My husband and I have been married 20 years and have four sons (20, 18, 16 and 9). We have always gotten along well, had a good sex life, enjoyed each other's company, spent time alone together, enjoyed family activities, community service, etc. The only conflict we've ever had was financial; we have always struggled paycheck to paycheck, lost a house through foreclosure 10 years ago and filed bankruptcy. Aside from financial pressures, I have always believed I had the ideal marriage and thought we were more in love with each year.
The last two months, my husband became very distant, quieter than usual (quiet is his norm), absorbed in the computer and avoided sex. The last time we made love, he initially was unable to become aroused. I knew he was having a lot of stress at work and had been passed over for a promotion by a younger, less-qualified weenie. I assumed this was the cause of his funk.
He denied any problem despite my attempts to get him to talk. Two weeks ago I told him I'd felt further away from him in the last month than ever before and asked if there was "someone else" thinking I'd shock him into admitting there was a problem. I suppose you should never ask a question unless you're prepared to hear the answer.......it was yes. He admitted to having an affair with a coworker for three months and said he has "feelings" for her-- what he now believes to be love. He also claims he still loves me but doesn't know what he wants to do. He's not sure if he wants to be married or free to explore other relationships.
Needless to say, I am devastated. This was the last thing I ever expected. I don't understand how a three month infatuation can replace a lifetime of loving and sharing. He moved out of the house (to his parents) to sort out his feelings and won't talk about our marriage, saying he's not ready. I still love him and want him back and feel stupid for that, considering the circumstances. I'm angry that I'm left with all the responsibility of the house and kids. At my lowest, I'm left to pick up the pieces and be strong for the kids. He makes efforts to see the youngest but has no more than passing contact with the older ones. I've realized he has little emotional connection with them--they can't discuss their feelings with him. When we told the kids he was leaving, we did it together but I did all the talking.
We've both sought counseling through our EAPs at work, with different clinicians. I wonder if we should be seeing the same one. My counselor believes he is clinically depressed, feeling he's failed his family and seeking an escape. His counselor says he doesn't seem depressed but is willing to explore the subject if he's interested. I'm living in limbo and am not sure whether I should pack up the rest of his belongings or continue this unsure existence. I've told him we need time limits and ground rules. He's not ready to discuss anything and I don't want to force him into a hasty decision. Any advice is appreciated.
After 20 years of marriage, which seems to be nearly ideal until the last couple of months, you ask a provocative question hoping to shake up your husband to get him to talk to you and instead you get a "yes". Hey says there is another woman. And you feel shocked and hurt and angry and yet you are working and taking care of your family and being the strong one while he shows little interest in maintaining his role as a father. I'd say you are experiencing a life turned upside down!!
While you cannot make your husband do or not do anything, you can work on establishing a plan for yourself to try to take control of the parts of your life that you can. You say you still want the marriage. On any terms? Or are there terms that you will agree to live with and terms you will not? I would suggest that you focus your therapy on what life you really want and begin to take steps toward that goal, with or without him. Setting some ground rules is an excellent beginning.
While you cannot make your husband do or not do anything, you can work on establishing a plan for yourself to try to take control of the parts of your life that you can.
Although he is choosing to live away from home right now, he needs to see that his responsibility to the children is still as present as it ever was. It is a heavy burden for you to be left with the entire responsibility for home and children. It may be that he would benefit from a little reality check here. Though you may never want to act on it, it may be wise to seek a little legal counseling as well.
It would be a good idea to see a marriage and family therapist in addition to the individual counselors you are presently seeing. Initially this would be good for helping the two of you establish those ground rules and hopefully it would lead to working out a marriage contract that would help your marriage grow into something satisfying for the both of you. While you are at it, it might be wise to get help with the financial issues as well.
I wish you all the best. Please let me know how it is going.
Patricia Lawrence Pomposello, LCSW