| | Re: Avoidant spouse
So he talked fine when he felt "safer" because of distance...
I am brainstorming here, because it sounds like your husband is pretty extreme.
I'm guessing that his childhood was pretty traumatic and lacked connections with other people, and that as a result, he never built the kind of social skills to negotiate solutions, or even to identify his own feelings. Does this sound accurate?
Would you be satisfied with small increases or do you expect a big transition all at once? If you can feel happy with small progressions in the right direction, you might try some of these to see what does or doesn't work:
Whenever you try to talk to him, always include reassurances in your messages that you love him and tell him you know he wants to do the right thing by you (even if you're not sure about that!) so you'd like to make a request. Make your request a simple one - a measurable, concrete task that he can complete and KNOW he has satisfied you. Then show him that you're grateful for his effort.
You could ask him to spend 5 minutes a day telling you about his workday, for instance. But if he complies with that, you'll have to be careful to thank him for his efforts and avoid criticism.
You have two tasks: One is about him - to teach him how to be a person with feelings and to feel safe. The other task is to get your own needs met in the marriage. This may be a very long process.
I wouldn't ask him to talk about feelings at all at this point. Stick to things that let him be objective and matter-of-fact. The way to introduce feelings and let him learn to talk about them is by making your own observations based on things he tells you about work. "Well, Joe got mad about XYZ today" might bring a response from you like, "You must feel annoyed when you have to listen to Joe's rants!" Over time, this will help him learn what labels to use to describe feelings that he doesn't know how to label. He probably will shrug his shoulders and say "I guess" or something like that, but be ok with that. This is teaching him how to have and recognize feelings and feel safe sharing them with you.
In order to address problem areas in your marriage, I'd recommend avoiding any kind of criticism about HIM, and to be very cautious about the words you use when you address his behaviors. Some people are motivated to protect themselves from negative outcomes, while others are motivated by positive regard. You have to determine which type he is and use that awareness in your approach to marital problems. If he works harder because he might get a raise at work, he's probably motivated by positive recognition. On the other hand, if he gives up and the other guy gets promoted, fear of negative outcomes is what motivated him to shirk responsibilities.
If he's motivated by positive regard, use lots of praise and affection as you make very simple requests. He may not be able to process complexities the same way you do. He might be someone who compartmentalizes every little thing - something that is hard for many of us to understand. But anyway, if he is a compartment guy, those small, measurable tasks are CRITICAL to seeing progress. He'll feel completely overwhelmed by a request to "just talk for five minutes," but can understand "tell me the best part about your day at work." He'll understand, "Please wash your face before bed with that nice smelling soap I bought you" but won't get it when you say, "Here's a nice smelling soap that will help your oily skin."
In a very real sense, I'm seeing that you'd have to take on a role of re-parenting him even though he's an adult. This might or might not be worthwhile for you to do. There's a strong chance that it will bring about unexpected results that you may not be prepared to handle, so if you do decide to take these steps, I'd also encourage you to discuss this with a counselor as you're going through all this.