I am married to my high school sweetheart. We started dating when I was 17 years old, and this year I will be 30. I recently moved out of our house. You see, I tried to do the right thing - I tried to be a good wife to my husband and mother to our two children - but I think that in general, the marriage was bad from the start.
In the early years, my husband did drugs behind my back and cheated on me twice, but I still tried to make the marriage work. I loved him with all my heart. As the years went by, I started feeling less important to him, as if I was last on his list of priorities. He became more selfish and uncompassionate and pretty much ignored the effect it was having on my life. I started falling out of love with him, but I stayed in the marriage for the sake of the kids.
Now that I have moved out, I feel so alive - like a big weight is off my shoulders. However, I also feel bad. He says he is so sorry and will change, but he has said this many times in the past. I know how it feels though to love someone and not have them love you back.
Our family tells me to work it out, but I don't really want to - I know I don't. To make matters worse, I fell in love with a friend. I never felt this way before. For once, I feel special.
What do I do? How do I get what I want without hurting anyone?
I'll begin with a question for you. Why are you in doubt about what to do?
You have all the answers. What you are doing feels right and good. You feel alive. You have met someone who makes you feel loved and special. You feel like a burden has been lifted off your shoulders and you are free. Why would anyone say no to that?
The answer is bound to be guilt, and the guilt will come in two forms. The first form relates to the fact that by divorcing, you will hurt a person that you once cared about and who you may still care about. The second is more subtle and relates to the feeling that since you did not succeed at making the marriage work, you do not deserve to be happy.
The way to free yourself of this guilt is to take a good hard look at what your relationship was like for the last twelve years. When you do, you'll find that the relationship died a long time ago - at least in the form of reciprocal love. At first, you tried to resuscitate it, and when those efforts failed you settled into a kind of low level existence within a lifeless marriage (as you say, because of the kids). Somehow through all of this, you seem to have retained the ability to care for your husband despite how little he cared for you. You may have even tried to believe that he cared for you. It's always hard to accept when we have to face the fact that someone we loved does not care for us. Now, because of this history, you find yourself thinking that maybe you should bind yourself to years of further loneliness and misery so as not to hurt someone who has clearly demonstrated that he does not deserve your affection.
You do not owe him anything. You have already given and given and gotten nothing in return except empty promises. If you owe anyone anything, it is yourself. You have already left, so your question is not whether to stay or to go; your question is whether or not to burn your bridges. Burn them. Do something for yourself, and incidentally, for the children as well. Let yourself be happy. Enjoy loving someone that loves you. Your husband has been given ample opportunities to value you and he has said "no thank you". There is nothing for you to feel guilty about.
This question was answered by Jerry Button. Jerry is a psychotherapist, personal development trainer, workshop presenter and relationship coach practicing in Delray Beach, Florida. He believes that the key to quality of life lies in relationships. His approach to interpersonal and emotional problems is relational and psychodynamic. Jerry is experienced working with individuals, children and families and welcomes challenging opportunities.For more information visit: http://www.dynamicrelationships.net/