I’m 51 and have been married 17 years. We have great 13 year old twins. I’ve been a housewife/mother/community volunteer/musician for 13 of those years. Our marriage was terrible at the beginning. We struggled over agreeing on the littlest things… like where to hang a picture! But I made a commitment and tried being patient and understanding and to work through every little issue one by one. I knew I had married someone super-controlling, micromanaging, stubborn, but hard-working, complaining, stable, and he loved me.
I’m easy-going, upbeat, earnest and loyal. We’ve made a lot of progress over the years in counselling, marriage workshops, etc. but most good communication habits don’t stick to him for long. He’d rather not talk about anything difficult. We have nice conversations so long as they don’t involve feelings. He has no clue how to support me when I’m depressed or going through anything tough so I get that support elsewhere. I can live with no sex (that’s always been a power struggle because he thinks I’m telling him what to do). We don’t fight much, and we hug and hold hands occasionally, but there is no spark and there never was.
Over time he has mellowed and has become easier to get along with. But it’s clear that his first love is his high profile intense career in science and me and the kids are second fiddle and always will be. He doesn’t plan on retiring. His aversion to change makes life (like, if I want to redecorate) a constant challenge. He doesn’t have any ‘real’ friends. I’m it. He just wants me as his companion, to talk to and have a glass of wine with after work. He wants me to continue to be a great mom and to be a decent co-parent while he pours 98 percent of his energy into his work.
Me? I want an exceptional life. I love to do so many things (kayaking, camping, river rafting, playing music, working out, singing, dancing). I know there is more to life than chatting about the day and watching an overworked man have a glass of wine then fall asleep on the sofa. A divorce lawyer told me I’d get half of everything, but I don’t want to do anything I regret. I’m trying to figure out if my life would be better with or without him.
Breaking up a family and all that is not something I take lightly. But waiting 4.5 years until the kids graduate is a long time to start living MY LIFE to the fullest. If I do that IN the marriage, I will feel guilty for leaving him behind (even though he doesn’t want to participate in these activities), and he will surely complain about how I’m spending ‘our’ money. He is very tight and financially conservative. I appreciate that he has saved for our retirement because clearly I will benefit, but I don’t appreciate his reluctance to go out and have a good time every once in a while. I manage the medical and financial affairs of my elderly mom with dementia and a disabled brother so I don’t have time to work full time, but I am going to get a part-time job so I can have more of my own money. I’m also going to initiate a birds nest ‘trial separation’ just to see how it feels to live life without him. Your thoughts? HotSinginMamma
If I can play devil’s advocate for a moment, I’m not so sure a trial separation is the answer. I understand and sympathize with what’s brought you to this point – a controlling partner, a sexless marriage, a somewhat shallow connection while you crave more would rightly drive many people bonkers. And, after years raising your kids, you’re finally getting a glimmer of a future with more freedom in it. It’s natural to re-define who you are and what you want, but unless every fibre of your being is telling you that you can’t stand it a minute longer, dismantling your marriage may be a drastic move. For one thing, you’re clearly the pivot around which the entire family and extended family revolves. I know some studies say kids are better off not living in a volatile home but it sounds like you guys are fairly harmonious despite your discontent. So maybe a split would impact your teenagers more than you think.
A part-time job is a great idea though. Making your own money will give you more personal power, and the chance to do things that feed your soul. I’d definitely make time for all those things you love. Seek out friends and activities which make you feel alive and happy. Make it clear to your husband that you’re doing these things on your own dime, and he’s welcome to join in. If he’d rather sit around reading scientific manuals, his loss! Go do your thing and create the life you crave. Maybe it’ll coexist alongside your marriage – or become a life raft you launch once the kids have left home. But make building it a priority.
Now to your husband. Whether he works until he drops dead or realizes that’s no way to live is not your issue. You’ve got bigger fish to fry, like taking steps to change the controlling dynamic that exists in your marriage. I’d try and establish a more non-negotiable style, especially over things like decorating, moving furniture, putting a picture up. Say firmly, ‘Just as there are certain things I don’t tell you to do, so are there things you can’t tell me to do.’ If you put up a picture and he doesn’t like it, well – that’s tough. It can’t all be his way. It’s your house and your living space too.
I hope my perspective helps, although I recognise it’s probably far from what you were expecting (reading your letter, it sounds to me like you’ve already got one foot out the door). No matter what you decide, I’d love to hear how things pan out for you in the future, so please do pop back in with an update. I’ve asked RC readers to weigh in below too, so hopefully they’ll also have advice for you, especially those who may be or have been in your shoes.
Love, reality chick
RC readers – what do you think? Should the letter-writer stay with her husband or go? Have you been in a similar situation and if so, what did you decide to do? I’m sure she’d love to hear from you in the comments.