Hello Dr. G.,
Thank you for taking the time to read my question.
I am a 43 year-old, first generation Iranian-American woman who has been married for 12 years. Our relationship is on cruise control which given the status-quo is not a good thing. There is no sex, no touching, no kind and compassionate words–we only bicker and argue. It’s like we are bored of each other and only see the things we dislike about the other. I can’t figure out why I’m still here. I have thought about leaving many times but…I have yet to follow-through. As much as I hate our current dynamics, I’m also terrified of being alone. Would anyone even want to be with a divorced mother in her mid-40s?
We have both made attempts to discuss the state of affairs but inevitably those conversations regress into finger pointing and an all-out shouting match. We’re trying to stay out of each other’s hair but that’s easier said than done when you share a small house and are raising a 9 year-old together.
I feel lonely, frustrated and sad. I’m not sure what to do. Please help!
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I’m so sorry to hear about the state of your marriage. I wish I could say your story is unusual, but it’s actually not uncommon one at all. I have received so many emails like yours over the years. Perhaps we can take a step back and get some perspective. Let’s face it, life is stressful, and there are many demands on all of us at all times. We have financial obligations, a full-time job (if we are fortunate), family drama, child-raising responsibilities, health problems, and many more “things” to worry about, and this is not including our basic activities of daily living such as grocery shopping, laundry, food preparation, etc. And if we want to be healthy, then you can add in an hour every day for exercise, or yoga, or the occasional self-care activity such as massage, or a spa visit or hair appointment. We have a tendency to become complacent regardless of our relationship status. Whether single or married, we may lose a sense of self-efficacy and become overwhelmed with life.
Let’s start with the obvious non-negotiable. You have a 9 year old child, who needs his/her mother and father. So, it does not look like you’ll be able to start a new life without your husband in it in some form or “role” anytime in the new future. Newer research in the field of child development suggests that children actually make out pretty well when parents are happy, regardless of whether they are married or divorced. We also know now that if you take care of the basics, your kids will turn out to be pretty well-adjusted people. This means if you feed and clothe your kids, talk to them once in awhile, perhaps give them a hug every so often, take them to school and the doctor when necessary….they will be okay. We have to be pretty terrible parents to damage our kids…this means when grown children end up in a doctor’s office, it’s usually because they were emotionally, verbally, physically, or sexually abused in childhood, or severely neglected. Children can also have problems as they age when their home life is highly chaotic, or they have mentally ill parents, etc. In terms of marital dynamics between parents, children appear to be more damaged when parents are either fighting all the time, or completely cold and detached with one another. Remember, however you behave with each other becomes what you teach your children and what they come to understand is “normal.”
To keep it simple, you have two options here. You can separate from your husband and work out a shared custody situation, and then try to create your happiness. Or you can stay in your marriage, and try to create your happiness. Notice the trend here? Your happiness or unhappiness really has nothing to do with your husband. Happiness is an internal emotional state. It’s clear that neither you or your husband are happy, and it also appears that you may not be communicating effectively or in healthy ways. You leaving your marriage should have nothing to do with your marketability for the next (future) man in your life. That is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT. Being alone but happy is probably still preferable to being married but unhappy. But again, there is a way to work on being happy even in your marriage. And there’s also a chance that your happiness may be contagious and help the two of you get back on track. From your letter, I gather that you place a lot of weight on how your husband makes you feel, and what he does or says to you. It sounds like it might be time to shift the spotlight back to you. Do you have any Hobbies? Interests? Special skills? Have you educated yourself? Are you an interesting, confident, inspiring woman? Do you exercise daily? Do you do charity and random acts of kindness? Do you have a social support network of strong, wonderful women? Do you take good care of yourself (physically, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, professionally)? If you said NO to any of these questions, then you may have work to do on yourself first. Having a more multidimensional self-image will foster greater self-confidence, and that makes you feel sexier. When you feel sexier and more confident, then you signal to your partner that “Hey honey, the party’s over here!!!” And guess where he will want to be?
You may not have a lot of control over your husband and what or how he chooses to think, feel, or behave. But you have ALL the control over your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Changing your half of the equation could actually change EVERYTHING. Perhaps, especially because you have a child to think about, you may not want to make any impulsive or life-altering decisions before trying everything else first. Instead of looking to your environment to make or break the marriage, and instead of waiting on external factors (or people) to make you happy, try focusing internally and exploring your own life, it’s meaning and priorities. Your age and status as a mother will have no bearing whatsoever on finding a new life partner if you’re a smart, kind, loving, and confident woman. If you’re not a well-adjusted, well-rounded, and well-developed human being, then you’d still have some trouble even at 25 and with no kids.
The bottom line: Focus on YOU first. Spotlight back on you. Party over here!!! Then see where you are and go from there!
– Dr. G
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