Dear Captain –
I (she/her) am a middle-aged wife of a man (he/him). We’ve only been married three years (together 8) but it has turned out to be rather nothing like what I wanted marriage to be – and I was not unrealistic! He’s emotionally constipated and may also be more intellectually my inferior than he first seemed. He’s kind, not a monster, but he doesn’t manage stress well – at all – and I don’t manage money well. He’s sexually inexperienced compared to me, but he’s still interested whereas I am completely dead from the neck down. Right now hugging him is like hugging a pillow. I am so tired of managing his emotions, explaining things to him, taking the lead on any decision-making because he can’t manage it, quelling my frustrations, enduring his inept pawing, trying to explain my dissatisfactions and needs without somehow making him feel blamed, I’m exhausted. In addition, my work situation has gotten more isolated, difficult, and stressful. Plus there’s the news cycle grinding us all down slowly.
I believe strongly in the campsite rule of relationships, leave them better than you found them; I think if I vanished he’s in a better place: he’s in touch with his creative side, has a wide and non-toxic pool of friends who love him, and a homier home and healthier diet. However, I used to be creative and horny and enthusiastic and I did performances and made things and wrote things, I kept up with my projects and bills and friends, and now I just want to watch TV or maybe play World of Warcraft, though it’s too much bother most of the time. Definitely depressed! But, if he vanished, I would be worse than when he found me, but I’d feel free.
One day I had a dream, followed by another dream, which resulted in writing a 200,000 word book in three weeks. I didn’t want to do anything else, I was utterly engulfed in this project. He keeps asking what I am doing but I just can’t tell him, “Writing!” but he’s convinced I have to share every phase of any project like he does because he’s so insecure. Anyway, all I want to do is work on these books. I have control of that little universe on the page, and I don’t want to engage with him at all. He’s trying to be sweet but it’s too little too late. He’s always been terrible at communicating any kind of emotions besides stress. Any time he has stress he crawls up his own ass and neglects everyone around him, particularly me. I am exhausted beyond belief. We both have therapists, but it’s still too early to be experiencing results, and we definitely need couples therapy. A bitter part of my brain just knows he’s not asking her the right questions.
I am in despair and I just need to know how I can communicate “please fuck off” while I am working on this project, which is tantamount to an emotional affair (the first book involves me meeting and getting together with a famous person; the second is a meta response). I feel guilty not telling him, but I know he’ll take it personally and then those emotions he cannot express will be my problem too. I am his mother more than his wife and I don’t even know what a proper relationship looks like. But it ain’t this. If I knew it would be like five years from now, I would be gone. But I am hoping therapy/Wellbutrin will help.
I guess my question is: how do you tell the husband you are currently utterly burned out on that you are writing a story about being in love with someone else, and you’d much rather do that than talk to your husband? My book lover is not some Hemsworthian hunk but is the opposite of my husband in all the important ways, and a very nerdly sort of beau. My regular crush on him has definitely blossomed into something unhealthy, but I’m in no danger of acting out on it, so it’s more of an escape than a manifesto.
Writing A Book With Dream Boyfriend
Your email subject line suggested that your current work-in-progress constituted “an emotional affair” and if you don’t mind, I’d like to start by poking at that whole deal.
Your work as a writer is YOURS. You get to write about anything you want, literally anything, and you get to show it to people or not show it to people, talk about it or not talk about it, at your sole discretion. As a fellow creative type, your husband should be able to hear and accept that your process gets to be your process. You don’t have to share, and nobody has the right to insist that they get to read your work.
Additionally, writers can both love actual people and invent the fantasy people of their dreams (or engage in COPIOUS acts of fan fiction) without it being any form of “cheating.” There’s a whole amazing literary genre called “romance” you may have heard of, where people write fictional versions, often highly aspirational versions, of romantic partners and then write scenarios where, oops, there’s only one available inn or hotel room to be had in all the land and, crap, it’s got one single, solitary bed, guess it’s time for these protagonists to finally reckon with all their lovable flaws and get honest with themselves about what they want out of life at last to make themselves ready for the challenge of this new and exciting person…in bed! I laugh because I love, is there a romance book in print that is not some version of “Here is a vision of what love could look like and here’s what I think about what it takes to be a lovable person in the world?” i.e. a pretty profound question about human needs and human behaviors, which is why people write them and read and watch our favorite ones over and over again? If you’re trying to figure out what you really, really want from life, having a fictional canvas to work some of that out in is an awesome project, not evidence of infidelity. And if you end up writing your way out of this marriage in the end? That’s possible, but you also get to wait and see how the book turns out before deciding that. That isn’t cheating, either.
The reason it’s weird in your house isn’t that you accidentally met Your Dream Man in a text file, or, it’s not just that. It’s that you, in the grip of your own project, awake and aglow with your story and your crush, have upset the relationship your husband expects to have with you and he doesn’t know what changed. You’re around less, or less present when you are around, because you’re occupied with your own thing. He can probably also see that you perked up, you’re not just playing WoW or falling asleep in front of the TV at night these days, you’re alight, but it doesn’t seem to be about him or include him in any way. Probably he’s used to doing his creative stuff and you “appreciating” it, and if you’re focused on your own thing you’re not appreciating him as much nor are you accepting his appreciation, and that’s not wrong of you but it is new information for him. Or, consider that he’s not as oblivious as you think about how disengaged you are from the relationship as a whole and is wondering, “What’s putting that sparkle in her eye? Not me.” So he’s trying to engage with you, the way he thought you wanted, and you’re not having it, and you’re being secretive, so of course it’s weird! The problem is that when someone behaves like there is some big giant secret that’s “no big deal” everyone, even very unobservant people, can tell that it’s a very big deal!
So, I don’t think you’re having an affair with your book or its star, but the secret thoughts you are having about your book and this incredible character are like a version of looking at your phone screen, laughing at a text that comes in, and when your spouse wants to know the joke, you’re like “Oh, nothing important” and when he asks “Who keeps texting?” you say “Oh, nobody important, just someone from work” and then “someone from work” keeps sending “nothing important” messages that buzz all evening from inside your pocket and make you smile a secret smile, a smile that doesn’t invite anyone else in, and you’re suddenly very careful to never let your husband see the screen, and you also don’t want to bother explaining the joke to him because it’s Too Much Work, which is what people who are having affairs do, in addition to suddenly volunteering to run the most mundane errands because they’re looking for excuses to be out of the house so they can secret-smile at their phone in peace, and “get cat litter” is suddenly a secret romantic mission they’re on.
So yeah, that thing where you could tell your spouse what you’re thinking and feeling, but it all feels like Too Much Work so you don’t want to? And where you want to spend your time not thinking about him or dealing with him because it’s intruding on your time thinking about your crush? You recognize this correctly as emotional territory where affairs can flourish, or as the wasteland people cross on their way out of a marriage. “I’ve pretty much given up on the possibility that this person will ever surprise me, or that any of those surprises will be good surprises, or that they’ll happen in enough time for me to still give a shit, or that it’s worth the bother of asking for what I need” = signs that a relationship is done. And I’m not gonna lie, you sound kinda done. Which is a painful but also perfectly okay thing to decide? After eight years with this guy, if anyone would know if it’s likely to get better, that person would be you.
But if you’re not done yet, or still deciding, while I don’t think you have to let your husband ever read your stuff, what’s the harm in acknowledging the general vibe of what’s happening and asking directly for what you need? You’re writing a book, take that seriously, make a writing schedule, and tell your husband what’s up and what you’d like to happen:
“Hey, I know I’ve been kind of preoccupied lately, I got this amazing idea for a book and I feel like I’m racing against time to get it all out on the page before I lose the thread. For the next month, it would help me to have until 9pm as writing time on weeknights until I get the draft done, so [can you get dinner on the table][can I camp out in the home office with some peace and quiet][Can you amuse yourself & catch up on your shows?][Can you work on your own creative stuff without my input?][I’ll be heading to the library for a few hours after work before I come home][Can you go solo to group stuff while I hang back and use that time to write] for the next month? I’m really into working on this and I don’t want to lose momentum, thanks so much!”
Clue him into the fact that your focus is occupied. Ask him for specific things he could do to support you. It would be reasonable for you to ask for this, and also reasonable for him to ask for something like, “Ok, but can Sunday night be date night, no work, no screens?” and for the two of you to figure out a workable routine. You can revisit it in a month. You’re not stealing time or hiding something if you block out the time.
The second script is probably:
“It’s so kind of you to offer to read it, but I’m not ready to show it to anyone yet, and I’m afraid if I talk about it too much I’ll jinx it.”
If it becomes necessary to repeat it, repeat it. “Thanks but I’m not ready to show it to anyone yet.” “I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, it’s very different from what I usually write, I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” “It’s kind of an experiment, I don’t want to analyze it until I’ve gotten it all onto the page, I definitely don’t want to show it to anyone else until I know what I’ve got.” These are legitimate, reasonable things to need when making creative work. He’s not your publisher or your editor.
If you don’t feel safe or comfortable even asking for time and privacy? Or if he won’t take no for an answer? Those are very big red flags. But if you ask and he backs off? Time to write! Get yourself on a writing schedule. Defend it from all interlopers. Plus, password protection is your friend.
Know also that a million writers are in your same shoes, counting the hours taken up by their uninspiring day jobs and their home life that isn’t all it was cracked up to be, struggling to stay present in conversations when their characters are talking about much more interesting things in the background, saying the dialogue out loud in the shower or in the car on their commute to see how it rings out in a room, hoping the baby will stay asleep until the end of this sentence, marking time until they can get back to a page where something somewhere might be made to make a sort of sense. Some of your colleagues are also writing escape routes, daydreams about famous people dead or alive, sex they imagine but don’t know how to ask for, the love they wish they had but don’t, worlds where they are in charge and the things they need are reasonable and real and readily available, worlds where there is enough to go around, hard decisions from the point of view of people who don’t have the same things to lose that they do, roads not taken, all the things they wish they’d said or that someone said to them, and other attempts to work out how they feel and think about the world in real time on a blank page. You’re not alone in finding solace there, or maybe the opposite of solace, the sharp shock of recognition, whatever it is, a good idea and the words and will to realize it are gifts, so get to work! You are allowed to imagine other lives for yourself. That’s not a zero-sum game with the life you have.
Maybe your marriage can wait this out for a while. Or maybe it will die in slow motion while you’re writing better things, because without you giving 100% of your focus to the relationship it can’t survive on what little he brings. Write anyway.
Also, tell your therapist what’s really going on. Use the word “divorce,” like, “I am unhappy and exhausted and I’m starting to think that divorce might be the right answer,” and see how it rings out in a room. Research couples’ counselors and divorce attorneys. Visiting one for a consult is not an obligation to buy.
Check in with your job/career/resume/network/money possibilities. You sound stuck right now. Do you need to get unstuck? What could you do to set yourself up well financially if you ended up living alone? Think through some of that and make a plan. Beef up savings. Don’t take on big new debts or large purchases. Just because you make a plan, doesn’t mean you have to use it, but making one is a way of taking care of yourself.
Most of all, get honest with yourself about what you really want in your marriage and how much effort you would want to put in to fixing whatever this is or starting over in a new, solo life. Because here’s the choice the protagonist of the story you sent me has in front of her:
You’re either going to hand your husband a copy of your beautiful manuscript when it’s finished and say, “I don’t actually want any notes or critiques from you, but I do want you to see what I’ve been working on all this time. Sometimes it’s hard for me to talk about feelings with you but I put a lot of my heart out here in the book, and I want you to see it true” and hope that he’ll surprise you by loving it and getting it, or, you’re going to get on with the business of getting divorced. You’ll have your publisher send your ex-husband a copy of the book someday, maybe he’ll recognize himself in the dedication, something like “For [HusbandName], who pointed me in the right direction and then gave me the space to find the way,” and maybe he’ll understand it all then but maybe not, oh well, you tried your best for eight years and you’ve got a jillion more books to write.
There are loads of middle options I’m leaving out, including continuing as you are now, but you already said you didn’t want that and honestly until you’re ready to either invite him into your thought process or commit to figuring out the next stage of what your marriage should be like (“Is this marriage what you hoped it would be like? Because I don’t think it is what I hoped for. Can we talk about that?”), my recommendation is: Keep Dream Boyfriend all to yourself for now, but be honest and forthright in letting your husband know that you’d like some time and space to write and be clear that you’re not comfortable sharing your pages just yet (if ever). I think you get to possibly be done with the marriage and still ask for what you need while it holds together, and you get to still hope that your husband will surprise you. You say he’s kind, so what if he says, “Okey-doke, babe, I was just curious because I like your writing so much and it’s awesome to see you so excited about something, I just wanted to be part of it if I could possibly help!” and then closes the study door to give you some peace and quiet?
Maybe that won’t work, or maybe he’ll whine and keep insisting on reading it or cling to your time and attention tightly and you’ll be one step closer to the end. But maybe it will work, and maybe your B-story just got an interesting character, is what I’m saying: The person who was almost the love interest but not quite right in the end, still, he’s a decent chap, he’ll be a good match for someone, just not our heroine, who needs different things than she thought she did when the story began.
170 thoughts on “#1199: “Hello, I’d rather hang out with my main character than my husband.””
I want to point out real quick, on top of all the super valid things in Captain’s response: LW, you use the phrase “campsite rule” which was coined by the fallible-but-catchy Dan Savage *specifically for the older partner in relationships with a large age gap*. Unless you have some sort of major power differential (financial?) that I’m not getting from your letter the campsite rule per se doesn’t apply– while it’s a nice thought, you do NOT have an obligation to “leave him better than you found him.” It sounds like you’re taking responsibility for him in a way that isn’t working for you and I just want to put out there that the campsite rule is meant to compensate for an existing social power differential, not obligate someone to take care of their grown-ass-but-lazy partner.
Right, you can leave someone even if it means not making sure all their life problems are squared away for now!
Also–age gap or lack thereof aside, it sounds he IS in a better place than when you found him, so, you fulfilled it! The campsite rule doesn’t tell you that *you* have to be in a better place. (It would if your husband were the one reading it and trying to follow it, but if he’s not, you can’t make him.)
It sounded to me like the LW was trying to apply the campsite rule to herself, as if to say, “I can’t leave because I’m not better than when I got into this.” If that is the case, I think that’s very dangerous. Sometimes you can’t BE better until you leave, because the dynamic of the marriage is making you worse than you were by yourself.
LW here! I have been truly moved by this response and am excited to read all the comments. I referred to the campsite rule as just a more generalized “don’t fuck up the place on the way out/be kind to humans” sort of philosophy. Like, if we aren’t shitty to each other it’s a better world altogether. But YES I definitely am also guilty of not wanting to take a dump on him on the way out because I would then be the bitch. : )
LW, I’m not sure if this is what you mean in the comment directly above (I couldn’t reply to it as we’re out of threading), but I just wanted to say in case–the most valuable lesson I ever learned was that ending a relationship IS NOT an unkindness to the other person. Leaving doesn’t make you a bitch, even if he hasn’t “done anything wrong.” I stayed in an awful relationship way, way too long because I couldn’t point to something specific he’d done to “deserve” me leaving, and I thought of leaving as a negative action I was taking against him. But that’s not the case. You’re not a bad or unkind person if you need to leave a relationship that isn’t working for you, and you’re not harming him by leaving, even if it may not be what he wanted.
This happened in a marriage when I suddenly decided to study Spanish. I wasn’t keeping it a secret but the glow my success put in my eyes had the same effect you’re describing.
I should have written this letter 15 years ago. Amazingly strange to read it now. As always, Captain, you know what’s up. Thank you on behalf of my younger self. Wow. I didn’t understand it at the time, but you did.
LW, I wish you all the best. I was in your shoes. I was so done with the marriage. But I didn’t know that until years later. I had no framework for knowing it.
This advice is all so great!!
Something on the marriage side, LW, that may or may not be relevant to you:
When I’ve been angry with my husband, my anger can easily come across as contempt. On days where we are the most strained this is the hardest thing in the world, but I try to make sure I treat him in a way where he feels respected by me. He may not always deserve it, but if you’re willing, I would try to be as respectful as you can to him, and you’ll be amazed at the response you get back.
actually, I felt like there was already a level of contempt in the LW’s comments about her husband.
Contempt keeps coming up in the comments, and I agree that there is a vibe coming through the letter.
Feeling contempt for a partner is a strong sign that it’s time to leave.
But it’s not a character flaw in itself to feel that way, the LW isn’t a bad wife for feeling that way, she doesn’t have to fix these feelings, she has to listen to these feelings and be honest about whether there’s anything to salvage in the marriage. She sounds exhausted, she sounds tired of managing this person’s feelings, she sounds tired of mothering him, she sounds tired of sex with him, it’s time to GO. But the feelings are a message, not a mistake.
This is definitely what I was trying to get at: “the feelings are a message, not a mistake.” Contempt for a partner is a bad sign, and I’ve never actually seen anyone walk it back – I think it’s the end point of a lot of frustration and/or resentment. It’s not something she can or should necessarily try to fix, but it’s a huge neon sign the relationship is probably unrepairable, and that’s where she needs to spend her energy – on ending things as kindly to herself and both of them as possible.
“the feelings are a message, not a mistake.”
That should be framed and hanging on the wall of every therapist ever.
I am half a year on the other side of this. I spent years trying different things to make my life feel better, dance, theater, stand up, new fitness routines, writing. So many hobbies all of which I truly love.
At the end of the day none of them could make the person I love give me what I needed to not feel exhausted by my relationship. Towards the end I even started avoiding things that made me happy but reminded me of how unhappy I was: Books with strong relationships, advice columns especially.
Ending it was scary and hard, but it was also freeing to not have the weight of someone else’s feelings to manage. It has been months of choosing where I would put things in my new apartment, buying things because I liked the color, making plans because it was what I wanted. I didn’t realize how many decisions I had been making by anticipating what he wanted – without ever getting the same treatment in return.
I started seeing a therapist when I felt like I had to make a decision it was invaluable to me. You deserve the help and the support and you deserve to live your life.
I’m glad to hear that you are doing well, and that you feel freer. 🙂
I’m half a year behind you – I just left a couple of weeks ago, but what you’re saying about how you felt before you ended it really resonates with me. I also tried a million different things (things I loved!), along with avoiding anything that would make me miss… something. Turned out I missed being happy, and I just didn’t know it. I spent a year trying to un-realize how truly exhausted I was, then a few months trying to un-feel it, and then it was too much – like Cap said, I lost hope that any good surprises were coming in time to make a difference – and it was time to go.
I’m so happy to hear that you’re feeling freer and happier – I’m looking forward to feeling freer and happier too! I’m so used to slotting my life in around my relationship that I’m sort of at loose ends, but it’s only been a few weeks and I’m so fucking tired that I think I just need some time to rest. It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one who felt this way and tried everything – everything – I could think of before admitting that no one was evil, I was just worn the fuck out.
Godspeed, excelsior, and onward – live that life, and enjoy having every drop of summer wine to yourself!!!
LW, one thing I noticed in your letter is that you sometimes seem pretty contemptuous toward your husband. (“intellectually my inferior”… “I am his mother more than his wife”… etc) And at other times you are like “we are exhausted flawed people who maybe shouldn’t be married.”
I obviously don’t know your situation. But obvious contempt is going to make all these conversations a lot harder as a partner (which you only kind of are) and as a roommate (which you definitely are). Is there a way for you to figure out what you need, and then figure out how to tell him in a way that gives him a little benefit of the doubt?
(By benefit of doubt I DON’T mean you lower your standards or stage manage his life. I mean, is there a way to talk about what you need where you are not simultaneously shading him? Is there any room to just say, “I am unhappy with X, I need Y, what does it look like for me to get that ASAP?”)
Thank you, this was what I was trying to get across, but you’ve said it better.
Yeah, I was struck by the shift from ‘my husband is a neglectful, uncommunicative jerk who deals with stress by withdrawing and “crawling up his own ass”‘ to ‘I am coping with unhappiness by closing off emotionally and pouring every waking moment into a secret novel’ – like, are those different reactions, really? Those feel like pretty similar acts to me? – and also the assumption that the husband shares his own creative work because he’s “insecure” and not because he likes sharing with her. LW, at one point you not only loved this man but LIKED him, enjoyed his company and his touch, had things in common, enthusiastically invited him into your life. I mean, you married him! You do not, honestly, sound as though you like or respect him any more. You characterize his attempts at connecting with you as not just uninteresting but an unbearable imposition. You sound -done.-
And while I’m certainly not averse to intense, consuming creative projects when inspiration really strikes, the vibe I got from this letter is that the novels are at least as much escapism as artistic endeavor, like, you maybe can’t stand to sink any more energy into your relationship/life with this man who you are kind of… contemptuous of and repulsed by…? and instead you’re putting it all into a fictional world where you are instead in a deep, complex, profound relationship with a man who does not make you feel like his mother. I think it’s worth at least considering leaving your husband before your exasperation/frustration/dislike turn to actual hatred and see what kind of beautiful things you can write when writing is a destination in itself and not a desperate pressure release valve.
I’m finger snapping in strong agreement.
As am I (LW)
They’re different because he’s been doing it for 8 years, and she’s been doing it for a couple months at most *after* he’s been doing it for 8 years? Also, he might have told her he’s insecure about his work, or required the sort of reassurance that made it obvious.
I did literally the thing you describe in your second paragraph when I had decided to leave my now-ex-husband but had to wait for financial reasons. I spent NaNoWriMo on 50,000 words of self-insert fanfiction about hooking up with a particular character from a particular TV show. It was fun! And I think it was somewhat helpful as a coping mechanism for the time until I could leave. But I had already decided that that’s what I was doing, and I think that makes a difference.
In my view, it is acceptable to have contempt for someone who doesn’t even try to embrace reality, get personal & interpersonal clarity, nor improve themself.
BTW, I’m not saying it’s good to be unnecessarily unkind, but just that the feeling of contempt for another person is not intrinsically illegitimate, and deserves acceptance.
It isn’t intrinsically illegitimate, sure (and lord knows I’ve been there, looking back on one specific relationship…) but you can’t really come back from contempt, and it’s hard to treat someone fairly when you’re contemptuous of them. If you’ve reached that point, you’re done. The relationship is done. Have the kindness, to them and yourself, to pull the damned plug on it, before the contempt turns into meanness.
This. You’re entitled to your feelings, but if this is what you feel, and this strongly, it’s telling you something.
I’m not sure what this has to do with LW or her husband. Contempt seems a little harsh for someone who isn’t on the same path as you are.
Indy writer. Like Captain says, believe me, we get where you’re coming from. And we’re rooting for you to keep writing!
I just want to make the observation that writing can be a great relationship clarifier. If the people in your life will not back off and let you have some uninterrupted time to pour your creative heart and soul onto the page, then there are Problems.
I think the book is a red herring.
That I can tell, there’s exactly one positive thing in your letter regarding your feelings about your husband: “He’s kind, not a monster”.
You say that you’re hoping therapy and meds will help your relationship. Obviously finding a good fit with those things would be great for *you* and your depression, but can it really help heal a relationship you don’t seem to enjoy any aspect of? With a person you don’t seem to particularly like, and are constantly hoping will change or evolve into an equal partner?
The Captain has written many times on the theme that a person doesn’t need to be horrible to be wrong for you. And even if you come to believe (or he convinces you) that he would in fact be worse off after your relationship ends than he was before, I hope you don’t feel obliged to stay until you’ve ‘fixed’ him sufficiently to move on with a clear conscience.
Yes, I agree. The book may be throwing your ennui into sharp relief, LW, but your letter does read as if it is about your relationship.
I would not want to be in a relationship with a person who felt the things you write about your husband. It’s ok for it to be over. It’s also ok to work on it! But it’s ok for it to be over and you sound as if you are DROWNING in this relationship and need out.
Indeed—my takeaway wasn’t so much about the writing project (although that’s great! And the Cap has good advice for giving it its worthy place in your life!). It was, “wow, this person is miserable in her relationship and really resenting her husband.”
I have been reading Ask a therapist advice column and Lori’s response is usually less about responding to the specific situation, and more about how to gain a different perspective so the lw is in the right head space to make a good decision
Sorry hit post by accident. It’s less about resolving the conflict and more about recognizing a thought pattern. Regardless off book crush lw is holding her husband in contempt. I hope she’s able to move past her judgmental thinking of him so she can make the best choice for herself and not accidentally having a resentment bomb explode
I agree that the LW describes the husband with a lot of contempt.
Feeling contempt for a partner is a sign that a relationship is in deep trouble and should probably end, but it’s not a character flaw to feel that way, nor is resentment, nor is anger. I think the LW is done with this relationship. I don’t think the answer is to fix her feelings, I think the answer is probably to gtfo.
FWIW I agree that it sounds like divorce o’clock, and sometimes relationships end without it being a failure on anyone’s part.
And. You can’t always control your feelings but you can challenge your thoughts? And when your thoughts are things like “my husband is even more my intellectual inferior than I previously thought”(!), that’s maybe something worth *trying* to reframe? Responding to personal problems with trying to figure out who to blame or demonize kind of *is* a character flaw actually and it’s something that can be improved on.
We all *have* character flaws. And the first step to mitigating them is to acknowledge them.
Sometimes contempt = relationship wasn’t meant to be. And sometimes contempt = habitual response to conflict that can be changed (and will destroy every relationship until it is changed.)
I actually appreciated that the Captain stuck to the question that was asked. (“How do I protect/honor this creative project”)
LW says she is stressed, isolated, and depressed. It is possible that her husband is wildly Not Right for her. It is also possible that their relationship has become the dumping ground for all the pressures/unhappiness/dysfunction that can’t be addressed elsewhere in their lives. I am newly a stay-at-home parent, and this is a huge issue my partner and I are dealing with. When something’s not right with me, he’s the ONLY ONE THERE, so part of me tries to find a way to make it his fault, or a Relationship Problem. (Usually it’s a Sleep Problem!) I catch myself scapegoating him all the time. And that’s without depression in the mix.
I believe this is the most accurate statement and summation of all of this.
Because while I was reading this letter, I was thinking “but you knew him for five years. And not a young, naive person”. And I also thought “This would have been me if I would have married my ex!” who was really all these things. So needy. So self focused. So much time on emotional labor. My point here is that it could be a whole slew of things. And right, LW can only handle writing her fantasy, letting the meds ride, and going to couple’s therapy – which means things are actually transitioning. All LW needs to do right now is ask for some space with her writing. That is her coping skill through whatever it is she is going through right now. That’s the beauty of life, and relationships, and everything really. You don’t need to always need to just make a decision.
I would also like to say that I am finding the Captain’s advice lately to be written better than any past advice I have read on here. BOTH the writing and advice is beautiful, brilliant, and compassionate. No judging. Whatever is going on, keep this up!
LW, it feels like you are trying to find REASONS why its okay to leave him- whether its by turning him into a villain, or because of fates and dreams and inspiration. But its okay to leave just because you don’t want to be with him any more. Sometimes, its a small sad story, and its hard, but its ok. Your husband doesn’t sound like a bad guy! You say he is creative, he has a solid friend group, he has a therapist, and you seem to think he would sustain these and many other things without you (its interesting you take credit for him getting there, but you think those things would last without you). The level of contempt you seem to feel for him feels disproportionate- either some things are missing from your description, or you are simply done with the relationship. I know that when I was done in a previous relationship, I stayed to long and let the relationship fester. Its hard to break up with someone just because you want to, and there is a lot of outside pressure to stay in a relationship, which can make you try and find concrete reasons why its over. Both of you may be better off, or worse off if it ended. But it would be different. And right now, it sounds like different is what you need.
As cnstrct wrote , it’s OK to leave because you want to, if that’s what you want LW. Tho remind me of a Dear Sugar column ib The Rumpus, The Truth That Lives There – her response to the letter writers is a very powerful statement of this and I hope you will find it a useful perspective.
sorry if someone else already mentioned it, I haven’t read all the comments.
Best of luck!
Letter writer, I hope you get the peace you deserve and space to write. You deserve someone who can manage their own stress and who doesn’t shut you out. Your husband also deserves a partner who doesn’t see him as “intellectually inferior” and doesn’t feel like they are “enduring his inept pawings.” Feeling this way doesn’t make you a mean or bad person but it does show that you have really moved on from this relationship and are constantly holding back powerful, sometimes dark emotions. Would it be helpful to you to spend a few minutes journaling what you like about him? If there isn’t something you can write, that says a lot. My guess is, he can sense you feel like you are “his mother more than his wife,” and is hurt. It isn’t your job to manage his emotions but it is your job to not be patronizing to another human being
I’m reading a lot of contempt for your husband, lw, and I don’t see it really addressed in the answer. It seems like you don’t like him much at all as a person anymore, so what’s keeping you together except inertia? That’s not a rhetorical question, either – there may be great reasons to stay together, but you haven’t mentioned any of them here.
She says she’s not good with money.
She lived without him before, I’m sure she can live without his money management again. I don’t mean that flippantly. “I’m bad with money so I’m going to stay in a relationship I hate” is jerk brain talking.
I agree that she’s about done, and that she should probably leave. But–living with debt, paying down credit card debt/student loans/what have you, feeling that if things go off the rails you might fall back into unhelpful spending patterns–that can all feel big and painful and overwhelming. It’s not easily set aside.
(Of course, I don’t know LW’s specifics, this is wild speculation.)
I noticed that, and I wonder if LW has a certain amount of contempt for herself that’s bleeding through. I don’t normally dislike LWs, but I think when a LW dislikes themself it bleeds through into the way they choose to talk about other people. It’s partly deflection, and partly a desire to be called out on it and told they are what they secretly believe themself to be (which is why I think the Cap isn’t focusing on it).
There are two people in this relationship and LW doesn’t like either of them, which is why the much easier to like people in her novel are such a focus.
My therapist recommended I make a pros and cons list and share it with a friend who has known him longer than I have… it was maybe 40/60 pro/con but I think some of the cons were more… richly felt. I feel we need to do couples counseling before giving up the ghost. After writing the Captain, I looked at my diary from 2015, 2 months before the wedding…and I could have written it yesterday. So… that sucked. Anyway I love you ALL for your comments and yes, you are right about my unkind contempt – I hate how intolerant of him I have become but I am struggling to seem nice? To pass for normal? I’m just exhausted. But thank you, honestly.
LW, couples therapy is is for people who really want to make the relationship work. Also, it takes work, commitment, time and energy. You…do not sound like a good candidate for it. Even the way you phrased it “we need to do couples counseling before giving up the ghost” comes across more like you see couples therapy like a hurdle to go through so that you can divorce without guilt.
I disagree. Couples therapy is for people in a relationship.
Sometimes the people want the relationship to work. Sometimes the people want a safe space to leave.
I also disagree with the way you read Karinacinerina’s comment. I believe she was saying that if couples therapy doesn’t help, she’ll know she should leave.
Couples counseling could also in some cases facilitate the separation logistics. If insurance covers counseling, that would be less expensive than paying for similar help through a mediator.
‘comes across more like you see couples therapy like a hurdle to go through so that you can divorce without guilt.’
Even if this is the case, why would that be a bad thing? For some people divorce can be really emotionally difficult and stressful and have a lot of social stigma attached. If the LW needs to feel like she tried every option first then that’s her process. It’s great people are trying to help her see that she is allowed to just leave, but if she still wants to try a few things, even if it’s just to go through the motions before she feels like she can let herself, then surely that’s ok too. I mean really, going to a few sessions of couples therapy is a fairly benign version of this.
Just a comment on couples’ counseling and its possibilities. I have experience with 3 therapists. One, within half an hour of meeting us, with my husband sitting beside me, told me in no uncertain terms to divorce. The second said that she would never counsel couples to divorce and always believes there is hope. The third’s approach was primarily to coach me on the logistics of divorce, trying to convince me I was silly to be concerned about finances, children, or future prospects. Obviously, couples’ counseling can go in just about any direction.
I found myself in a similar place with my SO recently, and it was for a lot of the reasons you described – I’d begun feeling contemptuous of him because I found myself stuck with all of the decision-making, all of the day to day grind of running a house, and I couldn’t trust him to step up when I needed him to. All of the emotional labor, on top of the actual labor-labor, was wearing me out.
I think that really kills a relationship. It’s hard to feel any sort of attraction or respect towards someone you have to mother.
We’ve separated, I’m happier, and the feeling of that psychic weight being lifted is great, even though we still live together and probably will for another month or two. Just putting him into a different mental category – of someone who lives with me but whose mental or physical well-being I don’t have to concern myself with – has helped.
It’s okay if this relationship is over and you’re Done.
Hey KC…longtime relationship partner myself (known 25, with 22, married 17) and I’ve been up and down and back and forth these roads a time or two. But I wanted to comment on what you said about reading your journal from before the wedding. My sister, recently divorced after 7 years, said she knew for a long time that things were going off the rails in her relationship with her then-husband. When I asked her how long, she said ‘since before the wedding’. Those longtime feelings we get don’t usually lie. Hindsight is definitely 20/20, but future-facing: go with what your heart says. ♥
Speaking as someone who finally left a relationship with a partner for whom I felt (still feel, sadly) quite a lot of contempt, it’s…not a good thing to have on one’s karma.
Counseling is good, but don’t treat it as a exercise in staying together. Helping you each see went you want in the relationship and what it would take to get there is the CORE of a good counselor’s job. Couples counseling can and should also be “how do we amicably, kindly divorce.” If you want to do it, that’s fine, but don’t assume you failed at counseling if you still break up.
So here’s the thing about pro/con lists. They weight everything the same when you look at them. And there are things that are a big stinking deal to you and things that are nice to have but you don’t care about them all that much. So you need to look at that list and give each thing a score of importance to you. Sounds like intellect is a biggie for you. “Likes dogs” may not be.
And two minor things stuck out for me: 1. Have you tried not managing his feelings? Just saying something like “sounds like you got this” and walking away and 2. Is your mothering him a tyranny of standards or is he legitimately unable to make decisions and get shit done?
Finally, your diary indicated that you felt whatever right before you married him. That might be a sign that even in the excitement of a wedding (and I am not a wedding person but still, cake! and flowers!), you felt exhausted with this man. It sucks a little bit. But it will suck more to read this column in 2022 if you are still in the same situation.
Really finally, you say you’re bad with money. What’s that mean exactly? Do you not earn enough? Shopping for recreation? Frivolous crap? Just budgeting everything in an excel spreadsheet and knowing where your money is going can be a good start to getting your financial act together. Which is something you should do whether you stay or go.
I am always making pro/con lists and have realized that I have to institute a scoring system – if a con is that I feel gross about his sexiness and a pro is that he always does his share of the chores, but the gross sex feels like a score of 10 “importance” and the chores feel like a 7, then I can use firm numbers to make sure I am accurately portraying how important each is to me, instead of just a tally. Does that make sense?
Makes perfect sense; less a scoring system than using your own values: you value a healthy sex life over getting the chores done.
Totally sensible and valid.
as a writer I can say, LW, I have been in that position a few times. Way back in Junior High when I was trying to write my first big story (not quite novel length, but big) one of my best friends decided that I thought it was more important than her and we couldn’t be friends anymore. Later on, in college, writing a book for my degree meant my then boyfriend demanded I choose between the book and him and actually left my printout copy on the quad where it scattered to the winds. I swore that my first published novel would be dedicated to my ex husband (“written not because of you, but despite you”) and so on.
Being a creator is threatening to some people. But the most important thing you can remember moving forward is that it’s not that they are jealous of the attention you’re giving to your brain-baby, it’s that they’re envious of your wings and trying to weigh you down by telling you people can’t/don’t/shouldn’t fly. That’s on them, not you. Don’t let anyone clip your wings.
What you describe about the emotional support and feeling drained and not wanting intimacy… all of that, I’ve been there. It’s sooo hard when you feel like a support rather than a partner, and for me libido also totally went out the window.
I found a lot of good in Esther Perel’s book Mating in Captivity related to this. It’s a different take on intimacy/security and romance/sexuality that was very illuminating for me and challenged my internalized perspectives about relationships in a way that’s been really positive.
Yeah, I nth that this doesn’t seem to be about the book, but about how you don’t want to be with this guy any more. Usually in letters like this there’s an “I love him, but….” and here there’s not even that. I also expected to see, “I wish I could get divorced, but I have to stay married because of X,” and there’s no X here. It sounds like the only reason to not leave him is that he’s not terrible. It sounds like emotionally you were fed up and out the door before this book hit you.
If you don’t want to be with him any more and there’s no reason like kids or health insurance or whatever to keep you there, why not just work on leaving?
Usually I find the Captain’s responses to be spot-on, but this one feels off to me. LW, you have nothing good to say about your husband. I don’t think it’s fair to you to stay in this marriage, and I really don’t think it’s even fair to him. The issue of your writing is a distraction from that main point.
I personally think that if you’re completely miserable and then you find that one thing that acts like a drug and pulls you into a magical experience, that in itself is evidence that you need to make a major change. In this case, the fact that your “new drug” is a writing that uncovers your unconscious wishes and puts them on the page for you is additional evidence that you are deeply unhappy in your marriage and that is unlikely to change.
I think you should be talking with your therapist about your feelings, with a lawyer about your options, and – sooner rather than later – with your husband about a graceful way for you to separate. This relationship isn’t fair to either of you.
“It’s not fair to him” came to my mind as well. I’ve known a few people who have stayed in relationships out of a misguided idea that they were protecting their partner in some way by doing so. LW, think about how it would feel to be in a relationship with someone who saw you as an intellectual inferior whose lovemaking was “inept pawing.” If you are staying out of obligation to him, consider instead that leaving would be giving him a chance to be with someone who does not feel so much contempt for him.
This was my take as well, and I’m surprised to find I think the Captain was off-base, since she almost never is. (And I’m not saying she was wrong, just IMO off-base.) I feel like the Captain’s response was geared towards “how do I protect my creative project,” when the real question asked was “how do I get out of a shitty marriage, or at least survive in it until couple’s counselling fixes it.” (Which, by the way: couple’s counseling won’t fix it if you don’t like or respect your partner, which nothing in the letter indicates this LW does.)
When I got fired a decade ago, I avoided the emotional fallout, financial distress, fear of the future, and hard work of job seeking, by knitting an afghan. And lemme tell you, I knitting the SHIT out of that afghan; hours every day, obsessively, unravelling any dropped stitch, making sure it was PERFECT. And I still have it; it’s a pretty great afghan, big enough for a king-size bed and very pretty. But what it was for me THEN, was a means of escape and a way to think I was creating something or accomplishing something — FIXING something — when I was studiously avoiding all the messy and unpleasant things that needed my attention to fix. I was exercising control over the one thing I had control over, as everything else in my life spun out of my control. And that sort of distraction/alternative focusing can be perfectly okay as a coping mechanism, as long as we can honestly acknowledge that’s what it is. It can never replace the hard work that will need to be done to move your life forward. Whatever tjhe LW may or may not owe her husband, IMO she owes yourself at least enough honesty to acknowledge that.
You KNIT an afghan. Dayum.
I have about 2 squares done of 3-4 afghans. Then I get bored and quit.
I have crocheted some afghans but not sized for a king. Go you!
If this were actually, at its core, about the book…you could just tell him “I have a book idea I’m really excited about, so I’m going to be really focused on getting it down on paper while the inspiration’s got me going.” Like some other commenters, I also think the book is a red herring. Not that it’s insignificant that you’re writing it–it sounds like a project you’re really passionate about, and that’s great! But it’s not the core problem that you’re facing right now.
I think the root of your struggle here is really that you’re not getting that kind of passion from literally any part of your life that you share with your husband. In fact, it sounds like your life with your husband is mostly just weighing you down. Everything you say about your relationship makes me think you’re frustrated, burned out, unsupported (kindness does not necessarily equal support!), and ready to throw up your hands and walk away. That’s the root of this really–not your fantasy boyfriend, not your passion for your book idea, but the fact that you’re fundamentally done with the life you share with him. I don’t even get the sense that this is a “If only he’d ___ we could maybe save this” situation; it feels like you’re just done, and struggling with both how to come to terms with that for yourself and how to break the news to him.
In line with that…I think the conversation you actually need to have is closer to “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” Maybe that’s something to bring up in therapy (especially if I’m wrong and you actually do want to salvage this; a counselor could be a great help in that). But it’s also something you can say tonight, or tomorrow, or a month from now, or whenever you’re ready to say it. You don’t need to ‘earn’ the right to break up by trying therapy and giving second and third and fourth chances; those are things you can do *if you want to do them,* but they’re not obligatory by any means. Being done is enough reason.
Right. Kind person =/= must stay married to him. And he doesn’t have to be evil for you to leave. Nobody has to be wrong or bad for a relationship to not work. Kind people can be totally wrong for each other.
It was reading this very thing over and over here–that someone doesn’t have to be evil or wrong for it to be okay to leave–that finally helped me be okay with leaving my husband. It was the best possible decision, and I have no regrets.
Please do yourself and your husband a favor, and end this marriage. Contempt is a relationship ender every time, and no matter how immature, needy, crappy in bed, whatever he may be, he doesn’t deserve this farce. Neither of you does.
Letter Writer, you don’t mention what you mean by feeling more like his mother than his wife (does he expect you to do all the housework, does he unload all the emotional labor on you, does he want you to make his life happen for him), but in my experience, people who do these things very rarely change. My father is approaching sixty and he does all these things. My mother stays with him because he funds her extravagant lifestyle (diamond rings which she buys for herself, biyearly cruises that she nags him into going on) but she doesn’t like him and she doesn’t respect him. She’s straight-up told us kids that he’s unlovable, that his personality is terrible, that the only people who tolerate him are her and his mother, etc. She gets her emotional needs met through her kids (which is a whole ‘nother story of dysfunction) and her friends. I don’t think my father knows what she does in her free time, the names of her friends, her favorite color, anything about her beyond what she does to keep him alive and functional. Trust me, you do not want to be my mother in another ten years. Both of them have independently made it clear to us (mostly through actions but sometimes also through words) that they’re miserable.
You don’t mention kids, so I won’t expound on how awful it was growing up in an environment like that except to say: 0/10, would not recommend.
My ex said that she’d felt that I was not a real partner to her for years–in our second session of couples counseling. It was the last one, and we broke up soon after.
I did change after that. It was the kick in the ass I needed to really address my mental health needs, read more about emotional labor, and change how I approached life. My relationship now is way better on a whole lot of levels. And I’m maintaining a positive and very infrequent relationship with my ex.
Karyn, I had a similar situation with a long-term relationship in which my ex-partner only started working on their mental health after I finally left, even though we’d been having basically the same conversation about it for years. Would you mind sharing – do you think there was anything that would have spurred you to make the changes you’re making now aside from your ex leaving? I felt like it only got through to him when I was already gone and the relationship effectively over.
There was a kind of similar dynamic playing out with my now ex-partner – where it seemed like he would only start listening when I was fed up to the point of being ready to leave.
I honestly don’t know. I didn’t actually search out the right diagnosis until a couple years after she threw me out. I suspect that there were other, underlying issues in our relationship that were masked by my mental health stuff–which in turn, was being masked by other stuff. (Layers, man, layers–like an onion!)
I sometimes play the what-if game. What if I’d gotten the correct diagnosis and medication five years earlier? Yes, I might have saved my career. I might still be living in my hometown. But–in lots of ways, she and I were a mismatch. Maybe we could have overcome them if I’d been firing on all cylinders. But maybe not. We were both so unhappy, for so long.
Thanks Karyn! I appreciate your sharing – I definitely understand the layers-upon-layers thing too.
LW, your voice in the letter reminds me SO much of my mom (and me and sister, to a lesser degree, mostly in diary entries and letters; we all struggle with depression). I mean, it’s really striking. She tends to speak this way when she doesn’t want to focus on her own emotions. She speaks very negatively about other people and circumstances, even when they seem objectively positive. Also when she is afraid to step outside her comfort zone. You mentioned that you’re in therapy, so it might be worth exploring if this sort of talk is functioning for you the same as it does for us.
You mentioned that your husband is your intellectual inferior, and I notice that you’ve also been more “intellectually stuck” than you used to be (playing WOW instead of performing, etc). You’re struggling with depression yourself, but more outwardly frustrated about your husband’s emotional constipation. You’re dead from the waist down while you used to feel desire, but you’re frustrated by his sexual inexperience. Those three issues are all major struggles within depression! How much of your frustration with your husband is an expression of frustration with yourself? Maybe none, obviously, I’m speculating. You say that if your husband vanished, you’d be free and that’s a completely plausible scenario. And it’s possible you’re telling yourself that if you were just free of your husband, then you’d be free of all your own struggles you’ve pinned onto him. That’s how my mom operates, for sure. It doesn’t mean, even in that scenario, that leaving him wouldn’t be right in the end, but you’ve still got to care for yourself no matter what the outcome. There are not many “I statements” in this letter, nor “I hope” and “I want,” which sounds like I’m spouting kindergarten-level truisms in the face of your adult pain, but unfortunately fundamental shifts in thinking sound really stupid when you say them out loud. Sorry about that.
I unfortunately share my mother’s habit of stewing in silence, building myths as justification for my resentment, which seem almost poetic at the time, as if uttered by a detached narrator in a French new wave film. Your thoughts about the “campsite rule” reminded me of this. When I face something concretely, though, like going to a meetup instead of ruminating about loneliness, I usually forget completely about the myth. There is also a depression-world in which it’s safer to secretly resent this dim teddy bear, as you described him, and think of yourself as his put-upon custodian, than to think of yourself as small, confused and vulnerable. Much less, to say out loud to him, “I feel confused and vulnerable.” And to let him comfort you.
Also, you have the option of disappearing into your creative endeavors, and actually telling your husband, “I’m really struggling right now, and I’m going to disappear into this creative endeavor for a bit and see what happens. I feel [depressed, afraid to face myself, guilty about my own creative process, vulnerable, confused, hopeless] and I want [courage, deep introspection, to perform x times per week like I used to].”
There is also a depression-world in which it’s safer to secretly resent this dim teddy bear, as you described him, and think of yourself as his put-upon custodian, than to think of yourself as small, confused and vulnerable
Yes, this nails my reaction to this letter. LW might not like her husband, but right now she really doesn’t like herself, and she’s got this novel with two people she does like in it, two people she completely controls, and when she holds it up to real life she can tell herself she doesn’t have that kind of control over her own life, so it’s okay to muddle along resenting her husband.
There are a lot of hard conversations in LW’s future if she wants anything to change, but some of those have to be with herself.
I completely agree with this
Yes, this is familiar to me and my family as well. Thanks for writing it.
This also feels familiar to me.
This had a deep ring of familiarity as well to me as an observer to a dear friend’s depression/marriage. It was like a Mad Libs of the phone calls I had with her when she was struggling the most.
Her marriage has so far made it through. It is not without its faults but she is grateful she did not take action based upon what her brain was telling her about her husband and their partnership during those times.
I think this is where I am sitting at the moment. Not sure if my boyfriend (my fiance) is not right for me or whether I project my own sometimes-unhappiness onto him and/or our relationship. I have felt this way about him/our relationship before, several times. I think I am still glad I never actually broke up with him.
He is a great guy in so many ways, best partner I’ve ever had and I don’t think I could ever find a better one (I have searched far and wide, before I met him). Yet sometimes I am just annoyed by him, not because he does something objectively wrong or bad but by the way he goes about things or talks about things.
Also I wonder if I need therapy. I am going to look into that.
Yeah, these are pretty wise words about depression. There’s definitely a cycle of “I feel [worthless/like an jerk/totally stuck/etc.]” and then you become that thing you “think” you are because depression brain likes to be right.
True – I struggled with severe depression for over a decade without really realizing what was happening (long story, note to parents – if there’s a family history of mental illness, maybe share that with your kids? Just a thought) and I would be miserable but not know why, so I would quit jobs and change things and move and rage against my misery and try to figure out what was making me miserable but none of the changes solved the underlying problem, which was that I had bad brain chemistry and the feeling of inescapable misery was being generated internally and no external changes were touching it.
I’m not saying that’s the LW’s situation, and the bad relationships and toxic jobs I was in at the time were things I did need to get away from, just saying that without addressing that piece, the misery was still there.
Congrats on finding that piece of the puzzle.
“building myths as justification for my resentment, which seem almost poetic at the time, as if uttered by a detached narrator in a French new wave film”
This is so me that I literally blushed sitting here at my desk.
I’m also a writer, and in my experience this tendency has a connection to creativity. When your mind is naturally inclined to construct elaborate, detailed narratives where everything fits together and means something (like it does in a novel!) it is easy to fall into constructing such narratives about your own life. A story that casts me as the beleaguered hero and all other people and situations as unjust obstacles to my personal journey may feel extremely compelling. It may offer an escape from feelings of vulnerability and lack of control. But real life is not constructed as neatly as a novel, and just being able to write a story beautifully does not make it real.
What LW wrote made me think of this. She is focusing on the literal novel that she’s writing about a version of herself, but I wonder if she is also considering the story she’s telling about her relationship with her husband – both in her letter and in her own thoughts – and what that story is doing for her.
Oh, that’s an interesting point about the creativity. I know that I’m especially inexperienced at comforting and encouraging myself when I’m honestly facing my actual shortcomings (and vulnerable feelings feel like shortcomings to me). So if my brain admits I’m just afraid, it’s like… now what? [radio silence from Brain, hostile takeover from Jerkbrain]. I wish I could apply that creativity toward encouraging myself honestly instead.
I once read that people exaggerate over time (“I once caught a fish 3 ft long!” and the next time the story is told, it’s 4 ft), because they’re trying to convey the enormous emotion they initially felt. Once they say “3 feet,” they get used to that idea and it doesn’t convey the initial amazement anymore, so they have to lie to get to the truth of the feeling. I think my “myths” do that with my feelings; the feelings are out-sized to the circumstances, so I invent out-sized circumstances to explain the feelings. When really, feelings require no justification, they are simply there to be felt. And the whole reason the circumstances feel too small in the first place is that I tend to think of myself as unimportant and undervalue my experiences. Something could really be a big deal, but my brain just dismisses it, because it’s whatever happens to me is not a big deal, then builds a more impressive myth. So taking myself way too seriously is usually… a sign that I need to take myself more seriously.
How are none of the commenters here appearing to notice the LW’s painfully obvious bipolar condition? In her mania she is resenting her partner as an obstacle to her 800 page greatness, and when she crashed she is going to miserable in her perceived and want him back. Why is no one suggesting this poor woman get some help before she tosses a grenade at her whole life?
Hi Rick, no one diagnosed the LW with bipolar disorder because it’s highly unethical and it’s against the site policies to diagnose a stranger with a mental disorder, explained at length here.
(You can be bipolar and legitimately want to break up with someone btw).
Plus, regardless of what I might think of LW’s mental state (LW posits that all is not well with her also), she *is* getting help, she mentions seeing a therapist in the letter, and we can abdicate diagnosis duty to LW’s healthcare team, with which she is in touch.
Not that its being unethical and against site policy aren’t reason enough, let alone its being irrelevant to whether LW wants to stay in this relationship (she does not seem to!), because any of the above would do it.
Bonus point: even if she HAS bipolar and she knows she has it and is seeking help (or would get help once it was pointed out to her), mental illnesses aren’t strep throat. You don’t just take antibiotics for a bit and then you’re fine. Or like being nearsighted and then you get glasses and you can see 20/20. It’s often more like being vision impaired in a way that glasses can’t fully correct. Sometimes it takes years to find the right medication/therapy/self-help combo. Sometimes treatment doesn’t work at all, or makes things worse. Sometimes even with the best possible treatment it’s STILL a significant problem. Telling people that you suspect have mental illness that they’re incapable of making decisions for themselves “without help” but will be perfectly normal and fine once they’ve “gotten help” is 1. extremely patronizing and 2. not based on an accurate understanding of mental illness. Mental illnesses are frequently chronic conditions that aren’t 100% fixable with treatment, and people who have them learn to live with them and make decisions for themselves anyways.
(To clarify, sometimes therapy/meds/etc help a LOT and help quickly — I’m not trying to discourage anyone from seeking treatment.)
One thing to think about, LW, is how have all-consuming creative bursts affected you in the past, and might this have implications for your relationship decisions?
For example, when I, personally, have an all-consuming creative burst like this, when I absolutely have to drop everything and get the story out of me, it transforms me somehow. I don’t know how it’s going to transform me, but I’m not exactly the same person afterwards. My last all-consuming creative burst made me into a person who’s hyper-aware of mortality. The one before that made me stop being shy. The one before that made me incapable of non-monogamous relationships.
I can’t tell through the internet if this would apply to you, but, if it does, maybe get the story out first and see who it turns you into, then see how that new person feels about being married to your husband.
Suddenly a great many things make sense to me. Thank you for sharing this.
This reminds me of that Flannery O’Connor quote, ““I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” That’s such a refreshing way to think about creative bursts, thank you! When I finish one I’ve never taken to time to think about how it’s changed me, I’m just like, “blergh look at all this laundry I’ve been neglecting during my creative burst, why am I not more responsible.”
And suddenly, my recent reluctance to do ANY writing is explained…I’m afraid to know what I think.
I’m not hearing contempt. I’m hearing exhaustion, frustration, anger, hurt, depression, desperation. All of these things are understandable when you’ve spent years attempting to meet your partner’s needs and getting none of your own met. (This is why she brought up the campsite rule.) I think it would be more helpful for the LW to receive some sympathy from people who have been similarly worn down in a relationship, or encouragement from people who’ve turned to creative projects to get through a difficult, confusing time. Her husband can write his own letter if he feels he’s being treated with contempt and wants help with how to address it.
Amen. Thank you for pointing this out, CB, I completely agree.
Thanks for this.
The thing is, contempt is a feeling. Feelings are information. So listening to those feelings would mean, hey, is it time to be honest about whether I really want to be here? But the LW doesn’t describe behaving with contempt, being mean to the husband, just being preoccupied with the writing project and wanting space. We’ve had a bunch of people describe partners they’re unhappy with. She’s not doing anything wrong. She’s in a stage of making up her mind and the writing is helping her do that. She has a therapist, she’s feeling guilty from detaching from this guy’s needs and looking for language to make space for her own needs so that she can get writing done – whether it becomes a publishable book or it’s just time spent sorting out her daydreams doesn’t matter, it’s still important – and this is also common, check out the mom who needs the family office to herself but it conflicts with the husband’s “meditation time.”.
“I’m not hearing contempt. I’m hearing exhaustion, frustration, anger, hurt, depression, desperation.”
None of which are mutually exclusive to feeling contemptuous of someone.
I don’t think anyone is mentioning the contempt in an effort to criticize the letter writer, make her the bad guy, or even give her advice on how to stop. Rather, it’s notable because it’s significant symptom of the LW being done. LW does actually need to think about it somewhat seriously, and whether or not she feels like it’s something that could change.
I read once about a study where signs of contempt were an incredibly reliable sign of impending breakup/divorce. It was a useful wake-up call when I noticed such signs in my own thoughts. I hope LW can use that information to take care of herself, not to beat herself up.
I don’t think I’ve commented here before (hi!), but as an unpublished and improving writer, you may want to turn to Stephen King. He’s a name most people recognize, and he gives advice for writing books: Write the first draft with the door closed. No one but you sees it, you don’t discuss it, until the draft is done.
If you tell him you’re doing this, and site Famous Well-known Writer Who Makes Money, he may be more inclined to back off. Beyond that, there’s the Right Audience comment. My parents don’t seem to get it, but I can’t have them comment on my work: they’re too close to me for me to be objective about any criticism, and I know they don’t even read the genre I write in, so they’re not going to be right (or my target audience). That explanation may help, too.
About six months ago, I had a boyfriend, but I could have written parts of your letter verbatim. I felt like his mother. I was tired of carrying his emotions for him while he refused to do anything to change the things that were causing him distress. I was tired of him leaning on me to intuit how he was feeling and make him feel better, because he was depressed but didn’t like talking about emotions. I was completely uninterested in sex, and he seemed to be regressing in his understanding of my body: where once he could turn me on, he seemed more and more clueless. I felt like I was humoring him with any physical affection we “shared” (air quotes because we didn’t share them; he seemed enthusiastic and I made grocery lists in my head because I was bored to death and completely turned off).
Then, something amazing happened: I discovered hiking and kayaking. Every weekend for a month I spent Saturday climbing a mountain and Sunday paddling a boat for miles. I felt exhilarated! I was becoming more fit! My body could do so many awesome things! Nature was fresh and new and a complete relief from the stress of the workaday world. I felt curious and giddy, and free. My cheeks were glowing with good health and mountain air. I couldn’t wait to hit the trail or the river again.
And I realized, somewhere around 5000 ft one Saturday, that one of the things I loved about hiking was that *he wasn’t there*. One of the best parts of my newfound hobbies were that they were all mine, and when I was doing them, I felt wholly and completely and clear-headedly like myself for the first time in a long time. I felt *relieved*. And that was the end of our relationship.
I still hike, though kayaking has been taking more of my time lately since I can fit in 2 hours every day after work now that the days are longer. Some of the urgency disappeared with the boyfriend. I haven’t heard from him lately, I don’t wonder what he’s doing. But my depression improved vastly once the weight of him was no longer in my life. My escapes weren’t as necessary any more, because my everyday life was so much more enjoyable. 11/10, would break up again.
LW 1199 here again! The latest replies are so wonderful but this one takes the cake! That is precisely how I feel in terms of our shared physicality! Regressing and bored and oh so very frustrated! I’m so happy for you finding those activities and I hope the same for all of us feeling drained and alone in our together.
LW, I could have written your letter myself a few years ago, including the trust issues and the exhaustion from carrying the marriage. Writing emotional self-support fic like this isn’t about writing (although no time spent writing is wasted). It’s about putting on an oxygen mask because you can’t breathe any other way. It’s not a long-term solution.
You write, “Any time he has stress he crawls up his own ass and neglects everyone around him, particularly me.” You are trying to escape, into this project, from your marriage to someone who has turned out to be incompatible. The universe on the page is seductive. It is, as you observe, under your control.
You feel as though the marriage is out of your control, and you are sinking into this cozy duvet of a project to cushion you from it. But the marriage -is- under your control to this degree: you can keep it, or you can leave it. It is not making you happy to be married to this man. You distrust him. I do not know what the financial situation is (you say that you are bad with money, but you also say that you used to pay your bills on time, so you may not be that bad with money). But if you can get yourself or him physically out of there, and live in a space where your body and mind are your own, as soon as possible, you can limit the damage that staying there is doing to you and to him. You’re probably dreading the feelings he will have at you. You may be dreading your own feelings too. Please start talking about divorce with that therapist and interview a couple of lawyers and start envisioning what kind of life you can build, yourself, outside the story from your dreams.
And do keep writing. You’re having an important conversation with yourself through this medium now. Later you may feel like redrafting the project and doing something else with it.
I send you love and all my hopes for you finding a good outcome and happiness.
I could have written that letter about a decade ago, myself. but my life took a different turn; a combination of circumstances forced the issue, and now Spouse and I have a solid relationship that *works* and is so much deeper, healthier, and better than I could have imagined back then. whatever the grievances on my side, I had a bunch of stuff I needed to work through as well. and now–we trust each other with the truth, to support each other, to give and take, to speak up and listen. he has a job he loves that allows me to not *have to* work so I can concentrate on writing. he’s not as enthusiastic about my writing projects as I am, but he knows how important it is to me, and the fact that he’s willing to support me while I do my own work far outweighs the fact that he can’t copy-edit worth a damn.
life can be stranger than fiction, and plot twists may take you in completely unexpected directions. whichever way your story goes, LW, I wish you all the very best. may your pen always have ink and your document files always be secure. *writerly fistbump*
Also, sometimes an all consuming creative project of that nature, 200,000 in a matter of a days in the midst of depression can be a symptom of a mania type episode. My experience is that when I have overwhelming, grinding life problems, my diagnosed manic depression shifts in hyper focused, hypersexual, creative to the exclusion of all else stuff. I’ve written a book in this state and while the book did me no harm, I lacked insight into the fact my newfound shiny energy was my mental health condition manifesting. Everything else in my life seemed to be moving too slow and was too irritating and mundane to bother with. I tend far toward long periods of exhausted depression which make my up periods feel especially all consuming.
I’m not trying to diagnose LW, because that it for LW and her doctors should she feel that is appropriate but fwiw, I recognise being in this sort of scenario and for me it was wonky manic stuff.
To clarify, I don’t suggest that being manic means that making smart life decisions about divorce isn’t also possible, just that when making big life decisions it’s useful to know if mania is part of the rocket fuel powering one through those decisions.
I was also thinking this. I have a different mental health situation but I also often have hyperfocus/irritation/Sudden Flashes of Truth. Sometimes those Big Moods are accurate pieces of information (“Wow I am Done dating this guy”) and sometimes they’re inaccurate (I’m glad I made myself wait a week and do some research instead of adopting that guinea pig). Sometimes they’re extreme moods with perfectly accurate information inside of them, like a hyperfixation fortune cookie. Sometimes the information I won’t acknowledge is what pushes me into the extreme mood. It gets messy.
LW, my advice to you would be to gently take a look at the calendar and see if you remember a point where you suddenly started to feel this way. That doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly true, what you’re feeling and thinking right now – but it’s like, if you started having allergy symptoms and it could be pollen or it could be a cold, check with your doctor before uprooting your yard. That big ragweed patch might indeed need to go. But you do sound like you are feeling pretty drastically unhappy right now, and sometimes resolving mental health stuff is a journey, so being gentle with yourself and trying to sort it out is worth doing.
I don’t have a comment on the relationship or the book but on the stress/burn out? Can I recommend the book Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. E-book is available on Amazon etc.
It is a lifesaver on how to start to deal with chronic stress vs the chronic stressors and has lots of science and practical tips. It’s about feeling your feelings and allowing the stress response to complete so that you can start to tackle the things causing you stress in a better way. I’m finding it so helpful both in terms of what I’m dealing with at the moment and understanding a very stressful life period I went through.
Best of luck figuring things out, LW
Seconded. I’ve found Nagoskis writong on the stress cycle so helpful in my own stress management and in helping me nurture intimacy with my partner.
Oh wow. Emily Nagoski has finished writing Burnout!? My life was significantly improved by reading the stress and feelings posts on her old blog. I’ve been waiting for this book for ages, but it somehow fell off my radar. Definitely worth staying up past my bedtime to read CA comments this evening to learn that this is out. Thanks for the heads up.
This happened in my marriage when I started doing some things just for me–suddenly, despite all the support I’d been giving spouse, there were claims I’d “never” supported spouse because I was doing something for me. It made zero logical sense, and I do think it was about how I was changing as a person–lighting up in ways I hadn’t, like the Captain says.
When I started grad school, my first husband suddenly decided I’d “become selfish”. It was a killing blow for me, and sent me into a tailspin (but fortunately didn’t hijack my studies!), as I’m sure he knew it would, but over time I realized that the translation into reality of “You’ve become so selfish” was “You’re doing something for yourself and it doesn’t benefit me or make my life easier”.
You’ve been together 8 years, married for 3.
All I have to add is that, when I met with my divorce attorney, he told me this is actually extremely common–a lot of people in LTR’s get married, then divorced shortly after. Something to consider: a lot of relationships were over before the marriage even happened.
LW, while I’m all for writing and creative endeavours, I don’t get the impression that this book is enriching your life. You don’t mention writing for joy, just writing as an obligation. While writers write at different speeds – some take years to craft a single novel, some write 50K in a weekend – 200K in three weeks is an absolute outlier. It’s not a speed that leaves much time for reflection. It’s not a speed that leaves you any space for the craft of writing. It’s the absolute antithesis of Oscar Wilde’s comma (which is also an outlier and not something you should seek to emulate). And maybe it’s what you needed in that moment, but this is not sustainable (that way lies RSI).
I’m going to propose a radical action. Instead of telling yourself ‘I have written a novel’ (at best, you have written a first draft of a novel; *there is a difference*), tell yourself ‘I have spent the last three weeks contemplating what my ideal life would be like, and it’s nothing like the life I am living with my husband.’ And then you take it from there.
Coming to this conclusion by yourself if probably healthier than involving another person or saying hurtful things to your partner because you’ve waited until it’s all bursting out of you; but this rate of going inside yourself is not sustainable. (You also don’t get to complain about your husband being emotionally unavailable if you withdraw for weeks to be with the people in your head. From here, the two sound very similar indeed.)
my work situation has gotten more isolated, difficult, and stressful tells me that bad stuff is coming at you from more than one direction, and if you get more stress (instead of emotional support) at home, your work situation will be all the harder to resolve. Your life won’t be better unless both of these are addressed. It’s easy to lose sight of that – there’s just *so much* – but that’s something to bring up with your therapist: ‘everything is going badly. Where do I start?’
I wish you all the best on your road forward.
Whoa, that seems pretty harsh and unfair.
What gives you– or, heck, anybody else outside the LW– the right to decide that she didn’t *really* write a novel just because it’s not how you or Oscar Wilde would have written one? Why try to make her feel bad about her accomplishment? A lot of novels were written quickly and use stream-of-consciousness style– ‘On The Road,’ for starters.
I feel like this is sort of a subtle sexism thing. I’m not trying to accuse you of being sexist, but I also have heard far more women, and women’s art, be subject to these kinds of put-downs than men. Like, a man writes a novel quickly and he’s an experimental, avant garde genius. A woman writes a novel quickly and she’s deluding herself into thinking her daydream is anything worthwhile. Especially if it’s a feminine genre like romance. A man focuses on his creative work and gets emotional support from his wife for eight years, and that’s just part of being a supportive partner. But a woman focuses on her creative work for three weeks and *she’s* the one being neglectful of her husband’s emotional “needs.”
Yes, LW absolutely “gets to” complain about her husband being emotionally unavailable when she’s finally in this amazing, empowering place, where she can potentially meet her emotional needs on her own. Sometimes people only have the courage to say, “this person is letting me down” out loud because there’s a glimmer of hope that it’s not going to be the end of the world once it’s said.
If this novel is giving her that hope, if it’s letting her see that truth and cut through her fear, then it’s absolutely a work of art. It is valuable, and it shouldn’t be diminished, even if it never has commercial success or other kinds of success by other people’s standards.
Thank you so much! (Also just to clarify, he’s been emotionally unavailable the bulk of the eight years so yeah, the (now) six weeks since I started writing pales. But I am so touched again, thank you.
My apologies for equating the two; it sounds like a really tough situation, and I hope you find a solution.
For me (as writer/editor) ‘a novel’ is not finished with putting the words on paper in the first round. A novel is a performance, and not complete without a round of introspection; to a degree writing is a performance art, and this is an incredibly personal endeavour that the LW does not want to share with anyone else (nor should they feel compelled to, ever.)
And while you’re right that criticism so often *is* gendered, in my experience it is far more often men who delude themselves that a first draft means ‘they have written a novel’. (Evidence: every November during NaNoWriMo. Which is a wonderful event and great for many people, but only one step.)
But a woman focuses on her creative work for three weeks and *she’s* the one being neglectful of her husband’s emotional “needs.”
I did not say ‘neglectful’ because she doesn’t owe him her time or to keep trying. This whole situation sounds like two people who have very little to say to each other anymore, which is sad, but not as sad as thinking that if only you say exactly the right words, do exactly the right thing, everything will be great again.
Getting all of that on paper sounds cathartic.
I think you are kind of gatekeeping right now and either way it is derailing. Does what the she calls her creative work actually matter to the substance of the question?
Either way it isn’t for any of us to say what level of introspection is required for something to “count” as a novel.
Ian Flemming, Jack Keuroac, Ray Bradbury, John Scalzi, Stephen King, and Terry Pratchett are all novelists who have written at least one full-length novel in less than a month, in a creative burst, with little to no revision if we take them at their word (which I do). Reading reviews of their work, their speed and raw or conversational styles are often praised. Their works all sell well and connect with their readers. Bradbury and Keuroac are part of the American Literary Canon.
It’s impossible to not notice that, as different as these books are from one another, none are disparaged for being written quickly and with passion. And, in what must be a complete and total coincidence, each of these authors are white, straight men! Weird, that.
Fahrenheit 451 was a novel three weeks after Bradbury put pen to paper. Equal Rites was one after four, for Pratchett. I deeply love both of their works, and I know people who love Stephen King’s writing and are moved by Scalzi’s novels, even though they aren’t my cup of tea.
Maybe LW’s book will connect as deeply with others as it did with herself. Maybe, if she decides she wants to, she’ll publish it and it’ll sell a million copies. But even if she doesn’t: she wrote a novel.
She wrote a novel.
It’s as real and legitimate as any novel, written at any pace, by any gender of author. I may not be an editor, but I *am* a reader, which gives me as much a right as anyone to say whether something is a novel or not. And I’m saying here and now: LW’s book is one. Just like Bradbury’s is, just like Pratchett’s is, just like Scalzi’s and King’s and Keuroac’s and Flemming’s books are. Just like everyone who finished NaNoWriMo’s book is, if that’s what they want to call it.
You may never agree with me, and that’s okay. You don’t have to. Just… I guess I hope you think a bit more in the future about who your definition of ‘novel’ excludes, and who it applies to and why that’s important. Even if you don’t change your mind…just think about it. I’d hate for someone to lose a fragile belief in their potential to write great things just because they don’t fit one editor’s narrow definition of ‘novel’ or ‘writing.’ It’s not the only definition out there, and it’s maybe not the best one.
YES. THANK YOU. speaking as someone who is currently on their third rewrite of a 60k-word fanfic epic… THANK YOU.
>For me (as writer/editor) ‘a novel’ is not finished with putting the words on paper in the first round.
It’s great that you have a definition which works for you, but it’s not a commonly agreed definition as far as I’m aware, and you really have no authority to try to impose it on LW or anybody else. Just sayin’.
Seriously! How can anyone make that sort of judgment, not even having read the novel? And yes, it is absolutely gendered, the scorn women face for daring to take time away from tending to the home fire/relationship in order to devote time to their own creative projects.
You cant tell but I am standing and applauding!!!
This comes over a bit harsh to me. This isn’t LW’s first creative project – she’s likely familiar with the process of first draft-revision-revision-revision-revision-and so on. But finishing a 200,000 word first draft isn’t nothing – and it doesn’t have to be sustainable? She doesn’t mention planning to send out 17 novels a year – she describes this as unexpected and exceptional.
I’m very sure the white-hot speed of that draft has a lot to do with where her head is at the moment and it offers all kinds of insight on what’s missing from her life. I just don’t think it helps to say ‘you haven’t written a book’ when it’s her creative project and that’s how she defines it.
Also, sure, LW’s withdrawn into her project – for a matter of weeks. He has been withdrawing in times of stress for the bulk of their relationship. Pointing out that she’s started mirroring his withdrawal is useful and relevant, but it’s not hypocritical for her to recognise this trait as something she doesn’t want in a partner.
Absolutely, and I worded it badly.
Right, the LW isn’t here for writing advice.
Also, plenty of writers keep writing out of obligation; “joy” is not a sustainable daily motivator if writing is a profession for you (and it may not be for the LW, hence why I labled this OT). In fact, Octavia Butler said, “Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not.”
I think it’s safe to say that people write at different speeds, with varying motivations, and for a wide range of purposes. Frankly, I see both inspiration and dedication in LW’s description of her writing project. There is nothing illegitimate about the how and why the LW produced her work.
To use one of the Captain’s scripts: wow.
I just finished a four-book series (much slower than the LW, not because there’s something better about my writing process but because there’s something different) and them being first drafts doesn’t make them not novels, it makes them not good candidates for publishing (yet).
Based on this and your later comments, it looks like you’re going off on… I don’t know if there’s a proper term for it, but let’s call it “art snobbery” – claiming that something doesn’t *really* count as art (or in this case, a novel) because you don’t like the quality of it (or in this case, since you haven’t read it, the *perceived* quality, because while it’s unlikely, it’s entirely possible that the LW is one of those people who can bang out a masterpiece with zero editing). Art is a) inherently subjective, one person’s masterpiece is another’s hamster cage liner and b) not obligated to meet a certain standard even if we could, as a society, agree to what that standard is in order to be called art.
I’m sure I don’t need to explain how this sort of art snobbery is always, always, always aimed at marginalized groups more often than straight abled white dudes.
I have definitely had this type of thing aimed at me, and then I realized that it is just another form of gatekeeping.
Like fuck that, open all the gates. I want everyone to write a novel.
Happens to me too, doubly so because most of my characters are marginalized too. And I think in LW’s case, it being a romance novel probably doesn’t help.
My feelings on art are like my feelings on cake – as long as it’s not poisonous/bigoted, bring on more of it! Coconut cake/horror novels aren’t my thing, but they’re someone else’s thing, and those people deserve to have it if they want it.
200k may be unsustainable, but when the muse is upon you, if you can, WRITE! You can always edit it later.
Just because your first drafts suck doesn’t mean everyone’s do. (Mine do. But not everyone’s!)
Echoing the replies of a few commenters, I also received the impression that the book and the creative process of storywriting is a red herring. It seems like this marriage is so over, you need a super-divorce – one divorce to end it all, to never bind you again to this man whom you hold in so much contempt.
I’m not going to lie: Hearing your part of the story makes me think that you are miserable for a good reason. Husband’s qualities with whom you presumably fell in love are now outweighed by the strain he puts on you, and it sounds like this and the fact that he is not sensitive to your needs is not something you feel that you can tell him. He might not listen, he might not understand, whatever may be the case – truthfully, it is almost definitely too late for him to change any of his behaviour. Even if he were aware of your needs, would he bend backwards to meet them now, and if he did, would it matter?
I hope that you separate before that contempt turns to hatred. Until then, by all that is holy, green and good, please don’t have maintenance sex that will just serve to grind your soul into dust. If you husband is indeed the decent human being you say he is, he would be horrified if he knew that you merely endured.
I admire the Captain. She responded to the question you asked, not your subtext. (Responding to the subtext is very tempting.)
I’d like to address the idea of leaving your partners better than you found them (which I heard of long before Dan Savage was around).
You don’t have to.
No, really. You don’t.
I’m going to admit something not so nice about myself. I didn’t stay to “leave him better.” I stayed because only a lousy creep leaves a man who’s become ill or disabled. I felt guilty that I desperately wanted out (and I did love him). So I stayed and boy did that marriage explode.
So you may not have the feelings I had (but I think your contempt for him means you might), but even if you do : it’s ok to leave them worse.
I’m sorry I said “contempt.” That’s how I’ve felt about exes I stayed with too long.
I think you may feel some of the despair and disgust I felt with my ex-husband. At the time I tried very hard not to put a name on those feelings, because I also loved him and I hated that that wasn’t enough. I couldn’t be loving and kind to him, because I was tired and resentful and didn’t want him to touch me.
It took me three years to leave because what did it look like if I left him now that he was sick and on disability, after he just lost his parents?
Of course, everyone who knew us IRL said, “About time!” .
Oh boy this was so hard for me to read! Letter Writer, you described my last relationship to a fucking T. It was really painful to see my experiences so clearly written out.
I can tell you that once I left — which was hard because I felt like he wasn’t mean, or bad, so how could I leave him? — I realized just how exhausted and beaten down and emotionally drained I was from the work of managing his stress and anxiety and decisions every hour of every day. And even when things were good, I had to constantly affirm and workshop his creative ideas with him, because the alternative would lead to a spiral of insecurity that was even more tiring. Feeling more like a mother than a partner, feeling like no part of my mind or time or attention was my own — yup yup yup.
My therapist likened it to being overdrawn on an account. He was taking massive withdrawals from the Bank Account of My Energy, and not making any deposits to replenish it. So of course I had no energy for anything but watching Star Trek and napping — I was constantly overdrawn! Having spent the last year recovering from the damage done to me by a perfectly nice, not at all malicious man who just couldn’t handle his shit, I’m pretty firm on the side of YOU CAN HAVE A BETTER LIFE. You’re not being cruel or withholding, your novels are your lizard brain trying to save you, and you are going to feel such sweet (possibly guilty) relief when you rediscover your beautiful self after gently extracting yourself from this life-sucking relationship.
This! Thank you for putting what I felt when I read this letter into words.
Also I get the feeling that now the LW’s “managing account” is “less available” because of her writing he’s going “but… my emotional/logistical/whatever support!”. He’s overdrafting the bank account because he can’t or won’t see that it’s exhaustible. I don’t think this relationship is salvageable. I still recommend couples counseling since it helps with the break-up also. A couples counselor will help you with navigating this.
Wow. I have been pondering writing a similar letter myself…
(Also wow: this got long. TL:DR – I became a parent/therapist figure in my relationship, and got stuck in caring for my partner instead of for myself, which led to burnout and resentment and a serious lack of patience with my partner. Now that I have disengaged from that responsibility and am putting self-care above all else, and they have realised they are allowed to and obligated to care for themself, it is much better. Focusing on your own independence and life-satisfaction might help, but divorce is also a good option for mismatched people.)
Long, somewhat repetitive version:
I am in a ten year relationship where we both have serious mental health issues, but I’ve been working on mine longer, am older and have been trying to live my own life since I was a kid and my partner has just recently even started believing that they have the right to have boundaries, needs and so on. So, since I really really cared for them and we had a really good connection I also… got stuck in making up for them not caring for themselves. Usually when I stop feeling independent or engaged in a relationship I tend to leave, but this time I didn’t, partially because I didn’t trust in my partner’s ability to care properly for themself, but also because by taking on the responsibility of “saving” them from their living-deadness, I felt too responsible to leave. As if leaving would have been like abandoning someone to drown.
Being a very independent, creative, life-cherishing person who burnt myself out at caring for a person who wasn’t caring for themself I got very resentful, and not always very nice in my thoughts of my partner, who wasn’t independent or life-cherishing or explorative enough to “give back” enough for me to feel… compensated? nourished? equal? like it was worth it? I really felt stuck, both because I didn’t want to leave them when I was their only strong life-line, and because I had put SO much into both the relationship and my partner’s mental health. They were also continually getting better, just not necessarily good enough to feel like a sufficient life partner for me even though we still have a really good connection, communication and really care for eachother. They had just… never been taught how to give competent care or respect even to themself, and so their sincere wish to take care of me does not necessarily lead to very competent care.
So in a lot of ways I have felt like more of a therapist/parent/guru/personal assistant/teacher/idol to my partner rather than an equal, independent, life-sharing lover. In the beginning I didn’t mind so much, because I didn’t realise the depth of their issues. I thought they just needed a safe space to take care of themself in, and I was quite willing to take part in providing that. I didn’t mind sharing things I had learnt, or be there for them in a crisis, or be a living proof that another type of life was possible, but… I did mind what their not caring for themself did to them, me and our relationship. I did mind it when they’d promise me one thing and then do another because they failed to realise they were allowed to make their own choices and didn’t have to obey their parents at the age of 28. I did mind it when they continually got stuck in their own emotional loops so that we got stuck in a pattern where I would abandon my more manageable needs for theirs which they couldn’t manage themself. So our relationship tilted, I got resentful, and the deep deep font of love I had for this person started to get used up since it was rarely adequately replenished or cared for.
Once I was in that un-equal parent/manager/therapist role, it was HARD to get out of it. Since I still cared deeply for my partner’s wellbeing, I both wanted and did not want to leave. As a creative, independent, life-hungry person who was now suffering from actual burnout (with the complication of developing a hormone issue which makes me easily fatigued), and thus no longer able to do the things that I liked doing with my life without then needing four days to four weeks of brain dead activity to recuperate, my levels of dissatisfaction, restlessness, fatigue and apathy were at an all-time high. I hated where I had “ended up”, and it was hard to not blame my partner for it. It also didn’t help that I was quite aware I had in a big part created this situation myself by staying with (and caring for) someone who was not caring for themself. All of those “I’ve really had enough, but Ok, I’ll do this one more thing, let it have one more month, see if this helps, give it one more chance” until I was so worn out it mostly continued from apathy and because now I myself needed someone around to care for me. And who I had around was… someone very willing to care, but very very bad at it.
I have learnt from this that however “nice” it can be to be needed, it is a horrible foundation for a relationship, at least for me. I have learnt that reciprocity is fundamental, boundaries and needs should be upheld even in crisis, and that yeah, there really is something to the idea that you shouldn’t try to “save” people, even if they need it. They also need to save themselves. As do I. Strangely enough (not so strange really) my relationship works the best when I stand up for myself even when my partner is in crisis, make sure to meet my own needs, trace my resentment to the actual unmet anger and needs, never give more than I am willing to lose, and leave my partner to take care of themself in their own way. Codependency is a devious little pattern-trap, and easy to get stuck in with mental health issues on both sides. And with the idea that love should be infinitely patient, adaptive, generous and well… lasting.
It was also a necessary thing that my partner had a life crisis where they realised that some of the internalised rules, duties and goals that they had from their parents had put them in a life situation where they were utterly miserable and breaking down. That crisis was the start of a process of real independence/autonomy that is very necessary to the viability of our relationship, though it might still be too damaged to salvage as anything but an intimate friendship, but we’ll see. What I mean to say is after that crisis, they started to try to find and live their own life according to their own needs and interests, and to “save” themself, which was something I couldn’t have done for them anyways and wasted years of my life trying. (Even intelligent people do very dumb things sometimes, and sometimes repeatedly.)
If you do want to give it a chance, you could see if taking really good care of yourself, respecting your unmet needs and boundaries and not bothering so much about what your partner is up to (unless it actually interfers with you) leads to you feeling better about him and the whole situation. Disengage the “mother” and focus on giving yourself some independence and life-satisfaction. But yeah, divorce is also a good option when people are mismatched and keep getting on eachother’s nerves. For both your sakes.
LW, it’s okay to get out of a relationship that makes you feel dead.
It really, really is.
Divorce might be messy and difficult and lengthy, but you can separate, move out of the marital bed if not the entire house, tell your husband you want to leave, SOMETHING.
You definitely don’t have to “endure inept pawing” on your body. This isn’t the victorian era – marriage isn’t signing away your body to your husband. You are allowed to sleep alone, wedding ring or no.
A lot of this letter felt so much like me. Enough that I’m willing to share the conclusion I’ve come to that I’ve been grappling with for how my life looks going forward. My writing in moments like yours, of intense pouring onto pages, has revealed that I’m deeply unhappy with many aspects of my relationship. Of needs I have that have been going unmet. A lot of these things I was pouring onto the page were things I thought for a very, very long time weren’t things I actually needed, that I have shunned in the past. But experience in my relationship, and exploring in writing, while also talking more with close friends about their relationships have shown that I NEED these things, and that I am deeply feeling their lack. Even if I didn’t think I needed them before.
What this has meant is that the relationship I’ve built is not actually the relationship I need. It’s not something that I feel is nurturing me and comforting me anymore. And it is HELL. I built this, demanded certain respects of it. And now it’s not what I want. The guilt is immense. I don’t know if I have it in me to tear it down and rebuild it, or if I just need to leave it behind. I do know I consciously I was avoiding thinking about a lot of this. When the words overfilled me and spilled out like you’ve experienced, it was me trying to fill those needs that I was lacking. And it was where I first recognized my longing for needs I had placed outside of my life.
Like I said, your letter felt like me, so I may be reading way too into this. But if the words poured out of you with so little effort like this, it may be worth looking at them and seeing if they are trying to tell you something. And maybe the writing can fulfill those needs if they are there! But sometimes it isn’t enough. And if you can see things you are lacking and fulfill them through writing, I do think you need to find some way to be honest with your husband about that. Though it’s certainly not acceptable that he can’t let you write. His need to know everything you are doing about it is not meshing with your need for private creation. Regardless of whether anything else I wrote is pertinent, that needs to be fixed. I am also quite private with my creations, so my preference would be him understanding and stopping his demands to know everything. I would need a period of time where he doesn’t demand, and then maybe cautiously I can reach out with small bits to share because it is so personal. If you are looking at couples counselling that would be a good place to discuss how that could look for you two.
All the Jedi hugs to you, TheMjrawr! What I have been exploring in book 2 (123K and counting) is precisely that. They have been telling me a lot. And I can pretend the characters in the book are the real life people they’re based on, but they’re all me. I’m the one interpreting them onto the page. My friend described the first book as a massive act of self love and I think she was just scratching the surface but so right.
Credit where credit is due to husband, he has given me space to write, he’s just been complaining about it. He hugs me, and I let him but I don’t feel any emotion in the hug from myself. The words pour out because they can’t pour out at him without having to cushion or explain or anything, yeah? We just bought a house. I just painted and furnished this home for the foreseeable future. I know that’s not an obstacle but it’s a consideration in terms of taking the time to do couples counseling so a 3rd party can mediate the conversations we have been incapable of having. Me and him both incapable.
Okay, no. “Letting you but whining” isn’t ‘credit’.
He can have those feels (I do!) all he wants but he doesn’t get to put obstacles in your way when you state that you need this.
Also, you can’t be honest with him because you need to soothe him? Nope. From what I can see you’re doing massive amounts of husband-soothing and getting… resentful acquiescence for your needs? I’m not getting any feeling of him stepping up and doing the emotional work in this relationship. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he is being a partner to you and doing “his share” whatever that consists of. But… I’m not seeing it.
Set your standards a little higher. Complaining while giving you space isn’t really giving you space. It’s making you pay for your space and joy in some way. And that fucking sucks.
Agreed with the others. If he keeps ocomplaining, that means he is allowing yout to have space but keeps punishing you for it and that’s not okay. It’s designed to wear you down so you end up not asking for that space in the end, ’cause dealing with the punishent (here: whining, could be anything else, like silent days or passive agressive jabs) gets to tiresome.
LW – I wish you well and hope you find peace.
Captain – I want you to know that your response has touched me deeply. I’m not in the same situation as LW, but what you wrote about someone who finds that she needs something different that what she originally thought and that we get to imagine other lives for ourselves has really resonated with me. Thank you for your kindness, thank you for your generosity. I’m afraid that I don’t have a way with words that you do, but I think this letter is beautiful.
Reading the Cap’s last paragraph, I suddenly flashed on a memory:
My mother was of the Rosie The Riveter generation, and in her early married life, was an aspiring artist/writer. When I was a teen, she let me read a couple of the things she’d written, but had left in a box in the desk. One was a truly haunting short story. The other was a romance novella, starring thinly disguised versions of herself and her friend-group from WWII.
There were two love interests for her Mary Sue: the dashing Navy Lieutenant and the surly Army Captain. By the end of the story, she finally matches up with the Lt.
Talking with my mother after I’d read it, she commented that her original version had her protagonist marrying the captain, but that her best friend had pointed out that Protagonist had married The Wrong Guy. So she revised it, and she also felt it resulted in a much better story.
I later got chills when I realized that the disguises were thinner than I thought: the Navy Lt was the guy her bestie wound up marrying, and the surly Army Cap was…my dad.
Which explained a lot. Especially when my brother later told me that my mom had married him basically out of pity.
Which, a better definition of Hell I would be hard to imagine. And in many ways don’t have to.
When I was first dating my (now) spouse, he was afraid of me moving in because he didn’t want to lose momentum on the creative projects he typically did in his free time. The reason why our relationship has always worked is because I’m very independent, need my own alone time and like to vanish into my own world too. We’ve always respected each others’ private mental/emotional/creative spaces and we don’t take each other’s art personally or look for coded messages about our relationship in it.
That being said, when time and resources are limited, he gets cranky about me taking time to focus on the projects that feed my soul once I’m off the clock with my paying work. And lately I’ve been getting cranky about the money he wants to spend (from our community pot) on his projects. So it’s not perfect, it’s always a balancing act. I have a family member who’s a published writer, who was married to another published writer, and the ground rule in their marriage was that neither ever read the other’s work. Not even when it was in print. Not even when it was made into a film. LW gets to make a rule like that if that’s what makes her comfortable.
What concerns me here is LW’s feeling that writing – or thinking – or dreaming – about another story, with fictional characters, is somehow “cheating.” I’m so glad the Captain addressed this!!! Life is a long haul, your spouse can’t be the only thing that lights you up every single time. Sometimes you need to make your own light. It sounds to me like these books are the road LW needs to walk in order to decide whether she can still remain in her marriage. It sounds to me like maybe she is done, and she’s looking for permission to leave.
I write fan-fic. Sometimes it’s meta or how-to or remixes of emotionally moving fan-fic by others that has egregiously bad geography or world-building (I’m pretty ok at work-a-day fixes and editing.)
And sometimes it’s porn.
When my husband (of 15 years) asks what I’m writing I usually answer in of two ways “nothing you’re interested in” or “Stuff. You can read it when I’m done”
His answer – “ok”
Now I’m also nearly dead from the neck down – him a little less so – because we have been partners in raising a severely disabled child for years now. I can count the number of times we’ve had sex in the last year on one hand.
And yeah, it’s a problem, but if I was inspired to churn out 200,000 words he’d be supportive. As much as he could (see the needs of disabled kid, who had to come first for both of us.)
I think the problem is your relationship and not your writing, or that you prefer to be writing. Right now you husband can’t/won’t/hadn’t been offered the chance to be supportive of your writing (which you will share on your terms). Maybe the same holds for the rest of your life, and maybe it doesn’t.
Over the last fortnight we’ve had human excrement where it is not meant to be more nights than not. To me, supportive looks like “would you rather wash the kid or the wall?” Or even, “if you get kid into the other tub, I’ll clean this one.” He is supporting me (and I him) in our actual lives and actual challenges.
It doesn’t sound like he knows much about your actual life and actual challenges…
LW, I feel like you’re getting a lot of comments from people who say “you’re not into the marriage, so why don’t you just leave?” But I feel like I want to add that, it’s okay not to rush into a major decision when you are in a state of depression and working on getting treatment. I agree with everybody who says that you seem done. And it’s quite possible that you’ll still feel done after more therapy and wellbutrin. But it’s not a bad idea to take some time to get in touch with your feelings.
I’m not all suggesting that people shouldn’t have break ups when they’re depressed. Not at all. People get to break up whenever they feel ready. However, divorce is a major life change, whether or not you’re still in love. Right now, you’re throwing yourself completely into a creative project, as an escape from like – and I absolutely know what that feels like. I don’t even think that’ necessarily a bad thing, because when your life is in a really down place, sometimes that’s the only outlet you have to feel some joy, and it’s just what you need to do.But at some point, it’s important to also stop and feel the emotions that you feel about the other parts of your life. (With help from a therapist, ideally, which I’m thankful to hear you have access to.)
What I’m saying is that if *you* feel ready to leave now, then go for it. But it’s also okay to take some time to work on your health, and to allow yourself to feel what you really feel, without “shoulding” yourself or judging your emotions. And if/when you are ready to leave, you can allow yourself to feel that way without guilt or obligation, and just accept it for what it is.
All I’m getting from LW’s letter is, “Goooooooooooooo.” It doesn’t sound like she’s happy and it doesn’t sound like she’s doing him any favors by staying. Breakups are, of course, not that simple; but it just sounds like it’s time. Things are not working out. Writing may be an outlet for her feelings about that, but it’s certainly not the cause.
+1,I’m reminded of a time when a married friend actually hit on me and I said hell no and added “be real, you’re not into me, or even if you are, you’re really just looking for an escape from your unhappy marriage.”
Falling into a hobby is obviously more acceptable than cheating on a spouse, but the obvious underlying “I’m using this to escape” is not going to improve the real problem over time.
This is more of an anecdote than advice, but I know I felt incredibly alone when I went through something similar, so I hope it helps to know that you’re not.
I was utterly miserable in my marriage, and the longer I stayed, the less I could stand my husband. Meanwhile, I was drowning in guilt and fear and confusion. The only escape was writing what was basically a self-insert novel, and daydreaming about my fake celebrity boyfriend du jour, and generally just feeling like I would happily take either a fairy tale escape or a world-ending asteroid as long as it meant I was no longer stuck in my current life. I think the moment I finally realised I was done was when I found myself hiding behind some construction material (we were renovating) when he stopped by the house between work and a meetup with friends. There I was, an adult woman, crouched behind a bathtub and a stack of paint cans, trying not to breath too loudly so the man I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with wouldn’t hear me and interrupt when all I wanted to do was read some trashy True Blood fanfiction and pretend I was banging Eric Northman. I was desperate to feel passion and intimacy and love again. The funny thing is, I haven’t really experienced any of that in the time since my divorce – I haven’t even bothered to date, let alone engage in coffin-rattling sex – but it hasn’t mattered. Now that I’m single, the pressure to feel those things is gone.
Also – depression has come up in quite a few of the comments, and I will be the first to say that I was undeniably depressed. I struggled a lot with the question of, was depression causing me to be unhappy in my marriage, or was my marriage exacerbating my depression? And maybe the right cocktail of treatment *would* have made me content, but I’ve made my peace with never knowing (and I’m quite sure the answer is no). All I know is that I’m doing so much better now.
“The funny thing is, I haven’t really experienced any of that in the time since my divorce – I haven’t even bothered to date, let alone engage in coffin-rattling sex – but it hasn’t mattered. Now that I’m single, the pressure to feel those things is gone.”
Oh my dear Shan – me too! I thought once the divorce was over I’d be desperate for a nice new date to want and be wanted by aaaand… nope. Just me in a pile of books and DVDs, talking idly to the cat, and it’s fine. It’s peaceful.
I’m on Wellbutrin too, in addition to Lexapro.
I envision depression as the dark storyteller. She picks memories and weaves a story with crushing leitmotifs: “people have never encouraged your intellectual potential. Remember this? Remember that?” The conclusions of these stories seem so rational and inevitable. But life doesn’t just happen to people: we are active participants, not passive observers, and life doesn’t make narrative sense.
I mention this because I think depression is poisoning the context around your book. Depression is telling you that your husband is unempathetic and clumsy and can’t make you happy, that your relationship isn’t worth it, and that you are basically cheating on him with a fictional boyfriend. Except that once upon a time, you did have enthusiastic sex with him and probably happy moments (just saying that depression lies, not that you necessarily need to give your relationship more chances), and very most importantly, you are not cheating on him. Your book boyfriend is you. That lovely person who gets you so well is yourself. Some therapists talk about parenting your inner child, which I take to mean seeing your image of yourself as a child and extending the love and sympathy that you wish you could have received. Maybe this is romancing your inner self? This book could be a (healthy, unhealthy- I don’t know- I’m not a therapist) coping mechanism or an act of radical self-care. Maybe that’s something to talk about with your therapist if you haven’t already?
I hope Wellbutrin helps. It helped me through a big career change.
“There’s a whole amazing literary genre called ‘romance’ you may have heard of, where people write fictional versions, often highly aspirational versions, of romantic partners and then write scenarios where, oops, there’s only one available inn or hotel room to be had in all the land and, crap, it’s got one single, solitary bed, guess it’s time for these protagonists to finally reckon with all their lovable flaws and get honest with themselves about what they want out of life at last to make themselves ready for the challenge of this new and exciting person…in bed! I laugh because I love, is there a romance book in print that is not some version of ‘Here is a vision of what love could look like and here’s what I think about what it takes to be a lovable person in the world?'”
Not the focus of this letter, but I’ve long been baffled at how that could be enjoyable to read for people who aren’t blissfully partnered or contentedly single. *Writing* it, sure, that’s entirely understandable. Exploring and putting forth your own fantasies of who you want to be, and of who and what you want to have. Self-insert wish-fulfillment is is what I write and why I write it, always and forever (and primarily for myself, not with intent to publish, especially since Seanan bloody McGuire already wrote things that echo all my fantasies). But *reading* it when other people write it? I can’t be around real-life happy couples without weeping in resentful envy, despite knowing intellectually that their relationships aren’t perfect and sometimes not knowing what those people see in each other, and even imperfect romances are an unpleasant but usually-inevitable aspect of the fiction genres I favor. Books centered on perfect romances between obviously-desirable people were pure misery for me the few times I’ve tried reading one when I had nothing else to read. How do you people make your reading experience of them emotionally nurturing instead of damaging? Again, *writing* it makes sense. I’ve crushed on a certain character in a certain little-known fantasy series and wrote headcanon fanfic shipping her with a canon character who I felt able to self-project on…but when I read someone else’s fanfic with the same coupling, I was wretched with envy of her lover because I found I couldn’t self-project on a version of said lover that I hadn’t written.
For me, it’s that I use them to daydream a little.
Maybe I can’t read romance when I’m acutely upset about a breakup that’s still recent and raw. (In fact, I’ve noticed that one of the signs of my being depressed is that I can only read murder mysteries. I’m not sure why.) But when I’m just in sort of a neutral place in my life, I always figure one day I’ll find another relationship, and maybe it’ll be kind of like the one in this book!
I do tend to favor ones where the characters aren’t totally perfect. Sometimes I’ll be reading a book and I’ll be like, “Of course your relationship is great, he’s Jason Momoa and she’s ScarJo. But what about me?” But there are lots of romances where someone has a scar or fat or emotional baggage or what-have-you.
I’ve nevee been in a romantic (and/or sexual) relationship. So I don’t have any defree of confidence that I ever will or can. I guess it helps if a reader has been in relationships, even if they currently aren’t or if those relationships weren’t/aren’t so great.
Your voice is very unlikely to be the same as McGuire’s. And? Even if it is? Her fans would love similar writers to read the other 360 days of the year, between new book releases.
Oh LW, I feel you so much! It wasn’t a novel for me, but I felt imbued with holy fire for other reasons, and its light shone on all sorts of things I’d been putting up with that I shouldn’t have, and things I’d been needing but not getting, and the difference between who I was and who I wanted to be.
On the practical end of things, I would like to recommend you some additional reading:
1. Already mentioned but worth seconding: “Wanting to leave is enough” by Dear Sugar – https://therumpus.net/2011/06/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-77-the-truth-that-lives-there/
2. Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirschenbaum – by a person who has been a couples therapist for years and years, she gives a series of questions to think about , and talks about how her past clients, if they answered one way or the other, seemed to be better or worse off if they stayed or if they left. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/329141/too-good-to-leave-too-bad-to-stay-by-mira-kirshenbaum/
I read the second one so many times, and so many times I said no, I can’t leave, because (whatever). Then I did leave, even though I knew my (now-ex)husband loved me with all his heart, and I didn’t believe he was bad or mean – just so wrong for me. A year later, I can honestly say, leaving was the right decision. In some ways, life is a lot harder now, because I was the partner who wasn’t pulling their own weight in the relationship, and now I have to do my own emotional and domestic labour. But it has been so worth it.
First, I love tortillachipmonster’s earlier comment quoting Flannery O’Connor: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” So, Yay to unstoppable outpourings of creative writing! I’ll bet your written words will illuminate your ignored/denied/unrecognized needs and desires. Yay to self-revelations via the mirror of your own creations!
TL;DR summary up front:
1. To the other commenters: “Contempt” is too harsh a framing. If years with this person have given LW cause to lose respect for her husband as being an equal and satisfying partner, that disappointment is NOT the same as finding him contemptible.
2. If LW has fallen out of love with her husband (which every symptom indicates!), it’s no kindness to her partner and certainly not to herself to just let things continue miserably as they currently are. Inertia is your enemy here. I offer my own poor life choices as illustration of what not to do and why not to do it.
So here’s the long version:
This level of disappointment in someone you loved, it can turn even a kind and nurturing person towards bitterness and even hatred – especially if the disappointment stems from your beloved taking advantage of your emotional generosity to become a vampire of neediness.
Realizing that your partner is not your equal in ways that are truly important to you does NOT equal contempt. Such a judgmental and critical word, “contempt”. Being in love with someone requires respect and admiration; an equal partnership requires equal respect and admiration from both partners. If that level of regard isn’t there on both sides, it can be miserable for both partners. But unequal regard doesn’t sink to the level of actual contempt – that’s way too harsh of a leap.
I’m old, and I’ve been on both sides in relationships: coming to find my partner unworthy of respect as my equal, as well as the other side – knowing myself to be less respected by my partner. Either position is miserable and resentment-inducing. LW, your husband might have a better shot at happiness with a partner more closely matched to his own levels of emotional maturity, strength of character, intellectual interests, and ability to be supportive and relied upon when the chips are down. Or maybe not – maybe it’s just been great for him to have a strong partner to count on without the stresses of reciprocating, and maybe his chances are slim of ever again being as lucky in love. Because it sounds as if you’re offering more from that list of relationship fundamentals than he’s maybe capable of reciprocating.
But the fact that you now feel “dead from the neck down” (ALARM! ALARM!) tells me that *you* at least are currently sacrificing your happiness. Your body’s sending you a pretty clear signal (a wallop with a two-by-four kind of signal) that your years with this man have eroded your respect and admiration and now every part of you is going “yuck – DO NOT WANT!”, in a quite physical reaction. You may still love him but you’re no longer IN LOVE with him. That’s got to be as miserable and resentment-inducing for him as it is for you, with a side dish of demoralizing for you both (especially if you’re submitting to pity-sex – my heart clenches for you).
So in a burst of writing creativity, you’re imagining and describing the kind of man who could bring you back to life, imbued no doubt with the character traits and behaviors you long for (maybe even need) in a partner. I admire the heck out of that! I’m wishing you well with all my heart. It’s so wonderful that your creative passion is bubbling up again. You sound like a genuinely kind-hearted person intent on doing no harm. That makes it all the more tragic if your nature should be buried by a life lived in unsatisfying compromise.
I made the irrecoverable mistake of staying in my marriage way past the point of recognizing our inequality and falling out of love, and years past the point of all my reserves of inner strength being drained. I gradually became a person that I’m ashamed of, in retrospect. Choosing to continue passive-aggressively suffering in boiling resentment changed me: I grew self-defensive, thoughtless, disappointed, angry, depressed. I spread my pain to my partner and even (I’m so sorry!) our children, alternating between depressed withdrawal and angry, snapping criticism. I hurt the ones I love; weak people do that. It took me more than a decade to acknowledge to myself that our marriage was sad and wrong for me and couldn’t be fixed. Divorce is supposed to be really hard on children, but a few years afterward my daughter confided that her childhood was much happier after we split. I’ll warrant my ex was happier, too – I know I was and continue to be, and I’ve returned to being a passably decent human again too.
I have no claim to the the wisdom to advise anyone else, but I’ll indulge in it to this small extent anyway: Don’t be me. Your writing is a wonderful positive thing to arise from such unhappiness, but don’t let that outlet delay an honest evaluation of your current state and your least harmful path forward. It’s a kindness to you both if you reach some revelations and conclusions sooner rather than (years) later.
I’d argue that it’s not harsh to point out that the LW is framing her husband in a harsh light by using contemptuous language – which is a choice the LW decided to make since there are ways to say the same things *without* using that language. Plus, frankly, pointing out that LW pretty clearly feels (or at least was feeling at the time of writing) contempt for their husband is, in all honesty, relevant to any advice that the LW is receiving – and doesn’t inherently mean that there’s any judgment being passed. The truth is if you feel enough contempt for your spouse that you’re describing them in such a manner, then looking into either your options for leaving or, if you plan on sticking around (either temporarly because you’re unsure if you want to leave, or for any other reason), talking to a therapist about what the root of that might be.
LW, you mentioned seeking help and that’s honestly a very good idea. While the Captain gave some solid advice here, talking this over with a trained professional that’s familiar with your situation and can give you more detailed on-going advice than any advice column can.
One thing I would add is that, if you haven’t decided on a course of action (and esp. if you feel you’re depressed), I’d highly reccomend that you talk things out with your therapist before making any drastic changes. Not because there’s anything wrong with wanting to get a divorce – there isn’t and frankly if it might be the best option – but because depression definetly changes your mindset in some pretty drastic ways. Because of that, having someone who, while still Team You, is more removed from the sitaution and not invested in a friendship with either party can be very, very useful when it comes to talking things over with a relatively unbiased source that might notice things that you missed.
tl;dr: Talking to a threapist is probably a good idea before doing anything drastic since it gives you someone safe to talk things through with that won’t have a personal investment in how this relationship turns out.
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