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July 26, 2004 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
I have been involved in a very emotionally unhealthy relationship with my husband for 10 years, married for 4. Five months ago, he had a fight with my mother and I went numb inside and our whole relationship fell apart. We now have lawyers and a meeting set up to separate.
During the past 5 months of not talking to me, but livivng in the same house with him being emotionally abusive to me, I have had a lot of time to look at myself and I see that I might have created a lot of problems. I also had a substance abuse problem that I blamed on him. I told myself that I did it because I couldn't handle the fighting.
Now, the meeting is 4 days away and I have had considerable doubts about whether I want my marriage to be over. We come from two totally different worlds and dysfunctional families and have serious communication problems, but he is a good man with a good heart who my family thinks isn't good enough for me. I have allowed their opinions and my own issues to sway me in my decision to separate.
The problem is that now that the end is near, I was completely honest with him and told him that I wanted to make a full commitment to him and go to marriage counseling once a week and try to make it work. We have spent the last 3 days having intimate conversations about the issues in our relatioship, but he is being the mature one. He's saying he doesn't think he can go through me saying I want a divorce again.
But, what's confusing me is that he keeps hugging me and kissing me and wants to fool around, at the same time knowing that he is going to sit in a lawyers office and end our relationship. The passion is still there, but I feel like all he wants is sex, although it hasn't happened. I know he loves me, but now he suggested that I let him buy me out of the house and then I live here for a couple more months and we try to work it out. Then, if that doesn't work, the legal stuff is done and I can just leave.
I want an equal partnership and I don't want another man. I just want to stop the fighting and control issues. I want to call the meeting off and find a marriage counselor and slowly build back trust- but all he seems to care about is being physical with me.
I don't know what to do, should I try to make this work or should I let him buy me out and just date him. I feel our problems are when we are living together every day, getting along. When we dated everything was fine, we just became too dependent on each other.
I really need some advice here because I've realized I have low self-esteem, lots of insecurities and I was way too needy with him.
But, I love him and I want to make it work. What do you think?
Your question is should you concede to your husband 's wishes that you formalize the separation and let him buy you out and then date each other. Clearly this isn't what you want, which is to stay married and work it out.
What we need to do is work on resolving your husband 's resistance to working on your relationship WHILE remaining a married couple. He says he wants to continue your relationship; but at the same time he wants to formalize the separation so that the paperwork will be in place if and when your relationship fails.
His plan seems motivated by a wish to protect himself from his worst fear, which is a terror of investing once again in you and the marriage and then hearing you say some time down the line that you want a divorce. What he's really saying is that he's afraid to let his guard down and be rejected by you. By separating and signing all the papers, he seems to think that he will be protecting himself from being hurt by your saying you want to end it, since he will have symbolically ended it himself already by signing the papers.
I have the idea that you have threatened him with divorce many times during moments of anger. In order for him to risk opening up to you again and giving the marriage a real shot, he needs a guarantee from you that you won't threaten him with divorce in a moment of rage.
In order to promise him that you won't do this ever again, you need to learn how to communicate your angry feelings in the correct way, rather than threatening him with divorce. My book is a good way for you to learn how to communicate your anger properly.
Tell him that you will commit to resolving the problem I mentioned above. Then see if you can convince him to give you a stay of execution long enough for you to have some couples sessions. In the couples sessions, have him talk about what you have done that makes him afraid to connect to you and what you can do to make him feel more willing to connect. You will also have the opportunity to do the same with him.
Agree to put the decision about whether or not you will proceed with the lawyers on hold until you both see clearer into what part you both played in the dissolution of the relationship as well as see whether you both are able to make the needed shifts to make it work. Then and only then can you make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with separation.
"If anger and fighting are ruining your dream of a happy marriage, Dr. Turndorf’s conflict resolution program is for you."
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Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
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Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
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