Is it time for divorce, or can we work this out?
February 29, 2012 7:00 PM   Subscribe

The spark is gone. I don't think it's coming back. I need advice.

The man I married was one of my first boyfriends. He was much older than me, had an established career, and helped me get out of a bad situation. I loved him to death. We got married and I couldn't imagine myself in any other relationship.

I think part of our initial spark was the power differential and my need to be taken care of - but that's not an issue anymore. I've done well in the meantime, and I can take care of myself now.

I'm starting to feel restless and stifled. It's important to me to feel desired and valued, but I just don't get that feeling from him anymore. He tries, but it's as if his attention doesn't count anymore.

I feel terrible about it. I still love him and want him to be happy, but selfishly, I wonder what else is out there. I wonder what I've missed out on. There are things I want to do in my life that he has no interest in, and vice versa.

Looking at the future, many years together, never completing my "bucket list," stuck at home raising kids that I don't want ... I don't think I want this to be my life.

But on the other hand, it's many years of safety and stability with a person I get along with very, very well. He's always treated me with love, respect, and trust. He's a good man and doesn't deserve to be dumped. There's no guarantee that either of us will find another relationship like the one we enjoy now.

Please give me some advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
There's no guarantee that either of us will find another relationship like the one we enjoy now.

You won't. Your current relationship had been shaped by you and this particular man. The next relationship or the one after that may be worse or better or simply different.

Tell him what you've written here. It may hurt him, but at least by being honest, there's a chance y'all may find a way back to each other.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:14 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

There are things I want to do in my life that he has no interest in, and vice versa... Looking at the future, many years together, never completing my "bucket list," stuck at home raising kids that I don't want

I don't understand this. Are you chained to your matrimonial home or something? If my husband wanted to go make music in a Seattle garage for a year, I'd help him pack the power adapters. When I was vaguely looking at a professional training course that would have meant two years in France and the US, his response was not "How can you leave me?" but "how do we work out visits?"

If he treats you with love, respect and trust than I don't see why he wouldn't want you to live the fullest possible life. Go start your bucket list. Ask him to make his while you're at it and see what overlap you have. Encourage him in reaching his goals and expect that he'll support you in attaining yours.

Getting out of your rut may well return the spark to your marriage. Living voraciously tends to do that.

If you don't want to have kids, which is totally fine, you do need to clarify with him if this is a deal breaker. If its not, I don't understand why you're catastrophising something that you make it sound like may be very workable indeed.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:15 PM on February 29, 2012 [97 favorites]

There are things I want to do in my life that he has no interest in

I'm starting to feel restless and stifled.

Are these things you can do on your own or with other people?

Can the two of you remain together but become more independent?

I'm also unclear about whether you have kids or not but I agree with what DarlingBri wrote.
posted by mleigh at 7:18 PM on February 29, 2012

You say that he is a good man who doesn't deserve to be dumped. Does he deserve to be with someone who can love him back and be satisfied with what he can give?

Look, there are not excuses I will be able to sympathize with for leaving your kids, if you already have them---you must demonstrate some degree of responsibility for them. But the resentment that you seem to be feeling towards him and them for taking away the opportunities that you had before is going to be hard to keep private forever.

So---assuming that your feelings aren't going away--what can you do about them? Look at your bucket list---is there anything there that he wants to do too? Are there items that you can do on your own to curb the restlessness and satisfy the wanderlust without leaving your family? You want to feel desired---think he'd be interested in a more open relationship where you maybe could scratch that itch elsewhere?

I think that marriage and family can be a great adventure if you try to make it one. It can also be like a plastic bag over your head. Maybe some of both, depending on the day. If you have explored every avenue and you just have to leave your family to be happy, do what you must. But understand that decision isn't something you can take back. So do be careful exercising it.
posted by supercapitalist at 7:19 PM on February 29, 2012

You say the power differential has changed. So, does that mean you can tell him you are not interested in kids, want to start a garage band in Seattle, fulfill your bucket list? Make sure these things aren't collapsed into you not feeling a spark with him. You may be creating a resentment that really doesn't need to be there. (or maybe it does, then things are different.)
posted by Vaike at 7:27 PM on February 29, 2012

If you care about him and you're not sure that you want to dump him, I think couples counseling would be worth it to at least give the relationship one more chance. It's a good way to make sure that you actually have the conversation that you need to have together (as opposed to getting derailed and over-emotional which can happen once someone brings up the D word).

But also, just because he helped you out of a bad situation doesn't mean you owe him the rest of your life. If you feel strongly that the time has come, then the time has come. That's what happens in this life.

Also the OP never said she had kids. I don't think it's fair to pre-judge her for abandoning her kids when she said nothing of the sort.
posted by bleep at 7:37 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you read Dear Sugar #77? Go do that.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:47 PM on February 29, 2012 [17 favorites]

If you don't want children, please don't have them. That isn't just unfair to you, it's hideously unfair to them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:49 PM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

You are having a spiritual crisis. The identity you used to have and feel so comfortable in is gone, and now you have this brand new independent, curious identity.

When your identity changes, you re-evaluate all your old values and relationships. In my experience, this has meant an immediate feeling of wanting to reject or distance myself from any person or circumstance that reminded me of my old self. It sounds like you might be doing this.

This feeling is totally natural. This is the impulse behind all rites of passage in human history. I suggest you sit with this feeling for a while and examine it instead of acting right away. It's an old feeling, one that connects you with the deepest, oldest impulses of humanity. So just listen for a while. What kinds of relationships does this new person want? What kinds of hobbies? Where does she live? What does she wear? What does she eat? How does she dance? What kinds of people does she want to surround herself with?

What you are feeling right now are birth pains and the shock of a new way of being. Those feelings will pass. You don't have to act on them right now. You are free now, after all, to do whatever you want. Your current relationship survives this crisis of ego, or not. Only you can know this.

Take yourself out for long walks and get to know this new you. I wish you the best.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 7:50 PM on February 29, 2012 [22 favorites]

"I think part of our initial spark was the power differential and my need to be taken care of - but that's not an issue anymore. I've done well in the meantime, and I can take care of myself now."

So create opportunities for him to take care of you? If that's where the spark came from, there about 800 different ways to put it back. Hey at least you know where the spark came from!

Just because you're more independent now doesn't need to dictate what kind of partner you have.
posted by By The Grace of God at 7:54 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
No, we don't have children. I guess we'd have to work out custody of the aquarium though. I definitely don't want to have children for the sake of it, - I grew up unwanted and I definitely don't want to put anyone through that. I knew he wanted to have a lot of children, and I used to think I'd want them eventually.

In regards to pursuing my dreams on my own - I talk about them pretty often, and he's dismissive. "why would you want to start a garage band in Seattle? That's a stupid idea. You'll never make any money/you'll get hurt/you'll hate the weather/you'll be even further away from your family" ... Even just vacationing by myself. "we only get a week off every year. Why dont you want to spend it with me?"

I know that we should be able to find compromises if we really love each other. I feel guilty for being selfish.

The Dear Sugar page was amazing. Thanks for the link.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:24 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I talk about them pretty often, and he's dismissive

This seems to me to be the heart of the issue, not the dreams themselves. That's not a genuine partnership, in my opinion. And that is probably why you're feeling the way you do - your partner is dismissive of you. What DarlingBri said above: "If he treats you with love, respect and trust than I don't see why he wouldn't want you to live the fullest possible life" works the opposite way -- being dismissive of what you want for your life is not loving or respectful.

The (very difficult) questions before you are: do you think that he is open to examining where his dismissiveness comes from, and to working on changing that, and provided both of those are true, do you want to do that work with him?
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:33 PM on February 29, 2012 [15 favorites]

Okay then, so he's telling you what you can and cannot do by being the "adult/father" in the relationship and telling you why it will go wrong. So if that's the dynamic that you needed before but don't now, perhaps you have outgrown it. It's not selfish to outgrow something like that - I mean, we leave jobs when we outgrow them. It's okay to want more.

The dealbreaker IMO though is:

I knew he wanted to have a lot of children, and I used to think I'd want them eventually.

You don't sound like you're there - maybe he needs to be with someone who wants lots of kids and you need to go spread your wings somewhere else?
posted by mleigh at 8:43 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Kids are a dealbreaker. He's not getting any younger. No one "deserves" to be dumped, but neither does anyone deserve to be in a stifling relationship in which their needs aren't being met.

Having kids is unbelievably hard, even if you want them and feel like you've sown your oats.

You can't have kids with this man to pay him back for his kindness to you. That's not how it works.

Please recognize that you are valuable enough that getting to spend time with you is all the reward he deserves for being with you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:11 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Right person, wrong time in your life. Discuss with him and make the leaving part go smoothly. Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:14 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

In regards to pursuing my dreams on my own - I talk about them pretty often, and he's dismissive

yea, he may be a good guy, but any guy that dismisses your dreams is not the guy for you.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:16 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Have you read Dear Sugar #77? Go do that.

"Go... because wanting to leave is enough."

As a man on the other side of this situation, let me just say: No, it isn't.

"Go... because wanting to leave is enough." Jesus fuck that is bad advice. If there's abuse going on, then, yeah, get out now. If not, then you owe it to your partner to do everything you can to honor the commitment. And he owes you the same. Marriage is not a job, or a city, or a school. It's not meant to be something that you can just leave whenever you feel like it. It's a solemn responsibility, and one of the most profound promises that you can make to another individual. Abandoning that promise is not a decision to be made lightly.

I know this is more a response to "Dear Sugar" than to the OP, but I'm also a good man who treats his wife with "love, respect, and trust," and would never consider for a moment leaving "because wanting to leave is enough." It isn't.
posted by Ratio at 9:29 PM on February 29, 2012 [42 favorites]

You're getting quite a bit of DTMFA. I don't believe that is warranted from the limited information you've provided. How long has this been going on? How honestly have you expressed your feelings to your husband?

It is striking to me that the way you describe your relationship, and your husband, is overall quite positive. What you feel like you're missing doesn't have to do with your marriage at all. You need to push back and assert yourself within your relationship, set the parameters on it that are going to allow you to be happy and feel fulfilled. If your husband doesn't help you do so, or worse, actively resists, then sure I think the situation may be irreconcilable, but it's not at all clear to me that that's the case (his dismissiveness notwithstanding).

I'm tempted, I suppose, to think that this is a self-improvement issue and not a relationship one, that you would be going through something similar to this right now even if you were single, and that you're projecting the problem onto your marriage because it's the convenient external explanation for why you feel weighed down. I think you owe it to yourself and your husband to figure out whether this is the case before you even start thinking about divorce.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:20 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Well, I have some ideas.

I suggest going and reading about assertiveness, and then practicing it. Perhaps you've got into the habit of having a slightly deferential/submissive dynamic, which isn't suiting you any more. Habits are hard to change, but it's possible! You may be a lot more happy if you start taking more control, making more decisions, speaking up and being firm more often.

I also suggest making it clear that calling your opinions stupid isn't acceptable. "Sweetie, you know perfectly well I'm not stupid, so please don't call my opinions stupid. Now about this garage band...".

Lastly, how about getting together with your husband and writing down what you both really want out of life? Have a good hard think about it. Then see if you can work together as a partnership to brainstorm, to be creative and to be constructive in finding ways to achieve those things together.

After you have given these things a good try, you'll have a better idea of whether you (plural) can work this out.
posted by emilyw at 1:08 AM on March 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm with those that think you should first seek to change the relationship dynamic you have with your husband before abandoning the marriage. It sounds like you're more stifled by the desire to please and obey your husband than by his actual actions. You can and should be equal partners. You can and should (respectfully and lovingly) disagree with him. You can and should have confidence in your choices. If you are wrong, it doesn't mean you should go back to weighing his opinions more than yours. It just means that you learned something. It sounds like you're both used to giving more weight to his opinions than to yours. You're caught between wanting equal respect for your opinions and wanting to maintain a dynamic that has made you feel safe for years. It'll take time for you both to adjust. It's possible that the relationship won't survive the change; it's difficult to change a dynamic like that once it's set because you don't know any other way of relating to one another. You may find that you're just plain incompatible without the power differential there to smooth out any rough spots. Like many others have said, you should be able to pursue your own interests while married (unless you're from a really different culture from the one that generally inhabits Metafilter). If anything, the safety you get from being married should make you more confident about taking self-improvement risks, not less.

Still, I think that you owe it to yourself to make the effort to save your marriage. Not because marriage is some sacred bond that must not be violated, but because it will inform your understanding of your own integrity in the years to come. Your integrity is the root of your self-confidence. If you break a commitment as big as a marriage without fighting for it, how are you going to feel about the idea of commitment in the future? Every choice you make is a commitment of some kind; if you tell yourself it's okay to leave a marriage without working on it, how seriously are you going to take your other commitments?
posted by millions of peaches at 2:17 AM on March 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think that him being dismissive of your dreams, and him wanting children where you don't, are both very serious issues. These are the kinds of thing that people often talk out in couples counseling.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:36 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does he know you've changed? When you talk about what you want to do - unless you have a detailed plan - he may think you are going to get back in a bad situation and need to be saved again.

Kids are a very serious issue and I don't understand why he doesn't want you to have a solo vacation.

On the rest of it, though, I'm with the answers that say this sounds like you having a spiritual/identity crisis and hoping that simply fleeing the marriage will fix everything.

My advice would be to think about and talk about how things are now and how you hope the future will be. Talking with a counselor would be best, but maybe you can talk together before going that route.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:01 AM on March 1, 2012

I'd have to agree with Ratio's regarding the advice to "Go... because wanting to leave is enough." that it is an exceedingly idiotic advice. Seriously. It is so bad and offensive that it's boiling my blood.

There are multiple reasons to why you might be feeling the way you are feeling and there is no one magic band-aid that will help you without finding out more what the possible reasons are.

The advice for "He's dismissive and unsupportive to me wanting to spread my wings" will be wildy different than the one for "I'm bored and I want to know what else is out there" and that in turn will be different for a spiritual crisis.

I would suggest you ask yourself this first - Are you happy? Forget husband and marriage for a moment, are you more or less happy and content with life? In my experience there are times when a person would have issues herself and her first instinct is to run away or to blame the source of her unhappiness on the people closest to her.

Once you can honestly say yes to it (it's hard I know and it's definitely intertwined with marriage) you can start exploring other possibilities. Is it the case of the grass-is-greener-itis? Or wanderlust? Or diverging marital values? Or unsupportive spouse?
A therapist might help you answer those questions and your response to leaving marriage will depend on what answers you come up with.

Best of luck
posted by 7life at 10:29 AM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

OP, I'm glad you liked the Sugar link. I did too (we're in similar positions to be honest) though I hesitated posting it since it tends to bring out the grar.

You seemed to be writing to ask the internet for permission to even consider divorcing this great guy. You know you don't need it, right?

No one but you knows what the future of your relationship is, but you don't need to justify anything to people who are on the outside of it. Most of the posts here seem to be suggesting therapy as way to sort out what it is that's making you unhappy, and where the boundaries of your personal frustration and your relationship frustration are. That's great advice. I totally second that.

But I will also say, as someone on the other side of a few years of therapy, both individual and joint, sometimes the broken thing is just broken. Even though he's a great guy.

Treat him and yourself with respect and compassion and you don't need to feel guilty about anything.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:28 AM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

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