Sorry to hear about the dearth of "kindness." From your brief description, it sounds like most of her gestures are "reciprocal" in nature. You do for her, so she does for you. I get that this is the way that it works most of the time. But that doesn't make it right or fair. In my case, it would be nice to have had my wife think about me and provide thoughtful gestures upon her own initiation once in awhile. Typically, the rationale for her lack of kindness were typically tied to selfish motivations.My wife has not thrown anything in a while, slammed doors, or screamed at me in weeks/months, so surely I can handle it when it occasionally happens. Yes, when she is mad at me, she will give me the silent treatment, and I reciprocate. We normally try to reconcile quickly, because it is poisonous, but sometimes we don't talk to each other for days. Sometimes she will apologize for saying harsh things to me. Sometimes I will apologize for ordering the wrong pizza toppings. Sometimes, we will just agree to move forward like things are fine. But inwardly, we know things are not fine. Things are headed for another meltdown.
I'm like you - when I am not at my office working, I am with the kids, shopping, working on cars, caring for yard, paying bills, cleaning house, cooking food, working out, hanging with family, all of which are "wife approved" activities. I think I've changed everything about my life to keep her from criticizing me, for I am sensitive to it.
Well, when I gave her a massage the other day, she gave me one in return. She pours me a cup of coffee sometimes on the weekends, which is nice. Other than that, I really can't think of kind things that she has done over and above her usual tasks with kids and the house.
I'm sad to hear that your wife never changed her criticism of anything that you wanted to do just for yourself - like have a hobby for instance. I'm afraid I might be in the same boat. After I told someone about my situation, he told me how I shouldn't allow my wife's feelings control my feelings. For example, I ordered too many toppings one time, and my wife got mad because she had to pick off the mushrooms. She might have given me silent treatment for hours after that - I don't remember perfectly, but it was big problem apparently. My friend said what you are saying - let her get mad because I can't control that, but try not take get mad myself, let it drag me down into depression.
When our kids were little, for instance, she would have a couple of "lunch playdates" every week with other Moms/kids at some fast-food joint. I work from home. It would have been nice for just one of those 100+ times for her to call and ask me if I wanted her to bring anything back for me from the restaurant. Never happened. As she explains to me when I eventually raised the topic, "You don't need the calories." (Delivered as she's finishing her own milkshake, and possessing a BMI tally higher than mine.) In short, she could go out, but she really did not like the idea of having a fat husband. Her need to control my diet superseded the concept of "I want to do something nice for my husband."
Your friend's advise is wise. But it's easy to deliver and incredibly difficult to follow after years of ingrained behavior patterns. But you need more tools at your disposal to make it happen. An option that I didn't do, but wish I had done, was to engage in marriage counseling that would provide a safe environment for me to get issues on the table with a neutral third party refereeing the discussion. I needed to convey to my wife that her behavior was unacceptable and not within the norms of a realistic relationship. (In my case, my father died a few months before I was born, leaving me no real good model of what a healthy marital relationship looked like on a day-to-day basis. It took me a good decade of experience - and watching other relationships of my peers - for me to finally recognize that they dynamic in my marriage was not healthy and that I needed a change.) Your wife will not like hearing that's she's not acting in an appropriate manner. But hearing it from an outside voice at least offers a better chance of being heard/accepted and acted upon than if you try to make a similar case.
If you are like me, you likely will recoil at the notion of counseling. To suggest counseling is to suggest that there are problems, which undermines the whole premise of the facade of happiness that you try to create when appeasing her every whim out of self-preservation. If you are unwilling to go the counseling route at this point, you can at least try to read (and put into practice) the themes addressed in "No More Mr. Nice Guy" by Dr. Robert Glover - a book mentioned by other posters earlier in the thread.
The basic lesson of NMMNG is that "nice guys" will use their kindness as a tool to manipulate others to get the love/attention we don't believe we can get otherwise. We don't have enough confidence to think that our partners will love us for our own qualities. So, we engage in so-called "covert contracts" where we defer our own needs/wants to satisfy the needs and wants of others. The idea is that if we provide for their needs, they will reciprocate and provide us the kindness/thoughtfulness we desire in return. This is called a "covert contract" in which we make this deal in our own minds about this exchange of kindness without ever telling our partners the terms of the agreement. Eventually, we wind up disappointed when our partners do not fulfill their end of the bargain of these "covert contracts" that they have no knowledge of.
These covert contracts make us especially dependent on monitoring the mood/status of our partner. If the partner is mad/unhappy, then we become sad / unhappy because we recognize that we will not be getting what we want from the relationship because our partner is dissatisfied. Breaking free of this cycle is a process called "detaching the emotional hose" in which you stop basing your happiness on the mood of your wife and gradually become more aware of the specific things/activities that make you the most happy. It's a process that leads you to a more authentic life for yourself, but it does not necessarily guarantee the health of the marriage. As Glover says, becoming more authentic in your own life will either strengthen your marriage or send it to its long overdue grave. I highly recommend that you become more familiar with the concepts of "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and engage in some of the "Breaking Free Exercises" prescribed in the book. (Oh, and one more thing, do not tell your wife about the book or your efforts to change yourself. That would be another element of "approval seeking" that keeps the emotional hose attached and retards your own personal development. If she notices changes in your behavior, just say that that you are working on ways to improve yourself in a way that will make you a better husband, father and friend.)
A last note: it is 100% unacceptable for her to throw things at you or slam doors in your face. As you will learn from NMMNG, you need to set boundaries (with associated consequences) on certain behaviors. When things are calm, you have to bring up the issue that you did not appreciate the times that your wife has thrown X, Y or Z at you and then state a consequence for what will happen if she does it again. For instance, if she throws anything at you again, you are taking the kids and staying at your parent's place until the issue is resolved. Or you can say that next time she throws something, that you're calling the police. Or that you're going to film the episode and embarrass her on Facebook. Whatever the consequence is, you have to be willing to protect your boundary and enforce the consequence when the boundary is violated.
Until you start re-writing the rules of the relationship - either via the help of a counselor or via a steady diet of hard-work on self-improvement - your reality will never change. If you are unwilling to take either of the steps above, your only other option is to stick it out for as long as possible for your kids before the inevitable divorce takes place. If you're still have steady sex at this point, you can probably keep up the charade for another decade or so. There's enough to work with here to keep things moving along. But, the odds are high that you will become increasingly miserable as the years pass.