I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard this one before. But I’m also pretty sure everybody says that.
Last June, my husband confessed to me that he’d been taking ballroom dance classes — by himself — for almost a year and a half. Maybe “confessed” isn’t the right word because on some level he seemed really pleased with himself about the whole thing. I asked him why he didn’t ask me to take the classes with him, and he said, “I knew you wouldn’t be interested. You never want to dance with me at weddings.” (We’ve been to about five weddings in the nearly 20 years we’ve been together.) I reminded him that I’d actually suggested dance classes to him a few years ago, but he selectively didn’t remember that. (It was a fairly long and involved conversation about what time the classes started and what nights they were on and if we could make it work.)
I really felt as if I’d been punched in the face. I felt completely betrayed, and I pretty much got hysterical. I asked him to stop taking the classes and to go somewhere else to take classes with me, and he refused, saying he’d made “a lot of progress” where he was. What kind of “progress” is what is disturbing me.
It feels as if he’s living his life as a bachelor, with no regard for my feelings or what effect this has on me. I am incredibly lonely and depressed. He doesn’t touch me at all, and if I make any move toward him in bed in the morning, even an innocuous one like grabbing for a cover, he bolts out of bed, including on weekends. I spend a lot of time crying. And on Thursday nights, when he’s at these classes, I spend a lot of time wondering what is going on and with whom.
I’ve talked to friends about this, and their reactions range from “that’s really f#$%ed up” to “of COURSE he’s having an affair — or at least shopping around.” The latter opinion is from the two male friends I talked to about it.
I am by no means the perfect wife. For a while, I drank heavily — self-medicating after taking drugs for depression, which didn’t work — but I have not done that since last fall. I have an occasional drink now, but I never drink heavily anymore, and I never drink at home. We go out to dinner once or twice a week, and I have a drink or two then, and that’s absolutely it. He has never acknowledged my accomplishment on this front in any way or given me any credit, although when I was drinking too much, the criticism was frequent and harsh (though not as hard as I was on myself).
I don’t know what to do, Cary. I feel as if I don’t really have a marriage anymore. I love him deeply, but I don’t feel anything really coming back, although he says he wants to make our marriage work. Please help me. I am so alone and so depressed.
If you both want to make the marriage work then you can. But I don’t see how you can do it without a little help. It won’t just magically fix itself, will it? Do marriages ever just fix themselves?
Maybe some do. I haven’t read vast longitudinal studies. I just watch and see what happens.
I don’t see marriages magically fixing themselves very often. Do you? Who has the communication skills? How can you do that on your own?
So I say go to therapy. You need a place where you can sort things out — no matter what you decide to do about this particular situation.
He’s not telling you the truth, but it doesn’t mean he’s having an affair. He may really be enjoying the dancing. Maybe he doesn’t like the way you dance. Would it kill you to hear something like that? Would it kill you to hear the truth?
It isn’t that a therapist will give you answers. It’s that for the first time in who-knows-how-long you and he can say in front of others what you are actually thinking.
That means saying not what you think you think but what you actually think. That takes some discovering, it turns out. Because what you actually think, it turns out, is sometimes sort of crazy, but you don’t realize it’s crazy or don’t believe it’s crazy because it’s what you have been thinking all this time. So in therapy, etc., what I’m saying is, we examine. That’s all. Just that can be enough. Just examine what it is. Just look at what is right in front of you.
That sounds simple. But how often in daily life is anyone actually able to do that, to simply pause and examine? Examine what you are believing?
So that is why you go to a therapist: not to have somebody give you the answer, but to actually think in the presence of someone else about what you are thinking. If you get in a room with a third person who has authority and whom you respect, and that person says it’s perfectly OK for him to tell you the truth, maybe he will. And maybe it will not be such a terrible truth. Maybe it will be pretty much nothing, a dumb thing that he was just afraid to tell you. Stranger things have happened.
As to the drinking, it is my feeling that some people who have occasional trouble with alcohol and depression can benefit from total abstinence. That’s just my view. Purely on commonsense grounds, I suggest that people who have occasional trouble with alcohol try a period of total abstinence. It just eliminates the problem for a period of time. Other problems arise, of course, but it eliminates that particular problem. That, of course, is your calculation to make. I also stop at stop signs and don’t drive faster than I know I could stop in the rain. I’m fairly conservative and boring in certain ways, and I often find it hard to make dinner conversation. The burdens we bear.
In short: My advice would be to begin a period of abstinence from alcohol and to see a marriage and family therapist regularly — with your bachelor husband. Start talking about your life in a gentle, unstructured way and see what comes up. Try and remember why you married this man in the first place. Maybe you two will see each other again in a new light, as if for the first time.
It’s worth a try. Yours is a sweet tale, actually. Please work it out.