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marriage on the rocks. need advice.
February 5, 2014 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Never has been a blissful marriage but is it time to throw in the towel and move on? Twenty four years in the chute, one kid in college out of the house, the other living at home in high school. Especially caustic relationship since summer. No sex in months. She works all the time, I'm out of work. Growing further and further apart. But I will want to make it work yet she doesn't seem interested in putting in the effort. Emptiness in the pit of my stomach but I will do what I have to do. Interested in anyone's experiences in situations such as this. Is it worth fighting to keep things together? What about the kids? Is it better on the other side of relationships like this? I'm at a crossroads and need to figure this out. Thanks.

No affair on my side and not on hers as far as I know. We don't sleep together any more for the last six months. Family party (her side) coming up this weekend .... not sure whether to go are pass on it. We hardly communicate and when we do it seems nasty, especially lately. More info as needed. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
In my experience: anything can be fixed as long as both people want to fix it. Nothing can be fixed UNLESS both people want to fix it. So when you say "she doesn't seem interested in putting in the effort" it makes me concerned. Does she know you're thinking of divorce?
posted by KathrynT at 6:02 PM on February 5 [7 favorites]


What happened this past summer?
posted by sm1tten at 6:04 PM on February 5 [10 favorites]


Can you have a relationship without sex? Is it dependent upon sex to be satisfying? Could you both consider an "open" relationship? If it is important to you both to stay together, but the sexual drive has faded, then maybe you could consider an open relationship, while still keeping your partnership alive. This worked for my partner and me. We dropped the sex and instead became best friends, and sometimes "frenemies." Our relationship has been in this state of limbo for nearly 10 years now and we are more committed to each other than ever. That said, we do keep separate residences, though make a point of spending at least one full day (Sunday) a week together.
posted by zagyzebra at 6:10 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Is she open to couples therapy?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:19 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


You're going to need to get a job, whether or not you divorce your wife. Especially if you divorce your wife, actually.

Get a job first, then see how things look, IMO.
posted by quincunx at 6:20 PM on February 5 [39 favorites]


I'm so sorry. Her working all the time is a symptom of the larger problem- that she is avoiding you and has checked out of the marriage. Did something happen over the summer that might have caused her 'caustic' behavior? Does she work too much to even see the kids?

You can't have a relationship by yourself. Put it out there: counseling and communication or it's over.

Don't see it as 24 years down the chute, though. Beating yourself up over wasted time isn't productive, and I'm sure there were good times along the way.
posted by anad487 at 6:22 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


If she'll do couples therapy, give it a year. You've put in 24, one more won't hurt. If you propose the idea of therapy and trying to save your marriage and make it clear that the other option is divorce and she isn't bothered... Well, you can only do so much.
posted by MsMolly at 6:25 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Throw in the towel. Life's too short for an unhappy marriage. You've already suffered for 24 years.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 6:45 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Therapy, for the sake of the kids - especially the one who is still in the house. And so you can say you tried.

They say job loss is one of the greatest stressors on a relationship. Could she feel the need to work all the time because you're not working? Are you looking? Contributing to the household in other ways?

I've been married for 23 years, together for 26. Some years have been harder than others and sometimes we say cruel things to each other or worse, take the relationship for granted. But when I think about starting over, or really ponder the idea of never seeing him again (or worse, having it be awkward and tense for our kids for the rest of their lives), I take a deep breath and jump right back in. Hope you can as well.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:49 PM on February 5 [7 favorites]


It sounds like you have a lot of stressors in your marriage right now, but if you've been married 24 years you've certainly gone through stressful times before. What makes THIS time different?

Which came first, her working all the time or you no longer working at all? Are you retired, or did you lose your job? If this is something the two of you did not expect to have happen, she may be feeling stressed and unsure about finances and working extra hard because of that, and also because you being at home while she is going to work may be something she feels resentful about. She may have looked forward to this time, with the kids grown, to start a new chapter in your lives. Instead, she is having to put in long hours to make up for the loss of your salary. That may be something you both feel resentful about--you because you certainly did not want to lose your job, and her because she did not expect to have to become the breadwinner at this point in your lives.

Even if you retired and this was expected, there is a definite adjustment to having a spouse suddenly at home all the time. How are you filling those hours? Do you take over more things at home so that as she works those long hours she is not also doing the lion's share of cooking, cleaning, etc. too? Are you angry and depressed and snapping at her? Is she bringing home that stress from work and taking it out on you? Do you both talk about your feelings and support each other, or get defensive over who has it worse? Are the two of you a team?

How about the separate bedrooms--how did that happen, and had you stopped having sex before that happened? For many people, sex and intimacy go together. There is an adage that men see sex as a way to bond, whereas women need to feel a bond to want to have sex. It may be stereotypical, but if the two of you are not communicating, it is not surprising your sex life is suffering.

If she is not willing to work together on the issues you are having, she may have checked out of the marriage, that's true. But the only way you are going to know for sure is if you sit down with her and have a frank discussion about where the two of you went off track and how--or if--she wants to work with you to get back on track again. And you have to really listen to her answers, and be willing to make real changes, because clearly this marriage is not working for either of you right now.
posted by misha at 6:56 PM on February 5 [8 favorites]


Her working all the time is a symptom of the larger problem- that she is avoiding you and has checked out of the marriage.

The sole earner of a family of four (including one child in college and one about to be) working all the time is a symptom of her being avoidant of her spouse?? I'd guess it's more likely a symptom of the fact that her family needs to keep eating and keep a roof over their heads and keep their health insurance and keep their cars running, and on top of that she needs to pay thousands in tuition that keeps increasing every year and will soon possibly double, with the next child.

OP, if I were in your wife's shoes, I would be stressed beyond belief and exhausted. If I had a spouse who not only did not seem to be getting a job, but then began pestering me for more sex, on top of everything else, I would probably be... very displeased.

Find work first. Take some financial pressure off of your wife. Then see if things are better between the two of you. I think that might be a better time to focus on it.
posted by cairdeas at 7:03 PM on February 5 [58 favorites]


The sole earner of a family of four (including one child in college and one about to be) working all the time is a symptom of her being avoidant of her spouse??

Fair enough… I think I personalized it too much, having experienced that before. And I assumed that also because of her unwillingness to talk about the marital strains. She is being avoidant in that way, at the very least. Should have said "could be" a symptom of her being avoidant of her spouse. I thought that him mentioning that she worked all the time meant that it wasn't necessarily mandatory financially (although reading it again, it's too vague to make that assumption.)

Perhaps him being out of work accounts, at least in part, for their 'caustic' relationship.
At the very least, I'd recommend making sure to take care of the stuff at home. There's nothing that breeds resentment like coming finding everything in disarray when you come home to someone who's been there all day.
posted by anad487 at 7:25 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


When I went to marriage counselling the counselor always pulled my ex-husband up on saying "I'll do anything." She told him that 'anything' really translated to 'nothing' if there were no actual actions attached.

You can't control anyone but yourself. I would say that if you put in a real effort and she then did not reciprocate then the marriage is over. But if you make some positive changes and she follows then you've made some real progress.

Start by making a list of everything you are going to work on. Have dinner ready, do the washing and cleaning each week, put aside half an hour each night to talk about her day, look for work, whatever. Then talk to her about it and stick to it. The more she comes to trust you the more she will open up hopefully. Once communication lines are open again then it's time to address the bigger issues.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:37 PM on February 5 [7 favorites]


Have you talked about your concerns? In so many words? If not, then that is your first step.

If you have, and your post reflects your feelings after that talk, you have a hard choice to make. You know the consequences of leaving, not just for you but the children - have really thought these through?

At the end of the day it takes two to make these things work, and if you two can't work out a way forward for the two of you, it leaves you with the choice - stay, and wear the consequences, or go and wear the consequences. I am assuming she is content with the status quo at least in the short term.

FWIW I have been where you are, but my ex made the unilateral decision to end it in spite of my attempts to salvage it. We did counselling and other stuff but her attitude was that these were hurdles for her to leap so she could get her way. As I said, it takes two to make it work, and if only one is pulling there is no future.

Good luck.
posted by GeeEmm at 7:44 PM on February 5


What would her perspective on the marriage be?
posted by 3491again at 7:50 PM on February 5


You guys probably need to talk, but carefully.

I don't want to project, I'll just tell you that my husband has been - through no real fault of his own - only intermittently employed the past couple of years. I don't really have words for the rage and the fear. (And I don't have children to educate, either.) I didn't sign up for this. I enrolled in a dual-income lifestyle. If I fall down a flight of stairs tomorrow, we're screwed and it's all on my head. If I do poorly at my job and get fired, I was already the last resort! I don't sleep very well, and I'm not in much mood for fun anymore. I'm busy worrying about who will take the dogs if we end up homeless, or just if I will ever not be the only one responsible for every stupid thing.

I'm fully aware and even empathetic that my husband feels like shit about all this, and I do everything I can to make him feel okay about it and I don't need him to cry or thank me or whatever, but if I was unemployed I believe my second priority, after looking for work, which on the internet amounts to 15 to 90 minutes a day, would be obsessively contributing to the running of the house and the removal of any hurdle to productivity in his now very precious job, as it is the only thing keeping the rain off me. He does not act in that manner, and that is, in the long term, probably going to be a wound that never fully heals.

You may underestimate the amount of resentment that can fester very quickly. If it feels to you like she's not putting in the effort, do you think it feels to her like you are?
posted by Lyn Never at 7:51 PM on February 5 [83 favorites]


I will do what I have to do...Family party (her side) coming up this weekend .... not sure whether to go [or] pass on it

Not socializing with her and her family seems a rather deliberately humiliating snub to your wife in an obviously challenging time. You glossing over your unemployment is an odd omission too. If she does not want to go to couple's counselling (it sounds like she has little free time) you, at least, should be talking to professionals about getting your life and your marriage back on track. Maybe she doesn't want to talk anymore because it is just the same conversation; concrete actions may catch her eye though. Also, it is Valentine's Day next week; even if things are tough right now, honour your 24 years and successful co-parenting with love and grace. Considering divorce (and presumably being ready to drop the bomb just before Valentine's) appears passive aggressive, to be honest, especially with all the stressors the two of you have on your plate right now. The sex is a red herring you are focusing on because you can say "it is her fault"; stop that, build up your relationship again with professional help and the intimacy will most likely return.
posted by saucysault at 7:55 PM on February 5 [10 favorites]


My parents got divorced my first year of college; I had a brother in high school, and a sister in middle school. Our parents were quietly unhappy, and had also (apparently) had a not easy marriage. The divorce in and of itself was a surprise, but not a huge problem. Lots of people my age and younger have divorced parents.

The problem has been the animosity, particularly from one parent. It was years before you could say 'I'm going to other parent's to watch a movie' without doors slamming. I next saw them in the same space together eight years later, and non mad parent left immediately after my brothers wedding ceremony to avoid conflict (he didn't even come to mine!). Now in my thirties and pregnant, this type of thing is still a pain in the ass. And childish. It's slowly getting better... I hear my sister but her foot down about civil behaviour and not leaving her wedding this summer.

Get a job first, you'll need one either way. I cannot emphasize this enough. This alone may really help your relationship, and looking for work in the wake of a divorce is just one misery on top of another.

Your kids want you to be happy and hopefully maintain civility, be that stay or leave or what. You have kids, which means this person is always going to be lingering around the periphery. If you have more questions about the other side, memail me.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:27 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


nth Lyn Never. When my husband was out of work, not only was he seriously and obviously hustling, but set a timeline before he took ANY job, AND he did ALL the housework and then some...joyfully. I mean, we're talking a spotless house, homemade bread, etc. That's why we're still married and having kids.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:35 PM on February 5 [18 favorites]


Would you be willing to consider taking advice from a comedian?
posted by flabdablet at 11:39 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


You're in the position that a lot of house-wives and house-husbands are in. Your partner works all day, is very exhausted, and just doesn't have time to work on the relationship and give you emotional support at the end of the day. It may not be that she doesn't care, but that she just has other things on her mind. That's especially true if she happens to also be doing all the cooking and cleaning, like other have suggested.

I don't think you should worry about the kids. If you have a bad marriage then they'll understand. They're old enough to look the situation from a more adult perspective.

If worse comes to worse, maybe you could try a trial separation. Is there anyone you could stay with for awhile, a family member maybe? If you're not working then it's a convenient time to get away for awhile.
posted by sam_harms at 11:51 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


If she thinks you've become complacent with your situation and you aren't showing eagerness in your search for employment, there should be no confusion on your part as to why there's been "no sex in months" and why you're "drifting further and further apart." She's working her butt off and no doubt resentful that she's carrying the entire financial burden on her shoulders. The first thing you need to do is to find employment. Things will get much better after that happens and you can return to your evaluation. Right now is not the time.
posted by OneHermit at 12:55 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Can you elaborate on the "never has been blissful" part?
posted by Dansaman at 1:21 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


My parents separated my senior year in high school. My response was "finally." Staying together doesn't do kids any favors, in my experience.
posted by miss tea at 2:59 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


To expand on Lyn Never's excellent take on the situation:

The first thing you need to concentrate on is getting a job. ANY job at this point, start contributing monetarily to the household. It is cold and lonely when you're the sole financial support of a family. If you're getting unemployment, then get out of the house for a few hours a day and volunteer in your community. Hanging around the house doing nothing is not an option.


The second thing is to do is to stop talking about stuff, start doing things. Clean the house, cook the dinner, etc. Is the bare minimum. Are there repair projects that need doing around the house that you've been putting off? If they don't cost money, start doing them. Touch up the paint on the baseboards, wash the windows, tackle that dripping faucet. Demonstrate that you're in this family and that you're willing to work, in whatever way possible, for the welfare of it.

Once you start doing stuff, THEN you can broach the subject of couples counseling. Even if it's just to hash out an amicable separation.

I was laid off/bought out of my corporate job 5 years ago. I KNEW that it would be difficult to get a similar level job at another company at that time (recession, dying industry, etc.) Rather than try to replace the job with one exactly like it, I decided to learn a new skill and go off in a different direction.

I'm now 3 jobs away from that day, and I'm close to my old earning potential. The guys who were laid off with me, have been taking similar jobs, and not been doing well. They went from Tier 1 corporation to Tier 2 corporation to Tier 3 corporation to consulting. The smiles in the LinkedIn photos get tighter and tighter.

Your first priority is to change your employment status, once that happens, you have a platform for working on your marriage. Until that happens, your wife will be frustrated and scared.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:30 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


This post makes me sad. I am not you, and I am not your wife, and I am not inside your marriage, but there is so little LOVE in this post. And not even that, but I don't see any respect either. You both sound like you're in a hole and yet you voice no sympathy for her and she doesn't seem to have any for you.

The "never been blissful" thing worries me. My advice would have been - what brought you together in the first place? At one time you two thought it would be good to make a life together, so what prompted that, and can you get that feeling back? Maybe by acting as though each other is precious and not taking each other for granted? But the "never been blissful" comment makes me think that my advice would be hard to put into practice, if not impossible.

Individual therapy for you. A therapist to whom you can tell more details and more history would have better advice.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:49 AM on February 6


I was coming in here to reply but I don't have to say what I was going to, because Lyn said it for me, just about word for word, if you substitute 'cats' for 'dogs.'

Instead I will just suggest that in addition to that careful discussion she suggests, couples counseling might be good - but I would guess she is just about at the end of her rope. Finding time and energy to throw a weekly therapy session, date night with you, or anything to improve your relationship into everything else she's doing might be one thing more than she can handle right now.

If you want to try to fix this, and you want her to try with you, then you probably need to find some way to take something off her plate to free up a bit of her time/energy/emotional resources to do that. For that matter, you might find it made a world of difference if you took even more off her plate, to also give her some time for herself, if she doesn't have that now. Can you do more around the house? Do some ferrying of the kid to appointments or activities, if that's needed?

You haven't given us a lot of detail, so maybe you're already doing all of this stuff, and she's really not stretched as thin as I'm imagining from my own experience. But it's something to consider.
posted by Stacey at 6:43 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


This may not be exactly what you're looking for, but I found The Mindful Attraction Plan to have a *lot* of good information about underlying reasons why men and women are first attracted to each other and fall in love, why long-term relationships/marriages can stagnate or decline, and how to take action to reverse that trend.

The book focuses on what you can do to improve yourself and make yourself the best man or woman you can be. The idea is that by improving yourself, by changing how you act and react within the relationship, that will eventually elicit new and different actions and reactions in your partner.

I'd gotten to a point where I could see divorce on the horizon. I have been working the program, and I have made some changes in myself that make me a better woman and partner. My marriage has improved, and my partner is now doing things that I'd badgered him for years about - except somehow now they were "his idea."

And to echo other commenters, your unemployment situation is likely a *huge* causatory factor in the anger and distance in your marriage.
posted by Ardea alba at 9:32 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Once you start doing stuff, THEN you can broach the subject of couples counseling.

This is ridiculous. Contrary to what's been said above, you are not a second-class citizen in your marriage because you don't have a job. You get to discuss your marriage and talk about stuff regardless of your employement situation.

If you are unemployed, should you pick up more around the house? Of course; but there's nothing to imply that you are "just talking, not doing" from your question. And, no, your wife's attitude isn't an understandable reaction to the house not being "spotless". Sure, you should do most of the cleaning; but you did not become a domestic servant who must perform to a higher standard than your household ever had before.

So, yes, make sure you are working hard to get a job and make sure she knows that. But you are not in a penalty box until then. Is being the sole breadwinner stressing her out? That's understandable, but that is something you need to work on together now. Getting a job will not doubt likely improve the situation, but is that really why almost all your interaction is nasty? There seems to be a lot more going on, and that all won't be fixed through employment.

If you're already decided on divorce, however, then I agree you might want to wait until you are employeed for purely pragmatic reasons.
posted by spaltavian at 10:40 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


You glossing over your unemployment is an odd omission too. If she does not want to go to couple's counselling (it sounds like she has little free time) you, at least, should be talking to professionals about getting your life and your marriage back on track.

This is bizzare. Someone needs a therapist because they are out of work in the worst economy since the Great Depression?

If the OP is not really trying to get a job, this might make sense, but I don't see him saying that. There seems to be a lot of projecting in this thread. Somehow I don't think we'd see quite the same reaction if your wife was out of work and asking this question.
posted by spaltavian at 10:49 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


If the OP is not really trying to get a job, this might make sense, but I don't see him saying that. There seems to be a lot of projecting in this thread. Somehow I don't think we'd see quite the same reaction if your wife was out of work and asking this question.

Just to speak for myself, yeah, I would definitely give the same advice if the wife was out of work and wanted a divorce because of too little sex.

The world looks different to an employed person. You have less energy for sex, less time to overthink meaningless trivial bullshit, you're more careful with money you make and earn yourself, if you are contributing to college for your children you're more concerned with their experience in school. In short, you become more invested in a lot of things and less invested in...well, in my experience, in moping, in being lonely, in being bored, in thinking other people don't respect you, etc.

Hence, for the sake of the OP, as well as the wife, OP needs to get a job. A divorced man with no job is undoubtedly a worse thing to be than a married man with no job, and I am surprised he isn't thinking of that right now. But once he has a job, he may find that his priorities mysteriously change a little bit.

I would take anything- a warehouse job moving boxes- just to give me something to do with myself, some self-respect, something to talk about, a little extra money even if not much.
posted by quincunx at 11:07 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Seems like you're in a similar position to the asker of this question, though she's the (stay-at-home) wife. The answers there might be helpful.
posted by shivohum at 11:58 AM on February 6


The world looks different to an employed person. You have less energy for sex, less time to overthink meaningless trivial bullshit, you're more careful with money you make and earn yourself, if you are contributing to college for your children you're more concerned with their experience in school. In short, you become more invested in a lot of things and less invested in...well, in my experience, in moping, in being lonely, in being bored, in thinking other people don't respect you, etc.

As the having been the unemployed, overthinking-trivial-bullshit, lonely/bored/nagging partner in my last relationship, I agree with this 100%.
posted by celtalitha at 1:31 PM on February 7


Despite the usual mefi chorus calls for therapy, it is REALLY clear from the tenor of your question that your marriage is irrevocably broken, and therapy would be postponing the inevitable. Don't throw away yet another year just because you've put 24 in already. Life is short and precious--too precious to deal with such a shitty situation longer than you have to.

I think you should consider your marriage dead, start treating it as such (interact with her as little as possible, don't initiate any conversations about it) and just work on doing what you need to do to gracefully get out: namely, get a job and then see a lawyer about how to best proceed.

Your children are almost grown, and your life is for you too. Don't suffer more because you want to protect your children from divorce. Nearly all kids would prefer, in the long run, to have happy parents, even if that means parents who aren't together. Your misery is likely apparent to them.

YES, there is life on the other side of this! Talk to some happily-divorced friends to hear this first hand.

I'm willing to bet good money that in a year or three, you will look back and wonder why you were EVER contemplating staying in this acrimonious non-relationship.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 3:40 PM on February 8


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