Should we end this marriage?
September 19, 2019 3:05 PM   Subscribe

I fear this marriage can’t be saved. Married 15 years, two kids, middle and high school. Couples counseling, individual counseling ongoing. I don’t feel heard or understood in this relationship. I don’t see hope that we want the same out of a partnership.

I love and like my partner but feel deeply hurt by them. Our marriage was troubled from the start. In my view, lack of healthy communication, lack of trust, lack of active work on the relationship led to our demise. Also mismatched sex drives/interest, although I believe for me the barrier was not feeling seen, heard, known. I think a lack of intimacy led to disinterest in connecting that way, for me.
After 10-12 years of growing distant, I had a fling, lied about it, got caught and went into counseling. I pushed my partner to see other people. They didn’t want to but did. I did not continue the fling. I felt relieved that the pressure was off.
After a year or so of couples/individual counseling we were stuck. We never got to the why of how we got to where we are. We were stuck in anger and blame. We decided to start mediation towards divorce.
We spent a year putting it off. We spent more time actually talking and being with each other.
Recently, my partner met someone. This relationship and individual therapy made them see me and us in a non angry way. We continued to connect more deeply including sex. I became jealous, angry, threatened by this other relationship.
My partner doesn’t understand. They think this is what I wanted. They think that being in an open relationship allows for trust in a way our closed one didn’t. They also like this other person and feel they deserve autonomy, freedom, variety. They also fear the old bad relationship and falling back into those patterns.
We have gone back into couples therapy. It is clear to me that we are on different planets. I feel the only hope is for us to focus, pay attention and do the hard work of rebuilding trust and intimacy. My partner feels that can only safely happen in the context of an open relationship, especially given they are essentially already in one. They feel a trust with this other person that they don’t feel comfortable giving up.
For me the thought of meeting someone else right now feels wrong in my gut.
I want a healthy relationship. I think I need a partner willing to put us first, especially given our past.
I feel in my gut that there is too much to work on to invest in other people.
Given that my partner feels the opposite, do I need to stand up and walk away?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total)
 
Yes. You can’t make someone want you. Not with arguments, not with magic, not with money, not with anything.
posted by Mistress at 3:11 PM on September 19, 2019 [19 favorites]


Yes. Nothing in your question suggests that pouring more time and effort into this will improve things.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:20 PM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry you're at this point. I think you know this relationship doesn't work for you. You and your partner want different things, and it seems like you always have, in some ways. I really don't think there's anything more to say.
posted by howfar at 3:23 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I see why this is complicated. What have you done to work through your feelings of jealousy and anger because of your open relationship? Did you go to a poly-friendly counselor alone or with your spouse?

It's complicated, as you know, because you had an affair (though you dismissively call it a "fling"), and then pushed your partner to see other people, which they did... and then your marriage got better, but now you are saying you don't want an open marriage after all. So that makes me wonder if you had the affair, and pushed your partner to see someone else, as a way to bring about the end of your own marriage. Have you spent some time in therapy thinking about that? You are, to some extent, casting yourself as the victim: you didn't feel or heard and so you had an affair; now that your partner is seeing someone in an open and honest way are your suggestion, you are angry and threatened and think they don't want the same things as you.

I suspect that if your partner ended that relationship, you would find another reason to be happy with them. Maybe you are just hurt and no longer willing.

It may be that your marriage can't be saved. But, I think when there are kids involved, it's worth it to make sure you have exhausted all avenues. So I say to really try to explore your feelings about your partner's other relationship (get the Jealousy Workbook, read up on jealousy in open marriages) and maybe think a bit more about why you were okay having an affair but now that it's open, you don't want to see anyone.

Even if you end up deciding the marriage is over, I think you'll feel better about that decision if you've done a bit more work. I also think any work now will help you in future relationships. And any work you do will help you navigate your post-divorce, co-parenting relationship.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:42 PM on September 19, 2019 [36 favorites]


In my view, lack of healthy communication, lack of trust, lack of active work on the relationship led to our demise. Also mismatched sex drives/interest, although I believe for me the barrier was not feeling seen, heard, known. ... I pushed my partner to see other people. They didn’t want to but did. I did not continue the fling. ... I want a healthy relationship. I think I need a partner willing to put us first, especially given our past. I feel in my gut that there is too much to work on to invest in other people.

1. Based on parts of your story, it appears that your partner did try to put your relationship first by seeing other people although they did not even want to.

2. You write a lot about your feelings. Al-Anon likes to remind us that feelings are not facts. They may be useful signals worth paying attention to. Or they can be bullshit. It is completely common that people who open up their relationships are shocked by the strength of jealousy and other feelings that they were not expecting. That does not have to be the end of the story if you are willing to work on those feelings.

3. Mismatched sex drives are an important issue for many couples. Maybe your partner being involved with other person will help meet your partner's sexual needs and actually give them more energy and ability to focus on the state of your overall relationship.

4. Since you are the one who had the fling and the one who pushed for an open relationship, I am puzzled about why you think your partner needs to stop seeing this other person in order to build trust in the relationship. Are you saying that you have lost trust in the relationship? Because I can understand why your partner lost trust in it when you had your fling and why your partner might continue to have trust issues after you pushed for an open relationship and then balked. But it sounds like you had trust issues earlier, so how exactly might those be addressed?

Of course, life is an experiment. You get to change your mind. You get to say hey, I thought this would be helpful but it is making me miserable and I cannot accept this situation. It only takes one person to break up; if your partner is unwilling to say goodbye to this new person, you totally get to say goodbye yourself. However, that gut feeling you have that there is too much work to do on your relationship to invest in other people? I would not trust that feeling if I were you. That is the gut that led you to have a fling, to push for an open relationship, and then to regret it.

Is it possible that you are upset because it feels like now your partner is getting everything they want and you aren't getting anything you want or not enough? Americans worship monogamy and popular culture brainwashes us into believing that our partners are supposed to be true soulmates who can meet all of our needs. That is bullshit. So what are your specific needs and how many of them is your partner willing and able to meet?

Like, how do you define being seen and heard? (My kid used to define it this way: Mom must agree with me about everything, especially things I feel strongly about. She once told me, literally, after I restated her position about issue X that I did not understand her position because I did not agree with her. If that is your definition of being seen and heard, you are in for problems.)

How do you define good communication? How do you define working on the relationship? How does your partner define each of those things? Is there any overlap?

I left my marriage after 20+ years because my spouse and I disagreed on all important issues, we could not communicate for the life of us, and our sex drives were sadly misaligned. Luckily, we were able to develop decent co-parenting skills and today we are once again truly close friends. We were great martial partners until we weren't, and I waited too long to end things.

If your marriage has never, ever been what you wanted and never ever been close, then why try to save it? It is fine to try; it is also fine to step away. But don't waste your time or your partner's time trying to reconnect if this is simply a way to break up your partner and their new love interest out of jealousy or spite.

No one has to be a victim here. If the marriage just doesn't work right now, focus on whatever you need to do to best care for your children in this moment and in the future and make arrangements accordingly. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:55 PM on September 19, 2019 [21 favorites]


for me the barrier was not feeling seen, heard, known ...

I pushed my partner to see other people. They didn’t want to but did. ...

Recently, my partner met someone...They think that being in an open relationship allows for trust in a way our closed one didn’t. They also like this other person and feel they deserve autonomy, freedom, variety...They feel a trust with this other person that they don’t feel comfortable giving up.


You say you don’t feel seen, heard, or known by your partner. Perhaps so, but it doesn’t seem like lately you really see, hear, or know your partner much either. Listen to what your partner is trying to tell you.
posted by sallybrown at 6:51 PM on September 19, 2019 [13 favorites]


Just my opinion, but this relationship cannot be saved. Forsaking all others? I don't think that's possible at this point, or even remotely what you want.
Call it quits, and show your kids that life can be happier. Be strong, be mighty, get a life of your own. You may find someone who loves and hears you, and for whom you will feel the same
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:53 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


My partner feels that can only safely happen in the context of an open relationship

you can see their logic, since when they were in a closed relationship they were first cheated on, then lied to, and finally badgered into unwanted sexual activity outside the marriage. For this to have resolved itself with them finding pleasure and solace in the initially unwanted activity is a blessed miracle that you might show more gratitude for, since it absolves you of some measure of guilt.

For you to have insisted on outside relationships they didn't want but feel wounded by outside relationships they do want is well beyond a red flag. whatever the truth of the situation, you present this as a dynamic in which their satisfaction is more upsetting to you than their pain was.

They feel a trust with this other person that they don’t feel comfortable giving up.
For me the thought of meeting someone else right now feels wrong in my gut.


I'm not sure why you feel that you have to. Are they insisting that you must meet someone else, just because they, at your behest, have?

I feel the only hope is for us to focus, pay attention and do the hard work of rebuilding trust and intimacy.

Right. They have laid out the necessary conditions for you to do that. You seem unwilling to accept those conditions and do that hard work, because boundaries you did not draw yourself cause you emotional pain. If that is the case, you should end the marriage.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:07 AM on September 20, 2019 [33 favorites]


Mira Kirshenbaum wrote a book called "Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay" which is essentially a guide to trying to answer this question, based on her observation working for many years with couples in struggle. You might want to read it and see where the answers fall for you. If you don't mind me noticing, though, there's not a whole lot in your description of the situation that conveys what the "good" part is in your marriage.
posted by Sublimity at 3:52 AM on September 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think I can understand where you're coming from. It seems like throughout your marriage, you feel that your husband didn't treat you as an equal partner, and didn't do the kind of work that would make you feel seen and valued as a wife. You bore him children and raised them, but didn't feel like you were valued, and it made you not want to have sex with this person who didn't value you. You had a fling - probably with someone who made you feel valued for a short while, and it made you more cognizant of the fact that you really, really didn't want to have sex with your husband.

It sounds like when you made the suggestion to open up the relationship and for him to see (and sleep with) other people, you were thinking of it as a purely sexual thing - a place for him to get his sexual needs met so that you wouldn't feel pressured to meet them. Because you felt he didn't respect you, you didn't think of the danger that he might respect someone else - you thought that what he had to give was limited, because he hadn't been able to give it to you.

He started having sex with someone else, which made him resent you less for not having sex with him, and with that resentment gone, you started to reconnect a bit. It seems this outside, low-pressure relationship made him better able to be a better partner in the home. Without resentment, you started having more sex, and started thinking "hey, this is nice, why can't our relationship always be this way?" And probably, you saw him doing more work in this other relationship than he had been doing at home, and you started having some jealousy about that. "I've borne his children and made his home, why is he putting all his energy into this new relationship with a person who has done none of these things?"

And I think that's a totally real and valid and super common emotion. It sucks to feel you are the person who does the hard work everyday and gets taken for granted for it. It sucks also to feel like you asked for basic decency, and he had the capacity in him all along to give it, but chose not to until he started seeing someone else that he's now unwilling to give up.

I think that individual counseling might be helpful for processing these emotions, and also for figuring out what to do about them, so you can bring it to the individual counselor before you bring it to your husband.

But I think when you lay out the pros/cons of staying/leaving, you need to also consider what your options realistically are. Culturally, things are shifting, people are doing less work before leaving. Leaving is no guarantee you'll meet someone you like better and have a relationship where the person puts you first. It's also really hard to date with kids. I would make a pro/con sheet and give it some real thought. What do you get out of the relationship? What do you think you would get if you were out of the relationship?
posted by corb at 5:06 AM on September 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


Note: The genders of the OP and their partner have not been stated.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:24 AM on September 20, 2019 [12 favorites]


Here's a long-winded answer via a personal anecdote.

My marriage ended after my husband had a bad injury, and his post-injury brain no longer had interest in concealing the double life that he'd been leading for years. I found out that he'd had at least a handful or two of other partners over most of our relationship--the number changed during different retellings--despite his maintenance of a loving, devoted, honest-appearing persona when we were around one another.

It took about a year for this information to lead to our split, but for reasons that surprise some people. I always thought myself capable of handling affairs of the physical sort, but I knew I couldn't handle being in a polyamourous relatioship. My husband's affairs/flings seemed mostly physical, just horny desire for attention and pleasure and flattery. But... one of them wasn't. One of them was with someone I know, and dislike. It wasn't a one-time thing. The two of them had a years-long string of online chats, multiple hookups, and my husband even introduced one of my stepkids to this person (as a friend, not as a boyfriend or partner).

The kind of dishonesty that had to go into that is something I couldn't--and still can't--get out of my head. It feels awful. If you listen to ACT practitioners (like the therapist I've had for the last nine months), emotions and feelings can be a pretty direct path to understanding what your deepest values are.

I'd always considered myself a hopeful monogamist, but willing to be fine with monogamishness out of an abundance of awareness that infidenlity is startlingly common, especially among men, and in gay male relationships that sort of doubles the odds that expecting monogamy is a futile act of hubris. In my 12 year relationship and marriage, though, I'd learned that, wow, monogamy is not only easy for me, it feels super duper good. I really felt a kind of harmony that I'd never expected to find with it. I couldn't put my finger on why I was so hurt and upset, then, to find out that my husband had concealed this particular affair, one among dozens that had more punch than all the others combined. And, in therapy, I followed those angry, hurt feelings back to the source, and it was illuminating: one of my deepest values in a relationship is being prioritized.

I talked to my ex about this, and he said that he wanted to prioritize me. But, over the months that followed, he couldn't tell me to my face that he didn't feel that way. He wanted to feel that way, and he felt obligated to me to feel that way, but I didn't hear this from him until he whacked his head hard enough in a bike wreck to have his personality slowly change. With the filter off, suddenly the cruel but honest part of him had center stage. He was able to tell me, finally, that obligation was the only thing making him try to prioritize me, and that he really would rather prioritize himself. And that was that. We are on different planets, and have been for years. The next step, as painful as it was for me, was natural. We, too, went for a mediator and moved on from each other.

If you're still in couples therapy, I'd encourage you to consider exploring this kind of conversation about deepest values and your relative motivations toward them. It sounds like you have a good head start in that direction, but if your therapist is familiar with ACT then maybe they can help draw you both into this kind of discussion. There's something about this values-oriented discussion that seems ideal for people in your/our shoes, in no small part because--whatever comes next for you--you'll come away from the inquiries with a firmer handle on yourself. Your values can help you settle the muddy waters of your partial indecision, so you have a crystal clear view of what works best for you.

Be well.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:22 AM on September 20, 2019 [14 favorites]


What a mess.

So did you tell your partner to see other people so you wouldn't have to feel guilty about the fling? Because that's a terrible idea if that was the case. And so now it turns out they rather like seeing other people... oh dear. It looks as if your partner knows what they want and is not budging. I would try to end this asap. It is a hard life sticking around in the hope that a person will change their mind. You waste life doing that. Accept that they have made their mind up which makes your job easier but no less painful. Acceptance is difficult but the only thing that will help you move on into your new life.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 11:54 AM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


You are asking your partner to treat their other partner as disposable because you are unwilling to do the work you need to do to handle your own emotions. You have the right to expect certain things in your own relationship, but you do NOT have the right to control anyone else's relationships.
posted by metasarah at 12:23 PM on September 23, 2019


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