Question 

My wife and I are currently separated and living in different cities. She keeps hinting at divorce and how things aren’t looking so good for us right now. We haven’t done anything legal in terms of separating finances or custody. We’ve worked out a decent visitation arrangement with the kids, but the longer this drags on, the more I feel like I need to protect myself. She only talks about “us” when she’s referring to money that she needs (she is a stay-at-home mom), but the rest of the time, its “me” and “you.” I want to tell her that I won’t keep putting money toward things for her until I know that she’s going to be my wife long-term. Otherwise, it just feels like a waste. I don’t want to be a jerk, but it seems like if things stay the same, I’ll just be supporting this separation. She was the one who left and has no plan for returning anytime soon. Should I protect myself or just let this go?

Answer 

You are worried that your wife will take advantage of you and that you will get nothing in return. I wonder if this is the first time you have turned your marriage into a negotiation. I suspect this is how you and your wife have viewed your relationship. Things aren’t always fair and balanced at the same time in marriages, even healthy ones.

When you start applying a commodity mindset to marriage, everyone loses. Put another way, viewing marriage as a service that is owed to you because you pay a certain amount of money or you perform certain duties will only set you up to be resentful and frustrated. Marriage isn’t a 50-50 arrangement. Both people commit to giving 100% regardless of how much the other person is able to give at that time.

Granted, if there are destructive patterns, such as addiction, violence, infidelity, or neglect, the priority shifts to emotional and physical safety until those patterns are addressed adequately. Aside from these exceptions, the difficulties and challenges common to most marriages don’t need more measuring of who is doing more, but, instead, need more commitment from each to give their all. This takes trust and good faith in your partner that all will work toward the good of the marriage, instead of counting the benefit to each individual.

If you pull back your financial support just because she’s not sure she wants to stay married to you, it sends a strong signal that you are going to make sure things are fair for you. I have no idea why she decided to leave, but I can tell you that when you start making things about fairness, nothing will add up and everyone loses.

If you genuinely want your wife back, then continue to treat her like your wife. You promised to put her first and support her as long as she’s your wife. Plus, if you put a price on your marriage, then how can you really trust that she wants to be your wife? You will begin to question her motives and then you’ll really feel taken advantage of.

Leave the money out of it and focus on repairing your marriage. Take the time to listen to her and find out why she left in the first place. See if there are things you can change. You can always figure out the money later if she no longer wants to be your wife. As long as you have a wife, turn to her and work on being the best husband you can be so you can save your marriage.

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 at www.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 as the primary chorister. 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