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How to cope with my wife who's "fallen out of love" with me?
August 13, 2011 5:41 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I married over 27 years ago when she and I were 25; we’d known each other for three years. Our marriage has had its ups and downs--in many cases, the "downs" were provided by her unwillingness/inability to communicate honestly and openly and by my anger at same as well as my on-and-off depression. That said, we always had fun and shared love. In particular, I always stuck in there during arguments in order to try to get her and us to a point of honest communication.

Late last year, my wife started therapy to deal with these communication issues. Initially, this went very well, and she was more open to talking, unprompted, about her feelings, thoughts, etc. After the initial burst of talking subsided, she still reported she was benefiting from therapy.

At her request, I started therapy to deal with my depression. I also responded to her request that I be kinder in my speech to her, irrespective of my mood. In particular, she focused on carving out more space to find herself and her identity in our marriage (we have no children). I've accommodated all of her requests and have tried to be a better, kinder person in our dealings because I do love her very much.

Over the last three to four months, however, I've felt her distancing herself. The kindness and warmth that characterized her speech and behavior towards me have been replaced with polite neutrality. Our physical contact is minimal. She has become very self-centered in her outlook and behavior where previously we always consulted with each other and took each other's feelings and preferences into consideration.

Over the last few weeks, she has started opening up in her communication again, but everything she has to say is negative: She’s dissatisfied. She feels constrained by our marriage. She feels our approaches to life are too different. She can’t commit to working on our marriage because she’s unsure it works. She doesn’t love me romantically any more, only as a friend. She’s tired of having to plan things around the two of us.

This is all bad enough, but she deals almost entirely in vaguenesses. She can’t describe the source of her dissatisfaction or any meaningful way she feels constrained. Further, it’s almost as if saying these things out loud has made them true for her, so she has become even more distant towards me. I feel as if she’s hypnotized herself with these ideas. The change from even last month to now is shocking. It’s almost as if she’s decided on an outcome—me out of her life—and she’s just trying either to make me so unhappy that I leave or to justify her desire to leave with vague complaints that don’t correspond to her situation.

Despite the wrenching, heartbreaking nature of these words (be they "true" or not), I’ve been surprisingly calm and collected and have talked to her for hours to work through the ideas she’s presented. I don’t know if the fact of having said all this out loud will release whatever pressure has built up in her, but everything she says and does is so completely out of character for her that I’m concerned that something other than bottled-up resentment is the cause for this dramatic change. (I don’t think there’s another man in the picture.) Yesterday, she raised the idea of her being alone "for one or two weeks" to have time to think (something that isn't really practicable given our situation).

Does anyone have any experience with, or thoughts about, this type of situation? Is she just giving voice to 27 years of suppressed feeling? Can someone who says these sorts of things still be able to rebuild a marriage on a new foundation of openness? Has my eagerness to commit to her, to make concessions and to accommodate her devalued me in her eyes? (I know some of these are impossible for readers to answer, but I pose them to reveal my thinking.) Despite the fact that we’re not “perfect” for each other, we’ve had a good marriage up to now built on a lot of similarities and a lot of love, and it’s tearing me to shreds to hear her tell me these things. I just can't understand how someone could turn 180 degrees on a marriage so quickly.

I apologize for the length of this posting, but it’s barely enough to tell the story. We’re scheduled to see a couples therapist in two weeks, but, at this point, I’ll feel lucky to get there still together.

I can also be contacted at savingmymarriage2011@gmail.com. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sorry to hear of your troubles, and those of your wife, but you can't make someone love you in any kind of real way. You can hold open the door to hope for your marriage, and you may find, as some do, that 27 years and a good friendship is enough to stay married. But, if it's not, it's not. Do your own work. Go to the therapist, with sincerity. Try to keep your marriage intact if that is what you yourself want, as long as you can try with dignity for yourself, and respect for your wife's feelings and needs, even if they are not in that direction.

But through it all, keep a go bag packed, and money in your pocket.
posted by paulsc at 5:58 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


So she has had 26.5 years of your anger, unkindness and depression and you are surprised she isn't wildly appreciative of six months of you attempting to control your anger, be more kind and finally deal with your depression? I think you need to have more empathy for her, listen more than you talk and recognize that "her" communication problem is most likely a mutual problem - just not that she is communicating in the way you want her to.

I'd recommend giving her space, and dating her; give her a reason to choose you.

Also, I do not know if this applies but I had a partner that loved to talk at me and wear me down until I agreed with their assessment of our problems - not a win-win solution but one where I was ALWAYS wrong. I sense a bit of that in your post. I hope I am wrong.
posted by saucysault at 6:03 PM on August 13, 2011 [22 favorites]


These bits

I also responded to her request that I be kinder in my speech to her, irrespective of my mood.

previously we always consulted with each other and took each other's feelings and preferences into consideration

are a red flag. If you have been a moody dude for a quarter century and there have been repeated intervals where you were unkind/unavailable thanks to depression, it seems unlikely that it was always possible to 'consult and take each other's feelings into consideration' &c.

What sort of situation makes her being alone for a week or two impractical? That seems a bit odd. If finances are a problem, friends have sofas available for that sort of thing.

Once one starts to deal with bottled-up resentment change can happen pretty quickly; from what you've presented here I don't think you need to go searching for hidden causes.

her unwillingness/inability to communicate honestly and openly and by my anger at same as well as my on-and-off depression

Has she been 'walking on eggshells' all along? How extensive is your anger problem? I'm reading that and She has become very self-centered in her outlook and behavior and...were you ever centered on her? Is she genuinely "self-centered" now, or is she just no longer tiptoeing around to avoid making you angry?

I suggest being a perfect gentleman even as she's walking out on you, if that's what it does come to; if you can keep the anger down for real, you can likely at least come out of this as friends. Has my eagerness to commit to her, to make concessions and to accommodate her devalued me in her eyes? It's possible it makes her irate that you couldn't have done all that years ago. All you can do now is keep doing it. Forgive me if I am reading "make concessions" wrong, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of genuine apology on your part, any admission of fault. Which, if true, probably means that you don't quite 'get it,' yet, and are probably largely unchanged, and that much is probably obvious to her, hence the determination to move on. Sorry...
posted by kmennie at 6:12 PM on August 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


Your wife is changing. She is re-evaluating her life and her sense of self. Her body is changing. This is not a blip. She is not acting 'out of character'. She is being real. After 27 years of thinking as two, she is starting to want to think for one, and is finding her way through that.

Does all the above mean your marriage is over? Not necessarily.

She wants a break for one or two weeks. You write that it "isn't really practicable given our situation". Au contraire, given your situation with your wife, the break may be the only practicable thing that allows her time to evaluate all the good things you have together.

Has my eagerness to commit to her, to make concessions and to accommodate her devalued me in her eyes?

This is not a healthy perspective to entertain. It suggests that your marriage had an original power imbalance in your favor that is now being rectified by your wife.
posted by the fish at 6:20 PM on August 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


Yeah, speaking from experience, there's not much you can do except to keep on trying, and also to understand that your wife is undergoing some changes and will be making a decision on her own here. Just do the best you can, and listen. And ultimately accept her choice.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:25 PM on August 13, 2011


I hate to give a cliche AskMe answer, but as you are both in individual therapy, why not add some couples therapy into the mix as well? If nothing else, it will show your sincerity in wanting to remake your relationship into something that accommodates her needs better.
posted by smirkette at 6:37 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


With all due respect, you don't get to say whether or not her having two weeks alone is "practicable". Frankly, that's a strange position to take, given that you seem to want to do whatever is necessary to save your marriage. If I were you, and she was the woman I really wanted, I would put my fear that she will leave me if left alone with her own thoughts for two weeks aside and abide by her wishes. She feels suffocated and bullied. Telling her that what she needs is not "practicable" is sealing your own fate because, frankly, it's what she's likely been hearing from you for many, many years. She's tired of that.

Stop thinking of this as her delusion, her problem, her "hypnotic" state, her kooky notion that she's a person separate and apart from you with needs that aren't being met. Agree to her terms, accept how she's telling you she feels, and give her some space. In the meanwhile, make an appointment with your own therapist. You need a support system now and for some time to come.

Best of luck. I'm sorry.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:43 PM on August 13, 2011 [35 favorites]


I think there might be another guy in the picture. Maybe even just a potential guy who is more her ideal type.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:48 PM on August 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


One thing you might try is helping her remember the things she did enjoy about your marriage in the past and making those things real again, every day. In theory, 27 years of marriage should provide a rich fund of memories to build on and renew. Maybe there's even enough to pull her back if she's in the thick of some infatuation, which is a common impetus for going into a hyper-self-justifying, spouse-leaving mode. But whatever's in her mind now, you're probably going to have to sympathize and see this gradual withdrawal and possible view toward another life as an understandable response to the way things have been lately.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:19 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those 2 weeks will make her think life is a bowl of cherries. After that she will be more certain she wants to separate. That is only enough time to celebrate being on her own. It is not enough time to feel the loneliness that may come. Regardless you really have no choice but to try it. You can't make her love you. After all those years she wants you to dazzle and win her all over again.

For me it was 32 years. She left, took the best of our lives with her leaving the old behind and starting new. I could not compete with her new dream quest. I am not 25 again, nor do I want to be. I worked all my life trying to make her dreams come true and frankly I was worn out. Of course your particulars could me completely different so it isn't fair for me to say or predict. I just merge your similar statements with me real experience.

Three years after we split she confessed it wasn't my "bad" behavior after all. Something she insisted for so long before we split. She said she was sorry. In a moment of candor she said, "I wasn't happy and I am entitled to be happy."

The internet sure is full of similar stories if you haven't noticed. Now I think it is a mass social change related to the death of the nuclear family, women's liberation and empowerment--something bigger than all our tiny stories shouted and echoing from an empty, heartbroken canyon. I wish you the best. I am slowly improving after a lot of depression and heartbreak.
posted by nogero at 8:22 PM on August 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think there might be another guy in the picture.

This may or may not be true and is a somewhat condescending response. Many women can change their opinion of, and behaviour in, their relationship with their husband without requiring the prop of another man.

But say there is 'another guy in the picture'. A woman in your wife's situation may indeed be connecting with someone else - eg: someone else is meeting some of her needs (which you may have met previously or they were not met). The connection may not be sexual, merely affirming and positive for her.

In other words, don't let an uninformed comment on the internet suggesting that your wife is planning to cheat on you derail your attempts to save your marriage.
posted by the fish at 8:46 PM on August 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


You should try to keep in mind that her feelings are real and true, no matter how vague they seem to you. Just because you can't immediately see how they "correspond to her situation", it does not mean that they can or should be dismissed. I may be mistaken, but I got a similar impression to what saucysault described. That is, it sounds a bit like your "eagerness to commit to her" might be getting expressed more as a sort of more-logical-than-thou demand for her to be less vague and to present you with some sort of well-defined problem for you to fix and be able to move on from. It's really much more about the quality than the quantity of your interactions at this point. "Talking for hours" doesn't really tell us much about that either way.

That said, I do believe that you can rebuild your marriage based on openness - as long as you are BOTH committed to changing the way you interact. It will be a struggle to adjust, whatever ends up happening, and I wish you the best of luck in growing towards new things together (or, if worst comes to worst, a smooth and graceful separation).
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 9:00 PM on August 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't speak to much of this, but I can say that a week or two apart can be really healthy. My husband and I have been together for about 12 or 13 years. We've been apart some, of course, but for the past few years, we've only been apart when I've been out of town for work. But earlier this summer, he went on a trip for about ten days, and I stayed home. It was fantastic and really healthy. My marriage is good but had been a bit blah for a few months while we were both stressed and busy. That time apart really helped me get re-centered and connected back to who I am, which meant I had more appreciation for my husband when he came back. Now I am thinking that time apart like that is really good for me.

So, don't assume a week or two apart is necessarily bad. Just give it to her with no pressure.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:26 PM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Could it be that she can't describe her feelings in detail because that would necessitate defending them to you? Is it possible that you're talking her into the ground? I think the only thing you can do is tell her you love her, give her the space she's asking for and hope for the best.

Sorry you're going through this. It sounds really painful.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:35 PM on August 13, 2011 [17 favorites]


"Our marriage has had its ups and downs--in many cases, the "downs" were provided by her unwillingness/inability to communicate honestly and openly and by my anger at same [...] In particular, I always stuck in there during arguments in order to try to get her and us to a point of honest communication." This actually sounds a bit like what John Gottman would call "stonewalling," where one person, overwhelmed, shuts down and stops communicating and the other reacts by beating harder at the wall. I get your response; in a previous, unhappy relationship, I was the the one railing at silence. The whole interaction is corrosive as hell, though. (I could be wrong, as there's very little information to draw from.)

The language of your post doesn't come across as very respectful or understanding of her. In fact, I see contempt threaded throughout. You complain how self-centered she has become, while focusing on what you want from her and dismissing her feelings and desires. Is the contempt a long-standing attitude, or newly borne out of anger at her distancing herself?

All of this doesn't make anybody the "bad person" or the "good person." It just means your relationship is bogged down in some pretty toxic stuff. It would take a lot of work from both of you to get to a happier place, and given the way she's wording things, I'm not so sure she wants to anymore.

How do you cope? Treat her with respect. Give her what she asks, because what she's asking is reasonable. Be willing to go through couple's therapy.

And if she wants to take a separate path, know that it'll hurt, but you will be okay. Everything will be okay.
posted by moira at 9:51 PM on August 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


Here are my thoughts for what they're worth. My apologies if I'm repeating anyone, haven't read the other replies yet.

Here's how my thoughts went in reading your question:

"Our marriage has had its ups and downs--in many cases, the "downs" were provided by her..." In the first sentence, placing responsibility for the "downs" firstly on your wife. Potential problem. This could just be a fluke of phrasing though so reading on...

"the "downs" were provided by her unwillingness/inability to communicate honestly and openly..." Hmm, yes that's not good, wondering why this is...

"and by my anger at same" Ah. There we are. Even though he sees himself as being angry at "unwillingness/inability to communicate honestly," she probably sees herself as doing her best to communicate and constantly being on the receiving end of anger. Or, she doesn't communicate "honestly" because if she does and he doesn't like what she communicates, he'll be angry. Or wear her down with argument till she just goes along with him.


"In particular, I always stuck in there during arguments in order to try to get her and us to a point of honest communication."
Oh man. Another sentence that reads to me like she tries to communicate, and because for whatever reason he's not satisfied with what she says or she doesn't say whatever it was he thought she should say and was looking for, or doesn't say it in the form he thinks she should, he just wears her down telling her she's not really being honest until she just gives up.

(I'll skip ahead to address two relevant things you said later on)

1.
"I also responded to her request that I be kinder in my speech to her, irrespective of my mood."
And here it is. Bam. This is exactly what I thought. I would put my money that thechief reason for your "communication difficulties" with your wife was that she felt she couldn't be straight with you due to your unkindness.

2. "Over the last few weeks, she has started opening up in her communication again, but everything she has to say is negative: She’s dissatisfied. She feels constrained by our marriage." So she's opening up in her communication, but, surprise, because what she's communicating is negative, he's not happy.

Do you see this? How it really seems like you don't really want honest communication when that honest communication isn't what you want to hear? Asking for honest communication means you going to be hearing the good and the bad.

(Skipping back)

"Late last year, my wife started therapy to deal with these communication issues. Initially, this went very well, and she was more open to talking, unprompted, about her feelings, thoughts, etc." Great, therapy gave her the beginnings of confidence to stand up for herself. She was a young girl when she met him and her confidence growth might have largely stopped at that age.


"Over the last three to four months, however, I've felt her distancing herself. The kindness and warmth that characterized her speech and behavior towards me have been replaced with polite neutrality.
Instead of devoting her energy to trying to keep you happy, her new confidence might be allowing her to let her real feelings come out. Again, he wants her real feelings out but not if they're not what he wants.

"Our physical contact is minimal." Anger and rage and possibly also disgust at how she was cowed for so long may be coming to the surface.

"She has become very self-centered in her outlook and behavior where previously we always consulted with each other and took each other's feelings and preferences into consideration." After all the information to this point, this strikes me this way. She spent 25 years trying to make her husband happy through his depression and anger. He has called the shots. So, he has come to see that as the status quo. To him, her treating her own feelings and her own wants and needs like they are just as important, comes off as self-centeredness. Her calling her own shots comes off as self-centeredness.

This is possibly the most important thing I have to say to you. If there is any rage beginning to bubble up, treating her now like she is being self-centered is going to turn that rage into a volcano. If there's any despising bubbling up in there, you are going to drive her away with that attitude and make her utterly despise you. If you really want to save your marriage, your attitude here should be, "For 25 years it was all about me, and I am deeply, deeply sorry. Thank you for telling me your feelings and your wants and needs. If you choose to tell me more of your feelings, wants and needs, I'm going to do my best to make them happen."



"This is all bad enough, but she deals almost entirely in vaguenesses. She can’t describe the source of her dissatisfaction or any meaningful way she feels constrained... It’s almost as if she’s decided on an outcome—me out of her life—and she’s just trying either to make me so unhappy that I leave or to justify her desire to leave with vague complaints that don’t correspond to her situation."


And here he's digging himself into the exact same hole again. Questioning the things she's telling him. Characterizing her way of communication with negative terms. Treating her as if she is incompetent, and incompetent communicator ("she can't describe..."). Analyzing her communication and motives instead of just taking them at face value. ("It's as if... she's just trying to.) And overall, being generally critical of and unhappy with how she communicates.

STOP!!!!! LISTEN TO HER. Stop criticizing. Stop being dissatisfied. Stop analyzing what she's saying or doing. Just listen to her.


"I feel as if she’s hypnotized herself with these ideas." This is just straight-up contempt. This is characterizing her as being an irrational person who is not in her right thinking mind. It is galling.

Lose the contempt, all the contempt.

"I’ve been surprisingly calm and collected and have talked to her for hours to work through the ideas she’s presented."

Sincerely, that is really awesome and probably really really helpful. Just pleeeease be sure to not let that turn into "I'm the calm and collected one who will "help" you, the irrational raving lunatic, work through the ideas that your hypnotized brain is incompetently trying to communicate.

"I don’t know if the fact of having said all this out loud will release whatever pressure has built up in her, but everything she says and does is so completely out of character for her that I’m concerned that something other than bottled-up resentment is the cause for this dramatic change. (I don’t think there’s another man in the picture.)"


Erm, what exactly are you thinking then that it could be other than bottled-up resentment? I hope you're not thinking, you know, mental breakdown, psychotic break, emerging mental illness, menopause, PMS. Because that goes straight back to being derisive of her genuine and valid feelings and putting yourself above her as the rational one. For whatever it's worth, IMHO, this just pretty much exactly like bottled-up resentment to me.

"Has my eagerness to commit to her, to make concessions and to accommodate her devalued me in her eyes?" Ugh, please lose this thought. Wrong, wrong bad track.


Does anyone have any experience with, or thoughts about, this type of situation?

I really gave it to you here, OP, but in reality I am on your side, in that I want to help you save your marriage.

To sum up my answer:

-If you want her to communicate honestly with you, then you need to be okay with hearing good things and bad things, and it sounds like she's got a lot of bad saved up so you might be hearing mostly that for some time to come. And think to yourself: do you REALLY want a relationship where you're going to have to stand there taking it while someone tells you their true and honest negative feelings, stands up for themselves and takes their own wants and needs equally into account as they do yours? Honestly, it might be kind of a big change to deal with.

-You need to lose the criticism of how she communicates, stop trying to "help" her and just really LISTEN to her.

-You need to really check yourself and figure out if she is really being self-centered or just taking her own needs equally into account for the first time. And even if she is being self-centered, if you want her to stay, well, maybe just accept it for a while.

-You need to lose the contempt. If you don't feel you are contemptuous of her, read John Gottman or find a therapist who has been trained by his organization, and they will help you find it and remove it.

-Absolutely and without question, you need to permanently lose the anger and unkindness to her.

Whew. My 2 cents for whatever it's worth.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:58 PM on August 13, 2011 [89 favorites]


Two thing I forgot to address in my brain dump, and after now having read the other replies:

She’s tired of having to plan things around the two of us.

Be honest. Are you hard to plan things around? Either by personality, or because of your depression, or both. Is it impossible to tell when you'll feel like doing any given thing, or have the energy for it? Is it hard to come up with things that you want to do or are excited about doing? Do you have trouble thinking of things you want to do but yet critique and shoot down her suggestions? Do you frequently get irritable when you're out and about, maybe frequently wanting to leave early, or creating a bad mood in the environment with her or with the other people you're with? Are there lots of people you dislike or don't get along with or don't feel like seeing? Is it possible she never knows what will set you off? Or she DOES know what will set you off and has to always plan around avoiding those things? Has she been your caretaker or go-betwen, between you and the world or certain people or tasks, in any way? Those are just some thoughts and may not all apply to you, so seriously put some thought into this along with your therapist. It may be that you have to become a much more go with the flow guy to keep her.

justify her desire to leave with vague complaints that don’t correspond to her situation.

You should not be telling her what her situation is, what her feelings are, or anything else that any rational adult can very well decide for themselves. Your perspective and opinions do not trump her perspective and opinions -- this should be a mantra.

Likewise,

Yesterday, she raised the idea of her being alone "for one or two weeks" to have time to think (something that isn't really practicable given our situation).

TrytheTilapia nailed this. You should not be telling her what is and isn't practicable.


her unwillingness/inability to communicate honestly and openly

If you read anything else out of everything I've said, hopefully it is this: You should change this thought, in your mind, to "MY unwillingness/inability to understand her when she is trying to communicate with me." My honest sense is that it is probably more inability, so maybe just leave it as "my inability to understand her." You might just be wired differently as far as that goes, but you can learn to overcome that. When you go see the therapist make this your top priority, along with losing the anger and contempt: learning to understand your wife's communication. Not, fixing my wife so she communicates better.

Other things:

If you really want honest communcation, when she tells you bad things, she might also be afraid, in addition to the anger, that it will throw you into a depression that she will then have to deal with, or you will just go and have a sulk. Really work HARD on not reacting to her negative communications in this way.

All right. If you have been able to hear me with an open mind and not get 100% defensive, it's probably a good step in the direction of being to receive someone's negative and honest communications well. Good luck to you.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:47 PM on August 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Sorry, last from me-- I don't often say this, but I also think it might be a good idea to show her this thread and ask her for her thoughts if she's willing.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:49 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seconding most of what Ashley801 said. I am 2 years out of a crazy relationship with a man who would have described himself as sometimes 'moody' and had a really short temper. If he didn't understand or agree with something I said, he would explode into a rage, which would continue until I had adequately explained myself - which often took a while, as my natural reaction to the yelling was to shut down. I had to defend my feelings, my thoughts, careless comments, even my word choices. There were hours of lectures about open and honest communication, with him going so far as to recommend I visit a therapist (as long as he had seen him/her first to explain the depth of my problem). It took me months to see this as a kind of abuse, and even longer to get really angry about it.

So this letter gave me chills to read. I don't want to assume that this situation is the same as mine was, but it brings back hundreds of late nights, me crying and pleading to be allowed to sleep and him insisting angrily that I needed to explain myself or tell him honestly how I felt about something. YMMV, but if this situation resonates at all with you and you want to save your relationship please get yourself to a therapist who specialises in treating angry men and work really hard to understand the impact your 'moods' might have had on your wife for 25 years. (PS: I think your wife is on her way out of the marriage. Once I started to feel angry, I never considered going back, even though we had some fun times too. If you want to make it work, you might not have much time. Good luck to you - and to her).
posted by yogalemon at 11:09 PM on August 13, 2011 [32 favorites]


This may or may not be true and is a somewhat condescending response. Many women can change their opinion of, and behaviour in, their relationship with their husband without requiring the prop of another man.


Sure they can, which is why I said "might".

When someone suddenly stops sleeping with their partner (or even participating in basic physical affection), gets very critical and impatient, and wants to try time apart, sometimes it's because the grass has gotten a whole heck of a lot greener on the other side of the fence. It has nothing to do with the gender of the people involved.

If that is what's going on, you can (and I think should) continue to be committed to her, make positive changes in your behavior towards her, and be patient.

27 years of loving behavior from her deserves a significant amount of patience and tolerance on your part, no matter what the reason for her change in behavior.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:11 PM on August 13, 2011


I'd ask about another man directly.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:11 PM on August 13, 2011


It took two to get to where they were in that marriage.

She's now getting support to find her feet, she's had some time to discover what her feelings are about many aspects of this marriage, and it seems that some of the first feelings she's finding are that she's angry about various things. She's gotten really strong; leaning into the therapeutic relationship has been very helpful to her.

And you, hey, you've not done perfectly in response to this new woman, you've been same as many others would be who haven't run a lick in 25 years and now expected to get out onto the track with someone who's been running pretty intensively for six months. She's leaving you in the dust.

You don't have any idea what your feelings are -- other than scared witless -- and now you've got to learn, on the run, not just your own feelings but hers, and figure out how all of this relates to a team. If it does.

By the way, poster of this thread: You may find out that some of your first feelings are anger, too. You might want to skate, yourself, once you begin to take a peek at the dynamics here. But scared as you are -- and have every right to be, too; this is huge in your life -- you'll be playing catch-up at the first, and not willing to cop to the fact that hey, you sortof think some of this is jive, too. It'll maybe take you years to figure all this out, if ever you can.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, she's all fussy, she's this dynamo, with new shoes -- you're all "For chrisakes, she's *never* worn shoes like those, in fact just eight months ago we together made fun of Myrtle for wearing shoes just like those. And -- holy shit! -- there's two more pairs just like them in the closet!"

Hoo boy.

Do I think it's not just that she start reaming you for this and for that, when you haven't had a chance to even consider starting to run with her? Sure.

Does it matter what mope on the internet thinks? Nope, not one bit.

Poster: You've got no choice, not right now, in fact never, with regard to telling her what to do. If you can find it in you -- and I think you'd best -- tell her "Sweetie, look -- this has taken me totally by surprise. And I'm scared, this has thrown me. I'll absolutely give you room to find what it is you want. And I'm going to find me, too; I'm willing to dig also, and I'm pretty sure I'm able. But please, know this -- our marriage, it's real important to me, and I hope to you. I'm not going to fight against you, but I want our marriage to have at least a chance to be seen, to be considered, in the light of who we turn out to be, and for that I will fight. I love you, Sweetie."

Then, walk.* Or tell her to, if she's insistent upon it happening and you can't find a way. And screw this two weeks jive. Two months, or three -- remember, you're playing total catch-up here, you're going to use this time to begin to do the work she's been doing for six months. Huge, massive changes, and right in your face, and can't be dodged, here's that hook from that cool old girl-group song "nowhere to run, baby / nowhere to hide."

You just got no choice. You don't -- yet -- know the house rules in this huge, extraordinarily complex game you've just walked into and are now playing for keeps, for all the stakes that there are.

So. Get ready to rock and roll, grab yourself by the short hairs and get out of there, or get her out, or do it in your house together if need be but that'd be hard I think, would be for me.

Have fun!

*before you listen to some fool on the internet about walking out the door of the house you may own together, you also want to talk to an attorney -- like, now, or sooner. Talk to an attorney to find out if it matters in your state if you walk out of your house, will that give her unfair financial leverages should this go to court. Also, ask the attorney if you need to protect yourself -- and how to do so -- so you don't find your bank account drained one afternoon, and four hundred new pair of shoes in the closet. Isn't this fun?
posted by dancestoblue at 11:18 PM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Alright, now I will close this thread so I stop replying.

I'd ask about another man directly.

All due respect to Ironmouth and his advice. My opinion WRT this: If I were in your wife's shoes, and you directly asked me if I were seeing another man after I had spent hours trying to communicate to you with my heart on my sleeve, one of two things would happen (maybe both)

1. I would take that as a spectacularly insulting slur on my character, and be LIVID.

2. I would think to myself, "He hasn't heard one single bloody word I've said, and this is hopeless."
posted by Ashley801 at 11:19 PM on August 13, 2011 [53 favorites]


And after all the reality is, what does it matter if there's another man or not? Even if there is, even if you get rid of him, she's clearly still miserable in your relationship and so it will just happen again and again or come out in other ways until something changes.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:22 PM on August 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


You were angry for most of your marriage. She shut down for most of your marriage. Her therapy has taught her that she doesn't have to put up with someone else's anger and is going through a 'life change'. It's traumatic to go through such a thing after so long. As you have discovered (because you're also going through a life change).

You may or may not break up but consider that she needs to 'find herself' as an individual and she's more than entitled to do that. The kinder, and more accepting you are towards her now, the greater the likelihood that you'll stay together or at least be friends.
posted by mleigh at 11:59 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with Ashley801 and many others who recommend you continue therapy for yourself. If you are not willing to accept the very great challenge of changing yourself as she is changing herself, she will probably leave you behind. I think, for all the reasons others have spelled out, if you are not willing to grow and be different for the next 27 years, you will not be spending them with her.
posted by Anitanola at 1:07 AM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've felt her distancing herself. The kindness and warmth that characterized her speech and behavior towards me have been replaced with polite neutrality.

This is possibly very, very bad. This was me once I decided I was out of there. I wasn't trying to be cold... I had decided to leave, the switch was flipped and there was no point in explaining my position, or reacting to negative behavior because I wasn't working on things, I was leaving.

However, you say, over the last few weeks, she has started opening up in her communication again, but everything she has to say is negative: She’s dissatisfied. This, to me, is a possible good sign; if she's complaining, she hasn't mentally already departed (or else she's come back for one last shot at trying to work things out). There's no reason to say these things, some of which are quite hurtful, if she really didn't care any more. In my last gasp attempt to talk to my ex and make him understand that we were on the knife's edge, I told him that I was utterly miserable. I told him I was probably going to move out. I told him that I couldn't go on this way. I told him it was the last time I would be saying these things.

When I left, I didn't say all that... because, why? Telling him explicitly hadn't worked to change anything, and by the time I left, I was a ghost trailing my already departed heart and mind out the door.

SO, if you knew that this was the final communique, would you spend time complaining that her tone is negative and she suddenly seems selfish, etc.? Because it might be the last chance to start again; the uncharacteristic behavior make me suspect that it is.
posted by taz at 1:11 AM on August 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


Thank you. This thread and question helped me a lot.

I don't have any strong feelings or insight except maybe it does remind me a little bit about how and why my first marriage broke up. OP, you've also reminded me to be kinder and listen more openly to Mr. jbenben, because it's pretty awful how a failure to keep growing and trying to mature emotionally (as individuals and together) will easily crack up a marriage over the long long haul.

Underneath the explanations, you really don't sound like you consider your wife your equal. After 27 years, I imagine she desperately needs time off from a spouse that considers her subordinate or slighty deficient. I think she's just ground down by now.

Sir, I believe you should take this time off to re-examine inside yourself and discover exactly when you decided she was not equal to you in the partnership. Maybe if you can go back to that exact moment in your heart and mind, you can fix this. If you came into the marriage (consciously? subconsciously?) believing the wife is automatically the lesser partner... I dunno know. That will be harder to cure because you've likely lived your whole life with an internal belief that doesn't serve your marriage, but most folks are really attached to their internal beliefs, and so they are loathe to change them after so many years.

But yeah. You question didn't stir up much for me except I had to wonder why, underneath it all, you sincerely seem to feel your wife is unequal to you in terms of contributions to your partnership.

If it is true she brings less to the marriage, than that must be exhausting for you. If it is untrue she beings less to the marriage, but that's how you treat her anyway, than that's exhausting for her. Actually, whether she is truly less valuable than you or not, being constantly put down by your partner is emotionally debilitating and unsustainable.

It sounds like she's in a no-win situation, right? Did you somehow put her in this awful spot? If so, make amends. Make amends.
posted by jbenben at 5:15 AM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I suggest you go here and check out the comments of both men and women around your age.

Here's one, for example:

"Don't care about marriage anymore!
Submitted by Anonymous on June 28, 2010 - 3:04am.
I'm so tickled I found this website. It's great to see that other women are going through the same thing. I just turned 50 and about two weeks ago it's like someone just turned a switch off and I decided I didn't want to be married anymore. My husband thinks there is someone else and I told him I just don't want to compromise or give. I just want to do what I want to do. I was an incredibly giving person. We were married for one year and he got 10 in prison. We are at year 7 and I just don't want to do this anymore with him. I just don't have any passion for him or anyone. I have been alone for all these years and now the thought of him getting out hanging out with me does nothing for me. Yet for all these years that's all I could think about and why I waited. I told him to stop calling me and writing me and I do not visit him anymore. I am not mad but just don't care and don't see the need why we should continue on in. He thinks it's someone else but I said if I don't want to deal with you why would I want to deal with someone else. He said, "But you just sent me a wonderful Father's day card that said you loved me." Yes I did. I was trying to be nice because none of his kids come to see him on father's day and never have so I always go but this year I did not want to be the standin kid. So I just did not go visit. It's like I just got tired of being nice overnight. Not mean or mad but just not very giving anymore. Hormonal I guess. Anyway thanx to all who have posted here. This really helps to know I am not alone. Actually I feel quite free now. These last 7 years have been hell. Thanx again and God Bless!

Michelle"


Nature, you scary.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 5:17 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


You should absolutely give your partner the break they want. Go sleep on a friend's couch. And you should absolutely be prepared for a call at the end of two weeks asking for another two or maybe four, and then for another call saying, "hey, I feel like an adult, I feel free, I feel like I can pursue happiness again, maybe you shouldn't come back." And if that happens, you know what, that sucks for a few months or maybe a year, but you aren't dead and the years you had together happened and helped you get to the place you are now.

I've been in a place like where you are and it sucks while you're in it, but keep yourself out among people and having a life and don't be bitter and you can maybe keep your partner as a friend and cheer and support each other as you both go through some changes.

So, yeah, I'm pretty sure things are done, although they might not be. Prepare for big changes and try to keep your heart light and your words kind and whether or not you do split up: the twenty seven years you've had together will be your best resource for what comes ahead.

Good luck. (For what it is worth, I got the "it's best you don't come back after all" call while I was thumbing through relationship books in a bookstore 1200 miles away during my extended roadtrip visiting friends. It really wasn't a surprise. We're still friends, nine years later, and my new partner and I have a much healthier relationship.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:22 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


There isn't another man- there is simply the absence of you. That's the brighter future she sees in front of her and the thing driving this change. I DON'T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS is the most powerful motivator in the world. When that realization hits, and the weight slips off your emotional shoulders, the relief that washes over you is incredible. You detach and find you are now able to do whatever it takes, positioned from a new standpoint where the force that used to rule you now has lost all its power.

Sure, you guys could probably do a lot of hard work to get back to some sort of reconciliation and re-build something together. But that's what it would be- hard work. You have to be really invested and driven to be willing to put in that work, and feel that the result is worthwhile and what is best for you.

I can tell you from your descriptions of her behavior that she has already decided that the work is not worth it. She's cut her losses and is no longer interested in anything other than closing the book and moving on. The sooner you realize this the better. Make your own decision to accept what looks like the inevitable.

"Has my eagerness to commit to her, to make concessions and to accommodate her devalued me in her eyes? (I know some of these are impossible for readers to answer, but I pose them to reveal my thinking.) Despite the fact that we’re not “perfect” for each other, we’ve had a good marriage up to now built on a lot of similarities and a lot of love, and it’s tearing me to shreds to hear her tell me these things. I just can't understand how someone could turn 180 degrees on a marriage so quickly."

Too little, too late. The opposite of love is not hate. It's indifference. She's checked out. She's done. You need to accept it and make your own plans to move on.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:15 AM on August 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Adding... your comments, to me, read less as a desire to save your marriage and more of actions resulting from a sense of entitlement related to the 27 years you've put in to this relationship.

You see your actions and statements as positives- "See what I am giving you, what I am willing to do? I love you. Why can't you reciprocate?"

She hears, "I'm making concessions, so should you. Pay up and give me what I you owe me based on my 25+ year investment."

It's more of the same- pressure to make her bend to your will. She is not viewing this as a therapeutic environment. To her it's your last stand to control her.

Relationship therapy only works when to both people, the win = the saved marriage. I think both of you see this through a transactional lens- where one will emerge as the winner/one as the loser.

I see your "win" as achieved when your wife reverts to the behavior she exhibited during a time you characterize as when you "had fun and shared love." In other words, when she stops being the person she is now, and starts being the person she was then, you "win." The catch is- she is not that person any more. So what you are asking is impossible.

I truly believe the worm has turned. She has stopped allowing herself to be controlled and is not going to give you what you want. I really don't think she will be willing to put her newfound sense of freedom aside- any actions along that path will appear to her as regression. In fact, it would not surprised me to find that the more you try to do, the more she will receive that as pressure.

The biggest favor you could do for yourself is come to terms and adjust your perception about what outcome is best for you.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:54 AM on August 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Woo her. Bring her flowers, tell she looks good, take her out, appreciate her, listen to her, really listen. See movies or have other shared experiences that give you something to talk about other than your relationship. You sound terribly enmeshed, and it sounds like the relationship needs some fuel so it doesn't consume itself. If you haven't been good enough to her, admit it and apologize, and get on with building a better relationship.
posted by theora55 at 11:51 AM on August 14, 2011


Oh man. This is a tough spot for you. Your best option is to honestly listen, really seek to understand what she feels and thinks, and find your way back to fully respecting what she says. 

As dances to blue points out, this will be a training / learning process for you, not flipping an on-off switch. I'd support her in her request for time. I'd say that you hear that she's unhappy and that you're going to do your best to learn (dances to blues' "I'm scared but I'm willing to do my own digging" stuff above). Try to use the time she is gone to think about what she said (what is she feeling? why? what change is she asking for?), to learn to better listen deeply, to become more familiar with your own feelings, and to learn to express them non-aggressively (e.g., without insults like "dishonestly" and "vagueness"). To really hear and support another person you need to know yourself better, too, because you have to be able to describe your feelings and ask for what you need (instead of presuming you're owed it and blaming them for any discomfort you feel).

As you design a training and learning program for yourself, here are some ideas. Schedule extra therapy sessions. Take your therapist this thread and tell your therapist you need help understanding what your wife wants, what it would feel like to be in a relationship like that, whether that's a relationship you can / want to build, and how to get there. Start writing down your thoughts in a journal. Read Gottman's books as suggested above. Read Non Violent Communication and sign up for an NVC seminar. Read Anger by Thich Nhat Hahn. Seek out men you can talk to about this who have wise advice (pastor? a mens group your therapist can recommend? AA if applicable?). Ask your therapist to help you practice active, empathetic listening. Meditate or go on long walks. When you get stuck in unproductive emotions, follow them down to a more productive place by naming them and asking why. ("This is stupid! I hate all this bullshit!" "Hmm self, what is the name of this feeling? It sounds like I/you are feeling very ... angry?stubborn? rebellious?" [find the word that feels like a perfect fit] "Why are you feeling so rebellious about this?" "Well because she's forcing me to xyzabc blah blah under threat that if I don't..." "Oh I see, you're feeling rebellious because you feel [name the underlying feeling] threatened, because you're scared she'll leave?" Eventually, you will learn your feelings down to their roots.) 

Whatever you choose to do, given the stage that your wife is at, you should not waste time in getting to work. You could easily spend 1-2 hours a day reading and talking and thinking about this. (You'll easily spend twice that much time each day feeling upset if you go through a divorce). This sounds like a lot of work, but it could help you throughout your life, not just in this one relationship. 

Be extra careful about how you talk to your wife. Respect and understanding should be your watchwords. Do not critique how she expresses herself. (Try: "I'd like to understand but I'm having a little trouble. Could you explain _____ a little more?") You might also consider asking your wife if she'd be willing to go to couples therapy together. The therapist can help you understand what she means (e.g., when her words are too vague for you).

Good luck. Change is scary and hard. You might read Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart to better cope with how fast change is happening.
posted by salvia at 12:17 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


For saving-the-marriage mode, I also wanted to toss this in to supplement Gottman: the five love languages. Sounds corny, but has a big impact.

One last thing: "Has my eagerness to commit to her, to make concessions and to accommodate her devalued me in her eyes?" If this hasn't been present in the marriage previously, the lack of it has devalued her. She may finally be asserting her own value and needs as an individual, with or without your help.

It's going to be easy to fall into depression during a difficult time like this. You can't know how things are going to turn out. It will be tempting to fall into condemnation of her or yourself. Instead of falling into this trap, do what you can to cultivate positive actions and thoughts to help get through this, whichever direction it takes.

If things don't work out, this bit of advice is fantastic for letting things go if you find yourself holding on to arguments in your head. It's directed towards letting go of a jerk, but you can modify it to be helpful in your case. (I would caution you against the screaming-into-a-pillow bit, as venting only serves to increase anger.)
posted by moira at 12:52 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason my mother finally left my father for good after 20 years of marriage is because she asked for two weeks of time alone. My father absolutely refused and spent every waking moment trying to talk her out of it. After a month of this, she couldn't take it anymore. She rented a house, and we both moved. Even after that, she still nursed the hope that my father would get the message that she just needed a bit more space in the relationship. Nope, he kept harassing her until she not only cut off all contact but moved out of the state (I went to college).

If you want this relationship to evolve, you need to give her as much space as possible if leaving her absolutely alone is "practicable" for legitimate reasons (ie financial, not just "I don't want to"). Taking a week off from a relationship isn't an indication that the relationship is over. It merely means the person needs some time alone to reflect. As an only child, I often need time by myself just process my own needs and concerns. I've taken a week off a relationship before and continued to see the person. In that case, the week off helped me realize how much I got out of the relationship and how much I enjoyed being with the other person even though there were some issues that needed to be addressed. When I returned, I was able to communicate with him honestly about what I needed in order for the relationship to move forward.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:32 PM on August 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's not uncommon for a spouse to develop a crush on a therapist. The idealization this involves, the coniunctio (Sacred Marriage) is very deep and universal regardless of an individual's philosophical outlook or even the strength of a couple's marriage. If your wife is in the grip of this situation the best thing you can do is to love her through it. She will recognize and respond to your love and eventually turn back to you as her animus in-the-flesh. I suggest reading Isaac Bashevis Singer's Gimpel the Fool for inspiration. It's a timeless little story about a man considered the town fool who is taken advantage of by a "working girl," who finds herself at loose ends. Gimpel worships the woman despite the worst behavior she can throw at him and despite the wagging tongues of his fellow townsfolk. Years pass, and gradually, imperceptibly, the woman begins to warm to Gimpel's kindness. In the end she becomes the most devoted wife in town, and Gimpel's simple wisdom is seen for what it is.

Of course, if your wife is not going through a deep transformation via therapy, all bets are off.
posted by R2WeTwo at 9:22 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to suggest that R2WeTwo's theory is not the most likely scenario, (see also), though I could see how it would be an comforting theory because it would let you off the hook as it would mean that everything is, again, her fault.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:28 PM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


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