, educate, socialise, encourage, console, motivate, guide, assist or lead by example, when it comes to interpersonal relationships or the education of children.
Communication is essential for all interpersonal relationships and especially so for relationships within the family set-up. Communication, in its essence, is the need to connect and work together in order to achieve mutual goals. If one of the family members withdraws, the motivation to communicate is also lost. If no communication takes place, meaningful and healthy interpersonal relationships will not exist, or be maintained. Withdrawal is an indication of social and emotional isolation. This is not good for the individual, but is also detrimental for the emotional security and safety of the family unit.
Children learn by what they see
One very important reason for all family members to be actively involved with each other, is because this is where children learn from parents how to treat and respect one another and other people. Learning gender roles starts in the family. By observing their father, boys see how men should treat each other – but more importantly, they see how men should treat and respect women.
Daughters need to see how Dad treats Mom so that she will one day look for those same good qualities in her future husband. The absent father is detrimental for the child’s conceptual development of authority and authoritative figures. For children, what they learn at home will become the blue print for all future issues related to authority, discipline, rules, regulations and laws. Included here is the development of responsibility and commitment to others, but also submission to God and the Ten Commandments. Their attitude is, “If Dad doesn’t care, why should we?”
Reasons behind your husband’s isolation
The first logical step in this situation would be to try and determine what the cause, or reason is, for the father’s withdrawl. A physical problem might exist. This can range from chronic illnesses, like diabetes, to vitamin deficiencies or latent pain. Being overweight, a lack of exercise and poor diet can cause low energy levels and could lead to psychological problems like depression. See a doctor if need be.
A husband’s unwillingness or inability to participate in family activities might be for psychological reasons like depression, feelings of guilt, inferiority, work-related-stress, poor self-image, feelings of being dominated or insecurity. Also the dynamics of the family group might cause Dad to withdraw and stay “on his own planet”. If he is your second husband, he might feel that he is being compared.
Even personality traits may play a role – your husband might be an introvert who finds it difficult to open up and share on a more intimate level. The way Dad was raised (his parents’ parenting style) might be the example that he now employs with his own family. As with most interpersonal problems, the only solution is to talk about it, communicate or get professional help to at least start, or maintain the process.
Suggestions on how to respond to a disengaged man
Turn to the Bible to find the best recipe for healthy family relationships. The Word teaches us that that Dad must be the head of the house and he should be treated that way – the entire family’s sense of security depends on it. Try to involve Dad in activities that he enjoys, like sport, cars, construction or photography. Use this as a starting point and then slowly introduce other activities and excursions.
Having regular family meetings is a safe opportunity to learn how to share and communicate on a regular basis. Join family support groups, so that Dad can see how other families operate and also for him to recognise that all families have their own unique issues that they have to work on, “work” being the operative word; making the sincere effort to reach out by using meaningful communication.