I am 43 and I have been married for 18 years. We have 3 children and the youngest is 10.
My husband and I are opposites. I am an extrovert and he is an introvert. We have had a lot of conflicts over this issue and sex. Sex is short with very little foreplay and it leaves me frustrated. I have been very forthcoming about what I need to have a satisfying emotional and sexual life and he has always discounted my feelings.
We have been going to marriage counselor for over a year but I have told him that I am considering a divorce. Now he is doing everything he can to try to make things right. He loves me, he's a good provider, he loves his kids. He's home every night, doesn't drink and he has been faithful. All of the above can be said about me too except that I don't love him anymore. I don't feel anything when he touches me and I don't miss him when he is away. I would rather be alone than with him most of the time. He wants to stay married to me and I think he would be lonely and lost without me, and this makes me feel sad and guilty.
Should I stay married to him even though I don't love him anymore? Is it selfish to divorce him and split up the family just because my needs are not being met?
You are reporting a dilemma that commonly plagues both men and women in your age bracket. The dilemma is as follows: Does your desire to experience happiness and satisfaction supersede what you perceive as the happiness and satisfaction of your family?
The short answer is, "you must decide this for yourself" as only you know what your needs are and no one else.
The long answer requires you to evaluate and balance a number of factors. These may become clearer when you consider and answer the following questions:
- What makes you think that if you and your husband divorce, your family's life will be ruined?
- What makes you think that only you are unhappy in the relationship?
- Is it not possible for there to be fulfilling life (albeit different) for everyone after divorce?
- What makes you think that divorce irrevocably destroys people's lives?
Aside from these issues, I think another important area for you to explore is your own feelings or lack of feelings for your husband? Based on my experience working with couples, I have found that most problems that "surface in the bedroom" have their origins elsewhere. What that means is that often times conflicts in other areas of life, present themselves as sexual problems because sex and sexual satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) are things that everyone is keenly aware of.
Your brief synopsis of your background suggests strongly that this may be the case for you. You indicate that you and your husband have had a lot of conflicts about the differences between you, especially sex. You noted that your husband discounts your feelings. At some level this must leave you feeling somewhat resentful at not being valued. If you don't feel as if your partner really cares about what is important to you, then you slowly start shutting down on their feelings. It sounds as if this may be what has happened in your case.
Research suggests that three risk factors for divorce are differences in the areas of values, finances and sex. From what you state, you already have differences in two of these areas: values and sex. My bet is that finances could also be part of the conflict as well. If these issues cannot be resolved, it is difficult for a marriage to survive because these areas represent important underpinnings of any intimate relationship. Certainly, compromises can be made in any one of these areas when two of the other areas are strongly compatible. However, this does not appear to be the case for you and your husband.
This leads to my question about how happy your husband really is in the relationship even though you report that he wants to stay married. I guess the question is why? Is it because as you suggest, that he would be lonely and lost without you? Is it the familiarity of the relationship and the comfort in being in a relationship that prevents him from considering the possibility of achieving happiness outside of the relationship?
It is quite possible that your husband does not feel as confident in looking beyond the relationship as you do. You describe yourselves as opposites with you being an extrovert and he being an introvert. That in itself explains in part, your husband's reluctance to leave the marriage. His wanting to stay married may have more to do with his fear of what change may bring than with being as unhappy as you are.
It is very stressful when faced with feeling little love for your partner, but also feeling responsible for his unhappiness and guilty for wanting to be happier. At the same time, a marriage as you envision it to be (being fulfilling emotionally and sexually), cannot exist without both of you being emotionally connected to each other. "Doing all the right things" is not enough when the feelings are not there. It is possible for you to fool your husband by pretending that you have feelings for him, but it is unlikely that you can fool yourself. Once you go through the process of evaluating the issues that I outlined, perhaps you can resolve your ambivalence and move to the next step of acceptance.
My hope is that perhaps your children will have a better relationship with both you and your husband apart in that they will no longer be exposed to the terrible conflict and abuse. As far as feeling guilty, forget it! By ending this relationship, you have given your children an opportunity to be exposed to a much healthier environment that is free of fighting and abuse. My best wishes to you.
My best to you.
This question has been answered by Dr. Reena Sommer is a family life consultant in private practice in Winnipeg, Canada. She heads Dr. Reena Sommer & Associates, a multidisciplinary group of professionals who offer a broad range of services to individuals, couples and families seeking assistance with interpersonal problems. Dr. Sommer' s area of expertise is working with clients experiencing difficulties during the process of divorce. Dr. Sommer combines a solution focused approach with elements of psycho-education to help clients develop effective coping strategies, manage the challenges of parenting and gain the tools needed to move on in life.For more information visit: http://www.reenasommerassociates.mb.ca/