Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on how to try to save a 24 year old marriage.
I'm 50 and married for 24 years. My wife, 53, wants to leave the marriage but can't support herself. She lost her job in 2008, and I've maintained primary financial responsibility. She claims I'm the reason for her unhappiness and is unwilling to see a marriage counselor. My wife moved out of our bedroom two years ago; she is resistant to any affection and has no interest in sex, but will comply if I beg enough. She was in contact with a former boyfriend and denies seeing him but can't deny the phone and text messages. She's now pursuing a new relationship. I'm tempted to confront her but, on the other hand, such a relationship would provide legal grounds for divorce—and minimize my alimony burden.
Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor at Large of Psychology Today and writes the magazine's advice column, Unconventional Wisdom. Her newest book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, grew out the groundbreaking Psychology Today article A Nation of Wimps.
Editor: Talha Khalid
Our youngest son has only another year before college, at which time, she says, she's leaving. She refuses to discuss her plans, saying only that she'll deal with it after our son graduates. I'm confused and angry. How can this woman expect me to support her when she doesn't want to be with me?
It is not at all clear what you want or what your wife wants. Or why. One minute you're interested in maintaining the marriage, the next you're calculating alimony for a cheating wife. Either way, you've put the burden of breaking the impasse on others. The marital life you describe seems devoid of passion on all sides—boring. In fact, it sounds like a financial transaction that has robbed you both of dignity as well as passion. Postponing action until your son leaves the nest is not going to do him any favors. So do not avoid changing your romantic life on his behalf. Do it because your relationship is miserable. Divorce is not the only option. Begging for sex is demeaning and does nothing to increase your attractiveness quotient, already diminished by your passivity. No woman wants to sleep with a beggar. It would be so much better for everyone if you could attach some feelings to your push for sex. Your wife's avoidance of marital counseling could well signal an extramarital affair. But you don't need a counselor to find out what is going on. It is common for spouses to blame one another for their own unhappiness, instead of examining their own failures within the relationship or their disappointments outside it.
Why is your wife no longer happy in the marriage? What does she feel she is not getting from you that she wants—and may well be seeking from others? Maybe she is unhappy about losing her job and her independence. Maybe she's angry about having to be financially dependent on you, especially as you seem to welcome her dependency. It may be that she wants some excitement in her life and you are not providing it; she may have concluded you're not capable of doing so.
Anticipating an empty nest can spark serious rumination about the future, and it tends to throw bad relationships into harsh relief. She might be using any and all of these means to send you a message or two: Restore my dignity, and amp it up or I'm looking elsewhere. That's not to say she isn't just as responsible as you are for creating the marriage she wants.
Take time to sit down with your wife and talk only about yourselves, not about other people or whether extramarital alliances have formed. Express your hopes for the years ahead. This may well be the best way to begin the thaw between you and start a process of reconnection.