Marriage crumbling and soul in pain

I'm so glad you're liking the MoxieTopics! Thank you for buying them and for the generous feedback!

Annalee writes:

"I'm in the midst of a soul-crushing ordeal. I learned four months ago my husband of 11 years had two affairs - one over the span of two years with a mutual friend - that I was completely and totally unaware of. While we struggled with issues in our relationship and marriage counseling was suggested numerous times, he refused and I assumed we were just worn down from kids, jobs, his promotion at work. Since this discovery, I have examined myself pretty thoroughly (I'm a big fan of therapy) and do not operate under any illusions that we were perfect. I'm willing to work through it and find a way to make different decisions to be happier together. We're both getting counseling and attended marriage counseling for three sessions before he pulled the plug on everything. He has been back and forth about moving out, ending our marriage, working it out, taking a break, etc.

In our last session of counseling he suggested a 3-month trial separation with strict guidelines. The next day he changed his mind and announced he would not be going back to counseling (he felt the therapist was biased and was judging him, none of which I experienced) nor would a trial separation work for either of us.  He is angry that I have told people about his actions and wants to be sure I include the part about being unhappy before the affairs, which I perceive as controlling.

We have two small kids (ages 4 and 2), are still living together and have ceased to communicate about our marriage. He made an appointment with a mediator and is moving ahead with separation. Here's what I'm struggling with - he says he doesn't want a divorce but needs space to clear his head (I don't trust this at all), the back and forth on a daily basis (until two days ago when I put a stop to it) is slowly taking a toll and the instability is making me incredibly anxious. On a daily basis we are living as we always have but sleeping apart. We have a two-week vacation coming up and he is unwilling to split the time evenly so either I don't go and miss the time with my kids or I find a way to be there and not lose my head.

I accept that we are here and while I completely disagree with his decisions they are his to make. I'm sad, angry and scared. I'm not sure what I need at the moment or why I am even writing you but I just know that weekly therapy isn't enough. Reading recommendations about divorce and parenting through divorce also welcome."

I am so sorry you're going through this.

And I'm sorry you're feeling so in limbo about it. I think the not knowing is the worst.

First, it's unfair that he's attempting to control what you say. Just as you have to accept that his experience is his experience, he has to accept that your experience is yours. Additionally, attempting to justify his cheating by saying he was unhappy is complete and utter BS. Plenty of people are deeply unhappy who don't cheat. And plenty of other people who are unhappy cheat but take full responsibility for that as a choice that they made. Part of being an adult is living with your choices.

One of the best things about the divorce process (in my opinion), whether you end up getting divorced or getting back together, is that you learn to really own and take responsibility for your own decisions and feelings. (If you do it as fully as you can--if you try to hide in the middle of it you won't be able to get the good things out of the process.) Part of that is that you lose all the structures you had that kept you feeling safe (and in pain, sometimes, but an addictive pain), so once your life is stripped down all you have is yourself and your friends, and you can take an honest look at yourself and your choices.

This is another one of those things that is searingly painful while you're in it, but once you come out the other end you're both bulletproof and softer.

You don't really know what you want, but I'm going to give you some straight-up advice: Figure out what you want. Independent of what your husband wants. That means you're going to have to figure out a few options that you're happy with, because you can't control what he decides about staying or going. You can insist on an actual decision from him. But you can't control what he decides, or what he wants. So think, yourself, about what you want. What you want if your husband wants to stay. What you want if your husband wants to go.

Because no matter what happens in the next few months and what he decides, you need to be the strongest you you can be. It takes strength to repair a broken marriage, and it takes strength to get divorced. Either way, it will be better than this middle ground. You will feel good again. But only if you're doing what you know you should be doing.

Book recs:

Uncoupling by Diane Vaughn. NO JUDGMENT, just a timeline of how a relationship unravels from the perspective of the partner that leaves and the partner who's left.

Co-Parenting 101 by Deesha Philyaw and Michael D. Thomas. You know Deesha is a good friend of mine and we teach the Writing Through Your Divorce workshop together, but part of what I love about her is how excellent this book is and how it hits everything exactly right about forming whatever kind of co-parenting relationship you can with your ex. Even if you eventually end up have an easy, great co-parenting relationship with your ex (which many people don't, and that's ok), it won't happen right away, so all the data points and situational run-throughs in this book are helpful.

I always feel like the worst part is the deciding part, when you just don't know yet and all there is is pain, confusion, and guilt. I hope you can come to decisions that are good for you and your kids soon, so you can move to the shoulder-to-the-wheel part.

Oh, and your "mutual friend" can go fuck herself.

Readers, what do you have for Annalee?


(Programming note: The next round of Flourish Through Divorce starts August 15, and I'll open up registration in two weeks. If you're thinking of doing it, Uncoupling and Co-Parenting 101 are texts for the workshop, so get them now and read ahead.)