Help me understand my relationship with my wife...
October 11, 2008 6:46 PM   Subscribe

A marriage, a love, a confusion. Please help me understand what is happening here...

My wife and I have been married for well over six years. About four years ago, we started a home-based business—she worked in the social services under contract with the state, and I provided computer programming and graphic design to clients throughout U.S. Slowly, we grew that business from a home-based, two person business to a thriving, diverse company with over twenty employees and a six-thousand-square-foot office space.

Every day, we would go to work together as the owners of the business that we built together. We would share our hopes and dreams for the continued expansion of the business, as well as our concerns, working together to resolve problems and grow the company. We both said multiple times that we loved what we were doing, loved our employees, and loved working together on something that we would, hopefully, pass down to our children one day.

Owning a successful business afforded us certain pleasures. We both have cars that we love, and, over the past four or so years, would take two lengthy all-exclusive vacations a year. We also had close friends built out of the business, and we owned our business property, a single-family home that we just moved into, and rental properties that we worked on together. We went out to dinner often and had great conversations about our dreams, future family, and life forever together.

Earlier this year, my wife and I went out to a fabulous, romantic dinner. We talked about our vacation plans for the summer and about our business. The next morning, I went to work, and my wife said that she had appointments out, which wasn’t uncommon. Then, when I returned home at the end of the day, she wasn’t there, which was unusual. I tried calling her cell multiple times before calling her friends and mother—all who said that they didn’t know where she was at. Then, through a lucky finding that is too specific to list here, I found out that she went to her mother’s home—several hours away. Her mother constantly said that she knew nothing about this, but wasn’t concerned at all. (As an aside, I’ve never gotten along with my mother in law.)

I’m going to leave out some details here to help protect the anonymity of this post (which is already too detailed and specific). But, suffice it to say I didn’t hear anything from my wife for over two weeks, when she sent an email saying that I would be getting divorce papers, which arrived later that day. Over those two weeks, I struggled tremendously, with not understanding, with trying to hold our business together, with comforting a close group of employees who are also close friends, and with, honestly, just trying to survive.

In the next week, we went to counseling, where my wife said that she didn’t know why she left. She said that I didn’t do anything to cause her to leave, and that she just felt a panic that forced her to leave. She said that she didn’t plan to leave, but woke up that morning and felt that she had to go for some reason. Over the next few months, we continued to go to counseling, and she continually said the same thing. She was almost immediately put on anti-depressants, and is now to the point where she is ready to move on. She is back to normal, except that she no longer works for the company that we built. Other than that, she is completely acting as she did before leaving – as if nothing had ever happened.

But, something did happen. She did leave and didn’t contact me for over two weeks. And, I’m finding it nearly impossible to forget that and to move on. I’ve tried, and I want this to work, but…

• Every time that I come home and she’s not home, I find myself immediately checking our closet to see if her clothes are here. If I call her cell and she doesn’t answer, I worry.

• I miss having her at work, and I’m honestly upset that she was able to throw away her part in our business as quickly as she did. It’s hard to look at new buildings, work with the employees, and build the business without her there. And, I’m upset that she doesn’t seem to be upset at all. Don’t get me wrong, the employees are some of my closest friends, but I miss her daily.

• I miss building a business with her and creating something that we can give our kids some day. She’s ready to have kids, but after this, I’m not.

• I miss being able to tell her everything and to discuss things with her. I find myself much more closed now than before—I protect my feelings, my salary, my concerns, and my feelings much more.

• I’m worried that I’m being played somehow. I found a journal in which she wrote down all of the things that she needed to do before leave—something that suggests the leaving was planned.

How do I figure out what to do? How do I move forward with my life? How do I give up a marriage or forgive and move forward with years of marriage? How do I get back the love that is somewhat clouded?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Stick with the counseling. You have not yet gotten out of it what you need.
posted by mmf at 7:02 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

What makes you think your (unborn!) kids will want to run your business someday? I ask only because I'm wondering if you were doing the same kind of assuming about what your wife wanted.
posted by Airhen at 7:19 PM on October 11, 2008

Yeah, keep with the counseling. She betrayed your trust while maybe having a little mid-life crisis. You two need to figure out how to rebuild that trust before you can move on and start fresh. She should start out by promising that she will never, ever disappear like that again. That is a terrible thing to do to a person.

You should think deeply about the role of the business in your relationship. Does your relationship exist without the business? Do you have other things to talk about? It may take time to figure out what other common ground you have besides the business. Maybe she was feeling like she lost the romance and had just a business partner?

You guys should continue to go to counseling -- both together and separately. Maybe put a timeline on it -- work on it for a year? And then regroup on having kids.

Sorry, man. This sounds pretty awful. You two may be able to get through it but things will probably be a lot different at the end. Good luck.
posted by amanda at 7:40 PM on October 11, 2008

What makes you think your (unborn!) kids will want to run your business someday? I ask only because I'm wondering if you were doing the same kind of assuming about what your wife wanted.

Wow, what an unhelpful blaming of the victim. I suppose it's possible she never wanted to be part of the business, in the sense that anything is possible, but everything you've told us indicates the exact opposite.

I agree with continuing counseling. In addition, I think you should seek out therapy of your own. You've experienced something traumatic, and part of moving on is working through your (very justifiable) feelings of hurt and abandonment.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:40 PM on October 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

As far as I can tell, you're already doing the right thing. Stay with the counselling, make sure your wife knows you love her, and things will slowly improve. It's going to take time more than anything else.
posted by robcorr at 7:47 PM on October 11, 2008

I've been through this more than once, sadly, and the first thing to do is stop torturing yourself. You've been badly hurt, and right now you have to stop the bleeding.

Checking the closet, making sure that there's stuff there that "she'd definitely come back for". Check, been there, done that. You've been traumatized, and it's natural to be afraid of it happening again. It's hard for you to trust right now, and that's natural. What's going to be hard but necessary to do is to find a way to chill out/calm down in a panic situation. Find something that relaxes you - that has nothing to do with her, and find a way to incorporate that into your every day routine. The ritual you have right now is to check to make sure the world is the same way you left it. Bad juju - you're depending on someone else to make you feel safe. Find something else.

You're hurt, but she doesn't seem to care that she's thrown everything you've built (really, you) away without seeming to care. Oh, hell yes, I've been there. It's put me into a seething rage for months at a time.

This will pass with time. Not what you want to hear, but there it is. I spent the first year of our separation in a fury, the second just being pissed. If I had started depending on myself for my happiness, I could have gained an entire year. So hey, learn from me.

Missing having her as part of your life, and not trusting her with crucial data. Yes. The splitting of assets, freinds (yes, this will happen, too) and duties is something that is just impossible to contemplate right now. You're in a tricky spot, because the friends who are also co-workers may or may not be on your side. It's time to call in an impartial consultant or firm to take over some of her duties and yours. This will free you up to plan and to start rebuilding yourself. You REALLY REALLY must do this. If there's resistance from her, well, too bad. It's your livliehood, too.

It looks like she was planning to go a while ago and didn't "just leave". Maybe, maybe not. If she was thinking about it, she may have just checked out some hotels and set them aside - I don't know what you have, but if there's some undated list it could be from a while ago, which says that your marriage/partnership has been rocky for some time and you didn't know it. Trying to pin her down on "what did you plan and when did you plan it" will do nothing for you or for your relationship, whether you stay together or not. It's back to depending on someone else to make you feel happy and safe.

I know how bad this hurts. Everything you knew is wrong, and your wondering what else is going to come out and how you'll deal with it. Stick with the counseling, find some true freinds, and find ways to center yourself, because man, you're going to need it.

Good luck! And if I can help, memail me.
posted by lysdexic at 8:19 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good luck, stay with counseling, be honest with her and yourself.
posted by Echidna882003 at 8:39 PM on October 11, 2008

That is unbelievably fucked up. Holy shit, is that ever fucked up. Look: continue the counseling, try to reconcile and try to control the anger and the betrayal that you're feeling. I understand how you must feel, but the anger and resentment will poison everything if you don't act with utmost compassion.

That being said, don't be a sucker. You shouldn't be suspicious or paranoid, but get your shit together vis-a-vis finances and the like. Have separate records only you can access as a backup. Sorry to tell you that.

Oh, and whatever you do, don't have kids with this woman, at least until you trust her 100% again. Jesus. Good luck, man: I am deeply fucking sorry.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:05 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You mention that she was put on anti-depressants. While I don't believe that EVERY mental health issue can be solved through pharmaceuticals, it sounds like in THIS case it may have been the right call; people who are in a depressive state, especially an undiagnosed one, can suddenly things, from what I've been told. So that COULD explain why she did what she did, and why she seems like it's just like back to normal now. Because in some sense, she wasn't herself right then.

As for you, well -- you had the everloving bejesus frightened out of you, and that explains your reaction.

This is a very roundabout way of saying "yeah, the counselling is the right thing to do right now." You're getting joint counselling, you may want to pursue some individual counselling for yourself to just wrap your brain around all of this, because this has been a big ball of "what the everloving hell is going on" for both of you.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 PM on October 11, 2008

My guess is that she has another person she's into. Just a guess, but it seems the simplest explanation for erratic behavior like that. Two weeks?

My second guess is that she's already gone and using 'issues' as an excuse for not being brave enough to deal with things.

Fucking hell, I'm sorry, just being honest in what I think based on your post.

Good luck. I hope things work out.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:24 PM on October 11, 2008

I 'm with Jeff-o-matic; this reeks of finding someone else but getting cold feet once she was ready to make the jump. The journal she made says a lot about this; the divorce papers, even more so.

But this is neither here nor there. The question now is what to do about it?

The natural response would be for you to draw away and start compartmentalizing your life. I think that's probably a good plan. But if you can't rebuild trust, the relationship is doomed no matter what. I guess it's a fine line between planning for the worst and hoping for the best; don't give up on her but don't let your guard down either.
posted by Happydaz at 9:33 PM on October 11, 2008

I left a man like that once. I just got to the point where I couldn't deal with him anymore and I couldn't think clearly in the house we shared and I had to leave. On the surface everything looked fine, if you asked him he said "oh we have our little disagreements, who doesn't?" but the reality was that I was under a huge amount of stress living with him and it was constant.

He never, ever, once, in 2 years, let me do anything without commenting on it and analyzing it. I literally couldn't brush my teeth without him watching and saying something. Usually negative, although he thought of it as constructive criticism. He also had a bad temper that would occasionally flare up. The end result was that I ended up constantly trying to please him, to get his approval on the way I dressed, what I ate, how I folded my socks etc. I worked with him and had all the same friends so this was endless. In a typical evening he would manage to criticize my cooking, choice of TV shows, friends, career, the way I dressed, that I locked the door when I showered, my choice of car, my choice of hobbies, the way I did the dishes etc. He thought of it as conversation I guess.

It sounds petty the way I've written it but trust me it was like Chinese water torture. I couldn't relax. Ever. And I'm no doormat, I told him frequently to knock it off and how much it bothered me but it was like a tic he had.

I'm a very live and let-live person who enjoys relaxing so it eventually drove me to the point of going home in the middle of the day, packing all my stuff and moving in with a friend. I think he spent 5 minutes criticizing the way I parked my car or something. I didn't call him for a few days because I needed time to think. He was upset and genuinely concerned but frankly I didn't give a shit. I just needed some quiet. We talked it out and ended up together for another 18 months but ultimately we split up.

He literally made me a nervous wreck. I never would have thought it possible.

I'm not saying that this is what's going on with your wife but people don't up and leave like that unless they think they cannot talk to the person they are leaving. They are escaping something. It might not be you but it's something and the fact that you saw your life together as so idyllic and she didn't is a red flag. The fact that she still won't tell you why she left is another one. Maybe it was depression or maybe she is deeply unhappy and thinks you won't understand. All you can do is keep going to counseling and if you want to save this relationship this is the time to be open-minded, humble, kind and compassionate to listen without judging and to seriously reflect on what you hear. It's probably going to be that time for a while.
posted by fshgrl at 9:40 PM on October 11, 2008 [20 favorites]

I don't necessarily thinks she has someone else. A lot of women just feel unsatisfied with a seemingly perfect life but can't express it in a coherent way, or possibly don't even understand it themselves.

It's possible that your wife did not feel like she had a life outside of you. If you worked together, lived together, and did everything together, maybe she felt like she was losing her own sense of self. It might not have anything to do with you specifically.

My advice is this: if you don't think you can trust her--now or ever-- end it now. Don't play the doting husband while harboring doubt and resentment. Then you'll be the one to slowly poison the marriage.

If you do think you can learn to trust her, then give her some space and try to have faith in her. Obviously she is/was going through some conflicting emotions. Try and understand that and give her the benefit of the doubt.

Sure you might be getting played, but that could have been true all along anyway. Trust and faith are what a relationship is about to begin with.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 10:25 PM on October 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is bizarre. I think there are only two possibilities here. Either she is psychotic, or you weren't paying attention.

You paint a picture of an ideal marriage before all this happens, one with romance, dates, etc. Then she just left. Did you have no indication that she was unhappy? None at all? How well did you really know your wife? Do you know how she felt about the marriage? Working with you every day? Did she want to have kids and you kept blowing it off?

Look back at some possible signs you may have missed. Because otherwise, the only other option you've got is that she's crazy. And you don't want that option because you can't have a relationship with a crazy person.

Be careful not to paint yourself in too flattering of a light here. It's hard for us to see the whole picture here - what you're basically saying is, that you had a great marriage, she suddenly took off, why? Maybe I'm wrong, but it feels like we're missing a piece of the puzzle.

Is the divorce off? It seems to me the only reason to go to counselling is that both of you want the marriage to work. If one person wants out, then marriage counselling is a waste of time.

Communication is so important. Other people can't read our minds, and talking and/or writing our perspectives is the closest we will ever come to seeing inside another person's head. It's difficult, it seems to get more difficult as we get older as people develop their own barriers and walls because they have been hurt before or don't want to bother.

I hope you can work this out. Communication is key. Try to understand how she sees it.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 10:54 PM on October 11, 2008

Maybe she just got really sick of that job, and couldn't figure out a way to leave it without also leaving you. From the amount of detail about your business you included in your question, it seems that the business is a central part of your life. If it wasn't for her, spending her whole life at work (literally, if you lived and worked in the same place, and all your friends were through your business) could certainly have made her feel trapped and claustrophobic. She couldn't even escape talking about work at a fabulous, romantic dinner. But how could she raise the issue with you, when it was so clear that you still loved the work? Would even discussing it with you drive a wedge into your relationship? Might as well just make a clean break of the whole thing; rip the band-aid off quickly.

And then when you got back together, there was still no way to talk about the real reason she panicked and left, because you're still 100% into the business. If I were in that situation, I can see how maintaining the fiction that I had no idea why I left might be an attractive option.

Obviously, I don't know that that's what happened. But it's something you might consider asking about at your next counseling session. If she seems like she's "back to normal", maybe that's because she's escaped the thing that she felt trapped by.
posted by hades at 11:47 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hard to know exactly what happened here. But are you each doing couples counseling, AND going to counseling ALONE? Because that's crucial for you both. Her, for obvious reasons, to figure out what she was reacting so very viscerally to, and why she didn't bring stuff up beforehand (if indeed she didn't, even in her way). And you, to both figure out what you might have been missing here, and how to get through this trauma and rebuild your own trust.

Did she feel trapped by everything? If I lived with my partner, went to work with my partner, had most of my friends through said work (which are also joint friends with this partner), and that everything was all rosy but SO CONNECTED, and rather insular, and so very very umbilically-tied to my partner, I would freak. out. And if she had just realized that, either after very enthusiastically building that dream with you, or just kind of going along with the plan, then maybe the web was just too much, and she didn't have anyone to go to. Feelings like that require having really strongly networked friends and family to work through it. If all of her friends are work friends, who are your friends, who are her subordinates, well... of course she bolted to her mom, who also mention you don't get along with.

If she was really overwhelmed by being way too tied to one person (you), even if she adores and loves you, guilting her into "absconding" from her position really isn't the issue here. Let her work in some other environment - it might give her the identity, control, privacy, alone-time and self-confidence that she's craving here. Drop the issue entirely. And quit bringing up what you're building the company for. Do you want to have a thriving company or a thriving relationship? Because I think the two have gotten confused here.

What if you told her, look, honey, I want you to be the individual I know you are. What can I do to support you in doing that? If she's like, I need a different job and I need to have part of my life away from always "building" something then really really support that. If she says she doesn't even know anymore -- make a really concerted effort to solidly support wherever that path goes. Maybe she has other hobbies or interests that she's given up. Maybe she'd like to go visit an old friend. etc. I'd try that tack instead of "how can we go back to the way things were." Because all signs point to that not working for her, and her not knowing that (bad), just not telling you (also bad), or trying to tell you in her own way but it not sinking in (also bad). None of which are really desirable to replicate. If you want this to work, you each have to agree to not just "recreating" but by meeting each other as you are, and as you'd like to be.

Good luck. This is rough but I can see you're both willing to work it out for the time being.
posted by barnone at 12:26 AM on October 12, 2008

Another random suggestion...

it may be that she thinks you really want to have kids, but she doesn't. perhaps she feels shame in not wanting to be a mother, and feels the cut-and-run is her only out.

there's been some chatter about kids in this thread. has it been something that you two were discussing before the split? or something that the relationship 'timeline' would suggest?

it is a Possible Explanation, but certainly I cannot say it's going on here... just a stranger's first thought.
posted by prophetsearcher at 2:37 AM on October 12, 2008

The trouble with your story is that it's all about YOU -- your life, your wife, your marriage, your business. When she left you, then all of a sudden it was about her. My guess is that if you don't address this, it will happen again.

Stick with the counseling, and see if you can restate the story from your wife's point of view. Fair warning: this will be both painful and difficult. But you will grow immensely as a person if you persevere.
posted by portabella at 5:22 AM on October 12, 2008

Check out the book Divorce Busting, especially the section on the "Walk-Away Wife" phenomenon. I think it describes your situation very well, and can help you to understand things from your wife's perspective.
posted by AV at 7:05 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with Portabella...the majority of your post is about your business. We built it together, we work together, we talk about it over dinner and during our luxury vacations. We talk about the future (family, etc) and brainstorm on how to build the business to support our future dreams. I have no explanation or excuse for your wife disappearing for two weeks, but I'm wondering if part of the problem is that she feels as though "the business" has taken over your lives and that that is all you two have in common any more.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:05 AM on October 12, 2008

Unless she had a total mental flip-out, she left for a reason. Unless you know that reason, you are left hanging, wondering what will set this in motion again. If she can't figure out why she left, then she needs to think long and hard on it. Going through this again wouldn't be very pleasant for either of you.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:04 PM on October 12, 2008

To pass this off as "a little midlife crisis" is unkind, unhelpful and judgemental. She didn't buy a sports car or run off with a 19 year old waiter to Morocco, she ran to her mother's house. Could you think about that for five minutes?

When you feel trapped, you try to figure out what the way out is. In your case, you are lucky that she finally felt able to go to family and she didn't drive her car off of a bridge or do something else that would end up being harmful to her (getting involved with drugs, prescription or otherwise, people who aren't good for her, activities that would be less than healthy). The fact that she wrote stuff down doesn't make it premeditated in a negative way -- she was trying to figure out, oh my god, what can I do? Where can I go?

Help. this woman was - is - crying for help.

And you are upset that you can't talk to her about the blueprints for the new warehouse.

You think she doesn't care about you? Right now, she has her hands full trying to keep herself on this planet. Trust me the only reason she didn't go sooner is because all she could do was think about what would happen to you and the business and everything else if she left.

All I read here is that you're worried about your money and your money and, well, your money, and nothing about worrying about her health, well-being, happiness or mental state. To you, she's "back to normal." She's probably like that because she feels like she has to. I echo the poster above who said that you need to be in counselling individually as well as as a couple.
posted by micawber at 2:55 PM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

A close friend of mine had a similar experience -- except that her husband did tell her he "had to leave." It happened without warning, when everything seemed to be going very well. The reasons he gave were non-reasons. He didn't know why he needed to leave. Something told him he had to leave. He didn't love her in the "right way" to stay with her.

She gave him all kinds of space and time, and in a few months he told her the real reason. I won't say what it was, because it's not really relevant. My point is that there was a reason, and your wife probably has a reason, too -- she's not telling you what it is.

If your current counselor isn't helping you, do find another. I'm sorry for the pain you're going through.
posted by wryly at 4:19 PM on October 12, 2008

One exercise you might try is to show your wife your account of what happened (you don't have to tell her you posted it on the net, just show it to her in a word processing file if you think that's better) and then ask her to write an account of what happened from her perspective and let you read it.
posted by orange swan at 7:09 PM on October 12, 2008

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