#627: I married the wrong person. Now what?

Hello Captain and Friends,

My life is a mess right now and I have no idea how to begin untangling it. I’ve made a lot of really selfish and terrible choices.

I got married very recently (less than 6 months ago) to a wonderful, successful, charming man that I knew was not “the one” for me. I wish I could explain this decision. We have been together for a long while, our lives are intertwined, and I do feel genuine affection for him. I read a lot of validating things about how relationships are hard and there are no soul mates and I was getting the impression that most married people did what I was doing, which was to just pick a person and keep moving forward. In the weeks leading up to the wedding, I felt like I was making a mistake but I just felt like, my life is not a movie and I couldn’t leave someone at the altar. So I’ve been spending several months trying to convince myself and others that I am as happy as they are expecting me to be.

Then, a couple of months ago, I did something even worse. I fell completely and totally in love with someone else. I have feelings for him that I never felt for my husband, even at the beginning of our relationship. Honestly, I didn’t know adults got to feel this way. He is a close friend of mine that I had always harbored a crush on and I know I should have done more to discourage those feelings. But I didn’t and one night we kissed and things have basically spiraled out of control from there. He does reciprocate my feelings and I constantly imagine my life with him.

I feel so stupid and deeply selfish but I just can’t figure out what is the right thing to do here. Do I owe it my husband to try to make this thing work? Do I owe it to him to set him free so he can find someone who deserves him? I would love to be able to talk to him about this, but we don’t really have that kind of connection. Obviously I should have spoken up months or years ago but I just didn’t know how.

It feels like I have a lot of mutually exclusive options here and I have no idea how to make this decision. I know you can’t make a choice for me but I respect the opinion of this community and I hope you guys can help me to think about the situation in way that makes sense so I can try to cause minimal damage to everyone’s lives.

Thank you for your insight.

My insight is: If you don’t want to be married to this person, don’t be. Doubling down on a mistake isn’t going to make things better for you or for him, and as painful and expensive as it will be to break up, tell your social circle, and divide up the money and the books, it’s less painful than spending the rest of life with someone you don’t love. This isn’t 19th century England, you are not Charlotte Lucas. You have options. If you want to be kind on your way out, here are some ways to do that:

  • Could you leave the shared living space and make things logistically and financially as easy as possible? For instance, if you had a lease that you paid jointly, you still pay your part of things while you both sort out new living situations.
  • Be sure and decisive — don’t drag this person through months and years of indecision and put him through a cycle of false hope and disappointment. Couples’ counseling when you have no intention or desire to stay is a cruel waste of time and money. Talk to a lawyer so that you have the best information available to you about how to proceed, and then tell your husband: “I am so sorry, I had some doubts before marrying you, but I squelched them because I cared about you very much and I wanted things to work. Now that we are married, I know I made the wrong choice. I want to seek a divorce/annulment as soon as possible.” Don’t leave him wondering what he did wrong. (Protip: Have another place you can stay lined up for after you have the conversation).
  • Give him space and room to be angry after you tell him. Don’t justify it or expect him to understand or have sympathy for you. He’s not going to want to know or see how in love you are with the other dude. That stuff is for your friends. Forgiveness, peace, the possibility of being friends with him, an uneasy truce, relief, etc. comes later, if it comes at all. Do not pressure him around any of that. Wanting to leave is reason enough to leave, but asking the person being left to see it your way in that moment is not the way.
  • Ask him (after the initial conversation) what boundaries and logistics he would be comfortable with around communication. (Email only? Through lawyers?) How/what will you tell friends/family? How will you handle money stuff between now and when a split is final?
  • Social media is not the place for your new super-amazing love story to unfold in real time. Be a mensch about that, ok? Be conscious of who can see your feeds and let the news of the divorce/breakup get out there to folks, especially his people. You have the rush of new love. He has being dumped while some of the wedding gifts are probably still in their boxes. You and your new dude don’t have to be “Facebook Official” right now for your love to be real.

Worth saying in bold letters for anyone reading this: Safety first. If you need to get out of a relationship, and you’re scared a partner will not “let” you leave, that he will use financial resources to try to manipulate into staying, or that you will encounter any kind of abusive shenanigans on your way out the door, do whatever gets you out and don’t worry about the feelings of someone who scares you. Your obligations to another person cease the second they harm or threaten or control you.

As to the fallacies that got you here, dear LW, good relationships do require “work,” like, someone has to pay the bills and do the dishes and clean the cat box and decide how often you have sex and where you will put your money and whether you actually want kids. Those things don’t naturally get done on their own just because you like the way someone leans and they like the cut of your jib. You have to decide things together, and you have to show up for each other and listen to each other and be on each other’s team. That’s the good kind of work. The bad kind of work, for me, is the “Let me make another pro and con list about staying together vs. leaving and hide how much I’ve been crying/looking for apartments where I live by myself/coming up the back stairs so I have a minute to arrange my face before I see you” kind of work. The work of silences. The work of pretending. The work of talking about everything but the most basic contents of your heart, because if he knew about your doubts he would leave or he would voice his doubts and you’re not sure you’re ready for that yet. The work that happens when your relationship is your chief source of anxiety and stress, instead of being the bulwark and comfort against other stressors. The work of hearing someone tell you that “you’re such a great couple,” and you thinking “oh great, that’s another person I’ll disappoint if I leave.” The work of hiding in plain sight inside your own life.

The work of making yourself and your dreams smaller in order to stay is almost always going to be too much work.




206 thoughts on “#627: I married the wrong person. Now what?

  1. Those last two paragraphs, Captain….

    I’ve never heard it phrased like that. Thank you.

    Best of luck, LW.

        1. Painfully accurate, yes. Brought me fairly viscerally back to a relationship where I spent three years doing almost exactly that. Leaving was absolutely the right thing to do; I wish I could have read this post then.

          LW, I hope things go well for you.

  2. I only want to chime in to say that even good relationships can be a source of stress. After all, you are two different people merging lives. To me, the mission-critical question is, how do you both deal with the stress? After a few years of practice, my husband and I can both sense when we are at risk of snapping at each other and we both become more deliberate in being proactively nice to each other until the stressors pass. It’s not a perfect system – we still fight every once in a while – but it does help grease the wheels for us to continue to work together to manage our family while we figure out how to deal with whatever is bothering us.

    1. Along those lines, external stressors like money problems or chronic illness become so much worse when you’re with somebody you don’t feel deeply devoted to.

      1. (Going anon here because I know friends read CA.) Money problems and chronic illness are exactly the reason why I’ve stayed. Also the fact we have a kid and we’re getting married. I don’t actually want to get married but from a purely practical point of view it’s a sound thing to do legally and financially. I can’t hold down a job but I’m not entitled to benefits either, and I know I would be unlikely to manage with a child on my own (please, no-one tell me I can or it’s not as hard as I think – just trust me that, for reasons I can’t go into without outing myself, I KNOW I can’t). It’s not that I don’t love him – it’s just it’s more like good friends. There’s never been a spark there.

        He has no idea. He complains sometimes that I’m very reserved about talking over feelings, but he has no idea that if we didn’t have a child I’d just walk away. So I stay put and I’ll go through a wedding I don’t want because it’s the best thing for him and for our child (who also has no idea).

        1. I’m not diminishing the hard choices you have to make in any way, but….”the best thing for him?” Is that up to you to decide? The best thing for him is to get married to someone who he has no idea doesn’t really love him?

          Damn, I hope no one I’m ever with decides that’s the best thing for me. I’d 1000x rather hear “I don’t love you but I’ll marry you because of Reasons” so I can make my own choice about what’s best for me.

          1. It’s the best thing for him from a legal point of view regarding our child, and because he would struggle holding down his job AND managing to raise a child alone. So from that point of view of how my leaving would affect him, yes it IS up to me to decide.

          2. This. Thank you, Commander Banana, because Anonymouse, I don’t mean to be harsh, but that’s some pretty aggressive rationalizing you’re doing there. If staying for the sake of money and someone to help you raise your child is what’s best for YOU, then you’re free to make that decision, but if you’re going to do it by lying to your partner and convincing him you’re in love with him, then at least don’t try to claim that the lie is for his sake, and you’re only doing it because it’s really best for him, You don’t know it’s what’s best for him. You have no way, short of asking him (which kind of outs your lie) that it’s best for him, and I more than kinda suspect that you’re so sold on the idea that it’s best for him because it is best for *you* — you are scared to risk losing your source of money and childcare help by being honest with him about how you feel and then saying you’d be interested in marrying him anyway, for the sake of the kid; and so you come up with some extremely self-serving Reasons why it is all really for his own good that you’re lying to him. Except that he didn’t get to make that decision, and that’s wrong. He should be the one deciding what is for his own good, and whether he wants to marry you or not based on the truth of the situation. After all, that’s what you’re doing.

            I’m not going to tell you not to marry this guy. For you, security and help rearing your child may be worth tying yourself to a marriage when you don’t love him; that’s got to be your decision and nor mine. But for the love of everything holy, tell him the truth about why you’re doing it, and do it with enough time left before the wedding (if there even is that much time left; if not, give him as much as you have left) that he doesn’t feel pressured by “what will our families say?” into going through with it if it’s not what he wants. Because the fact that your financial security and your childcare needs are enough for you to choose a loveless marriage doesn’t mean that they’re enough for him to choose one… which maybe you know and maybe that’s why you’re not willing to tell him the truth; because if he decides he doesn’t want to marry you under the real circumstances you have, that would suck for you.

            And it would. But it is still wrong to keep the truth from him, and thereby not let him make his own choice as you have made yours.

          3. @Anony-Mouse, I feel like I’m missing something – why are the only 2 options “we get married” or “one of us raises the kid alone”? I can think of a number of configurations between that – the status quo, breaking up and working out a custody agreement, breaking up but continuing to live together and co-parent…

          4. I would never want to be with a partner who not only (a) didn’t love me and (b) secretly made decisions for me “in my best interests”, but thought so little of me that they “knew” I couldn’t be flexible or grow a bit as a person for the sake of my own child.

          5. “It’s the best thing for him from a legal point of view regarding our child, and because he would struggle holding down his job AND managing to raise a child alone. So from that point of view of how my leaving would affect him, yes it IS up to me to decide.”

            Not wanting to pile on, but no, this makes no sense. You don’t KNOW he would struggle holding down his job AND raising a kid, and even if he does, that STILL doesn’t make it ok for you to make that decision for him.

            Consent. It’s a thing.

          6. This, holy shit.

            “I don’t love him, but I’m going to lie to him about it because if I told him the truth he might decide something that I don’t want, but it’s totally in his own best interests” is something that just gives me the creeps in a serious way.

            People get to make their own decisions about the kind of relationships they want to be in.

        2. That’s a tough choice. I can’t single parent my children either.
          That said, masks aren’t sustainable over the long haul, they slip eventually.

          If you are committed to staying, seeing someone to help you find a way to be content and have joy in your life with your partner is a must.
          The intimacy of day-to-day life means that everyone in your home (especially your child) know exactly how you feel. Your partner’s complaints about a lack of strong emotion from you, show he knows.

          Imagine five years from now, you have another child together, and he loses his job. You have to move your family into a friend/family member’s basement. Someone finds you a part-time job that is willing to work with your issues, and you come home everyday exhausted. He’s depressed and reaching out to you for support, needing you to validate him. The kids are freaked out about leaving their home and friends, and are acting out. You’re getting calls from school about their behavior.


          A close family member of your partner is terminally ill. Partner is devastated. He spends all his free time supporting his family, leaving you to bear the brunt of everything at home. He comes home late, drained and grieving, and needs you to take care of him. This goes on for a year and a half.

          At some point in your marriage something terrible will happen because life.
          If you go into this with the idea that you are sacrificing your happiness for security, when that time comes, you will feel betrayed. When your partner reaches out to you you will respond with barely repressed anger, because he has broken his side of the bargain. The one where he meet your needs and doesn’t ask for too much, and you don’t leave him.

          If you can’t find a way to have joy and love with this man do not marry him.
          However hard it is now to be on your own, it will be 10x worse after you’ve destroyed your family with resentment and bitterness. After you’ve had an affair, or whittled away at his self-worth, or turned away from him in his hour of need. After your children have lost respect for you and you have to bear the weight of their anger.

          It’s cruel to everyone involved.
          If you can’t be happy about sharing your life with him, then start setting up support systems for you and your child, and be direct with him about how the wedding is not going to happen.

          1. Oh wow. Thank you, esprit. This is kinder advice than I could give, and subtler, and right on. I was looking at the ethics of the situation as presented; you went and tried to find an alternative situation. And then *still* went and made sure you said that, if it couldn’t be found or made, there should not be a wedding; and why.

            You’re awesome, you know that? I shall spend the rest of the day in joyful admiration of you. 🙂

          2. Beautifully put. I frankly find the idea that I might get married to someone/spend years with someone/have a child with someone who secretly doesn’t love me because they’ve decided it’s best for me TERRIFYING.

            I know Anony-Mouse is in a really difficult place and that’s a terrible choice to have to make, and I’m not downplaying that, but I just cannot get behind someone doing that to someone else. And also, how do they know unless they ask the other person?? Maybe their response would be, you know what, single parenting would be extremely hard but I’d rather do it than spend my life with someone who secretly would just walk away if there wasn’t a kid involved.

          3. Having another child is not an issue for us. I can’t have any more children. As for the other points you raise, I can’t answer them without outing myself. However we’ve already been through a lot of shit (that I am not going into in detail) and I’ve fully supported him. I just don’t love him more than a good friend. And as I’ve said above, living on my own with a child IS NOT POSSIBLE. Nor is him trying to parent alone.

          4. I’m really sorry you’re having to deal with all of this. It sounds like a crummy situation all around. People get into relationships for all kinds of reasons, and as lovely as it would be to be able to say “nope, don’t love you, I’m out,”/”let’s co-parent” it’s not a reality for everyone. Yes, the best relationships are built on honesty and communication – but honesty doesn’t trump safety.

            The part about him taking off if you told him, in particular – yeah, it sounds like an awful lot is going on there, that’s a red flag for me. Do your best to take good care of your kid – they’re going to need a lot of love in this situation, and stay as safe as you can. If things are this bad, then perhaps all you can do is try to mitigate the damage for the other people involved. Maybe someday you’ll be in a better position or when your kid is grown you’ll all have more options. I hope so. Best wishes to all of you.

          5. I obviously don’t know the inside of her head, but I think this very closely describes the experience of my mother and step-father and the fallout you outline is very real.

            One thing I would add – my mother resented the child (that’d be me) that “forced” her into a loveless marriage. In her own mind, I’m sure she doesn’t believe she did anything wrong. And yes, I always had food and shelter and no one hit me or called me names, but she could never really hide her feeling that I was an obligation to be tolerated.

            I don’t exaggerate when I say this ruined our relationship in an unfixable way. We’ve gone through several long periods of not speaking. Although we’re talking some now, we’re not close and we never will be. I don’t hate her anymore, but I am supremely indifferent to her existence. If she were abducted by aliens, it would probably take me months to notice and then I wouldn’t care much beyond a passing curiosity of what being abducted was like.

            Your relationship with your adult child could last 35+ years. Consider that in your decision making.

          6. My parents stayed together “for the sake of the children” and it was a huge, terrible mistake. My mom married my dad because she “had no choice,” and then she stayed with him for reasons similar to the reasons you’ve given above. I am forty years old and am still trying to get over the damage of growing up in that house. I sincerely wish that at least one of them had been brave enough to live a real life. Instead, they wasted their lives and fucked up mine. You might think you’re being loyal to your fiancé, but you’re betraying him and yourself and your child by marrying him with a lie in your heart. And you know it.

          7. People wind up doing lots of things they consider NOT POSSIBLE.

            And I’m going to just leave that there because I am so offended and angry about what you are proposing. NOBODY but me gets to make decisions about my life, and the fact that you think your super special circumstances entitle you to take advantage of this person, and potentially ruin your child’s life and relationship with you is reprehensible.

        3. If I were in his position, I would really, really want my partner to say “I don’t feel the way about you that I think you feel about me, and I would leave if we didn’t have a child, but I don’t see any practical way to handle parenting a child together without being together and married. I can’t be a single custodial parent, and I know it would be very hard for you to be a single custodial parent. What plan can we make that’s best for us and our child?”

          And maybe that plan is still “get married and try to have the best marriage we can,” or maybe it’s getting married and having an open relationship, or getting legally married but agreeing that you’re living as roommates who parent a kid together, or living together as roommates without being legally married, or brainstorming whether there’s any way to come up with a plan that would let you live apart and still provide a stable home for your kid. But if I were your husband, I’d prefer to make those choices with my eyes open. I would feel incredibly betrayed to find out that my partner was keeping that kind of secret.

          I don’t know whether that’s what your partner would want. But I strongly feel that whether this is “the best thing for him” is really not up to you to decide without talking this over honestly with him. You get to decide what’s best for you, and you and your partner get to decide together what’s best for your kid, but he gets to decide what’s best for him — and that includes doing things that are hard, like being a single parent with a job, if he’d rather do that than marry someone who would leave him if she could.

          1. Yes. Taking away someone’s agency is not an act of love. No matter how well you know them.

            Deciding together to have a marriage of convenience is a valid option. deciding together that affection, shared history, and a child is a strong foundation to build a life on is a valid option, but what ever happens they both need to be on the same page.

          2. I absolutely agree with Amtelope. Anony-mouse, I accept that you know you can’t take on being a lone parent; you are you and can know that about yourself. I don’t, however, think it’s something you can know with certainty about someone else, however well you know them. Yes, it would be very, very hard; but if I were in your partner’s position I would want to be able to make an informed decision about would be best for me.

          3. There might be ways to raise the issue without causing so much hurt that the partner can’t think clearly about what he really wants. It could be something like, ‘I want you to know that I don’t have traditional romantic feelings for you. I have a lot of affection and respect for you, and if that’s enough for you to build a marriage on, that’s great for me. Or, if you preferred to stay living together as best friends and parents, either with a legal marriage document or not, that would be fine for me too. Or we could take some time to think about what we both want.’

          4. Oh, yes, this. As espritdecorps says just below, “Taking away someone’s agency is not an act of love. No matter how well you know them.”

            Anonymouse, you do not have the right to make decisions for your partner’s best interest without his consent. You do not have the right to lie to your partner for his own good. It’s not about how well you know him. It’s not even about whether or not you’re right about what’s best for him. It’s about who has the right to make the choices about his own good. And that person is him, and it is not you.

            Marrying someone on false pretenses of loving them is a profoundly unethical act. It is wrong, and there is no rationalization you can produce that will make it less wrong. Sometimes, there is no right choice, and it is entirely possible that for you to admit the truth to him, and thereby put yourself and your child in an untenable position, would *also* be wrong. If so, you do have the right — and the responsibility — to choose what you see as the lesser of two wrongs, and that may be the lie. Because of this possibility, I am not going to try and talk you out of marrying the man on false pretenses.

            What I am going to tell you, is please, stop trying to pretend to yourself that it isn’t wrong. It is. And you’re warping your own ethical system all out of shape through your desperate and futile attempt to persuade yourself that it isn’t wrong. The result of this will only be that you’ll do wrong things more easily in future. If you have to do the lesser wrong, have the guts to face it square-on and admit to yourself that it is a terrible wrong you are doing to him and that he does not deserve it, but that you’re going to do it anyway because anything else is worse for you and your child and you don’t feel you have an acceptable alternative. You still won’t be being honest with him, but at least you’ll be being honest with yourself.

          5. @pocketnaomi

            This, this, this.

            Pretending to love someone in order to acquire the protections of marriage is a shitty thing to do. It may be the least shitty of all the available options, but that doesn’t magically make it okay. Sometimes there are no good choices, and you have to make the least bad choice you can, but it you’re going to lie to someone, at least have enough respect for them not to pretend that it’s for their own good.

        4. :-/ Oh, your poor partner. I know it’s hard, and I know the situation seems like it would be impossible, if you were to separate. But I am a divorce attorney. I see people go through situations that seem impossible, and come out so much happier on the other side.

          From a personal standpoint, I would be devastated to learn that my husband married me out of convenience and not love – and had tricked me into believing it was love. If I were in his shoes, I might still stay, after hearing an honest but loving explanation of how you felt. Please consider being honest with him, and asking him to stay anyway.

          1. Please don’t say to a person who stated that they could not raise a child on their own due to [enter stuff] that “It looks different on the other side.” This is not respecting their knowledge about their own limitations and takes away their agency.

          2. Winter, due to physical and mental issues (and a special needs child) I could not raise my children on my own, and I am not physically capable of working full-time, so money would be a huge issue, but if my partner was unavailable, there are:
            1) My mother who is far from ideal, but would be willing to help with day-to-day things and with money.
            2) My beautiful friend who would let me live rent-free in her basement and would help out with day-to-day things in exchange for me doing the same for her.
            3) Friends who would (and do) provide hand-me-down kids clothes and toys.
            4) Neighbors who would help with child care in exchange for the same.
            5) Neighbors who would invite us to dinner a lot.
            6) Spouse’s family who don’t like me (I’m not crazy about some of them either), but would not let his children starve or be homeless.

            Not everyone has the kind of social resources I do, but as a parent, part of your job is to build as many different kinds of resources as you can. Not just in case of divorce, but in case of death of a partner, disability, loss of job.
            If her child’s father died tomorrow, she would have to find other resources.
            Knowing that there is no way she could bootstrap a life for her and her child on her own, means putting more energy into cultivating them than someone who could work three jobs if they had to. Which is hard and not fair when you are already limited, but kids don’t stop needing things.

            Someone can have physical/mental/emotional issues that prevent them from parenting by themselves, but that doesn’t give them a free pass on basic decency.
            There are other ways to not parent by yourself that are being ignored in the forced choice of “Deceive my partner or doom for us all!”

            I imagine that annstarr has seen a lot of people who are in situations they never planned on or prepared for find ways of dealing with things that would have been impossible in the context of their former lives, but become possible once they are forced to consider previously unthinkable/unacceptable options.

          3. Winter, someone sharing their experiences helping others in similar situations is taking away nobody’s agency.

          4. espritdecorps: I’m actually not pro deceiving the partner. But I still think it’s not cool to say “No, you can totally do that” if you don’t know a person’s circumstances. Maybe they can, maybe they can’t, but I sure as hell won’t tell them they can.

        5. re: “Because I know him too well and I know those will be the only options on the table.”

          So talk about it? Either you’re right and at least you had that discussion, or there are more, better, more workable options.

        6. You’re willing to choose a loveless marriage, and that’s one thing. But is HE willing to have a loveless marriage? Because that sounds like a horrible thing to do to a person, to marry them while they’re thinking they’re going to get a loving marriage out of it, but for you it’s basically a transaction. That is a betrayal at a deep and fundamental level, and you’re already seeing signs that it’s hurting him, since he’s talked to you about being reserved about your feelings.

          Don’t be so sure it’s the best thing for the kid, either. Growing up in that scenario can screw a child up on a deep, personal level.

        7. My mother stayed with my drug addicted father because she thought it would be better for the kids, and because of financial concerns – she was dirt poor and it was hard for us to make it on our own when we finally did leave. I cannot emphasize the damage that did to me. I am on the downslope to thirty and I have never dated anyone because I can’t stand the thought of putting myself in a position like that. I am mostly made of trust and intimacy issues. I don’t know why people think that their kids don’t notice when their parent’s marriage is in the shitter. We do. We always know.

          And my Mom was a good and loving mother! But god, what a wretched decision.

          The idea that I could be someone’s ‘good enough’ and just never know it is terrifying.

        8. Please read sorcharei’s comment further down. This is what is waiting for him when he eventually finds out you don’t really care for him. Part of her comment is “Because finding out that she lied to me for 7 years was so devastating and took so much work to recover from that i can’t be bothered to have her in my life.” Can you live your life if this happened to you in response to him finding out?

        1. Anony-Mouse, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, but don’t bullshit yourself into thinking that you’re doing this because it’s the best thing for your boyfriend. What you’re desperately afraid of is that the best thing for him would be leaving and that if he knew what was going on he’d see that too. Again, do what you want, but don’t pretend you’re doing it “for him.” You’re doing it for *you* because you don’t have (or don’t think you have) as easy an escape route as he does.

          I will say this, though, if you think so little of his attachment to the kid that you essentially expect that he’s going to completely ditch you both, what exactly are you losing by not just divorcing him? I doubt he’s helping with child care much or you wouldn’t expect that he’d just leave you both hanging. If you’re just using him for money anyway, why not just get it through chid support and move on with your life?

          1. I didn’t get the impression that she thought he’d leave them both hanging, as in not be a participating dad from another home; I got the impression that she’s in bad enough condition medically that she can’t raise a child without live-in help, not simply an active co-parent who lives elsewhere.

            You’re dead on target about “on’t pretend you’re doing it “for him.” You’re doing it for *you* because you don’t have (or don’t think you have) as easy an escape route as he does,” though.

          2. MuddieMae: Okay, we may have different definitions of “single parent.” I considered myself a single parent when I was divorced from my kids’ father, even though they spent three nights a week at his house and he paid child support and talked with me regularly about plans for their lives. (I really wished he wasn’t so involved a lot of the time, since we usually had very different opinions about what was best for them and he drove me crazy!) I was living with no other adults, meeting my kids’ day-to-day needs alone, and when I had a medical emergency, the paramedics had to stay with me in the house for close to an hour, monitoring my condition, before the friend I called to beg him to come look after my kids arrived and I could allow them to get me into the ambulance and take me to the hospital. These are some pretty serious issues, and tackling them alone isn’t easy, and I think they still warrant the title of single parent, even if the other parent is also somewhat involved in the kid’s life.

            Whether Anony Mouse’s definition of ‘single parenting’ is more like yours or more like mine or something totally different from either, I don’t know. I’m just explaining that there *is* a different way of defining it, and therefore it’s unclear on this information just how extreme an accusation she means to make.

          3. Indeed, what you describe is what I’d call co-parenting, although perhaps not the most equitable or workable form of it.

            That sounds really tough, no matter what name we use. I hope things have or will get easier for you. 🙂

          4. Thanks, Muddie. They have gotten much better — I’m now living with an awesome family configuration including my brother and sister-in-law (both of whom I adore), their adult daughter who’s become a great big cousin to my kids, and the partner I’m going to marry in the spring. 🙂 I still get into arguments with the kids’ dad, but he has also remarried, to a woman who loves my kids and gives them some stability when they’re at his house, and whom I can sometimes persuade, when I can’t persuade him, to see reason and whack it into his head with a clue-by-four.

            I guess I don’t consider “single parent,” and “co-parenting” as mutually exclusive. If I had been asked during those years, whether I was either, I’d have said yes without thinking of the other, because they just refer to different concepts to me. A single parent is someone who is single — as in, not in a romantic couple — and a parent. Someone who is co-parenting is someone who is sharing kids with somebody who is not their romantic partner. You can be both at once. But I do get, now that you’ve explained it, that other people can have different frameworks for the words, in which they *are* mutually exclusive, and in which “single parent” only refers to someone who is parenting with no other parent actively involved in the lives of the kid/s in question.

          5. Yeah, I really don’t think that “you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do” extends as far as violating someone else’s consent, tho. Which is what Anony-mouse is contemplating doing by nailing the partner down to a commitment on false pretenses of love. There is no way for him to give informed consent to arrangement, unless he is informed of the arrangement.

  3. LW – the Captain did a solid job on answering the question you asked about your marriage. I want to talk a little about the New Guy and you.

    You should not be seeing the New Guy romantically until you have told your husband about wanting to divorce. (1)
    You should not be seeing the New Guy romantically until you have moved out of shared living space with your husband. (2)
    Ideally, you should not be seeing the New Guy romantically until the divorce is signed, finalized, and complete. (3)
    Ideally, you should not enter into a monogamous, serious, committed relationship with New Guy until you have finished your divorce, moved out, found your own place, and settled a little into a new groove. (4)


    (1) I know the horse is out of the barn on this one, but seriously, put the brakes on whatever is happening with New Guy, with the proviso that you can start things back up again once you’ve disentangled yourself from your current situation. If New Guy genuinely shares your feelings and respects you, waiting a month shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. And if he acts like it is, that’s the sort of thing I’d want to know before I started seeing someone new, you know? Dating while you’re still married and your partner is in the dark is not a nice thing to do for a lot of reasons, and you have the choice here to not do it. Don’t do it.

    (2) This is a safety issue, to be sure. It’s also one of those “not a nice thing, so don’t do it” behaviors. You might be paying half the rent/mortgage/whatever, and feel you have equal rights to the space, but a person’s home is where they want to feel safe, and if your husband’s home is a place where he feels betrayed, that’s an attack on his feelings of safety. Even if he doesn’t react violently, it’s not the kind of thing that kind, decent people do.

    (3) It can also make the divorce process a lot more contentious, and may even have repercussions in legal proceedings. Socially, you’re going to have to navigate who gets told what & when, but more conservative persons, especially older ones, tend to view dating before divorce as being in bad taste.

    (4) Your current relationship is ending, in part because of choices you made that might not have been the best. Before you rush off to start a brand new relationship with lots of choices to make, it’s a really healthy thing to give yourself some time to just be “you” instead of “you and…” You’re dealing with two issues here: “I’m not happy with Husband” and “I’m really happy with New Guy”, and superficially, they look related, but they’re not. If you don’t take the time to work through what went wrong with the Husband, you run the very real risk of repeating the same patterns with New Guy.

    1. ” If you don’t take the time to work through what went wrong with the Husband, you run the very real risk of repeating the same patterns with New Guy.”

      Print this out in large letters and tape it to the ceiling over your bed. My guess is that you’ve got a lot of uncomfortable things to deal with if you don’t want to keep marrying guys and then deciding it was a mistake.

      Specifically: you married this guy despite having serious reservations. _Something_ must have driven you to ignore your reservations and common sense, and until you understand and deal with it, it’s likely to happen with New Guy. And the guy after him.

      Also, in your position, I would be a little skeptical of my infatuation with New Guy. Right now, New Guy is offering you a Harlequin Romance-approved excuse to leave the guy you married. Once you no longer need that excuse, will you feel the same way about him? (And will you feel obligated to marry him anyway, because he was your True Love for whom you left your first husband?)

    2. Yeah, I second pumping the breaks with New Guy. It sounds like Letter Writer is definitely done with their husband which I support 100%. But it would be prudent to make sure New Guy is not just that. Take time to make sure he is The Man I Love and not simply Not That Other Guy I Don’t Love.

    3. I would like to second everything here. If your mutual feelings for New Guy are real then they will survive you getting a divorce etc etc.

      It could be real, it could grow into a lifelong relationship, and it could be a mutual infatuation that fizzles out. I made the mistake of believing the former was the latter, in part because I’d gone through a very sad and painful breakup of a long term relationship and because my New Guy (TM) was very charismatic and said all the right things about how he loved me, and I was The One and how he was The One For Me and the Last Person I Would Ever Sleep With and we would be Together For Ever and Wow Wasn’t I Amazing! and for the first couple of months it was great but actually it wasn’t any of the things he said, or I wanted, and he turned out to be a creep who dumped me in a really horrible and nasty way. Of course I am not saying that this will happen to you — there are a zillion possible ways your story could go and your New Guy could be awesome personified. But I am saying that the rush of infatuation/ extreme pantsfeels/ even love for someone you just met at a time when you are struggling in a relationship that is not right for you, and your New Guy is a sparkly Golden Ticket of everything you’ve longed for — that rush is powerful. Like the above commenter said, the relationship between “not happy with current guy” to “in love with New Guy” are two issues.

      (Of course, it is wonderful and life affirming to have the experience where someone gets you and you connect and all that. Especially when your current relationship is a struggle.)

    4. A lot of *this*. I went through a similar process.
      I did stay with New Guy for a few years… and then realized he wasn’t The One either. Glad I didn’t marry that one! For a long time I felt like I should… people said we were perfect, and I thought there was something wrong with me, and that maybe I’d just feel better once I got used to the idea. I kept feeling that way through the next several relationships before I figured out that I am indeed allowed to not love someone who loves me, and that starting a relationship with someone doesn’t mean you have to stay with them forever. Therapy is a wonderful thing.

      Divorce sucks, and having someone to help you through that is great… but don’t make the New Guy into that person. He’s got a stake in this that your friends don’t.

      The legal thing is nothing to sneeze at either. Depends on the state (assuming you are in the US), but “alienation of affection” is a thing.

    5. I agree with all of this – but with the slight caveat that getting divorced often takes longer than a month. My parents just got divorced, and it took almost two years to be signed and finalized! I don’t think it’s necessary to wait for all the paperwork things, unless the legal stuff requires it – you should check that, though. (For what it’s worth, my dad started a new relationship about a week after leaving my mom, and his New Person is great, but I really wished he’d waited at least a few months. Not classy, dad.)

      But do wait until you move out and get your own space, and take some space for self-feelings.

    6. Agreed, and would add: LW really needs to separate the two issues, because otherwise it’s hard to tell if “I’m really happy with New Guy” is because New Guy is awesome and a compatible partner, or because New Guy presents an excuse for divorcing Husband.

  4. You’re my husband.

    After 18 years of marriage, he meet someone. Someone who *got him*. Someone amazing and perfect. And after 18 months of couples’ counseling, he left and moved in with Miss Perfect, leaving me to pick up the pieces.

    Please, don’t drag your spouse through counseling. Just go. It’s better for everyone in the long run.

    1. Yes. Couples’ counseling is appropriate when both parties want to fix the relationship problems that are making it hard to be together. If one party has already decided they don’t want to be in the relationship, couples’ counseling becomes an excruciating exercise in futility, for both parties. I’ve been on both sides of that equation–I went to counseling when I knew I wanted to leave because my partner begged me to and I caved to societal pressure to do “everything possible” to prevent divorce. In another relationship, I was the one who didn’t realize that there was no saving the relationship and went through months of being raked over the coals by someone who had no intention of staying with me. (Pro tip: When someone gives you an ultimatum that is basically, “Do X, or I’m leaving,” they are most likely leaving anyway.)

      Couples’ counselling is not supposed to be a ticky box to check off on the way to a divorce or an, “I really tried!” certificate you can show your nosy relatives who want to pearl clutch over your divorce. It is supposed to be a tool to help fix relationships that you want to continue. If the relationship is irretrievably broken or will never be right for you no matter what changes you and your partner implement, then counseling is not the right tool.

      1. Oh thank you so much for putting it so succinctly. I am currently going through a divorce and we did not go through counseling, mainly because I knew that I was done – knew it through and through. It has been 7 months since we separated and I have not for a second regretted my choice. But when people ask (and oh, do they) “Did you go through couples therapy?” it sounds like they are actually saying “But did you try hard enough?” and it just makes me feel so defensive and shamed. Also enough with people posting that terrible meme on the book about “back in our day people fixed things instead of throwing them away” and it is JUST so judgy.
        I know in my heart that what people mean is that a couple like my husband and myself splitting up is TERRIFYING. We were fun! We cracked each other (and other people) up! We were the fun show. People (always someone else that is in a couple) want to place blame on something concrete, like that we didn’t do therapy – we didn’t do all we could. That way it doesn’t have to be the scary thing where people that used to love each other don’t anymore, or whatever else might have happened.

      2. It may not always work out this way in practice (as your experience proves), but ideally, couples therapy should hasten the demise of an already doomed relationship. Therapists are supposed to facilitate what both parties want — or just one party, if one wants to leave. They’re not supposed to attempt to save the relationship at any cost.

        1. I don’t think it’s the therapists’ fault in the situations I mentioned. I think it is the fault of the cultural memes that say that any marriage that isn’t abusive should be saved at all costs. We still refer to divorces as “failed marriages,” and many people who go through divorce (particularly women, who are pressured to be the social arbiters/protectors of relationships) feel like divorce is a personal failure. I think the problem in those therapy situations is that the person who is sure they are done with the relationship acquiesces to the social pressure to “try” to “save” the marriage and isn’t honest with their partner or their therapist. So they join in the request for help from the therapist to make changes to help the relationship stay intact, not help to hasten the demise/make the demise less fraught. Frankly, the societal pressure is great enough, that I think a lot of people who are done aren’t being honest with themselves. When I look back on my first divorce (where I was the one who was done before we went into counseling), I knew I was done, but I couldn’t admit it, even to myself.

  5. If you do divorce and start a new relationship with this other guy, you should try to keep those 2 things mentally separate. The new relationship should stand on its own merits. He doesn’t owe you anything more than if you’d both been single when you met.

    When you make a huge life change to be with someone, it can be a whole lot of pressure. They should help you through it of course, because they care about you and want you to be happy, but it shouldn’t chain them to you out of guilt.

    1. I like this better than the above thread centred around “If you don’t take the time to work through what went wrong with the Husband, you run the very real risk of repeating the same patterns with New Guy.”

      Sometimes New Guy is the aha all by itself. But yes, it’s still a relationship that has to stand on its own merits.

  6. LW, I did something similar in terms of starting a life with someone I didn’t feel particularly strongly for because it seemed to be what everyone else was doing, and I wanted to see what it was like, and it seemed to be sort of what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing in life, so I did. (We didn’t get married, but did get engaged and lived together for several years.) In retrospect, I look back on those years and feel as though my life was on pause – I actually struggle to remember what filled the time and the whole thing seems like some sort of odd, anti-fairy tale – like having been asleep for several years.

    Could you make your marriage ‘work’? Probably on some level, if by ‘work’ you mean create and maintain something stable; maybe something that’s satisfying to you on a lot of levels. Only you can really decide if it’s worth doing that, and what you would be gaining, and what you would be losing. But it’s OK to decide that you don’t want to be married to your husband anymore, and to leave and start afresh.

    What I would suggest, though, is that if you do decide to end your marriage you keep this decision as separate as you can from your old friend/possible new relationship situation. I don’t mean that just in the sense of being decent to your husband (although, do be decent to your husband!) but in the sense of giving yourself enough mental space to process your situation and your feelings. If the narrative you create for yourself is one of ‘I left Husband for Friend’ then any bump in the relationship with Friend will inevitably cause you to question your decision to leave Husband. Friend is certainly acting as a catalyst here, but try to act upon your thoughts and feelings regarding your marriage, rather than your thoughts and feelings towards Friend. So, for example, don’t have the place you line up to stay after having the conversation with your husband be anywhere too closely associated with Friend.

    I’m not saying don’t pursue a relationship with Friend, or that there’s a particular appropriate timescale within which a relationship with him would start – that’s entirely up to the two of you. What I’m saying, I think, is that (although in my case my relationship with my partner just came to an end on its own) I’d far rather look back and feel that I left a situation where my life was on pause than look back and regret that I left a solid and affectionate situation because I was blinded by pantsfeelings. I don’t think you are being blinded by pantsfeelings; from what you’ve said, you knew your own mind pretty clearly even before you got married – but keeping the two stands of your life as distinct as you can, so that any decision to end your marriage is a decision you make for you because it’s how you need to move forward, will help.

    Good luck to you, whatever you decide.

  7. I have never commented before but this question was so like my situation that I felt compelled. LW, i feel your pain. I was in that exact situation except the man I fell in love with was my husband’s friend, coworker, and groomsman. I did what the Captain suggested and got out immediately. Here’s what happened:

    My family was outraged.
    Mutual friends turned on me and behaved reprehensibly.
    My husband attacked my lover.
    My husband spiraled into depression, attempted suicide, and lost his legs.

    But you know what? It was *still* the right decision. I wouldn’t have been doing anyone any favors to have dragged it out for years, slowly becoming more and more bitter. Or god forbid, having children! I am still with my lover now and we plan to get married. But even if things hadn’t worked out, the emotions I experienced with him were a clear indication that I couldn’t waste my life in a relationship where I did not feel that level of love. Be true to yourself and true to your husband. You both deserve to have real, mutual love.

    1. I don’t know how the Captain feels about asking these sorts of questions, but does your ex, perchance, write about a certain game?

        1. Seriously. First, for all it’s difficult and personal, this kind of thing happens All. The. Time. Even if the dude does “perchance, write about a certain game,” there could be dozens of dudes who write about “a certain game”–what game? basketball? chess? World of Warcraft? writes where? Reddit? Le Monde?–who are in this situation. The chance of a false positive is very high, so even if she answers “yes,” you don’t know any more than when you started. And what if you’ve guessed right? Good for you? How does your fingering this person help anyone or make anything better? Monster Girl–a pseudonym, perchance you didn’t know–shares her painful experience, and you coyly threaten to doxx her. Damn.

    2. I have never commented here before, but I wanted to reach out and give you a great, big hug because you and I lived a similar situation, save for the last two parts (and I am so, so sorry that you had to live those things, as well as your husband). I fell in love with my fiancee’s friend/groomsman and ended the engagement a month before the wedding. Lost an entire network of friends, family members, community. Broke a friendship apart. And at the end of the day, groomsfriend ended up being a Darth Vader Boyfriend. But I choose to believe he was supposed to just be the catalyst to keep me from making a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mistake in marrying someone I was no longer in love with – because absent that catalyst, I WOULD have married him, because it was What I Was Supposed To Do.

      I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hijack your pain. Again, I am so sorry that you had to live through all of that. Please, accept these hugs and e-cookies and milk.

  8. “The work of making yourself and your dreams smaller in order to stay is almost always going to be too much work.”

    I just wanted to repeat that. But not on FB where I am still friends with my ex-husband (we are actually ‘still’ friends, or rather cautiously moving towards friends again after a pretty solid year of no contact).

    LW, I know what it is to *want* to want to stay. To desire that desire… and not have it. Even if you love a person.

    And, just throwing this out there… I thought it would be a coin toss if my parents would disown me if I left my husband. They’re super religious. And they actually (it’s still kinda weird to me) tried really hard to be supportive in mostly effective ways. So maybe things can turn out alright?

    I also cannot highly enough recommend the writing of Cheryl Strayed.

  9. LW, other people have gone through a similar process in rationalising marrying the wrong person for them, and people will likely continue to do it. I had a friend who accepted a marriage proposal because she didn’t want to deal with the fallout of refusing. She just wasn’t feeling it at the time, but she lived with her partner and wasn’t ready to break up and didn’t have the financial backing to move out etc. And then the wedding happened and she spent a year going “shit shit shit” before she was able to make the moves to separate.

    Try not to be hard on yourself. There are lots of reasons that people have relationships/stay in them. There are lots of messages that we get from our peer group (and movies) about staying with someone who isn’t the right person because “reasons”. Best of luck with your situation and the places it will take you.

    1. “There are lots of reasons people have relationships/stay in them.”

      Oh, so much this. Yes, some people make choices that turn out badly. Some people don’t have other options, and have to do what’s safe or what’s right for them. Yes, people will be hurt. That happens all the time, even with the best intentions and efforts. Keep yourself safe.

  10. I think if possible you need to separate your feelings about your hubby from your feelings about New Guy.

    I mean, even if you split from your husband, New Guy may not work out for you in the long term. He may be just a fling, or he may look better to you because he represents a way out of your marriage, or you may be perfect for each other, who knows?

    So, you need to decide about your marriage first. It sounds as if you do want out, and the Captain’s advice for getting out honourably is good. But you need to accept that this doesn’t guarantee you anything with New Guy.

    In fact it may be best for you to have some time single, rather than jumping straight to the next thing. You’ve identified some areas where you’re not happy with yourself – it’s kindest all round to work on those independently, rather than trying to fix them by having a different partner.

  11. As a person who have been in your husband’s shoes, I’m going to try to give you some advices as objectively as possible to deal with his probable reaction:

    – He WILL feel betrayed and he will want explanations. He is (probably) in love with you, possibly very in love, and asked you to marry him because he wanted to live his life with you and thought you wanted the same thing. Evidence : you agreed and married him. The confession that you didn’t really love him and had doubts all along will be an ugly ugly revelation. He will feel as if you punch him in the stomac and then will wonder (with reason) if you lied to him about everything else, if you cheated, why on Earth you didn’t share your doubts with him (if you haven’t). Be prepared to explain (not justify) your actions to him.
    For me, my ex-husband listed social pressure to get married, not wanting to hurt me and not being sure if his “truest love” from his youth wanted him. (He left me for her, and she left her six months later. So much for star-crossed lovers and “a love such as he never felt in his live”. Bah.)

    – Plan carefully the logistics of your break-up. He will be upset and won’t want to be physically close to you. I don’t know which country you live in, check if the man has to leave you the house right after the break-up, what says your lease or who owns the place. Make sure you have a place to sleep in the 2-4 weeks after the break-up if you legally have to leave and he doesn’t want you there. If not, prepare a place for him to stay for the same period. (We arranged my ex a place to stay during the divorce)

    – Be prepared for incomprehension and disappointement from your family and friends. My ex’s mother still doesn’t talk to him because she feels he misleaded and treated badly a woman (me). His father and brothers aren’t happy either, and a lot of our mutual friends have gone cold or MIA to him afterward. I don’t know th e relationships you have with your friends and family, or the level of support they offer you but it is a distinct possibility. (I can’t say I encouraged them to cuddle him, but the reactions surprised me, which is why I pointed it).

    1. If it weren’t logistically impossible, I’d suspect that your ex-husband were my ex-boyfriend, who left in the same state to pursue a True Love of Eternal Youth, said there was never any love, made several other nasty comments and was on his way. He was similarly disowned by several friends and family due to said scorned woman (me).

      Co-signing a lot of this advice – leave, leave fast, leave kindly; and for goodness’ sake don’t make it super obvious that you’re more or less in the relationship just ’cause there seemed to be not much better around by leaping immediately into New Guy’s arms. Not wanting to be in a relationship – more or less fine. Getting more deeply entangled than you intended – also essentially fine. Forcing your ex-lover to be aware of all the gritty details – actually just a way of assuaging your own guilt by driving the knife in really hard.

      Apologies if this comes off a bit harsh! In the many years since I’ve definitely come around on the idea of leaving people, and in retrospect I am extremely, EXTREMELY glad that relationship was over. Honestly I don’t think my heart was terribly happy in it either, and as a commenter upthread put it, it was very much as though my life was on pause for those three years. Dude deserves to be loved fully; definitely set him free. But when you do so, do so with kindness and respect, and NOT in a way that makes you feel as though you’ve “come clean” sufficiently.

    2. “The confession that you didn’t really love him and had doubts all along will be an ugly ugly revelation. ”

      I would actually say that you don’t need to say that, LW. That’s hurtful and he doesn’t need to know it. Especially the part about not really loving him — this is someone you say you have genuine affection for, and it’s OK to say that you care about him a lot but are no longer “in love” — but telling him you never loved him is COLD.

      1. Having been on the other end of the “I never loved you” conversation, I completely agree. I called the partner on it by saying “but you’ve been doing the actions of love”—kindness, interest, shared experiences, everyday caretaking, sex, etc.—and partner was all “that’s not love to me.”

        Take permission from me, if you want, to claim the actions of love as love, and use your actions as a way to say “I love you.”

        Or, on the other hand, go be cold! Tear everything down so there is no hope. I knew there was something not-quite-right in our relationship, and although it was truly terrible to hear “I never loved you,” after the terribleness subsided I felt super relieved to be out of the thing that was not-quite-right, and I held no illusions about getting back together.

      2. Agreed. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from honesty in this case, and being dishonest can spare someone some real pain.

      3. Thirded. It will likely be tempting for him to ask for details or for you, the LW, to feel compelled to be very very honest. But getting the nitty gritty details about these types of situations (i.e. that you’ve fallen for someone else you love as you could never love him, that you’ve kissed that person, that you never really loved him) rarely helps. There is no detail or information you could give him that is going to make him feel better about this situation because, well, its just a crap situation. He is going to feel bad.

      4. It’s been 28 years since i was told, “I don’t love you enough or in the right way, and I never did. You were just a convenient way to be not-alone until I met someone I really could love.” In the ensuing years, i’ve been single, had a couple shorter relationships, and been happily married for 20 years.

        She *still* contacts me every couple years to say, “You are still friends with all your other exes and with your partner’s exes. Why can’t we be friends?” Because finding out that she lied to me for 7 years was so devastating and took so much work to recover from that i can’t be bothered to have her in my life.

        Please, don’t do this to your husband. You have strong affextion for him, as I know she did for me. Say that. Say that your current feelings are not such that you can stay in the relationship. If asked, you can with perfect truth say that your feelings used to be such that you were willing to get married. The fact that what has changed is your standard for “feelings that justify being married” not the feelings themselves can be your secret.

        Fact. She told me that because it made her feel more honest to “come clean”. It was the most selfish thing she did in 7 years of selfishness. It added to the burden of pain she left me with, just so she could tell herself at least in the end she hadn’t lied. All I really needed was “I don’t love you enough or in the right way”. The rest of it was for making herself feel better about being a non-lying person.

        Please don’t do this to your husband.

        1. I am so sorry you went through that and am furious on your behalf that, after doing something so colossally cruel, she continues to attempt to reinsert herself into your life.

  12. LW, it sounds kind of like you’ve actually made the decision, you’re just not sure how to proceed with implementing it in a way that doesn’t suck. If you married the wrong guy, and you want to be with this other guy, you’re going to want a divorce.

    The answer to how to do it in a way that doesn’t suck is that you can’t. It will suck for a while. Minimise the suck as much as you can – don’t be cruel or drag things out – but know that the suck is the price you pay for getting out of this corner you’re stuck in. It can be tempting in situations like this to put things off indefinitely. You get to avoid the sharp pain of hurting someone you respect. But the cost is your life lived in a way you don’t want, and that is a huge cost even if it is paid in tiny miserable increments.

    Just remember that you don’t have to make your husband the bad guy, or make your marriage terrible, in order to leave. Just leave. He doesn’t have to be an awful man to not be right for you, and the relationship doesn’t have to be a nightmare to be worth leaving. Likewise it would be cruel and unnecessary to try to sabotage your marriage to death – own your choice.

    I’m sorry this has happened – it’s so hard to leave something you’ve invested so much in, especially when other people will be hurt. Have Jedi hugs.

  13. My father married young and divorced rather quickly. All I know about the marriage is that his first wife was very beautiful. He’s now been happily married to mom long enough to count their marriage in decades. People make mistakes. People move on. Please do be kind and compassionate when separating from your husband, but please don’t think this experience will overshadow the rest of your life.

    1. I have a similar story with my did – I have no idea what happened with his first marriage, but I know it lasted less than a year. He and my mom are about to celebrate their 30th anniversary. It’s all right to have made a mistake. The worse thing to do would be to let it go on. Talk to your husband, compassionately tell him you don’t want to be married any more, get out and start figuring out what you actually want your life to look like (harder than it seems!).

      1. Both of my parents did this. As far as I know, they both got married because it was “what was expected” and then realized in under a year that they did not want to be married to that person. They’ve been married to each other for nearly 30 years now.

        Of course, then they hid the existence of both marriages from us until I was going through my own divorce (and even then I only found out about one inadvertently). My brother still doesn’t know.

    2. My father was married briefly in his early twenties. The experience made him never ever ever want to get married again.

      He and my mom are celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary this week. (Mom sometimes jokes, lovingly, that she is still on her first marriage).

  14. Wow, LW, I have been in the almost exact same situation, except that I wasn’t married to my boyfriend (though I was living with him). One night a friend confessed his feelings for me and kissed me, and the repressed crush I had on him morphed into full-blown LOVEPASSION. I dumped my boyfriend a week after the kiss and moved out. Never once looked back, never been happier. Inertia is an extremely powerful force which can make you endure dull, passionless, boring committed relationships for years, only to make you wonder later, “how in hell did I let myself endure that?” You HAVE to leave. Believe me, even if you friend-crush doesn’t turn out to be The One, later on you will be extremely thankful you did. (Mine is, it’s been nine months and we love each other more every day 🙂 )

  15. I think all you “owe” your husband, LW, is honesty. I will say I was in your shoes last year (although replace 6 months of marriage with 3 years, the story is essentially the same). Not knowing, and honestly being scared of the repercussions of my feelings, I did decide I “owed” my relationship (we had been together nearly 10 years at that point) the courtesy of counseling. I thought it would help me “decide” whether the angst and unhappiness I was feeling in my marriage was temporary or permanent, but I think I knew all along which one it was.

    I’ll echo the advice to just go — don’t drag him to counseling if your mind is made up (sounds like it is). There’s nothing for you to gain from that, even in “service” to him, and all he’ll have are questions that you don’t have answers to. I’ll also second the Captain’s advice of leaving the shared living space, with one caveat — if that’s what HE wants. My parents divorced and in the process of mine, my dad advised me to be more gracious than you might otherwise be inclined to be if only to assuage some of your guilt. When we decided on divorce, my ex was insistent on moving out immediately, and I went to my parents over the extended weekend to let him do that. I finished out our lease, etc. Let him have the blender, the couch, the TV, the dog, the whatever. Because you’re in a situation of having regard (as opposed to contempt) for your Husband, I would do as much as you can to make this process as smooth as possible for him.

    And definitely take your time with New Guy. Best of luck and jedi hugs!

    1. Yeah, one of the nicest things you can do in this situation is to let your partner decide whether he wants to stay or go. If you suddenly break up with him like this and then also make demands about the housing situation, it definitely adds extra suck to a sucky situation. From his side, he probably thinks things are going fine so he’s going to feel totally shocked. Losing his housing too definitely makes it worse. (I don’t mean give up your ownership if you have that though. Just let him buy you out and stay there if that’s what he wants.)

      Also please be prepared to stay somewhere else after communicating the bad news. When my dad blindsided our family like this, he wanted to not move out right away. It was 100% not cool. My mom tried it for a week and then chucked him out when he told her he was going to be away for the weekend to see his new partner. I think he thought a transition period would help our family adjust but actually him getting the hell out of the house while we all felt hurt and shocked was way better.

      Not saying don’t go though, LW. If you need to go, you should go. But giving up some control on the housing front can be very helpful to the person that’s getting left.

    2. Yes to this, as one who dragged out the leaving. It did no one any favors. I knew what I wanted, I was just too afraid of the social repercussions… to the point at which I beat myself up into a suicidal depression and cruelly hurt both my Former Partner and the New Woman.

      Don’t drag things out. It’s awful.

    3. >>don’t drag him to counseling if your mind is made up (sounds like it is)

      On the other hand, if your husband wants to go to counselling to understand why the marriage is ending, that is a thing you can do for him. Counselling doesn’t have to be about trying “save” the relationship: it can also be about both of you learning about how you got to that point and untangling your past and shared finances and lives in a way that is as fair and reasonable as possible.

      If you’re sure that you want to leave, be clear about that. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that counselling isn’t indicated.

      1. “…if your husband wants to go to counselling to understand why the marriage is ending…”

        It is important to be clear about whether this is really what husband wants out of counseling and to be clear that counseling is not going to change your mind about leaving. Getting help to end the relationship with as little damage as possible is an excellent idea. It will be less successful if you give your soon-to-be-ex any hope that with counseling, you might not leave.

  16. Hello readers, I’m going into a day of classes, moderation/freeing comments from spamtrap will be spotty until later.

  17. Yup, welp, been there.

    In my case, I didn’t so much feel like there was someone else in my life that I ought to be with as I did develop a weak infatuation on my best friend as a distraction from (and ultimately validation of) the fact that I did not want to have married the guy in the first place, let alone stay married to him. Two months in, I sprung it on him for the first time that I didn’t want to be married. He kept talking me into giving our marriage more time. He was very persuasive each and every time I broached the subject of I Am Not Happy, I Should Not Have Married You, and I let him be, despite my better judgment. It lasted 10 months, and it was not a happy or secure 10 months for either of us. Eventually I cheated on him, twice, we had a last big ole blowup (not related to the cheating, at least not on his end), I asked him to leave, and he began an affair with that best friend I’d had a crush on. I was a bit of a pariah in our friend group. I stayed in our old apartment for a few months, started a different relationship that totally imploded, and after that moved to another town to start over fresh. Soon after he moved to another state. We lost contact with each other for ten years, and I didn’t seek out contact with him again until I was in love with and compatible with another person enough to commit to them as life partners, and needed a legal divorce. My ex-husband and I were on paper married for 11 years, but spent less than a year together as a couple. <— The preceding story is definitely not the plan I recommend, but it is the way things went in my life. I present my mistakes to you that they may be of assistance.

    1. Yeah, two members of my old circle of friends are still legally married though I don’t think they’ve spoken in eight or nine years. This story seems a lot more common than anyone would like to think.

      1. Yeah, I left four years ago, and we’re still on paper married… I know what a fiasco finalizing it is going to be. I have a friend who went a good ten years before she finalized it.

  18. Also, don’t say, “we can still be friends.” I have a friend whose husband kind of acted like you, except it was after 4 years of marriage, and they had moved to a different state and she had left her job in a previous state for a worse paying job without benefits in the new state. After the divorce, she lost the insurance she was getting through him. Now she has moved back to her home state, and is unemployed. Basically, he ruined her life, but tried to act like they could still be friends. If you really don’t want to be with your husband, do it sooner rather than later and make a clean break, so that your lives don’t become too entangled. No matter how decent you try to be, you know other people will see you as the bad guy, especially if you get with the new guy soon.

    About the new guy, I have serious questions about the integrity of a man who would kiss a married woman and declare his feelings of love to her. That sounds kind of shady to me.

    1. Yes, I think the “we can still be friends” option should only ever be extended by the one being broken up with. If the breaker-up says it it ends up either as an insulting consolation prize or it ends up being a sort of social pressure to be “cool” about the breakup. Like, hey I know I’m breaking a relationship that has been a foundation of our lives at this point, but we can still be friends! We’ll do movie nights!” Nope.

    2. Your comment reminded me of another reason LW should go — so that Husband doesn’t make life decisions based on her. When a long term relationship of mine broke up because my partner felt “too committed” one of the things I was VERY angry about for a long time was that I had turned down a great job opportunity in another state a month earlier because he didn’t want to leave his family. I made a sacrifice for the sake of our relationship, when he already knew our relationship was over (he had already rented an apartment).

      LW, don’t compound your error by staying and changing the course of your Husband’s life more than you already have. Things worked out fine for me, careerwise, thankfully, unlike UnderTheOaks friend, but I still get angry and upset when I think about how he let me make that decision knowing he was leaving. That was just cruel.

      1. My ex-domestic partner had me buy an electric car that only gets 80 miles roundtrip; she drove it while I drove her regular car. The electric car is a great second car, but then she left with the car that uses gasoline. She knew she was probably going to leave me when she persuaded me to buy the car; because I thought we were together for life, I was thrilled to get it for her. Now I’m stuck realizing that at least the last 8 months were a lie.

  19. This is great advice, as always, but I would also say that the LW shouldn’t immediately fling herself into this other relationship. She talks about the marriage and relationship with her now husband as this thing that just happened to her. It sounds like the LW is so deeply out of touch with her own feelings and wants and doesn’t seem to have the tools to even articulate it.

    I would highly recommend they get a great therapist and do some serious digging to find that agency. Even her description of the relationship with Other Guy (“things just spiraled out of control from there”) isn’t that much different than the marriage that just seemed to have happened to her.

    I have the feeling that New Relationship is something the LW is careening towards to get out of her marriage, especially given the timing. AND, I’d like to point out that, Extreme Pantsfeelings aside, Other Guy knows the LW is married.

    1. This is so, so important. LW, what if your relationship with the New Guy doesn’t work out? Will you still be confident that you left because it was the best thing for you, or will you feel like you’ve been betrayed by the person who was supposed to be with you forever? Because people who are compatible with the Pantsfeelings break up for all sorts of reasons.

      If you need to get out of this marriage, get out. But do it for yourself, and not for the glorious future with Other Guy you have constructed in your head.

      1. Seconded. This was the big-picture advice from my stepmom in my divorce slash beginnings with New Guy. Will I still want the divorce if NG decides tomorrow he’s done-zo. The answer was, and remains, an unequivocal yes. Do I get lonely sometimes? Sure. Do I still wish I had the built-in husband to do things and go places with? Yes. Do I want to be married to that particular dude anymore? HELLS TO THE NO. I’d rather be slightly lonely forever than reconcile or reverse the hands of time to not get divorced in the first place.

    2. Yessss. I just got married… 3 weeks ago, and the decision to get engaged was a mutual one that we talked about off and on for 8 months before making it official. The only sense that I was passive about becoming married is that we had a pastor and she was the one who married us. Otherwise, it was not a thing that happened to me.

  20. Oh gosh, thank you Captain for those last two paragraphs. I have been in similar situations and always tried to rationalize it away like “but they’re so nice to me/stable/will be sad if I leave/my friends and family will be disappointed” and every time, after I have left I have felt a tremendous sense of relief. It is worth it, and I wish I had someone to tell me what the Captain has said at the time.

    There will always be reasons that you think you should stay, but it sounds like you have reached the point where the desire to not be in this marriage has become bigger than those reasons. Best of luck, LW, you deserve to be happy.

  21. Everyone has made excellent points so far. I especially like “don’t drag yourself and spouse to counseling” and “keep everything off social media.” I’d add just one thing. Assuming LW is female — do everything in your power to avoid getting pregnant. Abstain, use a condom even if you’re already on the pill, or whatever, but take all the precautions you can to reduce your risk of pregnancy to as close to zero as possible. The Universe seems to heartily enjoy letting women fall pregnant under the worst circumstances, and it doesn’t get much more awkward than the situation described here.

    One of the hardest conversations I ever had was having to tell my now ex husband that the marriage wasn’t working for me. Now it’s about a dozen years later, and I cannot imagine the agony I would have put myself through if I hadn’t bitten the bullet and started the conversation. (My method: I waited until our kid was in bed, poured a very large whisky for myself, and started with, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this any more. I can’t be married to you.”) Best of luck. You know what you have to do, and you will get through this!

    1. Yes, you said exactly what I was thinking too. LW, if you could theoretically become pregnant, please upshift your contraception to Fort Knox levels. Even if you live in a jurisdiction where you have proper decision-making power over your body, this is not a complication that would be good to deal with on any level.

    2. Yeah, partners of both sexes have been known to sabotage birth control methods hoping a baby will be magic relationship glue.

      LW’s method should be completely under their control. Pills/diaphragm/condoms always on their person so they can’t be “accidentally” thrown away/mixed up/poked full of holes.

  22. I did this same thing, married a man because I thought it was the right thing to do… it never gets any better and you just slowly begin to resent this person you married. Get out now, for yourself. Not for the new person. Whether they are in your life or not won’t make this marriage work.

    1. +1000 – been there, divorced that, much happier now. Just wished I had the courage to leave before we had children.

  23. Go. Go now. Go now before you become comfortable with the wrongness of your life. Go now before you bring children/pets into the mix. Go now before you entangle your finances more. Go now before all of your friends are joint friends. Go now before you are old and tired. Knowing that this is not the right marriage for you is a blessing.

  24. Wow – that sounds really prescriptive, I’m sorry. I spoke from my own viscerally felt experience. Do what you feel is best, but please consider all the entanglements that more time together will create.

  25. “I read a lot of validating things about how relationships are hard and there are no soul mates…”

    Oh yes, I fell into that trap too. There may not be soul mates, but that doesn’t mean not loving someone isn’t a good enough reason to leave. There’s some pretty awesome great passionate amazing love out there! Relationships take some work, but not like Cinderella-style excruciating drudgery. It’s “Oh shit, I’m/you’re unhappy because of reasons, what do we need to do to fix that and avoid it from now on?” It’s mutual work because you love each other and want to be even more awesome together, not the death march of a chain gang shackled together.

    I did love my ex, a whole lot! But I stopped loving him. Like, a long ass time before I left him. We were quite mismatched, but I told myself that’s how relationships go, they all have ups and downs, and blah blah blah whatever. That sucked for him and me and neither of us deserved that. So I left. And it wasn’t easy! But so worth it. I would be far happier alone than I was with him.

    Similarly, I met someone I fell hard for very quickly after leaving my ex-husband. I knew that wasn’t the “right” way to do things, but it does happen (we’re still together and very happy over 5 years later). Just remember that you DO NOT need to stay with that guy either if you don’t really want to, that it’s good to have your own space and time for a while, and that yeah you don’t need to talk about your True Real Grand Love all over Facebook because that is mean to your hopefully (if I may say) soon-to-be ex.

  26. I’d really, REALLY recommend getting to know *yourself* better before moving on to a new relationship (pre- or post-divorce).

  27. I would add to the “make sure you have somewhere to stay immediately after talking with husband” that the place you stay really should not be the new guy’s place. You can tell the husband that you’re leaving because it was a mistake and you’ve realized it, or you can tell the husband that you’re leaving because new guy and true love. Don’t tell him one and then live the other.

    I’m curious if there’s been any discussion with new guy about what would happen if you left husband. Not that there necessarily needs to be. I mean, if you want to leave then leave. You don’t need a backup man in place. Just wondering if new guy -likes- that you’re married to someone else? Some people do enjoy a relationship of passion with no open path to commitment or cohabitation or whatever. He pursued you as a married woman, maybe that’s what he wants?

  28. LW, it sounds like you know you want to leave, but don’t feel like you have enough reason to. But like the Captain says, wanting to leave is reason enough. It won’t be easier to leave if you wait a few more months or a few more years. Everything will just get more intertwined. The best time to leave a relationship you don’t want to be in is yesterday, the next best time is today.

  29. My thoughts on this are slightly tangential as they don’t really apply to this particular case, but it’s regarding the advice: “Couples’ counseling when you have no intention or desire to stay is a cruel waste of time and money.”

    For a relationship that will have a fairly cut and dried split, after a short amount of time, no kids, and no big contentions, then yes, I completely agree with this. My experience was from a several-year-long marriage that had two kids and, like LW, I thought that I just had to “work to be happy” and was terrified of being the bad person if I left. I wanted to “try to make it work” like everybody around me said I should, and so we did couples’ counseling for a few months.

    The time in counseling did NOT, in fact, help us resolve our differences and re-solidify our marriage (surprise). Instead, it actually helped me solidify my own thoughts and feelings about the marriage and made me more sure that leaving was what I wanted. While my ex didn’t really like that outcome, I’d say it actually saved me from prolonging it for even more months because of my unsureness and insecurity. It also helped us improve our communication, which was a very useful thing in the coming months of divorce negotiations as well as in the years of co-parenting that followed.

    If the sole goal of counseling is “a happy relationship,” then yes, it’s a waste of time and money if that’s off the table. But i think there are potentially other valuable things to get from it, particularly if there is going to be interaction with the other person down the road.

    1. Definitely. My ex and I were in couples counseling for about a year, and while it “failed” in the sense that we broke up, it succeeded wildly in that we broke up fairly well and are still friends.

      I actually recommend this when choosing a couples counselor – if their only definition of success is continuing the relationship, RUN.

  30. MuddieMae: That is me to a tee. The kids always know and why would you want to model that kind of awful marriage for them?
    If I were the LW’s husband, I would want to be left. It’s disrespectful to him to lie and say everything is wonderful, and it’s soul-draining for you. It only gets worse. It just feels like the worst thing now but logistics aside, this is actually the easy part. You know what is right for you and it is kindest for husband too.

  31. Needed to hear this. Husband and I decided mutually-ish to divorce this past week. We have never brought out the best in one another, and I ignored those reservations when we married. Now we have a small child and while we are currently working it out amicably, There will come a time when we will have that unpleasant discussion about custody and things will not be so amicable, but ultimately that will work out (because there’s no other option, right?). The reassurance that hiding who I am and what I want will only end painfully is something I really needed to hear. I’m coming out of a severe depression with the help of a good therapist,an SSRI that quite literally saved my life, and a good Team Me, so shaking off the lies I’ve tried to believe about my relationship and how all the sacrifices I was making would make me happy one day has been so liberating.

    1. Wow, that sounds like a really scary place to be in. And it also sounds like you’ve got some great back-up for the bumpy road ahead.

      Jedi hugs and best wishes to you and your child in the time ahead. It will get better!

  32. LW, definitely leave. Leave quickly, but leave kindly. I agree with all of the advice to be very, very careful about New Guy and what you share about that and when, because it will definitely complicate the separation with your husband. I hope everything works out for you.

  33. There are so many details of this that remind me of my last LTR… weird.

    Regarding your new love – when my Ex and I decided to split, I didn’t know that he had, mere days ago, fallen in love with an old friend’s sister. Within a day or two of our ending things he had started a pretty serious long distance relationship with her.

    It barely lasted nine months, and it honestly ripped him apart when it ended. (We’re still friends, so this is from his own mouth.) It also hurt his relationship to this family a lot, and that’s a relationship he really cherished. The silver lining to this, I guess, is it finally got him to accept that maybe spending some time single was a good idea, and he is doing that right now and working on some of his issues, instead of using a relationship as a combined shield, bandaid, and distraction. But if he could do it again I think he’d jump into the single time after he and I broke up.

  34. I came screaming running to the comments and I promise to be a good reads and read them all later but


    I have so many wounds and so much guilt from doing what I did, which is partnering with someone I told myself was “the one” and then falling in love with another woman, AND THEN:
    – trying to live with Partner for a while, and crying myself to sleep on the futon more often than not
    – going too far physically with New Woman and then sobbing uncontrollably in bed after sex
    – moving out in slow increments instead of getting ALL of my stuff out
    – doing couples therapy “to get on the same page” with Partner instead of just directly saying “I don’t want to be with you”
    – hiding New Woman from all my friends because I was so ashamed of myself for leaving my partner
    – beating myself up daily for leaving my partner
    – spending MONTHS, LITERALLY MONTHS trying to “decide” between the two of them, because I felt so ashamed for leaving
    – FINALLY telling my partner directly that I didn’t want to be with her.

    This fucked up my relationship with both of them. Partner and I don’t speak. New Woman, guess what, did not actually turn out to be my soul mate, and she is in therapy to deal with how I treated her and how ashamed of herself I made her feel.

    Did I need to leave my partner? Yes. I did. Maybe about six years ago, though. Making it about New Woman was awful for everyone involved.

    So PLEASE, PLEASE, LW, listen to the many people commenting who are asking you to SLOW DOWN WITH NEW GUY. This is not going to be easy, it is not going to be pretty, and you need to take your time. Focus on ending your marriage with as much integrity as you can.

  35. This is so hard, LW, and you have so many of my Jedi hugs. But i have to agree with the captain and the commenters – you need to get out and be as kind as you can, and you need to try to separate this from the new guy you’re seeing. A guy dating what he knows to be a married woman is shady. Maybe not permanently shady, but he’s tumbling along as fast as you are and if you’re not careful you’ll both roll into a ditch.
    Be kind to both yourself and your soon to be ex husband, especially if he loves you.
    But there really is little worse than trying to make a relationship work that isn’t fixable and being the Bad Guy. I agree with the people who have said that you shouldn’t just tell him ‘i never loved you’ – it’s cruel In a way, even if its honest, because he’ll think he’s unlovable and he’ll feel betrayed and lied to and like he’s stupid. Which is awful. Be as honest as you can while being kind and keep the other guy out of it. Even if its only for his safety.
    Good luck LW

  36. “The work of making yourself and your dreams smaller in order to stay is almost always going to be too much work.”

    I’ve been thinking about this comment, and I’m wondering where the line is between “making your dreams smaller” and making compromises so that both people can be satisfied. For context, I broke up with someone recently, and one of the reasons we decided to split was that we weren’t really excited about the same things anymore (hobbies, religious faith, goals for the future, etc.) I think it was a good choice, but, looking forward to a potential new relationship, I’m not sure what my criteria should be. It seems unlikely that anyone is going to share ALL my hopes and dreams, and I expect that some of them would end up falling aside as this hypothetical person and I start meshing our lives together.

    1. I think it’s hard to know specific criteria, or a hard fast number (67%+ interest alignment!), but that it *is* possible to know it when it happens. As an example, I had a relationship where we loved each other a lot, but things were always “off”, things were difficult in the relationship or vaguely unfulfilling, I was committed to “working at it”, and I was frequently unhappy in the relationship. Your intuition is totally correct — some hopes and dreams change with a new hypothetical person, and with a person who is a good fit, it’s not this awful drag where “if only” we could “work this out” everything “would” be great. It is more natural than that, and problems that arise are not the relationship, and the problems don’t feel they are the other person, or, for that matter, like it’s you.

      1. Thanks for this. I spent a lot of time thinking “if only we could work this out, everything would be great,” maybe to the point that I was closing my eyes to what was actually happening. I have to say, it was a lousy situation for my partner because I think it came off as my not accepting him and pressuring him to be someone different, which was really not ok.

      2. I didn’t read that as being about interests alignment. Having some aligned interests is good, absolutely. Having some separate interests is also good.

        How I read “making yourself and your dreams smaller” is that it’s about when you can’t (or have convinced yourself that you don’t) have stuff that you do or enjoy on your own because the other person isn’t interested in that stuff. It’s about eliding some part of yourself so you fit within the constraints of the relationship.

        1. Yeah it’s not strictly about interests, but about being “less you” for the sake of the relationship. People can happily compromise on a lot of things and they can be majorly upset about stuff that seems minor, but is important to them. The question is, if you feel like you can’t be yourself anymore.

    2. I personally found that my bad relationships I always thought about ending things, but with this one I don’t. Like, ever. I know that if there was something I needed to do (and I tested that out with an out of province internship even) or wanted to do, he has my back and we’d figure out how to do it. I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a box.

      Maybe it’s partly that with a good relationship, you have hopes and dreams *together*, too? If you feel like you have to compromise to sort of get what you want but not reaaally, that is probably a bad sign. For instance, I want to move to Big City. He supports that, but suggested Nearby Smaller City, which has the advantage of our friends, cheapness, and the plausibility of a job for him. And that doesn’t feel like a compromise, exactly — it feels like, yeah, that totally works (okay it took a little bit of thinking about, as would any big change).

      1. I agree with this, and also — what I’ve found in my relationship (that has been working for 16 years so far), is that it never feels *hard.* I have some friends in relationships that just aren’t working, and they are working really hard to make them work, doing things like going to couples’ counseling and making so many “compromises” that they aren’t getting ANYthing they want from the other person. That’s not work that leads to long-term happiness.

        I’ve said before in these comments, that the kind of “work” we mean when we say “relationships take work” isn’t one person doing all the giving while the other person does all the taking. It’s stuff like working out how we will handle finances if one of us takes a new job or goes back to school, or talking about how my partner was feeling while his mom was dying and being there to support him, or talking about what our plans for the future are after he’s done with his degree and deciding on some places we’d like to live. So sure, sometimes one of us compromises (he waits till I go to bed to watch scary shows and movies, and I take care of the dishes on days he has class even though I cooked dinner), but we’re not losing ourselves to keep the relationship.

  37. I’m pretty new here, but this letter struck a chord. For all the folks who have been in an LTR, do you have any advice on how to distinguish the difference between “SO and I are just going through a rough patch because reasons” and “SO and I are not working out the way that I want us to be (and reasons are just an excuse) so I should leave”?

    I have a feeling that it’s much easier to identify this in retrospect, but I’m in the middle of it and having trouble trusting my gut.

    1. Therapy. Honestly, individual counseling helped me make this distinction. If you’re prepared for brutal honesty (and you think they’ll deliver), ask for brutal honesty from your closest friends and family. My family (even HIS family) saw the warning signs of a major undercurrent of unhappiness way before we (I) did.

      I think it also depends on how temporary/short term/manageable these “reasons” are — mine were “kids or no” and “where to live” and “long commutes” and “house + apartment” and “cat, no dog” and, and, and… Major THINGS that could not be resolved, would never see an end date without one of us feeling wholly compromised and unhappy (not to say other couples couldn’t happily compromise on such things, but the two of us could not).

      Trust the gut.

    2. It can be so hard to know what the gut is even saying! One idea is to spend time, like, hours, alone and really thinking about this, asking yourself questions and forcing yourself to provide the answers, such as writing down answers if you have to, over & over, until things become clear. You can burn the papers if you want, if you don’t want them around. I find that when I’m in an “unknowable cycle”, part of the problem is that I am anxiously spinning and worrying, and it *seems* like thinking, but I’m not actually productively, constructively, thinking.

      As an aside, during a previous relationship that I’m now glad I moved on from, I had feared that all relationships would feel like work, and that was just what everyone had to do and get used to in life. And it was not true. Relationships since then do not have that “working at it” dynamic, at all.

    3. Spouse and I moved in together roughly 12 years ago. We’ve been married for 10 years and a few months. And we’ve had our share of “rough patches” in that time, rough enough that at least one of us was probably at the point of “the main reason I’m still here in this marriage is because separating would be THAT MUCH of a pain in the neck.”

      Most of those patches were triggered by a Thing That Sucks (usually money-related things, occasionally someone’s Jerkbrain making things super-difficult) and for when I’ve felt that way, I’ve always ended up realizing that if the thing that makes it tempting to leave was fixed enough that leaving would be logistically even possible, it would be fixed enough that…actually, I wouldn’t *want* to leave anymore. Spouse has said the same.

      I’ll rec the book Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay again – while some people make it sound like it always points to “leave” and is horribly biased, I found the opposite. It correctly pointed to “no really just LEAVE” when I was with Darth Ex and also correctly pointed to “yeah things suck right now, but stay, it’ll get better” in the worst of the rough patches with Spouse. It asks a series of questions about what’s wrong and what your relationship is like outside of what’s wrong, and they’re really good about both showing the good things and showing when good things are critically absent.

      1. “I’ve always ended up realizing that if the thing that makes it tempting to leave was fixed enough that leaving would be logistically even possible, it would be fixed enough that…actually, I wouldn’t *want* to leave anymore. Spouse has said the same.

        That’s the perfect way to put that.
        When Spouse and I separated, our ideal post divorce setup involved lots of contact with each other, full access and participation with the kids for both of us, making sure that the other person’s financial and emotional needs were met. Once we added physical intimacy to the list we realized our ideal was being married, and started figuring out how to make that work better.

      2. Thank you for this comment. My spouse of a year and I right now are almost constantly broke, I’m dealing with pretty hardcore anxiety, zie has a chronic illness, both of us are vaguely commitment-phobic, have wounds from past relationships, and are in school and working, meaning schedules suck. I think it would be stranger for neither of us ever to wonder whether getting married when we did was the right choice than it would be to feel doubt-free about our relationship all the time.

        And even with all of those things, even when being in a relationship feels SO HARD and SO MUCH WORK, I’m getting better at recognizing that that’s actually just how I feel about life right now, and it makes sense that those feelings are spilling over a little. I love the ways Spouse and I continue to challenge each other to grow and learn, and I feel supported in trying to get what I want out of life. Things usually feel like they’re getting better on the whole, even when we’re in three-steps-forward-two-steps-back zone. That book you recommended is definitely going on my to-read list.

    4. For me, it’s always been when my inner voice shouts, ‘oh, but being with him is so flipping GREAT’, if I find myself worrying about all the challenges and problems we have. If that shout hasn’t been there, with hindsight the relationship wasn’t going to work out.

    5. I’d say it’s when something urgently needs to change, but never does. Especially when partner pays lip service to the idea of change but doesn’t ever take any steps toward it.

      1. Dang, my reply seems to have been eaten.

        Related to this, if you’re having the same fights over and over, with no resolution, that’s usually a bad sign. Particularly if it happens over years. Also not great if the only reason you’re not having the same fights is that one of you has given up bringing up Topic X out of frustration or hopelessness. That is, if you haven’t resolved something but have simply resigned yourself to it.

    6. I think one of the most vital relationship compatibilities is can you two fix problems together. So, when something isn’t working for you, can you discuss it, work on it together, make plans to change it, and then have changes actually happen. It’s not the only important compatibility issue in a relationship, but I think it’s the most fundamental. My first relationship ended in large part because while he agreed about what the problems were and agreed about what should be done to change it, the changes never happened. We just couldn’t make things better together. Which meant small problems became big problems and problems didn’t get fixed. So, I’d generally start with, how good are we at working together to fix problems?

      Another really important basic thing I think that is needed for a healthy relationship is trust. If either of you has stopped trusting the other, then I would consider that more than just a rough patch. It also factors into the ability to work together to fix problems. And trust includes both being able to trust what they say, but also trust that they will respect your boundaries. For example, as a personal rule, I would not be willing to live with anyone I didn’t trust enough that I could leave a personal journal/diary around and know they would not read it without my permission.

      Finally, I’d say that it’s more than just a rough patch if either of you is engaging in retaliation/punishment/vengeance* sort of behaviors. Getting upset happens and fights happen. But I don’t think healthy relationships involve people trying to get back at each other.
      * I mean this in the general usage sense, not in the sense of consensual, negotiated BDSM or other mutually satisfying activities.

      I don’t think that fully describes when it’s best to stay and when to go, but I don’t think I could figure that out for every case. But maybe it will be of some use for someone.

      1. I just want to second that trust is so important for this sort of thing. If you don’t have that base of being able to discuss problems and have your thoughts heard safely (in both a physical and emotional sense), it’s going to be impossible to get through the rough patches, in my experience. Trusting them doesn’t mean staying is necessarily the best idea (there are plenty other reasons to want to leave), but if you don’t, it bodes really badly for the relationship.

    7. I go with gut-trusting these days. Being unhappy is enough reason to leave. In my experience, almost no one takes the decision to leave lightly, so if you are unhappy and thinking about leaving, you probably should. “It’s totally just a rough patch, work harder” becomes another excuse to stay, a lot of the time. And that is a pretty terrible reason to stay. I mentioned above the “chain gang” model of relationships — it’s not a model I endorse.

    8. I think it is easier in retrospect.

      For me, it’s simply a matter of, do I want this to work out? Does the idea of leaving fill me with longing? Do I wish there was a way out without hurting anyone? Because if you’re only staying in a relationship because you don’t want to hurt your SO…well, that’s probably a relationship you don’t really want to be in.

      Also, if the ‘reasons’ are temporary and fixable (job loss, money/housing stress, etc.) or intrinsic parts of your partner’s personality.

    9. Thank you all. I still have some stuff to figure out, obviously, but it somehow feels less scary now. Y’all are wonderful.

  38. LW, I’m coming at this from having been through similar (LTR, living together, informally engaged, financially entwined etc).

    The break up with your husband – which I do think, new guy or no, is the right decision – will suck. It will suck really hard. But you will be okay, and you will feel relieved when it is all sorted. And it’s worth doing, because you should have a life that actually makes you happy. Be prepared for your husband to react really, really badly to the news. Our society kinda gives men (and women, to a lesser extent) a pass on being absolutely awful when a marriage is ending, so I would recommend you think seriously about his potential reaction(s) and how you would deal with displays of anger like breaking things, or emotional displays blaming you for “ruining his life”, or similar. I would recommend planning when you will have the conversation, have it, and have a planned time to get out and a place to go to as soon as the conversation is done. Don’t spend that evening in the same house as him. Don’t let the conversation take hours, or put yourself (or him) through the potential begging and negotiating.

    He will need time to process what you have to tell him, and he will need space to experience his emotions alone. And you will need to be away from him when he experiences those emotions, because the guilt will be extremely hard for you and will make it harder for you to move forward through this process. So, plan to be staying with a friend, family member or even in a hotel for a couple of days at least after this. If you can go from friend/family member/hotel immediately to having moved out, that will make things a lot easier as well.

    I don’t know how long it will take for you to arrange this scenario for the break up – sooner is better than later though. I would pause the relationship with new guy until you’ve had this conversation with your husband, because right now it is technically cheating even if the marriage is over in your mind, and the fallout of your husband finding out you’ve been seeing someone else before the relationship ended will be shit for both of you. It also may be cowardly of me, but I wouldn’t tell your husband about the other guy. I don’t see the need for it – it’s not the reason your relationship is ending, it will make everything a lot messier and honestly…if your husband is a dick and won’t take your break up for face value, refuses the divorce, won’t stop trying to negotiate etc, you do have a pretty solid “No, this is DONE” in your back pocket with the “I cheated on you” thing.

    In general, good luck! Lots of self-care, think carefully about how you want to proceed with the new guy when you’re going to be under a lot of emotional stress (I don’t think necessarily not seeing him is the right decision – you’d be denying yourself a good element of Team You, potentially, by doing that, but perhaps talk to him about keeping it strictly FWB, or “dating” or “seeing where it goes”, for a while. While limits like that can seem really arbitrary when you’re both into each other, it will help you practice boundaries and communications, and make sure you ring-fence yourself the personal time and freedom to work your shit out).

  39. I did this. I got married because I didn’t know the difference between “safe” and “happy,” and didn’t realize until after the wedding that I could be safe and completely, devastatingly lonely and sad. Then I went to college and learned some stuff and met a hot guy with whom I had actual chemistry and who made me feel attractive and brilliant instead of dead inside. So I got divorced. It was not easy. It was really hard, but it was the best decision I ever made. That decision let me start to live my real life. The hot guy and I didn’t end up having a relationship, and that is definitely for the best. My advice: leave. But don’t leave for this other guy. The other guy is a different, separate issue from your present husband. Maybe you’ll end up with this new guy, or maybe not. Whatever happens, don’t leave for him. Leave for you.

    1. “The hot guy and I didn’t end up having a relationship, and that is definitely for the best.”

      The Hot Guy can be amazing whether or not you actually have a relationship. I had a Hot Co-Worker when I was beginning to have problems in my relationship, and his Hotness reminded me that I could find people attractive, even if I didn’t find partner attractive. We never slept together or dated – we’re probably horribly incompatible on both fronts – but I’m terribly grateful for his existence. And he’ll never know. 🙂

  40. I moved in with my ex when I already had some massive doubts about our relationship and later had to deal with the fallout of that. It also included having opened up the relationship and then really being into the new guy I had started seeing on the side. That was the nail in the coffin of an already dead relationship. In my case, the reason I had moved in with the ex even though I hadn’t really wanted to was that I had somehow become paralyzed. At a certain point I had overrun my very well-founded doubts about moving in so many times that my sane, true self simply didn’t dare to speak up anymore. The deeper reason for why that happened was, I realized, that I didn’t believe I deserved to leave my ex in order to be happier myself. I felt obligated to continue on the path I was already on, and my ex supported that thinking. I really felt trapped, although I objectively wasn’t. This is just to say that the psychological pressure to go through with a decision like getting married can be enormous. It takes courage to say “actually I don’t want to get married anymore”. Some people succumb to that pressure, and of course it’s very important to ask yourself why it happened in your case and what you can do to prevent that from happening again in that future.
    In the end you just need to say the words. Tell your husband you want to end your relationship. It’s going to be very weird and uncomfortable for sure, but once you put it out there, everything will get easier. If I were you I would include in your explanation that you had doubts about getting married (not the same as saying you never loved him, which I agree is unnecessarily hurtful, but you’ve only been married half a year so it makes sense that you had doubts even before the wedding happened) and that you cheated (unless your husband might react in an abusive way to that, in which case, withhold the information to protect yourself). Lay it out for him, be as honest as necessary, and prepare yourself for all the further steps like finding a new place to live. In my case, actually making the decision to separate almost immediately made me get my stride back.
    I also ended up pursuing a relationship with the guy I had already been seeing, something everyone’s rightly warned you of. It’s definitely a risky move, though in my case I’m glad I trusted my instinct and I don’t regret going for it. However, I admit I couldn’t possibly have known at that moment in time whether I was making the right decision. The only thing I knew was that I was going to do what would make me happy, even if it was “against the rules”. Weirdly, I got very little judgment from other people – either they didn’t dare to say anything or they just liked my new boyfriend that much. Anyway, I may have been the exception to the rule. I will say this though: If you do decide to go for it, just own up to making an unpopular choice. Don’t try to justify it to anyone and don’t beat yourself up for it. Otherwise that’s likely going to poison things.

  41. Hey guys,

    It’s me, the LW. I wasn’t planning on commenting but I was really moved by everyone’s compassion and I want to say thank you for all your comments. I’m not proud of anything I’ve done recently and I’m cherishing your kind words; you’re being much nicer to me than I have been!

    I guess I knew I was going to have to end it but I think I’ve been holding out for some magical resolution where everyone ends up happy? I’m not a very brave person and I’m terrified about having to do this, I’m not even sure how to find the words. Like I alluded to in the letter, we don’t have great channels of communication open, we mostly only talk about life logistics (dinner, rent, gym). I’ve been researching those week-to-week rentals that business people sometimes rent so I could have a place to go right after the discussion, at least for awhile. Anyway, pretty much paralyzed with fear.

    I did want to reassure you guys about my relationship with the New Guy just a little bit. I had to leave a lot of stuff out of the letter in order to focus on the main issue and so any information about him seemed extraneous, but I included it because I felt like it would be dishonest not to mention it. I just want to say that if (when?) I end my marriage, I want to make it really clear (to everyone involved) that I’m ending the marriage for myself and not leaving my husband for New Guy. We’ve spoken about it (A LOT) and I know he would be willing to put everything on pause until this gets sorted out. He’s not proud of his role in this either and I think he’d like to do what he can to make things OK. We’ve discussed if there is an appropriate amount of time until we can try having a relationship, and while I think for a lot of people that amount of time is going to be never, I’d like to think there is something real here if we can both be patient.

    Also, regarding social media, I was pretty much planning on deactivating my Facebook if I did this, just could not take the fallout.

    Thanks again for sharing all your experiences! I’ve been pretty lonely in this experience, I definitely felt like it was something I couldn’t share with anyone. I’m slowly coming to terms with what I’m going to have to do here and what my life is going to look like for a little while and I do really appreciate your thoughts and insights. Thank you!!

    1. Hey, LW–I am zero percent of an expert on relationships, but I do understand trying to move forward through paralyzing fear of the future, so I have a couple of recommendations for that, if you want. You may or may not be doing some of this stuff already, and it may or may not work for you, but:

      1. Mindfulness. This is my #1 A-plus go-to for dealing with Oh God I Am So Afraid. Think about where your body is–think about your feet on the floor or your butt on the chair or your back against the pillow or your phone in your hands. This sounds dumb, but if you do it even for just five seconds (try it right now!), it can unwind the tension like nobody’s business. I find this so counterintuitive, because it feels like focusing on my hands doing the dishes or my feet walking home is like running away from what’s scary, but it actually just grounds me in the moment and makes me a person who is much more capable of Actually Doing Things. Sometimes if I’m really freaking out I run through the chakra points, which is a super effective way to systematically think about your body.

      2. Breathing. Just think about your breathing. Don’t even try to speed it up or slow it down. If you want, you can count while you breathe. It works.

      3. This is all coming out of Zen, and in particular from my favorite Zen guy, Thich Nhat Hanh, and one thing he says about negative emotions that is SO CORRECT and SO COUNTERINTUITIVE is: When you’re afraid, don’t say, “Go away, fear!” (I have always tried to do this. Usually, I’m saying, “Go away, fear, you’re stupid!” which is even worse.) Say, “Hello, fear.” Treat it nicely. It doesn’t know how to deal, and yelling at it will not teach it anything. This is the Zen version of the Rageasaurus (brilliant post).

      4. Look at stuff. There’s all this stuff around that has nothing at all to do with your fear, and it’s there whether you’re afraid or not. Nature is good for this. Looking at a tree and thinking about how its roots go down into the ground and its nourishment comes from the sky calms me RIGHT down.

      5. Lists. This doesn’t work for everyone, but if I can take an OH GOD HOW DO I DO IT task, even if it is something personal that doesn’t seem right for list-making, and physically, with a pen, write down a list of the sub-items that I need to do, and then maybe even break that list into parts so that I’m not looking at it all at once, I am less afraid of it.

      6. Humor. Are there funny things that you like? Can you stockpile them for when you can’t stop thinking about the future and how terrible it obviously will be?

      7. Level-headed friends. Obviously you are already doing this by writing in to CA, but now that you’ve made the decision, if you have anyone you can talk to who is good at making things seem manageable (people not closely connected to your husband, I guess), and who is discreet enough to share with, do so. Isolation can make fear into this enormous mountain.

      8. Understanding. It’s hard to do things when you’re afraid. Take small steps, take breaks, acknowledge that it’s scary and that you’re going to do it anyway. Take care of yourself.

      9. Inspirational playlist. Music is really good for helping mitigate certain emotions and emphasize others. I don’t know if the “Breaking up with you was the CORRECT decision” musical genre is something that you want, but if it is, there are plenty of awesome options out there; even outside of that, there is a lot of “I’m going to do what’s right for me” music. Google is very useful for this.

      I hope some or all of that was helpful! Good luck!

      1. I love Thich Nhat Hanh. When I start to ruminate on old pains and fears, I try to think about how he says to treat negative emotions like a baby. You don’t yell at a baby when it’s crying, you pick it up and comfort it.

    2. ” I’ve been holding out for some magical resolution where everyone ends up happy? ” Welllll…..Lessee

      I was on the receiving end of a “I don’t want to be married to you anymore” blindside about 12 years ago. He up and left (went home to Mother’s. actually). Did the couples counseling thing (and announced he wanted a divorce IN A SESSION. Super tacky, never do this).

      When we divorced he moved in right away, as in the weekend after the divorce was final, with his New! Love! Surprise! (and, it was an old friend that he took up with).

      Sooo, within a few months he decided that it was a mistake and he didn’t want to be with New GF anymore, and (get this) actually said that he wanted to do couples therapy with her to “Let her down easy” Fortunately a friend of his told him that this was a bad idea. Bad. So he just broke up with her, which was a truckload kinder than what he did to me. He’s now happily married to his second wife, good for him. He seems happy. No idea what happened to the interim GF, and I don’t care.


      You don’t have the power or the responsibility to make people happy, but even though this will wallow in suck in the short term, in the long term everyone will be much happier.

      Good luck, LW.

    3. Hi LW, Thank you for the clarifications. Be kind to yourself right now. You may not have made the best decisions, but you’re not malicious and you’re navigating your way the best you know how.

      I wanted to jump in with some motivational tricks I used when I was in a similar situation to yours and similarly paralyzed: I would imagine staying in the long term. What would kids with Husband be like? Where would we retire? What would life be like when we were 80? For me, those imaginings showed me things that were much much scarier than the immediate break up fears. I realized that subconsciously I’d settled with okay and I’d been sort of waiting for what came “next” in the hopes it would be “better.” I’d convinced myself that “next” was marriage/kids with this person, but when I took the long view I realized I’d always be waiting for life to get better if I stayed with him. I was setting myself up so that my whole life would feel like waiting for the subway. You can feel fine waiting for the subway at first. You’ve only been down, underground, for a few minutes. You’re not late for work yet. But as the minutes pass and the air gets stuffier and the platform fills up with other anxious people, you start looking down that tunnel more and more often. You start to pace and look around to see if anyone knows something you don’t about why the train isn’t here yet. As you get antsier, you might even speak to some other people who are waiting and they will share the same low grade panic you have–I can’t be late to work today! My boss will fire me! I have a plane to catch!–and the longer you stand on the platform, the more it can feel like that’s you’re only choice. You’ve been waiting for so long already, surely the train will be here any second. If you give up now, you’ll miss the train.

      I knew, in my heart of hearts, that someday, while I was waiting for that train, I would get tried of waiting, tired of not being in control of where and when I got to go where I really needed to go. Someday, I would give up waiting and go upstairs, back onto the street and hail a cab. I wasn’t sure when it would be, but I could feel that it would happen because when I imagined those futures, they made me want to flee. So I decided, why not go get that cab today? Before there are kids and a house and even more trappings? I wasn’t at that breaking point yet. I could have kept waiting it out for a while, but when I knew where the end would be, what was the point in waiting? As long as I stayed with that person, the train of “better” was never going to come. I had to get out of there and fork over whatever the cab cost to get where I really wanted to be as fast as I could possibly get there.

    4. “Like I alluded to in the letter, we don’t have great channels of communication open, we mostly only talk about life logistics (dinner, rent, gym).”

      Dang, LW. Shortly after I told my ex that I wanted to split, he told me that one of the reasons he was so upset was that he had just been bragging to his friends that he and I had the perfect relationship. I asked him what he meant by that, and he said that he had told them that our relationship was perfect because it was so rational: we had agreed never to spend more than fifty dollars without consulting one another first. I was speechless, but I knew right then that I had made the right decision. It sounds like you are getting ready to do right by yourself. Good for you. 🙂

    5. Hi, LW. You asked about an appropriate amount of time before you can consider starting up new relationship with New Guy, if that’s even what both of you still want by then. I don’t think it’s so much about appropriateness, per se — it’s more or less considered socially appropriate any time after you’ve said the words, “I want a divorce,” and are no longer living under the same roof as your spouse, although both of those things *definitely* need to be true!! But the real issue is more about what’s healthy and wise than what’s appropriate, and that’s harder.

      I’ve been divorced, and dated, and had another long-term relationship (which only wasn’t marriage because it was with a woman and same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in my state at that time), and it imploded, and then dated again and remarried. My experience with all these endings and beginnings has taught me the following as some of the signals which might be wise to see, before you start another relationship after your marriage ends.

      1) You’ve lived on your own, earning your own money and paying your own bills and decorating your own space (even if it’s a room in an apartment shared with roommates, it’s at least YOUR room), and doing your own dishes (and nobody else’s) and getting to know what it’s like to sleep alone for a while. How long a while? Until you’ve learned to enjoy all the awesome parts about living alone, however long that takes you. Because there *are* awesome parts, even if you don’t intend or wish to stay that way for the rest of your life… and it’s worthwhile to take the time to experience and enjoy those awesome parts before you move on to the next spouse-equivalent.

      2) You’ve learned — probably in therapy — how to distinguish between This Person Is Right For You and This Person Is Good Enough And I Don’t Want To Disappoint Anyone, and what made you forget how to do that in the first place. We’re all born with self-will; ask any hungry baby if you can get it to shut up long enough to hear yourself frame the question. 😉 When we don’t have it as adults, it is because something in our life experience has crushed it, and that is bad for you. You will need to figure out what crushed your sense of agency, and how to resurrect it reliably, and what it feels like to have that agency and to use it reliably even in the face of considerable pressure, before it will be a good idea to get into a relationship with somebody else.

      3) You and New Guy have dated for a bit — *just* dated, meaning you live in separate places and have separate lives and go out together once or twice a week and hang out and talk to each other, and get to know each other. You shouldn’t be jumping into couple-hood with somebody before you’ve passed through the stages of courtship; the latter helps lay the foundations you need to have the former be as strong as it can be, when it’s time for it. So even though you’ve been friends for ages, wait till you’ve done steps #1 and #2, which will both help you learn who you are as an individual with no partner attached; and then start the process of dating in order to discover who you and New Guy can be as a couple, because even though you think you know each other well, you will have just changed a whole lot in the process of completing those first two steps!! He will need to get to know this new you, and you will need to learn how to see him with the new eyes you’ve acquired through the process of living independently and rediscovering the agency you lost somewhere,

      Hope this helps. I’m in the process of remarrying, six years after my divorce and two and a half years after the breakup of my most recent serious relationship. I took a year after that last relationship before I even began dating again, because I needed to work on myself first; but it was well worth it. It may take you a year. Or two months. Or some utterly different amount of time, more or less. But if you’ve accomplished the things on that list, you’ll be in some reasonable condition to know whether any given relationship is truly what you want, to handle it well if it *is* what you want, and to take care of yourself competently and even sometimes joyfully if it’s not what you want after all. That makes it an okay time to start testing the waters of a new one, in my opinion.

      Oh, and the Captain is absolutely right: no matter *when* you decide to date New Guy, or anyone else if you decide he’s not the right one for you after all… don’t put it all over social media. There will be plenty of people associated with your ex-husband who will consider it betrayal even if it’s ten years after the divorce is finalized. They don’t need to have it rubbed in their faces, and you don’t need to deal with the kind of things they will say about you if you do rub it in their faces. Keep your new relationship reasonably quiet, and tell your close friends when you feel the time is right… in person or by phone if they’re far away, but not by changing your Facebook status, ‘kay?

      1. That’s great advice. I think it’s really important to stay relatively independent for a while if you decide to date the new guy immediately. Don’t throw yourself into full-on couplehood. There are many stages of relationships and you don’t have to jump into anything you don’t want yet.

    6. Something that helped me in ending my past relationship was realizing that the lack of open communication wasn’t just my responsibility, and in fact itself indicative of the relationship being damaged. In a way it’s harder to have the break up talk when there wasn’t open communication before, because it’s going to seem like you’re blindsiding your husband and you’re not going to be used to using your words with him. But you’re not really blindsiding him because if you’re never really talking in depth, that’s itself a sign that something’s wrong and he shares the responsibility for not addressing that adequately. He can’t just be only talking day-to-day logistics with you for months or years and then be surprised something’s wrong with your relationship. I noticed afterwards that, in a healthy relationship, you’ll always know were you stand and that things are going well – and if there’s any sort of issue, it’s going to be put on the table fairly soon. Also, realize that, in a relationship with closed communication channels, the break up talk is necessarily going to be extra weird. It’s going to feel very forced and unnatural and scary. That’s a function of the non-communication that has been going on, and it’s unavoidable at this point. So don’t attempt to have the perfect break up. You can just blurt it out, talk for 10 min, and then go to your hotel or apartment (be prepared). That’s sufficient. You’re not going to suddenly have good communication during the break up, so don’t expect anything of the sort and don’t set the bar too high for yourself. Your job is ending this relationship, and that job’s done even if you say one sentence, he sits there in silence, and then you leave.

    7. It is scary, LW! It’s okay though, I swear. You take it one step at a time. Everyone will get through! No matter how sad or upset! I was actually really surprised by how supportive everyone was when I made it public that we were getting divorced (of course I can’t promise that for you, but if you are a generally thoughtful and deliberate person, people close to you might understand that it’s not something you chose lightly).

    8. Thanks for the clarifications, LW. Just a few more things for you to consider:

      1.) You want “some magical resolution where everyone ends up happy”. When I was going through my divorce, I found the following quote to be helpful: “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Everyone will be happy… after the dust settles and the rubble is cleared away. It’s just a longer-term challenge.

      2.) In terms of logistics, places to stay, handling money, etc., the archives here have great advice on building “Team You”, and on making preparations to leave. Even if there’s no threat to health or safety, following those steps (having a separate savings, having access to important paperwork like ID, having a network of support, including places to stay) isn’t a bad idea.

      3.) You said you’re not proud of anything you’ve done recently. That’s a healthy, natural response, but while you’re feeling ashamed, remember that you still have choices, and you’re choosing not to be a mean or bad person. You’re not drawing this out, your not cuckolding your husband, you’re not exploiting the situation for personal gain. As long as you choose to continue this way, yes, there’s some shame, but there can also be some pride in setting things right. Everyone makes mistakes; not everyone steps up to try and make it right afterward.

    9. Hey LW. To add to the chorus: I’ve never been married, but I ended a “marriage-like relationship” after 5 years. I never was really in love with my ex, but I did love him. It was really really hard and terrible – he had moved for me, we were in my hometown thousands of miles from his hometown,he was crushed when I ended it. He literally talked about jumping off a pier.

      I’m so glad I did it. SO GLAD. I knew for so long that it wasn’t right, but I kept at it because he was good and kind and all the reasons you do. And it was very hard after the breakup – I felt like I had deep roots in my chest that were ripped out. But I healed and grew and I’m SO MUCH HAPPIER NOW. And also my ex is living with some nice woman. He still texts me inappropriately from time to time, so it can’t be all roses with him, but he is not my problem anymore.

      Good luck, whatever you decide.

    10. Hi LW!

      I just wanted to point out that bravery and fearlessness are not the same thing. Most brave people feel fear in all kinds of situations. Articulating your genuine needs in the face of enormous social pressure is brave. Don’t sell yourself short.

  42. I know you can’t see it, and might not believe it’s there now, but there IS light at the end of this tunnel, LW. If this is what you need to do for you, trust me in knowing you will come out of it a better, stronger, happier you.

  43. LW, I totally agree with the Captain about work! Another way I think about good relationships is that they can be hard but they usually feel beautiful and wonderful to be in.

    Like, quick story time? Last Sunday my partner got suddenly sick with a stomach bug, while I was cooking us dinner and we were in the middle of a kink scene. Oh yes, and we were also spending quality time together as a healthy distraction/bond/comfort for me in light of some serious grief I’ve been going through. So I put him to bed, had a private cry on the kitchen floor because I was disappointed about not getting to have fun romance times and those were not feelings he needed to deal with, then went and laid down beside him and did some hard and nasty grief crying. During this time I was keeping an eye on him to make sure he wasn’t walking around to get stuff while nauseous and he was keeping an eye on me to see if there anything he could do to keep me from having a panic attack. It was hard. We were both disappointed, in pain, and concerned about the other. But it was still a good night and we both happy to be together. It was raining, we were in our bed, and we were eventually able to get up and watch cartoons together. It was hard work, but there was still a beauty to being together.

    1. Gallantqueer, that story is perfect for how it illustrates the distinction between “good work” and “bad work”: the former is when you are making the relationship work because on the whole it brings you joy and comforts you. “Bad work” is when you are making the relationship work and making sacrifices for it and you don’t really feel so great about that because the relationship itself is a stressor for you, it’s a net loss in your life. One good litmus test that I developed during a past (really not awesome) relationship is to pay attention to how I feel when I think about my partner. If I feel happy or excited or soothed or glad, then yay, green flag! If I feel anxious or worried or freaked out or afraid, then boo hiss, that’s a red flag and something to pick apart and think more about.

      I’m glad that you two have each other, even when you’re feeling lousy for other reasons. Yay love!

      1. There’s a quote I read on Tomato Nation years ago which has always stayed with me and, for me, summed up my relationship with my husband: “Love is like having someone’s arms around you even when they aren’t there.”

        Our relationship has taken work at times; difficult conversations, making time for each other even when we didn’t feel like it, sucking it up to apologise and compromise, smiling through dinner with That Awkward Family Member. But every time I think of him, and our relationship generally, I get that arms-around-me feeling; being with him comforts and soothes me, makes me stronger, and we can accomplish things together that we couldn’t alone.

      2. gallangqueer and Erica are both super smart and explained things in concrete ways better than I did above. Listen to them!

  44. This post and the Captain’s reply made me cry. It’s been more than 15 years for me, and I’ve known for a long time that he’s really not the person I should be with. But there were his kids, and then our kids, and the shame of telling our families, and financial things, and, and, and. And every year that passes makes it harder and harder for me to extricate myself. You don’t have to be me. Heed the Captain’s advice.

    1. I just wanted to say, anonfornow, that you don’t need to be [current] you forever either. You’ve spent 15 years in a relationship that isn’t right for you, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend another 15 or 20 or 40 years in it. My parents split up after many more than 15 years together, and they (and I) survived just fine and they’re both happier now than they ever were together.

      After 15 years, you may need to make some plans to help you leave — dealing with finances and the kids and such. But don’t let the need to make plans become another reason not to go. You’ll never feel 100% like it’s all worked out and will be perfect when you leave, because it won’t. Work on making it safe and possible to leave, and then just leap.

  45. LW, I feel for you. I’ve experienced this second hand. My mother ended her second marriage in under two months last year because of a myriad of reasons. One of them was it that the relationship was unhealthy and emotionally abusive, but obviously that’s not happening here. Point is, one of the reasons she didn’t end it sooner was she thought she was in too deep with wedding invitations sent out, people coming from overseas, etc (not to mention the cycle of abuse). In the end she couldn’t face telling people so went through with it. When it did fall through, though, she told people and received overwhelming support. And they had just bought a house together as well. We spent another 2 months renovating the house and selling it because she couldn’t afford the mortgage, but we all got through it (I was living with her at the time). A lot of people get scared of the logistics things but in the end it does get sorted out. I’m reiterating everything what has already been said in a much less eloquent way but… what you feel is the most important.

    I also wanted to say, Captain, thank you for your comment about good vs. bad work in relationships, more well put than I could hope to achieve! I sent it to my mother because she keeps going back to abusive ex-husband and wondering if their relationship should be this hard. Sometimes she realises that it’s too much ‘bad’ work and other times she is manipulated into thinking it’s good work and therefore worth it. I hope this helps her to think more about what a healthy relationship looks like.

    Thank you 🙂

  46. Personally, I’m someone who has spent many years single, and while I hope it doesn’t last that way forever, I do think there are things it teaches you and that are good about it.

    For one thing, if you can learn to be happy and enjoying your life single, that really helps you avoid getting into relationships that are more about avoiding being alone than about actually wanting that person in your life.

  47. I also want to add, because the majority of posts here seem to be saying ‘leave!’ that in the end it’s up to you (and your husband), and if you come to the conclusion that you want to stay, that’s also your decision to make.

    Your letter really gives an impression that leaving is what you really want to do and that it’s mainly a matter of getting the confidence to go through with it and the reassurance that it’s OK to make that choice – hence the replies you’re getting – people want to encourage you to have the confidence to act on what you really want – but if in your heart you don’t believe that’s true it’s OK too. I mean don’t get swept up in other people’s ideas in either direction, to stay because everyone else seems to feel like you should OR to go because everyone else seems to feel like you should.

    It’s your life either way :).

  48. Long-time reader, first-time commenter.

    There are so many wise comments on here already, and I’d definitely add my voice to those saying “leave with as much kindness as you can, but leave for you, don’t stay for him”.

    I’m in a similar boat as you (minus the New Guy element), just a bit farther along in the process: Soon-to-be-Ex-Husband and I are in the separation phase of our divorce, after having been together for 12 years and married for nearly 8 (our wedding anniversary is? was? would have been? two days ago). We were each others’ first real relationship, which meant in our case that we got married even though we probably shouldn’t have done, but we loved each other and at the time it seemed like the right thing to do.

    In hindsight, there were any number of times along the way where I felt deep down that things were not right, but I am not a brave person either, and couldn’t admit *even to myself* that we shouldn’t be together. It took me *years* to be able to say out loud to myself “I do not want to be married to this person”, and then a good few months before I could say it to StbEH. And that was with a good therapist and a couple of rock-solid members of Team Me to talk things over with!

    So it’s no small thing to be able to write in to Captain Awkward about this, and I’m proud of you for taking that step. (It was a year or two of reading Captain Awkward that really solidified the idea for me that wanting to leave is enough reason to leave: eternal thanks to the good Captain and commentariat for helping get me to where I am now.)

    One of the things that I was most worried about when broaching the topic of splitting up with StbEH (other than the fact that we were living in a foreign country and I was completely financially dependent on him, so what if he just kicked me out?) was the prospect of possibly going through an acrimonious divorce process.

    I haven’t seen it mentioned here yet, but the process we ended up using is something called collaborative divorce, and I’d definitely recommend looking into it! It aims to avoid the litigious aspects of the traditional divorce process, and in fact avoids going to court altogether (except to file the final paperwork). You both have a lawyer who represents you, but the idea is that the four of you work together to come up with a separation agreement that works for both parties.

    It was still a tough process at times, but I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been if we’d both been approaching it from an adversarial perspective.

    Of course, it’s a voluntary process (and both parties have to be committed to it), and it may not be available where you are, but I wanted to let people who might be in a similar situation know that it’s an option to look into.

    Good luck with it all, LW!

  49. Oh, LW. I was once right where you are. And oh, Captain, your framing is as usual spot on. (Please feel free to chop this comment down if it’s too rambly.)

    LW, I’m glad to see that you’ve already checked in on this entry. But I’m still going to chime in with my story, because one of the most powerful things about the Awkward Army is validation: hearing that you are not alone in your experiences and in trying to walk a better path.

    But firstly, I present for your laser-targeted enjoyment this xkcd strip: http://xkcd.com/310/

    I too married someone who I knew on a gut level was not right for me. Rather, I knew that something in me was not being answered by him as a partner. But I was 32 when we met and yearning to find The One; and on paper, he had all the right checkboxes. We had a fantastic brain connection; but a heart and body connection, not so much. And I knew it. All my friends knew it from the first few months we were dating. But I was absolutely convinced it was the path I was meant to go down, and for the first three years I basically kept our relationship alive by sheer force of will. (If I had even once had the ego strength to say, “You know what, I’m going to go live my life, and when you’re ready to be fully with me, give me a call”… we would undoubtedly never have married in the first place. That’s my Regret #1.) Then he fiiiiiinally proposed and touched off a year of happy wedding planning, and happy wedding wedding — and once that was accomplished, after 3+ years of sweat and tears, suddenly there I was going, “Holy crap, what kind of existence did I just buy myself with that?”

    And for me too, this awareness was catalyzed by Other Guy. Because AT MY BACHELORETTE PARTY (co-ed) one week prior to the wedding, one of the guests was this guy on whom I’d had a mad but basically inactive crush for several years … and whom I ended up snogging in the back stairwell for like two and a half hours of the party. Bad, bad, bad news. And, as my BFF/MoH said afterwards: not really the act of someone going wholeheartedly into her new life, now, is it?

    (One wrinkle in our case was that one of the original issues was that I identify as polyamorous, and my spouse-to-be was very against that. As in, on our second date he said “I need you to know that I can never be part of that,” and I blithely said “Oh, OK, sure, we need never speak of this again.” DUMB! That’s my Regret #2. And I had thought myself a fairly self-aware person even then… but it turned out that was nothing compared to the exquisitely chiseled self-awareness I earned from this ordeal. The interim was 4+ years of appalling denial and willful self-deception, leading predictably to partner-deception. Newsflash: Polyfolk can still cheat!)

    I am hideously unproud of the way I handled myself or that relationship. What I framed to myself as “getting it out of my system” was totally not, and for almost 8 months, I chose to see, and go on seeing, Mr. Stairwell on the sly. And living that kind of lie made me so miserable that I was literally having suicidal ideation, during what everyone assumed was the happiest year of my life. I felt like I was staring down the long gray tunnel of the next 50 years, waiting for them to be over.

    Fortunately, I started going to therapy again myself (I CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS ENOUGH) on the theory that this misery was something internal to me that I “just needed to work out”. Eventually there came a turning point — where the elephant in the room, shall we say, basically trampled us all — and Spouse and I started looking for counselors. But after a few different introductory appointments, we discovered that there wasn’t much negotiable space between my “So it turns out these are my actual feelings” and his “Well, I can’t live with that”. Which made sense, since it was his dealbreaker in the first place, and I was the one who had said it was a deal I could make.

    And one day I turned around and realized that the real part I was sick of was selling myself out. Pretending to buy into the notion that my feelings were Bad and Wrong when I actually believed, deep down, that those feelings spoke some kind of truth about who I am and how I operate in the world. The superficial conflict was me breaking our fundamental relationship agreement (which is my Regret #3 and something I will never, by-God ever do again), but the deeper conflict was one of core values, and my having bought into that agreement in the first place. The day I realized that was the day I knew I had to get out.

    I had a female friend of the older-and-wiser, cool-auntie variety, who saw me crying in synagogue one morning that summer, and whisked me outside for a heart-to-heart. She was a close enough friend that she already kind of knew what was up, and I confessed to her that the real thing that was getting me was the *failure*. How could I possibly back out? Less than a year after (what now felt like) this unbearably large, public wedding? And she looked at me and said, “Dahling, you know what? You are not the first person this has ever happened to. It’s not even going to make the papers. Everyone else will get over it. But it’s your life.”

    That was the first time I felt like I really had permission to let go. (That, and my awesome therapist giving me pretty much the same advice in different words; she’s the one I credit with getting me to a place where I felt like there was actually a possible life, that I could HAVE, on the other side of that marriage.)

    Spouse and I hung on until our first anniversary. Dug the wedding cake out of the freezer and everything. Two days later, he casually said “So I started looking at apartments for you on Craigslist,” and I said “OH THANK GOD that means I can look too,” and within three weeks I had moved. Just like that. (Into an adorable, cozy apartment in an adorable neighborhood where — not for nothing — I had wanted to live for years, where two dozen of my friends happened to live, and which Spouse had rejected as an option for us.)

    So the horrible part was reaching the decision. Once it was a done deal… it just was. I mean, parts of the process were still appropriately painful; telling people was still hard; God knows my own mother’s reaction was the absolute worst (we didn’t speak for almost a full year)… but eventually, even she got over it. But I had my self back. People even commented on it: “You seem like your old self!” Yes, thanks, I’d missed me, too.

    In the aftermath of the separation, I sometimes referred to Mr. Stairwell as “my pearl of great price”. But the real pearl-of-great-price in this scenario was my integrity. I hadn’t even recognized it when I sold it. But I knew it damn well when I bought it back.

    Oh yeah, so, Mr. Stairwell. We did “come out” to the world as dating, pretty shortly after I moved, directly counter to all the “DON’T RUSH INTO THAT” advice I got. And that did go on for a few more years — it was mindblowingly great for a while, and eventually our own problems surfaced, and suffice it to say that I’m not with him anymore. But the whole point was that my divorce was never fundamentally about him, and I understood that.

    (I’m remarried to someone else amazing now, completely and wonderfully unrelated to this entire narrative.)

    1. Thank you for sharing this story. My details are different but so many of the feelings are the same, especially: “So the horrible part was reaching the decision. Once it was a done deal… it just was”.
      Leaving my marriage also had a catalyst in the form of a lovely man who I have now been with for 7 months. He feels like my person. I have focused strongly on separating my emotions with the two (former, and current) relationships, and am also working very hard to keep communication free and open with New Dude – meaning, not hiding who I am and what my needs are, which were two huge problems in my marriage.

  50. LW, I feel for you, and I really wish I could take a hammer to the “relationships take work” meme at times. I know, of course, that there is truth in it. But I’ve seen so many people use it as a cudgel to force themselves into joyous, loveless relationships because they think that’s all there is and wanting more is “selfish.” Even worse, I’ve seen predators use it to force others into such relationships. I remember one especially disgusting Nice Guy who claimed that people could just fall in love with everyone because love is about “opening your heart” and it takes work and people who don’t want to do that for him are “selfish.”

    The Captain put it so well. Relationships take work, but there’s good work and bad work. Have you read Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers? It’s a great book, if a flawed one in many respects, and mystery may not be your genre, but there’s some lovely discussion of the concept of work (including in relationships) in there. And basically, the point that keeps coming up is that work that brings you joy and that you WANT to get right and that makes you feel “like God on the seventh day” after doing it (Sayers was a Christian; adjust analogies as appropriate, but the point is that sense of ecstasy is involved) is the sort of work that’s worth the effort. If that feeling isn’t there–if it’s just drudgery–then it’s not worth it, and it’s certainly not obligated.

    tl;dr: I think you made a mistake that’s incredibly common, LW. I’ve made it too. I’ve seen so many people make it. And it’s a mistake that’s positively encouraged by a lot of relationship counseling. So don’t beat yourself up about it. And do take the other commenters advice. Leave, as kindly as humanly possible, and take your time about New Guy. He sounds wonderful, but it also sounds like you’ll be readjusting your relationship expectations and standards as you connect with him, because he’s helped jolt those standards. Best of luck to you.

  51. I lurk here sometimes but this is the first time I’ve ever tried to post a comment. I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing it now, but … I’m one of the people who legally hooked up with the wrong person for the wrong reasons (to clarify, I’m wrong for him too, as far as I can see – it’s not just that he’s wrong for me).
    He’s someone for whose integrity and courage I have a great deal of respect. But we don’t communicate or make each other happy, and haven’t for a long time.
    I don’t know if I have the courage to do anything about changing our situation now – probably not, in fact.
    Of course this has not been good for the kids … oh, they know they’re loved, very much, by both of us, but I’m sure the disconnect between us has been harmful to them.

    If nothing else, perhaps I can be another voice saying – probably better to break up a bad relationship, even though that’s hard to do, as the longer the situation continues the more difficult it becomes.

Comments are closed.