Should I leave my husband because I don't have the hots for him?

I've had some affairs and tried to leave, but he may be the best thing that will ever happen to me.


Cary Tennis
August 18, 2005 11:08PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I have been married for 12 years to a man who loves me more than I can imagine anyone else ever loving me. He has always been faithful, while I have tried three times to leave him (and would have if the guys I fell for had reciprocated, but all they wanted was sex). I have a wonderful, extremely generous husband and two amazing children. I love my husband in many ways ... but there is not and never has been the strong, sweep-you-off-your-feet, hormone-intense physical attraction for him that I felt with the last two affairs. He loves me, but I can't manufacture those feelings to give him the love he deserves in return.

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The problem is that now we have come down to discussing divorce, mostly because of the long lack-of-sex spell we have endured and the lack of intimacy that is obvious to him even though he doesn't know about the affairs. And yet I'm still not sure that divorce is the right thing. Why can't I feel more for this man who is the father of my children and probably the best thing that will ever happen to me?

Conflicted Feelings

Dear Conflicted,

Why can't we feel more for people we should feel more for? What is it in our feelings that resists the will? And why, on the other hand, do we feel so powerfully for people toward whom reason tells us we should feel little or nothing? What comes first, lust or liking, and what lasts longest, passion or commitment? And who are we, anyway? Are we the accountants of deed in the counting house of memory? Are we the actuaries of our own desire?

And why do we have to ask such really hard questions so early in the morning? Is there not a better time of day for such things? Wouldn't it be better if only after a day of good, honest labor in sunny fields, after returning home to a house full of children's laughter, after an evening swim in a lake filled with fish and birds would it be lawful to entertain questions such as these? Perhaps then we would see them for what they are, mere ornaments of a day. The important question right now is not why can't you feel more for him, but what are you going to do?

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At the very least, before you leave him, I would ask the question, How have my attempts to deal with my lack of passion for him by going outside the marriage affected the way I feel now? Has guilt and the keeping of secrets made things worse? And is there a road back to what was, before the infidelity, an intimacy that if not wildly passionate was at least honest and comfortable, not fraught with the danger of disclosure?

It may be more attractive to consider starting fresh than it is to contemplate the difficult, soul-searing work of admitting your infidelities and working back toward some kind of acceptably intimate and honest life. Your fear of that difficult process may be in part driving your desire to leave.

And what about your kids? Is your unhappiness making your kids crazy? Would leaving your husband make your kids happier and more secure? What if you were to reconcile? In a terminally warped family system, divorce can be better than "staying together for the sake of the kids." But how do you know if your family system is terminally warped? And how do you know that the next family system you create after the divorce will not be just as warped or more so?

My generally cautious nature leans toward first trying to reconcile with your husband, coming clean, committing to a fresh start.

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And if, after going through such a process, you are still not reasonably happy, I would remember that while we seem to be driven to perfect our lives here on earth, for thousands of years it has been clear to those who've lived and died with great aspiration that we can achieve only a fraction of what we can dream. These experiences you have had with other men that seem to hint at a more satisfied life -- it is possible that they are literally only hints. There may be no more satisfied life beyond them than there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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