Dear Captain and Crew,
Ten weeks ago I asked my husband why sex and some other things hadn’t happened on a long weekend at home. He out-of-the-blue responded, “I’ve been thinking I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” It took several days to sink in, by which point we were out of town on vacation. On the seventh day after his announcement, I couldn’t stop crying and texted my sisters, one of whom called back immediately and saved my sanity.
After we returned home and visited our couples counselor, I put an aggressive self-care plan into effect of daily exercise, masturbation, journaling, and eating well plus weekly time with friends, my personal therapist, massage, etc. The self-care is working. Most days I keep myself balanced on the two positive long-term possibilities: 1) we end up with a stronger happier marriage or 2) we head off to separate new adventures, reconnecting as friends after a break.
After an exercise break due to illness, I’ve been teetering, sometimes to optimism that he’ll stay based on his “I love yous,” warm hugs, and clear attraction to me and sometimes tripping into the short term “14 years, he doesn’t want to be with me; I can’t share this incredible pain” mud.
So far the only friends and family who know of our limbo are my sisters, his mom, his sibling, and one of his friends. I’ve waited to tell my parents, afraid mom will say “I told you to get a handle on your mood swings years ago,” or “Where’s your faith that he’ll stay?” instead of comforting me. Yesterday husband announced he bought a plane ticket to spend Mother’s Day with his mom, so my mom will want to know why I’m coming alone to visit her that weekend.
And I don’t want to be “the woman who cried divorce” asking for friend help she didn’t really need or to bias my friends against husband if he does stay. In a month – he says he’ll decide by then – a good chunk of far-flung Team Me has our annual gathering. I am really looking forward to it, but also wonder whether I should tell my friends about our marriage-limbo.
1. Do you have any script suggestions for when/what to tell my parents?
2. Do I wait till/if we separate to tell my closest friends? Is it self-centered to want to tell them before the annual fun times, even before I know for certain, just so they can support me? Is it fair to my recently widowed friend to feel sad in her presence about my Schrödinger’s husband?
(P.S. I have read 250 and 16, several times, which helped me to draft the letter to Team Me for if we separate of please this/not that.)
“Losing love is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart”
-Paul Simon, Graceland
First, may I point out how well you are taking care of yourself around this? You’ve been dealt a really hard hand, and you are handling it beautifully and being just lovely to yourself as well as more than generous to your spouse.
Second, a question: Do you want to go home for Mother’s Day this year? I know the trip is planned, and your mom will be disappointed if you don’t show up, but if you’re feeling fragile and you don’t think being around your mom will help with that right now, I give you permission to bail in the name of self-care.
Third, “Husband went to see his mom, so he won’t be joining us” is a perfectly cromulent script for why he isn’t coming with you. Give facts, don’t worry about reasons.
Fourth, if your mom usually reacts to sad news in your life with derailing questions and blaming you, then there is no right time or way to tell her. She will make whatever it is that perfect combination of All Your Fault and All About Her no matter when you do it and how you say it. So, what and when works best for you? Maybe “when a decision to definitely split up has been made” is the right time to loop her in, and maybe it’s best presented as a fait accompli. If she does know sooner, and if she says crappy stuff, there’s always “Wow” + leaving the room, as well as “Mom, I was already feeling crappy, but thanks for letting me know I could always feel crappier about things by telling you about them.” (+ leaving the room).
Fifth, if you want her to know now, consider having your sister lay the groundwork through the family grapevine so you can save yourself the conversation. “Sister, can you let our folks know what’s up with Spouse and me? I want them to know the general landscape (that we’re considering a separation), but I don’t want to have the conversation myself or go into too much detail.” Ask your sister to help be the buffer as much as she can ; I’m sure you both have experience helping each other with this.
Sixth, you can use the same strategy with the upcoming friend gathering if you want: Confide in a close friend or two, and ask them to spread the word so that you don’t have to (or ask them to NOT spread the word if that’s what you want, too). You can make specific requests – “I want people to know what’s going on with me, even if I’m not really up to talk about it yet. I could use hugs/photos of puppies/distraction/brunch/movies.”
Seventh, you can tell the truth without telling all of the truth to every single person. “Spouse and I are having some issues, and I could use a lot of TLC right now” might be a way to get what you need without inviting a lot of commentary you don’t want while things are still being decided. You can be specific about that, too – “I want people to know what’s going on with me, but I can’t handle a lot of commentary from other people while we’re in the middle of deciding what to do. Just be here for me and support me, ok?”
Eighth, close friends may indeed have a knee-jerk “YOU ARE GREAT AND HE IS A TURD” reaction when they hear all about what’s happening. You don’t have to eschew seeking comfort or telling people in your life what’s up with you in order to save face for your spouse. You also don’t have to control everything about how your friends react. “I appreciate your support, but I’m still hoping we can work it out, so hearing his worst qualities is not actually helpful right now. Can you save the judgment and just hang out with me?” If your spouse decides to stay, he’s going to have to do some work to convince you that it’s safe to relax again and some work to win back your friends, and that’s as it should be. You don’t have to control everything about this, or protect him from every consequence.
Ninth, as for being “the woman who cried divorce,” you are being harder on yourself than almost anyone in your life (with the possible exception of your mom) would ever be about this. Relationships only work if they work for the people in them, and in the end I’d bet that the people on Team You want you to be happy, whether you are coupled or un-coupled. You don’t owe the universe a tidy, linear narrative. Go ahead and cry if you want to.
You deserve nothing but kindness, and I’m proud of you for giving it to yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for it from others, and to carve out the space you need.
172 thoughts on “#700: Asking for help vs. maintaining privacy and a safe space when you’re in the middle of a messy thing.”
As some one that just got divorced that was pretty solid advice.
A phrase that leapt to my mind and you might find convenient for some people on your Team You is “Spouse and I are going through a rough patch in our marriage”. I think that’s nicely ambiguous about whether or not you’ll work through it, while being understandable about why you could use some extra support. Follow-ups like, “I don’t want to get into the details right now…” can head off delving into it before you’re ready. I’d probably personally only bother telling people I expected would be supportive, so I’d be expecting good will and people not trying to push for things I wasn’t willing to give, and when you have that, you need to worry a bit less about exactly how you convey things. But it might be a handy phrase that leaves open both the idea that it might work out and you might not want spouse-bashing, while leaving people less surprised if it doesn’t. I just figured I’d toss it out there in case it was a wording that resonated well with you.
Good luck getting through this to whatever end it turns out to be. And I agree that you’re doing fantastic self-care.
Exactly! And if people ask, “Are you getting separated/divorced?” you can honestly say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s one of the possibilities. I hope not.”
“Spouse and I are going through a rough patch in our marriage”.
I so wish I’d thought of that phrase when my partner announced to me that he’d had an affair. He promised me it was over and begged me not to leave, so I didn’t want to tell anyone in case we stayed together (spoiler alert, we stayed together for another 6 months and then he decided to leave anyway) – I couldn’t bear the thought of my family or friends hating him when/if I’d forgiven him. So I ended up only telling one close friend (and that only because I needed somewhere to go to clear my head while I made a decision), and to everyone else I kept up the illusion of happy relationship.
Which of course meant I spent the next 6 months feeling like I was lying to everyone I knew, and not getting the support I needed (other than from that one friend who knew). And when he eventually did leave (because, surprise surprise, the affair wasn’t actually over) nobody knew the background, and the explanations were so much worse because I had to tell them that what seemed like an out of the blue thing had been going on for ages. Not that anyone blamed me for not telling them earlier, but it would have been so much easier if I had.
So yeah, I wish I had thought to just say something like “we’re going through a rough patch” with no further explanation, so I could have had the support of family and friends when I needed it, and saved myself a lot of awkwardness later on.
He laid this bomb on LW 10 weeks ago and says he’ll decide “in a month” whether or not he wants to stay???? Sorry, LW, but this sounds absolutely ridiculous to me. I get having those feelings for weeks, months, years… I don’t understand the purpose of dragging it out and leaving you (and him) in this limbo. What more information is he exactly going to get over the course of the last 4 weeks he didn’t get in the last 10? Or earlier? I know this isn’t answering your question or quandary or really even productive for this discussion, but I just kinda wanted to call BS on this behavior. It feels really unkind to me.
I would agree with the Captain’s kudos that you’ve been doing all the right things, taking time, telling / not telling who you want when you want. When the ex and I made the decision to divorce (initiated by me, for full disclosure), I told my mom, dad, and stepmom over the phone and my sisters via text. I left the parents tell the grandparents because that news just would have felt so awkward to me.
But, there is a difference here between announcing a decision and announcing an issue. I think the scripts the Captain gives are spot on — there are a few people whose relationships that if I heard were in dire straights I’d be hard pressed not to come down on the HE IS A TURD side of things. You know your friends (hopefully) well enough to know who you might get that reaction from or who might have trouble staying truly neutral and supportive with this news. Tread carefully is my advice.
Definitely want to echo the sentiment that you are (we all are) being your worst critic about what’s happening in your life. Trust that the people who love you just want to see you happy. You’ll find that out when you come out the other side of this (which you will!) that those on Team You have your happiness as the focus and the details as the background noise. Hugs.
seconded!! Putting the LW on some kind of “maybe I’ll leave, maybe I won’t” probation for 10 weeks + a month is pretty horrible. Something is wrong there. Does he do that kind of thing often? Maybe you’re better off without him.
Eh, I think that it may be reasonable for a person to want 3 months (+ 2 weeks) to decide — while actively doing couples counseling, it sounds like — whether to leave a marriage. I think it is also reasonable for the other spouse to say “Hey, you know, I can’t stand the suspense any more, and since you’re still not sure whether you want to stay, I think we should go ahead and separate,” if that’s how they feel. “I don’t know what I want yet” is an honest statement; so is “I don’t want to wait any longer for you to decide.”
Yes, that’s what I was trying to get at for the LW’s purposes — if she agrees, she should know she has the right to say that this is her decision too. Presumably she hasn’t made that choice (yet) because she wants it to work out. (?) I definitely get not wanting to make such a monumental choice lightly, I just don’t get people’s seemingly-random, arbitrary deadlines.
Yes this – but also I don’t think it’s unreasonable to perhaps try couples counselling for a set period and then decide, especially if that’s not a thing you’ve already tried. LW could certainly decide to leave pre-emptively to end the horrible suspense, but on the other hand a couple months is not a long time in the context of a decade long marriage. There’s really no way for a situation like this to go down that isn’t painful – just dumping your spouse and not trying counselling can also be seen as abrupt and mean – I don’t think it is – just, this is how my breakup went down and I had friends who were appalled that he didn’t even want to try counselling (and neither did I so it was a moot question, but some friends did latch on to it). Basically breaking up with someone sucks, and not being sure if you want to break up sucks, and maybe trying to fix it for a while sucks, all in their own special way. This too shall pass, and maybe these guys can fix it and the wait will have been worth it? And maybe if they don’t fix it they can look back and feel satisfied that they gave it their best shot. I think LW is right to set an end date for the limbo, but I can’t blame her for giving it a go for a while.
I agree. He has some feelings. he’s expressed them, but he’s willing to go to counselling to figure out if they are the sort of feelings that are likely to change. I think this is pretty normal in a relationship of this length.
And yes, it’s sucks that he’s throwing around timelines, and maybe that’s something to discuss in counselling, how his seeming arbitrary periods of time make things difficult for the LW.
This. This was the sentence that jumped out at me. He’ll decide in a month? WTF?
Agreed. And I sincerely hope the self-care is truly self-care, and not an attempt to get spouse to see that LW can meet some kind of expectations he might have of her.
That is a question I have thought about too, only briefly, as I had a clear spark of “welp, I better take extra care of myself or I will fall apart.” The resulting kinder, more stable me happens to align with some of his expectations. It feels pretty good and I will keep doing this regardless of the outcome.
Me too. It seems so unilateral. It’d be one thing to say “hey, I think we should maybe try counseling since you’re right-things have been off” in response to “what’s going on-we’ve had this long weekend and it’s obvious things aren’t the same as they were” and another to say “I don’t want to be married to you, but let’s wait to get divorced. I’ll let you know in a month.”
I agree. I don’t like that he gets to decide the rest of your life. I hope the two of you can come to a decision together. Good luck.
I so agree with this. It’s one thing to know that you’re not sure if you can stay married BUT going to couples counselling and doing everything you can to save the marriage. It’s another thing to be all, WELP IN X NUMBER OF DAYS I WILL LET YOU KNOW IF I WILL DEIGN TO BESTOW MY PRESENCE UPON YOUR LIFE. Orly? How nice of him to keep the LW walking on eggshells. That’s not a shitty move at all on his part.
You either do everything you can to try and make things work, or you make your exit. You don’t pull this shit where the threat of a divorce is hanging over your spouse’s head, where they’re on pins and needles while you decide what you’re going to do but you’ll let them know in a month or six months or whatever. FFS. This bullshit makes me ragey.
Another shit move: Saying “I’m not sure if I want to continue with this” and then not doing a goddamn thing to fix the relationship–that’s happened to friends of mine. (Which he’s not doing I guess-they’re going to counselling.) You don’t get to drop a bomb like that and then sit your ass on the couch and expect your partner to be okay with this.
If you’re not sure if you want to continue in a relationship, figure the fuck out what you want to do and do it. Show your partner some respect by not jerking them around or fucking with their feelings. Work on stuff with the understanding that it might not work out–but work on it in good faith. Or end things as respectfully and kindly as possible. But don’t pull this passive-aggressive bullshit.
Yeah, that aspect of the situation really annoyed me too on the LW’s behalf. It’s okay to not know what you want, but it’s not okay to string other people along while you figure your shit out. Husband needs to decide–immediately–if he wants to make a real investment into trying to address whatever is making him not want to be married, or he needs to GTFO. “I’ll decide in a month [on the course of the rest of your life!]” is fucked up.
It’s just seems so “we’re married, but I’m going to make this decision for us. But not right away-I’ll let you know and then we’ll do whatever I want”. The wording makes me think that LW is just waiting to find out what husband wants to do, rather than they’re thinking about this together and deciding together what they want to do via their counseling. They’re in counseling, so you’d think this is what they’re discussing so that LW would have some idea of what husband is thinking, but it seems like LW is just waiting to hear what he decides to drop without a firm idea of what that will be.
The letter didn’t say “we’re discussing what we want to do in our counseling sessions, what do I tell other people in the meantime?” It said “I’m waiting for him to tell me what we’re going to do in a month, what do I tell people about this limbo?”
Exactly. And I’m ALL FOR unilateral breakups. If you’re that unhappy, you should go. What you should not do (with a few exceptions of safety/abuse*) is jerk someone around this way. If you want to work on things, do so in good faith–go all in. If you’re really done, go and stop faffing about. Keeping someone in limbo is cruel.
*(Trigger warning): I once did this but I wasn’t living with the guy–and I did it because when I tried to break up with him, he blocked my way, wouldn’t let me out of his place, and raised his hand up like he was going to punch me. So. . .after I let him think that he convinced me otherwise and got out of his apartment, I told him (on the phone) I needed a month with no contact and I’d decide what I’d do then. I was afraid for my safety. I seriously doubt that is the case with the LW’s situation.
This also jumped out at me. Like… I’m glad the LW & Husband are going to couple’s couseling. That’s awesome. But it sounds a bit like Husband is maybe under the impression that you can fix (or make very big, obvious strides towards fixing) a messed up relationship in a very short period of time. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you’ve got to the point of “should I stay or should I go”, it’s going to take more than 15 hours to fix that stuff, even when BOTH parties really REALLY want to fix it.
I’m kind of having the He Is A Turd reaction right now, myself, and I don’t even know you, LW.
It feels a bit like “I don’t know if I want to stay married… Convince Me,” rather than “I don’t know if I want to stay married… but I do know that I *want* to want to stay married. Can we maybe figure this out together?”
So, yeah. Unkind.
Anyway. Regardless: Your self-care routine sounds excellent. And you can cry (divorce, or otherwise) all you want. I think the “rough patch” suggestion is a good one, for what it’s worth. 🙂
I’m really sorry you’re going through this right now- I’m in a similar position where I’ve come to the point of drawing up a marital settlement agreement (there are kids involved, etc)… it’s an effing nightmare.
I’m piggybacking on this thread because I’m also reading this as a “this timeline seems to be on his terms”… are you ok with that? Do you get to decide before or after this month passes what YOU want from this waiting period? Is this waiting period even for you? Or is it just for him? I’d encourage you to assess your willingness to play by his rules- this is your marriage, too. You need to end up in a place that’s good for you as well. It seems like you’re just waiting for the verdict to be delivered, and that’s never a good place to be.
My stomach ached for you when I read the second sentence of your letter – just awful. I know how it feels to feel like a bystander in your own marriage. Please lean on your friends regardless – they love you and just want you to be happy, I’m sure.
Jedi hugs. I hope there’s a Team You ready to back you up with cuddles, distraction, even the odd spot of kid wrangling to give you some time to do… whatever.
Trust me, if it comes down to divorce, your little ones will do infinitely better following a maturely handled, reflective and managed separation. “We don’t love each other any more, but we still love you so much, and always will. We are still friends, and you will still see [ex/their family/whoever]. Whatever feelings you have about this are just fine to have, don’t ever feel like you can’t talk to us about it” is always going to be better in the long run than staying together “for the children’.
Happily divorced parents are a much better predictor for emotionally grounded, thriving children than two people who clearly detest each other and are constantly at odds. That, plus a frank declaration of “It’s over in this sense” is much kinder than letting them think/hope that it’s a possibility that you’ll get back together if [reasons]. I’ve seen that destroy kids.
Take care of yourself first, be #1 supporter of Team You, and you’ll be in a better place to make a positive future for you, your kids, and your spouse. You never know, but without the pressure of you both feeling trapped by your marriage, you’ll eventually be able to relax around each other and rediscover the things you once liked about the other. I’ve seen spouses that despised each other become BFFs once the dust had settled .
Best of luck.
Thank you. No kids, and
“You never know, but without the pressure of you both feeling trapped by your marriage, you’ll eventually be able to relax around each other and rediscover the things you once liked about the other. I’ve seen spouses that despised each other become BFFs once the dust had settled.”
is my long-term hope if we break up. A month ago he told me he would be crushed if we weren’t friends, and I am keeping a barometer to if I start getting super-angry, at which point I might end this so as to preserve the chances for a friendship in the long term.
Just remember- if you do break up, you don’t have to be friends. If you both want to and can manage it, great. If it doesn’t happen, then that does not mean you are a terrible person. You’re just someone who isn’t friends with their ex.
Sometimes this can feel like a catch-22 though: If you make a quick decision to leave you totally blindside your longterm partner. And it can seem kind of cruel/uncaring to do that without any attempt to try counseling etc., especially with a serious relationship. If you take some time, on the other hand, then you’re making your partner suffer through the limbo stage. I do agree that once a separation is on the table as a serious option then the decision should be made fairly quickly, 10 weeks plus another month seems really long. But it should be possible to communicate uncertainty about whether one wants to separate or not (of course with the understanding that the partner may then leave immediately). In any case there is usually a relationship deterioration phase before the decision to leave is made – the partner will realize that whether or not it’s communicated openly, and unfortunately that typically creates some suffering. Agree with everyone though that LW should focus on whether SHE really wants to continue the relationship given how things have developed.
Lw-if you get stuck on the fence a great read for decifering whether the relationship has come to a point that it no longer functions for you; if it’s in your best interest to continue working on it or if it’s reached its natural end and you would be better served to place your energies elsewhere, you might be interested in reading Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. The book helps one to see that endings do not have to be viewed as a negative. They truly are an opportunity to open ones eyes to possibilities for greater self fulfillment. It offers insight into whether the situation can be resuscitated or must be shut down and if so how to do it well.
Sometimes when your in the thick of it it’s hard to tell.
Well, here’s the thing: If you’re taking some time AND you’re making a good faith effort to work on things (and you’re NOT giving them a deadline of “I will decide if I will stay or go by the end of this very short time span” so they’re on pins and needles), it’s not cruel. If you leave because you’re not happy and you’re truly done with the relationship, it might blindside your partner but it’s kinder than pretending if you are sure you don’t want to be with them anymore.
What is cruel and kind of shitty is to tell someone “I will know by X date if I want to stay married to you.” Or “I don’t know if I want to be married anymore” and NOT make a good faith effort to work on things and continue living with your partner. I mean, come on. WTF are you supposed to do with that?
Agreed. There should be a good faith effort or a trial separation (or simply a breakup which I think is often kindest even if it blindsides the other person, blindsiding is really much better than many of the alternatives). I just think that in reality many people go through a murky time where they sort of think they are still making a good faith effort, but in fact they are just dragging it out. It can be hard to know the difference when you’re in the thick of it, and you often get either a really bad limbo phase or a flipflopping relationship status, which is terrible as well.
I remember a time in a past relationship where I was constantly beating myself up for not knowing whether to break up or not. I should have left earlier, but I was not consciously being shitty. Plus it takes two to continue the relationship and both people have to take some responsibility for whether they want to stay under the circumstances.
“What is cruel and kind of shitty is to tell someone ‘I will know by X date if I want to stay married to you.’ Or ‘I don’t know if I want to be married anymore’ and NOT make a good faith effort to work on things and continue living with your partner. I mean, come on. WTF are you supposed to do with that?”
Yes. Thank you. I’m living with exactly this situation, and it’s hellishly maddening. I admire LW for her ability to stay level-headed and focus on her well-being.
Yes, I totally agree. That’s pretty cruel of him to put the LW on the hook like that. I personally wouldn’t say anything about divorce unless I was positive that’s what I wanted. And I’d question whether this relationship was viable if my partner did that – “I think I want a divorce but I’ll let you know.”
As someone who is more in LW’s shoes at this point in my own marriage… I’m actually pretty glad my wife is working on us trying to work things out instead of just saying “Well, that’s it. We’re done. Bye!”
I think the bit about the recently widowed friend got missed out? I think that it’s okay to feel sad around her, there’s no rule that only one person can be the most sad. The best you can do is not derail things when it’s about her, and don’t go to her for venting (unless she invites it, some people help themselves by helping others). To be honest, you seem massively well-adjusted and conscientious, so probably won’t make the mistakes that a-little-while-ago-me did during crisis time. The main takeaway here is: YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BE SAD EVEN IF SOMEONE IS MORE SAD.
I can attest as someone who was unexpectedly widowed young, 16 years ago now, that your recently widowed friend will feel sad no matter what you say or do. I wanted to talk about my husband and my marriage, and I wanted to still be part of the “married lady” club. It took me a very long time to stop feeling married, so when people were uncomfortable talking about their husbands or marriages around me, I felt more isolated. Your recently widowed friend’s mileage may vary of course.
To be honest, after my husband died I had some very hard thoughts about how friends were squandering the good fortune they had since *their* husbands weren’t dead. And I said some ugly, inappropriate things to 3rd parties out of despair. But even I knew that was ridiculous — my widowhood didn’t trump everyone else’s hard situations. Fortunately, Team Me let me rant for short periods of time, let me be sad for long periods of time and then did not tolerate wallowing (except when I tipped into depression).
You may be surprised at the empathy and compassion that your widow friend feels toward you. I felt awful, but I could see that I didn’t get the blame and side-eye that the divorcing people I knew experienced.
I was widowed almost six years ago, reasonably young. LW’s friend isn’t going to be upset with her for being sad. She might not be as able to track LW’s moods and situation as well as she might like, but I think it’s pretty unlikely that she’ll be upset or resentful.
Or, even if Friend does feel resentment and other extra-ugly types of sadness, that it won’t be LW’s fault that her situation dredged up marriage-related sadness, nor will it be her issue to deal with. Provided LW isn’t being a jerk (and I think what we see in this letter is someone determined not to be a jerk or “too dramatic”), she may remove other people’s feeling about her personal turmoil from her plate right now.
1. Wow. I think I’m going to frame “massively well-adjusted and conscientious,” as that’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten and I’ve worked really hard for many years to be well-adjusted. Thank you.
2. Your suggestions sound pretty sensible and she might invite it, as in the past she’s taken on caretaking roles and is a person who helps others. But I will wait for her to invite it.
Let me address the “woman who cried divorce.” There’s nothing wrong with getting help and loving support now even if you don’t end up divorcing. To continue with your nod to Aesop, the story isn’t about a boy who saw a wolf crouched to leap on him, screamed, and then was called a liar when it turned out the wolf didn’t end up tearing him to shreds. Being scared of a bad situation is still a bad situation.
One way to think about this that might help: Let’s say your husband has his think and decides he wants to stay married to you. Do you want to stay married to him? I’m not suggesting that the answer is definitely no or that it should be yes. I’m suggesting that putting the situation in those terms might do a lot for your sense of self worth. While you’re wondering if he wants you, you get to decide if you want him. You’re not hanging around waiting for his decision. You’re weighing your options, considering several possible outcomes for the future, and deciding which would be best for you. Naturally you can’t choose entirely for yourself since other people are always involved, but it’s not like those other people choose everything for you. You get some say in the matter.
This all the way. Right now, the wolf is staring at you through the bushes, and just because you might make it back home without a bite, doesn’t mean it *wasn’t ever there.* You aren’t lying for attention. It’s a real wolf. That alone makes you not “the woman who cried divorce” at all.
And if he does stay, and your friends are like GOSH IT WAS JUST A SCARE, WHY DID YOU HIJACK OUR LIVES FOR THAT SHIT, then they are not your friends. Some African Violets might be in order at that point.
Thirding what Clarry said. This is a sort of thing I would *want* to help a friend through, if that friend felt like my company / distraction / listening would be useful.
Also, your mileage may vary, but I find Big Relationship Uncertainty to be even more anxiety-provoking than adjusting to a breakup. Your feelings are in response to a big uncertainty, and they matter.
Yes, I agree with Clarry. You’re in a bad situation now, no matter how it turns out. It’s like you’ve been in a bad car accident with an uncertain outcome: you don’t have to wait until you know for sure what the long-term situation is to let your friends know something is happening.
It’s like cancer scares. We all have a friend or relative who’s found a lump or other thing, and has had the tests and check-ups. No one thinks it’s “crying cancer” for someone to want or need emotional support while they’re waiting for the test results. What’s going on with LW is the same.
Right, that line really jumped out at me: “I don’t want to be “the woman who cried divorce” asking for friend help she didn’t really need”– even if you don’t divorce, this is a hard time for you, and you’re still aloowed to need help.
Long-time reader, first-time commenter here. My husband pulled the “I don’t want to be married to you anymore” — cue 2 months of constant crying, self-care, and misc. other not-fun times — and then came back. So, happy ending (after like a million couples therapy sessions), and I hope you get your version of a happy ending too. I *immediately* reached out to as many friends as possible and was very straightforward about what I needed/didn’t need, etc. I was the needy friend for a while, and it was totally fine. And no, no one got upset when we stayed together even though they had invested so much time, energy, money, etc. in me while we were separated. Assuming your friends aren’t jerks, they will just want to support you however they can. It helped a lot that I had learned to use my words and listen to myself about what I wanted to do/not do and express that, so they were really good about following my lead about talking about it (or not), staying in vs. going out, ogling hot guys (or sobbing quietly in a corner), etc.
I really feel for you, your situation sounds so familiar. It sounds like you are doing everything right, so just trust yourself and trust that your friends are not jerks and will not somehow feel like their investment in you during your crappy times is a waste on the off chance that you stay with your husband.
Hi JA, welcome! I’m so glad you had a happy ending!
Thank you, I am glad to hear of someone else living through this. Welcome to CA!
LW, see a lawyer. You need to protect yourself in the event of a divorce, especially if you have kids, a house or other shared assets, or joint bank accounts.
Incidentally, it sounds like you had a couples counselor even before the husband’s announcement, sooo…it shouldn’t have been completely out of the blue.
“sooo…it shouldn’t have been completely out of the blue.”
This seems to me like you’re saying, “This is actually clearly your fault for not noticing that things were wrong.” If I’m wrong about what you mean can you please explain? It just seems unnecessarily blaming, especially since you don’t know if they had a counselor or -why- they had one if they did.
I mean, going to counseling is a sign something is wrong. Not to say that it was LW’s fault, but it seems like an odd blind spot to say it was “out of the blue” and then later admit they were already in counseling.
I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. I’m not married, but my mom and I are super close, and she disclosed to me a while back that she and my dad were in counseling for a while. They weren’t in trouble, nothing was wrong, but their youngest child was about to move out and they were going to have a house empty of kids for the first time in 20 years, and they wanted to talk about changes in the home/communication/etc.
Not only does this seem like an unfair assumption to make, but I also don’t know why you think this is relevant or helpful. You don’t know about the details of the state of LW’s marriage. If she says her husband said this out of the blue, then it was out of the blue. WHy are you questioning that?
My husband and I have been in couples counseling for a few months, and he and I both feel that we have a strong marriage. We have also been wrestling with some thorny issues lately (like the death of my father, my mother’s grief and chronic pain, a new challenging job, and a mutual and rewarding decision that we made to transition to non-monogamy) that has exposed some of the weaker parts of our marriage, and having a neutral third party help us navigate through those things has been invaluable.
Have to agree with all the responses here on couples’ counseling. I have never used it, however, two coworkers from a former job did, not because things were seriously falling apart in their respective marriages, but because maintaining work/life balance and managing finances at our job could be stressful, and they both had young kids with their spouses.
My husband and I had couples counselling while I was working through my rape. We needed professional support on some issues, but if he had said “I don’t want to be married any more” it would still have been completely out of the blue.
I really don’t understand your reasons for making this comment. What impact did you expect it would have on the LW? Could you explain?
So you just wanted to critique LW’s response to bad news? That still doesn’t seem like anything useful or necessary to say here.
I don’t think counseling is something that needs to be “admitted,” or a sign that something’s definitely wrong. The Partner and I started going to counseling because we had different approaches to money and different incomes. That difference hadn’t become a problem, but because money differences are (1) a common source of tension within partnerships and (2) a huge source of tension for my own parents, I suggested counseling as a proactive measure.
Nope, going to counselling is absolutely not necessarily a sign something is wrong, it really depends why people decide to go.
I have to politely disagree as well. My husband and I did counseling before we got married to make sure we were solid and had a therapist’s seal of approval. We didn’t have issues to work out, per se, but wanted a mediator/third party to guide us through some of the important conversations that couples should have before getting married.
In short: people do couple’s counseling for all sorts of reasons. It could be to have tough discussions with a mediator, or because a partner is grieving a loss, or because a partner has suffered trauma and wants to work through it in a joint session with their SO… there are so many reasons for it, and “issues in the relationship” is only one of them.
Oh yes. A lawyer. I should have thought of that, and I’m glad caryatis did. (I’m usually the first to start banging the lawyer drum.) A lawyer is definitely someone you want on Team You. If the marriage survives, you’ve still gotten good information from the lawyer. If it doesn’t, it’s never too early to start protecting your assets.
Lawyer suggestion = helpful.
“it shouldn’t have been completely out of the blue.” = unhelpful. Who knows what the husband said in counseling?
It’s not only unhelpful, but it makes a *very* odd assumption about why people might be in couples’ counseling.
There are lots of reasons people choose that option, many of which do not include “this relationship is in trouble”.
Word. It’s like saying ‘You shouldn’t be surprised you got diagnosed with cancer, since you had already gone to the doctor about having the flu!’
Personally, I read LW as saying that they had already gone to couple’s counselling *following the husband’s announcement*.
In any case, even if caryatis’ reading is correct, what does saying that accomplish? LW asked for specific advice, none of which was related to making sense of their husband’s announcement or their relationship. It sounds like LW has that handled.
Cancer analogies are really not appropriate, IMO. Cancer is deadly. Divorce is not.
I have two friends who’ve been going to couples counselling since before they were married! They use it, in addition to talking between themselves, as a way of nutting out big picture issues. Emigration. Sexuality and opening up their marriage. Individual past baggage (the guy’s parents’ divorce, the girl’s historical sexual assault). They use it to kick around hypotheticals and options and questions in a safe space with someone who is somewhat impartial who can ask the tough questions in the right moment. It’s really helpful to them and they’re a great, strong couple. Certainly not a case of ‘in couples therapy’ = disaster looming.
Yes, this, +allthenumbers. Even if you are sure that he would never, ever do you wrong. Even if you really trust him. Even if he is going to counseling and treating you with civility and all that stuff.
Marriage is about love, but it is also a legal and financial arrangment with rules you probably don’t even know. You have just gotten some MAJOR FORESHADOWING SPOILERS that you have an excellent chance of needing to know those rules right now.
If you are kind of broke, there are options for help ranging from Legal Aid to your state bar association if you are in the US. They have referral services and Modest Means programs and stuff which can be of help. But go now.
P.S.: do not share a lawyer with your husband.
Yes. Also, tell the lawyer about the, “I’ll decide in a month” comment with an approximate date of when that deadline will hit, in case there is some legal significance to the timing. Gather copies of financial records now, and store them somewhere away from your house. If you don’t already have some money held in your own name (not a joint account), start saving (in case he empties your joint account.) Better safe than sorry.
“About a month” could be him trying to impose a deadline on his indecision. It could also be the amount of time he thinks it will take for him to find an apartment.
Or he already has one and the lease doesn’t start for a month. Another thing to ask the lawyer–depending on what state/province you live in, when someone moves out of the shared residence can affect how much claim they have on it in any ensuing division of property.
I just had a TERRIBLE thought about the deadline timing. LW’s Team Me is having their annual gathering then. That means the LW’ll be…away, right? I wonder how easy it would be for a spouse acting in bad faith to spin that as *LW moving out*?
Ugh, that makes my skin crawl. LW, you obviously know your husband better than I do. There are some people who I absolutely believe would engage in this behavior. I don’t know if this husband is one of them.
Oh…crap. Yes, lawyer. Lawyer lawyer lawyer.
YUP. Check to see if major financial instruments come due or something like that. The apartment thing is the most likely, but quite frankly, people can get really nasty when money is on the line.
Never, never, never share a lawyer with your husband. Never. I have known people who nearly came to grief before they got their own lawyer. Fortunately I’ve never known anyone who kept that same lawyer after it was obvious which way the wind was blowing.
Uh, dude. Wow.
I will seriously consider the lawyer suggestion. That would be one reason to reach out to friends — a few of them are attorneys in this state and probably have good recommendations on whom to contact.
While your suggestion I should have known was not very helpful, FWIW our couples counselor was also very surprised. Both she and I thought we had reached a pretty happy state and were nearing the end of counseling.
I don’t think that’s uncommon. My ex and I were about to exit counseling when he pulled a new stunt and we ended up having to address that. In his case, I think he was outwardly going along but inwardly trying to sabotage things because he’s passive-aggressive like that. Not saying your partner is the same way.
This thread spoke to me…the 3 years ago “me” who was utterly confused by the clusterfuck of a bomb that just landed in my (seemingly) fairy tale of a life. I have contemplated writing the captain several times for a script in dealing with the emotional roller coaster I’m on (still) with my husband/partner/soon-to-be-ex-I-think, that like yours “will decide” at some arbitrary date (after 23 years of marriage) whether he wants to continue to stay married to me.
I wish I had really taken to heart the advice my therapist gave me 3 years ago, it would have silenced that teetering feeling of will he stay and can we make it through this stronger and better. Will we emerge as the super couple I know we are?…”When someone tells you (and is showing you through their actions) that they do not want to be married to you, believe them.” I didn’t think that advice applied to me. Three years later and many on again off again commitment talks later I’m starting to think that therapist is on to something.
You are an inspiration to me in your focus on Team You, its so easy to get lost in unraveling his announcement looking for answers, which will only open a can of worms. Save yourself years of emotional ups and downs and continue in the direction of you.
Oh, Gretchen, that’s just awful! I’m so sorry that you’ve been in this “relationship limbo” for three years! An endless supply of Jedi hugs to you. You do not deserve this. Good luck, and I hope you have a very supportive Team You to help you with whatever YOU decide.
Gretchen, I am so sorry you have been on this roller coaster for three years. Jedi hugs and best wishes for you.
Gretchen, so sorry that it’s been such a rotten time for you.
It really really really does get better. And one way it gets better, eventually, is recognizing that what you did then was what you needed to do. You now might act differently, but you then acted with love and optimism and that was good.
?…”When someone tells you (and is showing you through their actions) that they do not want to be married to you, believe them.”
Yes, yes, yes. My ex and I went to weekly couples counseling for a solid year. (Arrranged by me, though he never protested; also the babysitter was 100% arranged by me…) We both went into it with zero thoughts of divorce, but hoping to find better ways to interact with each other and jointly deal with some very stressful situations.
He showed me consistently with his actions that he didn’t want to be married to me, he didn’t want to be a father to our three young children, and he didn’t really love any of us. He said he loved us and he didn’t want us to separate or divorce, but his behavior never ever reflected that. When I filed for divorce, asked for full custody, and moved myself and our kids out of state for a new job, he never once protested any of that.
You sound like you’re doing great. Keep doing what you’re doing, and maybe find a lawyer to quietly explore your options. Best of luck with everything, whether you decide you want to stay with him and/or do stay with him… or not.
“Believe their words”
This is exactly what I was coming here to say. I was in leaving limbo for two years following ex’s affair (married 20 years). We did counseling, and he said he wanted to want to be married to me, but he just didn’t know. He would talk about his affair partner and all the magical times they had. He was telling me loud and clear that he didn’t want to be there, that he already had one foot out of the door. Eventually, I was the one who ended up leaving. I had had a great day at work, came home all jazzed, and it was so obvious he was no longer on Team Me–he couldn’t even be there for the good stuff.
Also, yes, lawyer.
As for the Mother’s Day thing… If it were me, I’d just say “well, since it’s Mother’s Day and not Couple’s Day, this year we decided Husband would spend it with his mother and I with mine so both mothers got to spend it with their kids.”
Would it be possible for the LW to physically separate from her spouse, even though a final divorce decision has not yet been reached? I just can’t imagine how uncomfortable and unequal of a power dynamic it would be to LIVE with someone who is pulling that kind of “maybe I’ll leave you, maybe I won’t” business. If he does stay, will it feel like he’s done the LW a favour?
LW, I wonder if you would feel comfortable telling him, “I respect your need to make a decision that’s right for you. I want you to have the time and space to do that, but I don’t want to wait around you while you figure that out. Can you please stay with a friend until you reach a decision?”
Please let me know if this sounds unreasonable, people! To me, the person who is thinking about leaving should be the one to leave that shared space until they reach a decision.
I don’t think it sounds unreasonable at all. I would be incredibly uncomfortable living under those circumstances, thinking every day “We kissed goodbye, does that mean things are getting better? He didn’t say much all day yesterday, is that a sign he’s leaning toward leaving?” But then I also think that the whole “might want to be with you, might not, gonna have to get back to you on that” thing is so dickish that it would start killing my feelings for the person who said it long before their arbitrary deadline arrived.
So our hypothetical couple live in a house which belonged to his grandfather, and requires someone to spend an average of four hours a week on yardwork, and the household also contains a cat, a dog, and one or more children too young to be on his or her own.
If Husband is thinking about leaving, is he still going to come around to deal with the riding lawnmower? The litter box? Walking the dog? If in the long run, he’ll get the house, does it make sense to make him be the one to leave now?
I’m not sure that it’s unreasonable to suggest that the one thinking about leaving should disrupt his or her life and/or schedule more than the partner’s. I do think that in practice, your proposal could leave one partner enjoying a “Vacation” from family and household responsibilities, while the other one ends up doing both sets of chores (or paying for them to be done).
That is definitely a reasonable – and even good – suggestion.
My former husband and I were struggling and I suggest he stay with a friend for a couple of weeks to think about what he wanted for his own future. Given he’s now “former” you can guess what his decision was.
But also, the way he behaved in those weeks and months while he was “thinking” really confirmed for me that ~I~ didn’t want to stay married to him. It also gave me the confidence to know I could go ahead alone. If fact it was easier. In the end he never made a decision and I truly believe that if it were up to him we would still be in limbo.
I also second the suggestion made above about speaking to a lawyer – especially if there are children involved and child support needs to be sorted. If you can’t afford a lawyer then start reading everything available on the applicable family court website. Start drafting the paperwork and getting certified copies of ~everything~. Take photos of physical assets and and getting statements for other financial assets. If you have a linked account the look into how you unlink and what restrictions apply for an individual named on the account.
If everything works out, then you have just done a massive financial stock-take – and that’s always a good thing to do! If it doesn’t, then you have a head start.
Some courts have a person who helps unrepresented family court litigants with drafting paperwork for free. They can’t advise you on what to do, but they can make sure you know what paperwork to file and when to file it.
Also, if they own their home, there could be legal repercussions for the one who vacates, if they divorce. Again, LAWYER.
This. Leaving the residence has ALLLLL kinds of implications you might not think about. LAWYER.
Yesterday I told a close friend who said, “You can come stay at my house for a few nights if you want. As a lawyer, though, I’d have to advise against you leaving your apartment. But I’m here for you.”
To echo what tawg said below, you definitely don’t have to tolerate or accommodate the awkwardness of your husband figuring his shit out. If it’s not legally advisable for you to leave your home, even for just a few days, I think it’s totally reasonable for you to ask that he find a couch/a hotel/somewhere that is else to stay if that is something that would make you more comfortable. He dropped this bomb on you, and he shouldn’t expect that everything else will carry on as usual.
Even moving into a new bedroom (though I do not recommend moving into the guest bedroom with the window that doesn’t shut, in winter, across the hall from the main bedroom.That sucked) can help – there’s no awkward lying in bed together, shuffling around one another getting ready, or one person sleeping on the couch. When I broke up with my ex but wasn’t able to move out, I took the initiative and moved into another room… but we were still living together and he spent all his free time looking wounded and making me feel awful, which I interpreted at the time as me feeling hurt about breaking up… so we got back together, I moved out properly, and tbh nothing got better expect I had more distance from his bs.
But LW, if you do feel uncomfortable in your home, you can ask for a new/different arrangement. You don’t have to carry on in the same patterns and tolerate the awkwardness of him figuring his stuff out.
A trial separation is often advised in situations like these– take x number of days and don’t be married. Then revisit whether repairing your marriage is something you want to pursue.
LW and Husband already have a couples’ counselor and they may or may not have discussed that option, but it’s a not-uncommon proactice and you’re not totally off base with it.
“proactice” was a typo but I think I like it as a portmanteau of “practice” and “proactive”
My mother once told a friend that yes, something was going on in her life, but she couldn’t talk about it.
When, 2 months later, she called friend to say “We’re moving out of state” Friend said “Thank God– I knew you were upset about something, and better a move than a divorce or cancer”
Consider this another vote for you don’t have to tell all the details, but you should mention that you are going through a rough patch and you could use some support– more people than you might think can related to that, even if you’d rather not hear about their details (assuming they want to tell them to you).
I had the same reaction as some of the other commenters to the way the husband seems to be keeping the LW in suspense about whether he’s actually going to leave her or not. That seems at the very least unkind.
I have had cause to think a lot lately about differences in the way men approach relationships, due to their different socialization. Us women have it drummed into us at a very early age to put others’ needs first. Men don’t get that kind of training generally so it can be very easy for them to be selfish and cruel without even thinking about it.
I’m coming off a relationship with a guy who was cheating on his wife with me, and I know it was beyond stupid and not great to get involved with him in the first place, but I loved him beyond all reason and sense and I completely failed at ever saying no to him even though he kept coming back round and then ignoring me after. And then telling me sad stories about his guilt and his difficult life so I’d feel sorry for him instead of angry. It was such a mindfuck.
Finally I told him how bad this was making me feel and he actually for-real apologized, and decided to stop being such a shit to both of us and end it, so ok. What’s my point… I guess it’s that the reason I loved him in the first place was I saw in him the potential to behave better than that (even though he didn’t actually) and I don’t think I was wrong — I’m generally a good judge of people, though you do have to deal with what is in front of you when someone is treating you badly.
So the husband could easily be a decent guy well worth loving, but still in this instance it sounds like he is being unkind to his wife. And may not even realize it because perhaps he’s doing that man thing where he puts his own feelings and needs first, without realizing it causes someone else great suffering.
I am not saying women are incapable of this, but many of us are taught not to. And as a result it can be really hard to get your head around the reality of someone who is behaving that way. That has been my experience.
I agree with the suggestions to see about taking some of the agency back, if you can and if you want to. Even just asking yourself the question, do /I/ want to be with /him/, regardless of what he decides… can make you feel like you are not the powerless one here. And in truth you are not. You can’t make him decide to stay married to you, but he is not the only one who gets to decide things.
Part of what helped me knock my bad situation out of the horrible loop it was in, was realizing I actually did not want to be with this guy if he was going to treat me this way. And acting on that. And asking him to please stop, and have a conversation with me about what had been going on, because it was not ok.
I may feel other kinds of bad because of being dumped and because of feeling guilty on account of his family, but at least I don’t feel powerless and used now, so it’s a jillion times better.
Anyway, I am really sorry LW that you are going through this. You sound like an awesome person and I hope you reach out to at least a few of your friends because everyone deserves the support of their friends when they are having a tough time like this, but you sound like you’ve been nothing but compassionate and thoughtful of all the people around you, so you shouldn’t worry for even a second that leaning on your friends for support is somehow taking advantage or cheating or something, because it’s not. It’s just what humans do and what humans need. Good luck and I hope whatever happens you find magnificent happiness in your future.
.Us women have it drummed into us at a very early age to put others’ needs first. Men don’t get that kind of training generally so it can be very easy for them to be selfish and cruel without even thinking about it.
I’m inclined to agree. It makes us blame ourselves for things that could not have been our fault, and makes us beat ourselves up and constantly second guess or instincts and actions. I’ve seen blokes who ended relationships or quit jobs as if they were pressing the ‘exit’ button in a game. Obviously not all guys fit that mould, but it seems slightly more prevalent in men.
My own brother has always been encouraged to just shrug his shoulders at bad situations, whereas I always got “It’s your job to fix [situation]”. For example- I’m in my late thirties and suffered parental abuse. I blame myself for it, and I still often get sucked into that mentality of ” Maybe if I do this, or buy her that, or say whatever then my mother will love me”. When that fails, which it always does, I blame myself. I know I would be exactly the same way with relationship drama. I can’t quite erase my programming, even though my wife has helped to modify it by writing over a lot of mother’s negative scripts.
Wow, did you date the man I so unwisely had a fling-affair with in college? Madly in love with him, check. Failed at saying no to him(corollary- he failed to hear the word no), check. Stories about his guilt and his hard life, check. I actually got pity parties about how he kept failing to get anywhere with women in the past and pleeeeeeaaaaase could I….
Ugh. So very ugh. I wish I’d saddled up the noble Nopetopus sooner.
My own story, which might be boring as shit to anyone who isn’t me, in which case I apologise…
I once had this incredible relationship with a guy everyone I knew assumed I’d marry because we were “so perfect together.” Things were totally blissful for a long while – we had nothing but fun together and often talked about future plans for marriage, buying a house, having kids and when we’d both like that to happen (as always we were on the same page about that).
One evening, we went out with some of his friends including a very nice and attractive woman I’ll call Amanda. Afterwards I told my guy that Amanda seemed really nice and had beautiful dress sense and he thoughtfully replied, “Yes. Yes, she is very nice.” After that, every conversation we had for a week led to him going off on Amanda Mentionitis tangents. Amanda this, Amanda that. Amanda, oh yes you met her didn’t you, did I tell you this thing about Amanda, I saw Amanda today… etc.
At the end of that week, he sent me a polite but vague email saying quite casually (considering how serious I thought our relationship was) that he couldn’t “really commit to a relationship at the moment” what with being a bit stressed about uni work etc. Since we lived quite far apart and only saw each other weekends anyway, I was kind of floored and wrote back to ask if he meant he didn’t want a relationship *with me* and he responded that of course he did, he loved me so much, it really wasn’t that and could we please have a break so he could get his shit sorted. Of course I said yes, and was utterly devastated. He left me hanging for a month (during which I lost 20 pounds in weight, I kid you not) and then told me he wanted a “clean break” (bit late for that, sonny) but a temporary one. So, he wanted us to be Just Friends for now, he didnt know how long, but *promised* that “one day” we’d be back together.
I was very naïve at the time and instead of telling him where to go, I fell gratefully on his words. Of course, he promptly started seeing Amanda, stayed with her for about 18 months and then did the exact same thing to her. He then immediately started seeing a friend of mine who was also my best friend’s ex. This was the point at which I broke off my friendship with both my ex and his new girlfriend.
Until then, I’d spent over a year and a half grieving and moping because he had somehow managed to convince me (I have no idea how) that he was coming back to me some day and I just couldn’t deal with the uncertainty. It took me that long to realise that he wasn’t coming back, he just didn’t have the guts or the integrity to tell me it was over, and therefore wasn’t worth waiting for anyway.
My point is that even if someone thinks they’re doing the right thing by not dropping a bombshell like “we’re over” and instead trying to soften the blow by pretending it’s not serious or only temporary, that’s actually a pretty shitty thing to do and most likely they are doing it to make things easier for themselves (fewer tears to deal with! no need to take responsibility for your actions! coming across as the good guy!)
LW, I really really really hope that doesn’t apply to you. But I’m really glad you’re preparing for the worst just in case.
I don’t think it’s gendered. I’ve acted the way LW’s husband is acting, and in my case it was a combination of things. I didn’t know if I wanted to end things. I did know I was unhappy. I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to feel through how I was affecting my partner.
Perhaps I was acting with privilege and entitlement.
I’ve also been faced with the future ultimatum. My response was to say “let’s end it now”.
Thank you for this comment. I think I understand what you mean about not having enough emotional bandwidth. That makes a lot of sense.
I think maybe sometimes behavior like this is gendered and sometimes it may not be. I know my reaction to it certainly was; it made it harder to understand why/how he would act that way.
Anyway, I really appreciate you sharing what it looked like from the other side, for you.
That’s really interesting about how your response was gendered.
I’ve found that for me the answer to “why do they act that way?” has consistently been “because they no longer perceive me as being on their team”
I did something similar to my ex. Only I absolutely loathed the thought of actually talking to him so much that, instead of saying flat-out that I was dissatisfied and was thinking of ending things, I told him he had one month to fix a thing that was a huge issue but probably wouldn’t have resolved the underlying disgust I’d felt towards him by that point. Luckily, I think, for both of us, he couldn’t address the surface issue in time anyway.
I love the phrase “emotional bandwidth.” Mine is still set to a pretty low frequency, which is part of the reason I haven’t dated since kicking my ex out.
A good thing about ultimata – that is, about giving>/em>ultimata – is that you can think through what might be an absolute minimum and then say to yourself, “yeah, without that, this is unsupportable” and that thinking is really helpful.
It’s great that you’re out of a bad situation, also great that you were able to recognize that change had to happen
Totally. If nothing else, it gives conscious voice to the fact that you (i.e., the ultimatum-issuer) have reached a crucial juncture at which serious evaluation has to take place, if only for your own sanity.
Yes! This exactly
LW, lots of Jedi hugs to you. I agree with the other commenters who’ve said it feels REALLY UNFAIR that your husband is taking such a long time to “decide” what he wants to do. It’s great, though, that you’re both in counseling while you work through this and that you have such a great self-care routine established. Keep doing that. I’d say definitely let your friends know that you’re upset if you want to. The Captain’s advice is perfect as usual, so I don’t have anything to add. Good luck. I truly hope you get a good outcome.
About telling your mother, and when… I actually waited until about a month after my ex had moved out before telling my mother. He was staying with a friend and his stuff was still at my place, and he had a job with lots of deadlines and late nights, so it was perfectly feasible to tell her he was eating in the office and wouldn’t be home until after 9pm.
But I was having a really hard time with the break up, and the last thing I wanted was to deal with my mother judging me (or him).
Some things about telling your friends:
Number one, you get to tell people as much or as little as you want to. You absolutely don’t have to tell anyone anything but if you want to seek support from your friends, consider this permission. Going through something like this is lonely enough without feeling like you have to keep it to yourself.
Number two, in general, your friends will meet you where your at. This is to say that, if you tell them that you’re still hoping to work things through, true friends will allow you to express your hurt and uncertainty without making any long term negative judgments of him that are impossible for him to overcome. As the captain says, he may have to work to regain trust, but good friends will be respectful throughout that process and not run around badmouthing him or whatever. And the same applies if you do end up splitting up – if you need to vent, your friends will be right there with you validating your feelings but they shouldn’t go on and on about how they never liked him if you don’t want that.
I think talking to close friends can be invaluable because they can provide a reality check from someone who has your best interests at heart while ultimately confirming that you’re doing the right thing (and you are, because if it’s right for you then it’s the right thing) and reassuring you that they’ll support you no matter what happens. But at the end of the day, you should just do whatever is most comfortable to you and not feel bad about it.
I’m in a similar situation, but a little further down the road. Almost 12 years married, perfect husband, perfect marriage, perfect life. Then he dropped the bombshell that he wants children (I’m 52 and have two grown sons, and no desire for more. To further put the boot in, when we married he insisted that there would be no children for us, he was totally against the idea of having any).
It’s horrible. 10 weeks in it’s still horrible. You have my sympathy, and all the Jedi hugs you can handle, if you want them.
I’ve even got the bonus of a passive aggressive, covert narcissist step mother who will have a field day of judgements and I told you so’s when she finds out. I had planned that she wouldn’t, but when I confided in my sister a few days ago, she was all ‘but she has a RIGHT to know’. So now I’ve a sister who is unsafe to confide in too, because I’m pretty certain she’s going to blab. And because she apparently places the step mother’s right to personal information about me above my right to privacy.
It hurts. Well done on the self care, this is something I have to remind myself to do, before I start to spiral into self-hate or self-pity (which, depends on whether I’ve done too much or too little).
Wait, what? He wants you to get pregnant at 52? Maybe possible, but risky for sure. He waited until now to tell you this? Ugh, I’m sorry, that must be so rough on you.
Ugh, I am so sorry, indignant.
What is it with other people making decisions about our bodies? I recently left my ex, and one of the reasons was he had decided (without ever talking it over with me) that at 33 I was too old to have kids and that we’d “missed our opportunity” so he’d given up on our relationship. Nevermind until that point he’d been saying he didn’t even know if he wanted kids, I was supposed to read his mind and know he’d decided he wanted them AND not with me.
There were other reasons but seriously, looking back, that one right there is enough and was my wake-up call, and when I started going from “Oh no I am the worst ever I can’t do anything right” to “This is bullshit, fuck this”.
If it helps at all, it was the Worst Thing Ever, and I got through it with the help of family and friends and Team Me, and now I’m happy and moving on and the future I couldn’t imagine without him is a whole lot brighter than living in the Valley Of Despair wreathed in the Mists of Uncertain Future bordered by the Mountains of Gaslighting and the Sea of Self-Loathing. He’s still bunkered down in there and welcome to it.
WTF dude? That’s so messed up. I really feel for you on that one. I’m 33 now and expecting my first child and nobody has called me old. I expect there was another underlying reason on his part but man, that makes me so angry that he said that.
I know, right? My mom was 30 when she had me and I’m the first of four, and nobody called her old at any point. His mom had him when she was 35! But he was really good at making things up and then believing them as facts, so I wish him well with that.
At 33? I mean, that’s kind of the least fucked-up thing about that whole scenario, but really?
I keep making a face every time I think about it. There were other reasons why things weren’t working and why I left, but my brain stumbles over “33?” every single time. It sums things up pretty well.
I’ve seen the attitude that womens’ fertility expires at 30 a lot, even from people who should know better (science bloggers and PhDs). I think a lot of it is post hoc justification for preexisting fertility issues; the narrative becomes “this is because we waited” instead of “this was always an underlying problem but we never knew”. I feel like there’s some ugly cultural baggage in it too, blaming women for being “barren” exclusively when it takes two components.
Further, women who wait until their 30s to have children are a drain on the economy because of all the babies with chromosomal abnormalities they’ll be producing. *rolls eyes*
I also think there’s a huge slice of misogyny involved. Evil women did something other than baby making in their twenties. Leper outcast unclean!
And there’s a side order of “this is why men always should be allowed to sex it up with very young women! It’s EEEEVOOLOOOOOOSHUN!”
Wow, I’m so sorry. What a jerk. I hope you can get a Team You together soon.
Everything about this is horrible and I’m so sorry this is happening to you. Also, your sister, what the fuck. Nobody has a right to know anything, that’s ridiculous, and I’m super mad on your behalf. HULK SMASH.
To clarify, he never thought those children would be had with me. So he’s moved out. And now he’s thinking of dating someone who works in the same building as both of us. And recently left her husband because she wants children and he’s older than her. My husband says it’s a coincidence. I think I believe him, but I’m not entirely certain. And it’s not a large building, 150ish people at most.
It’s painful and I’m hopping mad.
But I’ve discovered that the three friends that I do a specific activity with once a week have suddenly turned into Team Me. One turned up at my house with a cooked chicken last night, and spent the evening telling me hilarious stories about her online dating escapades.
So it’s not all bad. Lose one husband that wasn’t who I thought he was, and gain three amazing friends.
Yay you and Team You!
NET WIN! 😀
While he’s dithering about whether or not he’s going to stay, it’s not helping anyone.
If it really is about staying or going, he either needs to commit to making the relationship work (which he doesn’t appear to have any interest in doing, if I’ve read this right), or make preparations to leave. Standing on the threshold and drawing the whole thing out is just hurting you.
I think he’s already on his way out. His one month deadline is probably just him waiting for the keys to his new apartment.
Don’t wait for him to spring the bad news on you – Make the decision for him and file for divorce.
Treat his drama-bomb-count-down as a one-month-head-start for you to get well clear.
Hire your lawyer, get your money squared away, prepare yourself. Add “Making sure I retain my assets in the divorce” to your self-care project.
It’s great to have Team You, and you can rally them at any time. Making the decision to divorce takes you out of Limbo and allows you to tell anyone who you need on board your team. That doesn’t have to include your mother – she can get the news after the divorce is already in progress, along with anyone else who is not directly part of your self-care and support network.
Keep taking good care of yourself, and stay strong. I know it’s rough, but the fact that you phrased this contingency as option “2) we head off to separate new adventures, reconnecting as friends after a break”, gives me great confidence in you to make it through this.
Best of luck, LW.
Ah, LW, I’m so sorry. This is a shitty, painful situation. Sounds like you’ve got a good handle on self-care, and let me say as one who has been there: whichever way it goes, it will be better than this, and either way there are joyful times ahead for you.
The Captain and the commentariat are right in pointing out that you don’t have to go into detail in asking for help.
If your mother tends to make everything about herself, or falsely call your fella a douche, don’t give her details. Protect yourself.
What I said to mine when she went off the deep end describing my ex in horrid terms was “Ma, it doesn’t help me to tell me I have lousy judgement. And that’s what you’re doing by demonizing him. If you have to be nasty about him, say that he is doing rotten things and acting cruelly. And meanwhile, tell me how well I’m handling things, if I am, or at least how you want to help me get back my happy.”
Now my mother loves making everything about herself, and yet she did listen about this. So maybe that kind of script might help if people jump on the Oh he’s horrible train.
And there’s one other thing I wanted to say that I didn’t see elsewhere.
Dear dear LW, there’s a third positive outcome that I perceive: you could divorce and go your separate ways and not become friends and have rich happy lives apart.
That’s what happened to me and most other people I know who have divorced. We aren’t friends with our exes, some of us don’t even know our exes, and that’s just fine. Our lives are filled with friendship and joy and love.
Jedi hugs if you want them.
I don’t have much to add to the Captain’s great advice, but would answer your questions as follows:
1. Tell your parents whenever you’re ready – you’re by no means obligated to inform them immediately. And feel free to cancel any visits if it’s better for you to not be around family during this time. Also, it’s fine to tell them one thing and then later update with a different development. Like the Captain said, you don’t have to make this easy to understand for others. Choose the way that’s easiest to handle for you.
2. It’s totally fine to tell your friends about this situation, no matter how it all turns out. I would specifically seek out friends who have shown a neutral to fairly positive attitude towards your husband (who don’t either love or hate him). I don’t think loyalty to a partner demands that you keep your problems hidden until they are resolved – you need to be able to get some support. You’re not “crying divorce”, you’re in an acute relationship crisis which entitles you to seek help from your friends.
This, right here. Also, maybe consider targeted one on one counselling just for you, to figure out where your head space is and what your needs and priorities are. This can be short term and doesn’t have to be along drawn out process, but it can help to site with a neutral person to clear out the emotional cobwebs.
Maybe, no matter what support you decide you need, sit with you during the time while he’s visiting his mom to figure out if this relationship makes you happy, and what your plans are for you.
Big bump up to the lawyer, and keep an eye on those bank accounts. People that you think you know very well can act in the most amazingly awful ways and the emotional stuff is one thing, but dealing with the emotional stuff after he’s cleared the bank accounts is something else entirely.
We have mostly kept our finances separate. The one joint account usually only has enough for near-term bills. I don’t have passwords to any of his accounts or vice versa. I track my net worth every month, from that have a fairly full spreadsheet page listing most of my/his/our belongings. The last time we compared notes, it seemed my positive net worth (mostly from retirement accounts) is about equal to his negative net worth (mostly from student loans). He’s actually increased the direct deposit from his paycheck to my personal bank account since this started. But I will keep watching, thanks.
“He’s actually increased the direct deposit from his paycheck to my personal bank account since this started.”
This made me sit up straight in my chair. I’m sorry, LW, but this doesn’t sound like a great sign to me (or a sign that all is well). I would recommend bringing this detail – and any other behavioral changes that you have noticed during partner’s-deciding-time, to the attention of the lawyer that you end up speaking to.
I am sorry that that came off as alarmist (I don’t mean to do so and wish you the best and happiest resolution possible). There are no doubt many possible reasons for them, but changes in financial habits are something to mention just in case.
Yeah, that seems strange to me as well, and while I don’t want to speculate about what it could be about or mean, I would DEFINITELY recommend that you keep records of everything and that you bring the financial change to the attention of your lawyer if and when you seek legal counsel.
“friends who don’t either love or hate him”
Most of my friends have told me they love him. But two of my friends in that one particular circle have been divorced, so perhaps I could reach out to them first.
I think in lieu of friends who are neutral towards him, maybe think of friends that you feel confident will put your interests and needs and feelings first, and that won’t default to the “but he’s your huuuuuusband”. It sounds like starting with friends who have also been through divorce might be a good idea.
This sounds really tough, LW. I really hope that you wind up happier on the other side of this. Assemble your Team Me and let them support you. Seriously, best of luck and Jedi hugs if you want them.
What Amanda is saying below probably makes more sense than my suggestion – talk to those friends who will put you first regardless of how they feel about your husband. I was mostly thinking along the lines of making sure you talk to people who have their main loyalty with you but who won’t try to show said loyalty by painting your husband as the evil one. I think asking friends who have been divorced for support sounds like a good idea.
Yup, I think we were referring to the same sorts of friends! The ones who will meet you where you’re at and will listen to the kind of support you actually want — and then provide it.
I’m sorry, LW, this sounds awfully hard.
The captains advice seems good, as does reader advice to get legal direction. I think the old aphorism ‘Hope for the best, plan for the worst’ might be a good one. Making plans to keep yourself safe if he does leave doesn’t mean you’re checking out of the marriage – you’re just protecting yourself. Get your legal and financial affairs in order, start looking for help around the house/child care.
It’s great that you two are in counselling, but I can’t remember if you said you’re in seperate individual counselling yourself? It might be helpful for you to have an univolved person to talk about your feelings with, so you can sort out what YOU want and what is best for YOU.
Another vote for the ‘Think about whether *you* really want *him* back contingent.
My own story, for what it’s worth:
Almost two years ago now, my husband and I were struggling to get some major problems worked out, and he told me that he really needed just to have some time off when he didn’t have to think about the decision of whether he could still fall back in love with me or not, because otherwise he’d feel too pressured and be at risk of just ending it for that reason. So, he needed me to move into the spare room for a while. Several months. Could be over a year. (I will add that we’d already decided that even if the marriage didn’t work out as a relationship, we would stay living together in order to bring up the children, so it wasn’t a case of having to choose whether to hang around in the house vs. heading for the hills.)
And I said “Yes, sure!” because I was still hoping this could work out. While meanwhile, this little voice niggled in the back of my brain that this… could be kind of problematic as an approach to the situation. But the little voice wasn’t yet speaking clearly enough for me to make out what it was saying, so I shelved that one for the time being.
So, I moved into the spare room, and he did his thinking, and I did mine. In the course of that thinking, I took time to listen to that little voice. What it had to say, when it had gained enough self-knowledge to speak up clearly for itself, was this:
‘You know, even if he does decide he wants to get back together with you… how exactly is that going to work out? What’s it going to be like being with someone who takes this much time to decide whether he even wants to be with you or not? Are things going to get back from there to “Yes, I really want you and am so happy to have you in my life!” or is it going to be more like “Yeah, OK, I guess I can put up with having you around”? If it’s the latter, how is that going to work out for *you*, long term?’
Looking back, I realise that the reason it was initially hard to articulate this was because I didn’t want to make a knee-jerk vengeful petty ‘You can’t fire me, I QUIT!’ response out of hurt pride. But this wasn’t that. This was a genuine and valid concern. I realised that the little voice was a wise and sensible little voice, and I needed to listen to it.
Ultimately it was a moot point; there were a lot of other problems, and in the end both of us decided for other reasons that this was not going to work out as a marriage. (We’ve remained together as one of those ‘parenting marriages’ discussed in the ‘Platonic Parenting’ article the Captain linked to at the end of #690/691.) So, in fact, the issue never came up. But I still think it was a valid one, and for the sake of my own mental health in this I’m glad I realised that my role in all this was not in fact ‘passive recipient of husband’s opinions and decisions about the marriage, anxiously hoping he will once again do me the great honour of bestowing his love and appreciation on my unworthy self’, but ‘person with equal right to have opinions and vetoes on how this marriage ultimately goes down’.
tl;dr: It is absolutely OK for you to feel uncomfortable about the prospect of continuing in a marriage with someone who is this uncertain over whether he even wants to be with you or not. Own that feeling, embrace it, and take time to decide what you want to do about it.
And I think even if it IS a bit of “You can’t Fire me, I QUIT,” that’s totally legitimate. I think we sometimes devalue pride. Cardinal sin and all. But you know what, especially as female-presenting persons, pride can be a glorious thing. Pride means saying “I’m worth more than you are currently valuing me” and it means demanding the treatment that you’re worth.
And I like how you started thinking about what things would look like if/when you did get back together. One of the absolute cornerstones of any marriage (I feel pretty confident as a married person of 8 months) is the belief that the other person is wholly on your Team. It’s all about trust. Do you trust them to think of your needs, even if it isn’t possible to put them first and foremost? Do you trust them to tell you what’s really going on with them? Do you trust them to not make unilateral decisions that have a real effect on your life?
Someone who says “I want you to live in limbo while I sort things out and I’ll just let you know of my decision like I’m the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Our Relationship” has violated that trust. And quite frankly, once that trust is violated, it takes intentional effort to get it back.
I want to stitch “Pride means saying ‘I’m worth more than you are currently valuing me'” on a pillow. That’s all.
This whole comment is so important. Thank you.
Anninyn and I are on the same page here.
LW, you’re in a tough spot and I’m glad you’re being so good to yourself.
In regards to your recently widowed friend: life is not a competition to see who has it worse. Just because she is sad doesn’t mean you can’t also be sad. I would probably refrain from asking her for much other than some mutually comforting hugs or whatever expression of comfort and affection works for you, but her tragedy doesn’t mean you can’t share your hardships with Team You.
In regards to the potential “YOU ARE GREAT AND HE’S A TURD” comments that the Captain mentioned…UGH. These are THE WORST. I have a “friend” who ALWAYS does this and it makes me not want to hang out with her. It hurts me when a friend calls my chosen partner a turd, or a jerk, or tells me he was never good enough. The Captain’s script is good, but I would point out that it’s actually hurtful for them to point out the worst qualities of someone you still hope to spend your life with.
Good luck, LW, and I wish you happiness in whatever form it comes to you.
Thank you all for the kind comments and support. While I’ve seen breakups from the outside and read advice columns, I’ve no personal experience to draw on. We met in my mid-twenties and he is the first person I’ve ever dated.
On staying — A week into this, he told me he was also unhappy with work, unhappy with his hobby, and unhappy in general. I responded that I wanted to both validate his feelings and suggest that if he’s unhappy with everything it would be worth getting a depression screening. The day he told me it was a below Fahrenheit zero windchill. A lot of people in our region fall into bleak hopeless outlooks in mid-February. I have been unkind to him during some of my own past depressions, so I wanted to at least wait it out and see if his outlook would change with the seasons. (He has not, AFAIK, taken my suggestion which is a data point I’m keeping in mind.)
I have done a lot of thinking on my own and with my individual therapist on what my needs and wants are for a relationship and the specific requests I have for him if we are to continue. Each day, I try to ask myself, “Do I still want to be married to him? How can I best be married to him today?” I still love him and am attracted to him. He still buys me soup and medicine when I’m ill and has oddly enough started doing more housework. However, your responses helped me realize I need to separate the question of wanting him in my life (after a break) from wanting to stay married.
Timing — The limbo is really very hard. I’d mentally set a time for myself of no later than my summer birthday, and the “one month”
comment arose from a conversation about the limbo and how he’d like to end the turmoil for himself and me. On that day, hearing “one month” felt less difficult than the open-ended time.
Leaving — Last week there was a sort of emotional whiplash in a 24 hr period that started me considering whether staying in separate spaces and just meeting for lunch dates/counseling would insulate me from the ups and downs. I plan to talk with my personal therapist today about that. One of my requests for him was to work on his support network, as I’m not sure any of his local friends are close enough to take him in. But where he goes is not my problem and his income would support staying in a hotel.
I’m echoing everyone’s advice to talk to a lawyer. Even if you work things out, there’s no harm in it. Make sure you have your interests protected.
And while you both may feel awful at the prospect of not being friends if you do breakup, I would suggest taking a lot of time apart if it happens. You did not initiate this, you did not want this, and you’re in a vulnerable place. Time and a lot of space could be helpful.
I think staying in separate spaces is a great idea–but I also think you should not move out if you own your home together (talk to your lawyer about that). If you both are still in the same place, is there another bedroom one of you could move into? Can you schedule a lot of time with friends? Lots of time at the gym, museum, movies, the park, etc.?
Jedi hugs to you, LW! I think you’re handling this very well.
Thank you. Our second bedroom is pretty stuffed as an office right now. I’m working with a professional organizer both to get it to better use as an office space and an eye for the long term possibility of consolidating into one bedroom and getting a roommate for the other. (He did agree that since I hate moving a 1000x more than him and he started this, he would let me be the one to stay on the lease.) But he could get the couch in the living room and we could force room for the twin air mattress in the office.
Time at the gym, movies, etc. is a great idea.
Big hugs to you, LW. I recently went through something similar (although we hadn’t been married — looking back, being engaged for 7 years but him always having moving goalposts I had to meet before we could get married should have been a huge red flag) and I hear so much of what I went through here, including asking him to see doctors or therapists, be screened for depression, and to work on his support network so that I was not the only one he could talk to about problems. He didn’t do any of these either (and his local friends WERE close enough to take him in, and yet there was a huge emergency about him being potentially deported from the country because he couldn’t be bothered to ask anyone to vouch for him and of course he dropped it in my lap). It’s not that he wasn’t an adult or incapable — he’s all of those things. It was just easier to push all the emotional effort and responsibility onto me, and all of those ups and downs were destroying me.
I’ve gotten really good at saying “It’s not my problem anymore” and “It’s not my responsibility and never was” every time I hear about whatever new emergency is brewing for him. It’s not my problem. It’s hard — sometimes really hard — because we’ve been friends for longer and I still care about him, but I’ve managed to gain enough emotional distance and insulation that I’m willing to admit I care about myself more. I couldn’t have done that a year ago.
Huge hugs and support, no matter what happens, and you are going to be okay no matter what happens. You’re incredibly in touch with yourself, you have an excellent head on your shoulders, and a big heart to boot. Even bruised it’ll stay big, and that’s pretty amazing.
LW700, lots of sympathy.
Last year, about a month before our 10th wedding anniversary / 18th dating anniversary, my wife told me that she was no longer in love with me. About two weeks after that, she told me that she wanted to move into a separate space. Two months later, she did. It’s been about five months since then.
We’re seeing a couple’s therapist, and we go out on dates, but all of the things that she wants “fixed”… I’m not sure if they’re fixable.
Anyway, I guess what I really wanted to say was that I can understand hanging around, even in the face of a sort of nebulous or apparently disrespectful “I’ll decide… eventually” situation. While I agree with what some of the other commenters have said regarding trust after an event like this… I’d still be really happy if she came home.
Hello LW, I’m a divorce lawyer, and ITA with those who say you need to speak to one of us right now and definitely before you make any decisions about who is moving out etc. I just wanted to reassure you that it’s totally OK to see a divorce lawyer even if you’re not sure the marriage is actually ending. Plenty of people do, and we really don’t mind. I’ve also had clients reconcile during the separation and divorce process. Again, that is fine. You do not have to have made (or made for you) an irrevocable decision to divorce before seeing an attorney. We would far rather see you at the start and then never see you again because it all got worked out, than have to try and fix a bad situation that your husband and his lawyer have put you in, further down the line. Please find a lawyer ASAP and schedule an initial consultation. You don’t need to tell another living soul that you’ve done this, and it will help empower your choices from here. Wishing you all the best.
My friends have seen me through no less than three significant adult long-term relationships ending. Each time, I have had the same concerns for sure, but I can say with certainty that they never got tired of my indecisiveness and were there for me during the ambiguity and after the cold hard truth of the Official End came to pass (x3). I also think that in some ways the torture of not being sure what the outcome will be is actually worse than coping with the final decision. They’re kind of different needs and honestly I’d say having my friends available during the former was better for me. In fact, coping and healing with my most recent relationship ending has been much more about simply having stuff to do, which has meant getting out, exploring new interests, and forming new friendships as a result. My confidants helped me to grapple with the pre-breakup stuff (and are still always around for support) but post-breakup coping was way more about how to “do me” independently and forging new friendships/interests.
Also – I have very close friends who have reported all kinds of ill-conceived behavior on the part of their partners and, while my loyalty is to my friends and I send some serious psychic side-eye to their partners, I can still consider them people worthy of consideration and I can support my friends wishing to remain in the relationship with them. I did once get tired of hearing about some back-n-forth one of my friends was having, but honestly it took years to get to that point and as the supportive friend, it was on me to decide how to take care of myself and tend to my own boundaries. Good luck to you – trust your friends and know that even in your time of need, your friendship is still valuable to them too!
It’s quite possible that my “it’s not gendered!” stems from the ways in which I end up being like what the boys are said to be.
And I’m a cis woman, socialised female.
But then again, I’m not especially empathetic so who knows.
All the Jedi hugs to you, LW. I’ve been there and this is an incredibly painful situation to be in.
Just as a bit of backstory, I dated someone for about eight and a half years. During the last year or so of our relationship I became increasingly unhappy and finally we separated. Nothing was really, really wrong, but our relationship was sort of drifting, and he kept me at arm’s length (didn’t travel together, didn’t meet his friends, etc. etc.).
After about a year and a half, he started seeing a therapist and got on medication for his anxiety disorder, after which he asked me if I was open to getting back together. We saw a couples’ counselor twice….and ended up in exactly the same place. We would have conversations in which I asked him, point blank, if he wanted to be with me – and the most he could offer was an “I don’t know” or “I don’t know about the future.”
Yet at the same time, he didn’t want me to see anyone else or start any new relationships, got upset if I wasn’t around to hang out, still texted/called me a lot, etc. etc.
It sucked. It really, really sucked. I don’t know why he couldn’t quite let me go, but wouldn’t actually say he wanted to be with me. I may never know, and that’s okay.
LW, I can say that you deserve someone who can unequivocally say YES! I want to be with this person! I’d rather spend the rest of my life in rich solitude than with someone who just can’t quite ever decide if they want me.
I’m at work and don’t have time to read all the comments so I’m sorry if I’m repeating something that’s already been said (Is that a frowned upon commenting behavior here? If so, my apologies for the blogtiquette faux pas). But in case no one else has said it I wanted to mention that I’ve had some success with telling people what kind of reaction would be helpful to me when I tell them surprising news. I have a mom who is… not 100% Terrible, but can frequently be so, especially when she’s surprised. So I’ve started preceding or immediately following surprising information with what I need from her. E.g. “Mom, I have to tell you something that I know you’re going to have some feelings about, but it’s a thing that is hard for me so I really need you to be calm about it and focus on how you can help me with this situation.” Or, “Mom, I want to tell you that I’ve been having some heart problems recently and , but it’s definitely stress related so I would really appreciate it if you could not freak out and maybe talk to Dad about whatever feelings you’re having about this.” So, if you know your mom isn’t 100% Terrible, and want to see if maybe she could rise to the occasion, you could try that approach.
Also I used to be the friend that was all “NOOOO DOWN WITH YOUR BF!!!!!!!!” whenever my friends were having relationship troubles. But then one of my friends mentioned, mid-recitation-of-bf-woes, before I had even said anything, how scared she was to tell her friends about it because she still loved her bf and didn’t want people to judge him, so as a result she felt isolated from her friends, etc. And i was like “oooooohhhhhhh. DOWN WITH BF reaction = not helpful” without her ever even having to address my reaction specifically. So you could try starting your friend-i-have-something-to-tell-you conversation with a remark like that to sort of lay the groundwork for what you need.
Super jedi hugs, LW. You are for reals doing the most amazing job of taking care of yourself. A+++
LW, many many Jedi Hugs.
Regarding your worry of “crying divorce”: My close friend’s husband decided out of the blue that he wanted out. She and her 4 year old daughter moved out after a month of wondering “will he won’t he.” Within a month of moving out, he had a change of heart and wanted them back.
In the meantime, I practically lived with my friend. She broke her back slipping on ice and he was kind of a terrible human being about helping her (left her to lie in bed for an hour after she had requested he help her get to the bathroom because he wanted to eat breakfast), so I stayed with her for a few days *while he was still home* because she needed that support.
When she moved out, I continued to support her in whatever way was helpful to her.
When she moved back, it was definitely hard for me as her friend because of the husband’s aforementioned terrible human beingness, but I tried to make sure she knew I was still supportive of her and respected her decision.
It’s been over a year since I’ve talked to her. I tried to check in with emails and texts to let her know that I was still supportive of her but she just kind of faded away. I don’t know if he had a part in that, or if she was embarrassed that she “cried divorce”, or if she just needed to African Violet me. In any case, I do not regret or resent helping her in any way and was grateful that I was able to be on Team Friend in a time of need.
I never was upset with her for any of her decisions, and I was of course biased against her husband because she was my friend and he hurt her. The Captain was absolutely spot on that your husband may need to work to win your friends back, but I think you’ll find that most Team You-ers will be open to his “redemption” if that’s the route you end up taking.
That’s really sad that the friendship ended like this after she had turned to you when she needed help and you supported her so much. I wonder if maybe she was kind of ashamed that you had seen everything go down and knew many the details of her marital crisis and temporary separation? Maybe things are still not that good with her husband and she can’t bear to face the people who can guess as much?
I think it’s inevitable that LW’s friends will form some opinions on her husband when they hear about the situation. But as a friend I would try really hard to just focus on LW and her needs and not be too judgmental of the husband. Many people are aware of how delicate and messy these situations can be. For example, my boyfriend’s brother and his girlfriend were separated for a while. They got back together and I don’t think anyone now has a negative opinion of the girlfriend. I certainly don’t. If a couple gets through the crisis or they reunite after a separation and they seem happy most friends will just be glad that that’s the case.
However, if a friend repeatedly tells you that their partner keeps behaving abominably and that they’re going to leave, it can become hard to not see the reconciled partner through a lense of “but they did blah to my lovely friend” and go on making polite conversation.
I’m struggling with the same thing right now – how best to support a friend whose marriage is in crisis. In our case, the friend and her DH have been really close friends with my partner & me, and while things have been rocky for a long time between both of them, his behavior just crossed the line from “not great” to “appalling.”
She tends to communicate a lot by email, because she doesn’t want their small children overhearing what she’s saying about their dad. Problem is, he has already once gotten ahold of her phone, read her emails, and then insisted that she excommunicate the friend(s) who were saying critical things about him. So whenever I have anything particularly condemnatory to say, I try to do it over the phone. I know she wants to patch things up, but it’s gotten to the point where she is in danger — and when she explicitly asks me whether I think her husband is safe to be around, I am going to tell her the truth.
I don’t want to tell her this, because I know it would make her sad, but it’s also been really shocking to realize that her DH – whom I considered a friend for many years – is capable of behaving this way. Even if she ends up forgiving him and they end up working things out, I can’t imagine ever feeling OK around him again.
My BFF was dating a guy when she moved to our old city who was terrible news. He crossed the line early on into outright abuse, and I supported her through the whole thing, which dragged on for over a year. He tried to isolate her but weirdly always approved of me as a friend while trying to stop her being friends with most of the other people in our program because they were “bad influences”. They were nice about her horrible abusive man-troll of a boyfriend. I was going to the gym with her every day, crying angrily with her on the elliptical, and telling her to kick him out.
I was the voice of “oh god this is spiralling downhill fast” for her, and it wasn’t always something that she wanted to hear (I was terrified that he was going to hit her or kill her cat, and he had serious anger problems, and was engaging in emotional abuse and verbal abuse and intimidation) but I also think that my “if he does this, you do THAT, and call me anytime, I will be at your apartment in minutes”–I lived 3 blocks away–“and if he touches you, call me and call 911, and they can patch him up when I’m through with him”, and I think that knowing that I absolutely, without fail had her back really helped her.
It was definitely a really hard line to walk between “I’m supporting you” and “Holy shit your husband is scary and awful, I want to make sure you know that this is not okay”. In my friend’s case, she had told me things that were GIANT red flags (for example he’s a LEO and passed a lie detector test while blatantly lying to get his job, not feeling remorse for things, etc etc). Perhaps I went over that line too much for her to feel like I would still support her if she went back to him. I did make sure to say, “I may not like him or understand your decision, but you know what’s best for you and I am here to support you.” (Captain Awkward has been transformative in getting me to that point of using my words so clearly. 🙂 )
Revolver, I think what maybe happened with you and your friend had a lot more to do with her own feelings of shame or a need to start over than anything you did. Hopefully it wasn’t a case where he demanded that she cut off ties with you. FWIW, it sounds like you were a very good friend to her.
Your friend may well go back and forth more than once with her man. It’s hard to leave an abuser.
Your steadfastness, and clear love for her may be the rock that will help her make the best decisions for herself, and for the kids.
I have no advice, just Jedi hugs for you both
Thank you – a lot. It didn’t occur to me until yesterday after I posted this, just how much I needed to talk about it.
You’re very welcome. I hope things get better soon for your friend
Dear LW, Im so sorry to hear youre having a hard time but, like the Captain, Im impressed at your level of self care and insight. Stay with that and being kind to yourself.
Just to say – his “I love you”s may be 100% genuine, but that may not be enough. I have split with an ex, after 4 years, where we still did love each other but werent physically attracted or any more than best mates any more. We both cried together for the loss of the relationship, and we even supported each other through it… While we knew it was very sadly inevitable.
I agree with the Captain, surround yourself with support. And as for why youre not together on mother’s day? This early on, while youre working out what happens in the future, its ok to use white lies about illness if necessary. But as soon as a future plan is worked out, start being honest about the reasons, however hard it is. Ask friends to support you. Relationship splits have shown me how many people care for me (more than expected, I had loads of offers of sofas and food from even periferal friends).
I have been thinking of you and was reminded of this Modern Love column from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/fashion/02love.html
You may also want to investigate Alison Armstrong’s work. She has an number of books, workshops and cds about men and their development. In it she describes a transitory dark period which often happens in a man’s late 30s-mid 40s which takes a man from one phase of life to another: http://www.amazon.com/The-Amazing-Development-Men-Seniority/dp/0974143545
In other words, his dissatisfaction with your marriage may have nothing to do with you. I know this wasn’t exactly what you were looking for when you wrote in your letter, but I hope it may aid in your self-care.
Wishing you the very best.
I’m really surprised at the end of that column. She compares her husband to a toddler throwing a tantrum, and completely ignores his stated wish to break up? How is that okay?
Yeah, the whole thing where she assumes she knows what he really wants, contrary to his actual stated wishes, and then just keeps waiting until he finally gives in? So creepy. So not ok.
Hmm, it didn’t seem to me like his wish to break up was completely ignored. She asked him what she could do to help him get distance. I took that to mean that she would be down with at least a trial separation (and she did provide him with options for “responsible separation”), and revisiting would happen in the future (which I also got the impression that it did–at the end she does say that they had the “hard talks”). And she actually does explicitly say “I’m not saying my husband was throwing a child’s tantrum.” It’s an analogy, and one that I think was apt because it describes someone lashing out and someone else not validating the lashing out.
Having gone through a crisis in my marriage myself, I honestly found that article very insightful. I wish I had handled my own the way she describes, because it truly *wasn’t* about me or our relationship–my husband was unhappy in other ways that he felt he couldn’t control and he lashed out at me/us because he *could* control that. And, like the author observes, if he could turn his unhappiness into OUR unhappiness and his problems outside of our relationship into problems INSIDE our relationship then he could blame me for his problems. I wish that instead of breaking down when he told me he wasn’t sure he loved me I had had the strength of character to try the kind of approach the author describes because it would have completely derailed his expectations and probably forced him to sooner look at why he was actually unhappy, rather than using “relationship problems” as a more convenient target. And if after however long, he decided he STILL wanted to break up, well then that’s the right decision. But the author never tried to convince him to stay. She just refused to let herself get sucked into his personal vortex of pain, while being clear that she was still there if he wanted to spend time with her, and I think that’s very, very wise.
It seems like this story goes against a lot of the Captain’s advice, though. What happened to “wanting to leave is enough”? Trusting your own feelings, not letting anybody else tell you your feelings are wrong? I find it hard to imagine a letter saying “I told my spouse I want to break up, and they said they didn’t accept that and wouldn’t let me leave” being received well here.
I have definitely been the person before who turned “problems with me” into “problems with us,” but that was my own shit to deal with, not for the other person to say “you’re wrong.”
I posted the article because I thought it was a unique insight into a situation that seemed not completely unlike what the LW is going through. Agree/disagree, I just wanted her to have it in case it helped.
Wanting to leave *is* enough, but if you want to leave, then you should leave, not say “I don’t love you anymore” and “I want to move out” but then do nothing. In the article, the wife didn’t prevent the husband from leaving. She didn’t do *anything*. She didn’t even try to convince him to go to therapy (and how many letters have we seen where someone said something like “My partner said they were unhappy but I convinced them to come to couples counseling”?). He said “I want to move out” but then he didn’t. To me, that’s the key. If he truly wanted to go, and she got out of the way (which she did), then why didn’t he just go? Nothing was preventing him except himself.
I’m glad you found the article useful. I have never been in the situation myself but I read the article a few years ago and it’s stayed with me all this time because of its unique point of view.
LW, you are doing a fantastic job of taking care of yourself. Keep on doing that. Definitely start connecting to Team You. Definitely stay home this weekend if that’s what’s best for you. Tell your mom what works best for you. You are the person in crisis, so your priority is to take care of your needs through this crisis, not manage other people’s feelings about your crisis. You are entitled to have all the feelings and to share them with whoever feels safe and to let them know what reaction is helpful or most definitely not helpful.
I say this as a cancer survivor who gets lectured at regularly by well-meaning clueless friends who tell me that I should concentrate on being grateful to still be alive when I dare to express grief for the cherished things I have lost as a result of illness and treatment and the daily struggle with resultant health issues and reduced quality of life. You can feel however you feel, and express those feelings without having to justify or defend yourself.
Also, I am on the other side of this situation. I’m the one who’s been wishy-washy and put separation/breakup on the table without any definitive decision date. I’m the one who has said clearly that I am unhappy in this relationship, and it needs to change or end.
I have been with my partner for going on 10 years, living together for 5. Zie has been in a major depressive episode pretty much the whole time we’ve been living together from what I can tell. Zie relied on me entirely for support instead of relying on a larger support network of friends in the area.
About 2 years ago it started to get really ugly. I was breaking under the strain of working full time with limited capacity due to ongoing health issues, being responsible for almost all of the domestic stuff, being told I needed to deal with hir stuff too because zie was disabled, etc. And every time I tried to have a discussion about problems in our relationship or my needs or just a more equitable distribution of household labor, it was shut down hard, usually by derailing into a personal attack. And the accusations that I was intentionally abusing hir, trying to control and isolate hir were devastating, particularly since I was constantly talking to hir friends and asking them to take hir out, paying hir bills without ever questioning hir spending habits, etc. I spent months and months feeling like I was struggling alone and in the dark, trying to figure out whether hir dumping on me was privilege and entitlement, depression, abusive gaslighting–what could zie be held accountable for and what was too much to expect from hir?
But I didn’t have the heart to do the breaking up. I didn’t want to leave hir at hir worst–depressed, in financial and legal troubles with Social Security, alienated and alone. I tried to push that off on hir–if you really believe that I am intentionally trying to hurt you, and that I am capable of that kind of harm, then you need to break up with me. We went to couples counseling, but that seemed to make things worse as the abuse accusations were largely lobbed at me during those sessions. But then when I tried to talk about the incidents in those accusations outside of counseling then I was forcing nonconsensual confrontations on hir when zie was vulnerable (when I thought it was mutually helpful and saw no indicators of distress).
Frankly, when we live in the moment with the day to day, we do great. We both still really enjoy each others’ company. We can still have lots of great conversations. We still have a lot of physical affection for each other. We enjoy just being together watching a movie or reading books or whatever. It’s so easy to slip into that comfortable space as long as we don’t look under the surface or think about the bigger picture. Even when I felt most unsafe it was hard to remember from moment to moment when the habit of affection and trust ran so deep.
It really came to a head last summer. Zie didn’t feel safe with me, and zie had really effectively eroded my sense of safety with hir. I definitely relied on Team Me. I spent months crying on friends’ shoulders because of the accusations and other things my partner had done that made me feel really unsafe emotionally with hir. I started to withdraw from our shared spaces and conversations. My friends have been infinitely patient and willing to listen to me and keep meeting with me and letting me just cry and reassured me that I am not a bother.
And with all of that, things are actually better. Zie is finally seeing a therapist. Zie is finally on meds. Zie is making many efforts around the house. Zie is finally talking to me about stuff, and is willing to keep trying even when we seem to hit a communication barrier. Lest this seem entirely one-sided, I have learned to do a better job of asking whether this is a good time to talk, and avoiding difficult conversations or even deeply personal ones in situations where my partner feels trapped and vulnerable, and educating myself more on my own about depression and how it affects people and how to be supportive and less ableist. I have also learned to stop wrestling with the red herring of intent. It doesn’t matter why zie is hurting me, only that I am hurting and I deserve better. I am doing a better job of defending my boundaries instead of caving under just a little bit of pressure. I have done better with arranging to do household things together or according to a schedule that works for both of us instead of resentfully alone. And so on.
And yet, I can’t keep living with the status quo. So I am moving out for the summer. I am so excited. I know this is a very good decision for me. I was afraid for many weeks to tell my partner that I wanted to do this and was committed to doing it. But I finally did, and zie has been very supportive. It will give us much needed space. It will allow us to reset our personal dynamic. It will allow us to negotiate household stuff. It will let me focus on myself instead of distracting myself with hir or us. And I am really hopeful that we can salvage this relationship with work by both of us. Part of this process involves a written separation agreement that sets out clear expectations and specific goals and time frames. So it is explicit for both of us with hopefully no hidden assumptions.
So enough about me. I want to recommend 2 books that came up on earlier threads:
Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends by Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti (the last appendix is the basis for our written agreement)
Too Good to Leave. Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum
Both of them are to help you sort out your own thinking and feelings about your relationship and your life. I’m taking both of them with me when I retreat to my summer hermitage in a couple weeks.
I’m seeing a lot of comments on how LW’s husband’s behaviour is gendered, and yes; that tendency to mull things over for ages and then make massive emotional pronouncements does tend to be stereotypically male. It’s not great, it can hurt people, and it’s something the LW’s husband might wish to work on.
But I would like to make explicitly clear to any male readers that if you wish to end a relationship, you do not *have* to discuss it. It’s not a “joint decision”, and you do not have to air all emotions and grievances before your decision is valid. Simply wanting to leave is enough.
Apologies for the slight digression, LW. You have my sympathies. The only advice I have for you is (as others have said) that you *also* get to decide whether to break up– don’t feel you have to give him that month.
Captain, thank you again for the kind advice and the perfect epigraph from Paul Simon. I did go home this weekend, and just knowing I didn’t have to, that I was there by choice, was a comfort. You were right that the facts sufficed. In fact, my parents asked me three questions about him all weekend. 1.) Did his plane arrive safely? 2.) Would he like this special baked dish? and 3.) When does his plane return to [the city we live in]?
Also, an old friend also had a sex toy party Saturday night, which was a good escape.
I decided to enlist one of my friends (a frequent CA reader) to spread the word to the core group I mentioned. Friend agreed this morning and told me their thoughts on reading the letter were “wow, this lady has her shit together,” and I feel relieved and lighter for setting that in motion.
Jedi Hugs to all of the commenters facing similar situations, and thank you all again.
Comments are closed.