My wife has suddenly turned on me

After 22 years of marriage, for no apparent reason, she just doesn't like me anymore.

By Cary Tennis
Published March 31, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have been reading your column for quite a while, always waiting to see if someone with a problem like mine popped up, but I have not seen it yet. You always seem to have a sane perspective on things. I thank you in advance for your thoughts.

For the past 22 years, my wife and I had been in love, and best friends. In fact, my wife had always introduced me as "her best friend." We have three great teenage kids, decent careers, beautiful home, etc., etc. To anyone looking at us from the outside I'm sure that we look like a lovely typical American family.

Last summer, for reasons that remain inexplicable to me, my wife stopped wanting to spend time with me, stopped having conversations with me (we do speak about day-to-day stuff like who is picking up the kids, what groceries do we need, etc.), stopped not only having sex with me, but also any physical contact like a hug or a good morning kiss. She clearly is unhappy when I call her on the phone, and when I recently came back from a weeklong trip, she was ambivalent about having me home. She has basically excluded me from her life.

For a while she started binge drinking and staying out all night with one of her divorced female friends, but now that that has ended, she still has a close happy relationship with her and a couple of other friends.

She now hates her job, which until this past summer she had loved. She lost some weight, exercises, looks great, and started dressing in short skirts, tight tops and high heels, a fashion that she had until recently criticized in women our age.

When all this started in the summer and fall, I tried to talk things out with her, but she refused to talk about it, and our relationship became very angry.

Six months ago we started going together to a therapist, who suggested that I put myself on pause, and basically leave her alone so that we could dispel the anger in the relationship, and that she could go on her own to a therapist to deal with depression. I too went to a therapist, who basically said that there was not much for me to do other than wait and see if she would come around to wanting to be in love with me again.

When asked, my wife says she cannot explain why she feels different about me, or whether or not she wants to save the marriage. She also can't point out anything she would like me to do that might make things better.

So now we are 10 months into this dysfunctional relationship. I would do anything to get my wife to love me again, to save our marriage, and our truly wonderful family.

Other than my relationship with my wife, things are going great. We're not rich, but we have no money problems, we have great kids, my job is fine. I have a couple of hobbies I enjoy. I am, however, getting tired of not getting any love, friendship or physical contact from my wife. I don't want to end my marriage; I still love her. I also don't want to rip apart our family, but at what point do I move on, saying I've done all I can, and waited for my wife as long as is reasonably possible? Alternately, since my wife wants little to do with me now, what might I do to make things better in the hope that things get better?

Frozen Out

Dear Frozen Out,

Man, I feel for you. What an odd and disturbing development. I'm sure the therapists you've consulted have a more detailed picture of what's going on than I do. I can only offer the kind of encouragement that a friend might offer. I can only say what you already know -- that sometimes you just have to wait things out.

Naturally I'm racking my brain to think of what might have occurred, but I have to assume that the professionals you've consulted have also thought of these things -- hormonal changes, an affair, depression, chemical dependency, etc.

Since you've been married for 22 years you probably already know that sometimes something mysterious and dark will descend upon a relationship; things will go strangely bad for a time; there will be an odor of something burnt in the air; you'll find yourself feeling unaccountably cold in her presence and no amount of talk will help. You wait it out. You take a trip. You fall back on what you know. If your hobby is building boats, you build more boats. If you practice a religion, you practice it harder. If you have an exercise regimen, you double it. If you have good friends, you spend more time with them. If you like music, you listen to more music. You give your partner room to weather whatever she's weathering.

And you wait. Maybe you don't wait forever. But you wait longer than you think you should have to. You wait longer than you think you can. And then you wait some more. Eventually you find out what you need to know. Maybe that means you stay together. Or maybe it's over. But you're not there yet. Not by a long shot. You've just started.

I'm not an expert. I'm just another guy who's done his share of waiting. There may be a host of concrete reasons for what's going on, and the experts involved may discover them in due time.

Meanwhile, got some cards? We could be here a while.

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