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I’m looking for advice on how to handle an unexpected separation from my husband.
April 27, 2012 6:46 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for advice on how to handle an unexpected separation from my husband.

Some background: we have been together for nearly thirteen years and married for nearly nine. We’re both in our early 30s. For the past six years, my husband has been in a PhD program in a science field. I work outside academia in a field that I enjoy, but I have put off my own graduate school plans to accommodate his doctorate. My job is interesting but highly stressful, and--due to my geographic tether and the peculiarities of my industry--I haven’t been able to switch to another position. Until recently, my husband thought he would be graduating this year and starting a postdoc or a teaching position, but he unexpectedly struck out in the job market and will be staying in his program for a seventh year. I have been admitted to the top graduate program in my field, but I have deferred for a year to resolve this separation.

One night last November, I came home from work, and my husband blindsided me by saying that he wants to end our marriage. This announcement happened to occur on the night before I was scheduled to fly to another state to visit my preferred graduate program (the one that I will be attending next year). I told him that I wanted to stay together, and while I was away, he sent me an email saying that he loved me and he wanted to work things out. But, when I returned, he was extremely cold to me. For the next month, he would barely speak to me at all. My husband is a *very* quiet person to begin with, but this was extreme even for him. In mid-December, I felt that I couldn’t take this behavior anymore, and I asked him to stay somewhere else for a few days until things cooled down. He promptly went out and signed a six-month lease.

We have been living apart physically for the past four months. Between mid-January and the end of March, we were going on dates a couple times each week, and I thought things were going well. He seemed happy to see me every time we met up, and we had fun. I tried to do my best to support him and also take care of myself. It was during this time that he realized that he would not be getting a job this year, and I tried to be there for him emotionally and practically. He seemed to be receptive and appreciative. Then, in late March, everything went off a cliff again: he told me suddenly that he doesn’t want to see me anymore. Coincidentally or not, this happened the day after I was admitted to my own graduate program.

My husband says that he wants to leave because I am a fundamentally mean, angry person who has been “abusing” him for years. I think his accusations of abuse are completely unfounded, though he’s right that I can lose my temper at times and say ugly things, including occasional resentment-fueled comments about the fact that his career prospects remain uncertain and that I have been the primary breadwinner and saver for much of our married lives. Such fights probably happened about twice per year on average. Over time, I started to become worried that his career would steamroll mine. He has also *never* said thank you for all the compromises and sacrifices I have made for him. Every time we have fought, I have felt terrible afterwards and apologized, but it seems that he has hung on to each and every one of these comments. Also, the stress of funding our household via a very demanding job started to overwhelm me, and in the past year I became depressed and probably sometimes difficult to live with, though I am now getting help for my depression. Much of my resentment and anger has also stemmed from my husband’s extremely quiet personality. Often, if I don’t talk to him, there is no conversation. He also often fails to talk to my friends and coworkers when we go out, which I find stressful and embarrassing. So, because his type of hurtful behavior is passive, he can’t see that it can be just as provoking and cruel. A few weeks ago, my husband said that he has “become interested in”--though he swears not involved with--one of his classmates because she “gives him hope that he can meet someone who is always nice to him.”

I feel like my husband turned on me overnight. Despite the problems I have described, I thought our marriage was fundamentally stable and loving. I generally like that my husband is a quiet and cerebral person because he balances out my extraversion. He seems to think that abandoning me will solve all of his problems, and he doesn’t see that my occasional anger towards him is not groundless. He also can’t see why I am hurt that he didn’t talk to me about his unhappiness before violently disrupting our marriage--particularly because, given that he thought he would get a job this year, he waited until nearly the last possible moment to speak up, all while accepting money from me every month in the form of bills that I pay. And I can’t help but think that he is somehow threatened by my professional success, given the timing of his announcements and the fact that he can’t even be polite about my hard-won graduate program admission. Right now, we are living apart, but he has not initiated legal separation (and I don’t want to). I think he doesn’t want to do anything that is at all difficult or unpleasant. He won’t speak to me or respond to my emails unless they are solely about logistical issues. I have suggested therapy, but he won’t hear of it.

Given that this is a 13-year relationship that has been largely happy, I am not ready to give up and DTMFA after a few months of profoundly hurtful behavior. Until now, my husband has generally been a kind and fair person, and I’m hoping that this is a temporary crisis that he and I can both ride out.

So, my principal question:

•Has anyone been in a long-term marriage or relationship where your spouse went through a crisis of personality? If so, how did you handle it?

Also:
• How can I address his apparent anxiety about our respective career situations? To be clear, I don’t think he is anticipating a long-term logistical problem. Once I am done with my degree (which will take much less time to complete than his PhD), I should be able to find work virtually anywhere in the country that his career might take us. Prior to the separation, I thought the worst-case scenario would be that we would have to live apart during my academic year.
• Does anyone have ideas for ways that I can convince him to go to counseling? I think part of why he won’t go is that dealing with me means dealing with himself, and that might feel too scary and difficult for him right now.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Reading your question, I see a lot of clues that there are a ton of conflicts that you're sort of barely aware of. Your husband's allegation (fair or not) that you've been "abusing" him for years vs. your characterization of your marriage as "stable and loving" means that your first problem is to acknowledge that there's a problem you both have to work on together. If you view it all as his "crisis of personality" and "his apparent anxiety," and try to get him to come to the table in an effort to fix him and not deal with your own issues, no, he's not going to go in for marriage counseling, which it sounds like you both badly need.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:59 AM on April 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm sorry this has happened to you. There is only one thing in your post that I feel able to comment on, and that's where you say that you were kind of blindsided by this, that he changed suddenly and rejected you without you seeing it coming. You seem to be thinking this means it might be a weird personality change he will get over.

My parents divorced a few years ago. My mother would tell it the way you do. Overnight my father said he didn't want to be married to her anymore; she didn't see it coming; they had had fights, but she didn't think it was serious. He would say the whole thing had been building up for years. (I also saw it that way). Like you and your husband, my mother is an extrovert and my father very introverted. I think he expected she would read his behaviour and realise he was unhappy. He still thinks she must have known. I think she thought he would talk to her if there was a problem.

I wonder if there's the same sort of disconnect between your husband's understanding of your situation and your own.
posted by lollusc at 6:59 AM on April 27, 2012 [41 favorites]


Basically your whole screed is "he did this, he's like that, he doesn't do this, he hasn't done that."

a) it doesn't seem you're taking responsibility for your part
b) it doesn't seem like you like him very much, let alone love him

I don't know if you're abusive or not, but HE feels your behavior is unacceptable, and for the marriage to work, you have to see that too. If you do want to continue in the marriage, you're going to have to come to him hat in hand.

Do you want to be "right" or do you want to be together? is the choice you have to make.
posted by desjardins at 7:02 AM on April 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


He is interested in someone else.

Go do your own thing and let him figure things out. And let him support himself while he does it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:02 AM on April 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


also, the career stuff is just a red herring. even if you got all of that solved, he's still going to be a quiet person and you're still going to have a temper. people don't fundamentally change after about age 25. they can only learn to curb their base responses, but they will still exist.
posted by desjardins at 7:04 AM on April 27, 2012


"He won’t speak to me or respond to my emails unless they are solely about logistical issues. I have suggested therapy, but he won’t hear of it."

You two are done. I know, it sucks. He has no interest right now in salvaging this marriage, and despite what you say about it being "largely happy," your comments about the history of the relationship imply otherwise.

"Does anyone have ideas for ways that I can convince him to go to counseling"

If I was in a relationship with a person I loved but still had concerns about my career vs. theirs and other issues that I felt an external opinion would help, then I'd go to counseling. No one would have to "convince" me.

"He has also *never* said thank you for all the compromises and sacrifices I have made for him."

Weeelll...this isn't how a healthy relationship should work. There should be a balance of these things - which you two don't have.

I'm sorry that you're going through this, but I don't think it's an identity crisis on his part.
posted by HopperFan at 7:06 AM on April 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


You resent him and are angry/stressed/embarrassed by the quiet personality he has always had. You suspect he is using you for money. You say ugly things to him. He thinks that you are "a fundamentally mean, angry person" and he feels he has been abused by you. He is not living with or speaking to you and will not consider therapy. You believe that this is only a short-term "crisis of personality" that is making him unfair and unkind toward you, rather than believing that he feels how he says he does.

Your marriage is over, and it sounds like that is the best thing possible for you both. I'm sorry.
posted by argonauta at 7:11 AM on April 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry, it is tough situation. First, I would go to a lawyer alone to find out the legal ramifications of the choices you have. Then, since he is so passive, book a couple's couselling session and let him know when it is. If he doesn't show up at least you will have someone to talk over your options with. Keep living your life for you, if paying his bills is causing you resentment then stop paying them (after getting legal advice of course)674150
.
posted by saucysault at 7:18 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


•Has anyone been in a long-term marriage or relationship where your spouse went through a crisis of personality? If so, how did you handle it?

He's not going through a crisis of personality. This is his personality. He doesn't like/ love you anymore and it's so overwhelming that he can't even be polite or pleasant about it. He shows no desire to reconcile or go to counseling. He is no longer your spouse in any meaningful way. He was probably faking it for a while for the money--this is how little care he currently has for you.


• How can I address his apparent anxiety about our respective career situations?

You can't. He wants nothing to do with you and does not want you to address his concerns.

• Does anyone have ideas for ways that I can convince him to go to counseling? I think part of why he won’t go is that dealing with me means dealing with himself, and that might feel too scary and difficult for him right now.

He doesn't want to go because he is no longer interested in being married to you. You can't change that.

You need to get a lawyer RIGHT NOW and start looking after yourself. LAWYER. Immediately.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:22 AM on April 27, 2012 [34 favorites]


Also, that was harsh, but I am not trying to insult or hurt you--he should have been a million times more considerate and caring but I see you keep putting energy, time, effort into him and into this marriage that you should be putting towards your new graduate program and your successful future and it makes me sad for you. You need to take care of yourself. It is going to take time to re-learn how to be alone and prioritize yourself, but you need to do it.

Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay is great for situations like this but I can already tell you what it will say--he has already taken a concrete step out of the relationship by signing that lease. Your relationship is functionally over.

(This might all be about his injured masculinity or some such thing but you will notice that his masculinity was not so injured that he refused your room and board. Think about that one for a while if it helps you to be angry.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:27 AM on April 27, 2012 [24 favorites]


Does anyone have ideas for ways that I can convince him to go to counseling?

I think a good approach would be to start seeing your own therapist and work on examining your feelings, attitude toward the marriage, and actions within the marriage (including your anger and those comments). Then, after a few sessions tell your husband something like, "I've been seeing a therapist for a couple months and I've learned ABC about myself. I'd like for us to try counseling together. Would you be willing to go with me?"

He might still not go for it, but I think talking about your own experience in therapy and then inviting him to join you would be a bit less threatening than insisting on marriage counseling immediately. I also think that going on your own first would help to clarify exactly what you'd like to try to do in therapy with him, which could help you to communicate with him about it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:28 AM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think your angry outbursts have been much more deeply hurtful to him than you realize. It's easy for you to let it blow over, harder for the target. You say you have justification for being mad, but it is possible to be mad and not yell or have outbursts, so any justification is not really the point here.

At the same time, I strongly suspect that the real motivator here is another woman. Sorry.
posted by yarly at 7:32 AM on April 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I have a friend who went through something very similar, especially the speech about how their relationship had always been unhappy, and that she was abusive. She thought he was having a mid-life crisis so she decided to wait it out. They lived together for almost two years with him barely unable to give her a civil hello. She invited him to couples counseling - he refused. She went to therapy and worked on herself - he did nothing. She was patient while he dated another woman. She kept hoping he's return to the person she thought she'd married.

Eventually, after two years of this limbo, he went behind her back about a few things and she (finally) threw him out. Now, of course, she's having to handle all the details of the divorce because he's still as passive and non-engaged as ever.

I know there's advice out there telling women to just be patient and not display any needs, and then your mid-life crisis husband will eventually come back to you, but I think it's a bad bet for almost everyone, and you in particular.

You have a new life to move on to - don't let past investment in this relationship trick you into waiting in a limbo that gains you nothing.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:54 AM on April 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


This article is a good story about how a man suffered through a midlife crisis, and how his wife waited it out.
posted by Melismata at 7:57 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Listen to what he is actually saying rather than dismissing his behavior as a "crisis in personality." He doesn't think that you two are compatible anymore, and he has moved out, he has stopped talking to you, and he wants to pursue a relationship with someone else. There is no DTMFA because he's already dumped you. I think respecting that decision and ending the marriage before things get really contentious is the most humane thing for everyone involved.
posted by moammargaret at 8:02 AM on April 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


I think there are some interesting statement here that indicate a disconnect (either in your thinking, your assessment of the relationship, or between the two of you):

I think his accusations of abuse are completely unfounded, though he’s right that I can lose my temper at times and say ugly things.

His claims are unfounded, but you say ugly things.
What kind of ugly things? What comes out of your mouth during bouts of temper?
It may be possible that he is holding onto brief moments of anger and conflict for too long, but I would also point out that in the good relationships I know, even in fights and heated/uncomfortable/sad moments, no one says ugly things to each other. Ever. No name-calling, no bitter flingings of resentment, nothing below the belt.

Much of my resentment and anger has also stemmed from my husband’s extremely quiet personality.

It's quite possible that there is a real conflict here between your personality types, and I can see how you might find that stressful or disappointing, but I think it's interesting that you feel anger and resentment about a facet of his personality, which is just how he is and has nothing to do with you or how he feels about you.

I thought our marriage was fundamentally stable and loving.

But he thought you were being abusive. Even if we are going to operate under the assumption that what he said was hyperbolic, it seems obvious that you guys are not on the same page, and probably haven't been in a while.

Has anyone been in a long-term marriage or relationship where your spouse went through a crisis of personality?

Honestly, this sounds hugely dismissive of his concerns, and contemptuous of him.


So, you know, I think there may be lots of stuff going on here, and I think you have a right to be unsatisfied with the working arrangement that you guys have had, and there might be more going on here than meets the eye, but based on what you've written here: either you don't understand what's really been going on in your relationship (including your behavior in it) or you don't want to admit to things you've done that might have helped lead your marriage to this point.

It's also totally possible that the way you've phrased things has led me to misunderstand what's going on, but that could also be part of the problem, maybe. How have you guys been communicating? How is it that you've been resentful for so long, dropped into a deep depression, without things changing in some way? Did you bring this up to him, only to have him say, eff you, things can't change, there's nothing I can do?. Or: did you not bring this up at all?

I guess, all I can say is: if you want him to go to counseling, you need to actually listen and be open to him, as opposed to saying things like I think part of why he won’t go is that dealing with me means dealing with himself, and that might feel too scary and difficult for him right now, because you sound closed-off and/or contemptuous, which is maybe why he doesn't even want to try, in the first place.

posted by vivid postcard at 8:08 AM on April 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Or what randomkeystrike said, but better and more efficiently...
posted by vivid postcard at 8:09 AM on April 27, 2012


When I was reading your question and read that he quickly signed a lease, I thought 'he's dating someone'. Then you mentioned a classmate. This might be hard to hear (and inaccurate since I know neither of you) but it doesn't sound like he wants to work on the relationship right now. Maybe his ego was crushed by the no job issue and the other person is 'making him feel better'. This may or may not be temporary- I would go to your grad program and plan to move on with your life. Otherwise even more resentment will set in.
posted by bquarters at 8:27 AM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It sounds like the two of you have been living in two very different marriages for a while now. And it also sounds too far gone for a reconciliation.

You need to support yourself (counseling, whether or not he goes with you) and also protect yourself (lawyer, for advice, even if you are not ready to consider divorce).

It may sound selfish, but you need to stop concerning yourself with what his issues might be. For one thing, you may be way off base, and for another, they're distracting you from yours. And yours are the ones you can actually do something about.
posted by expialidocious at 8:29 AM on April 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think a midlife crisis is a bit premature, considering that they have been together since they were twenty or so and he has basically spent all that time in the arrested adolescent phase of school while she has been in the "grown-up" world for a long time. He is growing up (moving into his own apartment, pursing another woman who is "nice" to him - not really an adult critera for a relationship, maybe getting a job a year down the road) just not in the way a spouse should be. They married young and he is probably used to thinking of his wife as more of a parent than a partner; I see a lot about how she has been meeting his needs for years but nothing about how he has contributed to this being a partnership between adults.
posted by saucysault at 8:30 AM on April 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


My husband says that he wants to leave because I am a fundamentally mean, angry person who has been “abusing” him for years. I think his accusations of abuse are completely unfounded, though he’s right that I can lose my temper at times and say ugly things, including occasional resentment-fueled comments about the fact that his career prospects remain uncertain and that I have been the primary breadwinner and saver for much of our married lives.

I think this can be abusive. If someone came in here, and said that their SO loses their temper and says nasty things to them, including belittling their job and earning power, yea, you can rest assured that a good chunk of MeFi would tell that person to leave. Add that into the general dismissive tone you have with some of his communications that you mention, I can see why your husband may think you are angry & mean. And this is from a relatively short communication that you came up with (i.e., presumably puts you in a good light).

Maybe you should try counseling on your own? If he really thinks the issue is you, heading off to counseling disregarding what he does may be a step to show him that you really want to work on this relationship, that you recognise there are areas where you can improve, and you are taking steps to make things better.
posted by kellyblah at 8:43 AM on April 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


•Has anyone been in a long-term marriage or relationship where your spouse went through a crisis of personality? If so, how did you handle it?

Yes. I left him and moved on, and am much happier for it. Of course, it wasn't that simple, but the relationship could not be fixed. We weren ot married, but it was a similar situation with a tension between school and career and expectations and whatnot.

Your relationship with your husband cannot be fixed by you, anything you do, or you trying to convince him to do anything. It can only be fixed by both of you taking steps towards reconcilliation. The two of you have been living in a different marriage for a long time now, one that he is demonstrating little interest in maintaining or strengthening for the better. There's resentment on both sides and your lives are going in different directions. He is romantically interested in someone else who he sees regularly. He won't talk to you. I understand that you don't want to just "give up" after so many years together, but I'm not sure I understand why. Or why you are still operating under the same mode of action which is clearly not working anymore, which is you taking charge of the situation.

Don't take his failure to file for separation as a sign of hope; rather, take it as a measure of his passiveness.
posted by sm1tten at 8:47 AM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Given that he's not talking to you, it'll be impossible to convince him to go to counseling or address his anxiety right now. I agree with others above that the best thing you can do right now is give him space and get therapy yourself. Perhaps if you let him know after a few months that you've been doing therapy, learned a lot, and hope he'd join you, that would help convince him and address his anxiety. In the meantime you'll have helped Yourself deal with all of this, and that's all you can really do for now.

In summary: Help yourself. It may help your relationship, but it will certainly help You. And you're the only one you can be Sure that you can help.
posted by ldthomps at 8:49 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry to hear about your struggles; it looks like you were the starter wife who is going to be replaced once your papers go through. I can tell you that counseling doesn't do anything if the guy isn't the one interested in saving a relationship/marriage. He's lost interest in you and your best bet is to move on by:
1. Hiring a good lawyer who will ensure you get some of his future income.
2. Taking pictures of everything in your house before packing and after packing.
3. Secretly recording instances where he's being neglectful either in print or audio. (I recommend the diary + tape recorder approach.)
4. Getting your hands on as many receipts, tuition statements, and income reports that you can.
5. Starting to label your things well before he claims them as his own.
posted by lotusmish at 8:50 AM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Who is paying for his rent at this new place?)

To be honest, things are not looking good for your relationship. He's not interested in counseling, you can't MAKE him be interested in counseling, and he's seeing someone else. I know that's not what you want to hear, so. Sorry.

The only thing I can suggest from my own experience is to try counseling for yourself. It sounds like the last 7 years in particular have been a strain on your psyche. It CAN be wicked hard to be the primary wage earner, and to be the "decider-er." Working on the depression and pent-up resentment is probably not going to save your marriage, but it'll probably really help you navigate its dissolution in a healthy way.
posted by spunweb at 8:54 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is always really tempting, with human-relations AskMe questions like these, to treat the situation like a puzzle and use the asker's unintended clues to decipher what's really going on. I was going to do the same thing myself and disagree with earlier commenters blaming you, because your husband's behaviour reminds me very strongly of other situations I've seen where other factors were behind it (in one case a breakdown, and in the other an emotionally abusive sociopath who did this sort of thing as a power trip).

But, the truth is that we have no idea what's going on with him. Maybe he's got legitimate concerns about your marriage, maybe he's lashing out because he's unhappy with other parts of your life, maybe you're abusive, maybe he's gaslighting you with the claims of abuse, maybe he's seeing someone else, maybe he's not, maybe he's behaving in a totally irrational way he'll later come to regret, maybe he's not. We have absolutely no way to understand what's really happening with him and with your marriage, and - if he won't discuss it and won't go to counselling - neither do you.

So I think the best thing for you to do would be to stop wondering about how to do X when he might be thinking/feeling Y, and start taking whatever steps are best for yourself, independently of whatever's really going on in his head. Speaking to a counsellor would help you deal with what you're thinking and feeling, whether he's interested in it or not. Concentrating on your upcoming graduate studies would be good for you, whether he's threatened by it or not. You say you're not interested in a legal separation, but going down that route yourself rather than waiting for him to do it might be good for you too.

You are in a really, really tough place, living in limbo and trying to mind-read someone who won't communicate with you. Leaving that tough place doesn't mean giving up on your marriage. Maybe it'll even be good for your marriage (if there's things you need to work out in counselling, if there's things he needs to work out without you trying to do his thinking/feeling/talking for him, if he needs the cold shock of a separation he's no longer totally in control of to make him face what he wants). Or maybe it won't, and you'll go your separate ways. You can't control the outcome of that; all you can control is what you do, and living in this indefinite limbo while he behaves in a way that is hurting you is not a good thing for you to do.
posted by Catseye at 9:12 AM on April 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think a lot of people are being too harsh on you for admitting you got angry and depressed while in this marriage. Let's review: you've been the main breadwinner for nearly ten years, for which he has NEVER thanked you? It's fine for one spouse to put aside his or her career needs for their partner's, but it's not okay for that decision to be simply expected and never acknowledged or thanked. I'm in grad school and you can bet I've redoubled my efforts to help out around the house and thank my husband for helping me out while I put go into debt. The fact that he has never acknowledged how stressful his PhD candidacy has been for your career, your priorities, your paycheck, your mental health... well, that says a lot. Of course you got depressed and angry - on top of simply dealing with the exigencies of making a career where his university was, he also patently refused to recognize how much you'd compromised your life to meet his needs.

The thing that really bolsters my opinion of this selfishness is that he has not once but TWICE blown up at you as soon as you prioritized your career over his by pursuing your own graduate degree. It makes me think that he was in denial about your own professional ambitions up until the very moment it was apparent that you'd be going on that interview and then again when you were accepted into the program.

His allegations that you've been abusive sound like he literally can't face the idea that he's lived off your money and support for ten years and is now leaving you as soon as your career has become too much of an inconvenience. He'd rather paint you as an abusive spouse than deal with the fact that he was a mooch of the highest order.

As far as the future goes, I don't think it holds a marriage for you two. You can't force him to go to counseling in order to save a marriage of which he has no interest in being part. You can't force him to see how much he's hurt you, because he doesn't seem to care. There is a current of almost sociopathic selfishness I'm getting from this guy, given how seamlessly he cut you out of his life as soon as you manifested signs of seeking a career that did not support and subsidize his own ambitions. You've given this your absolute best shot and he doesn't seem worth any of the effort. It must be so galling to know you've financed his PhD and compromised your career for his, but consider it a hard-won lesson. Find someone gracious and willing to compromise on important things, someone who will fight for your relationship when the chips are down.

I'm sorry, but your husband is just not that guy.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:19 AM on April 27, 2012 [38 favorites]


I'm very sorry to hear this. First, I think you need to have a supportive therapist, who will convince you to think of your life path as involving thinking about your own needs, rather than worrying about someone else's all the time. Who will help you to see that you are not an abuser.

I think he has decided to move out, maybe he has a crush on someone. Anyway, I would prepare yourself to refuse any requests from him to move back in, for instance when he has run out of money, or whatever he is doing has not worked out. Good luck.
posted by carter at 9:39 AM on April 27, 2012


I think it's very hard to figure out the truth of a situation after hearing just one side, so I'm not going to do that. I will say, however, that you have no hope of convincing your husband to work on your marriage if you continue to frame the situation the way you have here. Read over your question again. Right now, your narrative of the situation is that, basically, this is all his fault. Yes, you sometimes say ugly things to him, but these are essentially justified: he doesn’t see that my occasional anger towards him is not groundless. You're treating all of his concerns like they're part of some kind of psychotic break, and are understanding this issue as something that he needs to fix so that your marriage can move forward: I think part of why he won’t go is that dealing with me means dealing with himself, and that might feel too scary and difficult for him right now.

Now, let's say that this is all 100% true. It doesn't matter. You simply cannot convince him to go to counseling starting from this set of premises. Why would he? He's already checked out of your marriage. What you're essentially saying to him is: "we can only make this marriage work if you fix these things about yourself." But he's already indicated that he doesn't want to make the marriage work on those terms, so there's no way to present that so that he will agree.

Now, I think, based on his actions, that he may have already shut this door permanently, in which case I'm sorry. But if there's a chance to reconcile, you're going to need to start by taking a really clear-eyed inventory of your role in creating these problems. The way you describe your temper really jumped out at me. Couples fight all the time, but they don't need to say ugly things to each other as part of those fights. I remember once when an ex was trying to convince me to get back together. I brought up something she had said while we were dating that led me to believe that we might not be a good match, and she responded, "oh, but I was just saying that to hurt you because I was mad." I remember being shocked that she thought that was a good excuse - why would I want to be with someone who lashes out that way? Also, you say that you're resentful, but that you have these fights twice a year. Is it possible that you aren't hiding your day-to-day resentment as well as you think you are?

I'm not trying to pile on you here or make this all about you. But the only possible way to start this conversation is with a list of things that you'd like to work on about your behavior in this relationship. He will have no reason to listen to you otherwise. This is going to be hard for you, because it sounds like you have a real investment in thinking about this relationship as fundamentally a good one, but it's pretty obvious that he doesn't feel this way. It can be really painful to have to revise your sense of the quality of a long-term relationship. But it's your only chance of getting what you want here. Good luck.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:03 AM on April 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


There is a current of almost sociopathic selfishness I'm getting from this guy, given how seamlessly he cut you out of his life as soon as you manifested signs of seeking a career that did not support and subsidize his own ambitions.

Yeah, the timing of his outbursts was really horrible and could have devastated your opportunities.

I don't know. Let's posit that you're the worst person ever, abusive, and completely mean. (I don't think that you are). That still doesn't mean that you need to continue throwing time and energy into this relationship that he is not showing interest in at all.

Oh, and he is probably not pushing for divorce because he enjoys your health insurance and continued "support".
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:39 AM on April 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Unlike a few of the other posters here who are searching your post for what you did wrong, I would argue that you're actually covering for him and being too hard on yourself.

You've been supporting him for almost a decade, and the first time you may get to do something that's about you for once, he wants to end your marriage. Then he said he's "become interested in" a classmate and he has his own six-month lease elsewhere?

I'm sorry, but he is already having an affair, and you need to end this marriage and nail this guy with the most expensive pipe-hittin' lawyer you can find. You sound like a patient, generous, lovely person, and I promise you that in five years you will look back on this and say "I'm glad I finally looked out for me."
posted by a_girl_irl at 10:42 AM on April 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm sorry, but he is already having an affair, and you need to end this marriage and nail this guy with the most expensive pipe-hittin' lawyer you can find.

This sounds horrible and expensive and is based on a premise that may not be accurate. You can look out for your own interests and keep your dignity at the same time.
posted by moammargaret at 10:53 AM on April 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


This sounds horrible and expensive

Expensive, experienced attorneys generally have better ROIs than cheap new ones; in the long run, a highly skilled, aggressive attorney will save the poster money by possibly avoiding alimony/support the husband could claim due to his literal dependence on the wife's income.

and is based on a premise that may not be accurate.

In my experience and that of most people, your partner telling you "they are interested in someone" means they have already begun an affair, either physically or emotionally. You don't tell your spouse you are "interested in" the cute barista who gave you a free muffin but with whom you otherwise have no relationship.

I don't want to get in a one-on-one argument in this thread; you are welcome to your opinion, but you absolutely have no more evidence than I do.
posted by a_girl_irl at 11:04 AM on April 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Reading this is very frustrating to me, because I was once in a similar situation. The compromise wasn't as major, though, so I feel a lot of sympathy for you. What I'm going to say is clearly colored by my own experiences, but it is a way I've watched many men take advantage of women in my life. If it doesn't apply, I'm sorry and please ignore.

You're angry because you're making major sacrifices for someone who isn't even acknowledging them, let alone returning the favor (or promising to). If you weren't feeling kind of resentful at this point I'd be either amazed or concerned for your self-preservation. What's the most frustrating about it is that everyone will point their fingers at you for your angry outbursts, instead of realizing that his passive-aggression and silence (which is partially a failure to consider your totally valid feelings of embarrassment at a standoffish spouse) are just as hurtful and injuring to ability to feel trust and love as your hurtful words may be to him. If your account is accurate, he is not pulling his weight and or looking out for your future, he's expecting you to make all the major life sacrifices, and when you feel angry or hurt that he's not more considerate about this, he doesn't try to solve the problem, he just stews and acts the victim. Childish.

In my case the situation ended only because I realized the person I was with wasn't willing to consider our relationship a two-way street. I happily made a sacrifice at the beginning of the relationship with the understanding that we'd eventually work things out... until the situation continued for months and months and eventually years. When I'd try to talk to him about it, he'd say he was sorry and look sad but never do anything about it. He clearly thought of himself as a victim of conflicting forces in his life instead of an actor with a responsibility toward the people he cared about. Eventually I started to feel resentful and my words became more barbed until I realized I was becoming a person that I hated and I needed out.

And I say this as an introvert, who learned how to politely socialize with my partner's friends and express my concerns without hiding behind silence in high school. He's sounds like a coward who couldn't even express his concerns about your marriage to you before he'd found someone else to start dating, and I have a feeling he expects his new love interest to "be nice to him" in the sense that she'll support and mother him unconditionally the way you're unable to.

This is what happened to my mom, who is currently married to an unemployed deadbeat, and this is what happened to my sister, who was dating a guy who refused to work while he took care of his life goals, while she dropped out of school to work full time to pay their rent. When I read your account, your husband's self-interest is glaringly apparent, to the point that it sounds like he's using you.

I know you don't want to DTMFA, but he sounds like a drag. He's probably already having an affair, you should lawyer up to repair some of the losses you've taken.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:07 AM on April 27, 2012 [21 favorites]


I don't know what to tell you about your marriage, but I'll just chime in from the perspective of a 5th year PhD student in the sciences.

Getting a PhD in science is hard. Like really, really, really, REALLY hard. People that aren't doing this can't understand how soul crushing, self-esteem ruining, and depression-inducing benchwork really is. You fail at things constantly, for the most minute and stupid of reasons. You get a self-esteem/happiness boost because you FINALLY get a good result, only to never be able to repeat it again. There is a constant onslaught of stress and pressure from people directly above you and people in your department to perform well and produce results, but "producing results" means getting the natural world to behave how you want it to, without actually knowing how the natural world behaves.

I can't tell you how many times I was convinced my marriage was ruined and that my husband was an asshole, only to realize later that graduate school was poisoning my mind. And you know what's SUPER hard about it? It's so petty and bitter, I hate to even say this somewhere public, but you really start to resent the success of other people. You start to resent the new crop of young students all bright eyed and optimistic about going to graduate school, when really you've spent a half decade of the best years of your youth wasting away on very little money and slowly going more crazy because science won't just cut you a break.

We all assume that by virtue of going through these years of torture, that we will get good jobs. But unfortunately, science jobs are becoming very scarce as graduate school programs are being flooded with people seeking shelter from a shitty economy.

All that said, I'm not excusing your husband's behavior or saying he's justified or anything. I'm just saying I can totally empathize with the darkness that I am positive is currently invading his psyche. Accusations of who is not going to be the breadwinner/etc are downright cruel to do to a person in this state. I could never handle someone taunting me that after all my hard work I might not actually end up with a job, and (holy shit, this is nightmare-inducing fodder) have to stay in graduate school for ANOTHER FUCKING YEAR.

If you really really wanted it to work, I personally would hold on until he's done with school. If he's so desperate to change something - anything - about his life right now to distract him from how shitty science really is, then you might not be able to keep him.

Best of luck to you.
posted by corn_bread at 11:59 AM on April 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Wow, it's interesting how divided some of the comments in this thread are.

Given that this is a 13-year relationship that has been largely happy, I am not ready to give up and DTMFA after a few months of profoundly hurtful behavior. Until now, my husband has generally been a kind and fair person, and I’m hoping that this is a temporary crisis that he and I can both ride out.

From the way you've described him, your husband seems very selfish and avoidant. It sounds like he is unable to face his problems effectively and handle confrontation and is running away--to some imaginary person who will be "nice to him" forever. In the process, he has hardly considered you at all. Seems like he has a lot of maturing to do.

Why is it that you want to hold onto the marriage? What is he providing that you are afraid of losing?

My husband says that he wants to leave because I am a fundamentally mean, angry person who has been “abusing” him for years. I think his accusations of abuse are completely unfounded, though he’s right that I can lose my temper at times and say ugly things, including occasional resentment-fueled comments about the fact that his career prospects remain uncertain and that I have been the primary breadwinner and saver for much of our married lives.

This sounds like an unhealthy interaction, on both parts. His general avoidance and lack of contributing to the relationship and acknowledging your contribution. You possibly responding by berating him for his career failures. In a healthier relationship, partners may be more able to communicate their hurt and anger without attacking each other, which could lead to loving each other more, and acceptance of each others personality defects and personal failures. Perhaps this is something you could work on whether or not this marriage lasts. These patterns have a tendency to repeat themselves. I have to think that money is an obstacle in most marriages where one partner is dependent on the other.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:06 PM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


A few weeks ago, my husband said that he has “become interested in”--though he swears not involved with--one of his classmates because she “gives him hope that he can meet someone who is always nice to him.”

Whether or not he and this woman are having an affair, he is done with you. Lawyer up, therapist up, and see what happens. This is very Under the Tuscan Sun right here, is what it is.

You certainly may have problems with anger management, and that's certainly something to explore for your own self-improvement in the future. But it's not going to change things with your husband. He is done with you and done with your marriage and is being a huge passive-aggressive ass about how he's handling it, and you are somehow thinking this marriage can be saved. This marriage can't be saved. You don't have to DTMFA, he has D you A.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:11 PM on April 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


It certainly doesn't sound good, and it definitely sounds like there's issues to be addressed by both parties but like others have said I don't think there's nearly enough of a complete picture to say that you're absolutely an abusive, horrible woman or he's having an affair or a passive/aggressive mooch and dissect your whole situation from that point of view.

So, I would offer you this advice:
- do speak to a Lawyer and find out your rights and the steps you need to take in a variety of scenarios such as divorce, continued seperation, trial reconciliation etc. Also, please give some thought to NOT being vindictive in any legal action you take. Be firm and don't get pushed around but being nasty and overagressive with the goal of "making him pay" isn't really an admirable thing to do.
- Do go to therapy and get some perspective on both his behaviour and yours. Invite him and see if he shows up was mentioned above and seems to be pretty good advice to me.
-Live for yourself, until he decides to engage you in either a reconciliation attempt or advancing the seperation/divorce all your stress, tears and effort will be wasted. Learn to enjoy yourself and your life independent of him. That's what he's doing, and you may find that you're just happier without him. DO NOT postpone your own dreams any longer, go back to school.
- Quit paying for him if you haven't done so already. If he's moved out and is cutting you out of his life he can do it on his own dime.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 1:32 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If he's moved out and is cutting you out of his life he can do it on his own dime.

Yes, yes, a thousand times YES.

Even if you're not interested in formalizing your split at this point, at the very least you need to take care of yourself and make sure your needs are met. I definitely agree that you should explore some personal therapy for yourself, and do what you need to do to make your career aspirations happen. Your husband is not interested in helping you take care of yourself at this point, so you need to do what you can to keep yourself in a good place. Get that squared away, and what you should do will most likely become more apparent. Be well!
posted by scarykarrey at 2:23 PM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


let's be practical. If you live in a state where there is a legal separation, go about getting one. While married, any bad decisions he makes impact you. Separate your finances. No joint anything any more. Credit cards, checking accounts, saving accounts ets. Keep it in an escrow, or divide it up now. Keep records.

Go get your own counseling.

Go the the graduate program of your choice.

It sucks, but you need to act as if you are divorcing, number one, because it's the best way to protect the assets you've been working for all this time. Secondly, because it will make you feel more in control.

There's nothing you can do that will make your husband change his mind. You can only change how you react to what he is doing.

Isnt' it interesting that this all came to a head when his career aspriations didn't work out, and yours are?

Just an observation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:28 PM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Consider the possibility that what you perceive as a sudden event has been stewing for a long, long time, and that a person who feels abused has the right to call it abuse, even if the other person does not. Once considered, stop thinking "this was sudden" or "this isn't so bad", because this likely wasn't sudden for him, and was pretty bad for him.

So, what do you have? You, who is extroverted and didn't see that anything was wrong, and him, who is introverted and knew things were wrong, but didn't share them with you until he felt compelled to take a huge step. If saving this relationship is your plan, then it seems the number one thing you need to do is sit down with him, regularly, not to have fun or date or rekindle things, but to listen. Simply listen.

Ask him "when did you start feeling abused?" and let him talk. If he stops talking, wait. Give him time. Let him share it at his own pace. If he asks you why you aren't talking, tell him that you really want to listen, and hear how he feels, because you realize you haven't been doing that. Eventually he will run out of things to say, and will say "I don't know what else to say", and so you ask another question, like "how did you cope with these feelings?"

You're not trying to solve problems; you're not trying to find answers; you're not accusing him or trying to determine fault. You're just...listening. And only talking to help him figure out what he might want to talk about.

This might be easier with a couples therapist, who can guide him to express himself, and keep you from driving the conversation. You can try it with him yourself, though. Hopefully it will help him understand that you're still invested in him, and that you still care. That might not be enough, but it is probably the only reasonable place to start.
posted by davejay at 4:19 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


My husband says that he wants to leave because I am a fundamentally mean, angry person who has been “abusing” him for years. years. I think his accusations of abuse are completely unfounded, though he’s right that I can lose my temper at times and say ugly things

I don't know what's going on with you. I could read this question in a number of ways. But I have seen multiple times that it's easy for the person doing something hurtful to feel like it was a little one-time accident that meant nothing. The person receiving it is the one that knows its impact. But I can see that "abuse" is not concrete enough to be a helpful description of how your behavior is hurtful to him. So if you get a chance, it might be worth asking him to elaborate and listening for (a) what behaviors he is refering to, (b) what the immediate impact on him was (e.g., he felt hurt and angry), and (c) what the long-term impact on him was (e.g., he felt he couldn't share the ups and downs of his research).
posted by salvia at 5:11 PM on April 27, 2012


I would favorite stoneandstar's response fifty time if I could. Passiveness and passive aggression is insidious and brutal in its own way. Maybe do some reading about how those dynamics play out, between passive aggressive men and the women in relationship with them--I bet you will recognize a lot. A LOT.

Something I learned along the way, in a relationship with a passive and emotionally unsupportive spouse: anger was the only thing that "worked" to effect change, when something was wrong. Asking for what I wanted never made a differnence, nor did showing evident sadness or frustration. So eventually I just learned to put all those things aside and went straight to angry. He hated it, I hated it, and in the long run it poisoned our relationship, very badly. I suspect you might recognize some of that too.

What a painful situation. I'm sorry it's happening. Take care of yourself.
posted by Sublimity at 7:47 PM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It sounds to me like you two never managed to communicate much. If there was no conversation when you weren't talking ... I wonder how much you've ever heard from his heart.

I agree with davejay that listening would help, but maybe only in the past. Maybe the others here are right and it's all too poisoned to recover. Sad to hear such pessimism, but my own experience with such things is not bursting with quick fix stories either.
posted by ead at 12:26 AM on April 28, 2012


I really think the two of you sound fundamentally incompatible. More than that, I think you probably need to stop putting your life on hold/jumping through hoops for someone else, even if that person is your husband. As you said, it just makes you feel resentful when such acts aren't reciprocated.

And, really, you're not getting what you want out of the relationship anyway.

He doesn't communicate with you in the way you want him to, he doesn't socialize in the way you want him to, he seems to have moved on to someone else, and he may have ego/self-esteem issues re: your respective careers. What are you holding onto here?
posted by mleigh at 1:14 AM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, I echo the sentiment that this issue has been going on for a while, only you didn't realize it because of vastly different communication styles between you and your husband. You're dismissive of him, while he's way too passive-aggressive. I don't know if this is salvageable or not, but I think that you should cut financial ties to him and start thinking of divorce. He has no right to expect support from you when he isn't acting like he wants a marriage anymore. Act in your own interest and protect yourself first (lawyer, therapist), etc. to have control over your life no matter what he does.

It's still worthwhile to go to couple's counselling if you approach it together, and not merely "his" issue, because you both had a hand in it. It's worth a try for self-reflection/personal growth purposes, but don't have high expectations for the future of two you as a married couple. Great if it happens, but really, this is already very far out.
posted by Hawk V at 2:05 AM on April 28, 2012


Lots of good comments here from different perspectives, and I hope you read and think about all of them.

Does anyone have ideas for ways that I can convince him to go to counseling?

Bearing in mind that he's the one who left, you're going to have to do something to address his concerns. Something like: "I love you, I want to work things out between us. I hear and acknowledge that you have concerns; let's go to counselling and try to work them out" [I'm not saying that you should admit any fault. I am saying that you should acknowledge that he thinks you're at fault. You both then talk through his issues, and yours, in counselling.

For this to work, though, I think you need to be open to the possibility that he might have been right about your behaviour, and work with him and therapist to change it. [I'm not saying that he is, none of us can make that judgement one way or the other with the information we have]

He often fails to talk to my friends and coworkers when we go out, which I find stressful and embarrassing. So, because his type of hurtful behavior is passive, he can’t see that it can be just as provoking and cruel.

I think there's an issue here that you need to address if you want to stay with this man, or date another introvert. He's not doing this to hurt or embarass you. We inntroverts find it hard, very hard to socialise in groups, especially when those are groups of our SO's friends rather than our own. It saps our energy (whereas extraverts pick up energy from being around people)

If you're dating an introvert, you have to accept that just turning up for these sorts of things is an achievement. Give him credit for being there, don't feel bad because he doesn't say much. [Likewise, we introverts have to realise that its important to our partners for us to turn up, and make every effort to do so].

I don't have any real comments on the economic issue, except to say that I've been in relationships where I've earned more than my partner, and vice versa, and the person with money has been the person who spent the money. If I was married, I wouldn't be thinking about my money and her money, but our money, and I wouldn't be expecting thanks every time I spent some money. [But I'm not American; maybe a cultural difference there?]

Finally I agree with others that say this has probably been going on for a while, and is down to different communication styles, so if you can both recognise and accept that you communicate differently, and try to communicate better, you might have a chance here. Best wishes.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:27 AM on April 28, 2012


I strongly agree with the young rope-rider that he doesn't like you anymore and has made up his mind that it's over, and it isn't up for discussion. He almost certainly was hiding these feelings and holding on during the late part of your relationship because your income was useful to him -- but now the tables are about to turn so there's nothing in it for him.

He's not going to go to counseling. His anxiety about your respective career situations is that he doesn't want to sacrifice like you had to. I'm sorry, this sucks, but it's over and he's a grade A asshole.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:09 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rule #1: Take care of yourself first.

Seriously. There's a reason they say on airplanes that you should put your oxygen mask on first before helping those around you. The amateur shrink in me guesses that he resents you for being happier and more successful than he is, and he can't talk very much because if he did he would have to deal with issues and emotions that he doesn't like and can't control. The girl he's seeing now seems "nice" because she doesn't bring up those nasty emotions. He would certainly benefit from medication - some of what you describe sounds almost bipolar - but the kind of resentment and anger that it sounds like he's expressing and acting on is very very hard to make go completely away. And I say all this as a male with personality and life experiences much much much closer to his than to yours. Without some lucky interventions I could have easily gone down the same path.


Rule #2: Get help taking care of yourself and your interests.

This = get a good lawyer. Now. If this goes to the courts this guy and his nice new girlfriend end up taking a share of your income for the rest of your life. Then you'd really have a reason to be angry.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:08 AM on April 28, 2012


Also, congrats on getting into grad school. This is going to sound weird, but my adviser said that it's REALLY hard to be in a woman in a heterosexual relationship near the start of grad school and near graduation. It can make a lot of men insecure, and cause drastic, dramatic breakups. My guess is that that's what's happening in this case.
posted by spunweb at 11:40 AM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


In October of 2011 I had something very similar happen to me with my partner of 15 years. It's hard for me to read that you're going through something that seems so similar - doubly hard for me to read the earlier comments that blame you for being insensitive.

In my relationship's case, it seems like there were a lot of unexamined assumptions, despite the fact that both my ex-partner and I are professional communicators. She writes books, does speeches, activism. I write documentation, procedural stuff, technical stuff. I'm deeply trained in conflict resolution techniques. She isn't so much. Anyhow, it seems like, in the aftermath (and we officially really split around February/March of this year after lots of discussion, trying to work it out, etc.) that she and I just had vastly different experiences of the same events and that we didn't talk about it enough to understand that that was going on.

I don't have a good answer to your question about how to help him with his career anxiety. My ex-partner also has/had career anxiety based on our relative earning power. In our split I have been VERY generous, because I acknowledge and respect that difference (I have a much greater earning power than she) and because, honestly, I'm willing to do a lot to ensure some form of good relations in the future, even if things are tense now.

To your second question, though, about how to get him into therapy, my recommendation is to ask for couples therapy and go to sessions with him. You may find out stuff you need to know about yourself, as well as acclimating him to the idea of therapy in general.

Luck and strength.
posted by kalessin at 3:32 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


He really clearly does not want to be with you, and I'm not sure why you want to be with him. I don't see how you convince someone to work on something that for months they have told you they don't want to work on. Would it help you to go to counseling yourself, to work on how you are feeling about all of this? It sounds like you have a lot going on and a lot to process. No matter what happens with him, you deserve to be happy and you can and should work on that on your own.

I suggest you see a lawyer, just to protect yourself even if you don't want to.
posted by mrs. taters at 9:51 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


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