Stay or go? I'm on deadline to decide

I'm separated and in counseling, and I have to decide next week to divorce or not

By Cary Tennis
Published May 18, 2009 10:10AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I've recently been undergoing counseling in an effort to reconcile with my wife, from whom I've been separated for several months. In many respects, the counseling has gone extremely well: We've reestablished trust between us, identified many deep-seated sources of conflict, and found more honest and healthy ways to communicate. At the very least, I think we'll stop hurting each other in our most emotionally vulnerable places.

But now the moment of truth comes: Next week, I'm supposed to decide once and for all whether I will remain married to her. And my deepest fear is that in saying yes, I'm agreeing to a life that will be stable, mature -- and unsatisfying. Simply put, my wife no longer inspires passion or devotion in me. She is a kind person, and I clearly provide her with the companionship and security she wants. We also have two wonderful young children who would be very hurt if we divorced.

In many ways, reconciling with her would be the right thing to do. Yet I'm deathly worried that I can't say no to reconciliation, but that yes means a lifetime of regret and diminished expectations. Do I then have to readjust my hopes and move on?


Dear Crossroads,

Who set the deadline here? Did your wife, or your counselor, set a deadline for you? Why? Who outside of you can know when it's time for you to decide?

If it's not time for you to decide, and if you're not sure, then don't decide yet. Your best course, it seems to me, is to keep going with this process a bit longer, at least six months. I imagine that after years of fighting and then separating from your wife, you are bound to be somewhat exhausted and also under pressure. That's a bad combination for making good decisions. If you decide now, you may feel for the rest of your life that it wasn't your best decision, that you caved in to pressure before you truly, truly knew what was best.

You say you have been in counseling and have made some good progress. I suggest you push on until you understand not just the roots of your conflict but also the life dreams and majesty and love that was once between you. It's there if only in memory. It may not be strong enough to keep you together. But it exists in memory. And it was strong at one time. It was strong enough to generate new life. I believe that the people we are when we are in the throes of love are powerful, vibrant people, and they can be recalled to us, those lost selves.

Right now, you are weary and under pressure. The dust of battle still hangs in the air. I would like to see you get to a point where your wounds are healed up, you are rested, and you really know where you're headed, where you can again envision the profound qualities, desires and forces that brought you together in the first place. Then, if you do move on, you will at least have regained the better part of your own being; you will understand what happened here; you will be reconciled to it; and you will know where you are headed.

To that end, have you tried any kind of guided meditation, as an individual, to contact this original spark of you, the lover, husband and father? For instance, what are your dreams, the things you fear that you will be giving up if you stay? Are they erotic dreams exclusively, or are they also occupational and creative dreams? Is there no room in the marriage for them? And what is it that has been lost? Can you locate the beating heart of this generative relationship, this miraculous life force that produced this marriage and these two kids?

That doesn't mean you can't end the marriage if that is what has to be done. I am just urging you to first try to retrieve whatever it was that brought you together in the first place, so that if you do leave, at least you take this better self with you.

So, my friend, apply for an extension. Push on for a year or so. More will be revealed! Try to rekindle, if not the life in your marriage, at least the spark in you that led you to the marriage. Then decide what to do. Don't be pushed into a premature decision by an artificial deadline.

To stay or go? There's stuff in here about that.

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?

Cary Tennis

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