May 05, 2008

A Loveless Marriage

This Friday I am going to turn 39. That sounds so strange to me. It is tough to believe that I could be describing myself. I can't be that old, that is almost 40 and I can't be more than 30, if that. Ok, I know the truth is that I am going to be 39. I have seen the birth certificate, been there for all of the birthdays etc.

What hits me about this is that when I think about my life experiences I have experienced or been exposed to so many "adult situations."

Weddings, Funerals, Children, Divorce- Is it just me or should that line be accompanied by a dirge.

The latest twist is the loveless marriage. During this past year two different friends have confessed that they are no longer in love with their spouses and have asked for my advice. They presented me with a very difficult situation.

They aren't in abusive relationships. I can't look at them and say that their spouse is a monster, ok, one is a stupid muppet, but...

Anyway the real rub here is that they have children and as good parents they're trying to evaluate what is in their children's best interests. It is not an easy choice to make. Do you stay unhappy and unfulfilled so that you can prevent heartache.

It is one thing to subjugate your need for a fancier car/home/vacation so that your children can attend private school, it is another to stifle your heart.

Life is so very short and I find myself torn. I am cautious in how I respond. I want them to make the hard decision to stay or to leave. But I can't say that I believe that every relationship is made to last forever.

I believe that some do. I know that sometimes you find that special person who completes you and that when you do you need to hold on to them. Don't let them get away.

But there are others whose time is more ephemeral. The question is how to identify which is which.

I mention this because I just finished speaking or should I say listening to my friend cry. It was heart wrenching to listen to her describe how she forced herself to engage in conjugal relations with a man she feels nothing for just to keep her boys family intact.

It felt like she was begging me to give her some sort of profound answer that would allow her to live with him, but I couldn't do it. I tread carefully and was cautious in my response. I want to say that she shouldn't condemn herself to floating through life and living out a jail sentence, but I don't know that it is my place to say it.

But the more I think about it, the more I believe that you have to find a balance, kids or not.

More on this later.

18 comments:

SuperRaizy said...

I found this post to be very interesting. I know what it feels like when love dies. I know what it feels like to have your marriage crumble around you. And I know what it feels like to have to pick up the pieces afterward. It's very, very hard, and when you have kids, it's a job that is never over.
Sometimes, love can die and then be reborn. It is worth trying anything to see if there is still a spark that can be rekindled. Once you head down the path of divorce, there's no going back. And it's a very difficult path, with no promise of happiness at the end. So your friend needs to be very sure before she makes that decision.
As for your role in this- it's not your place to tell her what to do. This is something she has to decide for herself.
I wish your friend the absolute best of luck. Please let us know what happens.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

This is a really hard one... I get it quite a bit, usually from people who are seeking a listening ear, or for ratification of decisions they have already made, whether they realize it or not.

One point that is important in many cases, but I'm never sure how to get it across in a way that won't sound judgmental: Some marriages spark into life and remain as huge bonfires. But in many if not most cases (from what I've seen), the love in a marriage builds from being together, being invested in each other, and going through life together. That takes a lot of work, and a lot more patience.

Divorce is sometimes appropriate, yes, and I would certainly never want someone to remain in an abusive situation - but, quite often, marital success simply depends on being willing to put in the investment rather than take what seems to be an easy way out.

FlutePrayer said...

I was married to abusive spouses (one for 7 years and one for 9 years) and twice divorced before I finally got some therapy. Sure, it was easy to blame the spouses (especially the one who brought prostitutes home when I wasn't there), but the question remained; why was I attracted to emotionally unavailable men? After almost 3 years of painful but extremely fruitful therapy, the reasons (and there were many, incest at a young age being high on the list)became clear. I remained single for a total of 11 years sorting myself out before I met and married my wonderful husband. I can almost guarantee that, unless your friends get their own houses in order, they will be repeating this scenario a few years down the road. I feel their pain and will be praying for strength and encouragement for all invovled.

Holy Hyrax said...

>and I can't be more than 30

After meeting you, I can testify that this is true :)

In the process of divorcing said...

Life's led one time, and the "balance" you refer to Jack is not static such that you attain it and the rest of life is on automatic pilot. The "balance" is attained with an eye to how much further sacrifice will be necessary to recalibrate the balance in the future based on the rate and quantity of sacrifices accumulated thusfar (that is, whether that balance is sustainable), and whether there are any obvious options that open up in the case of a divorce.

In my case, I made the assessment through a process of elimination - after having tried all else, and without obvious options available to me. But eventually, I think the above statement distills the options available to us - does your friend have a situation that's sustainable, and does she have options?

For most people, as another commentator said, there is no promise of happiness at the end, and the choice is that they gave to Socrates - "pick your poison". No doubt about it, divorce sucks. But most people I speak to who've been through it consoled me by saying eventually I will have been thankful I did it, and that I should have done it long ago. But another commentator is correct - it's a decision we can only make for ourselves, and so it ought to be, and the best thing we can do as friends is be supportive of those who are going through the horrible experience of being forced to choose love unrequited as the price for securing stability for our children. And, in the case of divorce, we ought to be supportive, too - I've been made to feel that I've thrown my children under the bus to gain hope for a better future by some. I'm able to tolerate that because I know how hard I tried to make my marriage work. But it's still nice to have people who are committed enough to their friendship with me to be supportive of whatever choices I make. I never knew before how good my friends were until now. They are very, very good and I appreciate having them now more than ever.

therapydoc said...

She's lucky to have you. You've told her, right, to get a therapist who does marital who can get him in, too? (surely she'll go without a battle)

You don't always love your spouse, is the truth.

You don't always anything over time.

FeministGal said...

found you via therapydoc.

"It felt like she was begging me to give her some sort of profound answer that would allow her to live with him, but I couldn't do it."

Or maybe she was asking you to give her permission to leave. Or asking herself for permission.

Sometimes when we think something is selfish (even though to others it might seem like the only option) we need others to tell us it's ok. Maybe she needs you to tell her it's ok to follow her heart and leave.

Maybe having a happy mom would be best for her boy, not staying in an unhappy marriage... i don't know. i'm also not married... so take that for what you will :)

Beth said...

I want to second Fluteprayer's comment. Until your friend identifies her own role in making her marriage what it is, the decision of whether to leave or not is secondary. Unless she knows how she got where she is, she has little chance of getting out, whether she remains married to this guy or not. At the same time, if the guy just shrugged and said, "Don't really know what happened" I RAN...in the other direction.

When I was dating after my own divorce, I always listened carefully to hear how someone described the disintegration of their marriage -- and how they described their own role. If the guy is "just the victim" and the "bad stuff" in the marriage was all about the ex (she was a monster, she was a witch, she spent too much, she didn't let me spend enough, etc etc), there was no second date.

You are a great friend for listening to her (it sounds like that's just what she is looking for.)

Tzipporah said...

Oof. At least she had someone to talk to. Great that you could be there to listen to her.

The marriages I've seen that have lasted all go through hard parts - sometimes, almost unbearably hard. At some point, one or both partners have to make the decision to stay or go, to face what's really going on head-on. In lasting marriages, the partners agree to both reinvest in the relationship, to make it a conscious priority.

Sometimes this means going through therapy on their own and/or together, or addressing external problems that are interfering with the relationship, or simply consciously changing their thought, speech and behavior patterns towards each other to create a more loving interaction.

And they all wonder whether it's working. But then, after a while (sometimes a long while), there's that "aha!" moment, when they look into their partner's eyes, and think, "oh! so that's where you were... I've missed you!"

You can't get back the person you first fell in love with, but sometimes you can find out who they have become, and meet them where there are now.

Jennifer said...

Unless you're a really good faker, the kids KNOW if their parents are in a loveless marriage.

My parents were married for 35 years. They didn't get divorced, but they were both screaming fighters, there hadn't been much romance between them in the first place and it had long died off by the time I was born. I always assumed as a child they were going to get divorced and I was shocked that they didn't. Watching my mother with her psuedo-boyfriend now (don't ask), being all cute and giggly and holding hands when they go down the street, is SUCH a contrast from what I grew up with.

So, on the one hand, yes, it sucks to rip up a home. On the other hand, you may produce someone like me who is genuinely shocked to this day to see married people actually want to be with each other.

Jack said...

As for your role in this- it's not your place to tell her what to do. This is something she has to decide for herself.

Raizy,

Absolutely.
This is a really hard one... I get it quite a bit, usually from people who are seeking a listening ear, or for ratification of decisions they have already made, whether they realize it or not.

I would suspect that this happens a lot. Most people want validation for anything they do.

I can almost guarantee that, unless your friends get their own houses in order, they will be repeating this scenario a few years down the road.

Makes sense. This is a big decision.

Hyrax,

;)

For most people, as another commentator said, there is no promise of happiness at the end, and the choice is that they gave to Socrates - "pick your poison".

There are no guarantees in life. But there does come a time in which you confront hard decisions. Putting them off doesn't aid happiness either.

You've told her, right, to get a therapist who does marital who can get him in, too? (surely she'll go without a battle)
We'll see what happens.

Maybe she needs you to tell her it's ok to follow her heart and leave.

Could be.

But if it is not working, it's time to get out because with time sadly it will only get worse.

Isn't that the truth.
When I was dating after my own divorce, I always listened carefully to hear how someone described the disintegration of their marriage -- and how they described their own role. If the guy is "just the victim" and the "bad stuff" in the marriage was all about the ex (she was a monster, she was a witch, she spent too much, she didn't let me spend enough, etc etc), there was no second date.

There are two sides to every story. If you can't take responsibility for your actions you shouldn't be married.

You can't get back the person you first fell in love with, but sometimes you can find out who they have become, and meet them where there are now.

Sometimes it works.

Unless you're a really good faker, the kids KNOW if their parents are in a loveless marriage.


Kids aren't given enough credit. They see what is happening around them.

Val said...

3+ years after making the heart wrenching decision to leave my partner of 22 years, I can honestly say it was the best thing I could have done for me AND my daughter.

It's more important for your children to have healthy relationship role models and what my ex & I had turned into something very unhealthy.

I want my daughter to see a happy, loving and respectful relationship so that she can know what to expect and hope for when she finds her special someone.

I could go on and on.
But it's good that your friends have someone like you to talk to about it all.

V-Grrrl said...

I've been married for 26 years, met my husband when I was only 17.

I could write a book on how my marriage has fulfilled and fallen short of my expectations over the years, and for the record, yes, there have been times when we've seriously considered separating. A few thoughts...

One of your commenters noted that finding balance is an ongoing process: SO TRUE! The equilibrium in a marriage constantly changes and sometimes it's hard to regain your balance. It may take a year or two to find a "sweet spot" again. That can feel like a very long time...

In relationships that have just gone flat (and are not plagued by big issues like infidelity or abuse), it's a mistake to dwell too much on "how things used to be" between you and your partner.

The truth is, you will never again be the people you were 20, 10, even five years ago. Everything (and everyone) changes.Letting go of a desire to return to some golden age in your past is the beginning of making a new future.

Consider who you are now, who your spouse is now, and how you might live together and renegotiate your relationship. Appreciate your history but don't let it be a ball and chain. You have to let go of the past, and look at your spouse with fresh eyes. Embrace change, don't resent it. Begin the process of figuring out whether you can have a life together NOW and what that life might look like. Too much energy is spent looking back and not enough on how you might move forward.

o.p. said...

i know exactly what your friend is going through. i came to that point myself when i was 36, after being married for 8 years. at that point our son was 6 years old. it's not that we fought a lot or didn't get along - the problem for me was he treated me like an assistant. at most it felt like we were just roommates. i was still in love with him but he ignored me completely, like i was disgusting physically (i'm not, i can guarantee).

it was extremely difficult for me to admit to myself that i wanted out of the marriage. but i'm catholic and divorce is unacceptable -- so i stuck it out, dragged the husband to couples therapy. i'm glad i did because now i can say that i tried everything. and we established without a doubt that he simply did not feel for me what i felt for him.

after that, i moved into the guest room, and i told him i would leave as soon as i finished my degree in town (one more year). it was the most economically sensible solution, and it would less abrupt for my son. he would have been content to stay married, he liked having someone cooking and cleaning and babysitting for him and looking good for office functions. but as for me, i wasn't even 40 yet, and with modern life spans the way they are, was i willing to live the remaining 40 of my life in a loveless marriage, just to not hurt other people's feelings (i.e., the in-laws, friends, my son)? what kind of bitter angry hateful person would i be then? that spurred me to stop worrying about the catholic thing and what other people thought. they (including my son) would simply have to get over it.

problem is, within a few months, my soon-to-be-ex started to get very ill and was diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer. that was 2 years ago. long story, but the short version is, i promised to stay while he went through the brutal treatment protocol. i even recommitted myself to him - because as i said the problem was not that i didn't love him, it was the other way around. anyway, as soon as he started to feel better, he went back to the same old sh*t, and that's when i finally fell out of love with him. (a few weeks later, an old love came back into my life, but that's another story).

eventually he was "cured," and i started fixing to leave. but then within 3 months it came back, this time with a vengeance, and it disabled him, and now it's terminal and in his brain. again i promised to stay - because what else could i do? regardless of the marriage, he was still my friend. and my son would never agree to leave under the circumstances. so i take care of his bodily functions now and help him move from one chair to another, etc. and to top it off, my boyfriend couldn't handle the terminal part and decided to be "just friends" for now (for his conscience).

it's been awful, and i've had days when i wished i had the guts to just put myself out of my misery. but i have my son so that always stops me from moving past idle self-pitying thoughts. and though my "exish" has not changed, in a major way we have become better friends. he even tried to intervene when my boyfriend dumped me, because he knew it would make his life easier if i was happy. but to no avail. though we never stood a chance of reconciling, and often he still treats me like the hired help, i am still the one person he trusts (over his own parents and siblings) to make those decisions for him when he no longer can. so i don't know what to call it, but at least it's on the positive side.

i guess in many ways i regret not simply leaving when i first thought of it, because now i'm "stuck." but the reality is that there was no way i could have just walked out, because all my assetts were/are tied up in the marriage. so here i am. i do see a therapist (i love her, she's great) and try to do other things to cope. most people would say i'm coping amazingly well. i'll be 40 later this year. i just try to remind myself every so often that i have the second half of my life waiting at the other end of all this darkness.

that's my story. i hope that whatever your friend decides, she does not end up with what i've got now. i would not wish this on my worst enemy.

Jewish Lady said...

Love is a verb and something you do to someone else.
Having sex with someone to preserve the family and marriage is love, although hard to recognize. But yes, that is love.

Jack said...

It's more important for your children to have healthy relationship role models

I couldn't agree more.

Too much energy is spent looking back and not enough on how you might move forward.

True, but sometimes the past is necessary for the future.

OP,

that is quite a story.

RivkA with a capital A said...

My father always said/says: "marriage is a lot of hard work"

Relationships require an investment of our time and energy.

Not all marriages can be saved. But if a marriage can be preserved, and improved, then the whole family benefits.

If a marriage is "good enough", then perhaps, with the right effort, it can get become "good" (maybe even "great").

We benefit from seeing the good in the people around us.

Sometimes it is the smallest acts of kindness which are the most tender expressions of love, and the easiest to miss.

Children also benefit from seeing their parents overcome difficulties and sticking together. Adversity can be a valuable lesson about committment... and love.

Anonymous said...

To Beth: Sometimes there is no disintegration of a marriage, because was no "integration" to start with.

My marriage began with a drunken weekend in Vegas, or it should have, because that's the only way I can explain it.

My spouse has simply lived with the freedom of an unmarried person with me paying the bills and taking verbal abuse. We never even shopped for the family Christmas gifts together. We stopped having intimacy with any frequency at all ten years ago. The number is so low I won't post it here, even anonymously.

I am not blameless; far from it, I shut up and allowed it to happen. I dutifully went along "for the kids."

I miss old girlfriends, but even more I miss me, for I have disappeared in this arrangement.

I know many, many couples who have divorced or separated, usually due to the roving eye of one of the partners. Why we have stayed together is a mystery to me.