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Mid-life crisis or marriage over (or both)?(26 Posts)
Is this what 40 feels like?
I do not like my job and I increasingly do it half-heartedly. It is very niche, took me 10 years to train for it, and impossible to move out of it without a drastic change of career. I am terrified of starting something from scratch, not least in terms of what that may mean financially.
I live in a nice house, entirely designed and decorated by my husband, that everyone compliments but that feels alien to me. I deal with the builders, he does the aesthetics.
We have two nice but complex kids; they both had undiagnosed problems for a long time from birth which made for a very stressful and miserable existence. #1 is finally doing better. #2 is extremely demanding and hard to manage; he is showing some developmental issues. Both kids adore their father and always prefer to be with him than me.
My marriage is difficult; it has been for a long time (6+ years out of 15). Husband is a very capable, highly intelligent, with impeccable taste in things, handsome, very involved father. He cooks often, is very tidy, plays with the kids, etc. Sadly, he has never found me ‘pretty’ (only ‘attractive’). He criticises every choice I make: not once, in all these years, have I chosen something for the house or for him or indeed for the kids that he has liked. At best, he only raises an eyebrow and tells me to agree to disagree. Same happens with many opinions.
Whenever I try to explain why this hurts and I feel undermined, he gets angry. Any sadness or tension on my part is met with ‘What have I done now?’ or ‘what do you want me to do?’. Occasionally, he will agree to whatever I suggested but pull never-ending faces. By that point, I doubt my choice and feel going ahead with whatever it is was just a dreadful mistake on my part.
We attempted counselling, at my request, a few years back. We only managed the assessment. It was horrendously bruising. When asked to list nice things he could about me and why he had fallen in love with me, all he said was that I was good at my job and a good mother (even though, in practice, he questions my mothering).
Delivering #1 completely destroyed my nether regions. Painful scars, added to other reproductive and urinary system problems, means very little, unpleasant sex. Twice a year may be an exaggeration. We do not have a sexual bond although we are affectionate outside the bed.
He brought up the issue of separation when #1 was a few months’ old; he suggested he would leave. We agreed to try to avoid it (see counselling above). We’ve been crawling along since. We are at a point now where I wonder whether to raise the possibility. I would be the one to leave. Children like him best and I know I could not cope with them alone. At the same time, I do not have the funds or the will power to take the step. I have been a close witness of a few divorces and do not think I could manage to swim through one without buckling completely. The kids do not deserve this and, as far as they know, all is fine but I suppose this will change over time.
I now feel completely trapped. On every front.
AIBU and I should just get my act together? Is this what most marriages are like at some point? Or am I just having a mid-life crisis?
THANK YOU for reading to the end; if anyone started reading the long post while young, they are probably middle aged by now...
He is never going to tell you anything but negatives, surprised you have lasted thing long, tell him you clearly cannot make each other happy so it's time to call it a day, wont you be able to sell the house, you are entitled to half of what he has?
He sounds devoid of any emotion or feelings, stop suffering at his hands and get out there and make a happy life for yourself.
It's not a mid life crisis, you are in a negative and unhappy relationship.
Just from reading your OP, I think you sound funny and self aware and he sounds like a nasty bully. Can you imagine a better life without him?
And don't compare yourself to anyone, if you want to split from someone you can, it's not that difficult.
It sounds as though you are being completely bulldozed as a person. You're there as a convenient and passive vessel for him (in all kinds of ways), not to have any view, opinion, or activity of your own.
I don't think you would be at all wrong to leave in the way you've suggested. To be honest, you sound like a woman who desperately needs some space for herself, and this would be one arrangement to give you that. I can't see why finances would be a particular problem either - you could downsize to a much smaller place, with just enough room for you and for the kids to stay over. It could also be the opportunity to retrain and do something you like a bit more with your time. I suspect that if you were feeling a bit more positive about yourself and your career, coping with the kids would be less of an issue. I also think that your husband might start to struggle more if he had to deal with the day-to-day reality a bit more, instead of swanning in for all the 'nice' bits of parenting and leaving you to struggle with the rest.
However, as an interim step, you could also consider boldly striking out on your own in some way. Decide to do something - even if it's just an evening class - and DO IT! Make everyone else work around you, just for a tiny amount of time each week. You may be surprised how it changes things.
shovetheholly, the bulldozing image makes sense. It does feel like that but what worries me is that he would probably say he feels similarly. He has told me he is scared of me. I have got angry and frustrated at him at times because of what I described above but I feel 'scared' is a big word. Maybe I am an over-sensitive looney and he is at the receving end of that. I am trying to work things through in my head because I do not want to be unfair to him. He is a good person but I find his all-round perfection overwhelming and obliterating.
I should clarify that he does not tell me off; he simply shoots everything down, often with persuasive arguments, which is what makes me feel capricious and lacking in common sense. He will not stop me from doing things (like the wall stickers I put in our kids' bedroom the other day) but he will look at them funnily; I know he disapproves but would not tell me 'they are ugly' or 'take them down'. He merely asserts his right to disagree... the problem is he does not like anything I come up with.
Jan45, I think he would be reasonable and generous on the financial front if we split but I am adamant I want to be my own person and not feel dependent on his money. We have both worked throughout our relationship and it felt bad enough to be supported while on maternity leave. I also would not want to feel he should have a say in how I use the money (too much heating, wrong clothes for kids, etc).
Morganly, that is a very good question! I am not sure I can imagine a better life. I think I lack the bravery required for that. It feels wrong to think life could be improved by abandoning my children. I feel I have screwed up big time and all I can attempt to to do is damage limitation.
Nobody would ever see him as a bully. He is so good at so many things and comes across as so gentle and reasonable that I am terrified of having to tell anyone I am stepping out. Nobody who knows him would believe me. Not even my parents... hence why the idea of a mid-life crisis turning me into an unreasonable wreck is spinning round my troubled head...
Why do you care what other people think, you are not abandoning your children, you are deciding to leave an unhappy relationship, it sounds dreadful OP, like you can't actually be yourself.
Being in a relationship, whether married or not should bring you added joy and contentment, what you have is hard work, more hard work, put downs. He sounds like he is in complete control of your every move.
The way you describe your husband is chillingly similar to mine.
The perfectionist argument is a really difficult one to get your head around. Nothing is ever quite right - it is undermining and soul destroying. You question your judgement in everything and so much headspace goes towards making a man happy who quite frankly will always find fault.
My perfectionist decided I wasn't perfect enough and had an affair so I kicked him out. I am far less stressed as a result. I please me and dd. i am much more relaxed with dd - I can focus on her and not spend my life tidying mess (always his) or cooking amazing meals for him to criticise.
I suspect the dynamics for all of you will change enormously should you decide to leave or kick him out. Your children's behaviour may change for the better without his negative presence around.
All I can say is despite the turmoil, I have found my voice again and peace since he left.
Thanks for letting me know your experience tomatoplantproject.
My perfectionist is highly unlikely to have an affair; I could be wrong but I doubt he would allow himself to slip from the moral high ground. He also does not socialise so if something happened I would sense it pretty soon.
The problem with my perfectionist is that he really is very good and efficient at everything he does. His cooking is amazing, he is impeccably tidy and does not like mess (if I forget/leave my pjs folded or hung in the bathroom, he will hang them in hangers and put them in the wardrobe). I used to have a reputation for being tidy but I now feel like a slob. I hate him relocating my every belonging he thinks is out of place.
As for the kids, he is very forgiving of them, particularly DD. She can do no wrong so the negative presence (taking care of the NOs) is me. I am quite strict with things like chocolate but he always says yes. The kids have a better dynamic when I am not around spoiling the party. If I leave, I know I will have to accept his choices to not mess them up or totally turn them against me. No kid in the right mind enjoys weekend with the stricter parent that does not give in easily.
This is helping to make me think a little. Thanks everyone.
No, 40 doesn't have to feel like that. 40 should feel like you care less about what others think.
I would start with a room that is yours. Is it possible to have a room/space/shed that is yours to do what you like with? Preferably one that your husband doesn't look at, so that you can't see his face? Somewhere you can leave stuff around with no comeback? In my case that would be tricky, though we do have a shed. In our case, it's my husband's tidy haven from my chaos which infests the rest of the house.
Then I would think about taking the kids away for a trip/long weekend, just you and them. Camping, or a trip abroad if you have the money, or a static caravan to walk up a Snowdonia peak, or at worst/best a trip to see a relative, preferably one in your family with a relaxed attitude to hygiene and small children. Just spend a bit of time with them making your own plans and following them through.
Then I would look seriously at retraining, or might even talk to a life coach about using the transferable skills that you have - however niche your current role, you do have some, and you do have choices.
I've ignored your relationship because I think you are so short of space which is yours in your life. I do think that if you had somewhere to stand that was uncomplicatedly yours, you could make decisions that worked for you. I have to say it is hard to see at the moment how your relationship can survive, or whether it should, but your posts make it sound as if you are very depressed (not surprising) and that's not a good place to make decisions.
Have you had any medical review at all? Or are you fed up of medical interference?
My perfectionist thought he could perfectly get away with the perfect affair. He is desperate to get the moral high ground back.
I understand how it is very easy to lose your own opinions and your own sense of self because you are living with someone whose taste is more perfect, more refined. It is suffocating.
I did not realise quite how suffocated I was until I had to take a step back and start working things through. I'm not suggesting you will be cheated on but I recognise that suffocation and sense of despair.
I also know I am a more chilled person and a better mother not having my headspace taken up with keeping up standards.
I would be criticised for feeding dd with things like smoothies because of the sugar content, yet he feeds her chocolate icecream. The double standards are astonishing.
I just want you to know that you are ok. It is ok to be a bit messy. It is ok to have silly childish things in the house for the childrens enjoyment. It is ok to get ready meals sometimes and to have easy food. And ok is more than enough.
Thank you annandale for your very helpful ideas. I do have a tiny office at home where I work in the evenings. It is not 'mine' but it is where all the house's paperwork, kids' crafts, etc ends up. Your message has made me realise that I need to change my thinking and try to claim ownership of the place. I know my husband hates the room and I do feel bad that I know it is messy and feels like a reflection of my 'failures'... but I suppose I just need to try and raise above that.
As for a weekend away, well, it is unlikely. My kids are four and two, I do not have a car and I find any 'expeditions', however small, exhausting. the 2yr old is in the middle of the 'terrible twos' and crying hits every ten to fifteen minutes at the moment. I think I would probably lose the little cool I have left all to quickly. All my relatives are abroad and well, the ones I could stay with have more demanding standards than my husband, so... no.
As for medical help, well, that is a long, boring story. I have various medical conditions and there are lots of drugs I cannot take so the idea of having to see a doctor about anything else on top of the current regime seems unappealing (perhaps unreasonably but, as I said, there is a long story behind it).
Thank you also tomatoplantproject for sharing your own experiences which, yes, sound familiar down to the chocolate icecream and the double standards. I am glad you manage to escape the suffocation and enjoy motherhood more. Onwards and upwards for you!
You have all given me some good ideas and, most importantly, a sense of space. You are all right that I need to find some and this post has been a start. As I write, I realise how I never do anything (even posting) which has not got to do with my work, the kids or the house. I can count with the fingers of one hand how many times I have seen friends in the last year... and I have three left...
Something has to change! Thanks for pushing me gently.
Perhaps one way of dealing with this would be to explain how his perfectionism comes over as undermining and persistent criticism? I.e. to take what he has defined as the moral highground and turn it into the foundation of your criticism? It sounds to me as though you are far too accepting of his 'perfectness' even though it's really controlling and suffocating for you. I'm interested that you say that your relatives are similar to him - can we include parents in that? If so, might it explain how his behaviour might key into long-establish patterns of you struggling with self-worth in the face of persistent and nagging criticism?
I know that your experience of counselling previously was very decimating to your confidence, but I honestly would suggest challenging him gently in the presence of a counsellor, so that you have someone there who can adjudicate and open his mind to the possibility that there are other ways of being than his, and no single standard of rightness or wrongness in the world! (I think one of the hardest things about counselling is that we often only go when we are really desperate, and then before we can access it, there is all this assessment and basic explanation of the problem... and it is exhausting and demoralising before you've even got started! However, if you get through that, and the talking can start, then you may actually make speedier progress than you think. That form, where he could think of nothing good about you might suddenly become a long list in his mind).
And DEFINITELY start to peg out some space for yourself
- claim that space in your house. And make it clear that you do not welcome any comment (overt or concealed) on its state!
- make plans to see friends at least once a week
- start a class or an activity that you want to do for yourself and do this as many times a week as you can reasonably fit in!
shovetheholly: yes, I married my mother! I realised that a while back and can see why I probably did it and why it was not the cleverest move. Out of the frying pan, etc.
He is not perfect, of course and, as I think I have explained, to me, he seems rather incompetent on the emotional front. He is, however, pretty amazing at everything else, particularly when it comes to brain and hands stuff. He just got lucky on the gene front when it comes to abilities and looks.
As for counselling, well, the cost and logistics involved are just too great: we live in London and the cost of a session (even with Relate) plus childcare is significant.
I now am going to reveal myself as a pathetic character: I do not have any friends who live nearby (less than an hour and a half+ away). I work most evenings and spend very little time with the kids so going out or doing a class seems almost impossible without restricting that even more... but I am thinking I will try to see if I can find some CBT person or similar nearby who may help me to gather some strength once every couple of weeks or so.
Not having friends really isn't pathetic at all, but rather a sign of how little time you've had for yourself and how little you have considered yourself worthy of spending time on. I am sure that if you got out there with the intention of meeting new people (and the energy to do so) you would make loads of new friends. You sound absolutely lovely, but drained to the point of exhaustion.
Perhaps one answer is to find things that are happening during the day, that you can get along to? It might be a sewing class or degree-level Russian, or anything in between. If there isn't already a Meetup group that caters to your interests over the 9-5, they why not try to make one? (Streetlife can also be good for this). I will bet you anything you're not the only person in that big ole city with your interests who sometimes feels hopeless and lonely in the day.
I'd also say that I think you're right that however bright and creative someone is, having pieces missing on the emotional front is a pretty big deal. What I was trying to say, and not articulating very well, is that you sound a bit star-struck by him, rather than being his day-to-day partner.
Anyway, I wonder if this role of being his fangirl and chief cheerleader is one that he has 'given' to you in your relationship - and whether you've provided quite a lot of ego-support to him, to the exhaustion of your own sense of self-worth? (Have a read of this. It doesn't apply directly to your situation - you're not a sugar-baby, thank goodness! - but what the author says about massaging male ego being an exhausting and unfulfilling job might ring true. Or it might not! thenewinquiry.com/essays/letter-to-a-young-baby/). My point is that however brightly his light shines, it ought not to mean that yours is correspondingly dimmed.
shovetheholly: I often have to leave the house by 7:15 and get back around 6 or 6:30 pm. Such is the London life (and certainly not just for me). There are times in the year when I can work from home the whole day and although I do similar hours, things are more flexible and I make a point of rearranging things to spend more time with the kids.
I am full of admiration for women who manage (paid) work, kids, house and a social life. Some even dry their hair and put on mascara. And/or watch TV/read books! I must have missed the school lesson in which the magic words were taught.
I have been his fan girl, that is for sure. I do admire my husband and I think that is probably not unusual or unhealthy in itself. What may be less usual is for a loving husband not to be starstruck at all by his wife. I thought most thought (at least in the good times) that their wives were gorgeous... my husband never thought this, which is sad. I know I am pretty middle of the road and look quite battered for my age but it would be good if he could suspend objectivity on ocassion. Anyway, I take your point and agree that I need to look for what my strengths may be.
The link sadly did not work so I have not read the words of wisdom you suggested.
Lots of good ideas here - I'd add that your kids are very young and demanding and when they start school it could be easier for you. It sounds like you are both trying to do your best for the kids and are worn out. I think counselling again (yes it is tough) and rethinking work, other interests could all help - you sound exhausted. Is a sabbatical an option? Also the sex / no ones fault but it can't help your bond - can any gp help or is that not an option.
I think you could be at a positive MOT stage where you both think what can we change to make us both happier.
I would be really careful about giving up your kids because your husband has bullied all the confidence out of you. He's got you doubting your capabilities as a mother and worrying they prefer him.
Your kids may superficially appear to enjoy being around a parent who never says no, who wouldn't at that age, but they are much better off with a parent who says no and sets boundaries.
I think children have deep bonds with their mothers purely on the basis of having grown inside their bodies and being fed either breast or formula. Walking away would be a massive rupture for them.
You sound very low and that's a bad place to be making life-changing decisions from.
I'm deeply unimpressed by your husband. I've renovated and designed several houses myself, I can cook, I'm generally tidy, why is this worthy of any kind of pedestal? They're just bog-standard capabilities. The only reason you feel towards him the way you do is because he's manipulated you to.
He seems to have an inflated sense of self worth which he has encouraged you to massage, it seems to come at your expense, which it often does with narcissists - their self esteem is often predatory - ie they make themselves feel good by subtly undermining other people. You believe he is superior because he does, and he maintains this hierarchy to the cost of your self-confidence.
I think could do with some therapy if you could find the time for it, but not with him, I think you need to figure out what you want on your own.
There are some great books you can read about this, why does he do that, they f*&K you up and living with the narcissist.
Please don't believe they prefer him to you, you've been brow beaten into believing a narrative that simply isn't true.
Your so called "perfect" DH is not that perfect if he doesn't put your welfare first and try to remember that no-one died and made him the centre of the universe.
Please see if you can get some real life help you need to find you before making any big decisions
purpleme - so you are out all day at work for 12 hours, and you then turn around to be a mum to two very young kids, one of whom may have SEN? And on top of that, you're an adoring wife? To me, you sound like a superheroine. I think you would to most women, actually. What I'm trying to say is that, from my perspective, you look remarkable and all shades of amazing, and that there is something wrong if you don't feel that about yourself (in spite of being exhausted by aforementioned superheroineness).
I understand the pressures of life in London, with housing and transport and childcare being so expensive. I used to live there myself, and I vividly remember the feeling of utter exhaustion generated just by working and commuting each day. I also realise that your husband is clearly very involved in houses, maybe architecture, interior design so 'home' is likely to be very personal for your family. But is there any way that you can scale back at all to give yourself less time at work and more time doing things that you actually want to do? You mentioned in your first post that you don't really enjoy your job any more and that this is an element in you feeling so trapped - so what about a career change or even a move elsewhere in the country to somewhere with cheaper housing - so that your costs are reduced and you can make a fresh start? Is there a way of making that happen or is it impossible for you for logistical reasons?
for you. However much your DH doesn't appreciate you (and he can go suck it), we think you're great and amazing.
Thanks, Twinklestein. I agree I am not in a good place to be making major decisions.
As for the mother-child bond, well, that is a bit of a Pandora's box. I thought that would be the case. Then I had a child who, two days after birth, would scream wildly every time I picked her up. I tried to BF. She would push me off. She lost too much weight and I was told to start bottles: GP and health visitors told me I had not enough milk and was being irresponsible. It was very difficult. DD did not like me bottle feeding her and, for all my efforts, she only went on the breast reluctanctly. The time she threw up blood because my nipples were so cracked made me realise it was better to stop. In the meantime, my mother took over feeding during the day, 'to help'. My husband would give the bottles at night, after a few horrid minutes of offering the breast. That bond everyone talks about never quite developed.
There were similar and additional issues involved with number 2 but it was not a love story either. The first thing he often does when I go into his room in the morning is asking for Daddy. It is the same if I pick him up at nursery.
I have been very stressed out for a long time and that has not brought the best out of me; I probably give out really bad vibes. I can see why the kids have a better bond with their father. It is partly my fault, part circumstances, but you cannot force a person to like someone.
I do think my children love me but I also know I have to work harder at building that love.
Which brings me back to all the good advice about getting help... for which, thank you.
shovetheholly: you make me laugh. That is a big thing! THANK YOU!
A move would not really help right now. Husband's job is even more specialised than mine so, if we don't separate, London is pretty much the only place where we can be.
A career change is something I have been thinking about for a while but have no idea which way to go. I happen to do what I said I wanted to do when I was in my early teens so it would be a major departure. I just think I need to be in a better mental place to make a sensible move, particularly if I think the time may come when I become the only breadwinner.
Sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds like you are in a massively unbalanced marriage that is having a dire effect on how your regard yourself.
With regards to parenting, I think that balance is essential. Of course your husband is popular with your kids if he is always the fun parent that doesn't say no. But someone has to say no, and it shouldn't always be you. My wife and I play no particular good cop / bad cop routine, but we do find it hard to enforce discipline with our toddler from time to time, and often this is a result of us not putting our foot down at the right time. Both parents have to take responsibility for this, and it sounds like you are putting all of this on your shoulders.
As for making a career change, without knowing your precise profession it's hard to advise, but I would say that it is worth simply putting together a CV and having a look around. I recently made a fairly big career change (broadly the same field, but public sector to private sector) and it happened organically. There was no "light bulb" moment. I had spent 11 years in the same place and was intrigued by what was out there as I hadn't looked for so long. That led me down a different path. Perhaps it is worth you having a look above the trenches.
I agree with the other responses - now doesn't seem like a great time to be making potentially life-changing decisions about your marriage. That said, if this situation continues, and nothing changes, then I would strongly consider separating. I think a good marriage is one in which both people have the freedom and space to express themselves and to develop. It sounds like you are completely suffocated at this point. You'd also hope that both partners would want to learn from each other, and your husband doesn't seem to think there is anything he can learn from you (which is, of course nonsense).
Don't spend the rest of your life in this situation, slowly blaming yourself more and more.
I wonder if you suffered from PND after your DC1. How you describe the traumatic breastfeeding and the feeling of the lack of bonding rings so true with how I felt after DS2 and I did have PND. It's difficult to recognise sometimes while you're so bogged down in the day to day grind of daily life.
DS2 & I probably didn't bond until he was about 6 (sorry if this is bad news) but the good news is that he's now 17 and we have a fabulous relationship.
Anyway back to you. You sound utterly exhausted and as though you are facing an uphill struggle every day, while you've been given lots of practical advice if you just don't have the energy it's hard to see the wood for the trees. Try to look after your diet keep your energy levels up and don't despair over what you see as your DCs preference for their dad, sometimes the parent a child feels closest to is the one whose presence they take for granted, there is no need to ask for you as you are always there.
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