Style Sex & Relationships

Thursday 21 November 2019

Dear Patricia: He helped me to get where I am, but I now find my husband dull

Patricia Redlich

I am 47 and have been married for 23 years. We have two grown-up children. My husband is a good, kind man and a great father, but I'm not sure that I love him or want to be with him anymore. I feel we married too young, for various reasons. I was very unhappy at home, my husband was my first serious relationship and he rescued me, if that makes any sense.

I've had counselling over the years and have come to terms with my relationship with my parents. I live a reasonable distance from them and things are OK between us, if a bit distant. They are elderly at this stage -- my father is in ill-health and I worry about them. I know I'll have to step in soon and help more, which I dread.

My two brothers have lived abroad all their adult lives, so I am the only one around. I would never talk to them about my marital issues, as they have never been supportive whenever I had a problem. My mother, in particular, always made me feel positively abnormal if I expressed any unhappiness about anything.

I have a good career and, thanks to my husband, have got a third-level education, which brought me great satisfaction. However, bettering myself intellectually has had its down side.

It has made me realise how much I've changed and, more importantly, how little my husband and I have in common. I find him dull compared to the people I work with and the friends I've made, and we share few interests, apart from the odd holiday together. When we are out together, conversation is stilted as we have little to talk about other than the children -- both of whom are still in full-time education, and both still a drain on us, emotionally, practically and financially.

When I first voiced my unhappiness last year, after a few years of feeling unsatisfied, my husband became very distressed, anxious and depressed. Whenever I try to explain how I feel, he thinks he has done something wrong, or failed, which is not true. It's just that things have changed. He cannot accept that all is not well within our relationship, even though we haven't had sex for several months. Consequently, I feel responsible for his emotional well-being and I cannot pluck up the courage to do anything about my situation. My parents also think he is wonderful, as do our children, and I know that if I left, I would be seen as the horrible guilty party.

I am slowly coming to the conclusion I may have to spend the rest of my life feeling bored, unsatisfied and unhappy, and I'm getting to the point where I feel desperate about my situation. Individual counselling only verified to me how miserable I feel about my marriage. I long to live a more carefree life without family responsibilities tying me down. Most of all, I long to be free to have a relationship with someone whom I feel would be better suited to me intellectually, emotionally and sexually.

I do have one or two lovely, kind and sympathetic friends to whom I can talk occasionally, but I feel guilty about burdening them, as this situation has gone on a long time without me having the courage to do anything about it. How do I untangle this mess? We are waiting for an appointment for couple counselling, but I'm not sure what this will achieve.

Patricia replies:

IF you leave, you will be seen as the guilty party. There is no way around that, at least not in the short term. The person who leaves is automatically seen as the bad one, unless the circumstances are truly dire, and sometimes even then too. Others, such as your children and parents, will feel that you could have made a different decision. From where they are sitting, you are not being driven out of your marriage by a bad husband.

On the contrary, as you clearly point out, your husband is a good man. And he very much helped to put you where you are. It is truly a tragedy, then, that in the process of loving and supporting you in your pursuit of self-enhancement, he contributed to the divide which now exists between you. Not that anyone will see that divide.

Personal unhappiness won't weigh against the picture of a good man abandoned. That's something you'll just have to live with if you decide to go.

In such situations, many people do leave. My post bag over the years has been full of the anguish of women who saw their men through college, supported them while they climbed the corporate ladder, carried the can while they followed their dreams -- and were then abandoned.

Given the nature of society, such letters come less often from men -- although that happens, too, increasingly so as women take up more space in the world of work.

Many others stay, learning to live with the challenge of bridging the cultural gap, finding other outlets for their need of intellectual stimulation, accepting the loneliness inherent in the marriage of differing interests, stilling the restlessness of their hearts. The problem is that unhappiness is corrosive. You can see that already. Not only are you distressed, your husband is distraught.

Although it is not in any way your fault, his self-confidence is totally undermined. He doesn't want the marriage to end. What he doesn't yet see is that keeping the marriage intact may ultimately leave him equally unhappy. If he has to come home every evening into a home marred by your profound unhappiness, that will leave him in constant fear of finding you gone, it will consign him to walking eternally on eggshells, it will consistently confront him with a profound sense of inadequacy, and, in short, will make him totally miserable.

And sex, like you said, has already gone out the window. Your unhappiness, in short, could destroy him in a way that even leaving him would not. Which means that if you cannot handle your unhappiness, then the decent thing to do is get out, rather than destroying another human being because you haven't the courage to take responsibility for your own feelings.

Couple counselling could, if handled honestly, create a supportive climate where you get the chance to tell your husband what you really want -- which is the chance to meet someone new -- while at the same time ensuring that he gets the help he'll need in coming to terms with that terrible, and tragic, truth without blaming himself, or sinking into despair.

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