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My wife and I are in our early 60s. She just retired two months ago and is having a severe identity crisis. After over 30 years together she has told me that she doesn’t appreciate me, and I should find someone who does. She says she wants us both to be open to seeing other people. She doesn’t want to be physically intimate with me, and says that all the years when I thought we were literally making love, she wasn’t feeling it, and that she just felt like she was doing her job as my wife.
I am vacillating with between being furious with her and being completely heart-broken. On the one hand I can’t make her love me, but on the other I am really mad at her for not dealing with this years ago. We have been in counseling many times for fairly long periods, and I thought our relationship was fine. We have two grown children who are going to be collateral damage if she keeps on down the path she keeps suggesting to me.
I would sure appreciate any advice or counsel you can give me.
Your wife has delivered a painful assessment of the relationship. While you can most certainly argue with her about the accuracy of her comments, you have to ultimately decide if you want to be right or you want to be married. Your wife is telling you she experienced something different in your marriage.
I find it’s helpful to assume that people are doing the best they can with what they understand at the time. There are certainly times when people lie and deceive, but I don’t find it’s helpful to start with this assumption. You can imagine any number of scenarios as to why she would feel this way. We all want to receive the benefit of the doubt, so I recommend you start there. Assume she’s confused about your relationship and is trying to find something better. I believe the way you respond to her can help her decide to find something better with you instead of with someone else.
This is a critical time for you to slow down to better understand your wife’s perspective. It might be tempting to bring her before the bishop or a counselor to referee your marriage. However, I recommend you spend as much time as possible with her listening so you can learn what she needs and what she’s experiencing.
Share your heartbreak with her and let her know how important she is to you. Make it clear you want to stay with her. She needs to know that you’re not just heartbroken for you and your kids, but especially for her. She’s obviously hurting and has been for years. She needs to know that you are hurting because she’s hurting.
It’s common in long-term marriages to find ourselves stuck in roles and routines without thinking through the effects it’s having on our partners or us. When we are drifting, it’s easy to believe the worst about our partners and how they’re not meeting our needs. Hopefully she can join with you to reclaim the relationship instead of seeking elsewhere for a different experience.
After you’ve listened and understood where she’s struggling, see if she is willing to redefine these roles and expectations with you while choosing to stay married. You want to make it clear to her that you are flexible, curious, and willing to understand what hasn’t been working for her in this relationship.
Hopefully she is willing to share more about her experiences being married to you. Even though we have a tendency to rewrite our own histories when we’re in pain, let her talk enough so you can better understand where she’s hurting. She may remember events and circumstances differently than you, but those aren’t the most critical components. What’s critical is for you to listen for the pain and show compassion, concern, and any appropriate accountability.
This is not a time to argue perspectives or offer solutions. She is clearly hurting enough to threaten the end of your marriage. It’s likely she’ll start out with complaints, criticisms, and specific examples of times where the marriage felt like a chore to her. Stay with her and keep listening. Eventually, the softer underbelly of her emotions will surface, which are the more accurate indicators of her pain.
You need to hear where she’s really hurting and not get distracted by the examples. Reassure her that these feelings matter to you. Thank her for having the courage to show you where she’s really hurting. Do everything you can to let her know that her pain matters to you. Like the favorite hymn, “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel”, teaches, you need to have a heart that “knows and feels” her pain.[i]
I can’t promise she will stay with you. Only she can decide that. However, your willingness to stay with her as she shares painful emotions will do more to save this fragile relationship than any other approach you could take. Hopefully she will sense your genuine commitment and love for her and decide to rebuild a stronger connection.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Hymn 252