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: After a difficult couple of years with my wife, I thought we were on the road to recovery. She was very unhappy over my treatment of her mother, who moved in with us after her husband died. The fault was mine, but after her mother moved out, we had counselling a couple of times and I believed I could mend fences. But I was still edgy, unsure of my wife's feelings for me. She viewed my silence as anger, and in June she told me she wanted a divorce. We've been married 15 years and have an 11-year-old daughter. Now I am in a separate bedroom and continuing with counselling, while my wife is taking personal empowerment therapy. I have been showing her my love every day but she won't even entertain the idea of couple counselling. I feel that if we tried we could find happiness again. Can you help?
Listen to her
Your wife must have been harbouring this anger for quite some time. If she had a habit of bottling things up, then she would have felt empowered when she finally asked for a divorce, and that could be why she continues the personal empowerment therapy. There's more to the story than just the way you treated your mother-in-law. It's going to take gentle coaxing as well as patience to convince her you want to work this out. Hopefully the empowerment therapy will give her the confidence to finally speak up and let you know what else has been on her mind. I think that will be the key to further counselling together. Continue the counselling on your own and, in time, invite her to come along if for no other reason than that it is to your daughter's advantage to work this out.
- Nancy Deni, Sudbury
Focus on the future
You are focused on a single issue; it may in fact be a multitude of issues that have caused her to ask for a divorce. She may not know herself what is really causing her unhappiness. If you continue to focus on "fixing" the past you will continue to live in the past. Try changing the parameters of the discussion to expectations of the future. Get your wife to share with you what she sees as her future life. Get her to create a picture of happiness, then start to ask for details and see if you are a part of that picture. If so, you are on your way to recovery, sans all the therapy. Focus on tomorrow together.
- Christopher Serrie, Aurora, Ont.
It's too late, baby
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your marriage has already ended. Your wife has moved on. Look at the facts: She is not interested in continuing couples counselling; by your own admission, your attitude was negative before and during counselling; and most telling, she asked for a divorce! You may want to reconcile, but your wife does not. You should continue with personal therapy and figure out how to move on.
- Rich Goodman, Toronto
The final word
I know from the example of my own remarkable parents the kind of strain it can put on a couple to take on elderly and/or infirm family members. Fortunately, when I was growing up, there was no danger of anyone mistaking anyone else's silence for anger - when people got angry in my house, the rest of us knew it, and when people went silent it was only because they had exhausted their vocal cords. It's not that I think yelling is the ticket to familial bliss, but it strikes me that the Red Flag of Silence had been fluttering above your deteriorating relationship for some time before it finally imploded. The occasional bellow of umbrage might well have done wonders to clear the air.
And now your wife wants a divorce, and you, suddenly, want to talk. I applaud your initial visits to a counsellor, but in only going "a couple of times" you failed to give the seriousness of the red flag its due. "I believed I could mend fences," you say, and, "she mistook my silence for anger." It sounds as if, outside of counselling, your domestic situation was more church than household - a place of fervent, silent prayer, when in fact it was high time for you to get behind the pulpit and make your case.
Recently in these pages I've opined that for failing relationships to revive, both parties must be utterly committed to reconciliation. The hard truth, as articulated by our friend Rich, is that your wife is clearly not. The fact that she is taking "empowerment therapy" (whatever that is) tells me that personal empowerment is something she feels has been lacking in her life with you. This is where Christopher's wisdom comes into play - your wife is looking to create change, to go forward and not back. Right now, you represent the past and to win her back you need to convince her that as a couple you and she can turn a corner. Nancy advises "gentle coaxing," but it's going to take more than that. It's going to take work - and a lot more talking.
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
A reader writes: My daughter doesn't want to invite my second wife to her wedding. If she can't go, I don't want to either. What do I do?
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