Adapted from a recent online discussion.
First take care of yourself; then work on relationship
East Coast: I love your chats and would appreciate your perspective on an ongoing saga.
In a nutshell, I had a hideous last year and my husband basically left me to live through it all alone. We've talked about this and he's apologized and wishes we could go back and do it again. I'm in therapy to try to get a grip on my own depression/post-traumatic stress and we've attempted couples counseling, but basically we can't seem to get past it. We aren't communicating, we aren't having sex — basically roommates with matching jewelry, as I've seen you describe it. I recognize he's a great guy — kind, patient, intelligent — and I really don't want to hurt him, but we've only been married three years and I can't face living like this forever. How do I know when it's time to call it over? We're in our late 30s and have no kids, if it matters.
Carolyn: I'm sorry. I would isolate two conditions that would indicate that it's over: (1) if the problem is something in him (or you) that time and effort have proved will never credibly change; or (2) if you don't ever see yourself letting go of this and loving him fully again.
About No. 2. You've been hurt really badly, and it's a natural impulse to close yourself off as a defense against getting hurt again. However, whether you give your marriage another chance or not, the only way for you to get your life back is to move beyond the closing-yourself-off stage — with him and others.
The goal I would suggest setting is not to resolve your marriage questions — that comes next — but to get enough of your own strength back to rise out of your defensive crouch. That comes from recognizing that, while you'd never want this pain, you can certainly handle it when it comes.
People often concentrate on whether they can trust someone else, but trusting yourself is actually the key to making the best decision for your marriage.
Just say it, straight up, then stick to it
Other Plans: I've been seeing someone for a few months who cancels plans and doesn't tell me until very late (well after he knew), which keeps me waiting around and unable to make other plans.
I don't want to be the "mom," but I do need to explain this isn't okay with me and makes me feel like the least important item on his agenda. For what it's worth — I truly think he's just clueless and perhaps taking things for granted, and would be surprised to know this makes me question his feelings. How do I say it?
Carolyn: You say it as you said it here: "This isn't okay with me and makes me feel like the least important item on your agenda." Telling someone you've had enough isn't being the "mom," it's merely declining to be somebody's doormat — a crucial process that is often thwarted, as it happens, by the desire to appear "low-maintenance," cool, laid-back.
And then if he does it again, cut him loose. It's not clueless, it's rude.
Virginia: Re: Other Plans: Why do people accept in SOs what they would not stand for in their friends?
Carolyn: Plenty of people put up with this stuff from friends, too.