Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Posted by Anonymous.

It's depressing to me that what feels like the most important decision I will have made up to this point in my life can be reduced to some stupid, cliched song lyrics. My husband and I have been together for more than a decade. We have an amazing two year old son. And more bad blood between the two of us than I care to think about most days. Our marriage got off to a rocky start, I'll admit, what with me attempting suicide a few months in and then again a year later. What can I say? I was young, and depressed, and felt trapped in the horror of feeling that the walls were continually closing in on me. I tried to kill myself, in part, because I thought my husband deserved better. Now, years and scores of pills and hours of therapy later, I look back on that time in our marriage and regret that I felt so utterly incapable of letting in my husband (or anyone else) even the tiniest bit. And I regret having ever put him through that mess.

Five years ago when he told me that my depression and emotional withdrawal from the marriage led him to have an affair, I cringed. I felt responsible. What was wrong with me? The fact that he waited to tell me about the affair until after we had planned a move across the country to be closer to (his) family eventually infuriated me. Cue the start of breeding resentment. And then, six months after we had moved across the country and he told me he was having another (emotional) affair with a coworker, the world slipped out from under me and I ran, no, sprinted head-on into the land of denial and workaholism. Maybe it was because my body was telling me, in a voice not unlike what I imagine a shrieking harpy to sound like, "You need to have a baby! Right now!" and having one with my husband seemed the most accessible option. Maybe it was because I couldn't imagine giving up on the years of history built up between us. Maybe it was because neither my family, nor his family "believe" in divorce, and I couldn't imagine shaming them by telling them I just wanted to give up. Maybe it was because I felt incapable of living on my own. Maybe it was because I was scared.

Not surprisingly, we had had sexual issues from the getgo. We had waited until marriage. Why, I don't know. Our honeymoon was one long disaster. I have always found sex uncomfortable at best and painful at worst, and not infrequently, would cry after intercourse because I felt as if something was being taken away from me. I know, I know, that sounds pretty fucked up right there. He wanted it all the time; I never wanted it. I was convinced (and he was convinced) there was something wrong with me. I had sex only out of a sense of obligation, and never really out of a sense of anticipation or enjoyment or intimacy. And then, after a long dry spell, he subtly pressured me to have sex. I can't really blame him for that. I understood that he had needs that weren't being met. I don't know if I can blame him for continuing to pressure me - "Come on, it'll be fine" - after I said no, it wasn't a good time. I know I blame myself for not standing up more strongly to him. Of course, I got myself good and knocked up. I was never really ambivalent about being pregnant. I knew from the moment I found out that I wanted the baby.

For a brief period, we got along better. We tried really hard. We stopped the constant arguing and forced ourselves to look forward to the oh-so-bright future. And then he told me that he was still in contact with the woman with whom he had had an emotional affair. That he was still attracted to her. He described the sex acts they had discussed. Even though something in me was screaming, "Get out! Get out! Get out!" the thought of being a single, graduate student mother flooded me with fear. So I stayed. I have tried to forgive him, but I can't. I have told myself I need to live with the consequences of my actions that led to my (wonderful, brilliant) son being conceived. I thought that meant staying with my son's father and "working it out." I thought it meant providing my son the perfect nuclear family. I thought it meant swallowing my pride and self-respect and getting on with life.
But now I just don't know. I went through a horrifying postpartum depression and have emerged from the other side. Emotionally, I'm still a thousand miles away from my marriage. I cringe inwardly every time my husband touches me. I don't feel attracted to him. I've stopped sharing things with him. We haven't had sex since our son was conceived. I'm angry. I'm hurt. I'm exhausted.

Last weekend, the issues in our marriage, sexual and otherwise, came to a head once again, as they tend to do when even the strongest denial is insufficient to fill in the gaping cracks in our relationship. He shared his frustration that I won't touch him. He told me "We need to do something about this. I can't ignore this need forever." In my head, I agree, yes, we need to do something about this. In my heart, I feel sick about the idea of touching him. He told me that he thinks I need to touch him, even if it is uncomfortable for me. Even though he took it back later, a part of me flew away and started singing a high-pitched tuneless tune when he said that. I can't live with that expectation, I told myself. I can't live with that expectation, I told him.

I spend most of my time feeling utterly numb. In the moments when I touch the despair in our relationship, I feel like I cease to exist. I want to make this all his fault. Outwardly, I do. But inwardly, I keep chanting, What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me? I look at our son and think How can I shatter his world with a divorce? And I think How can I keep living this nonexistence in his presence? And I sit here, paralyzed.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Being forced to have sex is wrong. Plain and simple. You have needs too. Has he bent over backwards to meet them?

Anonymous said...

I think your husband is behaving despicably by blaming his "affairs" on you. It sounds like he is carefully dumping the whole marriage mess in your lap, and expecting you to take the blame for everything-- including his choices. It seems sneaky and underhanded and... deliberate. Where is his part in all of this, and does he own any of it? (Especially when he's continuing the "emotional" affair?)

Have you ever talked to anyone about your sexual reaction to him? It sounds like there is something much deeper going on there. (But hey, I get it! My skin crawls when my husband touches me in a romantic way. I HATE SEX, and would be perfectly happy never having it again.)

As for staying or going, I think you need to take a look at your numb, nonexistent, paralyzed self and ask if (or even how long) you'll be able to be a good mother to your son. If the answer is "not very long", then I think you need to explore some alternatives to your current situation.

And marriage counseling, most definitely. If only for your husband to see how his behavior is affecting you, and not just vice-versa.

Amy said...

This may sound completely insane, but why not have an open marriage?

You don't want sex, don't need it, it's not important to you. Meanwhile, he wants and needs sex and it's important to him. It's like telling him, "I don't like cheesecake, so you can't have any."

What if you gave him permission to have cheesecake with someone else, provided that he's discreet and safe? What if you said to him, "Our relationship works on the family level, and the parenting level, but not the sex level... So go out and get that elsewhere, carefully, but come home to me and to our child, and lets make the other 99% of this relationship work,"?

What if you at least TRIED that, before giving up on your marriage?

Honestly, it sounds to me like you have some serious hang ups and issues with sex, and most people will tell you that you need counseling or recommend sex therapy, and they may be right - but therapy will only work if you want to fix it. I don't get the feeling, from your post, that you do. But maybe if you let the pressure off of the relationship - by letting him get his sexual needs met elsewhere - you'd have enough breathing room to fix the other things that are wrong in your marriage and make the rest of it work for your kid.

It's kind of unrealistic to expect one person - a spouse - to be able to meet all of our physical, social, sexual, emotional, financial, etc. needs. It's a relatively new concept, too. Maybe you need to go about marriage in a different way, one that works better for you and the family you've already created. One that has worked for royalty for most of history... Think about it.

Dan Savage's ideas about open marriages are interesting. This week's Savage Love column -
http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=1162752
- sort of speaks to your problem. Salty language, but I think that the idea is sound in certain situations.

There are lots of ways to make a family. If you open your mind, maybe you can find a way that would work for the three of you (and especially for your child).

Amy

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have similar issues but in reverse--he's the one who won't touch me. And while I don't approve of your husband's ways of dealing with your reluctance to be physically intimate (I have never had an affair, emotional or otherwise, nor have I ever pressured my husband to have sex when he didn't want to), I can relate to the grief he must feel when you shrink from him. It is such an intense rejection, and so painful, that I would never wish it on my worst enemy.

I hope you will try to get some help, both individually and as a couple. Therapy saved our marriage, and there isn't a day that goes by when I'm not grateful to a) still be married and b) to have a husband who doesn't wince when I kiss him on the cheek.

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest - I think you should leave. Get out while your kid is still too young to fully understand what divorce means.

Keep as friendly a relationship as you can with your hubby. My parents separated when I was young, and they always put me 200% first - above resentment they felt towards each other, above drama, above everything. I never had resentment to them for splitting up, and now I'm able to look at them, with great relationships with both of them, and wonder how they were ever married in the first place. They are different people with different desires and goals, and that's perfectly fine.

But get out now, before your kid is old enough to understand what divorce is and understand what you're going through.

My biggest thing is this: if you tried to get over his affairs and you can't get past them, it's only going to get worse and worse from here. And is it fair to your son for you to be pretending all the time? Kids pick up on that stuff, and that is much more damaging than having divorced parents.

Anonymous said...

I also never wanted to have sex with my husband, and I had a million reasons why. After we divorced I finally realized it was because I was furious at him and the very thought of touching him made me ill. But I could never admit that I was angry with him -- not when everything wrong with us was "my fault." I hear you 1000% and my heart goes out to you.

I have 2 young kids (1 1/2 and 4 when we split), and I thought that I'd be breaking their hearts and ruining their lives by divorcing their father. It's turned out to be the best thing I ever did for them, though. What finally changed my mind was the idea that my daughter might grow up thinking that the way my husband treated me was OK for her, and that my son might grow up and treat someone else that way.

We're all so much happier now. Getting divorced was the hardest thing I ever did, but it's also the best thing I ever did for myself and my kids.

Good luck to you. Please know that you're not alone.

Anonymous said...

I don't think your sexual problems are because of resentment towards your husband. You say that sex has always been uncomfortable at it's best from the beginning. Maybe you should go to counseling and try to work out why you hate sex so much.

I don't want to be be mean here but you really can't have a marriage with someone when the idea of touching him makes you "fly away and sing a high pitched tune." Affairs aren't the answer but you can't expect him to be celibate his whole life just because you hate sex. It isn't fair to him.

Anonymous said...

I agree, an affair is not the answer in any way, shape or form. So shame on your husband for that.

By the same token, how do you expect your husband to feel? Sounds to me like he's put up with a lot from you and stuck by you through a lot. He needs love and intimacy too. I personally would leave my marriage if my husband treated me the way you treat your husband.

PLEASE get some help. A good book suggestion for a start is the book "His Needs, Her Needs" - but you need more help than a book can give you, you need a counselor. Please either come to a place where you can be a better wife, or let you poor husband go so that he can get what he needs too.

Anonymous said...

I feel so strongly about this comment which I am about to write and I am fearful that it will not come across as I want it to but here goes.

My Mom married my step-dad when I was 8 and had my half-brother when I was nine. Three years into their marriage it had gotten really bad (in the same ways your marriage is bad). Long story short, my Mom stayed with him for the sake of my brother. My brother is now 17 and has learned terrible habits from my step-dad. He treats women badly, especially my mother. He resents my mother. He asks her daily how she could "do this to him" and why she "didn't leave him." She feels terrible. She was trying to stay with him to make my brothers life better but in the end my brother resents her for it.

Get out. Get out now. It will be hard but your child will be better for it. Your child will know that his mom doesn't allow people to treat her like dirt. You deserve better. Your child deserves better. Please.

Anonymous said...

you definitely do not need to even entertain the thought of an open marriage!!!! That would help nobody!! It takes two to make a marriage work, if you two want it to work, get some help and fix the marriage. If not, there's your answer.

Anonymous said...

Open marriage? What awful advice! If that's the case than get a divorce.

Amy said...

Anon 4:30 and 6:22 - I think that for the last 30 years people have jumped up and yelled "DIVORCE" much too easily.

Marriage doesn't have to meet your every need. Don't you think that's a lot of pressure to put on one person? Adults can choose to define their marriages in a way that works for both of them, rather than sticking to some romanticized Judeo-Christian ideal. If the ideal works for you, that's spiffy... If it doesn't, sometimes getting creative is better than getting divorced.

For someone who hates sex, has always hated sex, and whose hatred of sex is causing other problems, maybe the original author needs to think of ways to re-frame her idea of marriage so that she can preserve her family without making herself and her spouse miserable.

And since I am not posting anonymously, I'd just like to state for the record that I am in a very happy, monogamous, closed marriage.

Anonymous said...

"I have told myself I need to live with the consequences of my actions that led to my (wonderful, brilliant) son being conceived. I thought that meant staying with my son's father and "working it out." I thought it meant providing my son the perfect nuclear family. I thought it meant swallowing my pride and self-respect and getting on with life."

I just wanted to thank you for posting here. This is my life. Different reasons, but my life. Married to a man whom I'm convinced was a brother in a past life that was much too recent. Platonic, and stretched to the limit by an immense loss that we suffered as a family. We no longer have affection, we no longer talk. Not particularly interested in it - this loss suddenly opened up, made clear, just how poorly matched we are.

And so where does this leave you? First, I'd never look at any of these comments and chirp "What Horrible Advice!". I suspect there are far, far many more open marriages out there than we realize, or perhaps marriages that are deemed open thanks to a subtle tolerance of infidelity. And is this always bad, something to condemn? No. It might be what you both need to be a family, if being a family in that traditional way (at least for your son) is important to you.

I can't give you advice because I don't know what to do, either. I come from a family of virtually zero divorce, and with two glorious daughters, well.. I feel entirely locked in.

Someone to talk to, like a counsellor (just for you, not for the both of you as a couple)... that has to be worth trying, right? Not necessarily to create one outcome over another, but either way, I think you'd do well with a guide of sorts that can help you to sort things out.

And so that's all I have to offer - a nod and a sigh. I'm just glad you're here, and voicing this. That has to be a start.

MYSUESTORIES said...

When you cringe at his touch- it's time to get out! Go back to family, a comfort zone, and get on with living!

Anonymous said...

Honestly I commend your husband. I would never stay with someone that long who cringed at the thought of touching me. Kid or no kid.

Anonymous said...

You need to get some help with your sexual issues. Sex shouldn't be painful. This makes me wonder if something happened to you in the past that hurt you and continues to hurt you even now - your sense of self, your ability to be emotionally intimate, your ability to be physically intimate.

Please, seek some help - I think you need more than we can give you here. For yourself, for your husband, and for your child. You want to be able to model for him a healthy, loving relationship, so that when he grows up, he can find an equally wonderful one of his own.

Anonymous said...

Counseling may be helpful if you don't want to leave yet. While staying for the sake of your son is noble, it may not work the way you think it will. If you are that unhappy, he is going to realize it when he is older. He is going to be able to see the way other families interact together and wonder why his family doesn't act that way. I think that consenting to let your husband have affairs can be dangerous. Secrets have a way of coming out eventually. Would it hurt your son to find out later that his dad was having affairs all his life? My family is very much about divorce not being an option in marriage, but you have to look at what it is costing you. No one should have to be this unhappy for the majority of their life.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Do I know some of what you are dealing with!

I understand your reasons for staying. I do.

I have nothing to offer other than a prayer for your relief, and for your husband's relief.

Celibate marriage never works if only one partner thinks it will.

Sarcastica said...

I know so many amazing people who's parents were divorced, and they were happy. I also know people who's parents NEVER divorced and they had a bad childhood because of it. Kids can sense when their parents aren't happy, and you're not happy...so don't even worry about shattering his life because it would shatter it MORE if he had to be in that kind of environment and sense the way you two always felt.

I think you should leave, because you aren't happy. Don't let fears for your son being harmed by the divorce stop you.

Mamalang said...

There very well could be a medical reason why you have the pain. I have endometriosis, and it would cause me to have pain that felt like someone was cutting me open in the middle of intercourse. I winced just thinking about having sex. I cried when I finally received the diagnosis, because I finally knew it wasn't me or just in my head. You need to talk to your OB/GYN. I say this no matter what you decide to do with your marriage...it can cause other problems for you in the future.

Pamela said...

Yes, marriage is a two-way street, but it's not one person's fault for affairs. That's just not true.

If you have never had serious counseling, you should go. Both for your own personal issues and to help you figure out what to do about your marriage.

I get the impression that you are carrying guilt and shame from your husband's affairs. If that is the case, then an open marriage is only going to cause you more pain.

Address your own mental/physical health first before you make any life decisions, if only to be assured you are making decisions with a clear mind. Good luck.