I’m looking for advice on how to handle an unexpected separation from my husband.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
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?
• 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.