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How to deal with wife's midlife crisis?
October 20, 2011 2:04 PM   Subscribe

As a husband, how do I deal with my wife's midlife crisis?

I was very moved by a recent answer to an AMF question asking, "how do you find what you love doing?" That answer is here:

http://ask.metafilter.com/197798/How-do-you-find-what-you-love-doing#2847093

The answer succinctly encapsulates what I am feeling in my struggle in my relationship with my wife. We married at 31 (me) and 35 (she) and we are now respectively 44 and 48 years-old. We've had some difficulties and we've actually had some very productive couples therapy (no abuse or infidelity). Nevertheless, every couple of weeks/months something new always crops up. Examples:

1. After spending years telling me how wonderful I am considering the crappy childhood I had, her new assessment is that on the day after we married I "completely changed for the worse"

2. After explicitly discussing that she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom before we had babies (I was totally for it), that decision has now suddenly become a plot all along to not allow her to work.

3. Because of #2, we left a big expensive city (SF), to settle in the low(er) cost desert Southwest, because we knew we'd be on one income for a long while. Suddenly, she never wanted to move here and she hates it now and wants to move.

4. She suddenly wants to curtail a large amount of the extra curricular activities of our children (sports primarily), and considers it rude that so much of it falls on weekends. She feels like she wasting her life driving them around and attending their stuff and can't pursue any of her passions (Truth be told, I do the majority of this driving)

There unfortunately are many more....

Moving is an impossibility due to financial considerations. We talked about this, and she gets it, but it weighs very heavily on our marriage. To sum up, she said, "I'm going to be 50 soon and my mother told me not to make the same mistake she did." That mistake is move to a place of her choosing and spending the next 40 years of her life complaining why she hates where she lives. This is why the answer to the above referenced post is so meaningful to me. "loving what you find" is a so much better recipe for a happy life than "finding what you love". Something tells me, though, that just simply giving her the link to review that thread would not help matters because frankly, I don't get entirely where my wife is coming from.

How do I deal with the feelings she is having, as a husband? Women, what would you want to hear from me in her shoes? Women, if you've gone through this before, what helped? and maybe just as important, what should be avoided? I want to be supportive, empathetic, and encouraging. Please help.

tl;dr Wife in midlife crisis; husband wants to help and needs female perspective
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
My first thought: Is it possible she's going through menopause? Hormone fluctuations (like around pregnancy) have induced this kind of apocalyptic thinking in me, and made me think irrationally about similar topics. The awful part is that when it's a hormonal thing, you can know rationally that you're not being fair, but it still looks and feels like objective reality from inside your head.
posted by Andrhia at 2:14 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a family member whose mood changes turned out to have a medical cause -- not an easy topic to bring up with your wife, I'm sure, but worth thinking about.

Can you make some alone time for her? Tell her to go on a weekend road trip while you watch the kids, or something. Puts more work on you, but gives her a chance to think, explore, and maybe miss the good things in her life that she is taking for granted.
posted by Chris4d at 2:21 PM on October 20, 2011


If she's tired of being a stay-at-home mom, is there room in her schedule to start working? Even if you don't need the money, maybe she would feel good about getting out into the working world and getting some validation of her worth that doesn't come from being a mom/wife? If not working, then volunteering? Taking classes? Getting back into her art/music/whatever interests?
posted by MadamM at 2:29 PM on October 20, 2011


I went through this. In my case, although I loved my children and loved spending time with them, I just wasn't happy staying home all day every day with them. I needed to get back to work outside the home. I resented the fact that my husband got to get up, get dressed, drive away with his latte in the mornings and go have adult conversations and quiet periods in his office. I resented that he got to go on business trips where he got taken to expensive dinners and stayed in great hotels and got to see the world where my days never changed. It was groundhog day every day. When I went back to work, things got much better because I felt things were more equal and I felt that I appreciated him and my children more when I came home at the end of the day. This was just my situation but what you wrote described how I felt at that period of time in my life.
posted by twinA at 2:35 PM on October 20, 2011 [30 favorites]


It sounds like the OP is perfectly willing to help his wife find a job, and it sounds to me like he is being dumped on.

The practical suggestions are not going to work in the short term. The first order of business is trying to somehow get your relationship to the point where your wife trusts you, or you can both discuss and decide on realistic solutions to the "problem." You aren't there yet.

So, couples counselling sounds like a good idea, but will your wife go? Somehow she has to move beyond her anger and resentment (hormone-fuelled or not) and start looking for practical solutions.

And if she doesn't, start preparing yourself for divorce.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:47 PM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think she's just feeling a lot of stress and regret in her life and wants support, just support so she knows she's a) not trapped b) not alone in these feelings c) hasn't permanently screwed up her life by her decisions. They are not really about the things that have been mentioned, although they have a good deal to do with them. But that doesn't make these concerns invalid. Try to stay focused on the present in discussions, what realistic changes you can do now that would decrease the stress, be more fulfilling, give her time to pursue her own things. Talking what-ifs and could-have-beens will only add to the doubt and regret. Reassure her of your love and support. Tell her you want her to be happy, and her happiness matters to you.

(That last part is important. It may seem like these things are understood so they don't need to be said, but they do, sometimes)
posted by everyday_naturalist at 2:52 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


(Dude here, but I already have this typed up before I saw your comment about women's perspectives)

Have you tried giving her what she wants? Even if you two did discuss her leaving work and discussed moving to a new place, it sounds like she regrets those decisions. Wanting to work and wanting to live in a new place are not unreasonable, even if you are feeling blamed. Have you tried supporting her career goals and passions and tried putting together a plan for someday moving? Maybe all she needs is a few reasonable changes in her life, and a couple of those items might do it. Maybe focused on work and hobbies first and see how that goes.

I get that you're feeling unfairly blamed, and it sounds like she could do a better job of voicing her desires. But the desires themselves (except for the moving thing, which is more of a longer-term goal) don't sound unreasonable. Maybe the thing to do is be supportive first and then later have a talk with her about how she is voicing concerns. Because it sounds to me like you have completely dismissed that her desires might actually be reasonable. Until you have tried actually meeting her needs, I would not dismiss those needs as irrational.

"loving what you find" is a so much better recipe for a happy life than "finding what you love".

I generally agree with this, except that there are certain minimum things I need before I can really be happy in my circumstances. You seem pretty happy with your circumstances, but maybe your wife is just seeking those minimums.

If you've tried giving her support and it hasn't helped, then that changes our answers.
posted by Tehhund at 2:55 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


My friend's spouse wanted to get divorced but was too chicken to initiate it, so the spouse started irrationally picking on my friend, finding fault with everything, blaming my friend for everything that was wrong with their lives, and generally being a total prick until my friend was finally provoked into asking for a divorce. I hope that's not the case with you, but it's something to consider.
posted by Melismata at 3:00 PM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't know if this applies, but I think for a lot of women, the idea of what marriage/motherhood is going to be like before you do it is a lot rosier than when you actually go through it. Marriage/motherhood is a major, major identity shift for many women.

So you can happily agree to be a stay-at-home mother when you first have kids and then a decade or so later really feel resentful, like you got the shit end of the deal, even though you actively made that choice to begin with. That does co-exist and it doesn't mean you're irrational. Just that you weren't totally aware of WTF you were signing on for.
posted by flex at 3:02 PM on October 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


Looking at twinA's comment
I resented the fact that my husband got to get up, get dressed, drive away with his latte in the mornings and go have adult conversations and quiet periods in his office. I resented that he got to go on business trips where he got taken to expensive dinners and stayed in great hotels and got to see the world where my days never changed. It was groundhog day every day.

It rings exactly true to how I'd feel in this situation. Even though work isn't the same as taking a vacation or going out with your friends, there are these aspects of getting away and getting to do new grown-up things that would be few and far between as a stay-at-home mom. If there is the time and money, I think that a weekend with friends, and a class, or a space in a studio, or something else outside the house would be important to me.

Some of these could be accommodated even with a few hours of outside babysitting a week, and therefore a low-cost change.
posted by mercredi at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I saw your title, I thought my partner had written it.

I am 46 and I just started back with my old therapist yesterday. One of the reasons I gave her for starting up again was "mid-life crisis." I think there are a couple things going on for me, any one of which might or might not be happening for your wife:

1. I'm having some "road not taken" thoughts. I am also a SAHM--and I homeschool my kids. I love it and I love them, but sometimes I look around and it seems like everybody has a career but me. So one of my questions is what I might want or need to do--and what I can do--to feel like I'm doing something other than just being Such A Great Mom, And We Just Don't Know How You Do It. I think part of it is that raising kids is hard and seems to take a surprisingly long time, and part of it is reaching an age where it starts to feel like doors have shut. Whereas 10 years ago I felt like I still had a lot of options, it doesn't seem to me like I have so many anymore. I feel like a bad cliche, but there you have it. What have I done with my life? What might I want or need to do before any more time passes and it's too late?

2. My hormones have gone insane. Which means I have gone insane. I feel like I have a new understanding of why marriages might fail after 20 happy years together! Because my behavior can be erratic and irrational. I call myself the Jekyll & Hyde Mom because I am terrific for 18 days, and then for the next 4-6 (I'm having very short cycles) I am reactive, irritable, and a shrieking harridan. If I were your wife, I could totally imagine myself during those four days talking like our marriage had been an empty shell for 20 years, even though I knew perfectly well it hadn't been. I have been seeking both medical and psychological help for this--but I've been doing that for a couple of years now and there have been no quick fixes or magic bullets.

For me, it doesn't seem easy to figure out whether I need to change my situation or change my attitude--that is, do I need to work harder to be happy about the good work I'm doing with the kids, or do I need to enroll them in the nearest school and get a job? Am I in a phase, feeling unhappy for awhile in a situation I'm basically actually very happy with, or do I really need to shake things up? I don't have the answers.

That's my female perspective.

My partner and I have found that a regular date night is really helping--once a week, a dinner to remember that we like each other. It defuses. So does a regular night that is mine, for me to do what I want to do, also once a week, guaran-fucking-teed.

But I would say that I'm not surprised that you don't know what to do to help your wife, because if what she's feeling and experiencing is anything like what I am, she probably doesn't really know what she needs either.
posted by not that girl at 3:08 PM on October 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


I'm 50. Menopause changed my priorities. My menopause was surgical, so the change was abrupt and clear, and I'm not saying that menopause is causing your wife's distress, since her desires sound reasonable to me, but just in case:

1. I wanted to get out into the world and DO things. This was by far the biggest change and it was amazingly strong. Everything that got in my way, such as needy people, was suddenly annoying.

2. I got even less satisfaction than usual from the loving, supportive role. I was never very maternal, though.

If I had a partner at that time, I would want him to say this: "Wow, I see that you want to get out there and DO things. That's cool. It will be exciting for me and the kids, too. How can we help?"

If your wife now has the intense drive I have, she might be happier if she focused it outward on changing her current life rather than using it to kick herself or others over decisions made in the past.

I dealt with my new drive by shifting my business into high gear, traveling for a couple of years, and settling abroad. I'd vote for a new business for your wife, because that's more creative, challenging, exciting, and flexible than a job.
posted by ceiba at 3:12 PM on October 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


People are giving great advice to which I would add this: for the love of god do not under any circumstances call what your wife is going through a mid-life crisis to her face. (I'm assuming you haven't already.) I wouldn't mention menopause, either FWIW.

I am personally going through a mid-life crisis of my own, and talk about it in those terms all the time, but if anyone else called it that, I'd want to bop them on the nose.

And the menopause thing is so much like blaming everything a woman does on PMS it would just piss me off.

Even if it probably is some combination of peri-menopause and mid-life crisis, that's the kind of thing a person has to decide on their own to acknowledge. Saying it just sounds dismissive, even when you are just trying to help.
posted by looli at 3:28 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


You sound like such a sweetie! A keeper, as my Ma used to say. You're doing all the right things.

Do you guys have a sense of humor with each other? Do you love to cuddle together at night after all the stress of the day has worn you both down?

I would just keep asking her what she wants. "What do you want?" And then saying, "eh, so you want this?" And then be quiet and let her tell you what she wants.

And lots of back and foot rubs. Get some nice lotion and use it! Give a back rub with no thought of expectations and it will get you miles of good will. Same with a foot rub.

Stop worrying so much. It is not entirely your responsibility to work your wife's issues out for her. Just stand by and be cheerful and do your own thing. Of course you're not going to move or somesuch if it's not realistic.

Just talk to her and say, "honey, I love you. What do you need?" Let her vent and don't take it all in, man. Don't try to fix it. Just sit and listen. Grit your teeth. Massage her feet while you grit your teeth. It just might get you somewhere.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:30 PM on October 20, 2011


2. After explicitly discussing that she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom before we had babies (I was totally for it), that decision has now suddenly become a plot all along to not allow her to work.

3. Because of #2, we left a big expensive city (SF), to settle in the low(er) cost desert Southwest, because we knew we'd be on one income for a long while. Suddenly, she never wanted to move here and she hates it now and wants to move.


A more charitable interpretation: Maybe she chose those things based on what she thought would be best for your family as a team, not what she personally would find the most fulfilling as an individual, and now she's telling you she would like the chance to make her own preferences a priority instead.

Your "suddenly become a plot" language is contemptuous and you should stop that.
posted by milk white peacock at 3:55 PM on October 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm a wife and mother of two school-aged boys. I am 39, my husband will be 40 in a month.

Here is my advice:

DO NOT allow her to blame you for her unhappiness. If she truly wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom and move away from SF and not work, do not allow her to blame you for her decisions. There is no reason why she can't change some of these things, and have your support, but don't let her get away with blaming the kids or you as the reason for her discontented feelings.

I have had periods of unhappiness in my marriage. I loved my kids and husband but it seemed that there was something lacking (I would ruminate and make myself miserable over my career, his career, our social life and lack thereof, our house, our parents, yada yada). My husband asked me once, "Can't you just be happy with what you have and enjoy your children?" The truth is I couldn't. I felt ashamed of my feelings but was too busy feeling inadequate and miserable. Most of my feelings were childish honestly. Thank god I don't feel like that anymore.

When I would pout and blame my husband he never took it and you shouldn't either. I spent a lot of time off and on being dissatisfied. I was the type that needed to work but I when I was working, work sucked. Work is great now, that was just my outlook at the time and my outlook needed a big adjustment.

I just read this to my husband and he says:

"Your empathy and concern fuels the fire. Don't feed the sinkhole. You can't fix irrational behavior with coddling. "

Okay that sounds harsh. What my husband is trying to get at is that she is being irrational right now. You have kids. I'm assuming she agreed to allow them to play sports. Too bad she doesn't like taking them. Really, too bad. Next fall or spring, or whatever, y'all can discuss what sports the kids sign up for and how they are going to get there. Right now, you're driving the majority of the time and she can use this time to pursue her hobbies or leisurely activities. Remind her of this, nicely. The other times, she really needs to go with it. I can empathize because it can be overwhelming. The commitment, the early mornings, the gear, the driving, spending all day on the fields, etc. She also agreed to move. Maybe the two of you can write up a plan to get back to SF in the future. Or, maybe she needs to deal if it's not financially feasible ever.

She may benefit from individual therapy. I have been in her shoes more or less and therapy helped me a lot. Gratitude helps. Growing up helps. Spending time with happy friends helps.

Encourage her to do things she loves. Encourage her to work if that is what she wants to do. After that I think you need to kindly stick up for yourself. These are decisions she has made and there is no reason why she can't change some things, such as driving the kids, remaining a stay-at-home mom, pursuing creative outlets. Be supportive. Be her friend and her loving spouse but don't allow her to blame you for decisions she has had a part in making. Don't allow her to blame for things she's not willing to do something about or change.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 3:56 PM on October 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


I agree with milk white peacock that "Suddenly, she decided x" is contemptuous and unkind. Your wife is a *person*. She has reasons for the things she says, wants, and does. Try to find out those reasons, instead of concluding that she is crazy or hormonal or lying.
posted by metametacap at 4:06 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am also a middle-aged mom who regrets a decision or two. I can identify with what your wife is expressing, and also with the blamey way she's expressing it, but unlike some of the other responses I think you need to call her on it. Your family is where it is, and you and she are doing what you are doing, as a result of joint decisions you made together in the past. She can regret her decisions and hate where she lives, but she doesn't get to blame you for it. There's a pretty crushing recession on and it's not going anywhere. This is not the time to pick up and relocate a one-income family for any reason other than "better-paying, more secure job."

I have lived in a bunch of different places, and once, for 5 years, I lived in a place where it really was impossible to "bloom where I was planted" so it is possible that she just can't make anything positive out of where you are living now. But it doesn't sound like she's tried to yet, so devoting space/time/support/etc. to allowing her to find meaning where you live now sounds like a practical first step.

But as for the emotional stuff, if it were me (and it is, sometimes), I would feel much better if my partner responded with strength and support and some serious backbone, than with capitulation and "niceness." For example:

Moving is an impossibility due to financial considerations. We talked about this, and she gets it, but it weighs very heavily on our marriage.

It shouldn't weigh heavily on your marriage. It's been discussed, there's nothing to be done about it right now, it has nothing to do with the marriage, it's just a practical reality. You're well within your rights to point out that she needs to accept that where you live now is where you'll be for the foreseeable future, and let it go, so the discussion can move to the options that actually do exist for her/you/the family.

Good luck & be strong! It sounds like she needs you to be.
posted by headnsouth at 4:18 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Shoulda previewed ... what Fairchild (& Mr. Fairchild) said.
posted by headnsouth at 4:20 PM on October 20, 2011


I have not gone through a midlife crisis, but I have had periods in my life where I felt stuck and unhappy and it impacted my relationship with my partner. I agree with some of the people above that one piece of feeling stuck and unhappy is being unable to pinpoint exactly what is making you unhappy, and what steps to take to make yourself feel better. So instead you do this scattershot blaming that tends to hit the people who are closest to you.

What is most helpful is having someone in your life who can: (1) validate that you're unhappy and that it's worth taking steps to change the situation so you can feel better; (2) re-direct thought processes from regret/blame about past choices and towards ideas for things to do in the present to try to feel better; and (3) encourage, encourage, encourage to keep trying different things if one thing doesn't work.

A lot of times, this person takes the form of a therapist. (They're paid to be there and not likely to be a source of blame-y dumping, which makes it easier.) It could also be you that does this, though.

What would happen if you sat down with your wife after dinner one day, when you're both in a good mood, and said, "Hey, it's clear to both of us that you're frustrated and unhappy with the current situation. I want you to be happy, and I want you to know right now: nothing is off the table in terms of steps we take to make you happy again. All that I ask is that we negotiate the speed and timing of how we make changes; I am okay changing everything but not throwing our whole life out the window all at once. So tell me, what does your 100% look like?"

Maybe her 100% idea she wants to try out is to pull your kids out of sports. But if dig deeper and help her articulate exactly what that will accomplish--more time to pursue her own activities? a break from being "mom" and nobody but "mom" every day with no break?--you can find a way to start meeting that desire without throwing sports out the window tomorrow. You can point out that you made a commitment to your kids that neither of you can break in the middle of the season, but maybe you'll take over all of the driving for the rest of the season to give her the space to do whatever it is this will accomplish. You can both re-evaluate at the end of the season whether this action actually moved things forward wrt her happiness or the kids remain enrolled in sports next year and you both have to try something else. Slow process, but sometimes even just moving forward in any direction can buoy you up and make you feel less angry and hopeless.

In other words: supporting your wife doesn't mean just sitting there while she ruminates about past decisions she's unhappy about or blames you for. By putting it on the table that you are willing to negotiate about anything, because taking steps to resolve her unhappiness is a high priority, you gain a really effective tool to shut down complaining about past, un-changeable decisions you all made and instead refocus her on the task of trying to make herself happy again.
posted by iminurmefi at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, it sucks that nobody tells you that in marriage, there's an ok probability that one day your partner will wake up and blame you for their unhappiness (rather than recognize the personal responsibility they have in the choices they made, or you both made as a team).

But I suspect it also sucks to wake up one day and have something trigger in you that makes you think that life is passing you by and/or you're having a 'this is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife, what the fuck is this, because this is not the beautiful life (I imagined I'd be living)" plunge into misery.

So it kind of sucks for both of you right now, just in different ways.

When it gets really bad, remind her that blaming you won't fix the feelings of emptiness and what sounds like anger and terror combined. In truth, it is just wasting time. It's actually good that she is acknowledging that she wants something different (though bad that she's blaming you). But blaming you probably feels easier, particularly when you don't know what else to do, and/or everything else feels super overwhelming. So I think this is both a combo of "what has triggered this" and "now that she feels this way, what now?" sort of approach. For the first, what I'd be curious about is listening to her talk about what mistakes she thought her mom made, and why she thinks she's making them. She's fighting not so much with you, but with some other ghosts, perhaps those of expectation, or meaningfulness in her life, or something - you're just the guy sitting next to her, getting slapped around.

For the second, I know in moments like this, people have a lot of energy around "moving forward, boldly!" so they 'don't waste any more time!". But really, what people like her should be doing is counterintuitively, the exact opposite: retreating and regrouping and planning what she wants the next five years of her life to be like. First, verbalizing a dreamy ideal (even if that is one without you and the kids), and then sculpting that towards a more realistic version. And with that vision in mind, then thinking about what steps she (and all of you) might take to move towards those goals. If she's 44, and she took a whole year to figure it out, she'd be 45, and have years, and years to have the pleasure of pursing at least some of those goals.

Perhaps her therapist could help her untangle what the ghosts are, and some sort of life coach (who I almost never, ever recommend, but in this case, might work) what those passions are, and why she feels she cannot pursue them, and why she wasn't pursing them if they were passions. Also, perhaps they could tease out if she could take small steps to pursue some of them, or recognize that she actually is pursuing some of them. I say therapist/life coach, because I think this is kind of her journey, and as long as she's busy blaming you, it's not clear that she's doing anything about climbing out of the hole she's dug herself into. At best, you can't be anything more than a cheerleader in all of this. So be a cheerleader, and not a scapegoat. Protect your kids, take care of yourself, and wait it out. She's on the field, and you can't move the ball forward for her.

Very good luck to you.
posted by anitanita at 5:11 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Andrhia: "My first thought: Is it possible she's going through menopause? Hormone fluctuations (like around pregnancy) have induced this kind of apocalyptic thinking in me, and made me think irrationally about similar topics. The awful part is that when it's a hormonal thing, you can know rationally that you're not being fair, but it still looks and feels like objective reality from inside your head."

Or for that matter, is she on hormone therapy? My marriage started seriously going to hell when my wife got diagnosed with PCOS and started on hormone therapy. Everything changed really quickly.
posted by Samizdata at 5:14 PM on October 20, 2011


And just so you know, when I'm feeling stuck, there are few things worse than being near a partner who seems to be really happy and equanimous. And my partner really is. He's not perfect, but he is pretty fit, happy in his career choice, has a great family and scores of friends, is a talented musician and dancer, well read and philosophical, financially comfortable, great with kids and has an optimistic view about life and death, no matter what his situation is. You'd think that would be inspirational when you're feeling miserable. But when I'm really down in the dumps, I listen to him start playing chopin after coming back from his TRX class, and all I want to do is pop him upside the back of his amazing head with my cheesy cheetos.

One of the things he tells me, if and when I go for a 'woe is me and while it may or may not be your fault, you're well balanced view on life is pissing me the hell off' stance is something like this:

Yes, I'm happy...and you can be happy too. And since we're a team, we can either plunge into darkness or climb up into the light. I'm going for "continuously climbing up to the light", and invite you to do what you need to do to join me. How can I help?

And then, if I grumble something along the lines of there is nothing he can do, he does something sweet and small for me, like bring me a chewable vitamin, or a tasty treat, or anything to do with anything that I suggested might help, like the amazon link to a good book about whatever I mentioned. And then he goes about his day, reading his book, or getting to bed on time, etc. - he doesn't let my temporary crappy attitude bring him down, which is a relief. He really does kind of continuously climb up to the light. And I admit, over time, those small actions and his equilibrium, along with me doing what I need to do, help get me out of my wallowing pit, and feel like we really are a team. And it makes me feel better, because he is really interested in helping me live the best life I can.

Maybe you can just tell her that you are interested in helping her live the best life she can, ask her how you can help, and not let her throw you off your balance.
posted by anitanita at 5:34 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I haven't gone through what you have, so I'm afraid I don't have any personal advice for you.

But I recently read this article, and thought it was amazing. And it strikes me as relevant to your situation. Here it is; I hope you find something useful in it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/fashion/02love.html
posted by browse at 5:55 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Glad you found value in the answers to my older question you referenced! Looks like it was really popular.

Your situation sounds like she is trying to place blame on you for her decisions that didn't turn out like she thought they would. What I'm going through now, and what it sounds like she needs to, is learning to enjoy the things you do have and to find peace with the decisions you've made in life.

Unfortunately, she may need more than a couples therapist and may actually just need her own therapist. Best of luck.
posted by Elminster24 at 7:25 PM on October 20, 2011


I want to be supportive, empathetic, and encouraging.

That's great, but...

DO NOT allow her to blame you for her unhappiness.

...this. Let that sort of shit go on for too long and you'll be a very supportive doormat. She won't be any happier; blaming you will get easier; next thing you know you're both miserable and hate each other.

"I get that you're not happy, but blaming me for decisions we both made years ago but which only you regret isn't helping you, and it's certainly not helping us. Instead, you should think about what will make you happy now, and then we can discuss how me might make that happen. If you're not interested in discussing this with me as your adult partner, and without blaming me for how you feel now, then I'm not interested in discussing it at all."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:51 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


A more charitable interpretation: Maybe she chose those things based on what she thought would be best for your family as a team, not what she personally would find the most fulfilling as an individual, and now she's telling you she would like the chance to make her own preferences a priority instead.

This rings true to me. I'm currently living in a place that my husband choose because we decided that it would be best for us. It's turned out ok for me too, but it was not my first choice.

The only thing that has kept me both still here and sane is knowing that if I really, truly want to leave, we will pack up and go. I have an escape. It doesn't sound like your wife feels like she has an escape, which can lead to her feeling out of control.

You've listed three things that she's unhappy with (stay at home mom, location, kids activities) and said that you cannot change the location at this time. But unless there's a strong reason not to, you should be encouraging her to change what she can to improve her situation. Support her if she wants to go back to work. Cut back the kids activities.

Feeling out of control of your own life is a stressful and depressing. When she tells you she's unhappy with something, make sure that you help her figure out reasonable fixes. At least talk through the possibilities with her without judgement. Just because she made her bed doesn't mean she has to lie in it permanently.
posted by oryelle at 11:31 PM on October 20, 2011


She has an escape. It's called the front door, and she is more than educated on its workings. I realize this sounds flip, but it sounds as if you are trying to accommodate an irrational person with rationality and that never, ever works. We make our own happiness in this world, and if we have some left over, we offer the excess to those we love. But it is our own responsibility, not anyone else's. If she is dissatisfied with what she has, it's up to her to change, not you. It may take life kicking her in the ass a little before she comes to this realization, and the truth is, for some people it never comes. This isn't advice for her, by the way. It's for you. Because the sooner you realize your role in this (specifically, none) the easier it will be for you to be truly helpful. Some people are simply never satisfied, and they will suck every last bit of enjoyment out of your life if you let them. Don't.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:23 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the OP:
@twinA-- I get the whole ground hog day feeling and that indeed may have been the feeling when the kids were little, but now the wife goes to Pilates three mornings a week, has girlfriends she has lunch with, and volunteers at a local organization she loves twice a week (with the hopes of maybe getting a paid job in that field one day). We've spent a fair bit of money paying for additional schooling, training, and even inventory and advertising for various small business ventures she had over the years. None have worked out. Many because of the economy and others because what she was passionate about really wasn't as interesting when it was a business and there were mundane tasks to be done.

@not that girl-- thank you so much for your perspective, particularly for your self awareness. I feel that I/we would make some progress towards increasing my wife's happiness if she were more self-aware. She does see a therapist once a month. I've inferred from a comment she made in the past that the focus of that therapy is learning on how to deal with her suffocating mother. Hopefully she's working on herself as well.

@milk white peacock-- I can see how "suddenly it became a plot to not allow her to work" might sound contemptuous...but I stand by that comment. She literally, in couples' therapy said to the therapist, "Well maybe it's been his plot all along to not allow me to work." Despite our investment in time and money as you can read above concerning efforts to find her meaningful work, the fact that things didn't work out, led her to the, dare I say, irrational conclusion that it was part of some greater plan of mine to keep her down. No, no...If anyone is being contemptuous here, it is not me.

@Fairchild-- "Can't you just be happy with what you have and enjoy your children?" That is what I am saying in my head when I'm trying to be supportive, encouraging, and empathetic. I'm not sure tough love will work with my wife...at least not yet.

@browse-- read that NY Times article a while back and agree it is pertinent. Some days I feel like proactively saying that she needs to distance herself from our family to get whatever she needs. I'll be here when and if she's ready to come back. Just don't hurt the kids.

From a medical perspective, she is in menopause...obviously there's nothing I can do about that.

Last point, and then I'm done, and I appreciate any further follow-up. My wife admitted, to me and in therapy, that she spent the years between ages of 24 and 35 working in an industry she did not like, but it paid well, and in an expensive big city she had to survive. She is angry that she's not doing something she loves (work-wise) and that I love my job. When our therapist asked her, "How do you feel when OP says that it's not financially feasible for your family to invest $25K towards a master's degree for you in a field where there's no guarantee of a job waiting for you?" Her answer was, "I feel pissed. Why should he be happy in his job and not me? It's totally unfair." This is the kind of irrationality I'm dealing with. Thanks all.
posted by jessamyn at 10:16 AM on October 21, 2011


She feels like a loser (she's not a loser) and/or feels there is something missing (there's nothing missing) and wants to blame you for her unhappiness. Don't cater to her. She needs to figure it out for herself. Cry me a river she didn't have an optimal jog for nine years. Cry me a friggin' river. What's done is done. I won't make any more judgment calls because we don't have both sides but your wife seems pretty sad (and entitled and clueless on how the world operates) right now. Sad as in pathetic. And I'm not judging because I have been pathetic myself. Again, do not for one minute feel guilty over her unhappiness. What can you do, really? Nothing. Again, she needs to figure this out on her own and I wouldn't listen to it.
posted by Fairchild at 12:37 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you for your follow-up, OP. From reading this, it sounds like she is unhappy with her life and you are the scapegoat. Especially this:

We've spent a fair bit of money paying for additional schooling, training, and even inventory and advertising for various small business ventures she had over the years. None have worked out.

This is in no way your fault, and I know you want to be supportive, but please don't buy into the idea that you are supposed to make her happy in the absence of effort on her part. She is ultimately responsible for her own happiness, and she sounds like she has been restless and dissatisfied and chasing rainbows for a long time.

I wonder if she's an NP (intuitive perceiving) on the Meyers-Briggs scale. There is a tendency for NPs to never be satisfied with what is, only what could be - and the minute they actually achieve their dream or are on track to achieving it, they sour on it because reality can never, ever live up to their dreams.

Another thing is that San Francisco is famous for attracting those who are willing to sacrifice career ambitions for "quality of life." There are many underemployed people or those who hate their jobs who nevertheless find that SF's quality of life - the atmosphere, the things to do, the weather, etc. - make up for it. Other, more affordable but more pedestrian and less glamorous cities don't have that, and so it's more important if one lives there to be happy with the other parts of one's life. Perhaps your wife was able to keep her discontent at bay until she (and you) moved to a place where there were not enough extras to fill in the happiness gaps.

This is all the more reason for her to get help and therapy on her own in order to learn to have an internal locus of happiness. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, "Most people are about as happy as they've made up their minds to be."

A career counselor might be of help in addition to a therapist. IMO, "do what you love!" and "follow your bliss" is one of the most overrated concepts we've come up with since the 1970's. Sure, you want to do what you like, or at least tolerate, and what you are decently skilled at. But the dream job does not exist. Perhaps your wife would be better off if she focused on finding a job that she could be good at that offers a short commute, reasonable work hours, a good boss, and kind treatment - all of which are just as or even more important than the job description. Instead of finding Job Charming, maybe do what many (most?) people do and work at Job Good Enough.

Good luck to both of you.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:39 PM on October 21, 2011


Right on, Fairchild. I was trying to be sympathetic to the wife's dilemma until I read this:

... and others because what she was passionate about really wasn't as interesting when it was a business and there were mundane tasks to be done.

Yeah, well, you know what? Life is hard. Welcome to the real world.
posted by Melismata at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can see how "suddenly it became a plot to not allow her to work" might sound contemptuous...but I stand by that comment. She literally, in couples' therapy said to the therapist, "Well maybe it's been his plot all along to not allow me to work." Despite our investment in time and money as you can read above concerning efforts to find her meaningful work, the fact that things didn't work out, led her to the, dare I say, irrational conclusion that it was part of some greater plan of mine to keep her down. No, no...If anyone is being contemptuous here, it is not me.

Did she really come to this ultimate, final conclusion, or was it a comment she made in therapy that she probably doesn't give credence to today? There was a maybe in there. Sometimes we say shit we don't ultimately believe because it helps to say stuff out loud when we are trying to figure things out.

My wife admitted, to me and in therapy, that she spent the years between ages of 24 and 35 working in an industry she did not like, but it paid well, and in an expensive big city she had to survive. She is angry that she's not doing something she loves (work-wise) and that I love my job. When our therapist asked her, "How do you feel when OP says that it's not financially feasible for your family to invest $25K towards a master's degree for you in a field where there's no guarantee of a job waiting for you?" Her answer was, "I feel pissed. Why should he be happy in his job and not me? It's totally unfair." This is the kind of irrationality I'm dealing with.

Wait, is this really terribly irrational if you are looking at it from the housewife v businessman standpoint? When you guys got married she was making lots of money (and it sounds like she probably would have been able to make a $25k investment in training for her future) and now as a stay at home mom she makes nothing and has been out of the workforce for so long that she can't just pick up where she left off, and she has lost the benefit of 13 years of progress that you have made in your career. I'm not sure she's actually angry that you love your job and she doesn't, as much as she is angry that you love your job, she doesn't, she has lost career opportunities where your career has likely benefitted from the move and from the relative stability of family life, and you seem to be making unilateral decrees about what can and can't be done with joint family finances when it seems like you should both be looking hard at the numbers and trying to find ways to compromise together. I don't know how much you guys make or how much money was invested in your wife's previous attempts to work, but if it has just been a drop in the bucket during 13 years of marriage, it may not really seem fair, especially since you seem to be making a unilateral decision about alot of this stuff. If the happy one is telling the unhappy one that, hey, I love you, but you just have to suck it up, I don't think the unhappiness is going to change.

I hope this doesnt seem harsh, I am trying to see things from her perspective. It is really nice that you are thinking so deeply about this and obviously really care about her to try to help. Im sorry she is deflecting so much of her unhappiness onto you. It is really hard for someone who has been out of the workforce so long to figure out what they really want and how to break their way back in. Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 8:23 PM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


When our therapist asked her, "How do you feel when OP says that it's not financially feasible for your family to invest $25K towards a master's degree for you in a field where there's no guarantee of a job waiting for you?" Her answer was, "I feel pissed. Why should he be happy in his job and not me? It's totally unfair." This is the kind of irrationality I'm dealing with.

Sorry, this doesn't sound all that irrational to me. Why is it rational, or fair, for you to be happy in your job while she isn't? And I doubt that the only cure is a $25k degree.

Her saying that she's pissed doesn't necessarily mean, "We must spend $25k immediately on me, me, me." It means she's pissed about the situation, which, frankly, seems unsurprising and even predictable to me. Calling her irrational dismisses what appear to be legitimate feelings and is unlikely to help.
posted by ceiba at 6:20 PM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


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