Help! My Husband Snores Terribly and Refuses to Do Anything About It

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

My husband and I have been married for 27 years. About 10 years ago, his snoring became intolerable, and they ran some tests and diagnosed him with sleep apnea. They told him he could stop breathing and die if he didn’t get a CPAP machine. He refuses to get one, though, because he doesn’t like the way they feel at night.

Because of his selfishness, I’ve started sleeping in the den because I can’t sleep through the night if we’re in the same room. It’s so disturbing. He literally stops breathing for a minute or two at a time and then suddenly explodes with noise as all the air comes rushing back into his body. Our neighbors have told us they can hear it in the summer months, when their windows are open. Still, he won’t budge. He said if he dies, he dies.

I miss sleeping with my husband, but even more than that, I miss feeling like he cares. I am so frustrated by his unwillingness to do what he needs to do. I don’t know what I can do if he’s going to be stubborn like this. What do you think? —Wide Awake

Dear Wide Awake,

No doubt when your husband continues to not do what you and/ or the doctor have asked him to do, this can be extremely frustrating. I couldn’t help but notice you use the words “unwilling,” “stubborn,” and “selfish” to describe your husband. I also hear how distressed you feel because it seems like he doesn’t care. I imagine there are probably multiple things going on. From your description, he won’t deal with this health issue because it is more uncomfortable for him to wear the CPAP mask than to do something that could potentially save his life and improve the quality of your sleep (and, presumably, your relationship satisfaction).

In order to address your concerns, I want to disentangle these pieces a little. There are multiple things going on, and consequently different ways to approach solving this issue. First is the untreated sleep apnea and possible health-related consequences. This, unfortunately, is not an uncommon issue. Many who are prescribed a CPAP mask find it unpleasant and soon become noncompliant with wearing one, even despite stern warnings from their treating physician.

Consult with the Medical Team

Does the treating physician know about your husband’s noncompliance? What has the physician’s response been? Perhaps the health care team can help increase his openness to giving this another try, as they likely see this issue regularly and may be able to directly intervene.

I imagine your husband, at this point, knows very well that his snoring disturbs you (and the neighbors), but perhaps he does not fully realize you really miss sleeping in the same bed as him and feeling like he cares. Perhaps hearing this expressed explicitly may open up a new path for your conversations to take.

Education can be a strong component—for example, explaining exactly what his test results revealed (e.g., oxygen levels, prognosis if his sleep apnea is left untreated), or simply communicating to your husband that for many people with sleep apnea, it is normal to take time to adjust to the CPAP before it feels comfortable enough to not feel burdensome.

That said, educational approaches may not be enough to change his mind. Additionally, if you feel the medical team is not empathetic to your struggles, you may want to speak with a different provider. Finally, have you explored other options for sleep apnea management? There may be other devices or procedures that may be able to help.

The second issue to address is how his refusal is affecting you. It clearly impacts the quality of your sleep, both in terms of not being able to sleep through the night because of his loud snoring and because of the frustration you feel. It is also clear that physically relocating to get a restful night of sleep is not your ideal. And when he nonchalantly states, “If I die, I die,” this seems to evoke a host of negative emotions in you, including hurt, sadness, and perhaps rejection and resentment.

Tell Him How You Feel

I imagine you have told your husband many times how you feel about his snoring. I imagine you have told him many times he should be using his CPAP. You’ve surely reminded him what his doctor has to say on this topic. How have you communicated to him about your own experience with this issue? Have you told him about the emotional impact his words and actions (or lack thereof) have on you? If so, how have you communicated this?

The way we talk to others about the impact they have on us plays a large role in the success of this communication effort. For example, consider how each of these statements might sound: Stating to your spouse, “Because of your selfishness, I can’t sleep in my own bed,” compared with something like, “I feel frustrated because I feel like you haven’t heard my concerns” or “I feel hurt because it feels like my concerns are dismissed.” While all of these statements may be accurate, not all of them are likely to be heard the same way. I imagine your husband, at this point, knows very well that his snoring disturbs you (and the neighbors), but perhaps he does not fully realize you really miss sleeping in the same bed as him and feeling like he cares. Perhaps hearing this expressed explicitly may open up a new path for your conversations to take. Sometimes, taking a closer look at how we communicate key messages may uncover new approaches that ultimately yield a desired effect.

Lastly, you may find that additional support via therapy—with or without your husband present—may be useful to you to help manage frustration and continue to identify solutions. Good luck!

Marni Amsellem, PhD

Marni Amsellem
Marni Amsellem, PhD, is a licensed psychologist. She maintains a part-time private practice in New York and Connecticut specializing in clinical health psychology, coping with illness, and adjustment to life transitions. Additionally, she is an interventionist and research consultant with hospitals, organizations, and corporations, both locally and nationally, involved with research investigating the role of behavior, environment, and individual differences in multiple aspects of health and decision-making.
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  • Nicole U

    Nicole U

    December 9th, 2017 at 3:59 AM

    At the end of the day, you just sometimes have to work on accepting your husband is going to continue behaving how he behaves. You might want to explore that with a therapist: your reactions to what you want versus what you’re getting. Even though I know this is very difficult, a crucial component to feeling better In the midst of not getting what you want, is fully believing that his behavior has nothing to do with you. It doesn’t. His behavior affects you, but it’s not about you. I know that that can feel painful because we want to think when someone loves you they adjust their behavior, but often people’s unconscious issues can take precedence over their conscious desires. And, two things can happen at once: your husband can love and appreciate you deeply and still have his own self-destructive patterns.

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