Q: My wife and I have been married for nearly 18 years. Overall, it has been a good and loving marriage. We’ve gotten along well and done for each other in the past. She was a dedicated church goer who never drank or smoked and was always really into the religious and spiritual training of our children. I must admit that I was only passively involved in the church activities, but my participation had been increasing.
In the middle of last year, after taking on a much larger mortgage (although, I was earning great money – more than enough for the burden, I lost my job. To make things worse, I had done very well at my job, but the company chose to move to an area that was undesirable to us both, so we declined to go. To make matters even worse, this job was working with her father. The news to move was delivered to me on Friday afternoon via fax from his office in the other location. In the fax he had some less-than kind words for his own daughter’s support of my career, which I disagreed with and she took very hard.
One evening later that month, she called her father and confronted him with the remarks he had made and the call erupted into a shouting match. They both said some pretty strong things to each other and have not spoken since. She says she does not care for him anymore.
As I strived to locate employment that would keep us in the home we were living in, I took on some pretty tough menial jobs that managed to at least subsidize our expenses. With the financial tensions arose marital tensions and we began to argue more frequently. We both said some very mean things to each other in the process. She ceased attending church and began adopting an attitude of ambivalence toward me. (I should note here that she also lost a lot of weight [~60 pounds] through exercise and diet and looked better at this point than she ever had in our relationship.)
She became more distant and cold throughout the last months of 1999. In late January 2000, I discovered she had been having an affair with someone she met while on a planned trip with her college girlfriends. She admitted to it and said that it occurred because things got so bad that she didn’t feel loved by anyone anymore. She said her partner showered her with attention and praise.
I was absolutely devastated by this, because it was so out of character for her. Her apologies for this action has been lukewarm at best. I am terribly hurt. Her feelings of ambivalence continue to this day. She is pleasant, but shows no affection for me and sexual activity is almost non-existent. Everyone who knows her says she is 180 degrees from what she once was, and her best friend says if she met her on the street today she wouldn’t care to befriend her.
I do still love her very much, and could forgive her brief indiscretion, if her behavior demonstrated that she deserved it.
Lately, she has been staying out late and not bothering to call as to her whereabouts and when she will be home. She has admitted going to restaurant-bars as well. She says she wants some space to discover herself and that she can no longer rely on anyone but herself for her security and happiness.
We have three terrific kids that I do not want growing up in a broken home. I do not know what buttons to push to bring out the person she used to be. Do you think that person still exists?
That person may exist but it may not be feasible to expect her to go directly back there. It may be that there’s been a major shift in her life schema. Because of the rift with her father, she may be questioning ALL roles of responsibility including her marriage. It may take tremendous amounts of energy for her to psychologically separate from her father. Unfortunately, she may get her marriage caught up in the same dynamic. She may feel that being accountable to you may be too similar to being accountable to her father. This is not an infrequent phenomenon. Her comments about her need to discover herself tends to support this interpretation.
It can be very disruptive to carry out adolescent work while still married. I’d suggest that you ask her directly if she thinks it’s possible that she’s getting you and her father mixed up, at least in the sense that she’s tired of feeling overly responsible and accountable. I’ve seen spouses really turn around when they recognize that repulsion towards a parent has overlapped their partner. If you can get her attention, you may ask her what you can do to help her perceive you in a different light than her Dad.
Good luck. – Bryce Kaye