I've Been Paralyzed In Indecision For Almost Two Years, And Have To Do Something.I’m twisted up in knots inside. I have been going through hell for more than a year, and I’ve been putting my wife through hell for that time too. I’ve told her that I am not sure I want to stay married. We’ve been living together in a state of limbo. It’s been a living nightmare for her, and torture for me. Every day is like being in a meat grinder.
I’ve been married to my wife – M -- for almost 32 years. We got married young. I was 22, just graduating college. M was 21, entering her senior year of college. We have two children, now almost 31 and almost 27. Wonderful people. No grandchildren yet. I have been very successful career-wise. M was primarily the mother of our children, at home, which she was very happy to be. She also worked at home in a variety of pursuits. We have a beautiful home and garden, which we have created together.
My wife is a very special person. One of the most caring, big-hearted, loving, bright, creative, talented, industrious, and spiritual people I’ve ever known. A wonderful mother. I greatly admire, respect, and appreciate her in so many ways.
We have never had conflicts about parenting, money, or major decisions. The main disagreement we’ve had lately is whether or not to get another dog since our treasured dog died suddenly a couple years ago. She wants another one very much. I don’t.
She is in love with me very deeply. She says I am the love of her life, her soul mate. I care for her tremendously. I would give my life for her, in fact.
We met under very unusual circumstances. Never dated. Sort of fell into sharing the same apartment, totally accidentally. It’s too long a story to explain. But when her mom found out, the mom said we couldn't live together, although she like me. When a friend, late one night after a lot wine said, 'why don't you two just get married?" I said, “why not?” And we were engaged.
I had never had the glimmer of a thought of getting married. I had never even lived by myself. And nobody asked me, was I sure about this? But I didn’t have any second thoughts about it. Three months later we were married. Four months after that she was pregnant, unplanned of course. Nine months later we had a son. Two weeks after he was born I started graduate school.
And life took over. After graduate school, a job. A daughter a couple years later, also not planned, but welcome. Buying a house. Raising kids, taking care of parents.
Shortly after the birth of our first child, while I was in graduate school, I told M that I wanted an open marriage. She was devastated. And damaged for sure. She had had long-standing self-esteem problems, much deeper than I knew. Proposing open marriage just brought those to the surface and amplified them enormously. It was definitely the stupidest, most insensitive thing I’ve ever done.
I dropped the subject. And I never did anything extramarital for 30 years of marriage. Not that I didn’t want to have something extramarital, and not that I didn’t have some opportunities. Just none that I wanted to pursue. I guess I have quite high standards (in a way). I’m not a “pla
My wife and I have had plenty of conflicts over the years, mostly centered on my not being very present and engaged with her, being somewhat grumpy and aloof. She is very very sensitive to me, and takes a lot of reassurance from me.
It’s not that I have been unloving with M, and certainly not with the kids. We both have been very warm and loving parents. In fact, M says that she has been very happy with me, even if she would wish that I were more demonstrative.
In hindsight I can see that I have felt, for many years, that my marriage was a job that I performed, a responsibility more than anything else. It hurts to say that, to know how miserable M would feel if she heard me say that. This sense grew year by year. But I was distracted, immersed in work, kids, household, parents, etc. I rarely thought about being unhappy.
M actually had one brief affair, about 15 years ago, which she told me about afterward. She said that it had made her feel wanted and special. That’s why she had done it. Not for the sex, which she said was lousy. I told her, no problem, and that I was sorry the sex had been lousy. I was not the slightest bit jealous. I think that says something.
But I had no thoughts of leaving M. It just never entered my mind. One evening almost two years ago, sitting outside together on our patio, M asked me how I was feeling about her—a question she would ask me occasionally over the years, and I would always reassure her everything was fine—not even wondering to myself, “is everything really fine?” Not very tuned in to myself. Well, this particular evening, when M asked, I said I don’t know. That I was feeling like I wasn’t sure I could stay married forever. Not that I wanted to separate.
M became more stormily upset than I’d ever seen her. She got in the car and drove off, then called me on the phone. She screamed at me, said she hated me. I pleaded with her to come back. Eventually she did. She actually came close to hitting me, she had so much rage, but she stopped. Later she apologized profusely, saying she never ever could hate me. I said I knew that was true.
Over the next few weeks, we spent hours and hours talking. Things became more and more stressful between us. Eventually it reached the point where I told M that I needed to be by myself for awhile, and said that I was going to go stay somewhere else, maybe with a friend of ours who had an extra room. Just to get some space. We agreed on three months separation.
When we got back together, we talked about how it had been for us. M said that she had learned a lot about herself during the time apart, about how she needed to be more independent and give me a lot more space. In fact she said that all of this had been one of the best things that had ever happened to her. That she taken a very difficult situation and forced herself to rise up and make herself better as a result of it. I had such great respect for her.
But I told her that I had not come any closer to knowing what I wanted. That I still had not come to a solid place in that regard. She was really upset to hear that.
Just a few weeks later, everything changed into an entirely different world. M found a lump in her breast. And it turned out to be malignant. As if she had not been through enough. I told her, everything we’ve been talking about for months… all of that is off our minds now. We’re focusing 100% on her getting through this. And she was in tears, saying how she had so wanted to be more independent, for me, knowing how much I need more space in our relationship. And now she was going to be more dependent that ever. I said don’t be ridiculous, don’t think that way at all. I was there 100% for her, for helping her get back to the good health she had enjoyed.
Inside I was devastated of course, greatly worried for M, though I was confident she would come through it ok. But there I was, having a hard enough time trying to be engaged in my marital relationship again, and now faced with being the primary caregiver for my wife through surgery, chemotherapay, and radiation. I knew I just had to do it, and I did.
The next several months were extraordinarily difficult. M in chemotherapy, needing so much help and support from me. In a way, supporting her basic needs was the easiest thing for me. There was no question that I would be there for her. Fortunately I was able to work from home a great deal, weeks at a time in fact. M and I spent many hours, days, just sitting on our living room sofa, with a fire in the fireplace, with her in my arms, recovering from surgery, then hairless, just listening to music.
Fortunately the cancer was caught before it had spread much at all, just barely, and the treatments were all successful, with a very positive prognosis. It was an ordeal for both of us, but there was a positive end in sight.
Now, almost a year after treatment ended, M has fully recovered and her hair has grown back beautifully.
But we're still in limbo. I’m paralyzed, unable to go any direction. Everything feels impossible. It feels impossible to stay in this marriage, happily and wholeheartedly, with the level of love and companionship that M deserves, for the rest of my life. It feels equally impossible to leave the marriage, hurting M so grieviously.
I know that I could never leave M, if I felt that she was not feeling strong in herself, if I felt my leaving would be taking away the only positive thing in her life.
And that’s the way I’ve been feeling for a long time. M has been feeling like such a failure in her work. If I were to leave, and she were to blame herself as I know she would, she would just feel like a complete failure. For me to feel like I could leave her, she has to have achieved some success in her career. Several times over the years, she has given up trying to pursue her own career. I’ve told her I believe in her, and don’t worry about not bringing in much income. I’m doing ok supporting us, and now both kids are no longer dependent on us.
Amazingly, even with all M has been through, with me and with cancer, she has kept her nose to the grindstone, and worked so hard to break through. And over the last several months, things have started to happen for her. It looks like she may be on the verge of coming into her own. I have so much respect in the way she’s not let herself get defeated.
I know having a successful career would help M a great deal in getting over the loss of her marriage, if that ever happens.
But it will still be unbearably painful for her. I know how painful it will be. It will be painful for me too.
M holds our marriage like the most precious, beautiful jewel. For her, life is all about loving and being loved. That’s all she really wants in life. She is the sweetest heart, a very beautiful spirit.
I feel the agony that she will feel. It has tormented me.
She wants me to melt with her when I look at her, be with her in love, feel that I adore her. I don’t do that, and it hurts her, and I feel so badly that I hurt her.
It’s as if I’m standing beside myself sometimes, watching myself and pushing myself to be present and engaged.
How will I be able to live with myself?
How will I ever be able to be in a loving relationship with someone else? What if I do get in a relationship with someone else, and realize it’s no different, the same cycle starts to happen again? With someone I may actually have less respect and admiration for, spiritual connection with, history with?
I want to be able to separate without bitterness, without M feeling that she is a failure, a loser. She tells me that the refrain running through her mind is, loser, she’s a loser, she lost the best thing that ever happened to her in her life. She says she’ll never find someone else at age 53. She wouldn’t want anyone else.
And the refrain running through my mind is, what do I do? I’m so f***ed.
Most women would have left me by now. That’s not what I want to happen. I don’t want M to leave me out of anger and bitterness.
She hangs on to me so tightly, hanging on for dear life it seems. Somewhat ironically, I guess, all that has happened has served to make M’s love for me even more urgent and vital to her. She is working so hard to “win me back” as she has put it. My admiration and respect for the way she works on herself has grown too.
But when she goes away, I’m so relieved to be on my own. The way M so deeply loves me and wants me, feels like such a responsibility. Fundamentally, I love her, as a friend and companion, but I don't need her. So many times over the years, M has asked me, how do I need her? I just don't seem to need her. And I carry such a weight around with me from it, every day.
I’ve been to several therapists, two worth little, one who has been very helpful. It helps just to have someone to talk to about all this stuff. He says, he can see that we both love each other very much. He knows that she would want me to be happy, and if that meant releasing me, she would do that. And that she is much more resilient and strong than I think she is.
There have been a few times over the past few months when, naturally, M gets to the point where she can’t take it, this feeling of being in limbo. Like she’s hanging over a cliff, not knowing where the bottom is. And she pushes me really hard. I’ve said, I do not feel the connection with her, it’s slipped away a lot, without my even realizing it, over a long period of time probably. It was so hard for her to hear that, and agonizing for me to say it. I said I felt like I needed to live by myself.
There was another time, I can’t remember what prompted it, but we were going somewhere in the car, and we were talking about what was going on with us, and we decided we needed to pull over and talk. She said that I needed to understand that, if we separate, it’s total separation as far as she was concerned. Out of each other’s lives. She couldn’t bear seeing me on a friendly basis. That would be too hard for her. We would sell the house, and she would have to move somewhere else. I said, I could not fathom not having in her in my life. Which is true, because I do care for her tremendously and have a strong spiritual connection with her.
There was another evening, something happened, I don’t remember what, but I ended up saying, not with anger or irritation, that I don’t think we’re compatible. M said that was the hardest thing she’s had to del with in all of this, my saying that, because she feels like we’re made for each other.
Just recently, she became very desperate feeling one morning when I returned from a therapist session, wanting to know what I had talked about. I said that I had been talking about all sorts of things going on with me, work problems, marital difficulties, etc. She told me that she had been so deeply depressed, having thoughts that she would be better off dead, nobody really cares for her anyway. I asked her if I needed to take her to the hospital right now, was she really feeling that way. She said, no, not that she would actually ever do it, but that’s how truly full of despair she was. She asked right then if I wanted to leave her. It took me several minutes to answer, which were agonizing minutes for her. I said, I can’t. Inside, I’m thinking, how can I say what I want, when she’s just told me she’s feeling suicidal. I said I can’t imagine not having her in my life. That is true.
Even more recently, something happened... long story, but M ended up asking me what was I thinking. I could hardly talk through tears, but I said, “This isn’t working.” She asked me what I wanted to do. I said, “I think we need to separate.” M actually stayed relatively calm. She asked, could we give it a few months before we make that decision, just a few months of trying to get in the best place we can together. Then if I still want to separate at that point, she will go along with that. But if she feels I haven’t made effort to make it work, she’ll be really disappointed and angry. I said ok.
I came across a book called “Spiritual Divorce.” About how divorce can actually be the catalyst for spiritual growth, can be a good thing. I would want it to be that way for M, of course. But then I think, why does it have to be her that has to go through spiritual divorce? Why can’t I be the one finding a way to create “spiritual non-divorce”?
M believes in our love so much, that we’re soul mates. If I take that away from her, what will be devastating is not just the loss of me, for her. It will be loss of belief in the power of love, of believing in love at all.
I am afraid that I will never have the confidence or belief in myself to love again, if I go through with this.
I also feel like there is another person inside me fighting to get out. That’s why I have been rebelling against myself, split in half. Schizophrenic.
It would be so much easier just to say to M, it was all a big mistake, I was just screwed up, and now I’m not. Forget that it ever happened. Go back to the complacent existence. That would be easier in a way, but it feels like that will leave me feeling really sad inside. A life of quiet desperation, feeling like I’ve lost out.
Anybody read this far?