- Dr. Love in the Media
Being a Widow is Easier Than Being a Divorcee
October 26, 2003 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
I've been married for 26 years. Within 6 months after getting married at the age of 20, I thought I'd made a mistake, but decided to try to make it work. Then I became a Christian and we had 2 children.
My husband came from an abusive childhood and learned at an early age to shut down emotionally, well, he never learned to take the walls down. He has been somewhat emotionally abusive to me over the years, but I stuck it out because of my faith, and for the kids (now, 21 and 23).
I have learned how to assert myself so if and when he does say hurtful things, I can challenge him and then get past it. And honestly, he does not do it like he did in the past, maybe because my reactions are so different. The first 5 years of our marriage, I hoped he would open up to me, at the 10 year mark I was starting to seriously doubt he could, and at the 15 year mark I realized he never could.
I guess I adopted an attitude of resignation. I went through a serious depression about 5 years ago - due to deaths in the family and a mental health diagnosis for one of our kids and our marriage - and have been on medication for about 3 years now. It is helping me, but I am so out of love with my husband. I think I have been for a very long time, but kept trying to talk myself out of it (or into it).
Our sex life has always been somewhat physically satisfying, except he always wanted more than I did, but because I didn't feel emotionally connected to him I wasn't much in the mood. Privately, now I have the attitude of 'just do it and get it over with, ' but what amazes me is that he doesn't seem to think we have a problem (except that we don't have sex enough).
I have talked to him for the last 20 years about my need for emotional intimacy, and he always counters that if we had more sex we would be more emotionally intimate, though I don't think that 's true. We have tried marriage counseling but he wasn't honest with the counselor so nothing really came of it.
I know I should divorce him, but I agonize over how the kids (! ) would take it, and how I would be viewed as a Christian. Also, we have so much history together.
I have been thinking that if he died, it would make things easier. Isn't that terrible that I feel like that is my only out? (Not that I would make it happen! ) And I would be sad because we have been together for so long, but it would simplify things. Then I would just be a widow, and not a divorcee.
Anyway, I do have fantasies of someday having someone be connected to me, emotionally and physically, and I feel like I would have so much to give this person. Because a part of me has been dead for so long, it would be like a blossoming. I'm not getting any younger!
I am constantly thinking about this and would like to relieve myself of this burden but don't know how. I hope you pick my letter, any advice would be appreciated.
It is so painful to be in a dead marriage. My heart goes out to you. Your problems stems from the fact that you place your own happiness too far down on your list of priorities. You are supposed to come first, which is not what's happening in your life. You aren't taking care of number one, so in my book you aren't following one of the most basic Christian tenets--'honor thyself.'
Can you imagine how your life would be different if you did honor yourself? The first thing that you would say to yourself is, 'If I'm happy, so will my kids be happy.' You may think that your self sacrifice is beneficial to your kids. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
When you live in a masochistic and self depriving way, you are providing a model for your children to follow and teaching them not to take care of themselves. That isn't good parenting. On the contrary, if you take care of yourself and do what's right for you, they will learn to do the same for themselves.
As for what members of your church would think if you were to divorce, once again you are placing other people ahead of yourself. Why does it matter what they think? If they are true Christians they will love and accept you, not judge you. If you are surrounding yourself with people who judge you, you're in the wrong church!
What matters is what you think. Plenty of Christians separate and so can you. If you accept yourself and your choices, so will everyone else. The issue here isn't what others think. It's what you think.
You have an incredibly harsh conscience, one that guides you to make masochistic choices. Waiting for him to die, isn't healthy. Given how aggravated you are, you'll die before he does! The goal for you is to soften this harsh conscience so that you are free to make healthy choices for yourself and to live your life fully.
By the way, when you soften your crippling conscience and you feel ready, willing, and able to leave, your husband will sense this. Then and only then will he be willing to engage in couples therapy in a meaningful way. Until then, you are like the girl who cried wolf. He knows that you aren't going anywhere, so he has no motivation to change a damn thing.
Soon I will be adding something very revolutionary to my site--online group therapy. When my groups are up and running, I encourage you to join. Talking about your issue in group will have a profound effect on you. For one thing, you will discover that people will accept you, even if you are a divorcee. Feeling accepted by others will help you to extend the same tolerance to yourself.
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