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.