How can I tell my husband I don't love him without totally crushing him?
August 6, 2010 8:12 PM   Subscribe

How can I tell my husband I don't love him without totally crushing him?

When I married my husband 5 years ago (after dating for 1 & 1/2 years, so, 6 & 1/2 yrs together), I knew I didn't love him. There are various reasons why I married him anyway, and I am aware that marrying someone you don't love A LOT is just asking for trouble. However, I respected and admired him, and I trusted him, and he had many good qualities. Perhaps I will GROW to love him, I thought, like they do in arranged marriages, or in that Sarah Plain and Tall story. That could happen, right? I remember explicitly thinking "Well, I don't love him but I think being married to him might make me a better person in a lot of important ways."

And I have learned a lot from him, and have grown up a lot and I think become a better person because of him. I owe him a debt, but more and more I feel I also owe him the truth. My husband loves me, I know he does. And I try to pantomime all the things people in love do when they are in love, but increasingly it feels like a lie, and one that is driving me crazy. Because I don't really love him, I don't listen to him as empathetically or as closely as I should, I don't give him the care and kindness he deserves, I have very little patience for life's inevitable relationship challenges, and I don't want to have sex with him (I can't fake it anymore, it makes me feel sick). We spoke about the distance between us and agreed to try counseling. But counseling can't create love that was never there, can it? Why even bother, if really the truth is that I just don't love him?

I still admire and respect him. I find him interesting and compelling in many ways, and he is a great dad to our 4-year-old, whom we both love fiercely. More and more I have fantasies of sitting him down and saying "I'm so sorry. You deserve to have someone in your life who loves you, but it's not me." What would happen if I did this? How can I talk about this without seeming needlessly cruel?

Side note -- this whole thing has been brought to a head because for two years I HAVE been in love with (really, actually in love with) a friend of mine who loves me back. We have not done anything about it and won't for various reasons (at least not anytime soon) other than just acknowledging it. But when I think about the way I've felt about my friend for 2 years, I think, "Oh yeah, I remember this. THIS is love." I'm burned out from not feeling it -- ever -- about my spouse and need to find the least destructive way to move on.

Any advice, especially based on your own experiences with cruel vs kind breakups, would be so, so helpful.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (89 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
You can't.

You're going to destroy him regardless of how you frame it. Sorry, but that's just the way it goes.
posted by aramaic at 8:18 PM on August 6, 2010 [14 favorites]

You can't. Saying "I don't love," to someone who strongly believes the opposite, is inevitably cruel. Don't kid yourself.

You have to assume that if you do this, he will feel extremely bad, and you will get divorced.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:20 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

You don't need to tell him you don't love him. Just tell him you don't want to be married to him.
posted by yarly at 8:21 PM on August 6, 2010 [13 favorites]

Well, as much as you feel you owe him the truth: don't tell him you never loved him. Don't bring your love for your friend into it. The fact that you married him despite not loving him is your baggage, and you shouldn't put it on him. What would doing so accomplish except make you feel more justified in getting a divorce? If you don't want to hurt him more than necessary, don't tell him what you've told us.

There's no way to do that without being needlessly cruel. The time to have that conversation was 5 years ago.

Just tell him that though you still respect him, you're no longer happy in your relationship and want a divorce.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:21 PM on August 6, 2010 [62 favorites]

Everyone will post a million things with far more detail than you, but the one thing I want to tell you is: it is much -- MUCH -- more cruel to stay with him living a lie. The fact that you've been doing so is what's going to hurt him waaaay more than you leaving.

I'm sorry. :( The sooner you both move along, the better for everyone.
posted by hansbrough at 8:22 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think Solon summed it up quite well. Sometimes it's kinder to NOT be completely honest.
posted by CwgrlUp at 8:24 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Someone I know went through this recently from your husband's side.

It sucks. Nothing you can do will make it better. This person has been devastated and hurt.

But unlike the person who was you with my friend, you can at least not be a total asshole about it. Just be quick, and don't drag anything out.
posted by zizzle at 8:28 PM on August 6, 2010

One quick question: How would you feel if that other friend was not in the picture?

Be honest with yourself. Because just in case you are about to totally screw up at least three lives you need to differentiate, if you know what I mean.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:35 PM on August 6, 2010 [14 favorites]

I'm going to part with some of the others above and say that, for his sake, you do need to tell him you don't love him the way that he deserves a wife or lover to love him. Shying away from the honest truth here to "spare his feelings" (Every day you've been with him while secretly not loving him has been cruel to him, and NOW you're concerned about his feelings??) is only going to give the guy false hope of fixing things or working things out with you when it seems clear that the best thing for this man's heart and for his emotional future is to have you out of it. Good luck to you both.
posted by applemeat at 8:46 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think you don't need to say anything. He probably already knows. I think you should concentrate on acting as well as you possibly can towards him.

Having a small child means, to me, that you put your own feelings on the back burner, and act in the best interests of the child. That might mean that you feel bad, but can act well.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:50 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

If I were him, I would want to know the truth. Anything less than the truth might lead him to believe there is hope left where there is none.

I sympathize with you a lot. I know how pale faking it seems when compared to the real thing. It's so awful.
posted by millipede at 8:50 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

After being married for about the same amount of time as you and your husband, I was the one who initiated the "this marriage isn't working" conversation. It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. My husband was crushed. At first.

That was just over two years ago and so much has changed for the better. No matter how bad things got during our break-up, we managed to treat each other with respect. I think that's key. Our marriage and romance failed, but our friendship survived.

He's been dating a woman for about a year now. She's much better suited for him than I ever was. She's genuinely in love with him. She gives him what I couldn't. I have to say, it's nice to see him happy. He's in a very good place and he wouldn't be there if we were still married.
posted by Majorita at 9:18 PM on August 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

I don't recall any kind break ups. They all suck. Staying in a marriage without love seems like a waste of time. My husband of 23 years said to me one day, and I quote, "My love for you has died." I think he and his girlfriend were watching too many soap operas, but I got the point. There is no kind way to relay the information. I only wish he had told me 23 years earlier. Life is short. Don't waste it in a loveless relationship. You're not doing him or yourself any favors.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:19 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have experienced this. After 5 years there is nothing you can say to him about his many good qualities that not prevent him from feeling deeply hurt and likely betrayed. I agree with the above posts; you should start considering the mechanics of divorce. There will come a 'balancing of the books': financial, emotional, social, parental. Overall, you should act in the best interests of your child. As you consider what you've learned from him and the better person you have become because of the marriage, please also reflect on what you originally hoped to contribute to the marriage, and if you did. Perhaps there are ways to manage your debt to him outside of marriage.
posted by TDIpod at 9:21 PM on August 6, 2010

If you're going to break up anyway, don't tell him you never loved him. Jesus. He will be crushed. Just tell him you don't want to be with him anymore because it's not working out, and you don't know why, or something.

You've lied for years. You can keep lying until your divorce is final.

(Cut it out with the friend until you're divorced).
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:27 PM on August 6, 2010 [41 favorites]

(Also, someone who broke up with me once told me he wasn't into me for a year before we broke up. It fucking sucked, way more than the breakup itself, to take every moment we had that I thought was nice and sweet and feel like a fool, like I was betrayed.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:30 PM on August 6, 2010 [34 favorites]

however you handle the conversation that you inevitably have to have with him, i will suggest one thing:

you need to figure out, in detail and realistically, what the plan will be for your child once you guys break up. by in detail, i mean in detail. write it all out, the whole parenting plan. have that in place before things start to change too much so you have something to propose early on. you both love him "fiercely". that is going to create some problemos if you're not totally prepared.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:35 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

For a divorced friend of mine, being told "I never loved you" was just about the most devastating past of it. Don't say that. For myself, one of the worst things was my ex trying (I think) to spare my feelings by pretending there was a still a chance of reconciliation when (as she later confessed) there never was, leading me to waste huge amounts of energy and self-respect into trying to win her back. So don't be nice by going along with counselling and shit if you know you won't stay with him in the long run anyway.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:58 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I do not know if the right thing to do is to tell him everything, but I do know that he deserves to be able to move on with his life as soon as possible. You are perpetrating a fraud on him. You are using him for the things you said you admired in him and you have learned all you can/want and now want to move on. You married him under fraudulent circumstances in my opinion. You lead him to believe you loved him.

You need to break up with him in a way that does not lead to lengthy fighting and certainly keeps your four year old out of it. Find a way that you both can be great parents to the little guy and move on. You have hurt him enough.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:03 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is vitally important to both his mental health and that of your child that you allow your husband to believe that you previously loved him. The whole truth harms everyone and benefits no-one.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:04 PM on August 6, 2010 [16 favorites]

"What would happen if I did this?"

You, your husband, and your child will all likely end up worse off.

Your friend may seem great right now, when you're still on your good behavior with each other instead of sunk into the familiarity of marriage. But chances are, it won't work out with the friend -- most relationships don't, even if you're in love. Also, your friend is the type of person who tells a married woman that he's in love with her -- that's kinda scummy, and suggests that part of his desire for you could stem from not being able to have you. Do you really want to throw away your marriage to a good man who loves you and break up your child's family for such a risk?

If you want to save your marriage, stop spending time with the friend, and start doing new, fun, exciting things with your husband. Doing new things together will help you see new aspects of him and you may find yourself falling in love with your husband.

This article may give you some perspective. The husband in that story felt the same way as you do now, but changed his mind. Your husband may not be as forgiving as patient as the wife in the article, so don't tell him you don't love him anymore unless you're really, really, really sure you want a divorce.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:06 PM on August 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

Let's assume the amount of destruction this causes him remains fairly the same whether you break it off today or in a year or five years. From your standpoint, however, each day adds to your personal "destruction" -- agonizing over this, neglecting your own happiness, etc.

So my suggestion is that for your own sake, you might as well break it off ASAP using some of the suggestions from above. Take the assumption that you can still love him as a human being but just not as a husband anymore and construct your words accordingly.
posted by thorny at 10:06 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't tell your husband. It'll make you feel better but will make him feel terrible. He'll never forget it, and it will crush him. He might even tell your child someday. Then someday your child might say to you, "Mom, why did you marry Dad and have me if you never loved him?"

Also, did you really feel like you didn't love him before you met your 'friend'? I suspect the urgency is all about your friend, and not so much your husband.

I really think you are looking for an excuse, a way out. Go to counseling. Cut off contact with your friend. Give your marriage--and your son's stable life--a chance before you throw it away for what might be a fleeting romance.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:30 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

When the romantic love you're feeling for your "friend" is replaced with something else, will the something else be different from what you have now?
posted by mecran01 at 10:40 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

You say:

There are various reasons why I married him anyway, and I am aware that marrying someone you don't love A LOT is just asking for trouble,

and yet you behaved exactly as you might if you didn't know that. And to be honest, the banal and vague sentiment "asking for trouble" does not capture the gravity of this situation, which you may not apprehend. Marrying someone you don't love who loves you, and having a child with that person is, rather than "asking for trouble" as would be, say, eating a heavy meal before a bike ride, a shockingly selfish and disingenuous thing to do. Your apparent emotional solipsism in this situation, if it's a generalized thing and not just something you did to this one guy, will continue to cause problems for you if you don't do some serious work on yourself. I think you should figure out why you would treat someone who loves you, your putative partner, like a therapist or professorial mentor, and your marriage itself like a self-help seminar, before you decide what to do next. Also, this

And I try to pantomime all the things people in love do when they are in love,

, while it's obviously intended to be a kindness to your husband, frankly comes across as sociopathic in the big picture of this relationship. My advice, and I do not intend any of this to be hurtful, is to seriously look into the possibility that you have a personality disorder. Have you ever been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, by any chance?
posted by clockzero at 10:44 PM on August 6, 2010 [26 favorites]

Option 1) Tell him you don't want to be married anymore. DO NOT tell him that you never were in love with him. That's cruel and only cathartic for yourself. Make sure that this is a drastic step, though. Don't leave the door open to reconciliation, don't tell him maybe, don't tell him that you just need some time. End it, then try to keep things civil for the sake of the child. If you choose this route, please be classy and don't start dating the friend until after you're already divorced.

Option 2) Recommit to the marriage. Cut all ties with this "friend" you're in love with. Work every day at doing things that bring you closer to your husband, and don't allow yourself to think in terms of "what ifs" or who might else be a good match for you, or who do you know who might really love you. You might think you did this before. But you didn't. If you had, you wouldn't have let yourself fall in love with your friend, and there's no way you would have learned that he was in love with you too. You crossed a line at some point, and it's poisoning your perspective now.

Option 3) Tell him you never loved him. Tell him there's someone else, it isn't his fault but you've tasted real love and you can't live a lie anymore. This option is the most interesting option! It'll give you the best chance for fireworks, and it seems to be what you're asking for permission to do. If you're looking for the non-grownup way out of the situation and living your life like a bad romance novel, this is the choice for you.
posted by Happydaz at 10:51 PM on August 6, 2010 [15 favorites]

Do not tell him you don't love him!!! Just tell him you know what he needs, he deserves to get the things he needs, and you know that you cannot give him what he needs. Tell him that you care about him and want to be happy, but you know you will NEVER be able to give him what he needs/deserves.

It's not his fault the three of you are in this situation, it sounds like he did nothing but the right thing, don't make it worse for him.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:52 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just tell him you know what he needs, he deserves to get the things he needs, and you know that you cannot give him what he needs. Tell him that you care about him and want to be happy, but you know you will NEVER be able to give him what he needs/deserves.

Saying this -- a lie -- would just be asking him to contradict you and assure you that he's totally satisfied. What then?
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:04 PM on August 6, 2010

This won't cushion the inevitable sadness and devastation that your husband will feel when you tell him, however you choose to frame it, that you no longer love him, but he knows. On some level he knows. He's mentioned the distance, discussed counseling, and while he may be hopeful that it's a momentary blip, something that the two of you can work through, he realizes that something is wrong.

I was in an 8 year relationship. It was great, although the last 4.5 were long-distance, we were close and always had an amazing time together. And then something changed. I could tell you almost to the exact date, but my boyfriend wouldn't broach the subject and I rationalized that he was super busy and stressed about work, rationalized that he didn't call as frequently because in addition to the time zone difference he had moved and had a longer commute, etc. etc, but deep down, I knew that there had been some sort of seismic shift in our relationship, of his feelings toward me, from which we were unlikely to recover. And that was from 3000 miles away. Your husband is there. He knows. Pull off the band-aid, as gently, but as quickly, as you can. Your husband deserves better and so do you.
posted by kaybdc at 11:12 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

anonymous: There are various reasons why I married him anyway, and I am aware that marrying someone you don't love A LOT is just asking for trouble.

No, it isn't. It is, however, making a commitment based on something other than romantic love. Romantic love will wax and wane anyway; it's not a constant. Whatever it is you made the commitment based on - admiration, partnership, fondness - is apparently still there. The only thing that's changed is you. You've decided that basis you selected for your partnership isn't good enough any more because this other, more shiny thing is suddenly present.

Well, tough shit. It's too late. You cannot unmake the commitment without causing massive destruction to your husband and to your child and very likely to yourself. And honestly, this thing you're thinking about leaving them for is probably not worth it. You are currently blinded by NRE and luminance, both of which will fade and leave you with something that probably looks a lot like what you have now.

Why even bother, if really the truth is that I just don't love him?

Because he deserves your best effort. Everyone is answering the question "How do I honest I tell my husband I don't love him?" when they should be answering the question "How do I tell my husband I'm having an emotional affair?"

And the answer is "in counselling."

Be very clear that you have failed here. You didn't fail to love your husband; nobody can prescribe emotions. But working form that position, you failed to protect your marriage from a 3rd party. You gambled your long term primary relationship for the short term ego boost from secret coffees and covert text messages or whatever the hell it is you've been doing. You need to examine that behaviour, because the "why?" is probably more about you and your makeup as a person than it is about him.

Punishing him because it's easier to leave than it is to work on yourself is utterly selfish. How about you break off contact with the person you're having the affair with and work on the relationship you've got instead? Consider individual therapy, too; spend a year working hard to unpack your shit and see if you can't bring a better, more mature and self-aware person who can really commit back to your marriage.

You've reached a crisis point. There are two paths before you. Instead of choosing one of them and splitting your family in half, I urge you to retreat, go back, and figure out how the hell you got to that crossroads in the first place.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:46 PM on August 6, 2010 [53 favorites]

I recommend you print out what you've posted here and let him read it. You've denied him honesty and deceived him for 5+ years. Don't you think it's about time you grew a spine and treated him honestly for once? JUST ONCE!

You can't change how you feel, however you can finally confess your behavior to him. You owe him more than that, but that is the most you can give him. It will be easier on him in the long run because he will finally be rid of you. He can begin working toward enjoying what is left of his short time on Earth. In your immense selfishness, you have stolen priceless time from him. He will NEVER get that back. Please confess this to him and let this poor soul find closure.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:09 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

well, since you basically defrauded him and he's now financially responsible to the child you guys created (while swimming in false pretenses from you), i think you owe him the dignity of being free, at least, of your immediate company.

protect your child, but don't obtain one more cent above that for yourself. don't fight him on joint custody just to win some sort of petty argument at the end. don't fuck him over more than you already have.
posted by nadawi at 12:30 AM on August 7, 2010 [17 favorites]

I disagree with millipede completely. Don't tell him the truth. Pretend you're crazy. Pretend you are whimsical and never think anything through. Pretend your psychic told you that you had to do this. Anything at all as long as it doesn't make sense! Don't explain yourself. There's nothing you could say that would help anyway.

You in no way have to come out of this looking good. To him and his mom, you won't look good. To your next husband and everyone else in your next life, you'll seem fine. You are going to crush him, of course. But you have a chance to leave him baffled and hurt instead of second-guessing everything and hurt.
posted by oreofuchi at 12:40 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

oreofuchi: "Pretend you're crazy. Pretend you are whimsical and never think anything through. "

She doesn't have to pretend to be any of those. She's clearly all of them and more! Although, it does make sense that she wouldn't tell him the truth. I think if she was capable of that, she would have done that prior to the wedding. I simply hate to see people deluding themselves into thinking that the reason for their continued lying is so that they don't hurt someone else. That's not why they're doing it! They continue the lies because it's easier than doing what's morally right: being honest.

We're not talking about, "Yes, those clothes make you look fat."

Now I'm done.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:01 AM on August 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

By saying you're sorry, and by compensating him for any money he has ever spent + more for wasting 5 years of his life. He can never get the time back, and perhaps it will be harder for him to find a new person now that he is older, divorced and has a kid. You gambled, acted very selfishly, and mislead him, and now he has to pay the price. If your actions resulted in reduced earnings potential a court could make you pay. But you have reduced his potential for happiness. He has been defrauded. A divorced, older man with a kid (and child support payments?) has a reduced value in the dating market place as a whole, even if there are those that will accept him (oftentimes in a similar situation).

If you don't admit the fraud, he may for years wonder why you fell out-of-love or stopped loving him. He may have competency issues and feelings of insecurity and guilt for years. He may wonder why you two couldn't work it out. He will always, always wonder "Why?". So you need to involve a counselor either way I think. When a woman leaves "for no reason" it can take years for the man to get over it. Like a family who has a missing child or a crime that has not been solved, the lack of closure will eat away at some men. I've seen the strongest of men crushed by this, leading to despair, depression, and suicide.

I may sound harsh, but the enormity of the crime you have perpetrated against him is huge. Acknowledge it. People have died old and alone because they were tricked into spending the best mating/courting years with someone who was not serious. He can never get the time back. People have killed themselves. I've seen and felt the impact of these situations before. So realize all this first. That will put you in the right mind set to move forward. Be prepared that he may associate feelings from this with your child. A child from a love-less marriage that was a fraud--think about it. Don't expect or seek child support unless absolutely necessary for the welfare of the child.

Beg his forgiveness and promise to help him out--even by looking for a new mate for him if needed.
posted by chinabound at 1:21 AM on August 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Are you sure you're not confusing a romantic crush for something deeper?

Here's the thing: that giddy, crazy feeling...while it doesn't dissolve with some couples, it eventually dissolves for a great many of them. What remains is a stable, solid relationship. Something different.

Your feelings for your friend might feel intense right now--especially because it's illicit and exciting--but be warned that sometimes those feelings are transient, and will change (and sometimes disappear) over time.

What I'm saying is, are you ready to abandon everything for something that might be temporary? Is it worth it to you?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:08 AM on August 7, 2010

And to answer your specific questions:

Why even bother, if really the truth is that I just don't love him?

Well, BECAUSE you wrote the words below:

I still admire and respect him.* I find him interesting and compelling in many ways, and he is a great dad to our 4-year-old, whom we both love fiercely.

This great dad, this person worth of your so called admiration and respect who you have married for 5 years is not worth an attempt at counseling? Well, I guess we wouldn't want to put you out of your comfort zone or anything.

More and more I have fantasies of sitting him down and saying "I'm so sorry. You deserve to have someone in your life who loves you, but it's not me." What would happen if I did this? How can I talk about this without seeming needlessly cruel?

You tell him, "I am selfish and stupid, immature and deceitful. I'm sorry, but I'm moving on."

* Also: my goodness. If I was having an emotional affair with somebody for 2 years, I wouldn't say I "respected" the person I was cheating on. It seems my actions don't quite reflect respect at all, no?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:30 AM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Honesty is indeed the best policy. Tell him the truth. Don't be cruel or mean but also don't be indirect and unclear. Tell him what you just wrote, explain it clearly, explain it kindly. Before you do so make arrangements so that you can give him time alone. Be available to answer questions in that time but do not entertain abuse and/or badgering. Please make it clear that this is due to your desires and not something that is within him (he will wonder about this a lot).

If you really do care for him and want to see him happy you owe him this much so that he can go through the emotional meat grinder that awaits him only to come out on the other side in a position where he can pick himself up and get on with his life.

If you really do care about him and respect him as you allege, you need to be absolutely clear and honest without being cruel.
posted by gadha at 3:05 AM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Data point - my mom did this to my dad. They did get divorced. My mom recently died and my dad wrote up a biography of their relationship. I can tell that it still bothers him, 25 years later.
posted by plinth at 3:55 AM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding DarlingBri and speaking as a divorced mom.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess what you think is going to happen: you'll feel tremendously relieved when you tell your husband that it's over (however you word it), and then you and this person you've been having an emotional affair with will be free to jump into a happy new relationship together. You'll have sole custody and you, the new one and your kid will all become the happy family unit you want. Your ex will find someone who truly loves him and will become a happy Wednesday-night-and-alternate-weekend-dad. Birds will sing.


Okay. This isn't going to happen.

Here's what I see: you made a commitment to this man, you have a child together, and you've been having an affair for the past two years.

Your priorities are a little messed up right now. I'm sorry, but I truly, truly doubt that you're thinking clearly. You see what you perceive as an exit sign for your marriage but believe me, it's not an exit. It's an off-ramp that will devastate your husband and completely and utterly change your child's life (and generally, not for the better).

Please, please consider therapy for yourself and for you and your husband. You made a commitment, you have a family, you owe it to them to make your marriage work.

And cut off contact with this other person, please.
posted by dzaz at 4:08 AM on August 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

The child is not "hers" alone, folks.

OP, prepare to share custody.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:17 AM on August 7, 2010

When my partner of several years finally told me that he didn't love me anymore -- I think I'll hear the particular way he said "I don't even LIKE you" in my head until the day I die -- it was, up to then, the most devastating thing that ever happened to me by far (and I was a rape survivor). Friends and family kept me on a suicide watch for weeks.

You cannot know what that will do to him. When someone gives their heart over to you completely, spends YEARS with you through the good and the bad, has every dream of growing old with you, and then you tell them that it was all a lie -- unless you've been on the receiving end of that, you CANNOT imagine how shattering that is, how much it utterly hollows out inside you everything that was hopeful and alive. I wouldn't wish that feeling on my worst enemy.

Please, please don't do that to him.
posted by Noah at 4:38 AM on August 7, 2010 [17 favorites]

Is this "friend" ready to be a step-father to your child? A real step-father I mean, not just some dude shtupping mommy? Because if he's not, that relationship probably isn't going anywhere. Not to say you still shouldn't leave your husband, it's just that the likelihood of this relationship working after a divorce seems pretty close to zero and you have to be prepared for that. Are you 100% ready to be a single mother? You come off pretty selfish and immature in your post so I am not sure you are.
posted by milarepa at 4:48 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're going to break up anyway, don't tell him you never loved him. Jesus. He will be crushed. Just tell him you don't want to be with him anymore because it's not working out, and you don't know why, or something.

You've lied for years. You can keep lying until your divorce is final.

Yes, this. Absolutely.

Telling him you never loved him is going to destroy his ability to trust women in the future. If it comforts you to imagine him finding someone who will love him like he deserves to be loved, don't throw this roadblock in his way.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:23 AM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Unless you wanna see your husband go postal... do not tell him that. Men especially get funny in these kinds of surprises. When you have the courage to tell him you want a divorce, be prepared for the begging and pleading to go on for as long as he wants it. Also, taking precautions for your safety isn't a bad idea. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 6:19 AM on August 7, 2010

The words "I never loved you" and/or "The sex has never been any good" and/or "I should have told you this two years ago" hurt WAY more than the ripping-it-off-like-a-band-aid method, which is brutal but ultimately a kinder way to go.

Right now you are luxuriating in what (in social work) is called a "double comfort" - also known as having your cake and eating it, too, while you get to feel guilty about it. What you have to do now is make a decision.
posted by analog at 6:22 AM on August 7, 2010


If you just divorce and don't give the real reason, he will know there is something else, and will not have a sense of closure. Telling him you have "different needs" or "are in a different place in your life" or "don't want to be married to him" are bullshit excuses and both YOU and HE know that.

If he's human, he'll need closure, and you'll have compounded the already awful situation you've put him in by not providing it. You went into this on a lie, and now its biting you in the ass and its time to pay the piper. Don't be gutless--own up and tell him the REAL reason. If you care AT ALL about him as a person, it is the least you can do and you owe it to him for all the years of his life he's wasted on you.

The flip-side is, you will feel better getting that weight off your shoulders.

Sorry if this sounds like a cruel answer but I'm not going to sugar-coat it. You would be a very bad person if you did not tell him and its a shitty situation that you put him in in the first place through your misconceived notions of what love is and when you should get married. I only hope he is able to move on with his life.
posted by Elminster24 at 6:47 AM on August 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

You would be a very bad person if you did not tell him

Why, exactly? We have these truisms about "Honesty is the best policy" but why does she owe him the truth, here? A simple divorce will take away his hopes for the future with OP. The truth will take away their entire relationship together, depriving him of ANY happy memories together because he'll know it was a lie. Telling him he wasted the last 5 years.

Why exactly is that kinder? It's easy for us to say, "Oh you've got to tell him, you owe it to him!!" but people who have been in his shoes have sad definitely that they wish they HADN'T been told that.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:17 AM on August 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you just divorce and don't give the real reason, he will know there is something else, and will not have a sense of closure.

I think I'll hear the particular way he said "I don't even LIKE you" in my head until the day I die...

Fuck closure. If you care for him at all, you don't want those type of words ringing in his head for the rest of his life. It's been 8 years and I still remember very clearly "What do you want me to do? I fell in love with her!" That is the kind of thing that burns into your brain. If you have to be more specific, tell him you don't have feelings for him NOW. Just not ever because that is soul crushing stuff.
posted by CwgrlUp at 7:56 AM on August 7, 2010 [10 favorites]

Yeah, closure is a myth. And being honest doesn't mean being honest to the point of ruination.

There are lots of brutal ways that people are honest in "the name of honesty" that don't actually benefit anyone. So forget about "honesty" in this case.

This situation calls for tact. You don't want to hurt him. What you did is basically all on you (the ongoing lie) so, rather than clear your mind, end things in a way where he gets to move on easily, keep his dignity and possibly find someone else with ease (hurting him will postpone this). Make that your goal. IMO that means continue lying, do not let him know that you never loved him and end the marriage under some other lie.
posted by marimeko at 8:15 AM on August 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

He needs closure in some way, but I see the arguments against telling him about how you felt the whole time. Please do this in conjunction with a therapist for both of you. Or try to love him. If he is that good, I don't understand what the problem is. Maybe you think passion and excitement is love.
posted by chinabound at 9:59 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Children need stability and, as you sound like you are unwilling to provide that, you should not contest giving the father sole custody and paying the maximum child and spousal support. I hope you figure out what you really need.
posted by saucysault at 10:29 AM on August 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

I meant to add, keeping his child should help him cope with losing you and be the best thing for both of them.
posted by saucysault at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why not ask him how he feels?

No, I don't mean a conversation like "Hypothetically, if I never loved you, would you want me to tell you? No? Then forget I said anything."

But there's a hundred movies/books/etc. out there which explore the question of "If your happy world is a lie, would you rather know the unhappy truth instead?" e.g. You can ask someone whether they'd prefer to take the red pill or the blue pill without ever letting on that you're having more than a discussion about personalities and The Matrix.

As these responses should make clear, there are people who feel that such a devastating revelation would be horribly and unnecessarily cruel, and other people (myself included) who feel that continuing to lie about something so important is the worst thing you could do. None of these people here are your husband, though, and the important question is which group he would be in.
posted by roystgnr at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2010

Look, I wouldn't want to tell him that you never loved him either. EXCEPT for the fact that some people are really really great at denial. Which this guy might be, since he married a woman who never loved him and he never noticed.

If this is the guy who, when you tell him you want out, says he'll do absolutely anything to save the marriage, constantly asks what went wrong, wants to do counseling, wants to bring back the love...and in general won't take any of your nicer excuses for an answer... then you might just have to tell him. Because some people won't take no for an answer unless you well, absolutely pulverize their balls. I hate to use that analogy, but... some people have to have the worst possible beating with the clue bat before they get the message to stop.

My advice: be as tactful and nice as you can at first, but if he doesn't take no for an answer at all, then you may just have to tell the absolute awful truth.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:17 AM on August 7, 2010

A lot of people have said a lot of things in this thread. I'm probably repeating some of them, but I'm going to tell my story because I was in your husband's position when my marriage ended 2 years ago. We didn't have kids in the picture though, so my situation is a little different there. But let me give you my may give you an idea of what this could be like for your husband.

It was obvious to me over the last 2-3 years of our marriage that it was ending, that he didn't really love me, that we were just going through the motions. I KNEW that deep down, but I hung on trying to do everything I could to make him love me. I obviously couldn't. I knew it was going to end, and I stayed that last year because logistically it made sense (we were both job searching and planning to move away so I saw no need in getting my own place for less than a year). We went to counseling to try and work things out, but really what we were doing was preparing ourselves to end it (I know that now). We actually blurted out "I don't want to be with you anymore" at a session when the therapist said "So, how are you guys doing?". Amazingly enough, it was like a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders because now it was out in the open. It's strange to say that was a relief, but it was. We lived together for the next 6 weeks until it was time for me to move to my next job (he moved home to family). That was hard...I don't recommend that but you may have to with a child.

I fell apart once I got into my own apartment and started coming home alone every day. That's when all of the emotions I stuffed for so long started coming back to bite me in the ass. I had time to think about things, and I started learning more about what my ex had been hiding from me and lying to me about, and it hurt to realize that I didn't see it. I began to analyze everything we had experienced together...wondering what signs I missed. I couldn't understand why someone who was supposed to love me enough to marry me became secretive and guarded around me. To this day, I don't have enough evidence to prove he had an affair, but I can't deny it either. I think it was probably an emotional affair instead of a physical one but I'll never really have proof.

Looking back, I can see that those years of me trying to please someone that I couldn't please harmed me more than anything. I don't give up easily, so I stayed in and stayed determined to work through it. And...I was afraid of admitting that my marriage failed. I didn't want anyone to look at me in a negative light. Amazingly enough, my close friends and my family saw that it was ending before I did, and they weren't surprised. It wrecked my self worth and has caused me some serious issues with confidence and insecurity. Some days I question whether or not I should have married him. I question my judgment and wonder if I missed some signs. But...2 years later I am beginning to see that I have a future and I'm hopeful I'll find someone who will love me the way I want to be loved and who will fulfill my needs.

The ex and I tried to have a cordial friendship (if you could call it that). However, when I found out that he suddenly married a woman whose divorce was barely final it drove the point home that instead of him "just not wanting to be married anymore" (one of his excuses to me), it was all about how he just didn't want me. We haven't spoken since because I see no need to keep a lying, dysfunctional, toxic person in my life. Wish I had made that decision a LONG time ago.

Bottom line, this will hurt your husband, even though he probably sees this coming. This will hurt for everyone involved. My advice to you is to go to counseling, both for yourself and for your husband. Talk all this through with a therapist in individual counseling, and then go to counseling together (start with individual first). I think it would help both of you to have a supportive, neutral third party involved. I'm also going to advise that you don't include in the discussion that you never loved him, unless he specifically asks you. He will probably figure that out on his own, but he also may want to stay in denial about that for a while. I choose to think that my ex loved me at one point, but for whatever reason he didn't know how to keep that alive. He chose to give up (yes, he said that to me once). There are days where I wonder if he married me for convenience though, but I don't think I ever want that confirmed. Sometimes a little denial keeps us sane.

I don't think you should completely lie to your husband, but I think that hurtful truths are sometimes better handled in small doses. This is a great thing to talk to your therapist about...once you know for sure you want to end it, you can figure out what should be shared and what shouldn't be. You should also know that your husband will most likely be on a long emotional roller coaster for a while, and you CAN NOT and SHOULD NOT wonder why he hasn't moved on as fast as you. Nor should you point out in any way how you've moved on. Let him do this at his own pace. There are days where I feel like Superwoman and can take on the world, and there are days (still!) where I feel like a massive, unlovable failure. So, don't expect that he'll be OK with moving into friendship with you as soon as you may be. You may know that you don't love him anymore, but he probably hasn't been thinking about his lack of love for you. In that sense, you're a few months ahead of him on that process. Don't be surprised if you think you've gotten to a new place in your relationship and he backtracks one day. Just let him do this at his own pace.

I'm not going to comment on the friend thing...primarily because it reminds me that I'm not sure what my ex did or didn't do and that still pisses me off so I doubt I can be rational there. I will say that you must make this decision with the knowledge that you and the friend will NOT get together, because it may not happen. Your therapist will help you sort that out.

You WILL go to a therapist, right?
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:55 AM on August 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

You don't respect him, if you did you would have been up front and honest from the beginning. It's not healthy to lie to yourself.
posted by RawrGulMuffins at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

One kind thing you could do is reinforce his relationships with other people, so that he has a better chance at a support network once you're gone. Set up guys' nights, go on outings with other people where it's more about his bond with other friends than yours, do something regular so that he builds up a friendship or at least a solid acquaintanceship -- you can't force this kind of thing, but you can foster it.
posted by amtho at 1:00 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll go against the grain here. Emotions are funny. One thing can shift, and suddenly everything seems different, like a kaleidescope. There's a lot of illusion in life. What's real is the fact that you made a formal commitment to this person and had a child together. He and your daughter will be part of your life until you die. Your relationships with them should be top priority.

Having myself left a relationship because I fell in love with someone else, and having seen how (badly) that went, I'd advise that you ignore the "but this is really love" feelings toward your friend. I know it feels special-snowflaky, but it's actually fairly common (here's a past comment from me on a similar situation).

Couples counseling shifted my relationship dramatically. In part, it solved actual communication problems, and in part, it revealed that I was looking to the relationship to solve problems that were mine to solve. Even if it ultimately doesn't work, it might make the breakup easier for him.

So, I'd advise you to buckle down, stop talking to the friend, recommit your full efforts to working through the problems in your marital relationship for at least 6 months (maybe more like 18 months). You might be surprised.

A YMMV caveat: divorce is certainly the best option for people at times. And it doesn't sound like you want to try at all anymore with this guy, so if you disregard this advice, I won't blame or judge you. But the very limited experience I can offer from my own personal life points in the opposite direction and in the direction I recommend above.
posted by salvia at 3:02 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, on more closely reading the comments above, I heartily second Darling Bri and dzaz, and others who discuss the difference between crush and committed love. But I disagree with Darling Bri in this: "You are currently blinded by NRE and luminance, both of which will fade and leave you with something that probably looks a lot like what you have now." My guess is that after the luminance fades, you'll be left with something a lot shallower, flakier, flammable, dispensible, and just wrong for you than what you have now. Do you know chemistry? The difference between a relationship with a stable long-term partner whom you respect and trust, and with an interloper friend, in my experience is like the difference between noble gases ("very low chemical reactivity...nonflammable under standard conditions") and free radicals ("generally short-lived due to their reactivity").
posted by salvia at 3:20 PM on August 7, 2010

I am coming in late to this thread, but I have something unique to add, something that will give you a pragmatic, selfish reason to refrain from telling him that you never loved him. That should appeal to you, because that is who you are.

See, I know you, you are just like my ex-wife. She did *exactly this*. Here's what it did in our case:

First, I didn't believe her. I still don't. Emotions are funny things, they are incredibly easy to back-rationalize and to invent memories around. Unless you have a journal where you discussed with yourself your ambivalence toward him at the time you were dating, I suggest that you are rationalizing and inventing motivations.

Second, after a year in fruitless therapy which (to my shame, I begged for), I got pissed. I schemed (and succeeded) to get the absolute best from the god-damned-manipulator in the divorce. It is quite a bit easier to feel righteous anger when you discover that you've been used, quite cynically, for years. It is quite a bit easier to justify "glossing" a few details when you are preparing the divorce papers to get rid of a parasite. For example, maybe the house is "really worth" a few dollars less than you honestly suspect it is, no need to hire an appraisal, right? "Let's be reasonable, I'll take the house for $xx dollars." Score.

So, here's the pragmatic reason to keep your selfish mouth shut, because it will cost you. For certain it will cost you.
posted by Invoke at 3:26 PM on August 7, 2010

You seem to think that stating your feelings will transport you to a husband-free new world where all you need to worry about is how to please yourself. It won't.

Let me remind you that even if you leave/divorce him, since you have a child you will always have a connection to him. For the rest of your life (or at least for a prety damn long time in the future). He will never be 100% out of your life, unless some pretty drastic things happen. So be prepared to deal with how it will feel to interact with him post-drama. Saying things that make YOU feel better now will make you feel a lot worse later. Can you look him in the face at your daughter's school play and not remember how it felt to tell him you never loved him?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:45 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Have you read Anna Karenina? You sound like her before she tells her husband the truth. It doesn't end well for her and I doubt it'll end well for you. There's no way to do this kindly, just as there's no way for you to be a good person by doing it. Whatever you do, I hope your husband and your son make it through okay, and I hope you'll be guided by those concerns.
posted by smorange at 4:04 PM on August 7, 2010

Another voice in the choir: please don't tell him you never loved him.

An ex-girlfriend told me that. It destroyed me for years. You can get over the fact that someone you were with had an affair, but retrospectively destroying everything that was good about the relationship? That's about the most hurtful, despicable thing it is possible to do.

To answer your question, it would be kinder not to tell the whole truth. Tell him you're in love with someone else (if you really are). Don't tell him it's been going on for two years. Lie - say it's been 6 months or something. And certainly don't tell him you never loved him.
posted by idiomatika at 4:39 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you owe it to him to tell him that you never "loved" him, at least in the sense of "true love" or however you choose to define it. You basically lied to him, either by omission or comission (i.e. your vows) and by not telling him the truth, he may spend years wondering what he did wrong, blaming himself and becoming insecure. If you at least care about him as a human being, you would rather have him hate you forever then hate himself, wouldn't you?

I don't mean to be harsh, but some things need direct and frank answers, such as this situation. He will be hurt (if he loved you at all) and there is no way to avoid that. At least respect him enough to be honest with him now, since you were not able to when you should have (when he proposed marriage).

I'm not trying to blame you or judge you, other than to point out that you apparently made some bad decisions, which affected someone else's life greatly, and you owe it to him to let him know the truth that you couldn't tell him before now. It is what it is, and if you're sure it won't work out and you want to end it then there's no point in continuing the lie any further. Apologize, be honest, expect him to get angry and hate you and understand that he has some reason to feel the way he does, and be sure that he doesn't suffer any further consequences because of your decision not to be honest with him (i.e. pay for the divorce, make sure he doesn't get screwed on division of property, ensure there is fair custody arrangements , etc.).

Since there is, unfortunately, a child involved in the equation, it might be best for your husband to retain custody as your current state (and desire to be with someone else) means that perhaps you're not putting your child's interests ahead of your own; I don't think it's a good idea for you to go from leaving your husband to dating somebody when you have a 4 year old child. I know this isn't going to be a popular statement, especially from single parents who did the same thing, but you need a "cooling off" period from the end of the marriage and you need to focus on your child at such a young age, and not complicating the situation further by bringing in a romantic interest into their life and yours at this point.
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:08 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just want to point out that it seems that everyone who is telling you that you should give him the full unvarnished truth seems to be speaking from a place removed from that actually happening. The people who have actually had someone say "I never loved you" are all telling you not to go that route. (I may have missed something or misread something, but that's the pretty distinct read I have.) This is a situation where it's easy to speculate about a hypothetical self. To say to yourself, "I think I would want the whole truth." But it's also a situation that's hard to make calls about until you've actually been there. Listen to the people who have been there. They know what they're talking about.

You owe him a future. You've already stolen part of his past, don't take his future happiness, too. Don't make him feel unlovable. Get therapy for you and for the couple, see if you can find a way through this. If you can't, make the divorce as painless - emotionally and financially - for him as you can. That's what you owe him.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:38 PM on August 7, 2010 [19 favorites]

Wait -- the person who asked the question never said she wanted to tell her husband she never loved him. She did ask about how to tell him that she doesn't love him now and how to break up in the least cruel way possible, which is different.

Some of the responses seem to be projecting some hostility from their own personal experiences but that doesn't mean they understand yours..
posted by citron at 8:17 PM on August 7, 2010

I cannot believe the nastiness in this thread. AskMe isn't for judging the questioner; it's for answering the question. Who the hell are any of you to talk about whether or not the OP is selfish or whether what she feels for her friend is going to fade or whatever?

And the person who suggested that she hand over her child to the father for full custody to *make up* for the situation? Are you crazy?

OP - you want out of the marriage. It isn't fulfilling for you, and you'll never be happy in a loveless marriage. Wanting happiness is not selfish. Yes, you made a big mistake marrying this man. But to answer your question, you cannot tell your husband that you don't love him without totally crushing him. It's simply impossible.

You will have to make the choice as to whether or not to tell him the unvarnished truth (and again, who are you people to judge whether or not telling the whole truth is the right or wrong thing to do?). Telling him that you are unhappy in your marriage, and want a divorce, will hurt him immeasurably; *in my opinion*, and it's only one person's opinion, there is no reason to pour acid on top of that by telling him that the entire marriage has been a lie. Don't leave room for "what ifs" or "but maybes,"--be firm that you aren't on the fence about this, but why add to the pain he'll already be experiencing?

Please ignore the people making judgments about what kind of person you are. I have no idea why they think that's a proper response in an AskMe. And as for the person suggesting that this situation constitutes some kind of mental illness, I don't even know what to say. As harsh as it is, this is *hardly* unusual. People marry people they don't love all the time, and people get divorced all the time.
posted by tzikeh at 8:30 PM on August 7, 2010 [17 favorites]

And for God's sake, if you *don't love him*, forget couples' therapy. That's for people trying to save their marriage--something you clearly have no intention of doing.
posted by tzikeh at 8:31 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

DarlingBri and Noah have some interesting points. DarlingBri's response is especially relevant as you didn't ask whether you should break up or not but how to make it less painful for the husband.

A lot of people have said you shouldn't tell the husband that you don't love him as its just plain cruel, no matter how you say it. But what's the alternative for him? Why is his wife leaving suddenly when you have a four year old together? Did he do something wrong? Is it kind to leave him thinking about these things for the rest of his life or have you thought of another (valid) lie to fix things for once an for all? (I am not being mean here!!) At least he can blame you for the rest of his life if you do tell him. And hopefully he'll find a way to figure out how honest the next woman in his life would be.

Whether he should get some closure or not depends greatly on the kind of person he is, not based on the number of people here voting for and against. Hopefully you have paid enough attention to his personality in the time you have known him. What does he normally prefer- honesty above all or a white lie here and there to spare people's feelings? I know there are very few people who like to know the honest truth as it is, but you would know that about him, and you should keep that in mind.

Not sure how many people have mentioned this already. Your "friend" is a sleazeball for helping you get to this point. Remember that if you set on this path and after a few steps really feel he is a sleazeball and want to go back to your family, that choice may never be there no matter how much you beg and cry. (Insert what DarlingBri said) And if he is doing this to you right now, what makes you think he won't leave you for someone else (esp after you have left your spouse and hence validated the argument for "love")?

Finally, generally speaking, while people going for arranged marriages may think that love will grow later, they also generally think of marriage as a life long endeavour where you will encounter obstacles but you stick to it. Women who go for arranged marriages also tend to put their husbands/marriages/children above their own wants and needs. It is understandable if you didn't think about these aspects earlier but you may want to think hard about how your actions, either way, will affect the lives of everyone in your family.
posted by xm at 9:50 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Invoke at 6:48 AM on August 8, 2010

From the OP:
I am very grateful for the advice given to me in this thread that focuses on the hopeful, responsible, and adult thing to do. My therapist, who I’ve been seeing for 4 months about this situation, is giving me similar input. It helps to hear from strangers about concepts of duty and fidelity. When I married my husband, I did so thinking “I may not feel romantic love for him, or passion. But I do feel like I can build a solid partnership with him. I respect him, he is my friend, we both care for each other.” I thought about how in time passion fades and what people are left with, if they are lucky, is what I just described (a caring, solid partnership). Unfortunately, I did not anticipate how critical love, actual love, is in inuring couples to the stresses of life (especially life with a small toddler). Love is like a vaccination, almost. Like a chemical response. If the reasons for being with someone exist mainly in your head, it’s hard to hear them when your heart starts talking.

It’s interesting to me that so many here assume that I am having an affair with my friend, or planning to move in with him if I leave my husband, even though I explicitly said we haven’t acted on our feelings and don’t plan to be together any time soon. Have you ever loved anyone from afar? Am I the only one? You can’t always control your feelings (as I am finding out, to my regret), but you CAN control your behavior.

To the people suggesting I am a sociopath or mentally ill, it must be wonderful for you to always have your thoughts, feelings, and actions in perfect consonance all the time. For whatever reason, that is not the case right now for me. If I truly were a sociopath, I think I’d be like “fuck it” rather than going to the trouble to poll people about their own experiences so I can damage my spouse as little as possible while still trying to acknowledge (albeit horribly belatedly) the truth.

As a long-time askMeFi reader, I too am surprised at the venom this post has generated. I am really sorry for the people who have been damaged by people hurting them. I have listened closely to your experiences and will definitely take them to heart when I talk to my husband. Thank you for taking the time to share them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:47 AM on August 8, 2010 [39 favorites]

Another (possibly relevant?) point. How close are you with your child? How do you want the relationship to be in the future?

True story- woman leaves man for another guy. She has two young daughters. The husband gets custody of the kids and the wife marries the guy.

Fast-forward 20 some years, the elder daughter (who was around eight at the time) still hasn't forgiven the mother. The woman now pines to have a *normal* relationship with the daughters and wants to be involved in their lives. But the daughters are independent and keep an emotional distance and this greatly depresses her.

The oddest thing is, she was thinking of herself then and now. Something's gotta give- now or later.

(Also, I can only speak for myself here but you can't really read posts on this thread and say that everyone is being judgemental, unless the person responding is just plain outright pointing fingers at OP. The rest you should read as an objective perspective, nothing more, nothing less. OP, email is in profile if you want to talk.)
posted by xm at 8:23 AM on August 8, 2010

True story- woman leaves man for another guy. She has two young daughters. The husband gets custody of the kids and the wife marries the guy.

Fast-forward 20 some years, the elder daughter (who was around eight at the time) still hasn't forgiven the mother. The woman now pines to have a *normal* relationship with the daughters and wants to be involved in their lives. But the daughters are independent and keep an emotional distance and this greatly depresses her.

The oddest thing is, she was thinking of herself then and now. Something's gotta give- now or later.

Anecdote != universal truth.

So here's my anecdote, for what it's worth:

True story - woman leaves man for another guy. She has a young daughter and a younger son. Both parents love their children and do well by them.

Fifteen years later, the kids are JUST FINE, and have good relationships with both parents.

You honestly believe that "divorce with children" is the end of the world? Have you looked around?

My anecdote: I wish to GOD (whom I don't believe in) that my parents had divorced, instead of putting me and my brother through a marriage in which it was clear that my father didn't love my mother, and was miserable, and my mother knew it, and was miserable, and my brother and I were FUCKING MISERABLE.

I can pretty much guarantee that everyone would have been happier if they'd split up. Both of us would have had better relationships with our parents, and our parents might have found happiness with others, which would have made everyone less hateful.
posted by tzikeh at 8:58 AM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Whoops - first "My anecdote" should read "an anecdote," obviously -

And, having talked to my parents (many years later, now) as adult to adult, they've both said that they often thought about splitting up *for the children* - an act of selflessness (not saying that splitting up wouldn't have been entirely selfless, but hello? Trying to do right by your kids?)
posted by tzikeh at 9:02 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

you can't really read posts on this thread and say that everyone is being judgemental

I don't think anyone has said that everyone is being judgmental. For myself, I'm saying that several people are, and that this is not the place for that.
posted by tzikeh at 9:03 AM on August 8, 2010

I do agree that telling him you never loved him does more harm than good. It's good to be honest in a relationship from the start, of course, but there isn't any changing the past: Now if you tell him the truth, who benefits? Coming clean may make you feel better, but I assure you it's not going to do anything very great for him. Actually, I doubt it's going to do anything good for either of you...he'll feel like crap, and you'll feel like crap for making him feel that way. This is a lose-lose scenario. Ending your marriage -- even if it's the best thing in the long run -- is going to hurt like hell anyway, so why make a bad situation worse?

That said, while telling him that you want a divorce will probably come as a blow to your husband, unless you are the world's greatest actress and totally on 24/7, on some level he will have seen it coming. I think so, anyhow. I don't have anything to back this up except my own anecdotal observational whatever, but I really think that your average loveless marriage is a two-way street. If he's madly in love with a woman who can't have sex with him without experiencing revulsion -- and again, I'm sorry, but I think most guys can sense that -- then he's either very masochistic or just hasn't ever had the experience of being with a woman who's really, really in love with him. In either case, he can find someone else who can give him that, and actually wants to give him that. And when he has it, he'll be much happier than he is now, even if he doesn't yet realize he's not happy. But he probably won't be in any condition to find someone new if he's just been told that his wife of several years never found him romantically lovable, so there is that to consider, too. I can only imagine that would have a rather debilitating effect on one's self-confidence.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:19 AM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Love is like a vaccination, almost. Like a chemical response. If the reasons for being with someone exist mainly in your head, it’s hard to hear them when your heart starts talking.

That sounds exactly what this book says. I offer it because it seems to have good advice that might have something to do with your situation. Although it might just be pointing out how much greener the other grass is, which you already seem to know.
posted by Brainy at 9:50 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

[stop being judgey people and answer the question or go hug your cat. This question is already in MeTa and you need to take inappropriate answers there.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:11 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

How can I tell my husband I don't love him without totally crushing him?

You cannot. This is the price of you lying to him.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:18 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oops, sorry. My advice to the OP would be to tell your husband what you told us, if you really can't stay with him. "I admire and respect you, but I do not want to be married to you anymore." Also, think about ways this experience can help you learn to be a better person.
posted by staggering termagant at 3:23 PM on August 8, 2010

If you are determined to divorce, get a mediator to work out issues of residency, child custody and support. Don't drag your son into an acrimonious court battle. It's not divorce that damages kids (by and large) it's acrimonious divorces where parents bad-mouth one another and use the kids as pawns. Remember, no matter if you stay in the marriage or not, this man will always be your son's father. Always. For life. When you end your marriage, keep this in mind.

On that note, DO NOT assume that you will get primary custody just because you're the mom. Courts don't work like that anymore. I'm not saying you will have to give up custody to your husband entirely, but joint custody is the most likely outcome (and is better for the kid, too). The days of mom being able to walk out and keep the kids are as dead as disco. For your child's sake, try to work out something amicably.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:32 PM on August 8, 2010

I want to weigh in with those who have said NOT to tell your husband that you've never loved him.

You can tell him it's over without putting it like that. Telling him you've fallen out of love with him and don't want to work on it is going to be hard enough on him. I'm not sure there's any way to sugarcoat that. You could certainly tell him how much you respect and admire him and want things to end as amicably as possible, and that you're sorry.

Or, you could go ahead and try counseling anyway. If the truth comes out in counseling it might be easier on him; at least he'll have the counselor's support.

But I'd try to minimize the never having loved him part if I were in your shoes. He will feel terribly betrayed and so might your son one day if he finds out.

I am the daughter of a mother who never loved my father. My sister and I will never forget the day our mom told us that she'd gotten together with our dad out of a misplaced sense of duty, and that in a few years it was time to start having kids because that's what society expected.

My sister told me that sometimes she wonders if she and I should ever even have existed. Now that she has a baby, she'll say things to me like, "let me know if you ever see me acting like Mom, okay?" It's sad. There are many admirable things about our mom, but neither of us feel she modeled good relationships. You can act in such a way that your son doesn't lose respect for you by being as kind to his dad as possible and never badmouthing him or admitting you entered into marriage under false pretenses (and I do understand that you weren't deliberately lying, tricking, or acting out of malice).

I would be talking to my therapist about how to have the conversation with him and planning it out, if I were going through this. Good luck.
posted by xenophile at 8:07 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know your husband better than anyone on this thread does: you probably already know how best to mitigate the damage when you tell him.

Speaking from my own experience, there is probably no right combination of words that will not be crushing. (Although I also reccommend NOT saying that you "never loved him".). The actual conversation may be so charged that he won't accurately hear/remember what you said anyway.

I would reccommend focusing on the situation and support system. Counselling may be helpful because the situation is more structured, and he can get support from the therapist. (Many couples counsellors will have an individual session with each of you early on, so you could tell them that you have already made your decision and are trying to figure out how to act on it.)

Do as much as you can to make sure that he has family and friends available to step in when they're needed.

Make sure you have a support system in place for you (a bank account, a place to stay, a lawyer, people who will listen and not be judgmental). The best thing you can do for him is to keep your head if the situation goes to hell. He may say terrible things that *you* won't be able to forget - make sure you are at a point where you can stay calm and focussed on doing the best thing for your child.

Ending a marriage is extremely painful for both partners. People are jumping to a lot of conclusions here, but I don't find it surprising that you are grappling with a lot of confusing emotions and decisions. Make sure you have the space (and therapy) to sort through things over the coming months.
posted by bayleaf at 9:24 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You - and a lot of other posters to this thread - are framing your question in terms of a lot of absolutes. "True love." That's a tough concept to get one's head around. It sounds like you are still finding out what it means to you. A lot of people never know.

You respect your husband, care for his feelings, love the child you are raising together. Those are important motivations. As far as we know, your husband loves you, loves your child; you say he deserves to have an equal loving partner and you want him to have that.

Here is what I would suggest; that you back off from the idea of 'love' for a bit - it is a large idea, it can be confusing, it can certainly confuse the issue when you try to talk about it with other people. Instead, why not try to frame the question in terms of needs, motivations, and plans of action?

By the way, a number of people in this thread have either implied or stated that your efforts to get your own needs met are somehow malevolent, cruel, or inappropriate. That's really not a very good message. Your needs as a mother, a partner, and a lover are important and it is important that you find a way to satisfy them.

I'd advise you to start by thinking about what your motivations and needs are, and then developing a plan to get those things taken care of in a way that is most beneficial to you. That will be a good first step into seeing a way out of the hole you've indisputably dug yourself into.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 9:59 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well I certainly regret my earlier remark now. Sorry for pathologizing you like that, OP.
posted by clockzero at 10:36 PM on August 8, 2010

I wish to GOD (whom I don't believe in) that my parents had divorced, instead of putting me and my brother through a marriage in which it was clear that my father didn't love my mother, and was miserable, and my mother knew it, and was miserable, and my brother and I were FUCKING MISERABLE.

I can pretty much guarantee that everyone would have been happier if they'd split up. Both of us would have had better relationships with our parents, and our parents might have found happiness with others, which would have made everyone less hateful.

I absolutely agree with this. Kids are not blind, nor are they utterly oblivious. If the only example of a relationship that you give them is an unhealthy, loveless one, they will pick up on it, and it will hurt them anyway. Please don't avoid divorce "for the kids."

With that being said, I don't think you should tell your husband that you never loved him. What you describe- a comfortable, committed relationship- is absolutely a type of love, it's just not the romantic love that you are looking for. Tell him that, while you still care for him deeply, you have fallen out of love with him and you want to separate.
posted by karminai at 10:44 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

In favor of being honest. Not with a cudgel but lovingly, with consideration.

My concern is for the 4 year old. I suggest not breaking up for another 2 years. From what I've studied, the core of personality is formed by age 6, especially in the area of empathy, which can impact the entire personality for life. By age 6 a child is then much better able to handle emotional trauma, like parents splitting up.

Books to help your child with the concept of divorce l Helping Children Understand Divorce.

Your 4 year old child is alone in dealing with this divorce, without a sibling. That makes it particularly difficult to handle.

What is love?

You and your husband have been friendly companions, mutually caring for each other, you share a child together, you have an amicable history together as marriage partners, you "respected, admired and trusted him". You must have been attracted to him at one time. These are many ingredients of love, of a loving relationship. So I think it would be odd to say you have never loved him. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say not "in love".

It seems to me that there were the ingredients of a loving relationship there but you did not originally feel a deep attraction to him and that feeling is more intense with the burden of taking care of a young child. A lot of love needs to go towards the child in parenting and if you do not feel deeply attracted to your spouse, I think (not being a parent but only observing it in others) that it can feel like running on empty.

The bad: You used him from the beginning: I remember explicitly thinking "Well, I don't love him but I think being married to him might make me a better person in a lot of important ways." It seems like you tried to build on a friendship and are now yearning for passion.

On the flip side, I think many people have married for momentary passion and when that diminished they were not left with a friendship, and if the marriage were before the 1960's, spending decades together in misery because it was The Done Thing or For The Children.

The Good: You are now taking responsibility for using him.

It seems likely to me that he may have felt used on some unconscious or conscious level. If he came from a dysfunctional family, he may be codependent, used to being used. Like many women who adore a man who is unreachable, he may adore you the more for being somebody who doesn't love him back with the passion he has for you. That may be a dynamic you both unconsciously chose for this marriage.

You say now you are feeling attracted to somebody, love "from afar". The afar business sounds to me like you have your own fear of intimacy issues on top of your marrying and having a child with somebody who you were not in love with. You may not be able to love when somebody is not "afar".

I'm always in favor of speaking the truth, not as a hunting license to hurt a person but authentic honesty, which is genuinely caring. In this case with honesty about your own failings in using him, owning up to that, as you did in your OP.

Rejection is a painful wound, maybe one of the most painful and hard to heal. But I think life is very much about learning from one's suffering, learning from the truth, becoming a deeper person, understanding oneself and others with greater depth and compassion.

My good wishes that this breakup can accomplished in a civil, caring, considerate way for you both and for your child. Naturally, your husband is likely going to feel intensely angry, hurt, rejected. Please be patient, be kind to him in your exit.
posted by nickyskye at 10:51 AM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

My husband told me that he didn't love me any more, and wanted a divorce, and it was crushing. I cried. I was upset. Then we got divorced, and I resolved to split things so I wouldn't have to be around him again (strait settlement, no alimony), and after a few miserable months, got to a place where I realized that I was better off.

So tell him, be prepared for him to be upset, but in the end he'll be fine. He'll be able to find someone who will love him back, and that's a good thing.
posted by sandraregina at 3:53 PM on August 9, 2010

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