I'm too selfish to be married to someone who travels frequently
September 5, 2017 5:04 AM   Subscribe

I don't know if I'm capable of making the emotional sacrifices necessary to support my partner's career. Would the most ethical choice be for me to leave?

My partner (M) and I (F) have been together for three years, including one year of marriage. We are both in our late 20s. We love each other very much. We have no children.

When we first met, my partner worked from home so it just never occurred to me that frequent business travel would be part of the picture. Now, my partner is getting the recognition that he deserves and his role and responsibilities at work are increasing. This will mean business travel that takes him away for weeks at a time. My partner is so immensely proud of his work. He deserves all the success coming his way. I feel like a shitty wife who is trying to hold him back, but to be honest, I don't feel good about the prospect of being the one left behind, always waiting.

There are things that I wanted to do with my life that became less feasible after I got married. When I was younger, one of my dreams was to join the Peacecorps, but I am a US citizen and my partner is not, so that would not be possible unless we committed to long-distance for two and a half years. (Please note that I have done an LDR with a previous partner for two years, and never in my life would I ever put myself through that again. It's just something that I am 100% not willing to do.) I wanted to live in New Zealand for a year to make use of the visa I can get while I'm still under 30. I wanted to go back to school to work on my PhD but my choices would have been limited to cities where my partner could find work in his niche and very competitive field; this would not have necessarily correlated with the schools most suited to my interests.

I knew doing these things would become unlikely after I got married, but I gave them all up so easily because after having an unsatisfactory family life as a child and adolescent, above all things, all I wanted was love and the promise that I am not going to be left behind. (I realise that business travel =/= abandonment, but based on my experience, as soon as my partner is in his work environment, I disappear completely. Plans have been ruined because my partner, on his days off, routinely works for several hours. Once, I planned a nice weekend away. He booked the time off and still spent hours doing work during his scheduled time-off. He's not on-call or anything. He's just really obsessed with work. Some people really love their jobs, and I can't fault him for that, I guess.)

I have my own life and my own hobbies. I work full-time. I volunteer for several organisations that support causes I care about. I go to the gym regularly and I attend hobby groups nearly every weeknight. I already have a therapist to help me work through my bouts of anxiety and depression. It looks like I am doing all the things people are supposed to do when they're lonely and sad, but that's not going to make me feel that much better when he's away. I'm a fairly independent person. I moved around a lot by myself when I was in my late teens and early 20s. I moved to foreign countries where I didn't speak the language. Even now, I live in my partner's home country and my closest friends are thousands of miles away. I know I am capable of being self-sufficient, but being married and still being alone half the time isn't what I want for myself.

Yes, I know people can and do cope with their partner travelling frequently. My aunt and uncle lived in two different states for six years (!) so they could both chase their ambitions. That's cool. It's just not me. I'm not selfless enough for that.

I don't want to be the reason that someone gives up on the pursuit of their career goals. I am not comfortable asking my partner to give up opportunities to stay with me. I also don't want to be the beleaguered wife throwing myself into my work or hobbies to numb the part of myself that doesn't like being left behind. Though it pains me to write this, I think that the least shitty option is to separate, giving my partner the freedom to go after his goals and giving me the opportunity to, I don't know, find someone as needy and pathetic as I am, or maybe at least have a life in which I haven't let go of everything else I wanted for the sake of love, only to find that love isn't enough.

Does that seem like a reasonable choice, or is there something glaringly obvious that I'm missing here? Am I being a fool?

Throwaway email: selfishandsad AT gmail

*One last thing: Please don't tell me that the reason he works so hard is to provide for us. I have always paid for half of everything, even when I was a broke graduate student. I don't need him to provide for me financially.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, what a challenging place to be! First, I want to say that you aren't selfish or needy or any of the other insults you've written here - it's normal to want to be with your partner on a daily basis. Those people who can make a relationship work across distances are the exception, not the rule.

Second, have you talked to your husband? Have you said, "I don't want to hold you back, but I also don't want to be a work widow. Would separating be best for both of us?" Make sure you do that before you make any decisions, even in your head.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:12 AM on September 5, 2017 [11 favorites]

I don't think you are being selfish and I wonder where that feeling comes from. You have prioritized your relationship over other things in your life. Your partner prioritized their work over other things in their life (namely, you). This imbalance would upset any healthy person. This doesn't make you needy or pathetic, it makes you self-aware and proactive. If your partner is not willing to make you a priority then yes, you either have to accept a relationship entirely on his terms (including that his lack of commitment now may translate into him leaving you a few years down the road) or create your own life including pursuing a person who will truly be a partner. I'm sorry you got poop in your milkshake.
posted by saucysault at 5:13 AM on September 5, 2017 [22 favorites]

There's lots about this that I'm not qualified or experienced enough to comment on, but I'd suggest at the very, very least your partner needs to understand how hurtful it can be when he's jeopardising your pre-booked weekend trips to work. However you manage your work and home schedules, that kind of shared leisure time is precious, and you should make sure he knows that, especially if there are going to be periods when work occupies him completely.
posted by churlishmeg at 5:23 AM on September 5, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think part of the equation should be what you expect your life to be like if you were to make this decision to separate. I don't know you at all, but I would assume it will take, I don't know, anywhere from 6 months to 6 years to find another lifelong partner. Would you prefer to be single and alone more than a work widow? How long do you expect this part of his career to last?
posted by AugustWest at 5:44 AM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't have suggestions, but I will say that it is NOT shitty and selfish to feel this way. You are talking about the basic shape of your life, some really core values and lifestyle choices; compatibility is incredibly important here. I'm especially worried that he doesn't shut down when he's specificially agreed to and you've asked him to--this isn't just a life structure that you don't want, but it's also him making moment-to-moment choices that hurt you.

So how much have you talked about this? On one hand, I understand that you don't want to say "no, you can't do this," but if you are hitting a wall of how you're willing to live, he deserves to know that. Don't tell him what to do; tell him what you need your own life to look like and see if he has any thoughts on how you can find that together.

I will say, I would not have married someone with the travel schedule you mention. You don't have kids, you've only been together for a few years; separating seems like a reasonable possibility. Give him the opportunity to try to meet you in the middle, but don't compromise your happiness.

(And I personally would rather be single than a work widow. It's not just about the opportunity to find another partner; I am very susceptible to letting things dawdle by while I'm "waiting" for something. Some people can live in the moment in ways that I can't; I would always be waiting for my spouse to get home.)
posted by gideonfrog at 5:48 AM on September 5, 2017 [10 favorites]

You're kind of burying the lede here. Lots of husbands travel for work; not as many just simply ignore you even when they're with you at a nice weekend away.

The fact is, he's not prioritizing you, and there are a million Askme questions along the lines of "how can I get my husband/boyfriend to pay attention to me?" There was one just last week. Read them; most of them suggest counseling, either together or separately, and yes, quite often the answer is it is better to be alone than be lonely. Good luck!
posted by Melismata at 5:51 AM on September 5, 2017 [52 favorites]

I don't want to be the reason that someone gives up on the pursuit of their career goals. I am not comfortable asking my partner to give up opportunities to stay with me.
I think this may be the crux here. You have made sacrifices for your relationship, and your partner hasn't. This doesn't seem fair to you, because it isn't fair. There's a real imbalance in your relationship. But you also don't want to ask your partner to make sacrifices, because you don't want to be the bad guy. I think it's really unlikely that you're going to find a relationship with someone whose desires align so closely with yours that they're never going to have to make sacrifices, so it seems to me that you have three choices here. You can decide that you'll do all the sacrificing in your relationship (whether this one or the one you'll find if you leave your husband), which doesn't seem like a recipe for emotional well-being. You can communicate your needs and see if the two of you can come to some compromise that will make you both happy and fulfilled. Or you can choose to be single, which is always an acceptable choice. But if you want a healthy relationship, I think you're going to have to get over your fear of communicating what you need. You're not being selfish or unreasonable.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:51 AM on September 5, 2017 [29 favorites]

You're not being selfish enough. The traveling is one thing, but 1) he's not being with you when you both are supposed to be having time to focus on each other. On top of that, 2) you're living in his home country and you are in a situation where it's hard for you to relax around other people you're emotionally bonded with. This is legitimately not fair to you. Of course you're lonely and sad!

I'm not saying he's a terrible person, just that if _one_ of the things above changed, you'd probably feel better, and he'd still be able to have his career and travel for it. If both of them changed, it might not be enough for you to be happy in this relationship, but then again, it might be. You know better than I do.
posted by amtho at 5:53 AM on September 5, 2017 [8 favorites]

My husband and I had to work out a schedule, because I did not want to NOT have a weekend. I wanted two days off together for relaxing. At first he seemed to think I was crazy, because of ambition and loyalty and love of his work. But I stuck with it, and he told his bosses and co-workers over and over again that no, he could not work on those days. But he worked like a dog while he was at work, and proved that he was valuable. Now 20 years later, everyone knows to not ask, and they know and appreciate that we have a wonderful relationship. This is a small example of what you can ask from a partner, and you have to be the "bad guy" sometimes. But, it comes down to your importance in each others' lives.
posted by Vermillion at 6:07 AM on September 5, 2017 [17 favorites]

You've only been together for three years. Counselling and spending years to fix this when there are things you've sacrificed and could still do now--but won't be able to do if you wait another several years to try to fix this and then end up leaving anyway--does not sound compelling to me. It sounds like you actually do want different things but unfortunately figured this out a little later than is optimal. I think that, given what you have written, separating IS the most reasonable thing to do for the best outcome. You don't sound happy; it sounds like you've been accommodating his wants and his life and he hasn't done the same for you. And again, it's only been three years. You could get your life back.
posted by Polychrome at 6:09 AM on September 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Agreed that you aren't being selfish enough: you've sacrificed pretty much all of your dreams --- of joining the Peace Corps, of getting your PhD, what countries to live in, where to travel or work, and so much more --- but you don't say anything about what your spouse has given you, other than a wedding ring. He can't or won't even pay attention to you on his days off work!

Success is a fine thing, and getting the recognition due someone for their hard work is great; but I'm sorry to say that your spouse is the problem here, not you, and that separating now is probably better than separating later, when even more opportunities and dreams have slipped out of your hands. Because if you don't separate now, it's only going to get worse, and embitter both of you.
posted by easily confused at 6:15 AM on September 5, 2017 [14 favorites]

I don't want to be the reason that someone gives up on the pursuit of their career goals. I am not comfortable asking my partner to give up opportunities to stay with me. I also don't want to be the beleaguered wife throwing myself into my work or hobbies to numb the part of myself that doesn't like being left behind.

There is something glaringly obvious here which is...rather than deciding what kind of person you do or don't want to be, tell your husband what you are feeling and thinking, using I statements. Like this: "when I think of you being away x weeks every 3 months, I feel bereft and abandoned and like I would rather separate and divorce than be so lonely."

I gave advice in the thread linked above for the asker to build an independent life because she had begged for what she needed. But have you communicated clearly what your needs are? If not, start there, even if you don't want to be the kind of person who says no. Your spouse needs and deserves that information.

My husband took a 1+ year assignment 5 hours from our home just a few weeks after our first child died. Please believe me that I know how lonely that kind of choice makes you feel. I also contemplated divorce but our situation was a bit different-- he had supported me in amazing ways during our 10-year marriage at that point. I was ready to but I decided to go with him (worked remotely) but tell him my feelings all along. It was tough but we worked it out. If I had stayed silent we wouldn't have.

Part of a true marriage is building a life that works for both people. That means you, too.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:31 AM on September 5, 2017 [33 favorites]

Nthing quite a bit above, but this in particular struck me:

Some people really love their jobs, and I can't fault him for that, I guess.

Yes you can - lots of people love their work and still shut off to dedicate time to their families. An expectation that your partner will dedicate enough time to satisfy your needs is incredibly basic.

This includes business trips - I call home nightly to say hi to my wife and manage what I can re: appointments from the road so it's not her doing everything.
posted by notorious medium at 7:27 AM on September 5, 2017 [9 favorites]

I don't want to be the reason that someone gives up on the pursuit of their career goals.

Eh, maybe you also don't want to be second fiddle to selling more widgets and making more money.

Most long-term married couples make compromises and sacrifices for each other, and for the relationship. You don't say what exactly he's doing, but I can tell you that there are many good jobs that pay well that don't require weeks of away time, probably even within his field. You don't have to ask him to "give up career goals*". It is entirely OK to ask your spouse to not be absent for weeks on end, regularly, forever.

*(Ok maybe his "career goal" was to spend several weeks at a time away from home, several times a year on business trips. But if so, then he should have told you that before you got married, and that's more of a travel goal than a career goal anyway).

Also for the hell of it, I'll tack on the perennial "show him this thread".
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:39 AM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree that you need to take care of yourself. it's not selfish, it's the responsible thing to do. It could simply be that you and your partner have different priorities in life and relationships and are not compatible for the long haul. Better to figure that out now and get a chance to do at least some of those things you've given up than give up your own interests and end up divorcing after twenty years of resentment and anger.

I do suggest that you have a very serious talk with him and make sure he understands what's at risk. Maybe he will be willing to make some changes. If not, you will have very important information for your decision.
posted by rpfields at 7:43 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

To put context to what I'm about to say: I am someone who went through about two years of my partner working a job that took him away for days at a time. I missed him and was glad when that job ended, but I also absolutely revelled in the alone time and am sometimes a little sad that likely for the rest of our lives, I will never again have that much alone time, which is restorative and precious to me. So I come from a very different place than you in terms of what I need from my relationships

That said: I do not think you are being shitty or selfish or needy or pathetic! If you have any sin at all here, it is perhaps not enough communication early enough about what is important to you, and how hard you are finding the current situation. And I'm not even sure about that; from what you've given us, I can tell if there's been a communication deficit or if you're communicating just fine and your partner is not listening.

At the bare minimum, when your partner is home with you, he should be with you. Not still doing work or cancelling plans, barring the truly rare and unpredictable once-a-year work emergency. You have shown over and over again that your partner is a priority to you, and he is not showing you the same. He is not being an actual partner to you, and that's no way to live your life. One person alone cannot make a real partnership, no matter how much she turns herself inside out to do so.

I absolutely do not think you should continue as things are and resign yourself to this life that is making you miserable. I think you should consider having a frank and clear discussion with your husband about how you're feeling, and to know beforehand what would make you want to keep trying in this marriage, if you have not already done that. If he committed to finding a new job with less travel within six months, and entering couples therapy with you in the meanwhile to work through better communication and making the time you spend together quality time, and followed through with those things, is that realistic and would that be enough? It's okay if the answer is no. It's okay to decide that you have given enough, and that you know both him and yourself well enough to know what sorts of change are and are not possible, and that it's time to leave and let yourself start something new.

Long answer short: you're not being a fool, and you're not missing anything glaringly obvious. You're missing a partner, even as you do all the heavy lifting of being a partner yourself, and it's okay for you not to want to live like that.
posted by Stacey at 8:18 AM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

When you talk about your marriage, it's all about how it functions, not about how much you love him, want to be with him, miss him. He's doing what a person should do (generally). Working, achieving, doing new stuff, taking on challenges. That takes him away from you in a way that's manageable for some, maybe not for you. You should pursue your life. Join the Peace Corps, live in New Zealand for a year, go back to school. Look at whatever the exciting and interesting opportunities are available whether those choices are easily managed in the marriage or not. You married partly to leave your family of origin, you're young, you don't have kids. You can embark on things that will fulfill you. Your marriage will adapt, or not.
posted by theora55 at 8:21 AM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I work a job that's pretty darn demanding, where part of the value I give my employers is that I will prioritize my job above pretty much everything else short of, like, my husband calling me from the ambulance while they're racing to the ER. I also prefer to disappear once I'm at work.

But there are specific things that I do, because I want to stay married and connected to my husband and kid. Specifically:

1. I choose to work at a place that is not the most demanding/prestigious/well-paying in the field, in return for a less-demanding schedule.
2. Try to give my husband as much of a heads-up when I'm need or want to work on the weekend or a holiday so that plans aren't "ruined".
3. Having scheduled check-in times, despite my preference to disappear, where I check my personal phone twice a day or whatever at scheduled times, so that I see any messages.

There are things that can be done, particularly if your partner has relationship/status capital built up at work.

On the other hand -- are you actually looking for permission to break up with your partner? Because you have it. My profession has a shitload of couples that break up because of things like what you describe. It happens a lot, and it's sad, but it's reasonable. You don't need to beat yourself up by calling yourself selfish or presenting yourself as being weirdly needy or somehow damaged.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:27 AM on September 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

He deserves all the success coming his way. I feel like a shitty wife who is trying to hold him back, but to be honest, I don't feel good about the prospect of being the one left behind, always waiting.

My wife is one of the strongest, bravest and most independent people I know. She's a pillar of our social network and family.

I worked a travel heavy job for YEARS, it paid very well, it put her through grad-school, it eventually gave us a nest egg to start a company I wanted to start and buy a house etc.... But it was also a huge drain. I looked around at all my peers (older guys) and none of them were on thier first marriage or family anyone. That's not a coincidence.

Eventually she told me she didn't want to do this anymore. It was brave, not pathetic, it was strong not weak of her to do that, to speak the truth we'd both been ignoring.

So I stopped and edited my career to involve much less travel. I make less, a lot less, it's less glamours but I'm happy, she's happy, our children we have time to raise are happy.

There was never going to be a boat big enough or a granite counter-top shiny enough to fill the hole missing out on this would have left.
posted by French Fry at 8:37 AM on September 5, 2017 [20 favorites]

Chiming in to say that you need to tell him how you feel when he does certain things, and what would make you feel better. There are different ways to address this, which may not fall into the false binary of "put up with it / leave him".

What he decides to do is his decision, but he would need to make that decision with the best information available. And the same goes for you - you need to know what he's thinking!

If you both love each other, the best thing you could is to work out a solution together.
posted by appleses at 8:40 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

The time to spot this mismatch and reject it is before you have kids in the mix. You're right to make it an imminent dealbreaker.

I do think you should do a come-to-Jesus before you decide to divorce him, but I get that you don't want to "make" him change or feel like you're the one holding him back. Tell him that too. If he wants a workaholic life, he can have it. You're only going to stick around if he genuinely wants something different.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:41 AM on September 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have my own life and my own hobbies. I work full-time. I volunteer for several organisations that support causes I care about. I go to the gym regularly and I attend hobby groups nearly every weeknight.

I'll be the one to go against the grain. So he worked from home and all that time you would spend your nights going to volunteer or the gym or hobby groups? Perhaps he felt left behind or unappreciated and so put himself into his work?
What are you willing to give up if he gives up work travel?
posted by bowmaniac at 8:57 AM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your partner may have a second family somewhere. Does the country you live in allow polygamy? If this is so he is working during your time, to facilitate time with his other family.
posted by Oyéah at 9:09 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel like you (a) need to tell him all of this, and (b) honestly, you sound super depressed to me. Do you struggle with depression? As you know, it makes EVERYTHING worse. I'm glad you're seeing a therapist, but maybe you should bring this up with her or him?

From my perspective, as a person who travels a lot for work and loves her job: If my spouse said this to me, I would be willing to work on a compromise, but you can't compromise on a problem if you don't talk it out. Talk to him before deciding to leave him!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 9:11 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sit down and think about what you want to do right now: still the Peace Corps? New Zealand? the Ph.D? Pick the one you want the most, look at the logistics to go do it, make some preliminary plans, and then sit him down and let him know what you intend.

At that point, he will have a choice: change his life to allow room for you and your dreams (after all, he could travel for work and visit you in New Zealand, instead of where you are now) or give up.

If he truly wants this marriage with you, he will fight for it. Give him that opportunity, to work with you on a way to reach your goal. If he won't do that, it's already over and he's not worth staying with.

What you can't give him is the chance to veto your plans. You are going to live your life, because it's the only life you get, and if he can't find a way to do that with you, he's not right for you. A marriage that only works if one person is miserable is not a marriage worth keeping.

Either you have a long painful conversation and he makes some changes so you get the marriage you need, or he won't and you have to end it, but either way, your dreams will happen.
posted by emjaybee at 10:00 AM on September 5, 2017

Mod note: Followup from the OP:
bowmaniac: "I'll be the one to go against the grain. So he worked from home and all that time you would spend your nights going to volunteer or the gym or hobby groups? Perhaps he felt left behind or unappreciated and so put himself into his work? What are you willing to give up if he gives up work travel?"

My partner's work habits preceded my involvement in any of these activities. Some of the activities I'm involved in, I joined specifically because I knew I needed a stronger support network beyond my workaholic partner. My partner grew up in the city that we live in and accordingly, he has a very strong support network where we are. I only moved here a few years ago so while I have friends and acquaintances, my support network is not as long-standing as his, so I needed to put in that work to not be completely dependent on just one person. I do all the things I do outside of work because my partner is constantly working, not the other way around. My work day also ends an hour and a half before my partner's work day does, so I can attend those activities before his day even ends. To account for the fact that I work fewer hours than my partner, I also take care of a lot of household duties including grocery shopping, meal planning, budgeting, tidying and making meals on most evenings. I've tried really hard to be fair in the amount of time I spend on myself and the amount of time I spend on our relationship and household.

oyeah: "Your partner may have a second family somewhere. Does the country you live in allow polygamy? If this is so he is working during your time, to facilitate time with his other family."

He doesn't have a second family unless you count his work colleagues as a second family. I am a billion percent certain of this.

To respond to points that several posters have touched upon:

-I will be bringing this up in therapy this week. I am prone to anxiety and depression, and one of the reasons that I value my partner so much is because he doesn't make me feel like I'm a crazy person. I've been in relationships with people who made me feel like they were doing me a favour by being with depressed-me. With my partner, the depression is a part of who I am but it's not a flaw per se.

-When I first learned about the possibility of the travel, I did mention that I felt sad about it. We are communicating. I've explained that it's not what I signed up for when we got married. He's told me in the past that that travel would not be part of what he does. Work circumstances change, and I understand that but for me, I also think it's fair for me to re-evaluate. I haven't said that this might be a dealbreaker because that seemed really manipulative to me, but from the answers here, it looks like it's okay for me to be honest about that.

Thanks, everyone. These answers have been helpful.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:20 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

So my work/life balance skews very heavily to the work side for various reasons and that is one of the reasons that I am getting a divorce. In my case I was the one contributing the bulk of the money to our joint finances but my husband didn't appreciate the tradeoff I made for more financial security/less personal time. My situation doesn't have the travel or lack of personal contact aspect so I can't speak to that. I'm sorry, this does suck and I am in a situation I never, ever thought I would be in. You have to lay this out to him in plain terms because you should not be miserable.
posted by crankylex at 10:21 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I guess I'd be wary of framing this as something you're doing for your partner, or some kind of ethical choice.

At your most honest level, are you willing to be with him if he travels a lot or not? Does part of you want to end the relationship to pursue your dream of the Peace Corps or something else? Make this about you. Decide in your heart what you want, tell him clearly and directly, then let him make his own decision too - it's not up to you to decide for him what to do.
posted by latkes at 10:25 AM on September 5, 2017

Sometimes relationships don't work out because people have different priorities or values. And that's ok. I'm not saying this is what you should do, but if this marriage is going to work, it's ok for you to walk away.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:28 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd at least explain it like you've done here (or share this question) so that he has a chance to choose the relationship.
posted by salvia at 10:31 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Work circumstances change, and I understand that but for me, I also think it's fair for me to re-evaluate. I haven't said that this might be a dealbreaker because that seemed really manipulative to me, but from the answers here, it looks like it's okay for me to be honest about that.

It really is okay, if it's true. And it sounds to me like it is. You've made a huge good-faith effort to get more okay with his work hours. And this new component makes it not okay for you.

The next step will probably be figuring out if there is any wriggle room -- can he travel half of what works wants but more than you do? Can work pay for you to tag along sometimes, your schedule permitting? Can you live with it for one year while he does a job search? You don't need answers, or they can be no.

By the way...abandonment issues can be hard but so are workaholic issues. Our society calls one whiny and one productive, but there are lots of societies where family comes first. None of this really matters that much though...what matters is that your husband chose you. And you are someone who wants to build a life in the same place. That's not sad. It's a lifestyle.

In my marriage the work-life balance has tilted many times in many ways, and neither my husband nor I have always been able to hear each other the first conversation but our relationship has made it because we have both expressed and heard, and acted on, genuine truths. It is really okay to experience and speak yours.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:51 AM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

What is it about your husband specifically that makes you want to be with him? It should be a long and unique list. The only time you talk about love is to say you married for the idea of love 'and to not be left behind'. But now you kind of are being left behind anyway. This marriage no longer fulfils your most basic criterion.

I'm hearing a lot of sacrifices you made for him - moving to the other side of the world, leaving friends behind, starting again, throwing yourself into hobbies to rebuild networks and fill alone time, doing the lion's share of the work at home. Has he bent at all to accommodate you in this marriage?

I've done long distance and also never will again. I feel absence as abandonment and I think you do too. No matter what activities I try to crowd it out with, I end up listlessly waiting for my partner. Is the underlying issue that you miss him terribly while he's gone or, as it is for me, that you lose the feeling of close connection when you don't get to see/touch/talk to him? Either of these can be mitigated to an extent by asking him for lots of contact while he's away. Whether he's willing to provide that, and whether it will soothe you, is another question.

It's not selfish or needy to want your husband to be part of your marriage. You only get one life, so don't give up on your dreams (a loving marriage included). I've always found the loneliness of being single less acutely painful than the loneliness inside a lonely relationship.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 11:21 AM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you shoukd go live in New Zealand for a year and work the rest out later. I would go back in a heartbeat if I easily could. From what you describe, nothing is really holding you back and I urge you to GO.

It will give you and your spouse lots of clarity. I'm having a hard time parsing his attitude towards you, I don't think you should put ANYTHING on hold for this relationship. Now's the time.
posted by jbenben at 12:19 PM on September 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

I agree with folks who have said that your needs are not selfish or unreasonable, and also that you will have to be very, very clear with yourself and your partner about what your dealbreakers are so you can negotiate an acceptable solution that works for both of you, or determine that there isn't a way to address this and remain a couple. It's probably going to be a challenge, and discussing this with your therapist and finding a couples counselor to help you navigate this is likely to be a good idea.

I do want to know, though, if all of the sacrifices you mention-- Peacecorps, New Zealand, school-- are things you discussed with your partner? If the two of you talked about these issues and have an explicit mutual understanding that these are choices that you made for the good of your relationship, that's great, and I think that gives you a much firmer footing in your discussions. If, however, you decided on your own to give these things up because pursuing them would cause relationship difficulties based on your own internal assessment rather than a conversation with your partner, that's a little different, IMO.

Many people (especially women) opt to make sacrifices for the perceived good of their relationships without mentioning it, and without any kind of request or acknowledgement from their partners. Sometimes it's reasonable to expect your partner to figure this stuff out on their own (e.g. that it's you doing the laundry, not the underwear gnomes), but sometimes it's less reasonable to expect your partner to know this stuff if you don't tell them. So, for example, if you had been quietly contemplating a PhD and dropped the idea when you got married without mentioning that to your spouse, they may not know about that sacrifice-- and you might need to think about how fair and reasonable it is to expect extra consideration for doing something that your spouse a) didn't ask you to do and b) didn't know about.

It's totally reasonable to expect parity in the amount of effort you and your spouse put into the relationship, and for you both to make compromises and sacrifices for the good of your relationship. It's not selfish to have needs and to want your spouse to acknowledge those needs and prioritize meeting them. I've just seen a lot of people (including Past Me) shoot themselves in the foot by silently making disproportionate sacrifices for relationships and then feeling resentful and neglected because my (largely invisible and unasked for) efforts weren't appreciated. Don't sacrifice silently!
posted by Kpele at 12:35 PM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

This would be my take:

When you were little you were abandoned. Perhaps emotionally in small ways by a self absorbed or otherwise unwell/busy/occupied parent. Perhaps physically by someone who actually left you or died.

Either way I bet that once upon a time, when you were young and unbruised enough to state your needs, the normal natural needs little humans have of the bigger humans around them, you were made to feel bad. Your needs were excessive. Your needs were wrong. Your needs hurt other people. Your needs were SELFISH.

That would be my guess because I had an odd time myself growing up. An autistic father who felt intensely for us but really struggled to connect with us. A mother who could be warm and loving or aloof and cold and whose switch to the latter could be devastating, and who was terminally ill from when I was 14 and needed my care. Against the backdrop of my mother's illness EVERYTHING I needed was excessive. ANYTHING I needed was behind her illness in the queue. And she hated being ill and misdirected that hatred towards her carers at times. So I totally get how one can end up in a state where one has actually perfectly rational needs, but feels a deep sense of shame about them, hides them, buries them, refuses to voice them, agonises about the personal deficiencies they must mean...

BUT the truth is that needing stuff is normal, not shameful. And normal couples need stuff from one another. You talk a lot about fairness in finances, housework, time and energy. You know it's okay to need him? You're supposed to cost one another and be WORTH the cost. That's what marriage is. Marriage is not contorting yourself into the smallest possible space in his life and asking nothing of him (that's parenting ;)) so he barely knows youre there! Marriage only needs to work out as fair the day one of you dies in 70 years. It doesn't have to be fair minute by minute or week to week. There will be times, illnesses, bereavement, work stresses, childbearing, when one or other of you needs to make a massive withdrawal from the Bank Of Marriage, the trick is to make sure you both put the same amount in, not monitor what you each take out.

A few years ago my husband was offered his dream job. It involved 50% travel. It would have been a 20% pay rise. I told him no. We have 3 kids. 2 of the kids have autism, one is severely affected. I could have pretended I'd be totally fine on my own one fortnight every month but it would have been a lie. I know me and I know us and there is NO WAY I could do this without him. So he gave up his chance if his dream job. Let's hope he got his dream wife and family, eh? In truth now the kids are bigger I am better able to cope and if the dream job comes up again in 2 or 3 years I'd tell him to go for it.

The first step for you is really acknowledging the hurtful ideas given to you as a child that you are selfish for needing those who are supposed to love you are not true. The second is to express your desires, not just your feelings but your needs - not "I am sad" but "I want you to stay" - lovingly to your husband. Marriage is a conversation that lasts until you die. Start talking.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:28 PM on September 5, 2017 [16 favorites]

Does that seem like a reasonable choice, or is there something glaringly obvious that I'm missing here? Am I being a fool?

Nah in my experience once you're at the point where separation seems like the only reasonable option, that's because it is. As someone who once got married for pretty much all the same wrong reasons, I say:

1) chuck it
2) move to NZ
3) start using your therapy time to dig into the family shit and the adolescence shit and the abandonment shit

Late 20s is an excellent time to scrap everything and reboot.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:31 PM on September 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

My heart goes out to you! You sound so unhappy. Your husband has probably noticed, even if he isn't the most perceptive type. If you're at all able to do so, take a leave of absence from work and go to your home country. Seek treatment for an attachment disorder. IANAD and IANYD, but a psyciatrist who specializes is this will do you more good in three sessions than 3 years of any talk therapy generally. In the US we have a few residential programs for attachment disorders. Not sure about your home country.

After that, return to your husband. Talk. You will be able to assess the situation much more clearly than you can right now. I don't know if you should stay with him or not, only that there are things in your perception of the world that are undoubtedly clouding that decision.

You are a strong, remarkable young woman to still be able to see beyond the forest. Keep those eyes turned to the sun.
posted by Kalatraz at 2:24 PM on September 5, 2017

It looks like I am doing all the things people are supposed to do when they're lonely and sad, but that's not going to make me feel that much better when he's away.

One of the things people do when they are lonely and sad is, "find a partner whose company they enjoy, who wants to spend a lot of time with them."

You aren't being selfish to want what is absolutely the #1 feature of many marriages.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:02 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Did the two of you plan together what you want to achieve as a couple, or even how you expected your marriage to function for you both? I ask because I get a sense of what you wanted as a singleton, and what your partner wants in his career, but there's no sense of what you each wanted from your marriage.

If you can show how his behaviour is detrimental to Team Anonymous it might make it easier to determine why Person Anonymous feels like a better deal for you unless something changes. If the two of you have no shared vision for what you want your marriage to be, personal ambitions will always take precedence.

Incidentally - a marriage doesn't have to be anything other than what the people in it decide, but they do have to want something tangibly of each other, that 'marriage' as an institution can facilitate, else what's the point?
posted by freya_lamb at 4:35 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

One more thought: his choice, right now, might be either: you leave and he has no more time with you ever, or he spends more time with you and you might stick around. This is, essentially, an ultimatum, and that's fine. It's not coming from a selfish place; it's just how things _are_. Because the choice he _thinks_ he has, the one where you're always there waiting around for him, also includes you dying inside and becoming mean and resentful and sad, and if he loves you, neither of you is willing to accept that. You shouldn't accept that. So, he really needs to know what the true alternatives are, so that he can make an informed decision. If he's a smart guy, he'll appreciate that.
posted by amtho at 8:14 AM on September 6, 2017

My father is a consultant who travels frequently. He's sometimes only home for weekends for a solid month. And you know what? He never, ever works during vacations. He calls home every day he's gone. He puts my mother first. And that's why they're stilled married after decades.

Your husband is not being a partner. He is not putting you first. Maybe he's just clueness and needs the wakeup call of being told that you are extremely unhappy and will divorce him if this continues (as is good and right, frankly, his behavior is inexcusable). Maybe he's happy this way and you need to find someone who will actually recognize and reciprocate the sacrifices you make for the relationship. But either way, you need to put taking care of yourself first.

It is not selfish to require a partner who is actually a partner. It is not selfish to want your husband to respect you and your relationship more than he respects his job.
posted by Ahniya at 2:54 PM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

A lot of great stuff has been said here.

Our situations are not the same but there are things I can relate to.

I am from the UK and in 2009 I moved to the US and married an American. He was a workaholic. He would come home from work and sit on his laptop working more. I would spend all my time trying to talk to him, to be connected to him. I felt like I was a ghost and I felt so alone. After 2.5 years I left him. I was totally broken. I was 3500 miles away from my family and friends and any loneliness you feel is ten fold. It's so tough. When we broke up I had no money, no friends. Nothing. I had put him first all along.

A year and a half later I met my now husband. My husband does have to travel for work but it really depends on how much work he gets and where it is. He's a commercial director so when he's shooting he has to go to wherever that is. When we first got together I was very bad at being apart from him, I had codependency issues. I'm totally fine with it now but it's TOTALLY fine that you aren't ok with your husband going away. I mean you've been in a long distance relationship. You've had a lot of experience being apart from your partner. You know exactly how this travel will you make you feel.
This year we moved from NYC to Vermont. We both wanted to enjoy our life outside work. He does a lot of his work from home now. He's taking on editing work that he can do from home. He is very considerate and communicative if he is offered something that requires him to spend the week in the city. When he's working from home he tells me multiple times a day what his workload looks like. He tells me if he's going to have to work on it throughout the evening. He tells me if he's going to have to work on it throughout the weekend. I am never left out and it's always made clear to me, I'm important, I'm his partner. Our life is shared.
When we have vacations booked he absolutely does not work. His company knows he won't work. It is his vacation and that is the end of it. It doesn't matter what comes up.
When he is away he messages me all day, he messages me during the evening. We chat as much as we do when he's home. He talks to me about work, I know what he's up to.

I agree with others who have suggested you consider going to NZ. If you're considering divorce you may want to take the trip before deciding 100%. It's such a tough decision, to end a marriage. I think time away doing something you want AND DESERVE can't hurt.
I am so sorry you feel this way. I can imagine how sad you are. I think considering ending your marriage because you're not happy is so incredibly brave.
posted by shesbenevolent at 9:48 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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