Q: Dear Meredith,
My husband of 25-plus years told me months ago that he didn't love me anymore and wanted to leave me. We had drifted apart, partly due to my depression. I had gained quite a bit of weight and was in a rut. We went for months without intimacy, and he was constantly spending a lot of time away visiting relatives or going out with his friends. At this same time, he had a (nonphysical) emotional affair over the Internet with a woman from a distant state for several months, revealed through multiple daily calls on the phone bill.
I was clueless -- because it seemed like we were getting along harmoniously despite the lack of intimacy, which I chalked up to our age. I admire my husband's intelligence, competence, creativity, work ethic, charm, and sense of humor, and have always described him as a great partner. Our roles were unconventional; he raised the children, I have been the principal breadwinner.
After the Bomb Drop, terrified of losing the husband I so dearly loved, I was spurred to action. I got off the couch, lost weight, started going to the gym, started seeing a therapist, connected with neglected friends, and gave myself a makeover. I was sure things were going better, as I received many compliments at work about my improved appearance and my husband was acting more cordial and making love to me again.
I was shocked last week when he told me at our first marriage counseling session that he doesn't want to be married to me, that he made love to me because I'm "familiar" and he plans to move out soon. I made such an effort over the past months to be my best self, for me and for him, and am shattered by his announcement. I asked him to explain, but he says it's impossible to put in words. I know he wants to be "free," but it's hard to accept that he wants to abandon me after I've worked all my life supporting our family.
He plans to move out for a while to think, and his communication with this other person has continued. When I recently asked if there's any hope of us getting back together after this trial separation, he said yes. It seems he is facing an existential crisis after sacrificing and spending decades raising children. We've continued to be intimate and we can enjoy each other's company, but -- do I give up and try to heal my broken heart, or keep on trying and hoping that he will return and recommit to our marriage? I realize that I can only control my own actions. I love him beyond reason and can't imagine life without him.
– Apocalypse Now, Mass.
A: You will survive this, AN. This is a terrible purgatory, but you are strong and capable.
You must give this some time and continue going to therapy (obviously). You made a good point in that last paragraph. Some of this is about your depression, but your husband is also unsure about his place in the world. He's been dealing with kids for years, but it sounds like that responsibility is over. So what's next? He doesn't know. He was absolutely wrong for seeking romantic attention outside the marriage (because that's what he did, right?), but I'll acknowledge that he might have been at his most overwhelmed and vulnerable when you checked out of the relationship.
You can't make decisions for him, but you can ask questions. You can also work to make sure that your therapy sessions aren't about begging and pleading. You should be focusing on the future and what a good marriage might look like for both of you.
Please ask your therapist to help you set some goals and boundaries. Should you be getting together while he's out of the house? Are you allowed to have dates with him? Should he be talking to this other person? When should everyone reevaluate again?
I wish I could tell you what will happen, but I just don't know. For now, there is some hope. And there's hope for you, no matter what, I promise. You are already getting through this.
Readers? What should she do? Is there hope here? How should she make the most of their couples therapy? Can she demand that he stop talking to this other person? Is this about him raising the kids? Help.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a new novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith here and on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.