#690 and #691: One of life’s saddest lessons is that people don’t have to be awful or evil to be not quite right for you.

Letter Writers, no one is topping “Dear Sugar” on this topic. Read that and you’re probably good. But just in case, your letters and some answers are below.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m 29 and female, and have been in a relationship with the same guy since college. We now live together. He wants to marry me. I have no objections to him as a person, like spending time with him, and have many interests in common. 90% of the people I talk to socially I have met through him.


I’ve found, as I’ve lived with him, that I really do not enjoy living with him. A large part of this is due to the house he owns, which is tiny and cluttered and dark and damp, and whose appliances (oven, shower, washer) are constantly breaking. He doesn’t have the money to move; I have even less money than he does.

I also have very little interest in sex (this may be due to depression, which is an issue I’m getting therapy for), and although he has been good about this, I’m beginning to be a bit creeped out by the fact that he keeps pointing out to me, unsolicited, how he doesn’t want to push me into having sex before I’m ready. Uh…Great? (A similar thing that’s also starting to scare me is that although I’ve told him I don’t want or particularly like children when it’s come up, he keeps telling me I would make an AWESOME parent. A lot. Unsolicited.)

The last time I tried to bring up the above problems and explain to him that I didn’t want to be married to him, didn’t want to live with him, and had no interest in either sex or children, he begged me to “work this out”. I agreed, and am now super angry with myself for not sticking with my guns.

…What do I do? I do genuinely enjoy doing Friend Things with him, I just don’t want to be his wife or his live-in…whatever. I also don’t want to be talked into sticking around any longer.

Possible Awful Bitch

Dear Possibly Awful:

If you hate living with someone and you aren’t in love with them anymore it’s time to break up. “Having no objections to them as a person” is not enough to bet the rest of your life on. So here’s what you do:

First, figure out where else you want to live/could live and you put together the net of resources and relationships that it would take for you to live there. Whether that’s a security deposit and rent & moving expenses for a new place of your own or crashing with family or friends temporarily I will leave up to you. Money is tight, inertia is a powerful thing, and I’m not going to tell you that moving is easy or that it won’t take time and effort, but storage units exist, couches exist, house-sitting jobs exist, hostels exist, people looking for roommates exist. You don’t have to find the perfect “forever home” right now – think in terms of something that will suffice for 1-3 months and get you out of where you are now. Work on this plan with your therapist and your friends.

When you have a plan in place, you inform your partner that you have broken up with him. This is a unilateral decision that you have already made, not a negotiation. He doesn’t have to accept it for it to be true. One script is: “Partner, I am so sorry, my feelings have changed and I am not in love with you anymore. Our romantic relationship is over.” You may end up repeating it over and over again. You may end up putting the words in a letter so that you can get some distance while he processes everything. The kindest thing you can do is to take the “fault” for the breakup entirely on yourself and make it about your subjective feelings. Now is not the time to give exhaustive reasons, illuminate his flaws, or try to use logic to convince him that breaking up is the right thing for both of you. There is no reason you could give that he would want to hear. The reasons are “I am not happy with you,” “I know that I do not want to marry you,” and “This is the right decision for me.” If you can, even if you are still technically living there and haven’t packed your things yet, arrange to stay with a friend at least for a few days after you deliver the news.

Maybe you can be friends eventually. That would be nice! But don’t worry about that right now, worry about making it as clean a break as you possibly can and reestablishing your life where you can think and breathe. Breaking up is messy and moving sucks, but a few months from now you are going to feel so relieved and free. Wanting to leave an unhappy relationship doesn’t make you a bitch of any stripe, it makes you an ethical human being who knows her own heart and mind.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I married my best friend 13 years go, but if he and I met today, he’d be the person I’d watch The Walking Dead with, but not necessarily Twin Peaks with—and he wouldn’t really be my best friend. He is a great hanging out friend, but he doesn’t fulfill the deep soul connection I need to be in love. My husband and I have a four year old together. He is a great father/genuinely a good person. But I am fairly certain I’m having an emotional affair with one of my best friends/collaborators.

I started therapy in January with the intention of trying to process my feelings for my friend and to try to figure out a way to channel that energy back to my husband. A couple times a year for the last four years, I have tried talking to my husband about the emotional/physical neglect. I have tried stating what my needs are so he doesn’t have to read my mind. I have tried leading by example with small romantic gestures: more physical flirting/affection; playing 2 player board games once a week, in addition to hosting board game parties, and video gaming (gaming is super important to him). I’ve tried grand romantic gestures: elaborate love letters; artwork made specifically for him; a surprise anniversary party with an actual rock star. Instead of Xmas gifts, I ask for a love letter. But nothing ever lasts, and nothing is ever reciprocated, and his Xmas love letters literally hurt my feelings so much that I told him last year I just wanted gifts (and yes, he knows the conventions of love letters–15 years ago they were lovely). I’m always the one initiating sex, but I only have a 10% success rate, and unless I initiate we don’t have sex–and we can’t seem to “schedule” sex, either (since Dan Savage suggests this). My husband says when he brings home dinner that’s his way of demonstrating love. I told him that that’s not enough for me, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for either physical or emotional intimacy that isn’t only pizza or Chipotle based.

I have asked my husband to go to couples therapy with me, but he doesn’t want to go. He keeps saying when we move after he graduates grad school, things will get better. This is magical thinking and so I called him on it. He doesn’t agree because, when we were first married, we had a similar situation where he was neglecting me (emotionally/physically). But as soon as we moved, it was literally like magic: we started having sex, we repaired our deep soul connection.

The problem is: we haven’t had that soulful connection in years, and, now, I don’t feel in love with him anymore.

My friend/creative partner and I have recently mutually acknowledged that we don’t know what we are to each other and we’re okay leaving it undefined and just continue to being giving to each other (we are collaborators on a number of projects, but we also make stuff for each other, too: I write him stories, he sings me songs—yes, my husband knows). We’re more than friends, but we also don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with each other because we want to be able to stay in each other’s lives.

So my question is this: since it’s unrealistic to get all of your needs met by one person, is it okay to get your deep, soul-level connections met by your friends and not by your life partner? What constitutes an emotional affair? Is it still an emotional affair if my husband is fine with all the stuff my creative partner and I make together and for each other? It feels like it’s an emotional affair because if my husband ever made me choose between staying with him and cutting my friend out of my life, I wouldn’t choose my husband. But, my husband is such a good person that he’d never even ask that question. It also doesn’t feel like an emotional affair because I wouldn’t be leaving my husband for my friend, if I leave I’d be due to a four year erosion of intimacy (with no desire to jump into a relationship just because I’m single).

But, perhaps most importantly: how do you leave what is functionally a “good” relationship? My mom has been divorced twice, but my father was physically abusive, and my step-father was a compulsive liar/pedophile. Those seem like reasons to leave. My husband is not abusive at all, and he’s a good father. But I’m not in love with him anymore. I’ve told him several times over the last two years that I felt like I was falling out of love with him, but not even that has been enough for him to try to make more of an effort. He just keeps saying: wait until we move.

I’m sorry this is more than 450 words—but I’m traveling for work soon and I’m going to be gone for over a month and I won’t be able to continue therapy while I’m gone, and these aren’t questions I’ve been able to find in the archives.

Literary love triangles are a shibboleth to me for characters who deeply are in a muddle. Love interests become shorthand for the question “what kind of life do I want and what path do I want to be on?” Team Peeta or Team Gale? Team Joanna, tbh. Team Edward or Team Jacob? Team KILL IT WITH FIRE. Team Cecil Vyse or Team George Emerson? Team go to Greece with the Miss Alans and then rent a flat in London and sleep with George when it suits you. Team Luthe or Team Tor? For once an author didn’t make her heroine choose and I could cry with relief. The question for me isn’t “what even is an emotional affair and are you having one” or “how do we compare and contrast these dudes in planning your future,” the question is “You’re done with your marriage, so what do you want and who will you be when you stop pouring all of your energy into fixing it? What will you make and who will you become when your emotional and mental bandwidth isn’t overwhelmed with this dilemma?”

Some marriages survive four-year unhappy slogs where everything feels like work, but that doesn’t mean that yours has to. Four years is a long time to be unhappy and a long time to live without much hope that things will get better. It’s a long time to keep trying to “correct” your attention away from another person. Applying the Sheelzebub Principle, if things stayed exactly like they are now, how long would you stay? Another year? Another 5? Another 10?

Make your decision, and then make a plan. I recommended that Letter Writer #690 look into getting a new place before climbing into the escape pod and I wanted to unpack that a bit. Having new housing all lined up is not an *absolutely necessary* component of breaking up with someone you live with, as it’s possible for many people to negotiate other living arrangements/help each other find a new place if everyone can act like an adult for a minute/ask the other person to leave YOUR space, etc. I bring it up because for me, personally, knowing that when I leave someone I can LEAVE has brought a great deal of reassurance in emotionally difficult times, and for many people, sadly, it’s a straight up safety issue and it is not possible to stay. For people considering divorce, and parents sharing custody of a child, attorneys are good resources (at least in the U.S.) because sometimes leaving the shared living space changes the legal landscape for you and you should make the most informed choice you possibly can. Whatever your circumstances, I don’t think it’s a bad thought experiment to answer the questions “where do I WANT to go” and “where would I go if I HAD to go.” If what you come up with is “If we broke up we’d cry a lot and then one of us would sleep on the couch and it will basically be fine,” then, great. Do your homework, and make sure you will be taken care of before you take off the other shoe and drop it.


Husband, I think I am done with the romantic or sexual part of being married to you. I love you dearly, I think you are a great father and friend, and I want very much for us to find a way for us to stay in each other’s lives and be good parents. But I am very unhappy, I don’t see it getting better, and I think my best chance at being happy is to look into a legal separation. I’m going to go stay with (a friend/family) for (a week/a few days) and give you some space to think about it, and when I get back we can talk logistics.

If you’re done, be done. If you’re not quite sure, and you and he agree, you could start with a trial separation and agree to revisit everything in a certain amount of time. “If grad school is the obstacle, then let’s ride out grad school separately and then see where we are then. Mostly what I want is to give myself permission to stop working at this so hard.” When you are talking about ending a marriage, you might as well put everything on the table and ask for what you really want.

The answer as to why you are leaving, the one you can use with yourself and your friends, is “I was so unhappy, and everything I tried to do to make it better didn’t work, so I decided to stop trying.” As Dear Sugar puts it:

Doing what one wants to do because one wants to do it is hard for a lot of people, but I think it’s particularly hard for women. We are, after all, the gender onto which a giant Here To Serve button has been eternally pinned. We’re expected to nurture and give by the very virtue of our femaleness, to consider other people’s feelings and needs before our own. I’m not opposed to those traits. The people I most admire are in fact nurturing and generous and considerate. Certainly, an ethical and evolved life entails a whole lot of doing things one doesn’t particularly want to do and not doing things one very much does, regardless of gender.

But an ethical and evolved life also entails telling the truth about oneself and living out that truth.

Leaving a relationship because you want to doesn’t exempt you from your obligation to be a decent human being. You can leave and still be a compassionate friend to your partner. Leaving because you want to doesn’t mean you pack your bags the moment there’s strife or struggle or uncertainty. It means that if you yearn to be free of a particular relationship and you feel that yearning lodged within you more firmly than any of the other competing and contrary yearnings are lodged, your desire to leave is not only valid, but probably the right thing to do. Even if someone you love is hurt by that.

Maybe giving yourselves permission to stop trying for a while will help you and your husband reconcile down the road. Maybe he too will thrive when he is free of this question, of this dread. Maybe you both need to rip off the inertia that’s holding you together and to reaffirm being together as a positive choice. Maybe there is a future where you get to have the creative muse/friend who speaks your same love language and the husband-shaped friend who parents your child with you, and maybe neither of them are your best match and both of them are somehow your family. Maybe there is someone else entirely out there for you, someone who will bring that magic and attention and connection and generosity that you need. Maybe there’s just you, in a room of your own, cranking out poems and love letters and love songs for the world and your “Twin Peaks friend” is your kid 10 years from now. I don’t know what will happen, but I can tell that you are exhausted and sad and lonely now, and someone doesn’t have to be an objectively awful jerk for that to be true or for you to honor it.

P.S. The Guardian is on it with this piece on “Platonic Parenting.”

235 thoughts on “#690 and #691: One of life’s saddest lessons is that people don’t have to be awful or evil to be not quite right for you.

  1. LW #690, the repeated unasked-for nudges toward having kids and not making you have sex until you’re ready are *very* creepy. On the kids thing, I can see him pressuring you more and more — what happens if the pressure becomes constant? Would you be able to withstand that? On the sex thing, what if he starts pressuring you constantly on that, too? (And what’s his point, anyway? Is he trying to guilt you into having sex by reminding you that he’s deciding not to force you? “I’ve just reminded you that I won’t do something illegal and harmful to you, so don’t you feel sorry for refusing me?” What?)

    Maybe this isn’t the best way to go, but if I were in your shoes, I’d probably pack up my stuff when he wasn’t home and leave him a break-up note. And then get far away. I just wouldn’t want to find out how he’d react to a break-up in person.

    And no, you’re not a bitch for wanting to leave. You’re in an unhappy situation with someone who seems more and more determined to get you to live your life on his terms. The best of luck to you.

    1. I totally agree with this. Also I hope LW #690 is using reliable birth control that cannot be tampered with.

      1. Oh, ick. Ick, ick, ick.
        Also, exactly right and I would not have thought of that. Great comment.

      2. +1000 internets to Mimi.

        The kind of guy who ‘jokes’ about forcing you is the kind of guy who’ll replace your birth control with baby aspirin and poke holes in the condoms. He’s already setting the stage for an ‘accidental’ pregnancy with the whole “Trust me, you’ll be a great mom!” thing.

        Ugh. Ugh! Ugh!!!

        The Association College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports sexual coercion is often paired with reproductive coercion to maintain control of the relationship and prevent the partner from leaving.

    2. Yes to all you said. I’ve been in a similar situation and it really feels as a way to pressure you. But maybe I’ll break up in person but in a public place. I guess that’s a preference thing.

    3. Also, the constant pressure about kids makes me worry about reproductive coercion. What happens if he manages to pressure the LW into sex and sabotages her birth control to get her pregnant? This is actually a very common thing.

    4. “And what’s his point, anyway? Is he trying to guilt you into having sex by reminding you that he’s deciding not to force you?” I suppose he’s saying that the current state of things is a problem for him, that he’s not happy as things are, but somehow he can’t manage to address it directly, or leave, and is instead bringing up his unhappiness with the current state of their relationship in a passive-aggressive way.

      1. That was my thought. I didn’t get “creepy” off of this, but I’m not the target of said creeping. LW, only you know the vibe. It could be that he’s being passive/aggressive about you not having sex and trying to ask for it without actually asking. He needs to use his words and ask for what he wants.

        But in the end, what he wants is no longer your concern. You know what you *don’t* want and you need to use your words to change course. Wanting out is reason enough. Good luck!

        1. “I don’t want to have sex with you anymore, period” can be a huge relief to him, too, if he’s not creepy. Give him permission to stop trying.

    5. I totally agree. I’m somewhere on the ace spectrum, which I did not know until after I got married. Thankfully, my husband is super understanding about that. It’s one thing to constantly reassure someone that sex will only happen when they’re ready. That’s a subtle kind of manipulation. It’s something completely different to say, “Hey, if you’re up for it this week, I’d be interested, if not, no big deal.” And then IT IS NOT A BIG DEAL. So, yeah, the unsolicited, “We won’t do it until you say,” isn’t cool.

  2. Sometimes I think we’ve set the standard for a “good relationship” way, way too low. As in a good relationship = he doesn’t beat me/the children. The proper standard should be more like a good relationship = I am happy and safe.

    Ask what would make you happy/fulfilled in your life and if that doesn’t involve your current relationship, then leave/drastically change said relationship.

    1. in my experience any time that someone says “he doesn’t beat me” as a self-justification for staying, it is NOT a good relationship. everyone will be miserable until either one person leaves or the relationship drastically changes.

  3. One thing I want to tell married LW is that I’m not sure what an emotional affair is, but does it matter? You were honest with both your husband and your collaborator, and both of them seem ok with your current relationship status. You’re all consenting adults. There’s nothing for you to feel guilty about.

    Ofc you might feel guilty anyway and that’s ok. But you’re not doing anything morally wrong. It’s not emotional cheating – at worst, it’s emotional polyamory.

    1. I agree (though I also thing that since the LW is unhappy with the relationship with the husband, that relationship is probably ready to become past tense). Some people want their partner to be a best friend and a soul mate and a complementary sexual participant, while other people are content with someone who they’re pretty good buds with, has similar life goals, and brings the washing in. If all parties are in agreement and happy with the arrangement, there’s no problem.

      But I think the guilt here is due to the fact that the LW isn’t happy, and wants a relationship dynamic with a partner that is not the one they have with their husband. Maybe it’s not so much about having this great bond with the collaborator, as it is about NOT having that bond with the husband?

      1. This is really well said and it’s an important question. My bond with my collaborator has shown me how I would like to be treated. But I honestly don’t know if it’s unrealistic to expect to be treated like that if you live with the muse/artist/maker person, or if they’d still keep it up if you’ve been with together for 15 years. I mean, I was still doing that stuff for my husband 14 years in. But I’m a maker, and my husband is not. But I feel duped because that’s how he got my attention in the first place: he wrote me love letters when we were first dating, and he wrote me two poems. He also told me recently that, back then, he felt a desperate need to be around me all the time that mellowed over time–which is good that I never picked up on this, because I never felt that desperate need to be around him, and if I had noticed it, I may have broken up with him for being clingy. I mention this because after three months or so the letters stopped–when we were in person together (until I started asking for them for Xmas). And he has only written two other poems the other 14.5 years. So I fell in love with him thinking he was a maker like me. And he isn’t. And it bums me out that it took me 15 years to figure out that those letters and poems were just the expression of his desperate desire to be around me during the infatuation period of our relationship.

    2. Ha, yes. Actually it reminds me of regency novels where people marry for convenience and function as partners in the business of running a household and raising children, but agree to both be free to have romances with other people as long as they’re ‘discreet’. (Often looked down on in favour of ‘a love marriage’, but in all honsty, some of the people are actually happy with what they have) Or in some cultures where extended family, the mother in law, and the sisters and female relatives are really the closest relationships, and the marriage is one of many relationships but relatively less major a relationship.

      We tend to have more of a cultural expectation today, especially in most western countries, that a marriage will be a great romance and the closest friend and just generally a very intense relationship, but if you look over the world and over the centuries, that’s just one model and doesn’t have to be yours. If you find a different model for what marriage is that works for you both (for example, roommate and co-parent and friend, but not closest friend or romantic partner) that might be just fine for you.

      Or maybe it isn’t fine for you, and actually what you really want is just to leave this marriage, move somewhere close but separate, and work out a good childcare schedule. Also an option.

      1. I agree. I think I am going to use Captain Awkward’s script and just ask for what I want–which is I’ll still move across the country as a family, and we can still be together, but I’m done with the romantic and sexual aspect of our relationship and that I’d like the freedom to explore this elsewhere. I don’t want to be out of each other’s life, if that’s possible. Is that possible? Is there such a thing as an amicable breakup or open marriages that aren’t like Lindsay and Tobias on Arrested Development?

        1. I think this is definitely doable if you put all your cards on the table. If you want some proof/reading material, I recommend Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up, which has a lot of anecdotes about all sorts of different relationships that became open in some way, including marriages that became platonic over time.

    3. I read that as her husband knows about the song-writing, but I’m guessing the LW doesn’t feel that he really knows about the emotional connection they have, and I suspect that he partly doesn’t know because he’s not paying much attention to the LW’s need for emotional connection.

      In my experience, when people say “emotional affair”, what they mean is that they’re getting something from a relationship hat they feel they should, or that they want to, get within their marriage/primary relationship. It’s pretty subjective, because once you get past sexual fidelity, there are tons of different models of emotional fidelity and everyone’s definition of what they need from their partner is different.

      So I definitely don’t think it’s wrong in the “objectively wrong” sense, but whether it’s “wrong” in the “wrong for her” sense… Well, it might be. Sharing parenting and living space and friendship with your husband and a deeper emotional and artistic connection with someone else is a fine and dandy and totally legitimate way of living your life,if it works for you. Wanting one partner who satisfies and responds to both sets of needs is also a legitimate way of living your life. If the current situation makes you feel sad and lonely and like you’re settling for half-measures, it’s probably not working for you, and it’s OK and ethical to end your marriage to find someone who can give you more. If you actually think the current situation is working for you, your husband and your partner, but you just feel guilty because it’s not “conventional” to get some of your needs met outside your marriage, well, rock on! Unconventional relationships which are honest and functional are great!

      1. It’s pretty subjective, because once you get past sexual fidelity, there are tons of different models of emotional fidelity and everyone’s definition of what they need from their partner is different.

        Not only is it very different, it is almost NEVER actually spoken of. There are understandings, assumptions, expectations, of course. Ignorance of the assumption is not much of an excuse. But most relationships would be on firmer footings if the unspoken assumptions were spoken out loud.

      2. Sometimes an ’emotional’ affair your partner has can hurt more than physical infidelity. This broke up my decade long relationship, I felt I was not given my proper place because of his involvement with another woman. The sex was great, but he was never my best friend, even though he would say those words, and words of love. You have to look carefully at actions to understand why you are unhappy …. jmhp, ymmv

      3. Okay, I wrote a response to this, and I realize my comments are awaiting moderation, but this is what was happening the other day: they weren’t even showing up as requiring moderation (the way my other comments are displayed on my screen). Sigh. If my first comment doesn’t post, please let me know, Mary, and I’ll rewrite my reply.

    4. That’s what I keep trying to tell myself: that everyone knows and everyone is okay–except my husband doesn’t know that I feel in love with my collaborator. They both know how much the collaborator means to me, and how happy I’ve been since we started working together a year ago. That I’m in love with the work we’re doing. But my husband doesn’t really know the full extent. And I’ve been trying extra hard to make the marriage work since I started therapy, but, frankly, I’m spending all this effort to make him feel loved, and he hasn’t made an equal effort back, even though I’ve told him what I need. He sighs at me and says, “Do we just need to have more sex?” And I’m like, “Well, yes, but that’s not the only thing.” The polyamory thing seems like what is happening to me–and I’ve brought up an open marriage in the past, but my husband gets so fundamentally offended at the idea, that it’s a little scary to bring up again. But Captain Awkward is right: if we’re discussing dissolving the relationship, why not just ask for what I want? Which is: I don’t want the pressure to have a romantic or sexual relationship with my husband anymore, and I’d like the freedom to explore that elsewhere while still being friends and parents together.

      1. This might be something that’s worth bringing up to your therapist, in maybe these exact words.

        You seem like you know exactly the kind of relationship you want with your husband—friends and co-parents, but not romantic or sexual partners with the freedom to seek romance and sex elsewhere. I think that’s a beautiful model, personally. Your husband is “fundamentally offended” at the idea. I think hashing out a plan with your therapist for discussing it with your husband could be really helpful.

  4. Story time! 2½ years ago I was in an eight-year long relationship with a kind, artistic, goofy, lovely guy who adored me and whose presence in my life felt like a chain around my neck. But he was good so I should love him, right, but I didn’t, so the only solution was to shut down my emotions. I remember hearing a friend’s pregnancy announcement and just choking back tears. Not because of kids or jealousy or anything reasonable like that, but because forcing myself to feel happy for her opened the gates to the part of me containing emotions, and even just opening that door ajar was enough to make everything come flooding before I managed to shut it back down. I remember faking my congratulations and smiling so broadly, so fakely, that everyone must be able to see what a horrible person I was. Thinking back, exhaustion and self-loathing seem to be the only emotions that seeped through in those last months.
    Reading the captain’s answers to letters like this is what gave me the courage, the reasons, the permission to leave. It was so hard. He was such a good guy, and I just felt like this horrible bitch who tore out his heart and stomped it into the ground. I remember expressing, and believing, that I deserved someone to do the same to me the next time around – to jerk me around and tear out my heart. It would be the only way to balance what I was doing then, right? The only way to make things right again.

    I also had a Catalyst Crush on Another, and my crush on him grew terribly after the break-up (incidentally, the captain’s point about love triangles is perfect). Catalyst Guy ended up being a whole mess of mixed signals and self-esteem-tattering back-and-forth. I still haven’t recovered. My romantic and sexual self-confidence is still at a level where, whenever someone expresses even the slightest interest in me, my mind immediately goes “wait, what’s wrong with you? why can’t you get any better?” and freaks out. I feel like I’ll never muster the confidence or energy for another relationship.
    As far as I know, he hasn’t found anyone new, either.


    But but but.

    I survived, and he survived. I stopped tearing at his self-esteem with my not-wanting-to-be-there, and he went out and did cool things and made peace with big parts of himself that he’d been trying to change to please and to keep me. The last time I saw him, he was calm and relaxed. I don’t know how much he is still struggling, but in some ways he is so much and so obviously better off than he was before.

    As for me? I’m still struggling with the aftermath. I’m still trying to reprogram my brain to understand that ‘relationship’ does not equal claustrophobia and pain. I’m still waiting for that “you know it’s right” relationship that the Captain and commenters promised me years ago.
    But I’m laughing for real. I’m pouring my energy into school and projects and relationships that are unquestionably giving. I have grown closer to some people who are now excellent friends. I’m traveling. I’m working. I’m doing a webcomic. I changed tracks at school. I can stop from time to time and breathe and ask myself if I’m on the right track. And all answers are okay, and I’m allowed to readjust. I can breathe. I can be honest with myself.
    Hell, I can screw up and be stupid, and it’s entirely on me. At least I do my mistakes whole-heartedly, and I have space to stop and learn. I won 95% of my energy right back, and I’ve put it to great use.

    So, no. Leaving a good relationship is not easy. But it is so, so, so worth it. And honestly, the sooner you can make that decision – not to leave, but to be honest with yourself -, the better. The less time you spend chopping off pieces of yourself to fit into a box you don’t want, the less time you’ll spend healing.

    Good luck, LWs.

    1. This is a beautifully-written comment, and I am very happy that you made the decision to leave. Your “after” portion of the story contains so much hope and courage.

      I have full faith that someday you’ll find that “you know it’s right” relationship, and it will be all the sweeter since you have experienced the pain of being in a “you know it’s just not working” relationship.

      Good luck to you!

    2. So much support and compassion for you, Pizkies. What you did was brave and honest and even if you haven’t met your “you know it when you see it” person (yet!), it sounds like you are living so much more authentically and with room to breathe, and that’s fantastic.

      Also, Catalyst Crush is such a great term!

    3. Ahhh, the Catalyst Crush. Looking back on it, I think my development of one during the last throes of a dying relationship was my subconscious’ way of telling me that I was letting my now-ex’s constant Fog of Doom and Misery (letters 429 and 430…I didn’t write either one, but the way the LWs’ situations mirrored my own at the time made me wonder who was taking screenshots of my life and submitting them to CA!) seep through my own pores and into my brain as well. Luckily, mine was on a fictional character from a TV series that my ex insisted we watch together, so the crush was free of mixed signals and self-esteem destruction. The comparisons between Character Catalyst Crush and ex that my subconscious kept lobbing into my conscious mind, however, took quite the toll on both me and, eventually, my ex, once I finally dug around and found my ovaries and told him I’d lost that loving feeling.

      My ex wasn’t an objectively bad guy, either. But when I constantly compared him to CCC (who isn’t even human!), the distance by which ex fell short in my mind could’ve fit the height of Mt. Everest and the depth of the Marianas Trench and still had acres left to rent out. Even though there was obviously no place for the crush itself to go, I am grateful in hindsight that my impossible fantasy nonetheless nudged me to a better reality. I’m sorry yours wasn’t as positive on the whole. :/

    4. Catalyst Crush is the exact phrase my friend the other day when I told her. If your name actually starts with an ‘A’ then I will suspect you’re my friend. 😉

    5. “Cutting off pieces of yourself to fit in a box you don’t want.”

      Wow. Just wow. Right in all the feels.

      Thank you for this. So much.

  5. I don’t think it’s one of life’s saddest lessons – it is really good news. It’s just that the situations it applies to are often very sad and breaking up is, as the song says, hard to do. Totally worth it in the long run, though. It’s not a decision many people regret.

    And, the thing is, folks in relationships with awful and evil people often don’t figure that out until they’re out the door. A world where we all have permission to leave relationships because we just don’t feel happy in them or we think we may be much happier elsewhere is a world where it’s much easier for abuse victims to up and leave, without having to ask whether the abuse is bad enough to justify it.

    1. I cannot even begin to explain how much your comment opened my eyes. As a survivor of abuse, this means a lot to me and you’re absolutely right.

  6. Oh Dear Sugar is the best thing. I still haven’t finished Tiny Beautiful Things because every second essay makes me cry so much I get salty splodges all over my glasses and then I have to take them off and then I can’t see and have to stop reading. That’s an endorsement. :-/

    Anyway – I would just like to wave the flag of the single-for-a-long-time. Not being in a sucky relationship is the greatest thing that ever happened for my happiness. Just living, without that sense of dread, that constant irritation, the constant struggle to fix things. Letting go of that perpetual yet never realised belief that things can be great the way they seemed like they would be when we first got together is an incredible relief, even though it’s horribly painful. It’s like ripping the scales from your eyes, that moment when you realise the bad stuff isn’t a temporary set back, it’s every day reality. The stuff you imagined and that seemed to be on offer? It isn’t real. You can’t go back to the way it was, and maybe it was never really that way anyway.

    Even though I am sometimes lonely, and sometimes frustrated by a lack of sexy times with other humans, and sometimes stuff is hard like moving a queen size mattress on my own, there is a happiness in my life that was never there when I was with my last partner. I am prone to depression, but I was never so depressed as when I was with him. I would never have blamed my relationship when I was still in it, but when it ended I was devastated for a while (and so so angry) and then, like magic, I was happy. Like starting antidepressants happy, even though I had not. There’s more to depression than circumstances but I tell you what, negative circumstances *do not help*. Depressed LW? Bad relationships are depressing – it seems trite but don’t dismiss it out of hand.

    And also, now that I don’t shape my life around fixing a broken relationship I am actually learning what I want from life and what I enjoy. Not what I can talk him into doing with me, what I can fit around the vast energy I pour down the black hole of my relationship – what I *want*. I try stuff. I do stuff. It’s my life now, and now that I don’t feel like meaning comes from love (so I have to fix the broken love) I actually create my own meaning. I suspect that if I do find love again I will be a much better partner because of that.

    So LWs. Don’t fear being alone. It’s not so bad, and it’s better than the place you’re currently pinned. And look, perhaps you’ll find someone else (or already have found someone else) but if you don’t? It’s OK. It’s better than OK. It’s actively liberating.

    1. I love this comment so much 🙂

      LW whose partner is pushing her into sex that you don’t want to have — I have been there too and it’s awful. Having to keep rebuffing someone who is guilting you is horrible. I was so depressed in my relationship — I moved to another country to be with my partner, and I *hated* living there. I tried and tried and tried but I just did not like it. So of course it affected my relationship and I got depressed and didn’t want to have sex and he nagged me and said he wanted to try and we should schedule time to do it and I tried even though I didn’t want to and it was horrible. He kept telling me how he wanted to be in a relationship where sex was part of it and he just didn’t understand that I was depressed and I just couldn’t. I felt guilty as hell and hated going to bed every night because he would try to touch me and say, but you are supposed to like it.

      Leaving him was the hardest and most expensive thing I have ever done (I literally lost all the material possessions I had except for what would fit into a large suitcase… all my books and CDs and art stuff and most clothes gone) but I am so glad I did, because it felt like I was in a prison that I built myself.

      The comment above made me happy because now, when I people ask if I’m married and I say no they get this look of pity or sympathy as if I am a Poor Thing when really I am the happiest I have been in fucking years.

    2. As someone else who has been single for a super long time, I want to second everything you said about it. Loneliness and stigma about single people exist, but they are not the only things in my life. I have a lot of happiness as a single person. And in my experience, the pain and frustration of being in an unhappy relationship are way worse than anything related to being single.

      1. I just want to say that single doesn’t mean loneliness. If you have family and friends then you might be single, but don’t really have to be alone. You can reach to them, spend time, do things, travel or go to dinner with them. Or if they are far just send an email or contact.

        Stories, movies and people reinforce a narrative that made you feel alone just for being single. It’s important to remember that there’s people who care about you. You are awesome no matter if you have a partner or not.

        1. Totally agree with that, and I didn’t at all mean to imply that being single means being lonely. Some single people, at some times in their lives, might feel lonely and want to be in romantic relationships, but that certainly isn’t the predominant emotion in my life as a single person. However, when I was in an unhappy relationship, that feeling of unhappiness was pretty prominent.

        2. I have some friends who use “alone” as an actual synonym for single, as in “Oh, Kelly’s been alone for a couple of years now,” and it just bothers me so much. Not the same thing!

        3. Oh yes absolutely. Friends are a thing that exists, and housemates also if you don’t like rattling around a house alone. I suppose my experience is partly because I don’t like the housemate thing, and while I have an extremely high tolerance for being alone (I actively seek it out a lot) there are occasional times when it does feel lonely. I mean there’s some kinds of intimacy we don’t tend to do with just friends, or at least I don’t. But also it is *worth it* for me and much better than a bad relationship. And not terribly common. And honestly, there’s another flavour of horrible loneliness and that’s the one you get lying in bed next to a partner who treats you poorly and with disdain.

        4. Word. I’ve been single for over two years, and I love it! I can usually convince my friends to meet me for dinner if I feel like company, and I have a whole apartment to myself if I don’t. Personally, I’m not ruling out the possibility of a romantic relationship at some point in my future, but I like my own company so much that the guy would really have to blow me mind before I’d let him horn in on it on a regular basis. 🙂

        5. And being alone has its advantages too. If that’s what makes you happy 😀
          Peace, quiet, books.
          – Single introvert and loving it

          1. For real! I haven’t ruled out the prospect of another romantic relationship entirely, but if I do, I am warning the fellow up front that I HAVE ruled out marriage and cohabitation. I like having my own space too much!

        6. I think while it’s definitely true that it’s better to be single than in a bad relationship, we should try not tell people that if they feel lonely while single, that’s just the result of stories and movies and culture. It’s OK to feel lonely and want a relationship while you’re single. It’s OK to feel like being able to go out for dinner or Skype someone isn’t quite the same as sharing your whole life and home with someone who loves you. I think often, with the best intentions, we end up reinforcing a new narrative that says “You should feel totally fine with living alone and if you’re an empowered woman that will never bother you”, and that’s a narrative that can hurt people as well.

          1. That’s an excellent point. I simply like to point out that I, personally, haven’t felt any of the loneliness frequently associated with singledom because the idea that *everyone* has to be in a relationship to be fulfilled and that you will die alone with only your cats and your regrets to see your passing if you don’t find someone is still far more pervasive than the new narrative you mention. I certainly know that fear of having to start dating again was one of the things that kept me from dumping my ex in spite of the fact that I neither loved, liked, or respected him anymore–he was there, and as long as he was there, I could tell the world I had a boyfriend, and wasn’t that all that mattered? So I do like to point out that, while the single life isn’t all sunshine and roses and unicorn farts 24/7, there are advantages to it that are certainly way better than feeling trapped in a relationship just because any relationship where the guy or gal is decent and doesn’t hit you is supposedly the Holy Grail of living.

    3. Anisoptera, every time I read your comments, it feels like reading my life story! As an adult, I have rarely been as unhappy/heading toward depressed as I am when I trying to give a relationship that isn’t that bad, but isn’t fulfilling, a chance. My ex had a combination of the traits of the partners described above and I felt I was just slogging through until that magical time when he said things would get better. In the meantime, sparking and having the occasional soul connection moments with others. A job separation brought a feeling of relief and a lack of missing him, so that told me something pretty important!!

      I, too, found that a period of many years single was mostly lighter, happier, and more hopeful than a relationship that drained me. That I had the energy to confront other issues I needed to in order to adult and relationship better in general. After many years single, being able to spend my limited free time in activities that energize me and give me joy, (“Not what I can talk him into doing with me, what I can fit around the vast energy I pour down the black hole of my relationship – what I *want*” — this exactly!) I am in a new relationship with someone who speaks the same love/life/fun language as me and it is truly eye-opening how fulfilling, comfortable, passionate, and easy to discuss our soulwounds and baggage/work to structure healthy interactions it is. Randomness/science/personal development-willing, this will grow and last, but, in any event, I have more evidence that a healthy and joyful relationship, which fulfills more than it drains, is possible.

    4. My word, but Anisoptera’s gorgeous comment is The Truest Thing.

      I am another long-term single lady, and while I miss some parts of being in a relationship, I do not miss the persistent mental cloudiness and confusion I felt during the last half of my previous loving-but-not-right relationship. I remember feeling like my head was stuffed with cotton. I felt unable to make decisions and I second-guessed almost every interaction with my partner, no matter how small. It got to a point where the only thought in my head was the frantic repetition of “How do I make this work? How do I keep this going?”, which explains the cotton-headedness, since I knew that the only answer to that question was to change parts of myself that it would break me to change.

      That partner was someone I loved deeply, and who loved me deeply in return. I will always be thankful that they were a part of my life. But we weren’t right for each other, and almost as soon as we broke up, I experienced a mental clarity that I hadn’t felt in months.

      I have been single since we broke up five years ago, with very little in the way of romantic or sexual intimacy. And yet I am so blessedly happy that I cannot imagine going back. It feels like I have a little fire in my chest that warms my own personal hearth of happiness. I hope someday to share that hearth – and my heart – with someone else, but I cannot ever imagine giving it up.

      1. When work colleagues asked if I was single or had a boyfriend (because I am not out as bi at work so they just assume) and I said no, and then they found out how long I had been single (seven years) they were shocked and pitying and are now always trying to set me up with people. I tell them I’m happy, because *I am*. And I’m not actively seeking a lover. If someone shows up and I’m really feeling it then yay sure. But I get a lot of benefits from being single and I won’t give that up for just anyone because of social pressure to be partnered – like I feel like forming a relationship with someone would be a concession I made because I was so totally into them in some way that I felt like entering into that. It’s not something I’m actively seeking because I’m pretty damn happy the way I am right now.

    5. I have to say thank you for this because being single again actively freaks me out. I have no interest in dating, although I would like to have a regular sex life again, but if I’m not interested in one, how do I get the other? And I don’t think being alone would bum me out–that’s not the part of being single that scares me: it’s all the crazy dating shenanigans these days. Googling each other before a date. OkCupid. Tinder? (WTF is Tinder?) I don’t want to date randos.

  7. “He just keeps saying: wait until we move.”

    Dear LW, my heart aches for you. What I see is you desperately trying to find a way to stay and be happy, a way to give your husband something that will spark the desire for him to give back. You have done all the right things – being up-front and open about your needs, leading by example, reminding yourself of his good qualities (and being a good father is a great quality!). You aren’t walking away without a (metaphorical) fight.

    It…just seems like he isn’t trying back. Often, people in relationships have different ways of showing affection, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that by 13 years in, you’d know if he was really going out of his way to show you love in his way. Yes, he may be busy and stressed, but that isn’t a good reason for him not to make an effort. “I’ll put in the effort tomorrow,” or, “when we move things will change without me having to try” isn’t the same as maintaining a marriage. To be brutal, it sounds like expecting something for nothing. CA (and Sugar) are right: he can be a great person, and it can still be the right choice to leave.

    1. When I see that “wait until we move,” my response is, what is it specifically that will be different about moving to a new place? Then do that, now. Will rearranging the furniture help? If it’s something about the shared goal of finding and creating a new space together, what other shared goal would he like to suggest working on in the meantime? Etc.

      Also, how long is “til he graduates”?

      Finally, if you want to do counseling and he doesn’t, go alone.

      1. ‘Til he graduates’ – is he overwhelmed with school or something and finding it hard to give energy to anything else? Just wondering if there’s some concrete reason why he’s so fixated on that? I know when I was finishing grad school I felt a bit that way, even when it wasn’t a matter of hours. I just found it hard to focus emotional energy on many things.

        Though I don’t think I neglected anything really important like my family!

        It’s not really reasonable, as in real life you’re always going to have to balance multiple things – once he graduates, he’ll be looking for a job, etc – but maybe that’s why he thinks everything will change then?

        1. And I didn’t even have a child. I know a lot of people with young children feel that way regardless of whatever else they’re doing in their life. Even without adding grad school on top of it. Either of those alone is a very full plate — both together? Yikes. And then on TOP of that being in a relationship? Personally, I’d find it hard to juggle without letting something slip. But then I’m not that great at multitasking.

        2. “… is he overwhelmed with school or something and finding it hard to give energy to anything else? ”

          This was a question I had too. It’s probably not helpful since LW is unhappy and done regardless, but I worked a hellish job for a year (12ish hour days with a 2 hour round-trip commute, every weekday, plus “emergencies” that “required” an immediate response from home at all hours of the day and night, weekends included – and especially holidays! because of course), and my marriage basically died on the vine. I made a lot of “when I quit my job” promises, and I did quit my job as quickly as propriety and the job market would permit, but coming back from that place in my marriage has been a lot of work – work that I’m still not 100% convinced has been “worth it,” but things are getting better most days, and I’m hopeful that, in the future, I’ll look back on the decision that I made to stay favorably. We would not have made it if we hadn’t both still been in love with each other on at least some level, that I can promise.

      2. I was also wondering how long until he graduates. I’m married and in grad school myself, and this is my last semester. (Also I work full time). I keep telling my husband and myself that in one month it will all be over, and then I’ll have lots more time and I can finally do some of those things I’ve been wanting to do instead of writing my thesis. I have lots of friends who have advanced degrees, and grad school is a special kind of stress. So if he is graduating in May, maybe just wait and see if things do improve. However, they might not improve.

        I’ve known people who got divorced because they weren’t happy, not because there was anything terribly wrong, and they trade one set of problems for another. Having children also complicates things. Ultimately, you have to decide what you want out of life, and your husband needs to understand that it takes two to make a marriage work.

      3. “what is it specifically that will be different about moving to a new place?”

        My guess, from what LW#691 wrote about him stopping the neglect after the last time they moved, and from a little personal experience with denial and procrastination, is that he hopes the move will break his inertia, that new patterns can be put in place more easily once the old are broken, and the “new start” and the energy inherent in the change will enable him to be different in all of the ways he thinks he would like to be different but can’t seem to manage to do.

        Except that happened before, and it didn’t last, likely because it was just short-term energy from the novel situation. He resumed being himself in those ways then, and would likely do so in future. There is no change in substance backing it up or willingness to do it when it’s difficult.

        I’ve told myself stories like that before. Once I finish grad school, or get tenure, or return from that trip, or, or, or…. all of it was just pretending that the change would be magic, when the right time came, and that I didn’t have to do anything about it before then. That I didn’t have to change the hard way, or accept that these aspects were simply me. It was BS, there was always more “later” to punt the change into. Once I understood that, I could embark on change without waiting, or accept that I really didn’t want that sort of change. But at least the only person I was leading down the “I will be magically different once I’ve reached that stage” procrastination and lack-of-motive-force path was myself. I’ve seen others, in similar situations, keep partners in stasis with them and it’s a dreadful thing to do to someone, to have them pass up the potential for a life they really want because they’ve been sucked into stasis with someone who says they’ll change sometime later but really doesn’t have any incentive to do so as long as their partner is still patient.

        LW#691, as long as you stay with things as they are, it’s working for him.

        1. Yes this. I too have a long and stupid history of thinking that I can make changes to various things magically and without effort *later* when I just change this one other thing. This only works if you have a very specific and clear idea of exactly why and how this change will help. For example, I wanted to have more free time, and to fix that I had to move closer to work. This was reasonable because it specifically reduces my commuting time. You might also for example have a job with way too long hours which means you can’t spend enough time with your SO, and in that case, yes, a new more reasonable job would literally fix the problem, and having a plan to get that new job in a reasonable time frame would be a reasonable thing to tell your partner. But yeah…new house will fix how a guy neglects you? Uh probably not. As Paulina says, it’s just an excuse we tell ourselves while procrastinating. The real work of changing stuff like that is hard, and you need to not make excuses and just dive in, or else think seriously about whether it’s a change you even want to make. Probably this dude is actually pretty happy with the balance of time he spends with his partner, and it’s only a problem because she’s upset about it, and saying “it will be better when we move” is an excuse to end the conversation.

          As a side note, realising this is, I discovered, a key step in learning how to actually make desired changes in my own life. You look at the change you want. You work out what’s actually standing in the way, then you develop a plan to actually start taking steps to resolve those obstacles, then you do the thing. And you do that by identifying practical steps, and pushing aside the excuses that aren’t really standing in the way at all.

        2. “LW#691, as long as you stay with things as they are, it’s working for him.”

          Exactly this.

          As long as it’s working for him (like it’s working for my partner in a somewhat similar situation), it will never change from his end. Only you can change it … give up and move to the FuckIts (not really recommended, it is soul-deadening, which is bad for kids to live around); negotiate an explicit (emotional?) poly relationship; leave; or something else I can’t think of either.

          1. The full frontal honesty version of this story is that I literally moved to the FuckIts neighborhood last year–I gave up on everything, the house, the relationship, life in general. It was everything I could do just to survive day by day. Four weeks later, I had a suicidal incident (not an attempt, but it was damn close, and I asked my husband to take me to a hospital, and when he refused, I called my mom and she managed to talk me out of being suicidal–because logically it was not something I wanted to do, but I was so depressed it felt like the only option at the time–I am now in therapy). But a week after this happened, my husband says to me that he doesn’t feel loved because he’s having to do all the cooking and cleaning of the house. He says I’m treating him like a roommate. I got so angry that all I could do was say, “I don’t have the energy for this right now. Just give me a list of things you want me to do.” These included: cleaning up after dinner. Going grocery shopping. Mundane chore stuff that I’d done for 15 years without so much as a thank you from him. Plus, I’m a neat freak, and he is not–but I just figured it was the price of admission to be in a relationship with him, so I learned not to complain about the way he hardly ever cleans up after anything, least of all cooking. So I literally just started acting like he did in my mind: and he said he didn’t feel loved. The irony of this still makes me laugh. But not in a happy sorta way.

          2. I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse, but reading your follow-up comments is pushing me into the “RUN AWAY FROM THIS SELFISH ASSHOLE” camp. He should have taken you to the hospital. He should not have manipulated you into doing all the housework when you were not up to it. I am sure he has good qualities somewhere but they are not very much on display and I do not blame you for wanting to leave one bit.

          3. I asked my husband to take me to a hospital, and when he refused


            Just this alone makes me want to scream with rage. How on Earth can you claim to love someone and NOT take them to the hospital when they ask you to? Seriously?!

          4. LW, I really, truly, sincerely hope you take CA’s follow-up to your follow-up to heart and get the hell out. I know having a child together makes things really complicated, but that bit of information takes this from “he’s an okay guy, but I’m not feeling it anymore” to “he just plain sucks.” I know you’ve stated that you want to move with him, but if this creative collaboration you’re working on is something that is grounding you and giving you purpose and is something you can’t take part in remotely, would you really want to cut yourself off from that? Because it does not sound like your husband is worth it, and I know a few families who have managed to make the long-distance co-parenting thing work out okay. Either way, if you set up a GoFundMe for your divorce fees (which it sounds like you might need, since one of your other comments made your husband sound like an all-or-nothing sort of guy when it comes to the idea of marriage and what it constitutes), I’ll happily throw some dollars your way.

          5. !!! I am seconding the Captain and all the people who commented on this particular post of yours, LW#691. This guy just went from “Not really making much effort and meh guy” to “WHAT THE FUCK, WHAT A JERK”. Definitely talk to your therapist & a lawyer about logisticking your way out of this relationship. I am sending you massive Jedi hugs.

          6. !!!! !!!!! !!!!!!!!

            This guy? NOT OK.

            Mine will take me to the hospital, even if doesn’t sustain the actionable concern through recovery. Not being willing to take you to the hospital is … I have no words for how screwed up.

            I understand 100% the hesitancy to split when there is a small child in the mix. I am in similarly constricting circumstances (with alllll the side-eye for the probable future step-parent mine would bring in). I’m living in a section of the Fuckits where I do what I need to to protect WeeLime and myself (some of which is Do The Crap Mr mintylime Expects) and try to make my own connections and networks and space for self-care. It’s the compromise between Total FuckitVania and LoseMyselfville. :/

            I’m having trouble sounding really supportive here, but … If you can get out, get out. If you can trust him to co-parent well, that’s helpful.

          7. I asked my husband to take me to a hospital, and when he refused …


            I’m sitting here, trying to imagine a scenario in which your husband’s refusal would make some kind of sense. So far all I’ve got is, you’d been asking to go to the hospital every other day, and he took you, and then they stopped admitting you. If something like this isn’t what happened, his reaction IS NOT NORMAL. It’s on a different planet from what a functional, emotionally healthy human being would do.

            And then there’s the mundane chore stuff, which would put me on the side of leaving him even if the almost-hospital incident hadn’t happened.

            If you feel too guilty to leave him without solid justification, you’ve already got it.

  8. LW 691, I am exhausted just reading all the things you have tried to improve your relationship. Since none of them have changed anything, and since your husband refuses to participate in couples therapy, I think a reasonable conclusion to reach is that he doesn’t want anything to change and he’s not going to change anything. Either now or when he finishes school or when you move or at any other time.

    1. It did occur to me that maybe he’s exhausted and feels like he can’t do anything right? Maybe he just experiences all the things LW has tried as an immense pressure, and is someone who tends to shut down or withdraw under pressure? I don’t know if that actually changes things fundamentally for LW anyway – LW is unhappy, LW seems to need more, things aren’t changing – but maybe it’s part of why.

      1. You may well be right about that, but I’ve discovered the long hard way that I can’t really take other people’s interior landscape too much into account when I make decisions about my life. As in, sure, I have empathy, and I would, say, cut someone a whole bunch of slack if they were dealing with something huge like a death in the family or a mental or physical illness or whatever. But at the end of the day, when making decisions for *me* it’s about their actual behaviour, not the assumptions I make about why they’re behaving a certain way. Explaining it doesn’t change it. And if someone won’t come to counselling with you then it’s going to be pretty hard to address that if it is the reason.

        I’ve definitely dated people who seemed to shut down under pressure, and wow is it frustrating. And it leads to being super hyper cautious about anything you ask for. And sometimes I wonder if in some cases it’s actually a mechanism for the other person avoiding all requests and criticism because they react so badly you get afraid to ask for anything and in that circumstance they get exactly what they want, which is to do whatever they want without being asked for anything… And also sometimes I’ve invented justifications entirely inside my own head in order to put something terrible in the best possible light, so that I don’t have to face that someone I loved was being horrible to me.

        Also, actual abusers love to dwell behind the veil of other people’s assumptions about good intentions and good reasons. They will absolutely spin a web of plausible excuses and reasons and justifications which well meaning people will take on face value, when really it’s just about them getting their way at all costs. Not that I think any of the LWs here are dating/married to abusers, just…behaviour is ultimately what matters. Focusing on actual behaviour can be really clarifying when you’re not sure how to react to something because it sweeps away the fog of possible justifications.

        1. I just want to say Amen to this. It doesn’t matter if someone is in grad school or is terrible at relationships or is actively evil or is trying but failing. The reason for the behaviour makes no difference if explaining it won’t change it. I think of it (because I am a nerd, ok) how I imagine Sherlock would think of it: caring won’t solve the case. And sometimes the only way to solve The Case of the Sad Relationship is to end the relationship.

          1. Yes, that’s true. Part of why I mentioned it, though, is because one way or another they will be in a relationship for decades more, because of their child. They may choose to change the nature of their relationship, they may divorce or live separately, but cutting ties or actually ending their partnership is unlikely to be a reasonable option for them. So empathy and working together is going to be necessary one way or another, whatever path they choose.

            But yes, understanding doesn’t actually fix what’s wrong, it’s a separate thing.

          1. Awww thanks! Have I mentioned lately that this site is the most awesome thing and if I could print it out and send it back to my 16 year old self in a time machine I would do so immediately!

        2. “I’ve definitely dated people who seemed to shut down under pressure, and wow is it frustrating. And it leads to being super hyper cautious about anything you ask for. And sometimes I wonder if in some cases it’s actually a mechanism for the other person avoiding all requests and criticism because they react so badly you get afraid to ask for anything and in that circumstance they get exactly what they want, which is to do whatever they want without being asked for anything… And also sometimes I’ve invented justifications entirely inside my own head in order to put something terrible in the best possible light, so that I don’t have to face that someone I loved was being horrible to me.”

          You’ve described my ex-partner in a nutshell. YEP. Good call on this.

        3. Also, actual abusers love to dwell behind the veil of other people’s assumptions about good intentions and good reasons. They will absolutely spin a web of plausible excuses and reasons and justifications which well meaning people will take on face value, when really it’s just about them getting their way at all costs.

          This was also a dawning realization and is now listed among my “RED FLAG” alerts.

          It is one thing to choose to give someone the benefit of the doubt and/or recognizing what they may not be good at; it is quite another when I find myself writing an internal Rock Opera and my starring role in it to justify why someone is not treating me well.

          And not “treating me well” boils down to: How does this person react when I make a reasonable request? Does their action match what they are saying (verbally and non-verbally)? Is there a pattern to their reactions and behaviors? (This is why Pro/Con lists the Captain and Army have mentioned before are so useful. They also happen to be a CBT/Therapeutic tool).

          [Possible TW] See also: My abusive ex would gaslight me because my highly-attuned Manipulation Warning System was doing its job (even accounting for HEADBADGERS). I used my words. I drew boundaries. And yet, he doubled down at Every. Turn.

          Because me drawing boundaries, using my words, and matching them (with Consequences!) was harshing all over his chi vs. he violating my autonomy and being emotionally, sexually, financially, and reproductively coercive.

          Oh, and the triple down was that *I’m* not seeing things right because I have HEADBADGERS. [End Possible TW]

    2. I highly doubt things will get better when we move. It might get better for a few weeks, but it will just go back to how it’s always been. There’s been a cycle of neglect through our entire relationship. I just have recognized it being in therapy and that’s when I realized I’m really done with this energy sink.

  9. Dear LWs

    I was single for over 10 years and I may be single again. It was great, as great as being partnered with a wonderful person.

    LW 690: I’m going to elaborate a little on the notion of planning. Your plan doesn’t have to be complete. You don’t have to pick out your new home.

    I mention this because some people (like me!) can find ourselves making our best plans by finally acting. That’s not a bad thing. (Although it may not be the wisest thing)

    So if you find yourself Leaping Before Looking, embrace that in yourself.

    LW 691: Divorce was scary, but post divorce was wonderful.

    1. And just to reiterate about planning. I probably picked this notion up from reading CA, but you don’t have to have figured out every step of what you do once you say “I’m outta here.” The decision to leave your significant other can be separate from your decision of where to live and who’s going to get custody, and how will I afford a place of my own, and do I want to move closer to family. You can make all those decisions separately, even if you end up acting on them all at once. So for instance, decide to leave. That is (sort of) no longer on the table. Then your next decision can be, and where do I live; and you can make that decision weeks/months from now. Then you can decide, how/when do I tell him. When you get more of that sorted out, it might then be the right time to make the announcement.

      My sister got hung up in this stage when she was trying to decide to divorce her husband. She was almost afraid to decide that yes she wanted a divorce because she was so focused on the possible negative consequences of that, that she didn’t even want to think about it. For instance, “but his mom watches the kids so much, what if she doesn’t want to do that anymore?” Which of course, is not a sufficient reason to stay in a marriage, but it was just hard for my sister to think through things at that time. She eventually got to where it was easier for her to decide, yes I want to leave, and then take time to think through what that looked like. It took her many more months to finally tell her husband that she wanted the divorce, and by then she either figured out the incidentals or had the attitude of “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

      1. Yep. My relationship dragged on and on and on because I kept piling on the “but what ifs?” I gave him chances to Fix Things that were really just surface issues that likely wouldn’t have done a damn thing to address the festering cesspool underneath. Things weren’t Fixed, and the fact that I had set a timeline (in hindsight, Flashing Neon Red Flag # 1) by which they had to be Fixed–then extended it by a few days–was the kick in the pants *I* needed to finally take a deep breath and say, “I’m done.”

        And after that, things just…fell into place. It helped that I was the only one paying rent on the apartment (top slot on the list of Things to Be Fixed), so moving out was going to be entirely on him, and it also helped that I cut the cord two weeks before Christmas (even though it was quite possibly the worst timing ever from where he stood, him not being a Jewish atheist and all) so that he had a deadline of sorts by which he could have the essentials packed and ready until his parents could help him move out. But since there was no muss and no fuss on his side, I felt so much freer as soon the big talk was over (which was actually only one line that boiled down to, “I need my space,” but whatever). In fact, I felt a rush of goodwill toward him that I hadn’t felt in years!

  10. LW 690, the whole “I don’t want to force you to have sex with me” thing is the same as “I don’t want to rape you,” which is the same as “But I could rape you and I have thought about that and I feel like it might be somehow justified.” This guy is creepy. Please DTMFA so you can be the awesome person that you are without all this pressure and stress and worry.

    LW 691, I think I speak for the whole awkward army when I say this: We give you permission to make the ethical choices that will let you be happy. That includes divorcing a good man who puts zero effort into your marriage. Also, “bringing home dinner is his way of demonstrating love”? Excuse me? No, making sure that there is some kind of food on the table for your family is Adulting 101. Picking up pizza or Chipotle is literally the minimum for that. Does he want a medal for putting in the minimum amount of effort?

    1. I really don’t agree with your comments to LW 690. I can see how you might read an implicit threat there, but it could also just mean exactly what it says. He DOESN’T”T want to pressure her, but he DOES still want to have sex ASAP.

      As the person with the higher sex drive it’s VERY difficult to try to ask the question “Hey, wanna do it?” in a low pressure way that also expresses that that is a thing you want but leaves space for your partner to work on it. I absolutely do not think that people should perform sexual acts they don’t want. But that’s the thing, sometimes when my partner says no, I cry. And it’s not because I’m trying to manipulate him, it’s because I feel rejected and sad and horny and miserable. BUT this makes him feel guilty and also feels like emotional pressure to him.

      What I’m saying is, the sex conversation is SUPER tricky. And it would be cool if we could not immediately yell rapist just because someone in a long term relationship is trying to express their continued desire for their partner.

      I totally get how this also sucks for the LW, because it has to suck to be the one saying no and the one feeling pressured. But sucks on both sides and there are a lot of feelings involved. Obviously if the LW genuinely feels in danger, she should take that seriously, but to me, he just sounds inarticulate and horny.

      All of that said I think his hints and pressure in a variety of directions very clearly expresses the problem that she has identified but he has not.

      They don’t want the same things, they aren’t compatible anymore. And whatever bond they have had over all this time has now faded to friendship. He is likely too attached to the status quo and the idea of their romance to see that this is the case. But she is ready to move on, and she should. She deserves a situation in life that makes her happy, where she doesn’t feel pressured to want things she does not want to make someone else happy. And I hope she can find that.

      1. “…it would be cool if we could not immediately yell rapist just because someone in a long term relationship is trying to express their continued desire for their partner.”

        Yes to this.

      2. Awkwardeers, I have a sort of related question that maybe someone else has been through — how do you tease apart this sort of thing if your brain keeps trying to convince you that everything is boring and pointless and not sparkly anymore? I’ve been periodically getting depressed about my relationship when depressed in general. Same thing with my job. And usually the things I’m depressed about are actual problems, but I can’t really tell how bad/central/unfixable they are if I’m in a mindset where burned toast also implies that I have ruined my life forever. Things look better when I’m not depressed, but I can’t tell if this is a case of “your relationship is having problems that become insurmountable when you’re depressed, and there is some better relationship possible where this wouldn’t happen” or “everything looks horrible when you’re depressed, and you could be dating a sparkly unicorn and this would not change”.

        1. I’ve been depressed AND in the wrong relationship for periods of time, and one sign is that you treat the depression, take your meds, etc. and you start to get more resilient about burnt toast and missed buses but thinking about your partner and your relationship continues to be a drag. Your therapy sessions stop being “why am I so awful and terrible and hopeless” and “Augh, this thing my partner does really bugs me, why can’t they (or I) fix it?”

          Not a perfect solution, but true for me.

        2. Maybe you could also think about where you were in your relationship and your job before you started feeling depressed. (Assuming you had either one before the depression started.) Where things bothering you at work or in your relationship before everything started to bother you? If things only started bothering you once you felt the depression symptoms, then possibly they are a symptom of your disease. I say possibly because you could gain insight into your job and relationship over time even without the depression.

          Also, how do you react to random things when you’re at your job or with your partner? Is the reaction to burnt toast 10x stronger when you burn your toast a work than when you do it at home alone? If you step in a puddle walking down the street with your partner, is it 10x worse than when you do it by yourself?

          These probably don’t give specific answers, but may be additional data points to consider.

          1. The depression has been going on for pretty much ever, unfortunately, but that’s definitely a good thing to look at in terms of when it’s gotten worse. Both job and relationship have changed significantly, and I think part of the current weirdness is that there were major upsets in the relationship that we’ve only now started to get back to normal from. And so my brain keeps going “wait, things are…normal. Kind of boringly normal. I don’t remember what to do with normal.”

        3. Does it help to think about how you feel in your partner’s presence? Like, when thinking about the relationship everything may seem impossible and insurmountable, but when you’re next to them, does it feel good and safe in the moment?

          1. It depends. If we’re connecting it feels good and safe; if we’re on different wavelengths and feeling frustrated about it it doesn’t.

        4. I think this is a very good topic to discuss in-depth with a therapist. I think it can be really hard to tell. Progress on the depression will certainly help, but a good therapist may also be able to figure out a bit if your relationship seems to be mainly helpful or harmful in your life. Or, at least, help you get a better perspective on it. I don’t think there’s a simple rule you can use to figure it out though.

          1. I did recently finally find a new therapist, and I’m definitely hoping this will be something she can help untangle.

        5. I’m struggling with the same issue right now. I have a 7-month-old baby, which means I haven’t slept through the night in longer than that, and between work and breast feeding, I am JUST. SO. TIRED. I feel like my husband and I haven’t connected in forever, and I have no desire to be around him, which is terrible because he is a wonderful father and a good person. I’m trying to figure out whether being less tired would make me want to spend time with him again or whether it would just give me more energy to be resentful and wish I could just get some time alone. And…I’m going to derail by saying I think the way I could figure this out would be to spend two days ALONE at an all-inclusive resort and hire a maid/interior decorator to make the apartment clean and streamlined while I was gone. THEN, if I still didn’t want to be around my husband, I would know there was a real problem.

          If only there were a way you could take a very temporary break for some self-care and see if you could get your baseline mood up to the point where you felt more objective. Unfortunately, I’ve spent a decade being medicated for clinical depression before, and I know that would NEVER have happened when I could barely manage to get myself out of bed in the morning. I really wish you luck in figuring out both problems!

          1. Same to you! It sounds like kids do that to a LOT of people; I hope you get to the “getting to sleep through the night” phase reeeally soon.

          2. Any hope that your partner would be willing to watch the baby for a few hours one night a week, *every* *week* so you can go hide in a quiet room/coffeeshop/gaming shop/book store/somewhere with-or-without people?

            That made a definite difference for me in that boat.

            (I did the same for mine once a week as well, in return, tho.)

          3. Your line about the maid/interior decorator stood out. My spouse is a borderline hoarder, does not have a job and does not take care of the house (which I think he should, since I am the one who works). I am at a point where I wonder if it would make any difference if he suddenly began dealing with his hoarding, cleaning up the place, got a job, etc. Like, I wonder if it’s just too late because I’ve been through years of frustration and angst with him.

            Since the magical things I listed above are not gonna happen, I think I really need to see a therapist. I am on a low dose of anti-depressant but they have really never helped me much. Congratulations on your new baby, and my sympathies for the issues you are going through. I hope things improve.

          4. So much sympathy here – I have a now 4 year old who didn’t sleep through the night until 11 months, was quite needy (preferred to be held all the time, bad separation anxiety). For me, the sleep deprivation had such a huge impact, combined with the whole redefining identity as a mother and the incessant touching, that this was the worst year of my marriage. I could objectively note all the ways in which my partner was a good person doing his best – and, just, no, I had nothing left for him.

            What made it better was time, and SLEEP, and the needy baby turning into a (for me) far easier toddler. Don’t know what sort of support options you have, but even if an all-inclusive resort isn’t an option, look after yourself and get whatever support (paid, medical, Team You) you can to rest.

          5. New parenting is a special kind of trouble; most people have some kind of “aaagh my marriage is now dead because so much baby exhaustion” thing it seems. Maybe in addition to the suggestion of having 1 night a week where you can just strike out for a coffeeshop or what have you see if any single or unmarried/without children friends can come over once a week to help with the kid both to reduce the overall workload and to provide both of you more adult company?

      3. Amen. That could very well be the subtext, but it is the very least charitable reading we could give it as people who lack first-hand knowledge. It’s also not terribly charitable a read on the judgment of the letter writer who describes him as someone she genuinely enjoys. Why can’t we just assume these are two people who are not doing a great job of communicating their needs in either direction and try to advise her that way?

      4. I think LW’s problem isn’t just that the partner wants sex when she doesn’t, but that he also doesn’t put in the emotional groundwork that would make sex an appealing proposition to her. When partner isn’t doing anything to fire up the relationship engines, but still wants sex, it can come off like partner just wants to use the other person’s body for gratification because it’s there.

        1. True, though my guess is he thinks he’s putting in that work. A clueless person might try the “whenever you’re ready” strategy to make the other person feel as non-pressured and desirable as possible, which are things that tend to revv up most people’s engines. I’m not saying it’s a GOOD strategy, but yeah. Lacking more damning evidence, I have a hard time faulting the guy too much. Especially since his only real alternatives are “sexless relationship” and “be the kind of asshole* who leaves a good partner over sex”.

          *=what society has deemed to be an asshole, not actually real asshole behaviour.

        2. Yes this is a real thing that happens. It’s amazing how little interest I have in having sex with someone who is not pulling their weight with basic adult tasks and being mean and gaslighty whenever I raise that and who is also ignoring me in favour of computer games except for when they want sex… It’s like magic! In that particular circumstance I was occasionally accused of withholding sex to punish him, which ugh, implies that women never want sex and just use it as currency in relationships, as opposed to being humans who experience desire, mainly for people who are *not* total arseholes to them. :-/

          1. I know that tune. I remember once shouting aty my ex, “Could you try pretending to be someone I would want to sleep with?!?!”

            Not my finest hour.

        3. But it’s not clear that there’s *any* emotional groundwork that would make sex with her boyfriend appealing to the LW, in this case.

          Whether her libido’s being shut down temporarily by depression, or she’s not sexually attracted to her boyfriend, or she’s maybe not sexually attracted to anyone (asexual and demisexual people exist) — we don’t know; all she says is that she has “very little interest” in sex and “no interest” in sex with her boyfriend.

          Assuming that she’d be interested in sex if only he “fired up the relationship engines” seems to be making the same basic assumption that her boyfriend does, that this can be “worked out” somehow if they do things different.

          Whereas the reality is that she doesn’t want to have sex with him, marry him, or live with him. She doesn’t want to be in the relationship (except as a platonic friendship).

          It is not bad or wrong of the boyfriend to want to have a romantic relationship that includes sex!

          The problem is that he’s trying to have that romantic/sexual relationship with someone who doesn’t want to have it with him, and not listening when she tries to tell him this.

      5. I hear you, shinobi, and I too have been the partner who wants A LOT more sex. It sucks and it’s hard to have that conversation. But randomly popping out with “I don’t pressure you to have sex” is really creepy. I feel like a non-creepy person would take more of a “I think you’re really sexy, is there anything I can do to show you? I don’t mean just have sex, but maybe a massage or draw you a bath or something?” and then maybe move to a calm, thoughtful conversation about strategies to bridge the gap in each partner’s libido.

        Your partner is probably great, but if he regularly makes you feel “rejected and sad and horny and miserable,” maybe you’re having the wrong conversation. I don’t know. He absolutely shouldn’t be pressured into sex he doesn’t want, but you should be made to feel miserable because you do want it.

        I like your last paragraph a lot.

        1. Yeah I think people can definitely be at different levels of communicating about sex stuff. I’m not saying it doesn’t come off as creepy, and he definitely sounds like he’s being selfish and not doing a great job. But I think jumping right to he’s actually threatening to rape her is… taking it pretty far.

          We are just at SUCH extreme ends of the spectrum, that it’s taken some adjusting of expectations on my end. And I had confidence issues and also hormones are a thing. Now I’ve found some uhhh strategies hehehe. Really after so many years our sex life remains very healthy.

          Thank you 😀

      6. Yeah, I didn’t read it as a threat or deliberately manipulative. More a somewhat inarticulate and maybe passive-aggressive way of addressing a real problem.

      7. LW#690’s partner and LW#691 seem similar in both wanting more intimacy, trying to initiate and schedule it, etc. and not getting the response they’re after. Nobody needs to be demonised in order to recognize that the relationships as they currently are aren’t working, irrespective of which side of the intimacy-needs differential each is on.

        1. Yeah, I noticed the parellel between those two stories, too. And I was a little unsettled by the difference in responses and comments. I wonder what each of their partners’ letters would sound like if they wrote them?

    2. “Also, “bringing home dinner is his way of demonstrating love”? Excuse me? No, making sure that there is some kind of food on the table for your family is Adulting 101.”

      My family loves cooking for each other, and it really is one of the ways we demonstrate love. Every time I visit my parents or they visit me I end up with a bunch of little tupperware containers with different things all packaged up and frozen. I’m an adult and they know perfectly well I can and do cook my own food just fine and eat a healthy diet without their help, but they want to make me some. Last time I was at their house I made a new kind of salad for my dad because he commented that he was worried he didn’t eat enough vegetables. And so on.

      We all speak the same language, though. If one of you is talking the language of food and the other doesn’t speak that language and is waiting for words, you might just end up sad and lonely.

      1. Yeah, that was like…I also buy toilet paper and take the garbage out, not because I love my spouse but because those are basic adult responsibilities.

        1. I don’t know, to me they feel different. Feeding people in particular is such an emotional thing. Though I think my mom also expresses love by doing laundry (especially when it’s a favour and not her ‘job’) – she’s just a very practical person and doing practical things for people is a really big part of how she shows she cares. YMMV, obviously, but to some people those practical chores and the work of daily life really are things they think of that way. Knowing you’re doing it for someone you love changes it, makes boring or tiring things easier to get through if you’ve got a lot on your plate, and makes more fun things (like choosing a meal) more enjoyable.

          1. My dude has a back injury right now (it’s been a GREAT month, thanks for asking) and I’m in more of a caretaker role right now. Feeding each other and keeping the house and worrying about the money and other mundane shit can actually be a way of giving love and showing love. But if he said “I want more sex and romance” and I said “I brought you Chipotle, isn’t that enough? JESUS, DO YOU WANT A PONY, TOO?” that is NOT the same.

          2. Can’t nest, but I agree – there are many different kinds of love people give and need, and that’s only one of them.

          3. Oh, I agree that making dinner and doing laundry and cleaning the house can be acts of love…but to me it’s important to realize that they’re also things that you should be doing *anyway*, and that if your live-in partner says that they feel unloved and unappreciated, pointing at those things and going ‘but I’m meeting my basic minimum requirements as an adult who lives in this house, what more do you want?’ is…not the right answer.

            I’m not someone who requires romance, and I’m perfectly capable of reading love into my spouse taking over laundry duty for a week or cooking me my favorite meal. It doesn’t really sound like that’s the LW’s situation, though.

          4. For the last 15 years that we’ve been together, I basically took care of cleaning the house and most of the cooking because this is also how I show love to him: he doesn’t particularly like doing those things, those things don’t bother me, and I enjoy the cooking part, so I took it on willingly so he didn’t have to. Plus, he is a really messy person and I am not. Now that we have a house, he has an office, the door to which I can close because it’s always a wreck, but the rest of the house is usually fine.

            Last year, I spiraled into a really deep depression. I warned my husband that I was starting to have suicidal thoughts. As the weeks went by, the depression got worse and I gave up on everything. The house had never been messier. I wasn’t cooking (so we were eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). It was all I could do to just survive day by day, and I finally gave myself permission to just let the house go because my husband is such a messy person that he wouldn’t care anyway. So I stopped caring and let myself treat the house the way he does. One night, the suicidal thoughts got serious, and I asked my husband to take me to the hospital. He refused. I didn’t want to commit suicide, but I also didn’t trust myself. We talked for an hour and he wasn’t helping. So I called my mom and she managed to talk me out of it.

            A week later, my husband told me that I’ve been treating him like a roommate for the last month and he doesn’t feel loved. I was still depressed and clinging on, but not suicidal. I said: “I don’t have the energy for this conversation.” I got a pen and paper and said, “Just tell me what you want me to do so you feel loved.” Go grocery shopping. Clean up after cooking. Cook more often. Mundane stuff.

            I am in therapy again–just so we’re clear, and I am not suicidal.

            So yeah. Chores are definitely a way of showing love. But for me, at this point, I really don’t consider it anymore. Before we had a kid: totally. After we had a kid: I need my husband to really just bus his plates like a big boy. Or maybe empty the freaking dishwasher once in a while and not be expected to be effusively thanked for HELPING ME OUT because he lives here, too. *It might not be so bad if he effusively thanked me for all the invisible labor I do/did around the house. But he never did. So Whatever.*

          5. LW, oooof, his “this is how you could show me love” is totally a red herring. Like, even if it was true, it so conveniently matches what would make his life easier, I wouldn’t consider it much either.

            I can totally see why you would be fed up with his behavior around tasks in the house.

        2. “I’ll do this thing you hate so that you don’t have to do it or stress about it” can be a very loving gesture in the right context, but I’d agree that, especially if you have a shared home, being like “hey, I did this thing that had to be done [as much for my benefit as yours]!” doesn’t score you points.

        3. agreed. if your positive role in a relationship can be replaced by an online delivery app, YOU’VE GOT PROBLEMS.

          people in relationships need love from their partners, first and foremost. making food is great (and buying food and bringing it home is fine if both parties are into that sort of thing), but no one gets into a relationship with someone thinking “they’re so great for me, they’re like an in-home caterer! who cares about all that *communication* and *affection* stuff?!”

          i know that some people do really see love in day-to-day responsibilities like cooking/cleaning — such as in the idea of “love languages”, where there are general categories of how people like affection communicated to them (one of which is ‘acts of service’, i.e. domestic and similar kinds of help). but the whole idea of love languages is not to be like, “this is how i communicate love so take it or leave it!” it’s to figure out what your partner really needs so that you can communicate your love for them in a way that they can really hear & respond to. sounds like the LW does not get anything out of chipotle delivery & for their relationship to have any chance, he needs to realize that contributing is not contributing if it’s not actually something that is wanted/needed/essential. that’s like giving someone a gift they don’t want and when they say “i appreciate it, but actually would prefer this in the future” telling them that they’re being ungrateful. because how dare they want something that’s not unbelievably easy and convenient for you to give them!

      2. A significant way to communicate love is: to find out what makes the ones you love feel loved, and do it to whatever extent you can. Doing your own “this is what I do” thing, with an implied take it or leave it (because he ignores what she says she needs), is rather lacking in the actual objective of communication. Like answering a question in a language that you know the person you’re talking to doesn’t understand, because “those are the words I use.”

        1. Yeah, this is all true. Although it makes me realize we haven’t heard much about what he feels HE needs, or how he hears affection. LW writes of doing special things for him, but then words it as ‘initiating’ or like it’s a way of setting an example or showing him what’s expected of him.

          Is it possible all these gestures don’t actually feel like gestures of love to him, but rather veiled (or even not so veiled) criticisms?

          1. It’s possible, sure, but in that case it’s on him to communicate that to her, which he hasn’t done.

            Although, honestly, LW and her spouse were married for some time before their current slump, and the things that she wants from a romantic partner are things he *used* to do–so it sounds a lot more to me like he’s stopped making an effort, for whatever reason.

          2. I made a comment up above about how last year I was almost suicidal, and a week later he told me I was treating him like a roommate and I asked what could I do to make him feel loved. I wrote the list down. It included going grocery shopping. Cleaning up after cooking. Emptying the dishwasher. Things he suddenly had to do because I was too depressed to do anything other than take care of our child and stay on top of my job. That was the only time in our entire relationship he had never voiced such a thing. I’d also asked from time to time–in non-depressed years–if there was anything more I could do to make him feel loved, and he always said no.

            During the last few months, I realized that my love language is making stuff and doing things together as a family or a couple that aren’t just watching TV together. And board games and computer games are super important to him, so I started having a board game night every week just the two of us. I also started having board game parties every other week since being social and gaming is also important to him. This is on top of the fact that, for years, he has had a weekly computer gaming night with his friends where I take care of the kid at night and get up with him in the morning so husband can game as late as he wants. And at one point before I started working as much as I am now, he was gaming either with people coming over or online four nights a week–that’s was with us having a newborn baby and me finishing my dissertation at the time. I finally had to put my foot down when I started working because he was keeping the same pace, and I had no time or energy to do my work at night after trying to cater to his and my child’s needs.

            So believe me when I say: I have tried speaking his specific love language as well. And the art I’ve made, the love letters I’ve written, none of them were thinly veiled criticisms.

            His love letters to me, on the other hand, were criticisms and not even thinly veiled. That’s why they made me cry. When I finally asked why he wrote him that way he said he was trying to establish a timeline and how we’ve overcome so much in our relationship. Just because I understand why he did it doesn’t make the letters any easier to read.

          3. I don’t know why this isn’t showing up–I’m going to try again. This keeps happening.

            I made a comment up above about how last year I was almost suicidal, and a week later he told me I was treating him like a roommate and I asked what could I do to make him feel loved. I wrote the list down. It included going grocery shopping. Cleaning up after cooking. Emptying the dishwasher. Things he suddenly had to do because I was too depressed to do anything other than take care of our child and stay on top of my job. That was the only time in our entire relationship he had never voiced such a thing. I’d also asked from time to time–in non-depressed years–if there was anything more I could do to make him feel loved, and he always said no.

            During the last few months, I realized that my love language is making stuff and doing things together as a family or a couple that aren’t just watching TV together. And board games and computer games are super important to him, so I started having a board game night every week just the two of us. I also started having board game parties every other week since being social and gaming is also important to him. This is on top of the fact that, for years, he has had a weekly computer gaming night with his friends where I take care of the kid at night and get up with him in the morning so husband can game as late as he wants. And at one point before I started working as much as I am now, he was gaming either with people coming over or online four nights a week–that’s was with us having a newborn baby and me finishing my dissertation at the time. I finally had to put my foot down when I started working because he was keeping the same pace, and I had no time or energy to do my work at night after trying to cater to his and my child’s needs.

            So believe me when I say: I have tried speaking his specific love language as well. And the art I’ve made, the love letters I’ve written, none of them were thinly veiled criticisms.

            His love letters to me, on the other hand, were criticisms and not even thinly veiled. That’s why they made me cry. When I finally asked why he wrote him that way he said he was trying to establish a timeline and how we’ve overcome so much in our relationship. Just because I understand why he did it doesn’t make the letters any easier to read.

          4. Hi #691!

            My late husband was a hoarder, the filthy kind not the obsessive collector kind. He just never threw anything out because it was too much work. Never cleaned anything up. Never did laundry if he could help it. We slept on a broken bedframe for months after it broke until I managed (while he was away for the week) to break the old bedframe into pieces and drag it off and then replace it, because all the times I asked for help, he either refused, or spent his “helping” time standing around while I heaved and criticizing the way I was doing it until I cried and told him never mind, just go away and stop sniping at me.

            When I went back to school, and then to grad school, he said school was making me selfish because I didn’t have time to clean up after him anymore and asked him to clean up after himself even a little because I was teaching two classes, carrying a full load of courses, and working on my thesis.

            What I’m saying is, I sympathize, and I may understand more than most people are going to. We didn’t have kids (another long story that was horrible at the time and now I’m just so grateful about his selfish deceptions), but my life became instantly easier when he died, despite the legal crap and having to shovel actual crap out of the house (I had moved about 8 months before he died, to continue my education, another fraught topic). I can’t tell you what to do obviously, but I can tell you that whenever I sat mine down and told him that I was unhappy and things needed to change, he would get a little better just long enough to get past the crisis point, and then return to his old ways.

            I cannot tell you the joys of living in an apartment where the only person making messes is you and your pet. Things staying where you put them, staying clean til you dirty them, getting done reliably. It’s pretty amazing. I hope you get to experience it.

    3. Is it wrong that this made me laugh out loud? Because yes, I think he would appreciate a gold star. And thank you for the permission. Now to just give it to myself…

  11. I was at a childhood friend’s wedding last year and some people I hadn’t seen in awhile came up to me and we started chatting. After a few more trips to the open bar, when I was standing alone with my mother (who, in reference to my comment about the hair post, had spent the entire morning complaining that I didn’t shave my legs which were not visible under my tights) I said “I just really cannot stand talking to those people” (I said their names in the actual convo) to which she said “well, they’re nice people.”

    And that’s when the lightbulb clicked: Just because you’re a nice person, doesn’t mean I have to like you. It means I have to treat them kindly and with respect, but it does not mean I have to like them! And I thought back to all the past relationships I had worked so hard to maintain with “nice people” and sweet baby seals what a waste of my emotional energy. Boyfriends who stayed past their due because I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of a “nice person,” toxic friendships tended because they were objectively, outwardly “nice,” and a bajillion relationships maintained even though there was zero common friendship ground. LWs, you have no obligations to these people because they are nice or objectively good. Because the question you need to ask yourself isn’t “is this person nice?” but “do I like/love this person enough to continue the current relationship pattern”

  12. Ah…might I politely ask who most of those Team references are about? Who’s Joanna? What are Luthe and Tor from? (Sounds interesting….)

    690, that dude sounds really creepy and pushy, and you should feel no guilt about breaking up with him. 691, I’m not entirely sure your husband will even notice if you’re gone. Neither of you should feel super guilty about leaving, and I hope it goes well when you do.

      1. I’m a fan of Robin McKinley from way back, and I was simultaneously stoked that I got that reference, and reminded to buy some of her books (not Deerskin, not yet) for my 11-year-old daughter. Way to have heroines who are real, and dynamic, and resourceful, and loveable, and who don’t fit in a mold.

      2. Hah. I kept thinking “Who the hell is Joanna in Hunger Games? I don’t remember one?” and then finally gave up and googled “Joanna Hunger Games.”

        JOHANNA. D’oh! In that case, carry on.

  13. One of the best books I read when I was trying to decide if I could stay in my marriage (which looked eerily like LW 691’s) was “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay.” It doesn’t offer any pat answers, but it asks a lot of hard and effective questions about where you truly are.

    Good luck!

  14. Whoa. LW2 was one of those “did I write that in my sleep?” things. Long-time marriage where the spark has died, young child, emotional affair with a creative partner (except that turned out to be more one-sided, or at least there was a refusal to acknowledge). I don’t think I’m as unhappy and I do think my husband makes more of an effort, so I’m not at quite the same crisis point, but I recognize those feelings.

    I’m also in online fandom and have been having my sexual and emotional needs met by a shifting variety of fiction and friends for over 15 years now, so to answer her original question — yes, I think it’s possible and OK for one person not to be everything to you. As I said, my creative partner isn’t exactly an option waiting for me, so I don’t have that pressing feeling that if I left my husband I’d find someone who’d be perfect for me, and instead I’ve sort of cobbled together a decentralized network of people who currently meet one need or another. (In fact, allowing my creative partner to become as singularly important as she was ended up being a mistake, as it was very difficult when she became less committed to our friendship than I was.) I’ve felt guilty about it in the past, but have finally decided just because it isn’t the romantic ideal of marriage doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid way to live, if it works for me.

    I also think the child is a big factor to LW2. I’m a child of divorce too, and swore I wouldn’t get divorced myself while I had young kids. If nothing else, legal separation throws a lot more responsibility on the LW for childcare, and it’s not clear what her current setup is. It’s also not clear where she lives, and it sounds like it might be farther away from supportive family and friends who could make the transition easier on her and the child both practically and emotionally. I do think relationships that involve a child need a lot more thought before dismantling, so maybe if the LW conveys to her husband both how dire the situation is and also how concerned she is for their child, he’d be more willing to attend therapy and look into making the very serious necessary changes.

    I’m certainly not saying the LW should stay, just because I am. Our situations aren’t exactly the same and she isn’t me. But I do think it’s possible to make her situation work, IF that’s what she wants and if her husband can change enough to meet her halfway.

  15. I had one of these relationships too, once upon a time. Nicest guy I ever dated – he was friendly and kind and fun and funny and giving and genuine. I lost my virginity to him, with no regrets. I truly did love him, and he loved me. There were no real problems in our relationship… we didn’t particularly argue, I always enjoyed spending time with him, and we had built this great connection. But it still wasn’t a good fit for me. It was like having a beautiful outfit that you adore, but that has this mysterious mildly scratchy hem that you can’t seem to locate, so all day while you’re wearing it and loving it, you also can’t escape how itchy it makes you feel, and by the end of the day kind of can’t wait to go home and change into sweatpants. I was hearing ‘go’ for months before I broke up with him.

    The week after I broke up with him, he tried his hardest to convince me to change my mind. He thought I really did want to be with him. He wanted reasons, answers. I don’t blame him for wanting those things. I spent that week in agony, wondering if I had done the right thing, knowing how badly I had hurt him. I did a pro’s and con’s list that pretty much sat evenly balanced on the scales. Finally I wrote him a letter, which explained that even though I loved him, I wasn’t (and couldn’t) give him all of myself, and that he deserved someone who could and would. He read the letter and even though we were both sad, it was something he was able to understand and accept.

    I still care about him a lot. We catch up every few years or so. He recently got married, and so did I. I wish him nothing but the best, always, but I’m so glad I was brave enough to listen to my gut.

    1. Oh, this is exactly what I just went through. Thanks for putting this into words.

  16. Hon, if he isn’t willing to try marriage counseling with you or work on any of the things you’ve brought up when you tell him the relationship is failing, then he doesn’t care that he’s losing you. By the sounds of it, he’s been checked out of this relationship for years. It’s time to put an end to this sham marriage.

    When you feel the words “But he doesn’t beat me!” or “But he’s not a cheater!” or “But does anyone really *need* a deep connection with their spouse?” rising in your throat, stop them with this thought: “Is this the kind of relationship I want to model for my four-year-old? Do I want to teach my child that this is what marriage is supposed to be like, and that apathy, passivity and emotional affairs are normal features of a healthy, strong, loving partnership? Do I want my child to end up in a relationship like mine as an adult?” I’m guessing the answer is fuck no, so raise your expectations.

  17. Maybe this isn’t the right place to ask this, but…. frequently when I see letters asking for advice around “too good to leave, too bad to stay” relationships, a lot of the advice focuses around how it’s so much better and emotionally healthy to be single than it is to be in a bad relationship. But what if that isn’t true for someone?

    I ask because I always got the same advice, and yet comparing when I was single to when I was in my worst, most horrible relationship, I was still more miserable being single. I was certainly more miserable to be around. I was lonely*, my self-esteem was thoroughly trashed from constantly messages that no one wanted me, constantly being surrounded by happy couples and happy families. And then there was the time factor; the longer I was single, the less likely it would be that I could have certainly dating standards, like never married or no kids. Since I very much want kids, there was also the biological window to consider. The things I wanted economically (house, some nice vacations) were impossible on a single income. I had a very high sex drive, but was unable to emotionally handle casual sex, which meant I was constantly sexually frustrated.

    TLDR, being single, while having certain goals and desires, really, really sucked. Maybe that means that I’m just a weak person, that I can’t be single and happy like so many people are told they can be; but what if you are weak like me?

    Is there also some amount where happiness has to be compromised, depending on what kind of long term goals you want? Is it possible to remain in a decades-long marriage without losing or sacrificing something? Is Dan Savage right, that there is no settling down without settling? How do you know when your feelings towards a “too good to leave, too bad to stay” relationship are genuine concerns or unrealistic expectations?

    *There is a huge dearth of single people in my city and age group; my generation seems to be impervious to those usual divorce rates. My coupled friends did try to include me, but there is the problem of the 3rd/5th/7th wheel, and the fact that being coupled, they sometimes just didn’t have the time/social energy that I did, so I had all of this social energy and no where to direct it.

    1. I don’t know if it would help you, but internet and apps could help you with the “no one wanted me”. Help me with self esteem. Also, helps to meet with other single friends like you. If you don’t have, captain have lots of good advice about meeting people and new friends (internet helps with this too).

      As for the kids, I want them too and it help me to give a though about adoption. Maybe some “big brother” program or volunteering. It’s nice to fell conected to people. Even if they’re not blood related, they could fell like family. Families take many forms and the important part it’s that you love and fell loved.

      PS: Maybe it’s out of place. But for the “sex drive” I recomend masturbation. I mean, it’s good even if you have a partner. And help you love yourself. I really hope I’m not out of place.

    2. Hi Happy Medium! You’re not alone — I’m in the same boat, only I’m trailing a couple of kids in my wake. I think my friends really wanted to be there for me after my divorce, but gradually they fell away to the point where we maybe have dinner or lunch occasionally, or see each other at parties given by mutual acquaintances. My friends also either have no children or their children are grown up, so they don’t have interest in working around the schedule or needs of an uncoupled person with children. I’m moving away from my current city at the end of the summer, to a larger city where I can get more family support and hopefully a wider range of dating/friendship/job opportunities.

    3. Is Dan Savage right, that there is no settling down without settling

      I live in the city I said I’d never move to, and we live in a place that’s pretty much surrounded by city for another ten miles in any direction. That’s *a lot* of city for someone who prefers to live in the middle of the countryside. I am also currently not involved in a lifelong [expensive, time-intensive] hobby, because there isn’t anywhere to practice it that would not cost the earth. (We’re talking mortgage-level costs, which… nope. Couldn’t do it in this location on my own, *really* cannot do it as half of a partnership.)

      This is the kind of ‘settling’ I had to do. Being with my partner is worth those things, though I sometimes find my breath catching in my throat with longing. (We have plans and accommodations, but they’ll take a couple of years to put into place. And it’s complicated.)

      But everything else? Nope. I don’t know what compromises I would make if they would make my partner happy or if they were necessary for them, probably a lot more – but what I don’t have to do is the kind of emotional compromise, is doing things that would make me feel less of myself. I don’t have to guard myself from making bad puns, I can be as silly or philosophical as I want to be, I can be _wholly myself_ and I have all the added benefits of living with an utterly utterly lovely partner.

      And if you want to be in a relationship, I hope that’s the kind of relationship you find. (A lot of people do. And there’s a lot of luck involved in meeting the right person at the right time.) But if you’re in the kind of relationship that drags you down and makes you feel less and forces you to double-check your actions and words for fear of upsetting things… you *won’t* be open to meeting that fantastic person. You’ll be too exhausted, too guarded.

      I’m not saying you should embrace singledom, it’s not for everybody, but I think you’re better off learning to be ok with being single than trying to be ok with being in a bad/indifferent relationship. Everything you do to be a happier single (brainweasel management, hobbies, self-care) will stay with you and will be useful in a relationship. Pouring your energy into staying with someone who doesn’t seem to like you very much (however much they may or may not feel in love/lust with you) will not, because if they leave, or if it *does* get too much for you after all, you’ll be where you started, only with more emotional baggage.

    4. You’re not weak, you just have different needs. That’s okay.

      A big reason we focus on leaving is because relationships have a certain momentum. You forget what it’s like to be responsible for yourself; you forget you CAN be responsible for yourself. You start justifying staying with worse and worse reasons. Like, here were my reasons for staying with my abusive husband: We just got married –> things will be better when he stops spending all my money –> things will get better when I’m not working 12 hour days –> if I were a better wife he wouldn’t treat me like shit –> I guess it’s reasonable for him to yell at me when I talk about my platonic male coworkers –> I guess this is just what marriage is like, being unhappy and not wanting to come home and having to monitor what I say so he doesn’t yell at me.

      Sometimes, the most powerful thing someone can do is literally tell you, “Listen, you don’t HAVE to be here. You don’t HAVE to stay. It’s okay if you leave because you’re unhappy, even if no one is doing anything “wrong”!” It reminds people that they have options, and when you’ve mentally backed yourself into a corner, you forget that those options exist. I certainly did. Even if you decide to stay, knowing you can and are allowed to leave can give you the strength to endure.

      You bring up a lot of big barriers to enjoying singleness. Some of them are surmountable (you could go to a sperm bank, for example). But that brings up other problems. Can you raise a child on one income? Can you raise a child alone, where you are 100% responsible both for paying the bills and staying up all night while they projectile vomit? It’s okay if the answer is no.

      A lot of it depends on what’s more important to you. Having access to sex, owning a home and having children sounds very important to you! And you want those things where there are not a lot of people to choose from! Are you willing to make sacrifices for that? Are you willing to sacrifice passion and romance if you can get a loving, sexual but primarily companionate relationship? This is totally an okay thing! Even if you end up in an unhappy relationship, it may be worth it to you to get the other things that you want.

      Because you’re right. Advice, even solid advice, may not be good for everyone. It sounds like it isn’t right for you. Even though it works for many people. Even though people swear by it. Just because it doesn’t work for you DOES NOT make you a bad or weak person, so please don’t think that!

    5. I think if you know yourself and what genuinely makes you happier, you shouldn’t feel guilty about that or like it makes you weak. Lots of people for millennia have lived long happy lives in relationships that were just fine, not spectacular. A partner is like any other family relationship — sometimes you’re super close and they’re your best friend, sometimes they aren’t but it’s still OK.

      Forget what the ‘right’ thing to want is, you want what you want and it’s your choice, not anyone else’s.

      1. Also, to me the main benefit of ‘learn to enjoy being single’ advice ISN’T about learning to be more independent. It’s even more, to me personally, about building up your whole network of relationships so you have a strong, deep web.

        1. I became instantly enraged every time someone would tell me that I had to learn to love being single before I would deserve a relationship. I didn’t have to *learn* to love many aspects of singledom: they were great right out of the gate! But after a few months? I might still love being single, but SEX.

          1. Well, sure, and it’s not like all the useful things you can learn from being single CAN’T be learned while you’re in a relationship. Having a strong social network, hobbies you love, being responsible for your own emotions and well-being, etc… nothing really stopping anyone from developing those things while also being in a romantic relationship!! Some people work better building things up in one order, some in another. (plus obviously different people want different lives in the end, too)

          2. Out of nesting, TO_Ont. I was widowed, after a 13 year relationship that began when I was 21. I was mostly single for five years afterward–dating people sometimes, sometimes not. So telling me that I had to learn to love being single was ridiculous to me. And kind of insensitive, to boot. The benefits of being single were all apparent pretty much as soon as I was able to put my head up and notice things around me; I didn’t need anybody to tell me to appreciate them, trust me. And I think that there’s a huge difference between telling someone who’s never been in a relationship that being single has some benefits, and telling someone who has. If you’ve been in a relationship you know the great things about being single because you have a basis for comparison. Telling a teenager who’s miserable about not having a boyfriend or girlfriend that being single has benefits is at least arguably helpful. Telling someone who’s been in relationships the same thing? Not so much, in my opinion.

          3. Well, insensitive, quite possibly, yes, especially to someone who is mourning the loss of a relationship. But I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing at all. I’m not talking about advantages of being single over being in a relationship at all. Like you said, those don’t really need to be learned, they just are.

            Personally, I’m thinking about _skills_ one can (sometimes) learn from being single over time, that _some_ people who get in their first relationship very young and continually move from unhealthy relationship to relationship without pause sometimes don’t seem to learn (certainly not all, it’s just a phenomenon you see occasionally). Like not knowing how to maintain relationships with multiple friends and family members because they’ve tried to count on one single human being to literally fill all their emotional needs, or not knowing how to handle their own emotional needs, or not knowing how to figure out what they actually want and need that isn’t just reacting to their partner.

            Of course if it’s a good, healthy relationship you don’t do those things anyway, and in a healthy relationship you continue to develop those skills perfectly fine within the relationship, and your partner even helps you develop them. And even if it’s not a healthy relationship at first, often it’s just a matter of enough years passing before they eventually bounce through enough different unhealthy relationships that they get into healthier relationships where they’re supported in developing those skills and personality traits. But for SOME people, being forced to do things like actually develop their non-romantic relationships, and take care of themselves and figure out what is actually important to them in life only seems to happen once they’re single for a while.

            It’s certainly not some kind of rule that applies to everyone, it’s just something that occasionally is useful for _someone_. But it’s not about learning to enjoy the intrinsic things that are different about being single – it’s about learning life skills that _some_ people learn more easily when they’re single (others learn the same skills more easily within a relationship), that take time to develop and practice.

          4. I cannot think of a single time I’ve seen someone giving that advice, whether to me or someone else, when “you will learn valuable lessons about basic survival skills” was what they meant by “when you learn to love being single you will be ready for a relationship”.

  18. No advice to add, but wow, Dear Sugar is great! Although it was super weird hilarious that towards the end of that comment thread, there are a few positive testimonials from people who have hired “spell-casters” to make their partners who left them come back. Talk about unclear on the concept! (Anyway, maybe these are spell-caster spambots?)

  19. That Dear Sugar column saved my life a few years ago. I was drowning in an unhappy marriage to a nice, albeit passive aggressive, artist who genuinely loved me and that I had no sexual/intellectual/emotional attraction to any longer. We were together 8 years and really should have broken up after about 2, but I couldn’t bring myself to break up with someone that hadn’t done anything wrong. Like the first LW, I felt like there had to be something egregious in order to justify it and I tied myself into knots trying to make the relationship work. Then I spent years telling myself that romance novels and movies had corrupted my romantic expectations and that what I had was what “real” relationships were like so I better just suck it up. We got married because it seemed like the thing to do and because I couldn’t see a reason not to (you know, other than the whole “I don’t know that I’m actually in love with this person any longer” thing) and also because his dad had just died and there were a whole lot of emotions flying around.

    Back to my point – reading that column set me free. The words “Wanting to leave is enough” rang through my brain and into my soul and I heard them clearer than anything else for a long time. Wanting to leave is enough. What a concept! That, plus reading the book “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” really clarified everything for me. That book just asks questions that you consider and then talks about what your answer might mean. The one that got me was “If God, or some omnipotent being, told you that it was ok to leave, how would that make you feel?”. I started crying when I read that because I felt nothing but relief. I told him I wanted a divorce shortly afterward and while it was hard at first, when we finally made the decision to officially split, I felt FREE!

    Anyway, I’m getting on a tangent. Letter Writers, take these words to heart – wanting to leave is enough. There doesn’t have to be another reason. He doesn’t have to be an awful person to not want to be with him, and not wanting to be with him does not make YOU an awful person. You are not required to set yourself on fire in order to keep other people warm and you are not required to stay in a place that does not serve your deepest needs in order to keep someone else from being sad. To put another way – do you think that, if they truly knew how you really felt, they would WANT to stay with someone who was just phoning it in in an attempt to not upset them? Don’t you think that they deserve someone who will love them wildly? Don’t you deserve to love someone like that?

  20. “He just keeps saying: wait until we move.”

    LW2, this makes my heart hurt for you. What he is really saying here is, “I’ll act like I love you when we move,” which is the same functionally the same as, “I’ll love you when it’s convenient for me.” That’s a really a cruel thing to say to your husband/wife. Besides, if someone only wants to love you when it’s easy for them, is that really love? When you love someone, you want them by your side during tough times. You want to be there for them, and you need their support when you are facing challenges. No wonder you feel unloved! You feel that way because that’s the way he’s treating you.

    Please know that you deserve better than this. You deserve to have your needs met, whether that be in this marriage or out of it.

    1. I interpreted that as “I’m going to blow you off about this indefinitely.” After you move, it’ll be “after we get settled in” or some other excuse after excuse after excuse.

      Maybe he just wants a warm body there to make the dinner, with that attitude.

  21. LW #2, navigating a separation or divorce is awful, and doubly so with kids. But I know SO MANY PEOPLE who are better parents for being divorced. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “We love each other dearly, and we’re great friends, but we just couldn’t get along as a couple,” or something similar. If you choose that route, it’ll be difficult and it’ll add logistics into the next decade and half of your life (at the very least) that a lot of other people don’t have to deal with, but it might be so much better than the path you’re on now. Whatever you choose, don’t let people bully you into something you know is wrong for you or untenable because “think of the children!”

    1. True. But to be honest, I know at least as many people who say that their child clearly suffered deeply through their divorce, and adults who were impacted by living through a divorce, and adults who had happy childhoods and only found out as adults that their parents’ marriage was only OK, not wonderful, and divorced parents who say that parenting together separately WELL took even more cooperation and working together and commitment and communication, not less.

      Neither path is clear-cut or obviously the ‘right’ path for everyone; the people involved have to look at their individual circumstances and just try to figure out what the best they personally can do will be for their family.

      1. You’re absolutely right. I phrased the comment the way I did because parents (especially women) considering whether or not to separate hear a lot about how they should just put their heads down and power through for the sake of the kids, but I don’t often see people acknowledge the opposite possibility.

    2. Seconded. My parents divorced, and it was the best thing they could have possibly done for the family. Parenting takes patience. If you use up all your patience trying not to show that you’re miserable in your relationship, you don’t have much left over for your kids.

  22. In another comment tawg says very wisely that people have different needs for the nature of their romantic relationship – “best friend and a soul mate and a complementary sexual participant” vs “someone who they’re pretty good buds with, has similar life goals, and brings the washing in” – and the fact that it’s okay to have different definitions, provided both sides agree. If 691 just can’t have the life she needs with her husband she absolutely should work towards moving on. If he won’t really put in the effort to help her be happy in this partnership, absolutely move on. Refusing couples therapy is 110% straight-up bullshit.

    But I have to say, as the parent of a 2.5 year old I am super surprised by the fact that your 4 year old child gets mentioned once and doesn’t get one other bit of mention as a factor in romance/sexytimes. I wonder how much the kiddo factors into this, particularly if the other thing the husband does in addition to grad school is child care. After all, LW691 says “I’m traveling for work soon and I’m going to be gone for over a month and I won’t be able to continue therapy while I’m gone.”

    As the person who made some career sacrifices to be more flexible and therefor spends more time being the caregiver – including being the person who handles all the kiddo tasks when my wife is traveling for work – it is straight up exhausting, even if school/daycare gets you chunks of time to yourself or for school. That’s not an excuse for your husband not to try to meet you halfway here, but these early years can indeed be a slog that requires you to focus a lot of your love&reassurance time on more than one target.

    1. On that note, I also now see that the LW pinned down the “erosion of intimacy” in her marriage as having been ongoing for the past four years, the same age of their child. One definitely wonders whether the struggles of parenting may be a factor here, and a factor to the point that it’s hard to recognize or talk about (which is why we’re not hearing about it).

    2. I was going to say that, too–I have a small child, and while both of us are working full-time, it is *hard* to maintain a romantic relationship. Because we both also want time to ourselves, and we pretty much only have that when the kid is sleeping or at her grandparents’. We’re both pretty low-key people, so there’s not much of an expectation of grand romantic gestures, but it’s still hard.

      I mean, it doesn’t sound like her husband is making much of an effort at all, and that’s obviously a problem, but as a parent who has done grad school I do have some sympathy for being emotionally spread too thin.

    3. Yes, we have a two year old, and our marriage is definitely somewhat struggling.
      We dont get a lot of time to ourselves together, and get even less time to ourselves apart. Because amongst his job and study towards a professional qualification, and my study towards a graduate degree, the household stuff, and the toddler, there just is not a lot of time to work on the marriage.
      And I can clearly see a demarcation of where things started getting tough – right about halfway through my pregnancy, when I started having really bad body image issues.
      Neither of us is putting in the effort we really need to. He’s coming off better, as he’s never needed a lot of that.
      But this husband needs to listen to his wife and do something she needs.
      That said, I know she talked about things she had done, but did she use her words? Have they looked at each others love languages to be sure they are both speaking to each other the right way?

    4. Parent of a 9 year old and a 6 year old and YES THIS. Especially for the three years when I had an exhausting work/grad school schedule trying to combine paid employment with unpaid but mandatory internship, and the six months when I had a frequent-overnight-travel job. Spouse has been the primary parent throughout this time, and there’s been a lot of it where BOTH OF US have been fucking exhausted as well as “too exhausted for fucking” (and said as much to each other with hugs and sad smiles).

      “My life is one gigantic pit of logistics hell” is a thing when you combine grad school, small children, something that keeps the bills at least sort of paid most of the time, and various limitations imposed by less-than-perfect physical and mental health. And dealing with the logistics hell on the day to day basis can make it impossible to put the time into the relationship you’re trying to keep going in the ways you’d like, let alone gather the Team You that will support you in that and return favors properly for them.

      It’s HARD. And it can be hard to be loving and considerate when you have one big ball of “this is not the life I ordered!” overhead and your paychecks are spent before you have them and all there is is the nebulous someday-it-will-be-better. But you and your partner can be allies in getting through that feeling towards the nebulous someday…or not. (Spouse is that for me. I know DAMN WELL how lucky I am. And he’d say the same about me.)

      1. I’m a survivor of those toddler years and cannot yawp a YES loud enough. It was the most difficult time of my life AND my marriage. At one point I thought it was never going to get better, but it did. It took several years of trying, fighting, compromising, therapy, psychiatric meds, setting boundaries, learning to use words, and self-care out the wazoo, but it did get better. It took the effort of both of us, but it got better. Now we are parenting through the teenage years, and there is that feeling of being ‘in the trench’ together, which accurately depicts us as being in a war, but at least we are allies in it, so that’s something. 🙂

  23. On the topic of emotional affairs and nonfunctional relationships: Two years ago I was in a relationship that wasn’t making me happy and began an emotional affair with a co-worker – lots of collaboration, long deep conversations in the middle of the night, a strong feeling of emotional intimacy. It took me a year to make the decision to end the relationship, and while the emotional affair/crush wasn’t the decisive factor it certainly had an impact. (There’s nothing like feeling emotionally supported and connected to make you realize that you haven’t been.) A few months later I asked Mr. Crush if he would consider dating me, and he gave me a strong and unambiguous no. (Which was, in retrospect, a great mercy – we would not have been well suited in a relationship, and the clarity *really* helped.) I thought that would end the emotional intimacy, collaboration and long conversations, but somehow that didn’t. Shortly after that I began another relationship with someone absolutely lovely, who I’m very happy to be with and feel connected to and supported by. And…Mr. Crush is still in my life, and the conversations and collaborations are still ongoing, and he still means a lot to me, but none of this makes me love my boyfriend any less. There’s something wonderful about knowing that I’m in a relationship that is strong and deep enough that I can have another connection in which I feel loved and supported and still be happy with my boyfriend. But I guess what I’m saying is, an emotional affair might not be about being unhappy in your relationship, even if they both happen at the same time. It might just be that this person was always going to be someone who brings light into your life. It’s just that light can feel particularly intense when other things are dark.

    1. Something I meant to ask LW was to what degree she felt this way about her partner before the emotional intimate partner came along, or if it’s the new relationship that has caused her to feel dissatisfied about her partner.

      Also, she mentioned, I think, being a musician? My former husband was a musician, and we figured out pretty quick that being with a musician, you’re essentially being polyamorous, even if the musician isn’t having sex with anyone else, because the emotional connection with other musicians is so strong. He didn’t mind that I wasn’t a musician, as long as I didn’t mind that he was having that sort of deep emotional relationship with other people, and he already had a rule about how he didn’t sleep with people in the band, because that could mess up the band dynamics.

      tl;dr There’s really nothing wrong with having a mundane relationship where you take care of each other and a creative relationship with people with whom you share your art.

      1. Heck, my partner and I have an open relationship, we’re theatre people, and one of our few rules is “you can have sex with someone else or collaborate with someone else, but not both”.

  24. Dear #691, do you know the metaphor of the emotional joint checking account? Basically, you’re both supposed to be contributing: support, consideration, snuggles, etc. And just like a real checking account: when you see that it’s running low, and you’re about to be overdrawn, the first impulse is to freak out. Fund it! Contribute as much as you can! Except, it’s a _joint_ account. If it’s running low because the other person is making withdrawals and never deposits, you cannot fund it entirely by yourself. You cannot. Once the other person has decided they’re done putting in – and if his love letters are so awful you’ve had to ask him to stop writing them, it sounds like he’s done – that account is just not going to support the both of you, because the more you contribute, the less he does.

  25. I am young (and likely naive), but isn’t the point of marriage that it’s permanent? Unless there’s abuse going on, isn’t the point of marrying someone (rather than simply continuing a long-term relationship for as long as it’s going well) that you’re committing to them for life?

    1. People get married with the hope and the agreement to make it a permanent, lifelong relationship, but there are lots of ways people let each other down or make each other miserable that fall short of abuse. For example.

      People change over the course of a lifetime, and not all the changes are good, and not all the changes are what you signed up for.

      1. As a newly married person, the idea that we are *hoping* for a lifelong relationship but aren’t guaranteed one is probably one of the biggest factors in ensuring that we will HAVE a lifelong relationship. Realizing that you aren’t in fact stuck together encourages people to work together, to communicate, to make the effort. It’s not coasting from here on out.

        So yeah, I HOPE we’re in this forever, but the fact that I KNOW Mr Celette isn’t obligated (and neither am I) means I’m more willing to do work to make sure it’s forever.

    2. I think for a lot of people that’s true. But I guess the point is that that’s a choice each person makes. You’re the ones making the commitment, so you get to decide what it is you have and haven’t committed to. You don’t have to live YOUR marriage by someone else’s definition of what marriage is.

    3. There doesn’t have to be abuse present for one or both people to be miserable. There doesn’t have to be abuse present for one or both people to realize they made an ill considered match, or that they each want different things, or that they have irreconcilably grown apart, or that they are slowly starting to despise each other’s company. There doesn’t have to be abuse present for one person to realize that they are doing all the compromising in the relationship, and it’s not what they signed on for, and their partner has no desire to change that dynamic.

      Sometimes people stay together when they realize those things, and eventually come to terms they can mutually live with, or even be happy with. Sometimes people stay together and barely tolerate or outright hate each other until the day they die (which is Super Awesome if there are kids involved). Sometimes people go to therapy and realize they can change some things to make the relationship thrive again. Sometimes they go to therapy and realize they can’t, and are better off apart. Sometimes they bypass therapy and go straight to divorce because they know they don’t want to work on the relationship any more, they have done all they are willing or able to do, and need out.

      Until death do us part is an ideal. The thing about ideals is they so rarely work out ideally for everyone involved, especially when human beings hitch our different needs, perspectives, and baggage to our promises.

    4. That’s one point, and people don’t usually marry hoping for divorce.

      But there are other points, often around the public embrace of new and expanded family, and when love ends and misery takes over, divorce is a good choice.

    5. My more glib answer would be that marriage is what the people in the marriage decide it is.

      Actually, that’s kind of my less glib answer too. Almost everyone enters into a marriage with the intention that it continue in perpetuity, though there’s nothing stopping a couple from entering into one with the intention that they’re out in 20 years. Or 5. The law just doesn’t really allow for them to do that easily.

      But what that means, in the case of this unlikely couple and in the case of everyone else too, is that being in a marriage requires you continue to actually be in it and a part of it, as well as making a concerted effort to keep growing and moving more or less in the same direction. I’ve always liked the sentiment in the quote “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
      Antoine de Saint-Exupery. That guy, what a price.

      To look at it from another direction, if someone is out cheating on a regular basis and not always coming home at night and this goes on for months/years until such time as their spouse leaves them… who do we say has given up on the marriage? Who has failed to look at this relationship as permanent? That’s the extreme, but checking out emotionally and not being willing to be a part of making each other happy is no less crappy an action.

      In the end it always takes two. Even if one person’s reasons for leaving don’t have anything to do with the other person’s actions, well, both sides are humans and humans can be messy. When one person checks out, for good reasons or not, it’s done.

      Personally I do think that if you went so far as to enter into a marriage then that does mean something more when it comes to deciding how much effort to put into making it work. But eventually it’s nothing more than just a piece of paper if it doesn’t actually involve a real connection between two people. Valuing a notary stamp above the actual emotional fulfillment of two people is a waste of life.

    6. There are also HUGE legal benefits to marriage. I’ve definitely known folks who’d be happy living together forever, didn’t want a wedding/etc, but needed insurance or some other benefit.

      Marriage does not mean the same thing to all people. So, no, for many people the point is not that it is permanent. The point can be that, for whatever reason, legally tying yourself to another person makes sense for the time being.

      1. My ex and I were considering getting married as a legal thing earlier than as an actual thing for that reason – I’d moved countries, the change in climate affected my health badly but I couldn’t access financial assistance, and his entitlements were decreased because he now had a partner, and marriage would have increased my options.

        There also used to be a loophole in student aid here (back in my home country) where you got more in total if two people were married. It was even a storyline on our big soap opera.

      2. Yup. This is me. My husband and I would have been perfectly happy to continue living together unmarried, but I needed his insurance. So we’re married. Not much changed except now we file our taxes together and I call him “my husband.”

        The legal status of being married and the commitment of being in a relationship are not the same thing.

        1. Same here! Except I often forget and call him my boyfriend, since we were together 15 years before getting married.

      3. Even C. S. Lewis – yes, the Christian writer – civilly married Joy Davidman because her visa was running out and her marrying a British citizen would let her stay in Britain. When their relationship developed further, they had a second church wedding a year later to mark their “real” marriage.

    7. I used to hurt myself a lot by trying to make long-term commitments to myself. I was young, and I had not yet seen how much I could change, people I knew could change, and how much the universe can seem to deliberately mess with you whenever you decide there is something you would never do or something you will always do.

      Even if you go into a situation wanting and agreeing it will be for the rest of your life, is it better to keep to a promise you made foolishly that is now causing harm to people you love or to break it? What is the value to continuing to hurt people just because you were too naive when you were younger to predict the ways in which this choice might be a bad decision? It’s so hard to picture when something is good that its goodness might be time-limited. It’s so hard to imagine that how you feel can change so much. Until you’ve been through it a bit, and by then, it may be too late as you may already have made a promise or vow. If we truly felt keeping such promises and vows were the right thing to do, then we should advise all children to never, ever, ever make such promises or vows. Because no human can know whether the future will be such that keeping it continues to be wise.

      Clinging to the mistakes of the past is so easy and tempting. It’s the path of the foolish martyr. Foolish, because it isn’t actually good for anyone. Martying yourself can feel good. But in the case of a relationship, I think both parties deserve somebody who isn’t bitter and resentful and staying there because they said they would.

      Have a song quote:
      “But I can’t confront the doubts I have
      I can’t admit that maybe the past was bad
      And so, for the sake of momentum
      I’m condemning the future to death
      So it can match the past.” — Aimee Mann “Momentum”

      1. “just because you were too naive … to predict the ways in which this choice might be a bad decision?” Yup, and this can happen even when you are older, and even in friendships. Sometimes you cannot remotely fathom the ways in which relationships may change; when people are getting hurt (including yourself), doubling down is not necessarily the answer.

        1. Probably true even for older folks. But I have learned to never make absolute promises, so I’m free of this. My friends/partners know I will state my intentions honestly. I will try to abide by what I’ve said I’d try to do. And if something changes such that doing so no longer is the sensible course, then I will adjust accordingly. As long as you act in a trustworthy manner, this seems to be sufficient for most people. And it gets you free of the trap of having to either sacrifice honesty or sense. Honesty is a really big deal for me, but deliberately doing something stupid and harmful just because you made a mistake in the past is really hard to justify for the sake of honesty. So, I prefer never having to worry about a conflict. But I think most people make promises with the implicit understanding that they are strong intentions, not absolutes. And that they will be broken if there is a good enough reason.

          As you say, doubling down is not necessarily the answer.

          I know it’s really romantic to think you can plan out the course of the entire rest of your life and predict it well enough to make decisions now for decades to come. But really, if you aren’t getting more experienced and wiser and able to plot your course better as you get older, then aren’t you missing out a bit on life? Shouldn’t you trust your future self to be even better at making decisions than your current self? Why take options off the table from the you that is even better able to do the right thing?

    8. Plus, what about people who can’t get married and want to? They still commit to each other for life, but laws, man. They get in the way sometimes.

    9. I don’t think it’s fair to say “the point” of marriage is that it’s permanent – the point of marriage, if there’s any one specific “point” of marriage at all, is to create a type of partnership with someone you love that you both agree would be a good type of partnership to have for life. Permanence is a goal of marriage, one you may or may not meet.

      It’s kind of like having the goal of climbing to the top of Mt. Everest – you do everything you can do to prepare to reach the top, you buy all the equipment and you do all the training and you put in the work to reach the top, you make the effort as best you can throughout the climb, but sometimes a killer storm swoops in and there’s 14 feet of snow in your way and you decide “nope, not worth it” and you turn around. Not because you couldn’t maybe slog through the snow – maybe you could, and maybe it would be fine, and maybe you’d get to the top by forcing your way through miles of upward misery – but because the amount of misery you’d have to endure and the damage you’d potentially do to yourself to get to the top isn’t worth it anymore.

    10. My friend got married to a long-time boyfriend. His comment to another guy soon afterwards was “now that I got this *shows ring* I don’t need to try anymore”. She was awake and got a divorce pretty soon after.
      So no, it’s not “point” that once you’re married you can’t get out for any less reason than abuse.

  26. This hurts my heart because I just did this breakup. Almost exactly two months ago. We dated for almost five years, moved in together, and I was hit with the crushing realization that moving in together did not solve my discontent. It did not make me want to have sex more, it did not make him like living in [city], it did not convince him to be less pessimistic, it did not stop the resentment because he dropped out of college and I’m in grad school, it didn’t quell my yearning for romance, it did not stop x, y, and z. But we had been so great together! Family picnics, vacations, road trips… he wanted to marry me! Better yet, I was sure he was the only person in the world who could tolerate my company/find me attractive! But as the years went on I realized that I wasn’t scared of marriage (entirely); I just couldn’t see myself married to /him/. Eventually I near-cheated with a best friend who /was/ fulfilling my emotional needs, and I realized that I wouldn’t be craving something else so hard if my heart was already full.

    It still kills me to know he’s hurting, and that I’m the cause of that hurt. But for the first time in a long time, I’m my own #1 priority. Dear Sugar helped me do that. I hope you can find the peace I feel now, LWs.

  27. LW1 — just wanted to say that in your letter the awful house really stuck out for me. When I was in an unhappy marriage (which I got dumped out of, I didn’t leave) I really, really hated our house. It was cold (frost on the inside of windows on cold nights) and drafty and didn’t get enough light, and the heavy pointy-edged furniture (all his) was always poking me ( I can still feel the places in my knee and hip that would always get knicked, somehow I didn’t figure out how to negotiate the angles well). I paid to have the windows redone, which helped a little with the drafts. If I were a clever novelist, this would alllll be metaphorical, right? But I’m not making it up! I suspect in a happier marriage all of these idiosyncracies would have been charming to me — like, “ah, those were the years when we lived in that funny little old fashioned house we filled with our love!” not “ow, brr, ow”.

    Anyway, I was very very heartbroken to leave that house because it wasn’t my choice to end our marriage, but one of the things that buoyed me up right away was my new apartment. So sunshiney and so warm and all soft edges. And little by little I was just happier in general. I think — get out of that space and see how you feel about things. The way you feel about where you live can be a metaphor for how you feel about your life, and those things can change together.

  28. Dear LW 691, I know how hard it is to be the only one in a relationship aiming for romance or sex. I know how disheartening it is to put yourself out there, initiating sex, vulnerable, and be rejected almost every time. I know what it’s like when the other person just doesn’t seem to feel the needs you do, but they refuse to acknowledge it, blaming the lack of romance or sex on a situation, or a way he’s feeling right now, or just anxiety in general and hear “it’ll get better” as a promise without any timeline or realistic plans on how to make that happen. Moving can’t be a magical curing factor every time. It probably won’t be next time. And once he’s done with grad school, there’ll be stressful jobs, child-rearing, aging, and other factors that keep his attention and focus away from the physical part of your relationship.

    For now, you sound like you’d be happier leaving.

    For now, if you do decide to stay, you need to learn to live with this lack of sex and romance for the rest of your life, or at least as long as you stay together. Of course he’ll give in sometimes, but eventually you’ll feel like a creep for it, feel like you shouldn’t have the desires you have, like you’re using him when you initiate sex because you know he’s only doing it because you’re asking and he doesn’t feel comfortable ALWAYS saying no and having to deal with the arguments and stressful situations that that entails. Considering cheating an option is not good for your relationship. Couples therapy won’t change things if he doesn’t want to change.

    You deserve to be someone who fulfills your desires, someone you not only love but are also compatible with (sexually too), someone you like. He deserves to be with someone who doesn’t resent him, who doesn’t feel responsible for him and his happiness and only stays for that reason.

    Good luck.

  29. ”My husband says when he brings home dinner that’s his way of demonstrating love.”

    Hi #691,

    that sounds really frustrating. I know some people who are the same way. They claim that their actions prove their love. Recently someone said to me that the absence of yelling was equivical to praise and love for them and I just.. nopetopused away.

    They are not lying, they just function in a different way from what I, and I suspect you, do. These are things that are right and true for them. But their truth doesn’t mean they hold the monopoly on how to show feelings. Your way of showing love is just as truthful and important. You are wonderful and worthy of someone showing you love in a way you prefer.

    If you want permission from this internet stranger to move on from this relationship, you hereby have it. You don’t have to stay with him just because he’s nice and throws you a breadcrumb of affection almost never. There’s a possibility that when confronted he’ll say he’s never noticed anything wrong but his truth doesn’t make your truth and your feelings are as valid and important as his. You deserve someone to watch Twin Peaks with. You deserve years of love letters. You deserve more because you want it.

    1. Yes. It is completely okay to want someone who demonstrates their love in the ways you prefer. Having a mismatch doesn’t make either of you bad, but it can make you bad for each other. It is a clear indication that something needs to change. Sometimes that something is the other person learning to show love the way you prefer it and sometimes it’s breaking up.

      For example, with my partner, I used to try to cheer him up when he was upset through humor. I saw he was hurting, and I wanted to lighten the mood and make him laugh and feel better. Then he got really upset with me, because it felt to him like he wasn’t being heard and his feelings were being ignored. So, I changed how I tried to cheer him up. I still use humor sometimes, but I put more of a focus on trying to acknowledge how he feels and make him feel heard.

      That was one way of changing. He told me the problem he was having, and I was fine trying to adapt to it. If I hadn’t been fine adapting to it, he probably couldn’t stop feeling hurt by my actions, so we probably would have been a bad match for each other. Maybe I’d have found someone who did like humor as their primary cheering up mechanism. Or maybe I’d have changed my own methods later as I got older anyway. But him feeling hurt and unloved wasn’t an acceptable way for things to stay. Something had to change.

      When you’re hurt and unhappy in your relationship, something has to change. You only have control over your own actions and choices. So, you can tell your partner about your problems, but if your unhappiness isn’t something they care about fixing or if they are unable or unwilling to make the changes you need, then you’re a bad match for each other. You may each be a good match for someone else, but not for each other. And the only option you always have is to break up. Often, even they will eventually realize it was for the best. Since bad relationships do tend to hurt both parties. But it doesn’t really matter. A relationship needs to work for everyone involved to be working. If it’s only making one person feel good, then it is badly broken.

  30. Grad school can really do a number on people. My husband was in grad school at the same time that we had our first child and it was a bad situation for him. He was depressed, anxious, paralyzed by perfectionism. He was unable to be supportive of me in any meaningful way. We were just getting through it. For us, it took a few things to make it better: 1) getting him out of grad school; 2) moving; 3) getting him meaningful paid work; and 4) securing adequate childcare. He had to get right with himself as a parent and provider and human being before he could get right with me. And it’s much, much better now. If he won’t go to couples counseling, can each of you go see an individual therapist, separately? Honestly, I think it sounds like your husband is depressed and needs some help.

    1. Indeed, the definition of grad school almost is that it does a number on people :-). And I’m glad that the end of it worked out well for Sadie. But I’d still like to interject a note of caution for LW2 about that. It’s only after throwing away 7 years of my life on someone else’s PhD and then getting tossed out on my ear, right when life should have been getting so much better, that I found that sociology thesis about how 95% of people who get a PhD dump the person who’s gotten them through it within a short while (a year or 2, I don’t remember). You read that right, it’s not a typo NINETY FIVE PERCENT.

      Now there are a lot of reasonable explanations for that, grad school is so traumatic that they hate you because you remind them of that bad period, or now that they’re done with this horror they feel like they need an entire life upgrade including a more exciting relationship, and things usually devolve to bare survival before the thesis get pushed out the door etc etc. No matter what the reason, you have to be aware of the odds if he does finish, odds which are not in your favor. And you also have to be prepared for the fact that if you leave he’ll most likely shake himself up, finish the thesis in a blink, and get a stupendous job in a glamorous institution :-), just because most relationships end that way, they run off and do exactly what you’d been asking for for years, just do it with someone else. But in fact if he does finish the thesis and finds academic happiness, that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to find happiness yourself by leaving this dead relationship that’s not making you happy. You may not have a shred of a chance at sharing that post-thesis glow of happiness, and he may only have it because you’re gone. Try not to flog a dead horse, tempting as it may be..

      And needless to say if I’d known what my odds where, I’d have stayed put in the place where I was happy, settled for occasional roll-in-the-hay reunions for Thanksgiving, and allowed things to take their course instead of being yanked from my entire social life, screwing up my career, you name it. She’d also have been more likely to stay in love with me if I’d kept my own life in its entirety. I plead ignorance. But you, LW2, and whoever else might be lurking out there, don’t do as I did, or at least not without knowing what you’re risking..

      1. unagi, do you remember any more details on the thesis you mentioned? Tried to google it, but without exact keywords or author all that pops up is grad schools’ materials…

  31. Does anybody else here despise the phrase — the concept itself — of an “emotional affair”? It screams thoughtcrime to me. As in, how dare anyone tell me that I am not allowed to have emotionally stimulating and fulfilling experiences with someone who is not my spouse/partner. And why would my spouse/partner want to deny me the happiness and pleasure I feel when I’m having those experiences with other people? (Why would i want to deny my spouse/partner a similar happiness and pleasure?)

    As a personal example, I have very deep conversations with a friend whom I see in person once a year or so. We’ve known each other for over 20 years; early in our acquaintance, we even slept together a few times before we knew how to navigate relationships. Hanging out with this friend is blissful to me. I crave his company in ways that I don’t crave the company of my partner, whom I’ve known for only 5 years. When a visit is on the calendar, I count the freaking hours until we get together. I hate it when a visit is with a large group of people, because I’d much rather get him alone and I don’t have to share him with anyone else. I’m sure he doesn’t feel the friendship as intensely, but I do know that he enjoys our visits and time together. Am I having an ongoing emotional affair with this friend?

    F–k that. And if my partner tried to get me to stop interacting with my old friend because of the intense pleasure I get when I interact with him, I would kick my partner to the curb in a hot minute.

    1. I feel like I totally understand, however, if someone feels like they’re having an emotional affair if they’re in a romantic love with another person.

      I mean, how do I put this–everyone gets to decide if they want to be monogamous and also what constitutes that. I feel like if I was in a relationship, I would have to explicitly lay out that by monogamous I mean “We are each other’s sole romantic and sexual partner, and of course that doesn’t preclude life-saving deeper-than-words intense friendships”.

      Like, I wouldn’t feel like I was cheating by being intense best friends with someone else, but I definitely would feel like I was cheating if I got romantic with someone else. It’s a different thing and difficult to draw the line precisely because romance is also subjective and individual and varied, but I get ’emotional affair’.

    2. I don’t think that’s what most people mean by “emotional affair.” It’s when someone has an intimate relationship with someone not their partner, and in fact keeps it secret from their partner (at least the level of intimacy) but tells themselves it’s not cheating because they’re not having sex.


      I know some people find the concept metaphorically useful to explain a thing that is wrong but I HATE IT. It seems like usually it’s a concept that is used to control women’s behavior and argue for why they shouldn’t make strong connections to other people, especially at work, who happen to be male.

      I remember writing a long angry tirade about this five years or so ago because I had this co-worker that if you read one of those “are you having an emotional affair at work?” articles, the two of us literally ticked ALL the boxes except the ones directly dealing with sexual attraction. (Which…no. He was a few years younger than my dad, and had kids close to my age.)

      Spouse is not a bookworm. I am. My (now retired and damn it I miss him) co-worker is. So we were always talking books. And we worked really well together and it was great for both of us and it just bothers me that there were all those supposed danger signals. I almost posted about this a few letters back with the creepy boss and his young female employees, as a counterexample of how you can have a guy in his 50s work with a woman in her 20s and even discuss slightly off-color things on occasion (oh no, short stories that were originally published in Playboy!) and have it NOT be…well, that.

      1. Yeah, I feel that it’s a concept used to deny people any deeply emotional connection with someone other than their spouse/partner. As if exclusivity with one’s spouse/partner includes not just sexual exclusivity but also emotional and experiential. I see it used to accuse people of “unfaithfulness” when they’re feeling a human connection to someone other than their spouse/partner. (I don’t mean to create a straw man here; this is how I see it used.) So … it’s a bad thing to have such a human connection?

        And dig it, it’s something that you actually can’t effectively deny once you’ve been accused of it, can you? “You’re having an emotional affair with Co-worker!” “No, we just work together one-on-one a lot. And we enjoy working together. We get along well, and we make each other laugh, and it turns out we have many of the same interests outside of work. Having this co-worker makes being at work a real pleasure instead of a daily grind.” “You mean you enjoy the time you spend away from your spouse!”

        Again, not to create a straw man, but don’t a lot of the “emotional affair” situations go something like that? Disallowing human connections with anybody other than a spouse/partner is some weird-ass marital puritanism. It’s unattainable — just about anything could be an “emotional affair” when the ideal is to be isolated from everyone in the world except for your spouse/partner –, and I think it can’t be psychologically healthy anyway.

    4. Yeah. As someone who has a lot of acquaintances and friends but forms a few really deep, super-intimate friendships alongside these more superficial and ephemeral connections, and someone who is bisexual, I see an inherent heterosexism in the idea of an “emotional affair”–the common perception of the emotional affair as a concept is profoundly gendered. If you are a woman, your “work husband” could be perceived as an “emotional affair” partner, but your best girlfriend likely won’t be even if you are explicitly and unequivocally bisexual. And you and your best girlfriend are probably much more physically intimate than you and your work husband.

      And that heterosexism really bothers me. For some years, my very best, most intimate friend in my grad program was male, and there were constant rumours and speculation about us and our actual relationship, to the point that it definitely had an impact on our friendship. Around the same time that he and I were scaling back our friendship (not willingly on my part, but I understood the need on his), I became even closer with another colleague, who was female. She and I spent *even more* time together than he and I ever had, with frequent sleepovers and nearly constant contact along every axis of our lives (school, work, entertainment, eating, gym, teaching, marking, writing, random downtime), and even though I’m very out as bi, no one ever even thought of spreading the kind of talk about her and me that they’d thought nothing of spreading about my male friend and me.

      1. Thank you.

        I always knew this topic filled me with absolute rage, and you really helped me put into words WHY. It is super gendered AND heterosexist AND it is yet more bisexual erasure. Because either bisexuals don’t really exist *so much eyeroll* or we just plain can’t be trusted with anyone of any gender. And ugh, nope.

    5. I get where you’re coming from, but I think there are a few different things the idea of an ’emotional affair’ tries to convey. I know for example when my relationship was breaking down, my partner formed a relationship with someone else who was giving him those deep and emotionally stimulating experiences. They didn’t do anything sexual together, but the truth was that that was an arbitrary line in the sand and really what he was doing was having an affair – he had disconnected emotionally from me and was falling in love with someone else. Not actually having sexytimes made them feel less guilty about what they were doing (plausible deniabilty) but made absolutely no difference to my feelings about it when I found out (ultimately we broke up and he married the other woman and in the long run everyone concerned was much happier, but it was not a fun journey in the meantime).

      I think the key difference is that in my example, this ’emotional affair’ was secret – I knew he was friendly with this other woman but he totally downplayed the depth of their connection. So on some level he knew that what he was really doing was ‘having an affair’ and that this emotional experience had implications for our relationship. Whereas in your example, I get the impression your partner knows that your friend is super important to you and you have an important connection, but that that is an important connection that doesn’t have implications for your feelings for your partner. That doesn’t necessarily mean you would describe your feelings for this friend to your partner in as much fullness as you have here (I mean, maybe you do, but I don’t think that allowing the connection to be a bit more implicit would be the same thing as ‘secrecy’), but you’re not (presumably) passing it off as a much more shallow connection than it is.

      I agree though, that there is a lot of icky gendering concerned here and people often perceive close relationships with the opposite sex as ‘affairs’ when they would not see it that way if it was a same-gender friendship at all. Which sucks.

    6. I definitely see why it bothers you, because I also despise the idea that it’s somehow wrong to have deep emotional connections with people who aren’t your romantic partner. But to me an “emotional affair” is when you WANT to have a physical romantic relationship with the person but know it’s wrong so you do everything but, while neglecting your partner, because you aren’t willing/ready to end your relationship yet. It’s what’s happening when you feel like there’s something just a little bit off about the friend your partner has, and you don’t want to be suspicious or jealous so you let it be, then you get dumped and they’re dating that person a week later.

      I think this LW is having an emotional affair, though it’s a totally understandable one and I’m not judging her harshly for it because she is really doing everything she can to save her marriage. And I think the Captain is right to tell her to focus on just herself instead of this other potential partner because who knows what will happen with it. But I do think emotional affair is an accurate word for it.

    7. “It screams thoughtcrime to me” – see, to me, ‘thoughtcrime’ is one of those gaslighting things, where you’re not allowed to point out that your SO starts pining away at X every time X is at a shared social event, or doesn’t really seem to be over their ex, or blows you off for hours to text with somebody else – hey, am I not allowed to be attracted to other people, it’s not like I’m CHEATING, am I not allowed to have THOUGHTS about other people.

    8. Yeah, that description shows that you are reading the concept 100% differently to me. “Emotional affair” isn’t about intense feelings, it’s about sharing specifically intense romantic or sexual feelings.

      I find it easy to relate to because (a) I have definitely toed that line and (b) I am far, far more afraid of an emotional affair than a physical one. I actually really like the idea of having an open sexual relationship with my partner and the idea of him having sex with other people, but would need to tread very carefully if it came to second relationships because I am extremely jealous of his romantic love.

      I met a man in my Naval Reserve basic training I was very attracted to, we sat very close together and really enjoyed our conversations. I was open with my partner that we got on super well and were talking when I came home (we lived in different cities), but it got where he would call me at work at lunchtime then we talked for hours after work and it felt good in an entirely not-platonic way. He also told me he thought of me when he slept with his girlfriend when he got home.

      It actually only ended because his fiance was not OK with him talking to other women at all and found an (entirely platonic) email and a photo of him with me and another woman from a party, resulting in her throwing the ring at him. Luckily that drama kind of killed it and I’m glad now but at the time I really didn’t know what I wanted for a while. The idea of my partner feeling the way I did makes me feel sick, and it’s taken work for me to pull way back on my capacity for crushes and building totally not-cool intense relationships with men.

  32. Having grown up in evangelical circles (although I’ve since moved very far away from them), I think that there might actually be something that would help LW 691 (or may help in the future, if you decide that it’s best to leave). There’s a book called The Five Love Languages, or the Five Languages of Love, something to that effect, and it talks about how people show their love to others. It can be through action, verbal affirmations, physical affection, etc. And it also talks about what to do when there’s a substantial mismatch between people–parents and children, spouses, siblings, even friends.

    The point being is that while it might be true that your husband and you have different love languages, if you truly care about someone, you’ll make the effort to learn the other person’s love language and meet them halfway. I do tend to show love through cooking, but my husband likes verbal and physical affirmations, and we try to do both.

    So, I wonder if, should you decide to stick it out for whatever reason, this would help your husband understand WHY he isn’t meeting your needs? I don’t know how spiritual/religious the book itself is, and there might be something out there that’s similar that’s more secular, but if he’s not willing to enter into therapy, maybe giving him something concrete like that will help.

    But that’s only if he’s willing to work on it, and I understand having a demanding job, and raising a small child, and grad school, and all of that can take a toll on a person’s ability to engage with others, even those they love. Engagement is key to making any relationship work, though. You can’t disengage from parents, or your kids, or friends, or a spouse and then expect them to still be there when you get around to paying attention to them again. If he has disengaged emotionally, I can understand feeling frustrated and angry, and not being willing to wait for grad school to be over, because it sounds like an empty promise after all these years.

    1. Ah, yeah, so that book is used a lot by PUA:s trying to perfect their art of creepiness. I did some googling after kino was mentioned here a few days ago. So… maybe not that one?

      I’m sorry to be a wet blanket. I just don’t want LW to accidentally introduce those parameters in their relationship.

      1. My H and I read that book as part of pre-marital counseling. There was a bit too much Christianity in it for us, but at the same time, it gave us a framework to discuss what we needed and why that we were previously lacking. Sure, it can be used negatively (like, by PUA creepers), but if you’re talking about a couple reading it together in good faith with the goal of reaching a better understanding of each other, I think it can be really helpful.

        Personal example: H and I speak different “love languages,” so we were doing stuff for each other in our own “language,” the other person would respond with a sort of “oh hey, that’s cool” response, but not the sort of “wow I feel so loved!” response that the doer was expecting, so we were both feeling slightly rejected and like whatever we were doing wasn’t “good enough” for the other person, while also simultaneously feeling like the other person didn’t care because they weren’t showing love to us in our own preferred “language.” We knew we were vaguely dissatisfied, but neither one of us had the vocabulary to explain why – the book gave us the vocabulary, which led to some really good conversations and “light bulb moments” about how to relate to each other/show love for each other. It also helped us put each other’s actions in perspective (for example, I now know that when he does my boring chores for me, it’s not him being overzealous on the house-cleaning front, it’s an expression of love in his own “love language,” as cheesy as that sounds).

        PUA creepers can pervert lots of things, but it doesn’t mean the source material is inherently flawed, and I think this book is an example where PUA jerks are just blatantly misreading and manipulating a text that actually has a lot of value when approached in good faith.

      2. wow, I had never heard about its association with PUA. When my partner and I got together, we took the quiz and read up on it and it turned out to be really helpful in terms of helping us find ways to express appreciation for each other in terms we could each understand. I forget the terms the book uses, but he’s physical and I like having people do things for me, so I pat him or scratch his back or something at various points during the day, and he does things like chores, and we each realize we’re expressing affection at each other.

    2. I cannot strongly enough recommend ripping out the chapter in which the author says, in fairly clear language, that most men speak/hear the language “physical touch” and by that he means “sex”, and that if things aren’t going so well, you should just put out for him (even if you don’t want to, aren’t interested) for a while, just in case that makes it better. This is why I described the languages to my spouse but never handed him the book.

  33. There’s something that’s been making me uncomfortable about the second letter, and I’ve been having trouble articulating it to myself. I think it’s the characterization of the husband’s behaviour as ‘neglect’. It feels kind of ickily to me like saying he _owes_ LW sex and specific expressions of emotions (one of LWs specific complaints is that he never initiates sex and only very rarely wants it when LW initiates it. Or he doesn’t write the specific letters that LW is imagining). To me it seems more like two people needing different things – bringing terms like ‘neglect’ into it make me uncomfortable somehow.

    1. I think you have a point. Maybe a better expression of what the LW meant was “I feel unloved, ignored, and unimportant”?

  34. Luthe and Tor! The Hero and the Crown was the first fantasy boom I read. I had no idea how lucky I was to have it be my introduction to fantasy novels until the Captain pointed out the unusual resolution to the love triangle. Fangirling over.

  35. I’m LW#691, I’m just so thankful for your thoughtful reply, Captain Awkward. The question, “[W]hat do you want and who will you be when you stop pouring all of your energy into fixing it? What will you make and who will you become when your emotional and mental bandwidth isn’t overwhelmed with this dilemma?” has been haunting me over the last few days. This is precisely the right question, and I can’t thank you enough for articulating it for me, as well as providing a starting script for me to use when I finally talk to my husband. Also, just a side note: I’ve been trying to post comments or reply to comments for days (the commenting community is so thorough and thoughtful that I wanted to participate as well), but the site hasn’t been allowing me to post my comments.

    1. I’m thinking of you LW#691 and hoping that you find the courage and strength to really reach for what you want out of your life. You only get one, it’s too short to spend in misery. Much love to you. Your happiness and well-being are worth the struggle. ❤

  36. Late to comment. The party’s moved on. But I have been following the conversation.

    I feel you both. I’ve been struggling with my own relationship for several years now–we’ve been together for 9 years and living together for 5. My partner’s been in a profound depression for most of that time. And somehow, I’ve ended up doing the vast bulk of chores. And we haven’t had a sex life for years. And somehow I’ve become responsible for managing my partner’s emotions and dealing with hir problems too. And my repeated attempts to talk about our problems or my needs have been shut down or derailed (“If we have to talk about sex, we’re doing it wrong” or “I am too tired to deal with this now” or “What about your X–you’re just as bad as I am”) and so I have largely given up trying to deal with things as a couple. Plus my partner is showing hoarder tendencies, and the only reason we haven’t been engulfed with hir stuff is my steady effort to declutter and push back the tide of stuff accumulating on all surfaces. And worst of all, my partner started demonstrating that zie thought that zie had a right to yell at me or otherwise treat me poorly without apology when zie thought I deserved it for some “wrong” I’d committed. Yet we still love each other. We still enjoy each others’ company. We still have shared dreams and goals.

    So I spent a few years trying to figure out intent and make allowances because of my partner’s mental health and various disabilities. It was a one-sided effort though, because we were not a team, and again, efforts to talk about it were shut down (“You don’t seem to understand was disabled means” and “Go educate yourself”–using social justice concept against me FTW!). Until I didn’t care anymore about whether these burdens on me were something zie couldn’t help because of hir limitations, or the repeated accusations that I was an abuser were signs of distorted thinking, or whether all of it was just hir privilege and expecting me to do the work for both us.

    I am not quite willing to quit the relationship entirely. Especially now when there are signs of positive change and real effort: my partner is now on medications. Zie has actually voluntarily apologized for being a jerk and making me cry, and right after the moment, no less, not months later and begrudgingly to the couples therapist more than me. Zie actually started going through papers accumulated on the dining table for the first time in weeks. Zie has been more reliable about things like washing dishes, and has just recently taken over hir own laundry and dealing with the litter box. All positive signs. But is it serious change, or the minimum to get us past the crisis and keep me on the hook? Dunno.

    But I am moving out. And I am so excited about it. It’s not breaking up, and it’s not permanent. It’s a trial period just for the summer, with a reevaluation at the end of the season. I am so excited about the thought of my own space and dealing only with my own shit. It’s going to be my little hermitage, my summer retreat. I’m looking at apartments right now. I am lucky to live in a college town with lots of students looking for someone to finish their lease for them.

    I’m drawing up a written contract with specific goals and agreements, based on that in the book Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends by Bruce Fisher, which was recommended by my therapist. And my partner has accepted this and is being pretty supportive. Frankly, I expect that it’ll take longer than 3 months to make the positive changes in the house and have all the necessary conversations before I move back in. So I am prepared to live on my own for a year if need be. And I am prepared for the possibility that we just can’t live together but maybe we can still be in a relationship. But accusing me of malicious intent or punishing me instead of talking to me are dealbreakers at this point.

    So hold onto your desire for something better for yourself. You deserve it. Listen to your gut, and your heart singing once you make the decision to leave.

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