Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we offer a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist, Lynn Coady.
A reader writes: My wife and I have been married for 15 years and together for 22. We are in our 40s, and it has come to the point where affection and sex are rare occurrences. I'm not sure if I even like her that much any more, and it would not surprise me if she felt the same way about me. We are both intelligent people, but we don't or won't take any measures to improve our relationship. It seems time has taken its toll on us and we don't have the desire to improve things. Our children keep us together as we are firm believers in the family unit and both of us know the importance of two parents in the home. She is an excellent mother and keeps our hectic household in order. Life is tolerable, but we are cheating ourselves here. How do we find "love" again and how do we both commit to this hunt at the same time?
Cut the crap and go
Oh, for God's sake, do everyone a favour and give over with the mealy-mouthed excuses. You want out? Go.
If you were actually interested in finding love with your wife, you'd be in therapy, and working your butt off trying to win her back. That you aren't doing either tells me that your hunt is probably well advanced, that you've got a new someone in your sights.
It's gonna cost you to get out of this marriage - in time, money, aggravation and pain. Be a mensch and get on with it, and knock off these pathetic pre-emptive excuses.
But don't expect absolution to emerge from the wreck you're about to cause. No one's going to thank you for this.
- Anne Furlong, Charlottetown
Love takes work
People think that love is something that you can fall into and out of at the drop of a hat. But, after being together for 22 years, and married for 15 (congratulations, by the way), you probably know that isn't true. Love is a verb. It's something that you practice at, not find. If you want to love your wife, then love her! Remember what it was that brought you two together in the first place. Take time out of your hectic schedules for each other; obviously you both can see the importance in maintaining your relationship. In addition, even if you don't have the desire to improve things, you still had the desire to write in with your problem. Which, as far as I can see, is enough of a desire to make an effort to love your wife.
- Adi Berk, Thornhill, Ont.
A multi-decade marriage deserves a try at marital counselling. There are numerous accounts of stale marriages revived by counselling, and it sounds like you have the motivation for it - let's hope your wife does too.
If counselling doesn't work to "save" your marriage, it still produces two valuable outcomes. First, it means you can leave the marriage sensibly and honourably, head held high, knowing you made a decent effort to communicate and rebuild, but that regrettably you and she are just two different people who need to pursue new avenues in life. Second, it teaches an invaluable lesson to your children: When you arrive at an impasse with someone, talk it out, seek a third party, and be civil about it. Years from now, when your kids are married and they have their own challenges, they will remember your approach and behave likewise.
- Carl Reinecke, Ottawa
The final word
One of the most sobering reads of this year was Sandra Tsing Loh's essay in The Atlantic describing the revelation that ended her 20-year marriage. It all came down to this: Did she genuinely want to "make it work"?
"I realized … no," Loh writes.
"I can pay the bills; I can refinance the house … I can administer hugs as needed to the children … what I cannot authentically reconjure is the ancient dream of brides, [to]look into each other's eyes and feel that 'spark' again."
Loh is an example of someone who discovered, like you, that she had "no desire to improve things."
Unlike you, however, she was utterly unambiguous about whether she was prepared to do the work involved in salvaging her relationship. You need to be every bit as honest. The sentence, "I'm not sure if I even like her that much any more," gets at something beyond sexual boredom and emotional laziness. It sounds as if you barely consider your wife a friend.
I agree with Anne in spirit, if not tone, when she suggests that if your marriage were a true priority, you'd have dragged your wife to therapy well before it got to this point. But Adi really hits it with the statement: "If you want to love your wife, then love her." The operative word here is "if." You're not asking how to fall in love again, but how to want to.
I only know this (and every marriage counsellor in the country will tell you the same): To save a marriage, both parties must be utterly committed to doing so. It means moving out of your comfort zone and taking drastic, painful steps. If neither of you has the wherewithal, face it together and take comfort in Carl's insight: Marriages end, but don't have to do so spectacularly, or ignobly. The marriages that explode like car bombs, leaving innocent bystanders (ie. children) bloodied in their wake, are the ones where both people refuse to acknowledge that steady ticking noise under the seat.
So don't just sit there with your hands over your ears.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.
Next week's question
I have lived with my common-law husband for 26 years and his mother has never approved of me. She is class-conscious and very aware of the fact that my father worked in a factory while her late husband was a successful professional. Click re to read the rest of the question and share your advice.