I am in my late 40s and have been married for almost 25 years. I love and respect my wife — she is intelligent and is a great mother to our two grown children. We have had a good life. There was a time about a decade ago where I was not in a good place personally. I was in a job I hated and just generally not happy. During this time I had a few one night stands with women I met through my job. I eventually confessed to my wife because I felt so guilty about it. She was devastated but said she forgave me and I have tried very hard to be a better husband and better person. I found another job that I enjoyed more (and where there were not many women). Things have been pretty good for the last nine years.
My wife has been depressed, anxious, and sometimes has unpredictable outbursts. I think she is suffering with the whole empty-nest thing. I have tried to be supportive but it seems like she takes all her emotional issues out on me and several times has thrown my past cheating in my face even though she claims to have forgiven me. During this time, I happened to meet a woman (Sarah) and we have gotten close and have been physical a few times. I felt really guilty about it though so cut off the friendship. But I found I was miserable because I had no one to talk to about what was going on with my wife. So after several weeks of no contact, we have resumed our friendship and spend a couple of hours a day talking on the phone or emailing. We have only been physical once in that time. Sarah’s a good listener and is also going through something similar (she is in an unhappy marriage and contemplating divorce).
After many conversations with her, Sarah helped me realize how unhappy I’ve been in my marriage for a long time. And that my wife has never forgiven me for my past cheating and probably never will. I am contemplating leaving but I’m worried about how that would affect my wife. I don’t want to hurt her. I also worry about the financial aspects. My wife is the bread winner in the family and came into the marriage with some family money. We enjoy an above average lifestyle – without her income I’m not sure I could even afford a decent place on my own. I think my friend would be willing to move in with me (assuming she gets a divorce) but she doesn’t work so would only have whatever alimony/child support comes her way after the divorce. Sarah says her husband does reasonably well though so we could probably enjoy a comfortable lifestyle especially if she were able to keep their house. But she also has two young boys and I’m not sure I’m ready to be in a step-dad type of relationship.
I know my wife would be devastated if I asked for a divorce. I have asked her to get counseling but she refuses. She’s a good person and I do care about her but I’m just not happy. Should I do what’s best for her or what’s best for me?
Thanks for your level of vulnerability in this letter. You have a fine way of expressing what’s in your heart, and mind and I am sure this skill will help greatly in your recovery.
I am deeply sorry that you are in this situation. It is quite sad, but very common now a days for situations like this to occur. These are what I call “aftershocks” of our bad decisions.
Before this whole thing ever happened, something was off in the relationship. Whether it was communication, intimacy, support or something along those lines that made you feel like venturing in other places would lead to fulfillment. This is not solely your fault, nor her fault…its a combination of both, and one of the hardest things for couples to accept. After that, you did made one small bad decision that snow balled into many greater ones by sleeping around with other women. They surely affected her, and it seems like from a psychiatric perspective, the wounds were never treated and healed. What you are living is the effects of those bad decisions.
Something that I was stress with my patients is that when we ignore, or failed to deal appropriately with our issues, we find ourselves facing them again or facing greater consequences of them later on in life. Someone who struggles with intimacy in their twenties and fulfills them with a different woman every night, will have greater severity in consequence if he deals with those issues in the future involving a spouse and family.
I know that you asked her to get help, and she does not want it. Its rather unfortunate, because I do believe its the only way to deal with this. But you can not blame her for not wanting help. Remember, she never signed up for the other people you have brought into the relationship.
One thing for sure Steve….you have not dealt with your issues either. You diving into another relationship is only going to make matters worst. You will find yourself in a plethora of indignation with yourself by doing this. This is not the time for you to involve yourself and or kids of another woman. This is the time for you to work on yourself, and maybe even save your marriage at all cost.
Great marriages do not just happen, they are created when situations like these get a turnaround because someone in the relationship decides to be an adult. Only in very particular instances involving some sort of abuse would I recommend separation. Its just the type of counselling that I chose to give. I have seen great marriages come from ashes because of the commitment of both, or the persistence of once.
I can recommend some counselors in your area if you like. But do not give up on yourself, or your wife. Be a man that faces consequences no matter how long they take, and sooner or later by your example of faithfulness, gentleness, and maturity she will come back to you fully.
My very best wishes,