heartbreak, long-repressed emotions, and betrayal
December 22, 2016 2:55 PM   Subscribe

I want out of my marriage. I have been faithful, but probably can't hold out much longer. Everything is complicated. Help.

I'm a 40 year old married man. My wife and I have been together 15 years, married for 12. Two children (6 and 9). We've had a good but not overly loving relationship and marriage. We've done ok.

Her interests and mine do not mesh much, and both require time and attention. We've grown apart. She sells Herbalife, and is very active in the online communities related to that. It's not about the money so much - she just likes it. I am an actor. I've been in an improv troupe for the past 4 years, and we perform or rehearse a few times a month. I could not be less interested in the Herbalife. Up until recently she had never seen me perform.

Sex has never been terrific. We had hot spells when we first got together (basically evaporated by the time we got married a few years later) and then when we were trying to get pregnant. I always wanted more, but, especially after the kids, got used to being dissuaded and eventually more or less resigned myself to a life of masturbating in the garage after everyone else fell asleep a few times a week.

I don't understand how I got myself here. Wanting things to be easy, sliding past bad things? Having some emotionally abusive childhood stuff that leads me not to say shit even if I have a mouthful of it?

So, yeah. A few months ago I got put on a project with a woman at work. We've actually worked together on the same large team for years. Up to now we've been cordial work friends - liked each other, worked well together. Well, shit. This time, working closely together we very quickly got involved in what has to be called an emotional affair. We've kissed once. I am ready to be with this person. Forever (haha, asshole, how can you say forever about this person when you said forever about THAT person and clearly that hasn't happened. I know.)

Early in my relationship with this other woman I think my wife picked up that something was up. She put on essentially a charm offensive. She upped everything - started coming to my performances. Started making friends with my friends, and their families (has not made any sort of effort to that effect EVER before.) She started being way more sexual - went from like once every (oh God) maybe 90 days to a few times a week, instantly. Sounds great, right? Wrong. In the time we have grown apart, and the time I have been left feeling sallow and ignored, something has broken that can not be fixed, I don't think.

So, to sum up: our marriage began a little ways apart, and we grew further apart instead of together. About the time I really slipped into a life of quiet misery I found joy, unimaginable joy, in another person. And then! At precisely this moment, right as I have become consumed by this my wife has come roaring back to me. But I have now had the horrible realization that I am really no longer there to come back to. I'm out.

I adore my children, and do not want to cause them any pain. I also am not, like, angry or poisoned to my wife, and I don't want to cause HER pain. But I also, I am ashamed to say, I want happiness for myself. Before the other woman, I felt like this, but with no future to look for, why fuck it up for everyone else?

What do I do NOW?

Therapy? Couples counseling (I really think from my side it is over)? Just hop on the bus, Gus? Scale of one to ten, how fucking horrible a person am I if I leave my wife? HOW do I do this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You have a relationship of 15 years. You have two children. The absolute very least you owe your family before ripping it apart is to see a marriage therapist together. You cannot just throw out a marriage with no effort to save it because you like someone else better.

You need to also read this previous answer and understand that you are operating in a haze of NRE. Your judgement right now is for shit.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:04 PM on December 22, 2016 [68 favorites]

This is actually not complicated, no offense. You have a wife who is actively trying to be what you want, and you have a new stranger who you've never had to pay bills with or take care of in any bad times or clean up pukey kids with, and the new stranger seems like more fun.

To paraphrase Drew Carey, there's a support group for this. It's called Everybody. We meet at the bar.
posted by ftm at 3:06 PM on December 22, 2016 [103 favorites]

I am ready to be with this person

You're not even close, because you're still married with kids. It does sound like you're ready to leave your marriage, though. I'd get into couples counselling right away, not necessarily with the aim of saving your marriage, but with the aim of working out how you can take it apart, because it doesn't sound like you and your wife are communicating well, or really at all right now.

Once that's done, then you get on with grieving, working out custody arrangements, alimony arrangements, finding a new place to live, mediation and/or lawyers for separation agreements, and after all that, probably in about 2 years time, then you might be ready to be with that person.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 3:09 PM on December 22, 2016 [15 favorites]

Sorry this is blunt but, it sounds like both you and your wife are terrible at communication since you've grown apart and you aren't getting the sex you desire. Why not start with working at better communication? My husband and I talk about this kind of stuff all the time - helps keep us close and also on the same page. Therapy is also good and would probably help you.

You are considering this new woman because of limerence most likely and you haven't had the burden of doing the day to day mundane things with her. I wouldn't pursue this, but that's just me. You could maybe consider it once you determine what you and your wife are going to do, formally get a divorce, work out custody, etc. as Jon above says.
posted by FireFountain at 3:24 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

So you have this marriage that you haven't really worked on and now you to skip out on that for this new relationship that you haven't had to work on?

Maybe you're passive, or avoidant, or lazy or some combination of all three? I couldn't say. I do feel very sorry for your wife, who isn't even a real person with feelings to you anymore but instead a gross inconvenience who is (ugh?) trying very hard to work on reconnecting with you.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for you. You drifted along in your marriage and now you want to trigger the ejection seat and fuck up three other people's lives so you can continue not putting in effort.

Stop seeing the woman from work, with whom you are having an affair (no weasel words from you allowed) and get yourself into individual therapy where you explore why you want to offload all the emotional labor in your long-term relationships onto others and then bail when you get bored rather than honoring your committments.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:27 PM on December 22, 2016 [53 favorites]

From the perspective of someone who has been the other woman many times, the unifying factor between all of you guys (by which I mean: men who choose to cheat on their wives, and especially men who think emotional affairs aren't cheating) seems to be that you think we are seriously MAGICAL. Beyond manic pixie dream girl and into omg forever soulmate, or at least the degree of omg forever soulmate you can manage before you get rid of the ol' ball and chain.

Married men think OW are just these impossibly light-footed fairies who exist to sprinkle fun and excitement over your lives -- our lives don't especially matter, but yours REALLY do. You guys talk about us like we have singularly awakened your long-dormant, long-suffering spirits, and you always think these blissful mid-affair feelings are going to stay the same for the rest of your life. But we aren't (we're just regular people), we haven't (it's a mixture of projection and wishful thinking), and man, oh man, they won't (because you're going to have to deal with the consequences sooner or later). OW are usually functionally identical to your wives, actually, except we haven't birthed your children or cleaned up your/their puke, piss, and shit, and our regularness is hidden under a thin veneer of inexcusable-but-gratifying-to-men behavior. That we do get sick or mad or disagreeable sometimes, that we like Herbalife but don't really care about improv, and that a lot of us have fluctuating libidos just like your boring old wives do matter not: Errant husbands tend to project their futures onto us for no real reason other than because we're shitty enough to fuck around with married dudes. And expecting that we will stick around to give you exactly what you want is incredibly unrealistic.

Your marriage might well be over, but the panacea you have projected onto your co-worker is very likely to evaporate in the cold, hard light of day, and it's clear you haven't given that nearly enough thought.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 3:29 PM on December 22, 2016 [183 favorites]

I would be bitter as hell if someone went from being kind of terrible and uninterested to doing everything I wanted. Like, where was this person for the last however many years? That would almost make me madder than them just staying the same.

This doesn't sound like NRE to me. NRE is all about how THIS IS THE BEST PERSON EVER. And yeah, you sound like you feel that way, but it also sounds like there are real, concrete problems in your existing relationship.

I would ask a good friend if you seemed happy in your marriage. Or your family. They might give you clues about whether this is NRE or a broken marriage.

My gut says fuck it, get your ducks in a row and leave. Life is short. Don't immediately move in with New Fling, though.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:30 PM on December 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Leaving your family and being with the other woman are two different things.
Hopefully you'll see this before you do something stupid; whether that is staying or going.
posted by fullerine at 3:35 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

This sounds like you kinda think you are not responsible for the lack of connection between you and your wife. You'd rather masturbate in the garage than approach your wife about the disconnection in your relationship. You're in this position because of your choices.

I believe you the relationship with your wife is over.

Your wife probably has a completely different narrative about the last 15 years, one where you checked out. I think it might be possible to invigorate your relationship with your wife. You can also leave her and get divorced.

Seek therapy? Try and be rigorous about your "side of the street," the ways you effect others and yourself.

PS. If it helps for the next relationship, or helps you mend this one... The time to have worked on your relationship with your wife was way back when you were trying to get pregnant but no longer feeling it. It's really important to be an active and conscious participant. A successful adult relationship requires care and cultivation. I think you are finding this out.
posted by jbenben at 3:38 PM on December 22, 2016 [18 favorites]

It's not fair of you to jump from never discussing this with your wife to leaving her for another woman. Doing this would make you a total asshole.

Figure out your shit first. This shit: "I don't understand how I got myself here. Wanting things to be easy, sliding past bad things? Having some emotionally abusive childhood stuff that leads me not to say shit even if I have a mouthful of it?" If you're not going to do it for your wife of more than a decade, do it for your kids. Model to them an appropriate, adult approach to your problems and how to treat your partner.

It's not your wife's fault that you were unhappy and didn't say or do anything about it; don't punish her for it by treating her without respect.
posted by vunder at 3:45 PM on December 22, 2016 [16 favorites]

It's not about the money so much - she just likes it.
I'm sure she could say the same thing about your improv troupe. Everyone needs things in their life that give them connection to others and a sense of achievement. Is your dismissive attitude to her choices coming across to her? And how would you feel if she said the same things about yours?
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:48 PM on December 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

I avoid reading other responses to questions like these because they can get a little monotonally repetitive (then again, you're the one who came to Metafilter with a question like this of your own free will).

I'm the "other woman," so to speak, or I was ten years ago. I met my dude when he was married to a woman and had had three kids. He's a gay guy, and realized that in his late 30s / early 40s. It shredded him, this dilemma--leave and be an asshole but happy or stay and be upstanding but miserable?

Their solution was (1) dude comes out to wife, (2) dude gets apartment, (3) dude sees couples therapist both WITH wife and WITHOUT wife. The counseling helped everyone vomit out the bile in a safe space and, once that was underway, disentangle themselves cleanly and without ill will. It helped. It helped a lot.

You have your own thing to come out about, and you and your wife need to talk about it even if your convictions right now seem to be pulling you in the direction of divorce. If your wife is up for it, you really could help her out (along with yourself) by adding in the metered voice of a counselor. A counselor, in private, can also remind you to be mindful of the willies you can get from the frisson of a new relationship, or even from the thought of one. These things can look like mind tricks in hindsight, after damage has been done.

Whatever the case, you're not an asshole. No one knows the full picture from a couple paragraphs shared online, so don't let the crowd beat you down when they try to make you feel miserable. This stuff is complicated, and the answers are complicated. If you do choose divorce, know that though it won't be tidy for a while it eventually will be. Families go through these things all the time. "Modern families" are the norm, far in excess of families that haven't experienced divorce. And you know what? That's not a bad thing. Our kids now have three dads and a mom, all equally engaged and supportive, and everyone is doing well and aware of the value of personal happiness in the long term. Should it come to that, your kids can adjust, and they will if you manage the separation well and mindfully.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:12 PM on December 22, 2016 [25 favorites]

This sounds like you kinda think you are not responsible for the lack of connection between you and your wife. You'd rather masturbate in the garage than approach your wife about the disconnection in your relationship. You're in this position because of your choices.

Where does the OP say that he hasn't tried to communicate with his wife?

We're all being very, very harsh on the OP, because he's a man. He's also hurting, and is asking for our help.

By all means, OP, look at your own behavior and see if there's something you could be doing differently. But yeah, if your wife put the rest of her life (kids, work) before her marriage then I'd be pissed too. As others say, hold off on the other person (I've been the OW too and it suuuuuuuuuuuuucks) until you're in a better place. If you've checked out then you've checked out, and move ahead from there (in a respectful and fair way).
posted by Melismata at 4:13 PM on December 22, 2016 [19 favorites]

Whatever else you do, absolutely do not go to couples' counseling where the goal is saving your marriage unless you are going to go with the real intention of solving the issues in your marriage. Do not waste anyone's time, money, or emotional energy on being in therapy when you are not showing up in good faith.

People will say, you have a life, you have kids, whatever. What you have, regardless of who is at fault, is a shell of a life and a pile of unhappiness. Model for your kids being a good person and also a person with boundaries who sees the value in people being able to be and pursue happiness. Be decent, be kind, be honest. Model THAT. Don't model suffering because it's somehow unseemly to get divorced. Don't model a life of suffering for your kids to pattern their lives after.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:24 PM on December 22, 2016 [18 favorites]

The likelihood of you and the woman you are having an affair with staying together is incredibly slim. Odds say you will NEVER trust each other. Trust those odds because you are starting your relationship dishonestly and she'll remember, even if you forget.
posted by Marinara at 4:39 PM on December 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

Your last paragraph kind of makes it sound like you think a relationship with this other woman is yours for the asking. But you don't know that. Even if she says she'd like to be with you if you were single, she may feel VERY different about it if it looks like a real possibility. I think a lot of Other Women and Men feel more comfortable with the built-in limits of an affair with a married person.

Consider that leaving your wife may just lead to you being just as lonely as you were before this affair, except now you're living in an apartment away from your children. (If you let on that you're leaving your wife "for another woman," it may also lead to everyone you know being extremely angry at you and to you getting in hot water at work.) Are you willing to do that for the sake of independence from your wife? I mean, maybe the answer is yes. But if you'd only be willing to leap if you think you've got a soft landing lined up, you would probably be better served by putting all that energy towards the relationship you have now. Do more stuff with your wife without the kids. Talk to her about the world of Herbalife. Make the same effort that she's making for a while and see what comes of it. It's the least you owe to respecting the judgment of the former self who thought he wanted to be with this woman forever, right?
posted by ostro at 4:42 PM on December 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

Hey, my ex-husband was you! He seems pretty happy now. My life and my kids' lives are wrecks, and I'm probably never going to be able to retire, and because of dating demographics as a woman over 40 I'm expecting to be single for the rest of my life.

So it depends a lot on whether you value your commitments more than you value your fun, or whether you're willing to put in the work to re-form your life so you can honor them and be content. My opinion on this is obvious; others' ethics vary.
posted by metasarah at 4:47 PM on December 22, 2016 [50 favorites]

We've kissed once. I am ready to be with this person. Forever

Just as a head-check, have you asked her opinion about this? Because it is very, seductively, easy to imagine yourself with someone you have a crush on, with no pesky ol' obligations like keeping children alive and a roof over your heads, only to find yourself in an empty apartment with no job and a restraining order because you forgot she has a say in this.

There's a lot to be said for not being this cliche. You will survive if you take a year and try reconnecting with your wife and family first, and if you still can't make it work but spent a year forging really excellent communication and partnership skills with your co-parent and the kids you're likely never going to be custodian of again, that wouldn't be a terrible thing, you know?
posted by Lyn Never at 4:58 PM on December 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

I do want to clarify that I do not suggest you go for couples counseling at this time, because I don't think you're ready.

Instead, I suggest that instead of leaving your family and then ending up repeating the same patterns with another person, that you work on knowing yourself in individual therapy.

Right now - drop contact with the work woman, be kind and engaged with your family, plan excursions with your kids, be supportive and present in the household and then in therapy, work on knowing yourself, your attachment patterns, your expectations of love and commitment. Examine yourself closely and put in some very hard work, while being a kind good and husband for 6 mo. or a year. If at the end of that, you have reached a sure place that your marriage is no longer functional, then at least you leave knowing your own mind and not just slipped out the back door after a new shiny toy.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:05 PM on December 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

I don't understand how I got myself here. Wanting things to be easy, sliding past bad things? Having some emotionally abusive childhood stuff that leads me not to say shit even if I have a mouthful of it?

If you say so, maybe? Sounds like you both let it go, retreated to your corners.

This does sound sort of done. But the next relationship won't necessarily be any easier. I'm inclined to think splitting up might not be the worst thing, for you... because there's a huge history of indifference and hurt between you, not sure how you get over that (though maybe some do). And, I mean, if she's selling Herbalife full-time, she'll have to figure something else out right quick (will she?) and you're going to be on the hook for alimony regardless of whether she does or not. So unless you've got a fantastic income and are prepared to tighten your belt, I think it will just be hard, no matter what. And of course the kids will need to adjust. (Kids are resilient, and they will probably be ok if you and your wife can be ok about all this, but that's obviously not wholly under your control.)

I think things ending well depends a lot on how you end things. (Whether your wife is able to adjust, emotionally and financially; and whether you can do the same.) So maybe, pull away from this coworker, who it sounds like was the prompt for this awareness you're having, but is confounding things, so everyone has time to adjust and make some kind of plan.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:19 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

You are my husband 2 years ago. He thought the other woman could do and say no wrong. That is, until he found out she'd had a similar thing before with another male coworker and lied about it to everyone, including him. Turns out that people who cheat, are lying cheaters -- who knew? Oh and just prior to him finding that out, he was planning on leaving me for her. He told her this, and she rejected him.

What I'm saying is, your relationship with this coworker is completely imaginary. There is nothing real about it. And if you leave your wife for her, you're gonna find that out real fucking fast.

Leave your wife because you know it's time and you need to take care of yourself. Don't leave your wife assuming that New Perfect Woman is going to jump into your bed and magically solve all your problems.
posted by a strong female character at 5:42 PM on December 22, 2016 [15 favorites]

If you decide to dissolve your marriage, do it because your marriage is past saving, not because you feel you've found something better. Ask yourself, if this woman had never come along would you have stayed in this situation that you find intolerable, just because it's easier than not doing anything about it?

I'll give you the same advice I gave another unhappily married man once - get your own s*** together first.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:47 PM on December 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

Contra many of the posters above: you can divorce your wife and not ruin her life. The marriage seems like it's been dead for a bit now. (And, from the question, who on Earth knows how much she "worked on the marriage" herself. Maybe a lot! Maybe not at all! I don't know, but here the OP is.)

How? Don't be a fucking shithead about it. Structure your life such that she is not left with all the burdens of parenting, and has the opportunity to explore herself and possibly new loves. Pay her ample child support. Be there for your kids in time and emotional energy. Co-parent rather than let her parent. Do the hard shit no parent really wants to do. You and I know that the bias is STRONGLY against this, and for Mom picking up all the slack post-divorce. But a societal bias doesn't have to play out in your own life, if you make the conscious effort to make it so. Be the best goddamn co-parent you can be.

My own bias: I came from a home where two parents stayed together loooooo-oo-oo-oooooooooong past any expiration date would have indicated is healthy. Counterfactuals are easy to make as you don't have to pay up for them, but if my parents had had a healthy divorce I would have probably not needed as much therapy in my life as I did to undo all the negative, lifeless, borderline-traumatic feelings I had toward relationships from watching two people in quiet desperation with fitful bursts of pure hatred. Two people who are otherwise both very good people and great parents! As a +1 from the child of such a marriage, I also had to work through a lot of feelings about the fact that they "stayed together for me"... yikes.
posted by The Sock Puppet Sentience Movement at 5:55 PM on December 22, 2016 [30 favorites]

What would someone courageous, and honorable, and kind, do?

You can be courageous and honorable and kind. Don't think there are only two choices here.
posted by amtho at 6:12 PM on December 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

Yes, in general kids are observant enough to know when things aren't right between their parents. The only surprise about our parents' divorce was that it didn't happen sooner.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:13 PM on December 22, 2016

I don't want to pile on but I do want to note how humiliating it is to find out that the person you thought you were going to be with until you died with has been busy going out and building an imaginary romance with some rando while you've been busy, like, taking care of your children and all that other bummer kinda stuff. It's past hurt and into this kind of mind-bending, reality-shifting otherworldly type shit, and if you respect your wife at all, you have to at least try to avoid inflicting it on her.

Whenever you feign the role of dutiful husband, even if you're patting yourself on the back for gritting your teeth and bearing it, you're making a conscious decision that your comfort is more important than your wife's ability to make fully informed decisions about what she does with her time and where her boundaries are. I was an absolute shitshow of an excuse for a human being in my OW days, but when I realized that, when the dude made me realize that I was way more bothered by the fact that he was cheating and lying than he was? That was what finally managed to unearth my dormant awareness of justice and, ultimately, empathy. So I told his wife everything, she left him, and he was (and is) real (!) mad about it. I thought she deserved to know and he didn't, was what it ultimately came down to.

This is a long way of explaining how OW are fallible and often kind of gross people, not magical forever elves sent from heaven to rescue you from your boring marriage to your annoying wife. Also, sometimes our conscience catches up with us before a cheating husband's catches up with him. Please try to refrain from totally upending your family's lives over a woman you barely know, and please be as honest with your wife as you can, as soon as you can bear to be. Use your words and don't waste her time performatively self-flagellating, that's how. Because you respect her as a person and the woman who spent 15 years of her life on and raised two children with you, that's why.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 6:31 PM on December 22, 2016 [29 favorites]

Look, I don't think you're an asshole, marriage is complicated and we are animals, BUT you do need to start talking to your wife. I'm sorry you were shut out of intimacy with your wife for so long, that's really painful. It really is. I think a lot of affairs are an offshoot of the breakdown of communication, which leads to the breakdown of intimacy, which leads to loads of unmet needs and desires, and then of course, sex/intimacy with someone else. If you're not communicating, it's sort of inevitable if you think about it.

But, you need to tell her what's going on with you, and vice versa, regardless of this other lady.

Yes, couples counseling, asap. There's too much to unpack without the help of someone else, probably. You both have a ton of unmet needs in the relationship.

Don't make any big decisions until you commit to doing this for a few sessions with a couples counselor. Also one for yourself, prontisimo.
posted by Rocket26 at 6:55 PM on December 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't understand how I got myself here. Wanting things to be easy, sliding past bad things? Having some emotionally abusive childhood stuff that leads me not to say shit even if I have a mouthful of it?

Uh, how are you going keep this from happening again? A new relationship doesn't have the baggage this one does, so it seems nice and easy. But how are you going to keep the next relationship you actually wind up in (whether it's this woman or someone else) from heading down this same path? Those steps that you'll take, can you take any of those with your wife, now, if she's willing?

If not, be honest with yourself that you're leaving your marriage because you're unhappy, not because you're a hero in some romantic story who has suddenly found his soulmate.

People leave unhappy marriages, maybe that's not ideal, but that's life (and in my mind is healthy). But having an emotional affair before leaving was definitely a big mistake. You're not the worst human being in the world, but it was a crappy thing to do and now things are going to be even messier than they would have been if you'd been motivated to take action earlier. Your silent suffering earlier doesn't excuse not taking action earlier (whether that was being more proactive in fixing things or filing for divorce).
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:58 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I think it's a no-brainer. Regardless of how your marriage turns out, you need to:

1) Ditch the other woman, for all the reasons stated previously, and
2) Get couples counseling. Even if you split, you're still going to have a relationship of one kind or another, because you have kids. You owe it to everyone to make that relationship a good one.
posted by the_blizz at 7:26 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

About the time I really slipped into a life of quiet misery I found joy, unimaginable joy, in another person. And then! At precisely this moment, right as I have become consumed by this my wife has come roaring back to me.

I think the explanation is so simple you don't want to see it. It's not a paradox or dramatic irony or an O'Henry story coincidence twist. She didn't somehow guess your secret and set out to seduce you back (I mean, maybe, but seriously, she didn't.) You just suddenly got a lot less depressed and that makes people a lot more attractive.

It's too late to go back in time and see if you could get the same results from your wife by starting a rigorous program of therapy, exercise, and restructured thinking, but I bet you could have. You became massively more sexually attractive to her because your thoughts were taken up with something that made you happy and not something (her) that made you resentful and depressed. You seemed like a new person, so she reacted to you as if you were. and you know just how it feels to be struck by a new person.

but I mean I disagree massively with the advice above that you owe it to her out of respect to discuss the situation with her as if it's possible for her to change your mind. it is super degrading to think you are having a two-sided discussion with someone who is actually issuing a decree dressed up as a pretend negotiation. Just be sure you'd rather be single than be with her, because there is a good chance you will be.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:05 PM on December 22, 2016 [13 favorites]

If you adore your children, then remember that there's exactly one woman in this scenario who altered the course of her entire fucking life to birth and raise them with you.

"How you do this" is you drop this pretend girlfriend like a hot rock and start practicing your gratitude.

You really think Herbalife and improv are more important than committing to bear and rear your kids? Really?

Let me give you a lesson about intimacy:

our marriage began a little ways apart
Wanting things to be easy, sliding past bad things? Having some emotionally abusive childhood stuff that leads me not to say shit even if I have a mouthful of it?
we grew further apart instead of together.

You are the one to blame about the lack of intimacy in your relationship. Your unwillingness to disclose your truth is what makes the distance. If your wife doesn't know what's bothering you, how in the world can the two of you work to fix it? And you're blaming her for your being unhappy? Are you blaming her for not reading your mind?

Drop the side piece. Come clean. Get yourself to counseling. Then get you and your wife to counseling together. Just out of curiosity, do you "slide past" the "bad things" that she's complained about? Bet there's plenty of work for you to do to contribute to the betterment of your marriage.
posted by Sublimity at 8:13 PM on December 22, 2016 [18 favorites]

Do keep in mind that couples' counselling doesn't have to be undertaken with the goal of reconciliation -- sometimes it's just a good thing to undertake before a major transition.

And leaving your wife dependent on a pyramid marketing scheme for a 'job,' with two young kids to care for, is...a major transition.

The idea that because you have been kissed, this woman wants a dude who comes with stepchildren, a salary decimated by alimony and child support -- this is all ridiculous. It sounds like you are having some sort of rather sad mid-life crisis.

It also sounds like you are being a bad father. You want out of your marriage? Fine, that's one thing. Do it in a responsible, respectful fashion. Set yourselves both up with attorneys (she picks her own, of course, and you foot the bill, unless she is magically making notable money from the MLM). Work through issues of custody, property division, re-location.

Since I became a parent, virtually all of my "Dear god. What now?" major life questions have fairly easily been answered by the objective answer to "What is in my child's best interests?" Because the honest answer to that is virtually always the correct answer for the parents involved.

You are nowhere near "I am ready to be with this person. Forever..."

You need to -- if that's how it's going to go down -- properly and compassionately dissolve your marriage and sort out custody and support. You need to put your children as the absolute priority here -- you and your wife are adults and will be able to pick up the pieces and eventually move on. But your children are dependent creatures with personalities still forming. They need their parents' focused love, care, and attention to be shepherded through a family break-up. When I kicked my train wreck ex out I had one night where I cried, and that was it. There was nothing else to do; I had a small child to care for. Worrying about myself came as a distant second.

The absolute last thing that would be good for them is their father rushing to shack up with a near-stranger. Their father should, after settling the dissolution of the marriage in a responsible manner, spend some time getting his messy life together, and re-building a new stage for himself as a competent, happy, SINGLE single parent.

Then their father might look at dating. Some considerable time after that, when the children are moving forward as happy children of divorced parents, their father might entertain the idea of seriously dating to a point where he might consider re-marriage and bringing a stepmother into the equation.

Stepfamilies can be a complicated mess. There's no indication in your post that the co-worker wants to play mummy to somebody else's two young children. Higher-order parenting skills are required to successfully blend a new member into a family. You do not just float off into the forever after with the woman who...

...good god, the chap I have been dating for a few years saw me and my kid through my having norovirus. Prodigious vomit and diarrhea when I was not passed out. Highly contagious. Live in a rural area; children's hospital a good hike away, there was no way I would have been able to visit my daughter if she'd ended up sick and in hospital; I was pretty worried, when I was conscious. All that went on that three-day weekend was me crawling to and from the toilet, him comforting my sobbing kid who couldn't hug mummy, and politely getting on her to keep her hands washed and make sure everything I'd contaminated went straight into the dishwasher, and bleaching out the toilet/sink every time I had an explosion from both ends. That stuff's quite likely cut from stepparent cloth, you know? But the co-worker might take one look at a similar mess and shrug and go home for the weekend. Your fantasy life where you are ready to be with her, "forever," does not take your children into account at all. You have communication problems with your wife that you have not taken the time to sort through; there is no reason at all to believe that you will not continue to repress communication, and be magically able to steer a new paramour into life with you and her stepchildren.

I find that part very distressing -- or, charitably, indicative of you being in a sort of delusional crisis state where you are not able or willing to think things through.

I would tell the co-worker you need serious time apart as you have to work on your family responsibilities. And then do that.

If she is all that and a bag of chips then she's waiting there at the end of the rainbow. She almost certainly won't be, but there are other fish in the sea, and it is not worth leaving your wife and children in a humiliating fashion (keep in mind that there are no do-overs on that sort of thing, and the term 'homewrecker' carries the stigma it does for fairly sound reasons).

Have you ever heard "It was great when my father left our family for another woman. Those were good times" from an adult...? Or, "As soon as my parents divorced, my parent moved in this person we barely knew to come live with us. I couldn't have been more overjoyed!"


-- return to a strictly professional relationship with the co-worker
-- start talking with your wife, even if a professional is required to help the two of you communicate
-- if the marriage is truly over, start hammering out the logistics, keeping in mind what is owed to her (you need to lose the 'poor me' over wanking in the garage &c -- you chose to put off dealing with this, to bring children into a dodgy relationship, and so on)
-- find your footing, possibly with a therapist, as a capable and happy single father who puts his children first
-- then consider foolin' around and lusting after potential stepmothers

Your timeline from start to finish there is measured in years, not weeks or months. No matter what happens -- if you manage to save your marriage, if you end up with a very acrimonious and ugly divorce -- the odds are excellent that, after going through it all, you will end up in a much happier place than you are in now. But only if you go about it properly.
posted by kmennie at 8:28 PM on December 22, 2016 [33 favorites]

Everything is complicated.

It's actually not. The right thing to do is pretty obvious.

Know that you are a cliche, not a snowflake. You just turned 40. The average lifespan of a marriage is 12-14 years in western countries. And men leaving only after they meet someone else is pretty typical in my experience. You're just finding yourself in a spot that many people our age did a whole chain of things to bring about.

But you're in love or whatever so I know you probably feel like she's different, that you guys are different and special, and you truly have this amazing connection that you've never felt with anyone else before, and might never again etc etc. But if the new woman really is your ideal forever partner, did you really have lying cheater on your list of desired qualities? Does she on hers? If you truly love and care for her, why do you want her to give her someone who, for starters, has "emotionally abusive childhood stuff that leads me not to say shit even if I have a mouthful of it"?

You need to know that a HUGE part of the attraction is simply that she is new and represents so much hope and fantasy. It's hard to see reality when you're in love. Why is she cheating on her partner? I know you want it to be because you and she are soul mates or whatever, but it's more likely because she has her own set of issues she hasn't dealt with. I think you're probably overlooking stuff, or downplaying undesirable traits, because you're so smitten right now.

This is why you need to trust other voices right now. Tally up the responses from here. Ask a sibling or best friend or someone else you can trust to be honest and loving with you. Especially someone who knows and loves both you and your wife. See a therapist. There will be certain bits of advice that keep coming from all corners. Weigh those with someone objective.

- If you really don't want to fix your marriage, at least finish things with your wife in the most honourable way you can.
- The Sock Puppet Sentience Movement's advice upthread about being a decent co-parent x infinity. Squared. This is how you make sure your kids are okay.
- Sort your own head stuff out.
- Stop seeing the other woman. In time you will probably feel icky about her. If my partner or a friend was behaving the way you two are, I would find it repulsive rather than a sign of true love.

Sorry if this is harsh. I know you must be wrangling and torn and upset. You probably know that a lot of the upset is that the right thing to do is not what your "heart" wants to do.
posted by stellathon at 9:19 PM on December 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Wherever you go, there you'll be. You can;t escape who you are and the issues you bring. She (wife, Significant Other Woman, child, mom, whoever) can;t magically fix you. You have to do that, with or without a therapist (and possibly a doctor, for vitamin and hormone levels, and maybe antidepressants)

I think you can decide to work on your marriage. I think you can end it in the smoothest way possible (which WILL NOT be smooth and pain free, emotionally mentally or financially). Or you can cheat on your wife. Options one and two are good option. Option three is a bad option all around. It really messes up stuff like her happiness, your co-parenting life, and possibly your reputation.

If you do decide to end your marriage, spend some time fixing the fallout from that before you start dating.
posted by Jacen at 9:29 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is a lot of good advice here. I particularly want to second this bit from Sublimity. You know how everyone says "good relationships take work," and you never really understood what that meant? (Or, at least, I wondered what it meant forever.) All those awkward conversations that you have are what keeps your relationship alive and connected. And like any task that needs done regularly, if you don't do it, then you have a LOT to do, and it seems unpleasant if not impossible (like scrubbing the grout back to its original color), but if you do it regularly, then it's as easy as wiping a cloth over the shower wall when you get out. I can't say whether you and your wife can fix what you have, but it is probably worth a try. A nice lead-in to help you get started is to focus on what you admire and respect about her. See what you can find.
posted by salvia at 10:02 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Speaking in improv terms, the scene with your wife isn't over.

You two have been cast members together for a while, and you thought you knew her nuances and quirks and jokes. But she surprised you with this most recent change in behavior. Who knows what else is there, in this marriage? If the marriage is going to end, at least enter that possibility with a true sense of possibility in the other direction: that it may not end, that your heart may be able to come back. Consider being open to small moments of improvisation with her, with the concept of being with her.

Time to perhaps do some "Yes, and" in that relationship. She's giving you something to build from. Re-imagine the possibilities.

And then, if this scene ends and you guys disband, you can (as everyone else is saying) know you wrapped it up honorably. You didn't just walk off the stage in the middle of the show. You literally do have an audience that depends on you here--your kids--and they didn't, like, choose to be at this show. You opted them in and they can't leave the venue like you can. It's not just you and your wife here.

And, to extend this metaphor maybe to an awkward extent, you're not only a performer--by building a life together, you've kind of purchased this venue and committed to regular performances. You can technically leave, but it would be really crappy, and someone else would have to take over filling the time with your audience. (Although, just maybe, if you really can't or won't put in the work to be a constructive part of the experience, then leaving might be better in the long run--it might be better than the disappointment of keeping your name on the bill and you never showing up. This isn't something I can say either way for you with any level of authority.)

The woman at work? In improv terms, you've just seen her perform a couple times. It's not at all the same as what you have with your wife. If it is the case your colleague is really "the one" for you, I don't think you could even know that yet. And that makes me think that, at minimum, things are moving too fast and you are too invested in her for your own good. You are giving her your energy while your actual fellow cast member is being left to dry.

Feel free to ditch the metaphor or adjust it if it's not working for you.
posted by ramenopres at 10:08 PM on December 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Leaving your family and being with the other woman are two different things.

I agree with fullerine. Would you leave your wife if you didn't have another woman to go to or would you stay and try to work things out?

I would also like to add that you should be careful about the information you share on the internet because there's enough detail here for you to be identifiable and therefore this could be a tad humiliating for her. We don't need to know the name of the company she works for.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:10 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just want to add that this is where your vows come into play. I don't mean that you have to stay in a marriage that isn't working. But at one point in your life you solemnly swore to put your wife first before others and here is the point at which that becomes real.

Definitely cut off the affair. Give your wife 6 months of caring, honest attention. See where that gets you - a renewed marriage or an honorable end.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:17 AM on December 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by lalochezia at 7:52 AM on December 23, 2016

I'm afraid I have very unpopular advice to offer, but I disagree with the moralistic way everyone is responding and I find it unfair to you. I also find it counterintuitive because everyone is essentially saying your feelings come second, and you must do what you have to do for your vows' sake. But I suspect this is what brought you here in first place, feeling that your feelings don't matter.

Only you know what your marriage is like from the inside. You've been unhappy and neglected for a long time and again only you can confirm or deny this, but your wife doesn't sound like she's done her part as a spouse. Yes I get it, she's wiped baby vomit with you and other routine things that apparently make marriage what it is but these aren't reasons for you to be punished with. She wasn't doing you a favor, her motherhood duties were her choice as much as they were yours.

So while everyone is presenting this woman to be a saintly martyr because she spent these years with you, I would like to argue that she's not. You both made these choices and you had the run you had, and through additional choices on both ends you are here today.
Yes, you having an affair is wrong. So is a partner ignoring one of the most important aspects of a relationship, sex. You say she would only want to have sex about once in 3 months and I don't know about everyone else but I don't think at 40 I would be ready to give up on sex. I don't understand how someone would not want to sleep with their partner, refuse to address it and then be surprised if they're having an affair?? What is the point of entering a marriage if what your future holds are norovirus incidents and resentful sex every 90 days?!!

And sure, it might have been a lack of effort on your end,maybe you were an absent partner and we don't know that, only you do, but right now you sound like you even lack the drive to revive a dead relationship, so trying to do so will only make you resent it more because it's not what you want to do, it's only what you feel you should.

Marriage does not need to be a prison. Your happiness matters too and if you handle the end of your marriage right, no one will come ruined out of it.

You deserve to live as a human, and experience the full spectrum of emotions people do. You don't deserve to live like a joyless zombie, chained to vows that now sound meaningless.

What you can do, is plan the divorce in a way that will be the least painfulband disruptive to your family's life. And while the emotional upheaval maybe inevitable, you can take care of the practical side.

In the same spirit, in order to focus your eneregy on a clean cut end, suspend your affair with the other woman. You don't have to make a decision that seems impossible at the moment , but you can come back to it after this part is finished, and perhaps you will have a better idea then of what this means to you.

I agree that you must be prepared to be single after this and it may very well not work out with the other woman. But you know, being single is a lot more merciful than being in a loveless, miserable marriage, for both of you.

Also, everyone, please stop fetishising marriage. It didn't work when the Catholic Church did it, it won't work now.
posted by ariadne_88 at 8:06 AM on December 23, 2016 [13 favorites]

ariadne_88, I think you're well-intentioned but still off the mark. I'm sure you understand that the sexual quality of a relationship is a two-person responsibility. Just because he wanted more sex doesn't mean that she was solely responsible for the breakdown in intimacy, that nourishes sexual intimacy.

From his description of his wife's sexual revival, initiated by her, odds are good that she wanted more sex too--just not with a bitter sad sack. queenofbythnia above made a great observation, that his wife's revived sexual interest almost certainly is a response to the OP perking up because his crush lightened his spirit.

His spirit is his own to lighten. Putting the burden on anyone else is a route to failure.

I'm all for the importance of sexuality, but breaking a commitment and uprooting your kids' lives is serious, serious business.
posted by Sublimity at 8:21 AM on December 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

ariadne_88, I think you're well-intentioned but still off the mark. I'm sure you understand that the sexual quality of a relationship is a two-person responsibility. Just because he wanted more sex doesn't mean that she was solely responsible for the breakdown in intimacy, that nourishes sexual intimacy.

I agree, and I mentioned that for all we know, he's been responsible for the breakdown in communication. But realistically, it's like trying to lose the weight put on from a decade of binge eating junk food, in 6 months. It took ten years to grow apart and create the breakdown, how realistic it is that it can be undone in 6 months, when one of the two has already checked out?

The "stay for the children" advice is loaded with future resentment and disaster. There are ways to put your children's well being first without having to keep a dead relationship going.

I'm going to refrain from bringing in the childhood issues the OP mentioned and the possibility of them making him vulnerable to unavailable partners. Just because she was his wife for 15 years doesn't mean she was the right person for him. It could have been precisely his lack of boundaries that kept going what should had ended way sooner
posted by ariadne_88 at 8:37 AM on December 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

ariadne_88, I think your perspective is valuable and I hope the OP takes whatever is most useful to him.

However, from the position of having been married 22 years and having gone through some very stressful times that my husband and I could have turned away from each other -- I was the one who almost had an affair -- and yet we didn't and we are head over heels with each other to the point that I was late to work this morning for Reasons, I disagree fundamentally that asking people to take their marriage vows seriously is fetishizing marriage.

I agree with you that the OP's wife has a responsibility too. It sounds like she's recognizing that right now through her behaviour. I don't see any indication in the OP's post that sex is being used as reward and punishment - what's up with that assumption?

And also -- it's unfair to blame her for not resolving a problem if he didn't bring it up in a very direct way. Having libido issues postpartum isn't that rare; it's important to address it but in the flush of having young kids I think it is incumbent on whoever is thinking of leaving the marriage over it to bring it up. I don't know where you get that she thought he was unf*ckable. For all we know she was in bed sad he was in the garage. She could also have been suffering from depression that's clearing. These things can happen. We don't know because apparently the OP hasn't talked about it with her.

He's off on a fantasy relationship based on essentially one kiss. That's understandable -- I have personally been there. But that is in my opinion why we have vows - to talk about things and approach things ethically rather than running after every feeling. I agree 100% that an earlier conversation about the health of the marriage would have also honoured those vows, but here we are today.

I also disagree that it's like losing weight. I mean, it could be, but it could also be as simple as realizing that both people have contributed to a problem that really sneaks up on you, and coming together to fix it. When the breakdown is in communication and connecting like that it can, in my experience, actually be really easy to fix as opposed to like, a gambling problem or cultural differences. Because sometimes when you just reconnect, you find that common ground that you had before is there. If not, the option to leave is still there.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:32 AM on December 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments removed; this needs to not turn into a running argument. ariadne_88, it's fine that you've laid out your view but I need you and others to let that be at this point.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:29 AM on December 23, 2016

Quoting a piece of queenofbithynia's comment above:
About the time I really slipped into a life of quiet misery I found joy, unimaginable joy, in another person. And then! At precisely this moment, right as I have become consumed by this my wife has come roaring back to me.

I think the explanation is so simple you don't want to see it. It's not a paradox or dramatic irony or an O'Henry story coincidence twist. She didn't somehow guess your secret and set out to seduce you back (I mean, maybe, but seriously, she didn't.) You just suddenly got a lot less depressed and that makes people a lot more attractive.

It's too late to go back in time and see if you could get the same results from your wife by starting a rigorous program of therapy, exercise, and restructured thinking, but I bet you could have. You became massively more sexually attractive to her because your thoughts were taken up with something that made you happy and not something (her) that made you resentful and depressed. You seemed like a new person, so she reacted to you as if you were. and you know just how it feels to be struck by a new person.

This is totally true: your wife is (likely sub-consciously) reacting to the happier person you've become as a result of your emotional affair with your co-worker. If you want to try keeping your family intact, and revitalizing your marriage, consider:

How could you become the happy, fulfilled person that you're presenting now, without your co-worker/affair partner in the picture?

How could you excise your depression and re-attract your own zest for life - and consequently, re-ignite your wife's attraction to you?

Treatment for your depression and/or a self-improvement program might work.

For me personally, it's taken:
--a short-term course of anti-depression medication;
--about 6 months of individual talk-therapy focusing on Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy techniques to help change my mind set;
--educating myself on parenting techniques to be a better partner and parent;
--a thorough course of whole-life self improvement - the book The Mindful Attraction Plan provided a framework.
posted by Ardea alba at 12:53 PM on December 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

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