I am in an impossible marriage

My wife is draining the life out of me.

Cary Tennis
May 5, 2006 2:43PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am currently suffering a number of wounds both self-inflicted and beyond my control.

I married my high school sweetheart right after college. Our passion for the first three years was unquenchable. Part of the evidence for this was a son (now in school) one year into the union. But it was gut-wrenching. She came to have diagnosed conditions of depression, anxiety and later alcohol abuse. She often left the home, as I continued to raise our son. We moved three times to three different states in an attempt to escape our problems, only to confront a fresh set of problems.


Finally our marriage ended. She had another man, and I was glad she did. But he was married. And in sales. It did not last. She quit her job. He cheated on her. Her alcoholism got worse. He kicked her out. I agreed she could stay with my son and me. That was nearly three years ago. My life was finally getting on track, but I grew up with a "lost" parent, and I did not want a "lost" mother for my son.

After a very hard year, there was a less hard year. Dealing with the swings of an addict is now old hat to me. Every so often I have to hide the blunt objects to keep from swinging them in her direction in response to statements at best ungrateful and at worst truly malicious. She wants to reconcile. I do not. But I am tired. I want someone in my life to love and be loved by me. Our son is old enough that he will not be severely affected by separation. What has, continues and will continue to affect him is seeing a very confusing dysfunctional relationship between his parents.

I am now considering buying another house just to move without her. I put her through enough school to get a professional job, but I can't make her look for a job, which she is not doing. I am trying to right my financial house right now, but she is an anchor around my resources -- monetary, time and energy. I know I need to leave her, but I don't know how.



Leg in Tender Bear Trap

Dear Leg,

I can't believe I'm writing a letter that begins, "Dear Leg ..."

Anyway, let's start with a simple answer to your question and see where it takes us.

Ideally each of you would seek help outside the marriage in dealing with the particular problems that each of you faces. Each of you would admit that you need help learning to cope with unexpected conditions in your life that you seem unable to change. You would go out into the world and avail yourself of knowledge, expertise and practices that strengthen you and help you get better, happier and freer, better able to cope. Those things might include religion, addiction therapy, philosophical studies, exercise, career advancement, psychotherapy, bass fishing, co-dependent therapy, fine dining, playing baseball, listening to music, enjoying a movie. That is, some activities would be hard work and others would be recreational and restorative. That would be your program of living. Some of these things you might do together, but for the most part, I think, each of you would try to build a life outside the marriage that gives you what you need to cope within the marriage.


The reasons for this would be 1) to maintain a stable environment for your child and 2) to give your relationship its best chance to succeed.

Expectations in the beginning would be appropriately low. You would be looking basically to feel less desperate and less crazy. Feeling less desperate and less crazy might not necessarily feel better; instead of feeling better you might feel uncomfortably empty, or bored and restless, or just somehow off. That might not seem like progress; you might be tempted to give up. It might turn out that the feelings of desperation and craziness are simply distractions from a deeper sense of despair and sadness. Or maybe not. I do not know. I'm just trying to sketch out some general possibilities.


Whatever comes, ideally you would accept it as a new challenge and keep going, keeping track of your improvement somehow -- maybe in a journal or by consulting with someone regularly, who could remind you of where you were when you started and how you were making progress.

That would be the general framework for my proposed solution: Each of you seeks help outside the marriage to get better at coping with the challenges the marriage presents.

There is no telling where such an arrangement might take you. Ideally, she would slowly become stronger and better able to manage life's challenges. And you would become better able to manage your own emotions, and better able to draw the line when her needs threaten to intrude on your sense of what is fair, or when your anger threatens to go out of control.


You wouldn't break up the marriage yet. You would simply try to get stronger. Try to get well.

At a certain point, each of you having gained some tools for coping and negotiating, you would then work together to make some decision regarding separation.

That assumes much, chiefly that she agrees to seek the kinds of help she needs. If she fails to take sufficient measures in that regard, you should still pursue help on your own. When the time is right, you might have to make a decision regarding separation without her involvement. Having rigorously pursued the matter from all angles, having exhausted all avenues of improvement, and having given her ample opportunities to get help for her troubles and negotiate some compromise solution, you could at that point act decisively with a clear conscience.


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