I am a 38-year-old pilot with two young children and a second marriage. For the last couple of years my wife and I have been fighting regularly. She is often upset and says its because I am not home enough, I don't call enough, and when I am home I ignore her. It's gotten so bad that I don't look forward to going home anymore! I have a naturally flirty nature and I have started to take up with other women when I am away from home. I have watched several of our friends get divorces and break up their families, and I do not want to go through that again. I don't think counseling will help, but I am determined to turn the marriage around - I just don't know where to start.
Do you have any ideas about what I might do?
I think it was a good idea for you to send in your question. However, I am confused! You said you don't think counselling will help, and yet you're asking me, a bonafide psychotherapist, to tell you where to start. In order for you to make good use of my answer I think you are going to need to come to terms with this contradiction. I appreciate your determination to "turn your marriage around" however, it doesn't sound as if you're going about it in a very constructive manner! Having affairs and working on saving a marriage don't fit together, they're contradictory by definition.
I think you need to ask yourself a series of questions: are genuinely serious about your marriage, if you really feel that you are, then why are you putting it at such risk? Why are you having affairs? Are you trying to solve a problem or prove something to yourself? I wonder if you realize how destructive this is for everyone involved? Is it possible that your wife has detected that you are with other women? Finally, will you do a thought experiment and ask yourself how you would feel if the situation were reversed-your wife was the one that was flying, having affairs, and not calling home regularly? If you honestly want to salvage your marriage then you might start thinking about the meaning of trust, marriage, family and parenting. You might also think about the consequences of your behavior on yourself, your wife and your children. What about AIDS, have you been tested, are you putting yourself and/or your wife at risk? In order to effectively work on your marriage, I believe you would need to give up the other women, completely. Are you willing to do this?
There are some other soul searching questions you could contemplate and explore on your own. For example, how and why did your first marriage break-up? Were you having affairs then also? If so, then, you might think of this as a problem that can operate like a feedback loop that you need to break! If this is the case, and you don't understand how it works, you might re-consider the idea of therapy and think about getting some professional help for yourself. If you are not willing to stop the affairs, I don't think things are going to get better and, I would expect your marriage to become yet another divorce statistic. However, if you decide to stop seeing all the other women and understand why you were seeing them in the first place, and have effectively dealt with the guilt of deceiving your wife and family, you will then be in a position to begin to work on your marriage.
Have you carefully thought about how much time you are spending away from home and how that might be effecting you and your family? Is it too much, given that you have 2 small children? How do you feel about being away from home for long periods of time? Do you feel disconnected, or lonely? Do you understand how your wife feels? Are you aware that she is trying to tell you that she feels abandoned, neglected, and ignored? Keeping in mind that a quality marriage is a 2-party system, will you be able to discuss these issues with her. Can you both work at being more reasonable and open with each other and try to find solutions that will work for both of you? Will you be able to discuss and agree upon how often you need to be calling home? Will you be able to uphold your end of the agreements? Will she? Is bidding a different flight schedule an option?
Once you are better able to communicate and the fighting has subsided, you need to give yourselves the opportunity to get back in touch with the good loving feelings you once had for each other. You could consider making plans to spend some quality time together. Initially it would be best if you could spend time alone, without your children present. Perhaps you could start with a romantic dinner. If that goes well, you might schedule a romantic weekend, or even just an overnight, away together. If you are able to recover your love for each other, you could then begin to figure out how those feelings got lost in the first place. You might try to talk about what your marriage was like prior to having children. You could ponder and investigate when you first realized you were out of contact with each other and why you had difficulty communicating honestly and intimately about it then. You might try to learn about why and how you have ended up in a power struggle with one another, and figure out how not to end up there again.
I think it will be very important to examine yourselves and each other regarding issues of respect, equality, and what it means to be coupled. If the above approach doesn't succeed in getting your marriage back on track, try not to get discouraged. This is a lot for the two of you to attempt to accomplish on your own. If this is your experience, I think you might want to consider getting some marital therapy from an experienced professional. If you decide you want or need some help you may contact me and I will do my best to either advise or refer you. Good luck!