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Occasionally dysfunctional marriage - Help me understand! Bit Long.(57 Posts)
I've often thought about posting this. For years. The difficulty is that I am not sure how to frame it, or indeed whats is relevant. Here goes -
Bit of background. I have been married for 16 years, three children under 14. I am a SAHD having resigned from a good job (merchant bank) to become a SAHD. DW has a demanding job. We moved from the UK some years ago and live in Europe.
DW had an affair. We wouldn't be together now were it not for a poster here (WhenWillIFeelNormal), sadly she seems to have left. The affair lasted 2 years or so and ended 5 years ago. I still think about it most days. I arranged relationship counselling which helped me greatly at the time but DW, it turns out, only pretended. Perhaps that's unfair, she went along with it for my sake but only for a couple of sessions. Later she simply said 'I don't do talking'. It's like the repair/recovery process was nothing to do with her.
There are times - be they hours, or several days, where DW & I barely talk. I'm afraid they're usually triggered by sexual frustration on my part, but they can also just creep up on us. I don't know what is going on in her mind during these periods but she makes no effort to discuss or question why there's an atmosphere, because by that time whatever triggered the awkwardness has probably gone. DW would either quietly get on with whatever she needs / wants to do, or be chirpy. We will only talk in short sentences about everyday things (kids, job, weather). Essentially anything except broach the subject and the bloody great elephant in the room. During these times I struggle. I resent her, actively dislike her, and just want to have a relationship where there is openness, fun, and mutual support if something is clearly not right. We have evolved into a position where these episodes are never discussed, and they fade away as we start to behave more healthily. I have learned that I am not very effective at communicating either, because I can be too candid, too 'solution focused'. I get frustrated. So now I know better. It's not a healthy situation.
Our sex life is awkward. DW generally doesn't have the confidence to initiate, I am (yet another) one of those that tries to initiate less and less for fear of rejection. DW could feel as randy as a goat but would lie in bed motionless. I have a higher libido than her so, yes, I do get very frustrated. I try not to make a big deal of it but I know I can become huffy or withdrawn occasionally. When it does happen it's fine or great, although the 'repertoire' is very limited, to the point that it is almost exactly the same each time. We both know we're incompatible in this way but we muddle along well enough.
So, there's some mess that could be addressed. We are fine and happy a lot of the time - is that enough? We are very lucky in many important ways. But these periods seem so damaging and the fact that I resent her during them worries me very much.
I think I should look to myself first - I have as many limitations as DW, they're just different ones. We can't change who we are so I guess I need to help in managing or understanding better.
I know this is all a bit vague, but any thoughts would be appreciated.
"Fine and happy a lot of the time" = "suppressing the real issues".
I'd say your marriage is over. Your DW is managing you as she would any domestic staff. Dismal sex is eroding your self respect and respect for each other. "Doesn't do talking"? No, she doesn't do talking to you.
Ouch. Is it no longer fashionable to focus on the positives, try to make relationships work and accept that we can't be in a Hollywood romance everyday? I guess I ought to have added that LTB is not on my radar. Sorry if that sounds harsh, I appreciate your view. A limited sex life is an effect not the cause.
Having said that, I definitely agree that issues are suppressed. As far as I can tell, DW, for all her strengths and positives, was royally screwed up by her parents' acrimonious divorce, and some fairly poor parenting while she was a child & in her teens. She learnt to stay quiet, not discuss things. It created a simple resolve I suppose. As a result repression and suppression are just part of her character. I'd love for her to work through these things with someone who knows exactly how to help, and become free of them, they weigh heavily. She won't do it though. Sees no need - there are numerous anecdotes about seeing an analyst for years on end only to end up partially understanding your own psychology & naval gazing for the rest of your life!
I see it as something we both need to deal with - but the first step is for DW to recognise it as a problem that can be dealt with, or at least minimised. I don't have the skill or understanding to tackle it myself. So we're a bit stuck. Hence the post. We either carry on as we are and I put up with these episodes (yes, they're mainly self inflicted when I'm feeling sorry for myself) whilst she is either fully aware & ignoring it, or she is blissfully unaware of how deep it goes and how important is it to me, knowing it'll blow over. Until the next time...
Disgrace Breath-takingly embittered and premature response.
Definitely don't see myself as a martyr, just a guy in a marriage that has cracks which have been papered over thus far, and I'm looking for a way to help get the communication right. It's our weakest point.
Re getting someone else to change being impossible - is it really that much of a dead end? Surely one person can help enable to the other to help themselves? The brick wall here is that I don't believe she sees that there is enough of a problem to make the effort. Perhaps she's right?!
What went on during the affair: I'm pretty sure she told me everything, and it wasn't the steamy sordid shag-fest that you may be assuming. It was largely an emotional affair but yes, there were things they got up to that were and remain extremely difficult to square away.
Is this what kills a marriage? Really? I know everyone has their own limits but I see my marriage as tarnished, occasionally dysfunctional, but overall I'm either being naive & in denial or there's no way we would divorce. We have great times, live a life that (on paper) most would envy, fantastic kids etc.. I love DW very much. Can't get enough of her actually.
Is there a gentle, clear way to discuss these episodes so that at least I can feel I have got her to think about them objectively? Or do I just carry on & make the best of it?
OP you sound like a nice man who is trying his best to save his marriage...
I am not part of the instant LTB brigade that seems to exist on here but all I would say is maybe think about why she had the affair in the first place? You say it was emotional which in some ways is worse than just a sex affair and it went on for 2 years? that is a long time... not just any flash in the pan. Has she gone into this with you at all, and there must have been some sex involved and if she now 'lies in bed motionless' even when in the mood for sex it doesn't sound great does it?
The problem seems to be that your wife has done nothing to repair the damage she caused. The reason an affair is so damaging is that it doesn't ever go away, especially if the person who was cheated on isn't open about it and doesn't allow you to ask a million questions, and isn't genuinely sorry.
There is a thread on here at the moment which asks at which point you realised taking someone back was the wrong choice or something similar. In brief I don't think you can ever get over an affair - and in your case it's never going to happen because she quite simply isn't sorry. Once your children have left home your marriage will be finished anyway I suspect.
It depends which European country you are in and where you get divorced. You have to be resident in the UK for the last 6 months before you can get a divorce there, but in your interests it would almost certainly be better to be divorced in the UK where your years as a SAHD and the fact you gave up a good career would be taken into account.
For example in France you would currently get full time residency of your children apart from half the hols and every other weekend. Your wife would have to pay maintenance for the children and would probably have to pay you a stipend - but quite a small one. In France divorce is a no fault affair. The infidelity is irrelevant. If you lived in the UK it would almost definitely cost her more, and then some, with probably the same access to the children, so half the hols and EOW.
In your shoes I would go and get some proper legal advice and once I knew which way was up I would tell her that you are prepared to make one last attempt at saving the marriage but at least 50% of the effort has to come from her. If she had any idea of what she faced losing I doubt she would treat you with quite such breathtaking complacency.
I'm afraid the time for talking is almost definitely past. Time to get some real legal knowledge of your situation, and change the balance of power a bit.
Sorry OP, but if it was "largely an emotional affair" then she clearly DOES talk, just not to you. And she doesn't really embrace sex with you either.
Your wife needs to understand what a big deal this whole thing - emotional distance as much as lack of intimacy and sex - is for you and then you both need to decide whether you work on it together, separate or you accept the status quo.
She gradually got absorbed into the affair - friendship with colleague at the beginning. Numpty here suspected nothing. You're right, the emotional side of it was a killer. The physical stuff is traumatic to recall, recalling the emotional element has the effect of switching me off like a lightbulb. BUT, shit happens. It's how we deal with it that counts. I can't say I trust her in the way I ought to as a husband but that's the price I pay. I can live with that, much to my surprise.
DW's approach is that is was the most god awful mistake, she became 'someone else'. She was curious. She ended it before I discovered it. And so on.
I hadn't figured on this focusing on sex. But to clarify, I was a bit unfair to her. She has a low libido. Mine isn't massively high but it's higher than DW. There are a whole bunch of things I'm up for that she is not. Big deal. She can and does initiate but very rarely, and even then it is subtle to the point of my not knowing if her foot against mine is an accident, a friendly thing, or a signal. Obviously she has 'had her moments' and been filthy and fun and uninhibited. But that'd be every 2-3 years! So, is sex an issue? Absolutely. Marriage killer? I've lived with it for 20 years so probably not.
It's very difficult to have a relationship with someone who doesn't 'do talking'.
If you tried counselling and she didn't engage, then you have 3 options:
1) continue as you are
2) get divorced
3) have an open marriage whereby you live and parent together but are in sexual relationships with other people.
Given the communication difficulties within the marriage, I think 3) would likely lead to 2).
Xpost - its interesting given that she has the lower libido that she's the one who had an affair.
I wonder if it was primarily an emoji a thing? It sounds as if she may find your setup as emotionally unfulfilling as you do.
I don't think you sound like a martyr, but I do think you have few options. If you're not wanting a divorce etc, then what else is there to do but put up with it for another few years? Bit depressing, sorry.
What do you see as the solution?
The affair lasted 2 years or so and ended 5 years ago. I still think about it most days.
Most days? Dude, that's not right. You should not still be dwelling on this, and I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say you need something more to occupy your mind. You've been together a long time so I'm guessing your kids are at school - can you start getting out more, create some hobbies, part time work, volunteering?
Of course I'm only guessing here, but it sounds like you're dwelling on old feelings that didn't get properly resolved at the time, you begin to think negatively about things (including your current unsatisfying sex life), you become resentful and cold with your wife, then you get more annoyed because she isn't saying "What's the matter?", she's just carrying on as normal (which, as you pointed out, her childhood taught her to do - and to be fair, jollying someone out of a sulk isn't something any adult should have to do with their partner.)
Re your sex life, or lack of it: you being resentful and cold because you're not getting the quality or quantity you'd like is like a bucket of even colder water over your wife's libido. It's about as attractive as scrubbing vomit off the floor. So if you want more sex, you have to address that part of yourself from your side.
The problem is, your wife seems completely disengaged emotionally with the marriage. She didn't engage with the counselling. She doesn't engage when you try to talk to her about your feelings and the future.
You might shock her into action with an ultimatum, of course. "We need to start communicating because this is making me so sad that I'm thinking of divorce" might push her into a proper attempt to engage in counselling, including going back over old ground of the affair, if that's what you need. But the flipside of that is that she might say "OK, let's split" because the idea of opening up emotionally, to her, is so painful that divorce would be a better option.
Good luck. You have my sympathy trying to deal with this.
Oh crap. I've re-read posts and agree I am coming across as bit of a martyr. I think that's more my current state of mind than anything else.
Apologies for the mis-use of dysfunctional.
Divorce ain't going to happen, but I appreciate all the advice on that front.
KatelynB your comment about loss of respect if she senses a martyr vibe - good point well made. Most of the time that wouldn't be the case, but sure, I do sometimes feel I've sacrificed a lot and put daily effort into making her life easier without it being returned. Bit selfish, that. DW works bloody hard and provides for the whole family and doesn't spend as much time with the kids as she'd like. So we've both got our roles & sacrifices and it works. It's normal, no?
She is sorry for what happened. Genuinely remorseful. I f she had it in her to make reparations at the time or now I know she would.
I think I understand her fairly well. But I can't understand what it must be like to suppress important thoughts and feelings. This is where I am struggling. It's not about changing her, it's about sweeping away these awful episodes through the magic of knowing how to articulate it to her in a non confrontational way.
Pocketsaviour: Getting pretty close with that. Need to consider those points. Thanks.
Oh, and FWIW sex life isn't as crap as I appear to have made out.
I need to leave MN for while. Back later & thanks for the help, all.
I think you need counselling, for yourself and hopefully with your wife. There is a lot going on here and I think you need professional help to unravel it all. It's worth a shot before you even think about separation/divorce. Good luck!
I don't think you come across as a martyr, I think you come across as resigned which is not quite the same thing.
I totally agree that you need a life outside the home, and would benefit a) from a job and b) from therapy for yourself.
Can you work in your old field in your resident country? Would you need to retrain? Or could you train for something completely new?
SAHPs of either gender can end up overly focused on the working partner because that's the key source of adult interaction in their life. More so perhaps in a foreign country, when you don't have family and old friends around you.
I don't think you can fix this relationship because I think your wife's approach is just too dysfunctional. She's not going to change, and no amount of you telling her she needs to will make her see that. You're just going to have to accept her as she is.
If you want to stay in this marriage, why not negotiate a new contract between you of cohabiting parents, each with a discreet relationship on the side? That way you're not pestering your wife for sex, which should smooth things between the two of you and she's not required to take part in an interactive, emotionally supportive relationship which seems to be beyond her.
Have you tried ' assertiveness training ' making more demands without being aggressive or confrontational ...but still
Is you relationship in a comfortable rut
My husband is good at using humour when dealing with me...(I'm the bossy breadwinner and cover up my vulnerabilities with shouty/ bossy ) but I still want/ need him to keep the balance of power by being assertive with me ....sometimes he dances round the kitchen like he's in a boxing ring ...makes me laugh breaks the tension ...I'm not suggesting this exactly but some thing to break up the routine of not talking ...you know her well enough .....try a new tactic must be awfully boring( painful) for both of you not ever really making contact
Sparks need to fly ...for the sex to improve
Sorry for harshing on you OP. It was the "doesn't do talking". DW and I have had our problems, but we never stopped talking.
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