I've been married for nearly nine years, the last three of which have been heart-wrenching for me. I love and adore my wife. She is my whole life and I'm aware that I no doubt have codependency issues here. I dote on her, cook for her, clean, do the laundry, take care of her when's she sick, watch her while she's sleeping.
We were married very young, I was 22, she was 18. We were both raised in strict religious households, and were both virgins at the time of marriage. We've had the usual ups and downs through the course of our marriage and our sex life has similarly fluctuated, though we did go through an extended time in which there was no sex in the marriage, due to a diagnosis of vulvodynia, which made intercourse very painful for her. I think this period may have doomed us, as once the ailment was taken care of, she had an incredible appetite for sex, which I was simply unprepared for. It also seemed to me that sex to her really had nothing to do with love. She needs to be reassured constantly that she is sexy, she wants me to be instantly turned on when she walks into the room in her bra and panties, and she revels in the attention shown to her by other men. Every day there is usually a story of some guy who flirted with her, or made some advance to her.
In the fall of 2000, she got the Internet bug. She went on to find an old high school flame; she found him, but nothing came of it. She started visiting chat rooms, and met an Australian guy that she fell for, hard. I didn't want to lose her, and was terrified that if I were to forbid it, she would simply walk out, which she threatened. The relationship grew. I kept hoping it was just a phase, that it would pass. She started making plans to go visit him. A few days before she was supposed to leave, she called him and told him it was all over. I was there, and heard it all. She was still going to go on the trip, just to take some time to clear her head. She went, and he appeared at the airport to pick her up (she had given him the flight information weeks before); she was in a daze after the 22-hour flight and allowed him to take her to the hotel where, of course, they ended up in bed. She called me three days into the month-long trip, begging me to get her out of there. Of course I did.
We patched things up pretty good I thought, and the next year went pretty smoothly; we even began to talk about having children sometime in the future, something we'd never talked seriously about before. Then this June, she went down to visit a friend of hers whom I know. This girl had just bought a house with a guy, and they went out to dinner, where alcohol flowed freely. An old friend of the boyfriend mysteriously showed up at the restaurant and was invited to join them. Turns out he also lives in the same neighborhood. They all went back to the couple's house for more drinks. My wife was quite drunk by this time, and wanted to go home. She went out to her car, but was far too smashed to drive, or even unlock the car. The mystery friend comes out and tells her she can't drive. Come over to my place, he says, I'll make some coffee; you can wake up a bit before going home. I'm sure you can guess what happened. After crying and telling her stories about his mother recently dying of cancer, he got her in bed.
She begged my forgiveness again. I was more shaken this time, but after a few weeks was ready to give it a full try again, on the provision that she go to counseling. I'd been going for six months already. She agreed to go. But since she's been going, she seems to be even more confused. She views me as her best friend in the whole world, but doesn't have "that thing" for me that she feels is needed in a relationship. She wants "that thing" and knows she can have it. She says it isn't fair to put me through all of this, I'm the most wonderful guy in the world, I could do so much better than her, she is constantly saying. The old "I love you, I'm just not in love with you" line. I've asked her if she can picture her life without me in it, and she said no. (This was yesterday I asked that.)
I don't want to do better than her; I want to be with her. Underneath all this confusion, there is a wonderful girl; she is funny, beautiful, a one-of-a-kind character, and vivacious. She is kindhearted, generous and a loyal friend to all her friends. I'm convinced and her father and stepmother are convinced that there was abuse to her when she was growing up in her mother's house. (She moved in with her dad at age 13.) There are deep issues here. She talks these days about wanting to spread her wings, she wants to go out and discover herself and all that jazz. Her therapist is apparently encouraging this. In addition to my being in love with her, there are other factors in why I don't want a divorce or separation. I don't really believe in divorce. I'm old school in that regard. Religion does play a role in that too. None of our friends really are aware of what has been going on; they think we're the ideal couple, and I'm loath to disappoint them and my family with a failed marriage. Our finances are currently such that we can't really even afford to live apart. I don't want that anyway.
Two things strike me as I reread all of this. I sound pathetic, and it's a very long story. But I've done the best I can in making it a bare-bones account. I don't know what to do. I've tried to show her love with my actions, as well as my words, all these years. I don't know what to do next, or if I should just give this up as a hopeless cause.
Dazed and Disillusioned
Dear Dazed and Disillusioned,
You're not pathetic, you're just being mistreated. But I think you're being mistreated in such a way that it would be best for all concerned if you removed yourself.
You're beyond the point of talking about what you want. If the house were burning down, would you be talking about how you really like the house and hate to leave it? No, you'd feel the heat on your arm, you'd smell the singed hairs, and you'd run.
One of the themes that has emerged over the last year as I have been doing this column is that the people who are being most sorely abused do not even know they're being mistreated. They're being lied to, manipulated and disrespected, but they call it something else, they pity their tormentors and they resist leaving because they have some dream that they can fix things, that they can make it work, that they are helping by staying.
You can't help her by staying with her. Nor can you help your parents or your religion or the people of your community by staying with her. You do not help people by concealing the truth from them, or, if you are a believer, by getting in God's way. Look at it this way: If you believe that God is merciful and just, then let God sort it out. One might say that you are playing God by trying to stay and help, and that your actions, viewed as codependent in a secular sense, in a religious sense add up to a lack of trust in God. So get out of the way and let God take this one. He's seen this kind of thing before.
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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.