I've got some issues: marriage, affair, etc.
May 11, 2017 9:53 PM   Subscribe

So far this year, the following has occurred, and I'm reeling. I'm trying to figure out what to do next in terms of my marriage and my life. I feel like I'm basically going through this.

1. I've been with my spouse for a decade (more than half of that married).
2. My spouse developed serious chronic health problems several years ago.
3. We've owned our house for almost a year. I pay for almost everything.
4. I've been seeing a therapist for more than a year, largely discussing our issues.
5. I started couples therapy with my spouse a couple months ago (they previously refused).
6. I had a several-month online emotional affair that my affair partner ended last month.
7. A once-abusive parent, whose finances I manage, went into hospice several months ago.
8. I got promoted this spring.
9. I got diagnosed with PCOS this spring.
Given all of the above, I'm feeling, well, a lot of life stress, but especially the following.
1. Sadness and betrayal: I spent time traveling recently trying to work through my feelings about my spouse and my former affair partner. I'm at a point where I'm almost past mourning my marriage (we've fought just about once a month on average the entire time we've been together, and more often lately). I came home prepared to work on things, and almost immediately my spouse attacked me verbally, so that hurts. But the pain of the affair ending is also so fresh (my affair partner sadly cut me off in favor of seeing someone who lived closer and was more available). Traveling helped that some, except that I'd initially planned to meet the affair partner in person during my travels, which didn't happen. It was bittersweet being there without them. I wasn't looking for an affair when it started, but it felt really good and inspiring while it lasted—I know everyone says this about their affair partner, but our connection was magical, deeply intellectual and full of unexpected coincidences and shared cultural references. I miss it.

2. Guilt: Even with things between me and my spouse being this toxic, and even given that I feel like I've been emotionally abused for years and that my spouse has taken and taken from me for years without giving me much of anything positive back (I suspect they have borderline personality disorder), I find it hard to feel OK about the notion of leaving when they're sick in such an ongoing and unpredictable fashion. (To be clear, after reading many AskMe questions about this, I've chosen not to disclose the emotional affair—there aren't any potential benefits that outweigh the pain it will cause.) I know that what we're facing now is far from uncommon—a huge proportion of marriages in which the spouses deal with illness or affairs don't make it.

3. Restlessness: I find myself wanting to separate and move to one of the cities I traveled to recently. (I can work from anywhere.) I can afford both that and the mortgage for a while, so the money isn't an issue. I'm trying to read the tea leaves on my own desires here, and I think there's some aspect of wanting to bury myself in all the hardest things I can think of at once, some aspect of wanting to escape, and some aspect of wanting to just be free and start over while I still have time. There's probably also some aspect of wanting to move closer to where my former affair partner is, even though they're currently unavailable. My spouse was the one who initially broached the subject of separation, after we fought over my promotion. They have broached separation and divorce many times over the years, though, and have never followed through.

4. Arousal: I'm in my early thirties, and I'm feeling this all the time. I noticed so many hot young people in my travels. It's been nearly 3 years since my spouse and I were intimate, and they refuse to try to address that until they feel more emotional closeness from me. This is apparently contingent upon my making improvements to our living space so we can do more together. I'm just getting sick of waiting, and all the conditions start to feel arbitrary. I don't feel wanted by my spouse. My spouse, for their part, says they feel like I've been distant since they got sick. That's true to some degree—becoming a caregiver, being the sole provider at times, and dealing with that emotionally has been hard—but I think I have been much more present and we've had more good times since then than they're willing to acknowledge. I do tend to draw inward and focus on my work when we're not getting along, which my spouse says is an issue in terms of not knowing when to even try to approach me, much less be intimate with me. I get that their own body issues related to illness affect this too. But still, it's been a long time, and that plus the body issues that go along with PCOS and the fact that my affair partner withdrew from me are all leaving me feeling bereft and without an outlet for these feelings.

5. Desire for children: Again, I'm in my early thirties, and this has hit me fairly hard recently. My spouse recently suggested they weren't sure they wanted to have biological children, given their age (they're a decade older) and their health issues. With the PCOS diagnosis, I'm going to have to get my fertility evaluated, but I very much want to have my own kids. I'm just not sure (and haven't been sure for a long time) that I want to raise kids with my current spouse and have them grow up with such deep emotional issues (such as BPD) in the mix. My spouse's physical condition isn't as much of an issue for me in and of itself, as I knew that could end up being a factor with the age difference, but the fact that my spouse doesn't behave positively toward me on top of the physical and emotional issues they face is a major problem. And they don't seem willing to work on their emotional issues beyond paying lip service to them as a mea culpa.

6. Anxiety: They say getting promoted can be as stressful as getting divorced, and I may well be going through both at once. Add to that all the other things happening in my life, and it's no wonder I feel anxious, right? I'm trying to eat well, exercise (especially because of the PCOS diagnosis), pursue hobbies, schedule doctor's appointments, go to therapy regularly, talk to friends, go to meetups, etc. I stayed with friends recently while I was traveling and it felt really refreshing. But now that I'm home again, here with my spouse, I feel such intense anxiety and trepidation. I feel afraid of every possible outcome. I felt anxiety while I was traveling, too, but I was able to work through it better.
I've read a ton of AskMe threads on this sort of situation, I've talked this over with my therapist, but I nonetheless find myself seeking the counsel of the hive mind. Here's what I'm wondering.
1. I'm not convinced that couples therapy is actually going to address the issues between me and my spouse and make this any better, and that's not necessarily even why I'm doing it. Should I just end this? How much due diligence is enough in a situation like this? How much did you do?

2. For anyone who's gone through this, how did you deal with the pain of losing your affair partner? (Please, if your answer only includes judgment for having an affair in the first place, refrain from answering this. I've read the usual AskMe recommendations, including Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay and When Good People Have Affairs.) How do you stop hoping for something that may never be?

3. If my spouse and I do separate, should I go ahead and try to live and work in another city where I have more friends for a few months? I've already scouted a sublet with a friend of a friend in one city, so I have options—should I take them up on this?

4. If you separated and moved to another city or area during that time, how did you address the subject if it came up with colleagues?

5. How did you stay focused at work and on what matters when you went through something like this? I find myself looping through anxious checking behaviors on sites I frequent, tormenting myself thinking about the former affair partner, and I know that's not healthy. Being out of town helped break this habit a bit, as it disrupted all my routines, but now that I'm back it's come back with a vengeance. Note that I am already in therapy and don't want to take drugs for this.

6. What else should I be considering here? What else should I be doing? This is long enough already, but any information missing that feels like it might sway things?
Thanks to anyone who takes the time to read through this and provide thoughts or feedback!
posted by o_O to Human Relations (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
you should get a divorce, is what. then, move. then go to individual therapy. then find a partner who treats you well, has sexytimes, and wants children with you.

as my pal patrick says, life is simple. it's just not easy.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:02 PM on May 11, 2017 [92 favorites]

You don't want to be married to your spouse (and I'm not sure your spouse wants to be married to you, either). Therapy is not going to fix that and I'm not sure why you're even doing it given that absolutely nothing you wrote indicates that you want to fix things. You want to not feel guilty about leaving. Therapy probably isn't going to give you that, either.

Regarding your question about staying focused, one thing that helps me when my mind is going into anxiety overdrive is to commit to concentrating fully on the task at hand for, say, about 50 minutes and give myself a break for 10 minutes for...whatever.
posted by sm1tten at 10:16 PM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think you should probably seriously consider divorce. I've seen people divorce over less, and still feel incredibly relieved afterward. You sound like you're in hell.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:28 PM on May 11, 2017 [14 favorites]

You will feel so much better once you stop living with someone who treats you poorly!
posted by jbenben at 10:34 PM on May 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Your guilt is in my opinion entirely misplaced. It sounds like you're being emotionally and probably also financially abused by your very selfish and uncaring partner. No wonder you had an emotional affair. I suggest you get a lawyer who will help you get your life back. You haven't said anything positive about your partner or your marriage and that's really telling.

I was a little shocked when I got to the part where you're only in your early thirties. You're so young and yet so sound so worn down and exhausted. Get out and get your life back for goodness sakes!

Lawyer so that your misplaced guilt doesn't cause you to lose more financially in this mess than you need to. Ok so your husband is ill but he's not even trying and hadn't for years. Your don't deserve this kind of treatment!
posted by hazyjane at 10:58 PM on May 11, 2017 [19 favorites]

1. Should I just end this? How much due diligence is enough in a situation like this?
Yes, end it. Due diligence should be proportionate to what's at stake (i.e. kids, a person who's great in some ways but has issues in others, financial supports etc). You're not describing anything here that you stand to lose by leaving, only what you stand to gain... you mention feeling guilty about leaving a sick partner, but your partner has brought up divorce numerous times so clearly doesn't seem to be concerned about this themselves - I think you should dismiss that as a consideration.

2. How do you stop hoping for something that may never be?
You need something real to enjoy in order to move on. Doesn't have to be a new relationship, it's just that you're unhappy and you miss being happy about something.

3. If my spouse and I do separate, should I go ahead and try to live and work in another city where I have more friends for a few months? I've already scouted a sublet with a friend of a friend in one city, so I have options—should I take them up on this?
Why not? Do what you want to. Not sure why our opinion should matter on this!

4. If you separated and moved to another city or area during that time, how did you address the subject if it came up with colleagues?
Theoretically.... "I decided I wanted to move, so I did."

5. How did you stay focused at work and on what matters when you went through something like this? Personally? Sublimation as a defense mechanism. Running, yoga, diet, etc.

6. What else should I be considering here? What else should I be doing? This is long enough already, but any information missing that feels like it might sway things?
Nothing. Consider less, not more.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:54 AM on May 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

Hey I just wanted to say, as you're a) considering separation, b) already pretty guilt-riddled and c) the victim of emotional abuse throughout your life by the sound of it - you don't have to pile on any more guilt if you do separate.

There will be at least two levels of available guilt. Firstly, that you were the one to do it (ie that he's the victim of your decision), which, who does it is actually sort of irrelevant really - in my previous relationship my ex was the one to initiate break-up, but I had been checked out of it in many ways for a long time. He was just the braver one of us.

The other kind comes after, which is the kind where you torture yourself for your bad decisions in staying with them for so long. But a relationship can be right until it's wrong, and as long as you guys have had good times along the way, you can tell yourself that it was worth doing but has run its course.

Reject both of these guilt-deliveries. Do what needs doing. You'll get through it.
posted by greenish at 2:11 AM on May 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Life is too short and precious to be this miserable, especially for this long. Why don't you feel guilt for yourself that you're resigning yourself to this life when you could be free and happy? If today was your last day, is this what you would want to be doing?

It may not be easy, but it'll be so worth it. The toxicity of your marriage is familiar and comforting but ultimately destroying you. Work that out therapy while you regain your sense of self. Don't sell your soul to this marriage for pain. That is all you have. Let it go and step onto a path that will lead you to happiness. Treat yourself better than this. You deserve more. Believe that. Protect yourself. Your spouse is not your responsibility. You are. Take care of you.
posted by lunastellasol at 4:45 AM on May 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

You didn't ask specifically about the PCOS but I went through essentially everything you are when I hit 30 and I didn't take stock of my own health, which made coping with everything else in my crumbling life and engagement worse. I definitely think you need to take it into account, as PCOS can change how you function mentally and physically. Mine also started with spontaneous, insatiable sex drive, which was most likely due to the elevated testosterone and tanked into anxiety, depression, heart and sleep issues. I've been trying to manage my hormone imbalance with my GP, gynecologist, endocrinologist, and nutritionist for years and it's wrecked me physically and financially with very little improvement.

A few months ago I found a slew of peer-reviewed research regarding a combined therapy of the widely available supplements Myo-Inositol and D-Chiro-Inositol which has been linked to significant improvements in mood, skin, hair, appetite, weight, cognition, etc, in PCOS sufferers with no side effects. I bought a highly recommended brand off of Amazon because I was seriously at my wit's end. 4 days in and I feel better physically and mentally than I have in years.

That being said, you will need time to process the emotional fallout of these dramatic life changes. People are attractive to you because you're being denied what you need and desire by the one person who should be giving it to you. But please, please, please take care of your physical health as well. PCOS is no joke. Leave your toxic relationship, mourn as long as you need to, get into therapy, and get your hormone levels in balance.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:45 AM on May 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

You'll be surprised how much your focus improves and how much clarity you suddenly gain when you exit your abusive relationship.

Tell your therapist you're ready to make a plan. Talk to them about techniques for controlling your narratives a little better. Divorce without children, even with abuse, is a fraction of the stress of a divorce with children, stop catastrophizing that. Your partner has been basically daring you to leave for years, stop staying just to prove a point. You had an emotional affair which, under these circumstances isn't an affair so much as a symptom of your life, but you're using it as an all-purpose self-flagellation implement and excuse to not take action.

Everything you're experiencing are symptoms of a relationship that has long run its course. The solution is extremely simple. There will be details and there will be paperwork and there will be the fallout of someone in your life not getting what he wants (whatever that is, maybe just status quo) but those things are all moderate hurdles. Go get your life.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:52 AM on May 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

You've been with your spouse for a decade and you're in your early 30s? I'm assuming when you met your now spouse you were about 22 and he (she? not sure) was about 32? That right there is a bit of a red flag to me. On your side, you were very much a baby, and on their side, the age difference possibly (not definitely, but the odds go up) indicates a predatory nature or a lot of striking out with older/more mature people their own age.

As for your questions:

1. Six months of couple's therapy is more than enough. Assuming you go at least once every two weeks, that's about 12+ visits. If you go once a week, I think even less than 6 months is appropriate. I'd say certainly after about 6-10 visits there should be definite progress. I think for your peace of mind, and to avoid guilty feelings in the future, I would give it at least 3 months, personally.

2. I think you have to see it for what it was and let go of the fantasy. Remind yourself that affair partner was not ideal. The relationship could only exist within the imperfect boundaries of your crumbling marriage + distance + their issues. That does not translate to "if only circumstances were better the relationship would be perfect" - it means the relationship itself to some extent fed on issues that should be resolving. Realize this and let it go, and look forward to a fully healthy relationship in your future.

3. Yes. This is a very good idea. Distance is very good for healing, and so are friends. If you stay in the same town there will undoubtedly be some form of awkwardness if not mild/outright stalking, and continued entanglement.

4. Don't talk about it with colleagues. "We tried very hard but just couldn't make it work" is a good line. Do not elaborate. Keep work and personal separate. Absolutely do not bad talk your ex even if they deserve it, it will only make you look bad.

5. Be easy on yourself, accept that you are more distracted than usual. Maybe accept that you'll have a lot more downtime and when you are feeling productive, try to really use those spurts of productivity to catch up.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:31 AM on May 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yo, you seem to have a lot of guilt over the fact that your partner has a chronic illness and you have had to serve as caretaker. But: you have a chronic illness too. Who is taking care of you?
posted by Brittanie at 9:50 AM on May 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

You sound as if you've already checked out of the relationship, for survival's sake. Everything you mention that you've been doing, sounds like a single person's way of getting out, being active, trying to met people, etcetera. It also sounds like your partner has given you the option of divorce by bringing it up themselves. Why don't you take up on that offer? Yes, it will be difficult, but it will make things less complicated once it's all said and done.
posted by itsflyable at 12:31 PM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to weigh in to say I was in a situation with an abusive spouse and felt entirely trapped by my vows toll death do us part. I finally reached a breaking point in my late thirties after 20 years of marriage and misery and decided to have an affair. Being with a person who treated me better and who delighted in me as a person and as a woman was amazing. However the secrecy and the lies and the sneaking around and the guilt and the friendships I lost because of the entire mess was devastating. In the end my affair partner and I left our marriages to be with one another and it has been a very difficult emotionally intense journey. On top of all the normal fear and grieving that comes with divorce and starting over I've had to deal with the fallout of the affair and my actions. What I did cost me so much and I lost so many things that were important to me. Everything would have been so much easier and so much better if I had left my husband before getting involved with someone else. Lean on your therapist and lean on your friends and get away from your marriage. Set yourself free and start over again. It's so hard and for months afterward you'll reconsider your decision and pine for the familiar. But just keep going keep moving forward and it will get easier over time. I'm a year and a few months out from having left my husband and just finally starting to heal. Just thinking about how much my ex husband hates me though or how much his family despises me for leaving him will send me into a tailspin of sadness all over again. So it's not going to be sunshine and rainbows and there's probably always going to be some residual pain but it's still the right thing to do. Set yourself free and then find a partner worthy of Your Love.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 3:04 PM on May 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

I was thinking most was fixable until I got to #5. To me, this is all you need to know. I know decisions are really complicated, but in this situation, a decision for you to extract yourself, leave, and pursue someone to have a family with (or have kids on your own), would be understandable and supportable. There's no guarantee you'll have the future you want if you stay - you will need a lot of time to work things out, and you'll be getting less fertile during that time - and if you don't get that future with children, the ticking time bomb of blame and resentment would do in whatever remains of your marriage.

It isn't working. Take responsibility for what's gone wrong and what you did that was wrong, but make decisions that work for you. Don't sacrifice your life.
posted by Miko at 8:46 AM on May 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

My situation is somewhat similar to yours and what i have found is that for many, many years, I have been a pleaser and have done everything to keep the peace. That being said, I think you should not feel so guilty and find your own happiness. Life is too short to feel that bad all the time. It may help you both!
posted by sunset1642 at 4:00 AM on July 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

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