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 “player” at all.

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?
shellofmyself shellofmyself
11 Responses May 27, 2011

I just want to say, wow. That story was captivating...you are a fantastic writer. I wish I had more insight to offer you but I'm only 19, I have been in a relationship for 3 years and had some of the same difficulties as you, but only for a very short period.

I'm pretty insecure, and my boyfriend is as well, we are in a long distance relationship. There was a point when I found myself growing a lot in confidence at my own school, I felt like I had JUST the right amount of courage to take a shot at life on my own, and when I was at that point, when I didn't feel I needed his support anymore, I questioned whether I actually wanted him. If we were compatible. And because he hadn't had the growth in self-esteem that I had, his attitude was dragging me down more than creating companionship. But that spark of confidence disappeared somewhere in the last two weeks, not sure how it went out. So now I definitely need him. I don't know where to go from here, I remember one night crying for hours wondering what he would do to himself if I broke up with him. I'm pretty sure that if he didn't have me, he would have no one. He has 1 friend that he plays video games online with all the time, and then he has me, but other than that he basically interacts with no one. But after that experience I had, even though I feel like I need his support now more than ever, it showed that maybe he's not who I'm meant to be with or who I want.

I am curious to know how your story turned since 2011? It has been a while.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond. Thank you for your vulnerability and love. <br />
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Limbo means back and forth until you can't pass under a lowering bar. Stop the music! We have to be true to our selves. You are very devoted to your responsibilities. You can be proud of your marriage. It is virtuous to be devoted and to put others before you. Here is the bar going down inch after inch. It is destructive to struggle and make others struggle. Exploring what it is you want or what is missing is of the most importance. Identify what you want, precisely, and reach for it. You seek to feel, begin the brain storm. Life is short. Believe that you both can be fully happy and fulfilled without the bar lowering down on you any longer.<br />
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I am a personal trainer, and I work with may women who, like you have had, very devoted marriages and children. Now they are independent, ready to have fun, share their lives with compassionate driven men. Men who want them happy, who take care of themselves and who can go for a long walk, swim in a lagoon. My wonderladies, like your wife, deserve men who know their heart. Please understand that acceptance and protection of a beautiful woman with your whole heart is the most important thing.

Paralyzed by indecision - you have made you decision (you want to leave), what you cannot do is carry this decision out. Oh yes I understand this emotional conflict. People have said that once you actually make and carry out your decision a weight will lift from your mind. I wish you clarity and confidence to do what is best for you.<br />
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PS. Have you thought your wife may be using your own guilt to keep you with her - she knows how to 'play' you?

i would say what you are feeling (fight or flight) is natural in your stage of life. the day that you reveled in is now turning to dusk and night approaches swiftly! and here you are like a weak swimmer flailing inside trying to hang on to what you think is your self, when what you are is what you already have... the old adage: when you pull the trigger you cant get the bullet back comes into play here immensely! what you have with M is irreplaceable, horribly romantic, and baptized by the fires of life! you shouldn't change it for the world! some where you have lost sight or hold of the romance that is your relationship. and it would behoove you to regain your focus. point one, the beginning of your marriage is what love stories are made of, its what holly wood and fictional writers painstakingly try to recreate.. and you were there front and center lead actor with a hell of a supporting actress. The following act was the american dream. but no love story worth its weight is finished with out tragedy. your leading actress was stricken with cancer and you the hero of the film stood by her side and nursed her back to health.. you love this woman. i will say this again so there is no mistake, and that you are following closely; you, LOVE this woman M! she is by no mistake the love of your life, the mother of your children and your partner in crime. what and who you have a problem with is yourself.. some where you feel you missed something. while you were staring in your role, you heard about other movies being filmed and wondered if you should have been doing those instead. I assure you that you have missed nothing at all, except the prospect of what if, which stares us all in the face at the twilight of our lives. so for you my answer would be plain and simple. there are no what ifs. you lived a fruitful and prosperous life with a (described by you) devoted and amazing woman. there is no one else on this earth that will love or tolerate you as she does and will.. you for some reason want and need change but feel you cant do it with her.. your entire narrative clearly showed you can. honestly you need to reconnect with yourself, but it doesn't sound like you were lost in this relationship.. we all die friend, its how we lived is what is important. if you leave M you will not only destroy her but yourself. if you look back through history great men forged and concurred the world with their laddies behind them. Go see the world, concur your piece, lay claim to foreign lands, and bring your wife back a trophy from your conquests.. a real trophy too, not some BS trinket.. but a flower from a hill top in athens, a sprig of grapes from a vineyard, the sand and sea from a foreign coast line..something from somewhere to someone no one else has.. or ever will. your love as flawed as you may feel it is, is genuine, and you would do a grave injustice to all of the producers and supporting cast if you crapped out and didn't finish your film! remember you are the ruler of your world, the king of your castle, be good to your queen, and treat her as such... best wishes.

I am also in limbo, and for similar reasons of guilt, etc.<br />
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Living in limbo tears at your soul and your spirit, as well as your health. It sounds to me like you are emotionally separated already, but afraid to pull the trigger. I understand that, as I feel the same way, but not sure why. Do we need to be absolutely certain? I don't think absolute certainty is possible here. <br />
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My marriage is also verbally and emotionally abusive. Even my mom says I should just forgive and forget, and friends say 'he is doing the best he can'.<br />
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Well, if your hairdresser does 'the best they can', and it looks terrible, how many times do you go back? If your mechanic fixes your car, and it still won't start intermittently, do you keep taking your cars to him for repair? <br />
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I empathize with your agony, despair, guilt, responsibility. There comes a time, however, when you have to focus on yourself. No one else, no matter how well meaning, can do that for you.<br />
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Take care, love to both of us, Louise

I am struck so much by the empathy and insight of these comments. I came across this website fairly randomly, and thought, why not, share the story, anticipating nothing. Thank you people who have taken time to put such thought into this.<br />
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Modlulu -- I saw your recent story related to this subject and find it hits home for me, and will try to give a comment soon.

You are a good man but I think you carry a lot of guilt from the very beginning and you don't realize that you have been way too nice about all this. She already had an extra marital affair, sorry or not, forgiven or not, in my opinion you need to look at yourself. Being a Christian, I am usually the last person to ever recommend divorce. I think it is time. I would not blame any of you but the fact is that you are not in a loving relationship, you are continuing to do a "job" - you need to retire now and enjoy a fulfilling relationship.

Having been stuck in limbo myself, I know that awful feeling of being through the "meat grinder". I know how every day is exhausting. It's no way to live. One way or another, you have got to get out of limbo. However, after reading your story I think you are not confused about what you really want. Now, what I have to say might sound harsh, but I want you to know I am on your side. It seems that you already have your mind made up that you really want to be free -- you have known for a long time. That is not what you are confused/undecided about. You are conflicted only by guilt and the possible effect it will have on your wife. But consider this: She raised two great kids, she's starting a new career, she's beaten cancer, she took the three month separation and handled it with grace, and she is staying committed to you despite your distance and brutal honesty. She sounds like one hell of a tough woman to me, and she will not be defeated by the end of the marriage. YOU need to have that faith in her as much as she does. You seem so clear in your desire to be out of this marriage, so staying and giving her an illusion of love seems patronizing, and almost cruel, to me. If ending your marriage destroys her faith in love, that is her demon to wrestle, not yours. And releasing yourself from this albatross of guilt and responsibility is yours. Because you deserve to be free if you truly want to be free. <br />
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I have this new theory that getting a divorce is actually way easier than staying and "working on" a marriage. If you are going to stay, you sure as f&@% better *want* to be there. <br />
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Ok, I know that was a big dose of tough love, but I say this from a place of true empathy with how you are feeling. Be brave, and do what's right for you.

expressluv -- You are remarkable for reading my entire (ehem, outrageously long) story to begin with, and then commenting on it with such depth and insight. I really appreciate it.

Oh - and originally I started reading your (ehem, long) story because of the title. I too was very indecisive about coming back to my marriage. And someone had told my mom, who of course passed it along (mothers!), that indecision was not my friend. And I sorta resented that - felt like, well, of course I needed to weigh the options before deciding. But really, you can weigh and weigh and weigh, but in the end you will need to be on one side or the other. Deciding wasn't easy, but I had faith in myself that if I had made a mistake with my choice, I could always turn around and change again. Limbo isn't good. Decide. Live with the decision. Know that you are strong enough to admit a mistake if it is one. But you'll never know if you don't DO something!<br />
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Again - good luck.

a very heartfelt story. long, but so honest. it's funny that primarily all you talk about is M's feelings. how she will do and how she will feel. maybe it's hard for you to own your own feelings about it, maybe you feel guilty about them, or maybe that's the only thing you consider important in all this. <br />
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I don't know you, I don't know M, I don't know your marriage. But it sounds very co-dependent. Would you agree to that, or am I way off? I don't think I have any real answers to you, but my therapist says that sometimes you aren't sure about love, but it's the times when you are sick, or in some sort of trouble that you really see if it's there. and you were there for her then. I think you might still have some connection to her, but her neediness is killing a lot of it for you. <br />
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Is she seeing someone? Have you gone together? Cause more than having to deal with 'your' stuff, I think the answer is somewhere in the interaction. I think you're right about her needing independence (and she knows it too) but it needs to be something you talk about with someone together. And you need to be able to feel how you really feel! Having that third party might allow you to speak up for yourself without feeling the guilt of doing something horrible to M.<br />
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You are obviously a wonderfully sensitive person, and I don't think you've wasted your life being with M. I think you simply are feeling completely smothered and that you are responsible for her happiness. You are not responsible for her happiness, and it is not your 'fault' how she feels. <br />
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I wish you all the best, and would be interested to read how you are doing sometime.