Should I leave my wife?
May 20, 2010 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Should I leave my wife??? I have doubted my feelings for her from day one... story below... This is lengthy, sorry...

I am a married male, soon to be 32 years old. I've been married for 12 years (yeah, so I got married at the age of 20). We had a rocky beginning, where we lived with my parents for two years while I finished college. It's important to note that before we got married, she had been sexually assaulted twice. After a year of marriage, I got to hear the story of exactly what happened. It put me on a HUGE depression, one which I'm still battling. I ended up developing retroactive jealousy for her past boyfriends. Again, still fighting that one!

We moved out after college, and had one year alone in which we almost divorced because of fighting. I had applied for a job in California, and had decided to tell her that if I get it, I was going to move there alone... The day before I was going to tell her this, she told me she was pregnant. I decided to make it work for the baby.

I got the job, we moved to Orange County, and decided to not have TV. We ended up very happy. We had five years of bliss. At that point, we had three daughters. Then came the smackdown! In the summer of 2005, she told me about a sexual experience she had with another woman in high school, before she knew me. I realize that it shouldn't matter, and all of that. However, with my issue of retroactive jealousy, I ended up obsessing over this newfound discovery. This led to more depression, and I've never seen her the same way since.

In 2006, I re-discovered an old flame, and we chatted a lot. I had all the old feelings come up, and I told my wife about it, and how I wasn't sure what I wanted. She gave me space, and a few days later I decided I wanted to stay with her. However, I think this is only because the old flame told me no... I cut all ties with the old flame.

We moved back to Phoenix, and I started my drinking problems. I started smoking. I smoked pot once. It was a rough few years. The whole time, thinking of that stupid history she had with a girlfriend, which I realize doesn't matter. But it hurts all the same.

Now we approach today... In March, I got hit on. Hard. I had liked this girl (at work) since I had met her in 2007. However, now she was flirting with me. I flirted back, and we both ended up crushing on each other. Her marriage was in shambles. Mine was comfortable (my wife and I get along great. We rarely fight. When we do, it's stupid issues, and we always make up quickly. I have little to complain about with her. We watch the same shows, read the same books. We talk ALL the time, about EVERYTHING. We also give each other freedom and alone time without the kids). The hangup here is that I've never been sure I was in love with my wife. Even on day one, I never felt "that" feeling. I never miss her when I'm out of town. In fact, I look forward to getting away, always have.

In any case, this girl and I (she's older than me, if it matters), we get along great, love talking to each other, love just being around each other. We did nothing more than hug. We almost kissed, but backed away before it was too late. Yes, I know it was an emotional affair, but it was physical.

I got another job in California, and moved back to Orange County. Now here I am, alone as the kids finish school in AZ. The other girl doesn't talk to me (altho I email her, she never responds). I still feel a HUGE attachment to this girl. She's trying to make it work in her marriage, but she hates it. I'm trying to work this with my wife, but it feels insincere. I've never been sure I want to be with her, and now that I'm on my own (one month now), I'm loving it. I really am.

My question to the hive mind... Do I leave my wife? I've been comfortable with her for years. I told her about this other girl, and she's willing to stay and work with me on this. So, I've done this twice now, and she's still dedicated (can you believe that???). I don't doubt her loyalty or love for me. I doubt mine with her.

Her past still haunts me. She tries to help me with it, but I can't get over it. I'm on pills for it, and soon to be back in therapy. I know that I shouldn't make a rash decision on leaving my wife, and I won't do it anytime soon. But I'm considering it. I've decided to do the therapy thing, and figure my issues out, as well as my relationship with my spouse.

What this all comes down to is how I feel about my wife. If I'm in love with her, why don't I care if I'm near her? Why have I almost left her twice now for someone else? Why am I so happy to be alone? And it's not sudden. It's been a few weeks now, and I'm still happy. Part of equation, the girls are now 8, 6, and 4 years old.

I guess what I'm looking for is general thoughts on this. What do you think? Am I in love with my wife? Do my doubts mean anything significant? Or am I just reaching a mid-life crisis? Or not? I've always doubted my feelings. Am I just seeing an opportunity to walk without too much difficulty?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Be the kind of man you would want your daughters to marry. Think about that and you should have your answer.
posted by murrey at 1:28 PM on May 20, 2010 [61 favorites]

Forget the other girl. She's only muddling things up. Frankly, it's a little weird that you're continuing to try to contact her when she has made it clear she isn't going to respond.

We don't know if you're in love with your wife, but it seems strange to me that you're asking that question of strangers on the internet when you've said at least twice in this post that you've never been sure you want to be with her. Think of it this way: If you found out your wife felt about you the way you feel about her, would you want to be married to her? Would you want to be with someone who just thought you were all right? I wouldn't.
posted by something something at 1:29 PM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yeah this seems to be all you buddy. good or bad these are your issues. Give the therapy 6 months and see what you think then.

You got married at 20. You're next lady would/will have even more personal/sexual history for you to be very jealous of. Think about that.
posted by French Fry at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2010 [28 favorites]

your wife deserves someone better - someone who didn't react to her being sexually assaulted with depression and jealousy about former lovers (wtf??)

also - i think it's telling that you say you like to be alone, but you only really, really want to leave your wife when you think you have someone else to jump to.

you need an impartial specialist to discuss these things with. sometimes i think people jump in too quickly with THERAPY! but your case clearly warrants it.
posted by nadawi at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2010 [38 favorites]

So your main problems boil down to:

1. You don't know if you feel strongly enough about your wife to stay in a relationship.
2. You have an ongoing issue where you feel jealous of her past relationships or feel preoccupied with them.

In other words, you got married young and you feel like you missed out on something. It's the thought that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and that your wife had this experience roaming around over there and you didn't. It's not her past haunting you, because from your description it doesn't really affect who she is today. It's your own lack of a past.

It doesn't matter. It really, really does not. To be honest, many people drop what they have in the search of something better, but really just end up with something different. You're troubled because you're thinking of what could be, and not what your current life could be. The question isn't whether you're in love with your wife, it's whether there's something else realer out there you should be looking for. Only you can really answer that, but I'm really leaning toward the idea of working your own shit out and staying with your family.
posted by mikeh at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

I apologize, I sound a little uncaring in that I did not address the aspect of sexual assault, and obviously you do NOT envy that on her part. But in any case, you are projecting your feelings about your wife's past on to your relationship. If it has an effect on the way she operates now, whether it's socially or sexually, then maybe it's a shared issue. Otherwise, it's just something to acknowledge and move on.
posted by mikeh at 1:35 PM on May 20, 2010

On the other hand, romantic love is over-stated, in my opinion. Loving someone isn't about a feeling, it's about the actions you take.

Having said that, it's possible for you to still love your wife but leave her and move on. Nothing is forever, maybe this has run its course.

However, I don't think the bit of fluff on the side is what you should move on to. She's just stroked your ego a bit and it's got you all confused because someone thinks you're great.

If you want an opinion, and I'm guessing you do seeing as you're asking the internet, don't divorce your wife at the moment, stop cocking about with other women, get your (what seem to be quite serious) mental health issues sorted, and see where you're at.
posted by Lleyam at 1:37 PM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

my wife and I get along great. We rarely fight. When we do, it's stupid issues, and we always make up quickly. I have little to complain about with her. We watch the same shows, read the same books. We talk ALL the time, about EVERYTHING. We also give each other freedom and alone time without the kids

You have it better than a whole lot of single and married people.

Forget the crushes, that's all they are. Think long and hard about what is really important in your life.

Nobody here can tell you what to do. Talk to your wife.
posted by bondcliff at 1:37 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you think there is any chance you are treating your wife badly in the hope that she will leave you? Because there are parts of your post that read that way to me. If so, then maybe you do need to leave her. You might consider therapy first for your jealousy issues though.

Being away from your wife for a few weeks, and not being unhappy but knowing you can go back to her is not the same as giving her up completely and staying happy, plus how would making your girls unhappy hit you?
posted by biffa at 1:37 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes. You should leave your wife so that she can have the chance to experience being loved.

As it is, she's wasting her time with an infantile narcissist who fixates on manufactured slights to his supposed masculinity.
posted by felix betachat at 1:39 PM on May 20, 2010 [89 favorites]

Have you ever looked at your marriage from your wife's point of view?

Here she is, a young woman who has been sexually assaulted. She finds a man who, it seems from all you've written, she loves deeply. Yet he has more problems with her past than she does. She gets pregnant, and somehow, the two of you make it work. Yet you have, at least twice, betrayed her trust. She has never done anything to make your doubt her, ever. She is the mother of your three children. And she may be getting a call from you any day now saying, "Hey, don't come here, stay in AZ with the kids. I'm done."

It seems to me that your wife has had the raw deal here, not you. You may not have been ready for marriage when it came, but she has been a great wife and mother and you've gotten a better deal than maybe you realize.

Your post is all about, "I have trouble handling what happened to her IN THE PAST." You should probably get therapy for that issue. But leave your wife? Why? To pursue this woman, who WON'T EVEN ANSWER YOUR EMAILS? Have you forgotten that you have THREE DAUGHTERS?! You don't mention your love for them, or your doubts about it, but leaving your wife means leaving them, too.

I really feel that you need to grow up, face the issues in your marriage which, btw, seem to be YOUR issues, and stop thinking the grass is always greener somewhere else. You are damn lucky to have such an understanding wife, especially when you consider what she has been through.
posted by misha at 1:41 PM on May 20, 2010 [98 favorites]

Why are you having so much trouble with your wives past? She was sexually assaulted. That is something she should be depressed about.

You're obsessing over ridiculous things.
posted by lakerk at 1:47 PM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've decided to do the therapy thing, and figure my issues out

This seems like a good idea. As does not making any hasty decisions about the future of your marriage and family until you've gone some way with that.

None of us here can tell you whether or not you love your wife, or what your doubts mean. But it certainly sounds like you've got some stuff to work out with your own self, given your responses to what she's told you about her past. Hearing about a spouse's same-sex experience in high school shouldn't really lead to years of depression; hearing about said spouse's previous sexual assault shouldn't really lead to jealousy over ex-boyfriends that's lasted eleven years.

You don't mention whether or not she's still depressed or still troubled by the past assault, how she feels about you and the marriage (apart from wanting to make it work), how she feels about these other women you've pursued. It's clear you need to find different ways of looking at these situations - and the current way clearly isn't making you happy, either.
posted by Catseye at 1:49 PM on May 20, 2010

On one hand, it seems to me that you need to sort through your emotional issues in therapy before making a decision about your marriage. But on the other, it's so, so upsetting to read that she's constantly putting up with your antics. She needs a husband who will love her and be there for her, not a child who is jealous of something she did in high school for fuck's sake. And if she is willing to keep sticking by you, then you take this opportunity and truly apply yourself to become a better partner. Because nowhere in this world will you find a person like that twice.

Therapy therapy therapy. You need to discover what it is you truly want, what the consequences of those desires may be, and take into consideration the lives and feelings of the people close to you. This is a very complicated situation, and us random strangers on the internet will not make it that much easier. You really do need to talk to someone equipped to handle such scenarios.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 1:49 PM on May 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

It seems to me that your wife has had the raw deal here, not you. You may not have been ready for marriage when it came, but she has been a great wife and mother and you've gotten a better deal than maybe you realize.

Seriously, this. Wake up buddy, and quit being a selfish dickhead. Get yourself in therapy and fix your marriage. You're 32, not 20. Most people would have left you in the dust a long time ago, not put up with your bullshit about how you feel about them getting sexually assaulted.
posted by wooh at 1:52 PM on May 20, 2010 [16 favorites]

You need to make this anonymous, now.

You also need to remember the significance of the vows you took on the day of your wedding. Presumably you promised to be there for your wife, for something like for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Have you integrity? Reflect on the meaning of those words and decide if you're the kind of person who honors his commitments, not just to his wife, but to his three children also, all of whom depend on him being that sort of person for their livelihood and a successful future.

If you're not that kind of person, what will it take for you to become one? Don't for a moment even consider remaining where you to be an option. Show some character, dude.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:56 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's important to note that before we got married, she had been sexually assaulted twice. After a year of marriage, I got to hear the story of exactly what happened. It put me on a HUGE depression, one which I'm still battling. I ended up developing retroactive jealousy for her past boyfriends. Again, still fighting that one!

...I don't think you fully compass how your phrasing is probably affecting the answers you're getting. There are two separate concerns here, and you've got them down in an order that kind of comes off like "I'm really jealous that men got to do serious psychological and possibly physical harm to my wife before I had a chance to sleep with her."

I can't, the way you've written this, make clear sense of the problem. Are you upset that she wasn't a virgin? Are you upset that she was raped? Do you perceive the situations under which those assaults occurred as her fault, and thus feel contempt towards her as a result? Do you find it uncomfortable for a woman you're involved with to have a wider range of sexual experiences than you, yourself, have had?

There's a lot going on here that seems tied up with the equation of sexual assault with consensual sexual experience/ consensual relationships. It's not. Rape is a crime with its roots in power and control that uses sex as its vector, not just another sexual experience.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:58 PM on May 20, 2010 [8 favorites]

In a similar thread the other day, millipede wisely observed that "A marriage is not something that just happens to you. This is something that you did. You picked it. You promised to love her and be with her forever."

You're phrasing your question like you've been tricked or forced into this life you didn't choose for yourself, like your wife acted in bad faith by having been assaulted before you met (or by telling you about it?). Your post reads like a child's whining. You're a 32-year-old married adult. When you choose to pursue other women, you're an adult choosing to cheat on your wife, choosing to betray your family, including your kids. You chose to get married--yes, you were young when you made the decision, but you chose to get married. Whether or not you honor that commitment is up to you, but this is not about something other people have forced on you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:59 PM on May 20, 2010 [16 favorites]

It sounds to me that all of the problems have to do with you, not your wife or your marriage. If you leave her, you'll still have the problems but you won't have her. I'd focus on fixing your problems.
posted by callmejay at 1:59 PM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Be a hero - to your wife and your children. Be one of those people that, even though things are tough, you suck it up and put their needs above your own. Wake up each day and try to make their lives better.

Even though you're enjoying your time away have you considered your children's lives without their father? You've got a lot to offer this family. Go, offer. Be the hero. It's hard, it's not always fun, but it's worth it.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mmph, I should rephrase my last question there. Do you find it uncomfortable that a woman has had a wider range of experiences in her sexual history than you have? I'd kind of like to separate the "sex with other partners" bit from the "sexual assault" bit better than I did there, as they are two vastly different things.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2010

Can I be even more blunt than the others? Grow. The. Fuck. Up.

This is all on you, buddy. All of it. You need a therapist for this. You are at such a crossroads here. If you divorce her, you're going to fuck up the rest of your life. *IF* you manage to salvage your life and not wind up alone and broke after the divorce, and you wind up magically in a decent long term relationship with one of these periodic crushes you get, you're going to realize that the grass isn't any greener. At that point, you're going to come to the realization you tossed out your relationship with your kids for nothing. You're going to realize you COMPLETELY fucked over your wife, who has given you a good chunk of her life.

Get a therapist. Get on medication. Stop talking to other women until you can separate crushes from your wife.

I know so many people who would be thrilled to be where you are.

posted by pjaust at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2010 [33 favorites]

i may have reacted strongly and i would like to clarify one thing.

reacting to your wife being sexually assaulted by being depressed isn't bad or wrong. making her pay for that emotion is cruel, no doubt - and if any your jealousy stems from her sexual assaults i don't think the english language contains the sort of things i'd like to say to you - BUT - being a partner of a survivor of abuse is difficult and the partner can often have their own issues with the news. i've noticed it in my partners through the years - they're angry, they're despondent, they feel useless because they weren't there to protect me then and now it's something in the past they can't fix. they are sometimes confused by my family dynamic (my initial abuse was at the hands of a relative and my family is known for protecting abusers). i'm sure there are some of their emotions i'm not covering here. but at the end of the day - these are YOUR issues and YOU need to resolve them. you also need to separate them from whatever fucked up emotions you have about her consensual sexual past.
posted by nadawi at 2:06 PM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is your wife in therapy? It sounds like she has a bit of a mixed-up past and it's possible that by throwing herself into marriage and motherhood that she effectively swept some things under the rug. Being a victim of sexual assault is almost more taboo in our society than being an actual perpetrator. Having a girl-girl relationship back in the 80s was also not exactly an out and proud thing to be doing. This relationship may be wrapped up in her assault history or other things in her life. It may be that that was the best relationship she ever had. She may be a lesbian or she may have been passionate about this one person who happens to be a girl. Who knows? What we do know is that she's married to a guy with one foot out the door who doesn't think he was ever in love with her, who fantasizes about his wife's past relationships and who may not be able to pull himself together for the sake of the children.

That's bad stuff. I think you need to have a come to jesus moment about your problems. Your problems are not your wife. Your problems are how you have decided to view your relationship with your wife. I think you need to talk with her. Tell her that you feel on shaky ground and that you would like to try marital counseling as well as separate counseling. Tell her that it's required in order to make this work. Give yourselves 8 months to hash out some issues.

It's possible that you both could come out better for this -- either you find that spark and commitment or you find the strength to separate but be great partners for the sake of your children. If you just leave, you can't do the latter. Don't just leave. Hard work must start. Today.
posted by amanda at 2:13 PM on May 20, 2010

One more thing:

Am I just seeing an opportunity to walk without too much difficulty?

This is purely imagined. Your perception of this "opportunity" is entirely warped, because it's not as easy as "This isn't working for me, goodbye." Ignoring the fact that you'd be walking away from your children, you will still be haunted by all these ghosts. A new relationship isn't going to be a clean slate for you - if you manage to get close to another person, details of this will come out. Shame and guilt and jealousy will resurface if they're not dealt with. So why not deal with them right now, when what you have may be salvaged, instead of throwing it away and hoping you'll turn around in the future with someone else?

Snap out of it.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 2:13 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your post exhibits not so nice stuff:

1. Jealousy (Whaaa??? You're jealous of her prior sexual partners, which consisted of sexual assaults?? And some random one-off same-sex experience in high school?? Please tell me I'm reading that wrong.)

2. Lack of compassion (SHE WAS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED? TWICE? And your response is jealousy?!)

3. Infidelity (Old girlfriends? Coworkers?)

4. Disrespect (Um, your crush is still married? She's trying to fix her marriage and you keep emailing though she doesn't respond? Really?)

5. Alcohol problems (Hmm.)

As it stands, I don't think that smorgasbord of behavior is a good role model for your daughters, to be honest. Wouldn't it be horrible for them to come to view the above as acceptable and normal?

It's great you're seeking therapy, but you don't seem to get it, really. You see all these problems yet continue to create them, e.g., with other women, with the jealousy, etc. I don't think someone can be taught to be compassionate, focused, and respectful. There's likely more benefit to your children - who should be, IMHO, the most important factor here - to shield them from your behavior. Let your wife and children move on without you. Go find whatever it is you're looking for, be it lack of responsibility, freedom, carrying on with these women, or whatever unspoken goal is making you a negative presence for these people who don't deserve it.

My guess is that you'll only realize what you have once it's gone; in the meantime, it's unfair and hurtful to drag them through this while you hem and haw. Let them go.
posted by December at 2:15 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Anonymized at poster's request.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:16 PM on May 20, 2010

I'm gonna be blunt here and say that your wife sounds like a saint to put up with you, and her only fault may be having low enough self esteem to remain with you despite you taking her for granted and pretty much telling her you want other women.

You need to man up and slog through YOUR issues in order to make your marriage work. Only leave your marriage if there is truly no other way.
posted by kpht at 2:19 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Others have already hit a lot of issues on the head, but one more thing: don't underestimate how massively sucky divorce is. I know, I've been there, and for me it was the right decision, but it was a horrible thing to go through and I never want to go through it again (and made sure to make better choices the second time around.) Your question goes into detail about what you are unhappy about, but let's be clear: divorce is a giant shitstorm that makes everyone miserable for a while. Do you really want to go there? Based on how you describe your day-to-day with your wife, I'd vote "no."

Many years ago, as I was heading into my divorce, a friend shared his pleasure/pain scale:

+100: having sex
+50: eating an ice cream sundae
0: the emotional life of an accountant
-50: needing a root canal
-100: getting audited by the IRS
-197: being burned alive in a vat of boiling oil
-198: getting divorced
-199: being trapped in a truly unhappy, un-fixable marriage.

You want to make sure that you are really at -199 before you take yourself to -198.
posted by ambrosia at 2:20 PM on May 20, 2010 [63 favorites]

Yes. You should leave your wife. Your behavior sounds really unhealthy and immature - at the very least, your wife deserves someone who can at least try to be supportive in dealing with things in her past that are possibly traumatic (you know, for her, not for you, since you didn't actually experience them yourself) without projecting all of their issues onto her and appropriating her experiences ("I found out she was sexually assaulted - OMG what a downer, I've been depressed about it for YEARS!!") while telling internet strangers about how much happier they are without her while she's off raising their children ... you know. Like what you're doing right now.

If you don't give a shit about your wife's quality of life and her happiness, by all means, you should stay with her - it sounds like you've got a pretty good deal going on, actually. She's supportive and stable, she cares about you, she's a good partner and parent. YOU will probably be happier in the long run if the two of you stay together.

But it definitely sounds to me like SHE deserves a lot better than what you are providing her with.
posted by ellehumour at 2:26 PM on May 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Step 1: Find a good marriage and family therapist and go for yourself.

Step 2: Depends on results of Step 1.

I strongly feel this thread needs to be anonymized.
posted by artlung at 2:30 PM on May 20, 2010

I must say I'm with a lot of people here. Your wife deserves better. It is very rare that that greener grass is better then what you already have. I've been divorced because of it. Fortunately I am involved in my daughter's life nearly everyday. And yes there were other things as well that were the root of the problem. After the divorce we went through counseling and have become friends. I would never go back to the marriage either.

I certainly won't advocate staying in this for your children, because they then get to learn unhappiness as a relationship choice. But I would certainly recommend taking your therapy serious for their sake as well as your own. You may be doomed to leave them without a father in their daily lives, or possibly bless them with the opportunity for a real man to step up where you were unable. Still it would be best if you made the honest effort to learn how to deal with your messed up emotional issues and figure out if it is worth making things work after you've learned about yourself.
posted by quietfire at 2:40 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Therapy, therapy, therapy.
posted by theora55 at 3:14 PM on May 20, 2010


As I read your question, it boils down to this: Your jealousy issues have nothing to do with your wife. They're about your own insecurities. You're not going to walk away from your wife and start over with a virgin, and any of the people you develop crushes on have their own pasts that you will be jealous of.

Why are you still writing to another woman? A woman who, by the way, isn't replying to your emails. You know you need to stop doing that.

It sounds like you've actually got a great marriage, so you should focus on it. Find ways to build and grow the friendship you have with your wife. You said you went through five years of bliss with your wife. Find ways to rediscover that bliss. I agree with others above that your wife deserves better than you. Ah, but here's the thing: She Chose You. Be the man she and your children deserve. You can do it. You just have to choose to do it.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:16 PM on May 20, 2010

Life's too short to be married to someone you don't love. Some people are casting the OP as some sort of rat, but who can say what's best for his wife in the long run? Maybe it isn't best for her to stay married to someone who just doesn't want to.

I don't see why he's immature to raise the question, or why people read mental health issues into it. Everyone's got issues, but either you love someone or you don't.

Noone can control what they feel romantically for another person. He can control whether he treats her well if they break up, and make sure he supports and spends time with his kids.
posted by Not Supplied at 3:22 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

First, the just-help-the-guy-out-with-no-judging answer:

Stop contacting any kind of other girls. Turn down advances, flat and without ambiguity. Stop seeking out new girls. Seriously. You are doing your wife and your children a serious disservice, and you need to knock it off.

Then, see if you're happier, when you're not comparing things all the time. If you genuinely, truly feel that you'd be better off without her, even knowing the impact it will have on your kids, and on the rest of all your lives -- then get into couples therapy first, and fast. And commit to trying to fix it.

Second, the WTF answer:

It's important to note that before we got married, she had been sexually assaulted twice. After a year of marriage, I got to hear the story of exactly what happened. It put me on a HUGE depression, one which I'm still battling.

I cannot even begin to imagine why you would be so depressed, for so long, about something that has nothing to do with you and happened when you weren't in a position to stop it. You might want to start solo therapy to find out why you've made it about you.
posted by davejay at 4:13 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The other girl doesn't talk to me (altho I email her, she never responds).

Quick personal feedback: isn't this a bit stalkery?
posted by davejay at 4:27 PM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mod note: bunch of comments removed - ease up on the writing projects and offer constructive advice or feel free to skip the question, thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:03 PM on May 20, 2010

An observation that may (or may not) be helpful:

The problem you have in your marriage illustrates exactly why 20-year-olds generally shouldn't get married. Often, when people get together at a young age, they get stuck in behaviors and thought patterns that the rest of us grow out of after a few relationships.
*20-year-olds get jealous of their significant other's past sexual experiences; healthy 30-year-olds don't.
*20-year-olds have trouble being friends with an attractive member of the opposite sex; healthy 30-year-olds don't.
*20-year-olds think they have to choose between their family or a new life; healthy 30-year-olds know there is no choice -- they take care of their family.

You need a therapist who can help you understand why you're still an emotional 20-year-old, and who can help you grow up.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:05 PM on May 20, 2010 [16 favorites]

I'm going to go off on a limb there and suggest you try an open relationship, or at least open on your side. You have issues that can only be fixed by developing more sexual experience and your own "history".
posted by spacefire at 5:54 PM on May 20, 2010

Might I suggest the reason you're so jealous of your wife's past sexual partners is because YOU are still attracted to your past flames and have actually crossed a line with them? You've spent all this time being jealous of her partners when she hasn't actually done anything, whereas you have.

Psychologically, this is very common occurrence: some people, if they know that they're inclined to do something, assume that other people are, too. Depending on the situation, you can tell a lot about people's vices when they are suspicious or are jealous of someone else (or, on a tangent now, if they make claims about how "everyone does/thinks XYZ, they just won't admit it"). If your wife had actually ever done anything with past partners, or compared you unfavorably to those past partners, or anything else cruel, then you might have some rational grounds for jealousy. As it is, it sounds like you know that because you're inclined to engage in behavior that would make your wife jealous, then she might do it to you.

That aside, as nadawi already noted it's not uncommon for spouses of sexual assault victims to be depressed over it. I hope your post was poorly worded and it's not that you're jealous of whomever assaulted her. Either way, that's something therapy is for.

I agree with everyone who already pointed out that if you leave your wife, whoever you get with is going to have an even more extensive sexual history just by merit of being older than your wife was when you got married. I mean, really, the woman you're (rather stalker-y) e-mailing who doesn't respond is "working on her marriage." Why does that not make you jealous enough to want to throw her aside? It shouldn't -- "jealousy" on your part isn't the reason you shouldn't be crossing lines with a married woman -- but the dichotomy here is bizarre. You can throw away your marriage if you want but you're not going to find a virgin.

If what you really need is a virgin, you are -- and I wish there was a gentler way to put this -- terribly misogynistic. And insecure. Ask yourself this: What kind of person are you if you're so insecure that you need to be the only one that's ever laid hands upon the woman in your life? What kind of person are you if you expect other people to somehow have known that you would come along later in their life, and that they should have put everything on hold for you instead of pursuing whatever happiness seemed possible to them at the time? Nobody knows who "the one" is until they date them and gather the data themselves; to hold your wife's prior data-gathering against her is more than unfair, it's borderline insane because it's as if you really expected her to divine the future. That is impossible. For anyone. Ask yourself how needy you must be that anything less than a woman waiting for you and then devoting her entire life to you isn't enough.

I have to say, part of what this sounds like is you got married too early. And I say this as someone who got married at 24. The sort of virgin-wishing you describe is something most people grow out of, but it sounds like you never did. You come across as extremely immature for someone in his 30s; it reminds me of the stuff one of my friends would go on about when he was 18. It seems like you're trying to find the source of this problem in your wife, but it's all you. Your wife hasn't done anything wrong, but you have done much wrong.

Consider that if you do ultimately end your relationship with your wife -- and I hope for her sake, regardless of how painful it will be for her and your children, that you do; you don't care about her enough -- you shouldn't be in a relationship with anyone else either. It's okay and common enough to have issues, even as many of them as you do, but you really should not be subjecting anyone else to them until they're resolved: as you're coming to realize (since breaking up with someone you aren't into wouldn't otherwise be so difficult a decision) you can seriously wreck other people's lives by not having your own shit together.

And when you wreck her life, and your children's life, take responsibility. It has nothing to do with your wife, and if you let yourself scapegoat it onto something else -- oh, she had so many past boyfriends, or oh, she wasn't attractive enough to me -- then you're going to keep wrecking people's lives in the future. You did this. If you want to be a better person, own up to it. Shit will suck in the meantime but that's the only way things will ever get better.

Good luck.
posted by Nattie at 6:24 PM on May 20, 2010 [11 favorites]

The problem you have in your marriage illustrates exactly why 20-year-olds generally shouldn't get married.

Actually, it illustrates why immature people shouldn't get married. Age has nothing to do with it.

You have issues that can only be fixed by developing more sexual experience and your own "history".

Or by becoming more mature.

OP, I strongly suggest you go into therapy before making a decision to leave your wife. I think there's a chance for you to fix things with your marriage and avoid disrupting either her life or the lives of your children. At least give it a shot before you opt for divorce.
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:16 PM on May 20, 2010

I think you should leave your wife and kids, and my hope is that the wife can find a wonderful new husband and the kids can have a wonderful, emotionally stable father that they will be proud to call "Dad." There are a lot of people who envy having a wonderful wife they can talk to and three daughters.

I think it's unlikely you will ever stop looking for greener grass and I don't think you will ever find it. But I don't think you're a very good husband and father and I think you aren't meant to be one. It's not your wife's fault. It's who you are, and you're just not husband/father material.
posted by anniecat at 7:48 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: few more comments removed - ease off the "you suck" stuff, seriously
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:17 PM on May 20, 2010

To put it purely in terms of your own self-interest (because I think everyone has already nailed it in terms of what this means vis-a-vis your wife and children): you don't presently have the capacity to be in a mutually meaningful, loving, satisfying adult relationship with anyone. Not your wife, and not the other woman (who is, incidentally, NOT a "girl" and clearly NOT interested in you anyway) Indeed, your expectations and issues regarding relationships and women seem so unrealistic unhealthy that they would inevitably fuck up any new relationship. Because guess what? Any other woman you would be with -- unless you find a way only to date virgins -- would already have had sex with other men (or women!). They would have already loved other men. They might have been married to other men, and had children with other men. And, sadly (given statistics), they might also have been sexually assaulted by other men.

And then what? Are you going to go into another decade-long depression because -- let's be blunt -- you weren't the first man to put your penis in her vagina? You want to be 42 and asking again about dumping someone else in favor of another new woman who hasn't yet committed the error of being fully human? 52? 62?

If this sounds harsh, then good: I mean it to be. Dumping your wife will not magically lead to happiness -- and not just because the divorce will be infinitely more painful (to your wife, your children, and even to you) than you can even imagine. It will not lead to happiness because you don't seem to have the ability to relate authentically and lovingly to other human beings in a way that actually leads to happiness. This will not be fixed by leaving your wife.

Now, this is not to say divorce is off the table; it may ultimately be the best thing for all involved. But be very, very, very clear: running out on your marriage right now, in what appears to be a pretty stunted emotional and psychological state, might make you feel giddy and free momentarily. But it will not lead to any sort of lasting happiness.

I would get thee to therapy, like, yesterday.
posted by scody at 8:42 PM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think you need to clarify for us whether your depression is due to sadness you feel because your wife was sexually assaulted (ie, you have lost faith in humanity somewhat, you are very sad because a bad thing happened to a person you care about) or whether you are depressed because you view your wife's assaults as sexual experiences that you were not part of.
posted by lemur at 9:13 PM on May 20, 2010

[Warning: extremely long!] Phew, ok, you have a lot of work ahead of you. A lot. I'm not going to add to the pile on here, but instead I hope I can give you some things to think about.

First, I'd be interested to know why you got married in the first place, and what you were hoping for by getting married. Were you hoping for the (gag me) happily ever after tale, that things would be perfect forever? Did you know anything about marriage aside from how it's sold and packaged in America (i.e. all about romance and bliss and love and never having problems, blah etc.). Was there any parental pressure? What's the story here?

What led her to decide that she would tell you about the sexual assault? Why did she want you to know, and what did she hope to get out of it? Was she re-experiencing some of the trauma and wanted your support? Was it something that she felt that you just needed to know? You got depressed from hearing the story - it sounds like you experienced some vicarious trauma by hearing it. How did your wife deal with your depression? Did you ever think about how that affected your wife? Was she not bothered by your depression (I doubt it, but you not mentioning it is kind of glaring).

And yeah, the way you worded it, it does sound like you are jealous of the people you sexually assaulted her. I don't know if that was just poor wording choice or what, so I won't comment further. And yeah, you definitely need to explore what all that jealousy is about.

So again, how did the telling of the lesbian experience come up? What was she hoping to get out of telling you this, if anything? Basically you had five years of bliss, she tells you this, and just like that, you've never seen her the same way since. So all the years that you had together have no bearing anymore on what you think and feel about her? You are going to let that one experience with a woman define the entirety of how you feel about her? And you let this bug you from the time you found out to the time you moved to Phoenix? How do you feel about it now? This is something you really need to figure out, why it hurts you.

I'm glad you were honest with your wife about your feelings for the ex. See, you do have some good judgement!!

Despite all the turmoil you seem to experience, somehow you're still able to say that you and your wife get along great, you can make up quickly if you fight, you talk all the time, you have freedom. There's something about you, your wife, this whole situation that makes this possible. Find it and nurture it and make it grow, and take all your turmoil and bury it in what seems to be some healthy substrate that does exist.

I think being in love is really overrated. Seriously. I think American culture really pushes this idea that if you're not totally swept up, breathless and googly eyed with your partner a la Twilight, that there's something wrong. This kind of thinking leads people to devaluing their happy, healthy relationships, and leads them on this wild goose chase to find that thing or essence, that if you could just capture it, you'd be happy. This is all just an illusion created to sell products and make you buy things and keep the economy going. You never felt "that" feeling, so what did you feel? This is why I wondered what led you to getting married in the first place. Maybe you never miss her not because of her and who she is, but what you're capable of feeling, in general: you've established that you have been depressed, jealous, and have never looked at her the same since finding out about her lesbian experience.

You're trying to work it with your wife, but what are you working at? Have you guys identified problems that you need to work on? In thinking about leaving your wife, what is that going to solve? And try to look at it from your kids' point of view. You'd have to tell them that mom and dad are getting a divorce. And the reason is because… what, you have issues? You don't like being married?

This is less about how you feel about your wife and more about how you feel about yourself. It just seems to me that you have a lot of learning about yourself to do. And maybe that if you have love for yourself, you can be capable of loving your wife, someone who has been unendingly understanding and unselfish as you work through your shit. I don't know how someone cannot love that and be grateful for that, unless they just weren't capable of doing so.

Finally, you say you've always doubted your feelings. For your wife, or just in general, throughout all aspects of your life? Either way, your feelings and thoughts are things you should really try to understand and explore. And what strikes me about your post is that you don't seem to be aware of how this is all affecting your wife and kids. I don't know if you just left that stuff out, but it just seems like you're thinking about you, you, you. In therapy I hope you'll get to see how that affects other people, and how being a better, more centered, present, honest you will have a positive effect on others as well. I think being apart from your family will give you some time to think. Maybe write in a journal or something.
posted by foxjacket at 9:21 PM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

In these types of questions I typically have some sympathy for the partner who is no longer in love with, or attracted to, or sexually compatible with, his wife. But you don't have any kind of a case. Your wife sounds like a champ and you're missing it nurturing feelings of regret and resentment. If you're going to stay with your wife, then start appreciating what you have. Cultivate some gratitude. Meditation may help you deal with your feeling regarding her prior sexual experiences and assaults. Focusing (Eugene Gendlin) is another way that you can productively relate to those feelings.
posted by BigSky at 2:39 AM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually, it illustrates why immature people shouldn't get married.
Yeah, but saying, "Immature people shouldn't get married" is useless, because no one actually thinks of themselves as immature. And no, there's no such thing as a fully developed 20-year-old.

Age has nothing to do with it.

You're right; it's about experience. And at 30 you WILL have more experience than you do at 20, so why not wait? The intervening years can only be learning opportunities.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:29 AM on May 21, 2010

Do what's best for your children. Always. This may involve you leaving the marriage. Ultimately it is your decision and the accountability for your actions falls squarely on your shoulders.
posted by slogger at 10:58 AM on May 21, 2010

And at 30 you WILL have more experience than you do at 20, so why not wait?

that fails the logic test. at 40 you'll have more experience than you do at 30, at 50 more than 40, at 60 more than, why ever get married if you're going to keep on growing?

there's no such thing as a fully developed 20-year-old.

oh, sure there is. OP just doesn't seem like one of them.
posted by nadawi at 12:18 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

"I still feel a HUGE attachment to this girl. She's trying to make it work in her marriage, but she hates it."

I can't speak to most of your question with confidence.

I can say that this is a very frequent line of bullshit given out by cheaters who will never leave their spouses, so don't hold out hope. She very well may have an awesome marriage that she does NOT hate.

Move on from her. The attachment might be strong, but that doesn't mean it's healthy, and it's clouding your judgment.

Best of luck with whatever you decide.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:22 AM on May 23, 2010

I know someone who went through exactly what you're describing (even using some of the same words) with his first wife. Then again with his second wife a few years later. And then again with the girlfriend he left his second wife for.

He now has three sets of kids by three different women, is paying almost all his income in child support and lives in a bungalow in his parents' backyard.

Don't end up like him.
posted by andraste at 3:54 PM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

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