Question:

My wife asked me to leave our home over a year ago. She says she doesn’t want to reconcile but isn’t interested in divorce – we’ve been married 32 years and have 4 kids. I don’t want a divorce but hate being in limbo. I rarely see her nor do I hear from her except an occasional email. Things were hopeful initially and we were going to counseling together but I think that hope is gone. Ironically, we both had trust issues early on outside our marriage – mine were sexual and hers were emotional and physical, she dated and fell in love with other men. It was toxic, I know.

I’ve had some tough breaks lately – changed jobs, faced officer discipline in the military, excommunication from my church, and now dealing with being a pariah. The shunning is the hardest part – I’m not welcome in my own home. I’m asked to come home to do yard work and chores when the family is away.

So, I’ve lost my identity as a husband and father; and lost my professional ambition and drive. It’s a downhill spiral! I’m not sure I can handle anymore of this.

What do I do?

Answer:

I can see why you are confused. Telling someone you don’t want to reconcile while simultaneously telling them you don’t want to end the relationship doesn’t make much sense. I’m sure both of you are emotionally frozen – not sure how to move forward, but also not wanting to end things. This dynamic actually isn’t that uncommon with couples that long for connection, but are terrified of getting hurt again.

A year of silence is a long time, so perhaps it’s time for you to break the silence and insist that you both sit down and figure out what’s possible for your relationship. You don’t need to be demanding, but you do need to be clear that you want to know which direction you’re headed as a couple.

Losing your attachment bond is the most painful thing you’re dealing with, so make that your priority. Even though you’re losing other aspects of your identity, the isolation and inability to know where you stand with your partner begs for resolution. It would be one thing to have a separation and continue to talk and work toward resolution. However, being suspended in limbo isn’t sustainable.

If you want to stay married to your wife and work through your issues, then make it certain what your intentions are and stay consistent.

If she won’t respond to your request, then you may find yourself having to make a very difficult decision. This decision is so personal and far reaching that you can’t let anyone make it for you. Either you stay and face your marriage, hoping for a change as you continue to serve your family. Or, you move forward with divorce and begin a new life as a single man.

We live in a time when long-term commitment isn’t valued and people who choose to stay in difficult relationships are viewed as weak or desperate. I don’t believe this is always the case. In fact, I agree with Dr. Ed Tronick who said, “We thrive in the messiness of human connection. Without it, we wither.”

Even if you feel you need to leave your marriage and begin a new identity as a single man, you should never lose your identity as a father. Granted, the parenting context will change, but you can take charge of your relationships with your children and reach out to them. Even though you and your wife are going through a difficult separation, you don’t have to put your children through that same experience.

You are not powerless to make changes in your life. Don’t let this situation paralyze you into inaction. Move toward your wife to keep working on your relationship and see what is really there. Then, you can make a better-informed decision about your future.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available atwww.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT