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Separated from wife, got involved with someone else, should I reconcile with my wife?
April 23, 2012 11:14 PM   Subscribe

I've been separated from my wife for over six months. During that time I got involved with someone else, but now I'm thinking about going back to my wife. Please tell me I'm not making a mistake.

I’m making a decision in a very difficult situation, and would appreciate at least someone telling me I’m doing the right thing.

I’ve been married to my wife for 11 years, and we’ve known each other for 16. We’ve now been separated for almost six months. We live near each other, and I see my eight year old daughter a few times a week, including one weekend night and day. My daughter seems to have adjusted very well, and very quickly - in fact recently telling me that she likes having two houses, and having the undivided attention of each parent. We are good, attentive parents, and give her plenty of love and attention. However I find myself missing her quite a bit, and I worry about the long term impact on her should the separation become permanent.

The separation was my choice, but we each had our parts to play in the events leading up to it. For years I felt there was something missing, even before we were married, but I mistakenly did not seek counseling or do the necessary introspection to find out what it was. Only now that I’ve had therapy, and have stepped back from the big picture, can I see that what was missing was a feeling of being desired and wanted - particularly in a physical way. She has a history of abuse, and often pulls away when I want to cuddle or snuggle. There are many sexual compatibility issues, but that’s just part of a larger physical affection cycle, where constant rejection has made me feel unwanted and even alone at times. We haven’t even “made out” since before we got married!

On the other hand, in every other way things are very good. We’ve always had a best friends relationship, and we care for each other very well in practical and tangible ways. I feel like she “has my back” and we have similar tastes and interests in activities, and generally share a common view on life and how to live it. The only other issue on her part is a tendency to be controlling and defensive, which is an expression of insecurities. She’s been in therapy for a while, though I don’t know how much she’s worked on that.

I certainly have my issues as well, and I can easily point to where I went wrong. I have inherited some codependent tendencies from my mother, and don’t react well to anger. I have preferred to bottle up my pain and suffer in silence than rock the boat. I’ve recently changed quite a bit in that regard, thanks to a year of therapy - but in my marriage it led to me not being able to tell her specifically what I needed, except in an unhealthy, passive aggressive sort of way. I’m not proud of this, and have done everything I can to avoid that sort of behavior in the future. Over the last few years, as I became unhappier, I finally started telling her what was going on with me - but it was too little, too late. She felt that my expectations were unrealistic, and told me that “we’re not teenagers anymore”.

I felt the situation was irretrievable, and that she would never change - and I had no right to expect her to change if she didn’t want to. I had the choice of either accepting her as she is, remaining unhappy in the relationship or “working” on it, or leaving it. I chose the latter, and we moved apart. We are originally from the US, but the country we moved to three years ago, and are still in, only allows divorce after two years of separation.

After living on my own for a few months, I became involved with a woman who I had known for about a year prior as a friend only. Now this is where a lot of you will be rolling your eyes and preparing your “cognitive dissonance” speeches. Yes all the normal cliches apply, but damn if they aren’t true! I’ve been dating her for almost five months and she is nourishing me in ways my wife never did; she is sexually uninhibited, easy going, uncontrolling, and makes it very plain that she wants and desires me in a way I’ve never experienced. To the “grass is never greener” crowd - yes of course she has her issues, everyone does. And no I don’t know what a future with her would hold - I can only extrapolate from what I know. Every relationship is a risk after all. If this sounds preemptive, it’s because I’ve read all the stories and have heard all the responses and judgments to this.

Which brings me to my conclusion. Despite all this, I still feel compelled to break up with her and go back to my wife. My wife does not know I am dating someone else - she has never asked, and I have never told. Ultimately the way I am approaching this situation is far different than how I would approach it if I didn’t have a child. The problem is that my wife has, on multiple occasions, threatened to leave this country, and move back to the US with my daughter. I would be compelled to follow them, leaving behind my career and the best job I’ve ever had. No doubt I could exert some legal rights, but I have no wish to rake my daughter over the coals with a battle over where to live, or over the fact that I dated someone else. My wife only remains here in the hope that we will go into counseling and work things out.

The woman I’m dating knows this situation and is scared to death I will go back to my wife - and her fears are justified. She doesn’t want to be the other woman, and doesn’t want to be a mistress - she wants me exclusively and long term. And that’s what I would want from her as well if I were to decide never to go back to my wife. She hates being a secret (and I hate having one), but if my wife finds out then I am certain she will leave the country, which isn't in the best interests of my daughter. I'm basically buying time.

But I am scared to death of what may happen to my daughter if I don’t try to reconcile with my wife. And a big part of me misses being a happy family - even if it’s not all “happy”.

This situation cannot endure, and any course of action will have consequences and leave me with regrets. Despite that, it seems that what I must do is leave this woman I’m dating, for good, and try to work things out with my wife - for the sake of my daughter. But maybe there’s a chance we can make things better than they’ve ever been. And if not, at least I tried - right? I have no illusions that it will be easy, particularly now when the bar has been raised - which means I might feel resentful. Ah therapy, here I come again...

I was about to break up with my girlfriend, until I decided to post here first.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has real experience with such a situation. If you haven’t been in a long term monogamous relationship, please refrain from judgments outside your experience. I’ve heard them all, and have already beaten myself up over getting into this situation more than you can possibly know. Thanks a million for reading all this!
posted by quoth_the_raven to Human Relations (53 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sorry you are struggling. I think you owe it to your girlfriend to take a break. You don't seem to know what you want and it's unfair to have her continue to invest in the relationship when you're so confused.

For the sake of your wife and daughter, please do more therapy. Ask your wife for more time to work on things. And then figure out if that's what you want to do. Before going back, you may want to work on couples therapy for a while. Getting back together - in any way - may be very confusing for your daughter.

It sounds like you didn't give yourself much time to get used to the separation and that you moved into another relationship quickly. It may be that you need more time to process things. I say this not as a criticism or as encouragement to go with either relationship or to do anything at all. But maybe you need some time for quiet reflection to figure out what you do want and need in a partner.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:27 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is that my wife has, on multiple occasions, threatened to leave this country, and move back to the US with my daughter. I would be compelled to follow them, leaving behind my career and the best job I’ve ever had. No doubt I could exert some legal rights, but I have no wish to rake my daughter over the coals with a battle over where to live, or over the fact that I dated someone else. My wife only remains here in the hope that we will go into counseling and work things out.

I'm honestly curious about this-- is she "threatening," or just stating that that would be her intention? Is there a good reason for her to stay in the country if you divorce? Is she only there because you have a wonderful job there and she's married to you? I'm not trying to imply that you're making things up, just wondering if what she's saying in anger is less a threat than just a heated admission of what she would do if she didn't feel compelled to stay in your country. (Or she really could be threatening you, of course.) I just mention it because in the case that this is what happens, it might be good to have a clear head about her motivations. (If she has friends and family in the US she'd be relieved to return to, for instance.)

People are typically pretty divided on the "stay for the kids" issue. If you plan to divorce once your daughter is an adult, then I think you should leave. Parents divorcing is hard when you're older, too. If you want to stay for the long haul, I honestly don't know-- you don't sound very happy, and sex is a big deal. How much contact have you had since your separation? Would couples therapy be possible? On preview, I agree that the latest relationship could potentially be a rebound-- you're definitely still feeling rebound feelings. I think you need a breather and a chance to work things out with your wife as well.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:36 PM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't think you should get back together with your wife. You aren't getting back together with her because you love her and want to be with her. You are getting back together with her because you are afraid of what will happen if you don't, and for your daughter's sake. You are going to sacrifice something that is probably important to you (sexual fulfillment and physical intimacy) in order to do this. That doesn't sound like a decision you will be happy with in the future. Getting back together with your wife for the wrong reasons seems unwise, especially when you've found someone whose company you are truly enjoying.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:38 PM on April 23, 2012 [23 favorites]


Wait, what? You are considering going back to your wife for the sole reason that you miss your daughter, and you are worried your wife will take your daughter away?

Those don't seem like good reasons to engage in a relationship with an adult human being who is not the one you miss and worry about.

I don't know what the solution is, but I don't think this is it.
posted by lollusc at 11:39 PM on April 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


You know, I personally will tell you that anyone can live without sex, and love, and y'know, emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Lots of people do. It's not easy as such, but... well, if you want to do it, it's not really that hard. You can kill little or big parts of yourself, and the funny thing is that it's not as hard to do that as you may think. You daughter can provide you with affection, and you can have friends, and you can masturbate, or perhaps you can find religion. What you most likely can't do is get your wife to become 'a teenager', but then them's the breaks, right? You probably only have 20-30 years of lively sexuality left in any case, and what's 30 years to sacrifice for a child, when most parents would die for their offpsring?


I mean, this is all a possible line of thought you could have. The thing I'm implying here is that the only way you can honestly do this is if you have zero expectation of fixing your relationship, if by 'fixing' one means 'having a sexual relationship' with your wife. Like I said, this is not cancer-- and one can even survive cancer. If one approaches life as something to grit your teeth and accept (rather than avoid facing), lots of things become bearable. You may miraculously find your wife is open to change-- but you can't expect it, as such, if you are to commit yourself to this course of action. I suggest that going into it just to know you've 'tried' is not something that'll help your daughter, but rather reassure you personally. If your daughter is appearing to deal with it, then I suggest that perhaps you're underestimating her resilience. If your wife wants to return to the US and you're afraid to leave your daughter, I suggest you can also move back to the US without getting back together with her; I further suggest that would be a lesser sacrifice than a sexless marriage for the rest of your life-- though as I said, no one actually needs sex to survive, so maybe that's fine, as in you will survive it. I will lastly suggest that if your current girlfriend is fully committed to you, you can move back to the US with her and do your best to continue joint custody.


There are always more options that it appears. A lot of them require compromise, and some require sacrifice. The thing about sacrifice is that it's only worth making with both eyes open. It's not worth giving up your sex life and apparently healthy romantic relationship with your girlfriend for a pretty fantasy that your wife will one day wake up horny. It may be worth it (to you) to give it up, knowing that you'll just get to enjoy being great roommates with your wife and a good father to your child. I mean, I don't know it-- I know how hard it is to find a really good friend and roommate (it's hard to find friends one can live with). On the other hand, a good friend doesn't threaten you or intend to take away a person who's important to you (your daughter); a good friend would want to compromise, not play emotional games. But we all have different ideas of friendship; your wife, however, probably thinks she's your wife, not your friend, and her 'teenager' comment suggests she's built her identity as an adult around her current sexuality, and feels no need to change. If you're ok with the way she is, then embrace it. Instead of her, you may find that you yourself may change. People find they need a lot less than they thought, you know. Having one person, a child, to love-- that's enough in itself for many people. Or rather, they tell themselves it's enough. You can become that person, and you may even not be unhappy. But you have to embrace that life with both eyes open.
posted by reenka at 11:40 PM on April 23, 2012 [32 favorites]


If you end the affair you're having, you will eventually have to come clean with it to your wife, should you choose to attempt a reconciliation. Correct? Or is the plan to never disclose it?

Will she take you back, knowing about all this? If not, then reconciliation may not even be feasible.
posted by quivering_fantods at 11:44 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I support your decision. You explain it quite well here. You sound well aware that it might not work and that you might be resentful, but that you want to know that you tried, and you want to try.

I've gotten back together with someone, gone to therapy, and found a much deeper level of happiness with that person. I can't say whether that will happen to you, but it might, since you sound open to trying, it sounds like your wife might be as well, and you didn't try certain things that you'd now try.

I'd guess that regrets-wise, you're less likely to feel deep regrets about "I tried too long and let something that might've been good slip away" than you might about "I didn't try hard enough to keep my family together and to avert this international custody battle." I can really understand being compelled by family loyalty like you describe.

On preview, I hear where people like lollusc and treehorn+bunny are coming from, but in your shoes, I'd probably do what you're proposing: prioritize keeping the family together and make sure I'd given it the best try I could.
posted by salvia at 11:49 PM on April 23, 2012


Talk to a lawyer about your parental rights. I feel like you are emotionalizing a decision better made with some facts about where you stand in terms of the law.
posted by jbenben at 11:50 PM on April 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


Is there...like...any possibility you and your wife could have an open marriage, where you also have a relationship, not with your current lady friend (sorry, it would suck to lose her, I know), but maybe with some other ladies, discreetly? Because...that might not be the worst solution in the world and is how many a man in your shoes has organized his family life over the centuries (it would sort of be on you to do it more ethically than the guys on "Mad Men," though, which can be done).
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:52 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine, who is divorced herself, recently broke up with a guy who is in what sounds like the exact same situation as you. Separated for about six months, one kid. Some drama came up with his ex-wife, his availability got sketchy, cue some rough conversations on the phone with my friend. She said to him "the honeymoon period of your divorce is over. Now you need to go figure your shit out." I think that's where you're at. Change is scary and you're afraid to lose whatever it was you did have with your family that is already no longer there in the same way. If you stay separated, you have to renegotiate the relationship you have with the mother of your child, negotiate parenting duties, and build a new life for yourself. All daunting, but necessary and doable. Good luck.
posted by MillMan at 12:35 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't say what country you're in but posters suggesting you speak to a lawyer about your custodial rights are right on the money. You are reacting emotionally to a situation without knowing what the facts are. Regardless of what you ultimately decide, you need to make sure you are making that decision with a full deck of cards.

I have no opinion on whether you should return to your marriage. I would however suggest that if your wide is interested in reconciling, and you decide that is your priority, you break up with the girlfriend and insist your wife seek therapy with you as a foundation for considering reconciliation.

You've grown over the past 6 months. If you climb back into the same tiny box you fled before, it will be even mire stifling and it won't last. Then you will have fucked everything and everyone up twice as hard.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:40 AM on April 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


My opinion for what it's worth (I'm qualified to comment according to your test):

If you do decide to try again with your wife, you need to cut off your current relationship first.
You need to disclose that relationship to your wife before any decision is made about trying again (after you cut it off - no hedging of bets here).
Either way, you need to step out of the new relationship, because your partner wants a long-term commitment and you can't give that to her without lying to yourself and everyone else.
Before you dive right back into the marriage again, you need to take the time for reflection that someone else spoke about. You could 'date' your wife, try and re-establish old feelings etc, but you need some space to consider what you really, in your heart of hearts, want for the future.

There are worse things than living in a less-than-perfect relationship, especially when children are involved. Especially where the issues are mostly around sex. The fact that you can be best friends after 16 years, that you are still so compatible in many ways that matter a great deal, that you are still good friends after separating - all those are more than some people even hope for in a marriage. But. You don't have to come crawling back asking for forgiveness - you can put some conditions such as couples counselling on the table. Going back to your marriage 'you know, for the kids' is a tough gig and you need to think carefully about whether you want to consign the next 10-15 years of your life to playing that tune.

Cut the new partner loose, take the time to get to know what it is you want from life and go get it. Good luck.
posted by dg at 12:50 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did this. Don't do it. The length of my marriage, age of child, and duration of seperation were different, though. I wanted to try to have that sterotypical "happy family" with the mother of my child, despite the fact that it didnt work the first time and I was rarely happy during the marriage. I broke up with the woman I was dating to get back together with the X-wife. Woman I was dating was devestated. Was only back together with the X-wife for a few months before all the things that made our marriage a faliure became unbearable again. I was lucky that the woman I broke it off with found it in her heart to take me back, and now we've been together longer then I was married to my x-wife. There were major trust issues after this (duh!) that took a long time to heal. I still feel horrible about doing that to her.

You write that you felt the marriage was irretrivable. But what has changed now since you have been seperated that makes you want to reconcile besides fear of what could happen and threats from your wife?

Plenty of kids grow up in non-traditional, non-two parent households, have happy childhoods, and grow up to be happy adults.

It wasn't clear from your post if you allready have a lawyer or have allready started the legal divorce process. You should get one. Find out if she even can move to another country with your child.
posted by BlackWalnut at 1:08 AM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not counting the possibility of your daughter moving to another country, I was you with a loving but sexless relationship. I went back and stayed for the kids' sake and it was incredibly difficult and soul crushing. Now the kids are grown, I left, but it is very difficult to start a marriage like partnership again, given my age. If you can resolve the custodial issues (see a lawyer), then I would recommend you divorce and move on because she cannot change that aspect of her (at least with you).
posted by b33j at 1:08 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stay with your wife. Your child is the most important thing. Or commit to leaving your current country and job for the US should you want to leave your wife (but you would be leaving your girlfriend too, of course).

You have put yourself in the precarious position of choosing your girlfriend or your child. The answer is always "your child".
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:24 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Speaking as someone whose parents stayed together until adulthood (and then got divorced): Children know when parents are not getting along, even when they're together. If you get back together with your wife without resolving the issues that you have together, the unhappiness between you two will devastate your child. You cannot fake a "happy family."

Just getting back together for the sake of the child (without major changes in both you and your wife first) is not actually doing your child a favor in an way.
posted by yeolcoatl at 3:32 AM on April 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


If you decide to try again with your wife- please don't keep your daughter in the loop. She doesn't need to know mommy and daddy are getting back together if it's just an attempt. You two have some serious issues to work out and it's going to take a while. If after a six more months of really dedicated trying don't work, and you and your wife decide that it's just not happening- another turn around is going to be incredibly unsettling. If you guys work out, than waiting a year to tell her isn't going to change a thing.

As for your girlfriend- this isn't right. You aren't able to give her what she needs- and you're putting her through the ringer while you figure things out. At the very least, you should give her the respect enough to say "I am not able to really dedicate myself to OUR relationship. I need to sort myself out, and my marriage." If your marriage doesn't work- you can try again, without her having to know that she might just be your loneliness safety-net.

There is no way for anyone on the internet to figure out if your marriage is going to survive this or not. Maybe your wife and you will go to counseling, you'll both have giant break throughs and finally learn to give each other what is needed. Maybe you two aren't compatible in the long run. It sounds to me like you really need to find out- for yourself, and for your family. You won't be able to find out if you've got your girlfriend on the backburner, or if you feel like you're living in a hostage situation with your daughter.

I would also say that you're wife sssuuuurrreelly doesn't need to know you were with another woman while you two were separated. It's sort of implied.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:44 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I spent the last year going through the fire in my marriage, including a year of separation, in a situation very similar to what you describe. My husband and I have two kids and had an excellent "working relationship", similar worldviews and compatability, etc, but with a huge emotional disconnect. Even in the worst of our turmoil, which was really devastating, we were a great team in terms of putting the kids first. Married for 12 years, together for 16, so VERY similar to your situation.

I'm here to say: we made it through, much to my surprise, and we are far, far, FAR better off than we ever have been before. The getting through it was so hard, but we both have learned a lot about ourselves and each other, and the effects of our families of origin, and what was habituated that needs to be unlearned, and how to really listen to and value and respect each other. That the quality of our marriage is the result of our intentional practice, and that practice is now far higher on the list of priorities than it has been since kids and careers came along.

All this by way of saying: It sound like you and your wife have each been doing individual work to get you along this path too. I think if you two come together with a sincere willingness to each nurture the other in the ways that are needed--physical, emotional, logistical--you can make it work too. You haven't mentioned marriage counseling in your post. Go. You haven't mentioned reading books and trying to understand intimacy and how people struggle in the close confines of a marriage. Read. Some books that changed our lives: Terry Real's New Rules of Marriage; John Gottman's Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work; Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. At the very least pick one and read/work through it together--but having the perspective of an impartial observer well versed in marriage dynamics is invaluable. Go to counseling. Make it work.

Break it off with your lover. Be gentle and so grateful for her loving care during a difficult time in your life. Open relationships can and do work, but if you're not experienced with it already this is not the time to start. Yes, it will be painful for both of you, but you're both adults and cognizant that not all wonderful new relationships can fully flower. History, love, duty, commitment also matter, also matter a lot, and of course your daughter and how she learns about the world via your marriage is central, too.

Your kid will witness an amazing example of dedication, working through difficulty, love and commitment when you get back together and make your marriage better than before.

You can do it.

MeMail me if you need a sympathetic ear.

Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 3:55 AM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


You need a 6-month break from all women, except your daughter. When you are being whipped in opposing directions by decision-making, stop deciding. Let things lie for a short while. Your perspective will be very different at the end of your "relationship hiatus".
posted by thinkpiece at 4:20 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't have time now to properly respond, but at this point I'd like to thank everyone for their contributions here. Collectively this is some of the best advice I've yet received over the last year, including that from best friends and professional counselors. I feel relieved and honored by the heartfelt responses, and I plan to re-read everything here many times.

Despite some contradictory answers, I feel more comfortable with my original decision.

I will post more responses later, after I've slept. Thanks again!
posted by quoth_the_raven at 4:48 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even though you follow up your wife's list of faults with "I've got issues too" you are framing this as your wife's fault and giving the impression that your problems are rooted in sexual incompatibility. So a lot of the responses you get are focused on the sacrifice you'd have to make in a sexless marriage should you give up this passionate relationship you have now and go back to your wife.

But go back and read the little snippet of insight you wrote about yourself and try to be honest about whether your wife's disinterest in sex caused the problems or is a symptom of them: passive aggressiveness is a huge turnoff. Avoiding conflict means avoiding intimacy. Emotional distance kills passion. You are saying that your wife doesn't want to have sex with you while also saying you don't tell her what you want or what is on your mind. I have a healthy sex drive but I don't want to have sex with someone who holds me at arms' length and avoids honest emotional intimacy with me either.

So be honest: what was your plan when you moved out? Was it to get away (more avoiding)? Was it to focus on counseling (you have not mentioned couples counseling, only individual)? Was it to divorce? What is your affair about? Love for the woman? Avoiding loneliness?

And what is it that you want now? Because as long as you continue to make decisions based on fear (they might leave the country) instead of based on love, you will remain unhappy and continue to demonstrate behavior to your daughter that you might not want her to emulate.

What your daughter needs is not the burden of parents who martyr themselves for her. What she needs is parents who live honest lives.
posted by headnsouth at 5:10 AM on April 24, 2012 [23 favorites]


First, absolutely talk to a lawyer about the whole custody/leaving the country thing.

Second, has your wife shown any indication that she has gone through a period of personal growth like you have? I ask this because if she hasn't changed, you're just going back to the same situation that you left and you're just going to put your daughter through more heartbreak ("yay we're a family again!" "what? you're leaving again?").

Third, your daughter is 8. She is watching you and your wife for examples of healthy adult behaviour, which she will carry into her own adulthood and attempt to emulate. Do you want your daughter to be in the kind of relationship you have with your wife? (Anecdote: my sister was 10 when my parents separated and thank god they did because it taught her to be a strong, independent woman who knows that she deserves to be happy.)

Fourth, do NOT get back together with your wife and use your daughter to fill that emotional void. She is 8, that is far too much for her to shoulder and she will notice. Again, be the model of healthy behaviour here.
posted by buteo at 5:49 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't see how staying in a loveless, unhappy marriage is best for your child. It seems like a horrible idea. At the very least, I suggest that if you follow through with your plan, you do so on a trial basis -- that is, you give couples therapy a shot and see if things actually get better after you improve your communication abilities and she works on her issues.

And as others have said, what do you want your daughter to learn by observing about good, healthy, adult relationships?
posted by J. Wilson at 6:04 AM on April 24, 2012


As a child of divorced parents, does it make any difference if I tell you that you shouldn't attempt to reconcile?

Kids aren't dumb. They can see unhappiness in their parents. I know plenty of people whose parents stayed together "for the kids" and damaged them much worse than they would have apart with fighting and a household that was devoid of affection and joy. Be happy and share that happiness with your daughter.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 6:20 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I am scared to death of what may happen to my daughter if I don’t try to reconcile with my wife. And a big part of me misses being a happy family - even if it’s not all “happy”.

At 11, I can guarantee that your kid can tell the difference between a happy family and an unhappy one. Unless both you and your wife are willing to really step up (counseling etc.), then I think you should not reconcile. And even if you do both step up, there's no promise that it will work out. A happy family doesn't have to be one where everyone lives in the same house and the parents are married. A happy family can be one in which mom and dad aren't together, both both work together to be good parents, the kid knows this and feels this, and is happy.

Don't make your kid grow up in a house full of tension and resentment. Those truths will out, because they always do.
posted by rtha at 6:28 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, in every other way things are very good. We’ve always had a best friends relationship, and we care for each other very well in practical and tangible ways. I feel like she “has my back” and we have similar tastes and interests in activities, and generally share a common view on life and how to live it.

OP, this does not sound like a "loveless, unhappy marriage" to me. This sounds like you and your wife, after many years together, have some issues regarding sex and affection in an otherwise great relationship. I hope that you will make an earnest effort to really work through those issues together. I think you owe it to your wife, your child, and yourself to try and fix this relationship before you abandon it.
posted by Jemstar at 6:38 AM on April 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


As a child of divorced parents, I'm going to advise you to keep reconciliation on the table, though I can't say whether it's the right choice.

My parents broke up when I was a young adult; I strongly suspect that at least one of them would have been happier if they had stayed together. And by "stayed together" I DO NOT mean "stayed together in the unhappy way they had been together before," but rather "grown and done a lot of work and realized what they had together and been happy."

It's true, kids can see unhappiness in their parents. But they can see unhappiness in their unhappily divorced parents just as easily as they can see unhappiness in their unhappily married parents.

Do what will make you happiest.
posted by mskyle at 7:16 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is definitely a decision you should not make until you've talked to a lawyer. Can she even take your daughter out of the country? I have no idea, but it sounds like you don't either. Definitely find out, because there's no reason to get back together with your wife if she can't.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:27 AM on April 24, 2012


Nthing the folks who are saying that your child can tell the difference between parents who are unhappy together and those who are not. My parents split when I was eight years-old and while the divorce was extremely tumultuous and caused its own wounds, I know it was far better choice for everyone than having them stay together.

There are some great arguments here for getting back together with your ex, but you just need to make sure that whatever you are doing is for you and not just for your child. I have never bought the idea that once you have a child, every single one of your decisions needs to be made solely based on them and their feelings. You are still an autonomous being. Thinking only of your child could very possibly backfire here. Take your feelings, your wife's, and your daughter's into account.
posted by anotheraccount at 8:02 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


We’ve now been separated for almost six months... I’ve been dating her for almost five months

You have not tried seperation, where you work with honesty seperately and together on issues. You have had an illcit affair, with secrecy and all the power that implies.
posted by saucysault at 8:34 AM on April 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


You really haven't been working "on you" or your feelings during this separation.....you've been working on "being single" by engaging in a relationship with another woman.

Only you will know what makes you happy, and if going back to your wife feels right to you, then do that.

But please be advised that unless significant work is done by BOTH of you, your marriage will end in a divorce and you will have only protracted your daughter's confusion and delay healing for you and your spouse.
posted by PsuDab93 at 9:45 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't see any reason for you to get back together with her other than the "she leaves the country with your daughter" thing. The relationship does not sound like it works as a romantic partnership, period. And yes, your kid can tell if Mommy and Daddy aren't in love, and internalize it, and it affects her ability to find and figure out love later. So staying together for the kids for that reason doesn't really work.

Now, it may be worth it to settle for her and the lack of sex specifically for your daughter. IANAL and it may have to be the only solution to keep your daughter in your daily life. But I wouldn't go into it thinking that you can be romantic again.

Other than that, if the kid and other countries weren't a factor, I'd say to split up and stay with the new woman who actually makes you happy. You may not be able to do it, sadly, but I wouldn't go back in thinking you can make the marital relationship better. reenka's post really details how you'd deal with that one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:47 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I concur with Jemstar's take. Doesn't sound loveless to me--more like there are some differences and disconnects when it comes to intimacy. These are hard and hurtful but VERY common, and can be surmounted. Doesn't sound like an atmosphere of strife and dysfunction, which is what is really horrible for kids. Of course ideally you model a loving, affectionate, respectful and also functional relationship with your kid--sounds like the marriage in question has at least been functional, and believe me even that level of relationship is something to be valued.

I will say about the relationship with the girlfriend: this may seem rather callous and unfair to her, but one way to think about it is that having had that closeness and pleasure with her and enjoying it so much can be seen as affirmation of how truly important those things are to you, and that theyre worth fighting for in the marriage that is the armature of your life. So I say again, be gentle and grateful to her; and indeed be honest with your wife; and be sure your wife knows both things, that pleasure and intimacy are indeed that important to you, and that you ultimately made the choice that you want them with HER. I'm sure it will be rough to be honest about your involvement with your GF, but separation does entail distance and freedom, and hopefully we can all be adult about these things. Suffice to say that if she finds out after the fact it won't be any better than if you had disclosed on your own initiative.
posted by Sublimity at 10:23 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is that my wife has, on multiple occasions, threatened to leave this country, and move back to the US with my daughter. I would be compelled to follow them, leaving behind my career and the best job I’ve ever had. No doubt I could exert some legal rights, but I have no wish to rake my daughter over the coals with a battle over where to live, or over the fact that I dated someone else. My wife only remains here in the hope that we will go into counseling and work things out.

I'm really concerned about your motives, here. It sounds like your primary reason for getting back with your wife would be to prevent her from leaving the country. I think you should really spend some time with this question: if your wife were planning to stay put where you are now, regardless, would you still be considering getting back together with her? Would you still be wanting to make it work?

You sound like you're caught in a genuinely difficult situation. However, I do not believe that it is right to return to your wife if your primary motivation is to control her.

if my wife finds out then I am certain she will leave the country, which isn't in the best interests of my daughter. Is the US an intrinsically bad choice for your daughter, or is it just not where you want to live?

You also have no guarantee that, in the event of a reconciliation, your wife would not set "return to the US" as a condition.

You should not be trying to repair your marriage so that you can keep your job. I keep looking at this from your wife's perspective, imagining her loving you the way I love my husband, wanting you back, winning you back. . . and then finding out that you came back not out of love for me or desire to be married to me, but because you figured I'd leave the country if you didn't. And it fills me with wincing despair.
posted by endless_forms at 10:31 AM on April 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


One thing that just leapt out at me, when endless_forms' answer popped this thread back up to the top of my recent activity, is how you only refer to your daughter as "my daughter." You don't refer to her even once as "our daughter."

The thing that caused the greatest rift between my dad and me (he was the non-custodial parent) was his attitude that I was his. I was not a child who had a mom and a dad, even a divorced mom and dad. For a good long while, I was a thing that belonged only to him, at least in his mind.

Maybe this is just a brief glitch on your part. But in case it isn't: she isn't only your daughter. She is the daughter of both you and her mom.
posted by rtha at 11:20 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would also say that you're wife sssuuuurrreelly doesn't need to know you were with another woman while you two were separated. It's sort of implied.

I would suggest otherwise, unless they had a clearly agreed-upon "Don't ask, don't tell" policy when they separated.

His wife should be given full information so she can make a fully-informed decision whether to reconcile or not. If the OP having an affair during the separation is a deal-breaker for her, that needs to be respected.

Plus, ethical considerations aside, as a practical point, these things have a way of coming out in time. The girlfriend may or may not choose to keep the secret.
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:47 PM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Somehow the way you've written your post obfuscates the fact that it's not your relationship with your daughter you're prioritizing but your job and current lifestyle in the country where you are. Unless there is some kind of persecution or utter economic bleakness waiting for you in the states, and as long as you're unwilling to go to court to engorce whatever power you may or may not have over your wife's relocation, it seems to me that there is one course of action that demonstrates integrity (and your daughter):

Be open with your wife that you're done with the marriage for good and with your girlfriend that it's likely your immediate future is in the USA, with or without her. Then be prepared to move if your wife moves.

Even if you think that true reconciliation with your wife may be possible (but I worry that you're actually now practicing to cheat on her later), I think it may be worthwhile to guard yourself against your own powers of self-delusion and rationalization by being completely honest with her about how you've spent this separation.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:51 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


(sorry, one course of action that prioritizes integrity and your daughter)
posted by Salamandrous at 5:53 PM on April 24, 2012


Far too many excellent observations and new insights to sift through here in one go. I'm still slowly digesting them all, and again I'm really appreciative of everyone's time and thoughts.

It's very interesting to me that of the posts which make a recommendation to either reconcile or not, there was almost an even split on the issue - with a slight nod toward "don't reconcile". It's pretty much a meta reflection of the battle going on in my head. I also found it interesting that the majority of children of divorced parents, with one exception, recommended against it.

That said, I am identifying most with the ones who recommend trying it, with several important caveats.

First, regarding reenka's post, which deservedly received the most favorites: may I ask if you are a practicing Buddhist? I agree that true acceptance is the most sure strategy to true happiness. When I first read what you said, I was tempted to respond: "but I did accept my wife as she was, for over a decade!" That reaction was a defensive one, and only true in that I substituted silence and bottled up frustration with genuine acceptance. And therein lies my significant contribution to the problem. Yes, I could grit my teeth, intensify my meditation practice, invest time in other pursuits, and try to find a wellspring of happiness within. I plan to do that anyway, regardless of this situation. Most of my motivation for separating was to remove myself from the source of my unhappiness, get my head together, and finally be honest with myself and everyone else (obviously getting involved with someone else threw a colossal wrench into that). I agree that going back to her, I would have to have zero expectations. In which case the burden of change is on my own shoulders. And if I'm honest with myself I expect nothing less.

In general I feel that many of the posts have homed in on the sexuality aspect of it. So has my wife. I can't count how many times I've told her "it's not about sex!" It was not a sexless marriage. She does have sexual hangups related to her abuse, but those are mostly incidental. The real issue is the emotional context surrounding her rejection of my attempts to be affectionate, and her not expressing love in a way that spells desire or want in a way I would expect from the love of my life. I know the idea behind the "love languages", and we took the test and unsurprisingly had very different results. That's something I would explore more. I also realize that I may have played a part somehow, though she says that she's "always been happy" with the way I express love (with the exception of a few hints for gifts that I didn't pick up on).

I also agree that I need to look into the legal aspects of this. My counselor has recommended the same. So far our separation has involved very little in terms of legal formalism, because we are still civil and for example the division of material goods was effortless.

Labeling her desire to move back to the US a "threat" is definitely my bias. However, every time the subject comes up it is always in anger on her part. I understand her motivations, and to be honest I would probably do the same in her shoes. If we're not together then she has no reason to be here, when her friends and family and support are largely in the US. What I do take issue with is an inability to admit or recognize that I'm a very important part of our daughter's life (yes, our). I don't think it would be productive to trap my wife here against her will via a legal battle, and moving back to the US is something I would be willing to do should that be necessary. Yes it would involve sacrifice, but it's not comparable to being without my daughter.

Stopping here for the moment, more coming...
posted by quoth_the_raven at 6:21 PM on April 24, 2012


More details:

My wife and I have had four consecutive sessions of couples counseling - a couple months ago. This was at a time when my fears about the consequences of not reconciling were at their peak. I admit that I was mostly motivated by those fears. By the second session I had agreed to put the ring back on, to address a medical issue that had always bothered her (a mild case of toenail fungus to keep this in perspective), and to begin to "court" her again starting with a date involving a home made dinner at my place. I also began to resolve to break up with my girlfriend.

I hadn't seen my individual counselor in a while, but when I did and told her about this she immediately recognized my motivations, and asked what my wife was doing for her part. I said "nothing - she doesn't need to do anything, because I'm the one who hurt her by leaving". Now bear in mind that my counselor has worked with my extensively on my issues of guilt and self-deprecation. Obviously she didn't think this was a healthy thing for me to say, and she suggested that I examine my actions and motivations more closely, and also to make sure I was comfortable with the amount of quid-pro-quo from my wife. Well I did, and I wasn't. My wife has never admitted any complicity in the events leading to our separation, saying that it's all about my issues. I admit there is a lot of truth to this, but I don't believe it's that one sided.

The last two sessions of counseling were less fruitful, and I began to feel like no matter how much change I made, my wife would never admit that "working on our marriage" (as she insisted we do) involve any change on her part. So we haven't been back since.

It was also around this time that I broke up with my girlfriend. It didn't stick though. After I explained myself, she also recognized that I was primarily motivated by fear - and not even fully rational fear at that. She was utterly heartbroken, but still managed to have enough wits to talk me through my fears, one at a time. She made me see that I was primarily motivated by fear, guilt, and a sense of duty rather than a strong sense of purpose and desires. I told her she was right, and we went on, though things were pretty tough from then on as you can imagine.

If I break up with her again, it will have to stick. And I will have to ease back into a relationship with my wife again, slowly, deliberately, and with genuine intent. I would not want to move back in with her too soon, because as DarlingBri and blisterlips have said, it could really mess up our daughter if things went south soon after.

I am undecided on the issue of full disclosure. And I know this is always a controversial issue. Given how tenuous things are at the moment, accompanying the news of "I've been seeing someone else" with "I love you and miss you and want to be with you again" would probably just be seen as adding insult to injury (to say the least). It would be far less damaging to everyone if I simply told her "I'm not in love any more and don't think it will work." The end result would be the same (divorce), but my daughter wouldn't have to be parented by a mother seething with anger. So at this point, reconciliation and full disclosure seem mutually exclusive.

I know that I have issues with self delusion and rationalization. Am I really just fooling myself to think that I can forgive myself for not disclosing the full truth, and reconcile with her as if nothing ever happened? Is honesty REALLY always the best policy? Mira Kirshenbaum says "Honesty is great, but it's an abstract moral principle.... The higher moral principle, I believe, is not hurting people." I think it's applicable in this case. The counter argument is that I have been cheating, and cheaters never change, and my wife should be prepared for this. However, if I honor my vows then I live up to her image of me - and the truth renders the lack of disclosure moot.


posted by quoth_the_raven at 8:35 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm really hoping you did not have toe fungus for 10 years, because that IS gross.

I don't feel like it's "fair" to be mad at your wife for not doing more when it sounds like you're still being super passive and haven't said exactly what it is you want her to do.
posted by spunweb at 9:59 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Doesn't sound loveless to me--more like there are some differences and disconnects when it comes to intimacy. These are hard and hurtful but VERY common, and can be surmounted. Doesn't sound like an atmosphere of strife and dysfunction, which is what is really horrible for kids. Of course ideally you model a loving, affectionate, respectful and also functional relationship with your kid--sounds like the marriage in question has at least been functional, and believe me even that level of relationship is something to be valued.

I think whether your decision to return to your wife will be successful depends on two things:

1. Whether you are one of the people for whom the above quote from Sublimity rings true.

And/or

2. If you can successfully work with your wife on increasing the general level of intimacy, and specifically physical intimacy.

On point 1. above: I have known people who lead fairly contented lives in relationships that can be described as alliances based on mutual interest. The German word “Nutzgemeinschaft”, roughly translatable as “community of benefits/convenience”, describes them quite well. Mostly, they exist for the benefit of the children involved (there are other reasons, too, but not relevant here). And the children from such families are doing great – provided that the parents involved are able to be genuinely contented with this kind of arrangement.

My guesses as to what leads to contentment in these scenarios: relatively low sex-drives for both people, or, where these are not balanced, discreet outlets for the more physically interested partner and an implied acceptance on the part of the low-drive partner. Secondly, a fairly low romantic drive, so to speak, or a fairly no-nonsense approach to life and its issues, or not that much imagination, certainly none of the kind which projects alternatives to the discomforts or disappointments of existence, or else, a reliable outlet for the sublimation of this drive which is not other people. As a third point – genuine and complete mutual dedication to the object of their agreement. These people are pretty much parents above everything else and will drop every single personal indulgence and most personal needs for the child/children. Essentially, they completely live vicariously through their children and dissolve in the role of martyrs to their children’s needs, lives, desires – without for a second feeling like they are martyrs. A forth possibility: each partner’s “human connection” needs are covered by a wide range of people (much more so than is advisable for any relationship anyway) or within a wide range of activities and interests. Fifth, a religious or secular worldview/ framework which supports such partnerships - but in order for this to work long-term, you need to be a true believer with full conviction, not just the desire to persuade yourself of things.

There are probably others, but these are the ones I can think of. Children coming from such environments might have lower intimacy needs or expectations in intimate, romantic relationships (and might be lacking some skills), but this seems to be hugely compensated for by growing up feeling loved, respected, maybe having a variety of wonderful alternative relationships modelled around them (caveat – increased risk to grow up feeling slightly entitled and unaware of the needs of others if point 3. above holds).

Having presented the positives, now the negatives: more often than not, these relationships are between two avoidant partners, or one avoidant and one anxious partner (there was a post on Metafilter of AskMe a few days ago, I think, with a link to an article discussing the problems attendant to such relationships. The way I interpret your description of yourself and your wife, your relationship is avoidant/anxious. Maybe someone else remembers the link – I think you might find it useful). The biggest difference between these relationships and the ones above is that people here are not contented – they want, but can’t, leading to frustration, resentment, loneliness. These relationship are also, frequently, a devastating environment for children – which makes sense. There is a continuous bid for control and power, people who in terms of intimacy have never fully grown into their own, tensions, unhappiness, hypocrisy galore, boundaries frequently shift for no apparent reason, passive-aggressiveness, outright aggressiveness, as a consequence of people not knowing how to stand up for themselves, how to prioritize, what the hierarchy of priorities is/should be in the first place etc. And if this is not precarious enough in and of itself, what is then supremely harmful is the continuation of this pattern AFTER an attempt to break it and modify it has been made (and I can totally see the point other posters make above – it doesn’t even matter so much if the failed attempt brings the parents back together or not). It doesn’t take all that much imagination to see what this communicates to a child: resignation is the only realistic avenue, you are at the mercy of impersonal forces (this especially because most people are decent, good, lovable people despite their less than stellar romantic relationship/partnership), stay dissatisfied or perish, you should not strive for improvement in this most important aspect of life etc.

If you think that you are more likely to be in the latter group above, it will be crucial for both of you to put in a lot of work into the relationship – serious work on both your part with a professional. Otherwise my fear is that you are kidding yourself re. what your return to your wife is going to achieve. The two main dangers I see are as follows:

1. You will remain unfulfilled, but now you have a taste of what freedom is like. After an initial period of being pleased with your decision the old trouble will rear its head, and your resentment will return, magnified, leading to the control - avoidance – frustration - passive-aggressiveness cycle you describe in your post.

No matter how committed you might be to a discourse of sacrifice and self-denial, this will not replace the freely given full-force affirmation of your commitment. And this is absolutely no crime. Do not be seduced by what you think you SHOULD be, or feel, or do. When it comes to long-term commitment, you HAVE to have at least a modicum of instinctive agreement, as it were, with what you judge to be right. I agree with those who say that this kind of internal coherence and consonance is important for your little girl.

For some people, reenka’s recommended route:

I personally will tell you that anyone can live without sex, and love, and y'know, emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Lots of people do. It's not easy as such, but... well, if you want to do it, it's not really that hard.


is hard, but doable. For others, it is akin to self-mutilations. Confession: I am one of the latter (having been in a very long-term relationship with problems similar to the one you describe). And yes, moment to moment it wasn’t so hard – until the next explosion. But I mostly was quite able to live on months on end internally numb, just sort of skimming the surface of my life. Until it finally dawned on me that I was not achieving what was ostensibly the reason for me carrying on in this way. In fact, I was much closer once I separated – but I had to work hard on self-discipline, self-directing, self-motivating, thinking things through thoroughly rather than rely on them naturally coming from the pre-prescribed relationship pattern I had gotten caught up in, I had to figure out realistic ways of achieving what I hoped to be given on a platter within my relationship. In your case, the hard work (which is in addition to the relationship hard work) can come within or without the relationship: how to figure out my child’s needs and act upon them whilst allowing as little self-interest as possible to creep in by the back door. This might include recognizing that having well-balanced and contented parents is important for a child, without being seduced into thinking that this gives carte blanche to selfishness, etc.

2. Without this being anybody’s fault and without casting aspersions on anybody’s motives – there is the risk that you become hostage to your wife’s life-plans, her problems and to how she proposes to deal with them. This worries me especially since you explain major problems in your relationship, which must have become apparent fairly early on, as stemming from her history of abuse, and the fact that neither of you addressed it and the problems it created for the two of you. It also seems clear that she is not discontent with the status quo prior to your break-up. I feel for your wife, and don’t want to be insensitive to what she went through, her anguish and the reverberations her history unavoidably still have. But at the same time, these issues cannot remain taboo if they have such great impact on her life, your life, the life the two of you lead together, your daughter.

On the other hand, you also cannot be so self-effacing as this

I felt the situation was irretrievable, and that she would never change - and I had no right to expect her to change if she didn’t want to.

suggests. You have a right to explain your needs, to ask for her to take them into account. You are so afraid of trespassing that you are doing the very thing you are afraid of – you are deciding for her that she won’t respond to you, before you even let her know that there is a serious problem which impacts your ability to be fully present in the relationship. She needs to know this – your play your part by informing her and working with her to find solutions, rather than presenting her with the results of your own defeatism. Anyway, sounds like you recongnize this, so I won’t flog this dead horse.

I do have hopes, both for your relationship and for your own happiness. But, as others have said, you have to attack the problem realistically, as an equal partner in a process of self-discovery and decision-making which could go either way.

You will notice I said nothing about the girlfriend. This is because, sadly for her, I do think you need to do this before you can become a good partner for her, or your wife, or anyone else.
posted by miorita at 10:16 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Dude.

"I also agree that I need to look into the legal aspects of this. My counselor has recommended the same."

-But you have not done so.

"I hadn't seen my individual counselor in a while, but when I did and told her about this she immediately recognized my motivations, and asked what my wife was doing for her part. I said "nothing - she doesn't need to do anything, because I'm the one who hurt her by leaving". Now bear in mind that my counselor has worked with my extensively on my issues of guilt and self-deprecation. Obviously she didn't think this was a healthy thing for me to say, and she suggested that I examine my actions and motivations more closely, and also to make sure I was comfortable with the amount of quid-pro-quo from my wife. Well I did, and I wasn't. My wife has never admitted any complicity in the events leading to our separation, saying that it's all about my issues. I admit there is a lot of truth to this, but I don't believe it's that one sided."

-So far, it does sound glaringly that one-sided.

"It was also around this time that I broke up with my girlfriend. It didn't stick though. After I explained myself, she also recognized that I was primarily motivated by fear - and not even fully rational fear at that. She was utterly heartbroken, but still managed to have enough wits to talk me through my fears, one at a time. She made me see that I was primarily motivated by fear, guilt, and a sense of duty rather than a strong sense of purpose and desires. I told her she was right, and we went on, though things were pretty tough from then on as you can imagine."

- Yes. Break up with her no matter what - she's too accommodating of your drama - you are being unfair to her.

----

This won't turn out well, and it seems you know that already, but you're committed to making a mess of things anyway (read your updates.) Eh. Have at it.

----

The fact that you won't speak to a lawyer and instead depended on your girlfriend for sanity speaks VOLUMES about where you are at right now.

I know you think you are being "noble." You are wrong. The noble thing is to stop relying on therapists you ignore, a woman you are using to fill in the holes, and AskMe (where you cherry-pick your answers to reinforce the drama-laden direction you selfishly want to follow) and just get yourself to a LAWYER already, so you have concrete facts (not speculations and hope!) to solve this problem in the best way possible for everyone involved.

You are betting against the inevitable. Everyone's well-being is at stake. Stop that. Just go find out your rights and obligations. Then you can make an informed choice.
posted by jbenben at 10:36 PM on April 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


jbenben is so smart -- seriously read over what zhe's saying because the post above highlights that you're all mad at your wife for not putting more in, but you yourself are not doing the homework your therapist gave you (break up with the girlfriend, talk to a lawyer, be more upfront about your needs, etc).
posted by spunweb at 11:05 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Whoops!

I meant it seems glaringly one-sided towards basic incompatibility - not that your wife is only to blame, or that you are.

Your wife is driving this car right now because you won't stand up for yourself, or your equal rights as a parent.

In this respect, you are making your wife "the bad guy", even with qualifiers about her past.

You don't get to abdicate your agency, or claim sainthood, over her issues.

Being "wishy-washy" doesn't make you noble, "the good guy," or even neutral.

You are abdicating your responsibilities here in a lot of ways.

Get proactive. Make your decisions based on your own research, not via your gf, wife, or strangers' opinions on the internet.
posted by jbenben at 11:09 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Am I really just fooling myself to think that I can forgive myself for not disclosing the full truth, and reconcile with her as if nothing ever happened?

You may be fooling yourself if you think your girlfriend will just quietly go along with your gameplan, and preserve your secret.

If you break up with her, and go back to your wife, your girlfriend suddenly has zero incentive to play nice. As caring and lovely as she may be, you really don't know what she will do. She's shown herself capable of entering into, and maintaining, a clandestine affair; she's shown herself capable of not respecting your decision to end things, and choosing instead to talk you out of your decision. (You might ascribe kindly, good-hearted motives to her doing the latter, but from the outside looking in, it strikes me as rather mercenary behavior.)

(This of course is leaving aside the ethical considerations of lying to your wife. These are so obvious to me that I'm at a loss to explain them.)
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:41 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, I kinda feel like you should think about how much control you have here, even as you describe yourself so passively. By not deciding, you:

1. get a secret girlfriend
2. the relationship you want with your daughter,
3. your wife stays here, waiting on your call.

By actually making a decision, you

1. may or may not lose the secret girlfriend
2. will have to navigate a new relationship with your daughter involving a shifting role for you as a dad that WILL involve you contacting a lawyer, negotiating explicit parental roles, etc
3. your wife will move on with her life
posted by spunweb at 12:58 AM on April 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't see you as operating on the basis of fear; you sound like you want to control. You are willing to go back to your wife and lie to her in a fundamental way in order to control what she does. You have been stringing your girlfriend along in order to keep her as a possible second relationship (and either you have mischaracterised her or she sounds like a pretty unhealthy person). You stopped couple's counselling after four (!?) sessions because you could not control the outcome to be what you wanted. You pick and chose which professional advice to follow based on what is best for your personal, immediate needs, regardless of who you hurt.

I feel very sorry for your wife and daughter that you are acting out issues that have nothing to do with them in ways that are fundamentally screwing up their lives.
posted by saucysault at 1:03 AM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


I strongly agree with jbenben and spunweb. You're not leading an honest life at the moment, and you're indecisive because you like receiving attention from two women without being fully committed to either, which is a disservice to both. If you and your wife didn't explicitly agree to being open to seeing other people while separated, you're cheating. That's not an open relationship--you're breaking the sacred contract between life partners.

You're using your girlfriend as a rebound/emotional airbag rather than as a real partner, and that's not cool. You're Mr. Unavailable right now.

You need to separate your daughter from your relationship issues instead of using her as a reason to to manipulate your wife. Do you genuinely want to be back with your wife because she's the best partner for you, or do you want more control over her life and your daughter's life? If you decide to reconcile with her (because she is the best partner for you, of course), it is your duty to tell her about your girlfriend, because not doing so will make you a lying and cheating dad. Do you want to be that kind of dad for your daughter? Don't you want more integrity? It's the kind of thing that she may never forgive you for.

My recommendation:
(1) Get to a lawyer and find out about your parental rights. Then figure out how you can fit into your daughter's life.
(2) Apologize to your girlfriend and break up with her. Don't date your wife either. Spend the next six months of your life reflecting and working on your issues. Get life advice from someone you're not romantically involved with.
(3) After six months (or however long it takes for you to be available for a mutually fulfilling not-secret legitimate relationship), you decide whether you want to reconcile with your wife, or divorce and move on.

End the drama. Even if you think that you're hiding it from your daughter, she'll find out sooner or later. Do the right thing, be an honest dad for her.
posted by Hawk V at 2:46 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Echoing saucysault's comment--please, have empathy for the people in your life. Maximizing your gains at the expense of other people's emotional well-being is destructive and devalues them the longer you put them in the situation. If you care enough about these people in your life, you would end the drama even if it meant you don't end up being with any of these women. If the only way you could be with these women is through lying, omission, or emotional games--you're not likely going to maintain a healthy relationship.
posted by Hawk V at 2:54 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


quoth_the_raven: "reconciliation and full disclosure seem mutually exclusive"

If that's really the case and not you just rationalising your way out of telling your wife (which would be very hard indeed and I wouldn't blame you for trying to avoid it), then there's probably no hope for a long-term reconciliation, is there? Do you really think you can keep this a secret for the rest of your lives? Because that's the bet you would be making. If the other relationship is an absolute, non-negotiable deal-breaker for your wife and you know that, you knew when you started the other relationship that you were closing the door on your marriage forever. If that's the case, you don't have so many decisions to make - get a lawyer, negotiate the best outcome for your daughter and move on.
posted by dg at 2:57 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks again everyone. Clearly I have a lot of difficult work ahead, and some ground-falling-out-from-under-me moments.

First things first. As I said in my original post, I had intended to break up with my girlfriend, and now I must follow through on that. It was obvious to me that it was unfair to her before I wrote, and now it's indisputable.

It's going to be a rough night.
posted by quoth_the_raven at 3:42 PM on April 25, 2012


I don't envy you at all, acting on hard decisions. But the authentic relationships you gain, and the role modeling you provide for your daughter, in living with honesty and integrity have rewards beyond anything you can imagine now in your pain. I hope the four of you come through this wiser and stronger.
posted by saucysault at 4:03 PM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


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