Dear Dr. Tobin,
Is it normal for me and my husband to live totally separate lives? He has developed a whole persona at a job 50 miles from where we live. I have never met any of his co-workers and he has never invited me to his office. On two recent occasions he half-heartedly asked if I wanted to go to parties for coworkers of his, but since he has become a complete stranger to me, I thought it would be embarrassing to go to a party and see all of these people who know him so much better than I ever did.
I know your advice might be that I just try it and start to get to know one another again, but we've really never had a close relationship and I am not at all motivated to start developing one now. We're basically only staying together for our children's sake, but if we haven't touched one another or talked about anything in a natural or friendly way for years. How can that be a healthy or normal situation for our children to see?
Alone and Unhappy
Dear Alone and Unhappy,
You don't need me to answer that question. You know what you have to do. The real question is "Why do you remain in a loveless marriage?"
You say that you're staying together for the sake of the children. I don't buy it. Even you question the validity of that rationale.
You make a compelling case for leaving your husband. You've convinced me that your marriage has no future and that divorce is the only solution. For some reason, however, you can't convince yourself. Why? What's stopping you from getting on with your life? What's the fear that's preventing you from making the break? Is it financial? Is there some part of you that's still holding on to the hope that things might get better? Does the idea of being alone as a divorced woman terrify you?
I would encourage you to explore these questions. Counseling can help uncover the inner obstacles and fears. Perhaps you'll even discover that the marriage is not as dead as you thought. You make it clear that your relationship is distant and that you're unmotivated to improve it. I suspect that you're unmotivated because you don't believe it's possible to change it. You may be right.
I'll leave you with food for thought: Yes, your fear may be what's stopping you from calling it quits, and yes it's imperative that you address it. However, there may be something else, something that you haven't yet considered. Let's call it "being honest with yourself." Perhaps you have a sense, a vague discomfort, that's telling you that there's more you can and must do to save this marriage. Yet to try to engage your husband in a dialogue would be a risk. It would be easier to avoid the pain and humiliation of a possible rejection.
But if I'm correct in what I'm saying, then you owe it to yourself and to your children to find the courage to have a heart to heart discussion with your husband. Deal with the issues. Don't blame or accuse. See if he wants to end the marriage. If he says yes, then immediately get on with the business of divorce.
If, on the other hand, he says no, then ask him if he's content with the way things are. I would assume that the answer would be no. If the conversation goes in that direction, then I would suggest that you and he enter marital counseling.
You don't end a marriage until you've made all efforts to save it.
Dr. Michael Tobin