Maria in San Francisco writes:
I’ve been married to the same guy for quite some time now. However,
we’ve had many ups and downs – and unfortunately, we are on a “down”
at the moment. He goes through times when he doesn’t want to remain in
the marriage, and goes off and does what he wants – and then returns.
I’ve taken him back three times now, but I’m starting to feel like he will do the same thing to me for as long as I allow it.
It doesn’t feel to me that he will change any time soon. My question to you is, what can I expect from him? Do you see us giving it another go, or does it very soon end in divorce? I don’t think he would ever file for divorce himself, so unfortunately, even though I’m not the one constantly leaving the marriage, it’s me that’s left with the decision. One more thing: do you ever see him taking part in our kids’ lives?
You are absolutely correct in your assumption that your husband has no inclination toward divorcing you. Why would he? You are there when he wants to play house, and you manage to keep things together when he’s out on his own. For him, it’s a pretty good deal.
Your husband wanders off because so much of his home life is filled with problems, drama, and complaints. I know it isn’t a picnic for you, either, but while you are trying to express how you feel and what you need – it comes across as though you are talking at him rather than with or to him. He doesn’t understand that you are hurt, tired, and exasperated. In turn, he is very dismissive of you, overly critical, and he really doesn’t hear a word you are saying. Both of you end up feeling like everything is out of control, and neither one of you is happy. Temperatures start to rise, feelings get hurt – and then the cycle repeats. This pattern fixes nothing, but continues to build resentment.
Surprisingly, even with everything he has put you through, you aren’t coming across as ready to take that step and initiate a divorce. While the love you once had for this man is battered and bruised, you still hold onto the hope that your relationship can evolve into a more loving and stable marriage. It’s going to be one heck of a fight – but it could.
Because there is still a foundation of love, you have a good chance of changing the destructive path the two of you have been walking down. If each of you can gain some clarity into the other’s needs and expectations, both of your actions and interactions can change for the better. Life and all of its stresses have beat down on both of you. You stay and deal with it all, and your husband runs away to escape the responsibilities. But if you can come together as a team once more, the big problems will become smaller.
Both of you are guilty of expecting the other to know what you are thinking and feeling. Time, life, and kids have broken down your communication skills, subdued the passion and intimacy, and eroded much of the faith and trust that once existed. There is a lot of hard work that lies ahead of you, but it ultimately would be worthwhile.
I know you want peace, happiness, and a stable family environment for your kids. Understand that this is going to be a process of creation rather than some magical change. When your husband comes home (and he will), gather your strength and prepare to handle things differently than you ever have before. This isn’t just about having him home, this is about improving the dynamics and interactions – making home a place where all of you want to be. The first step in the process is to actually talk.
If things in your marriage do not change, neither will your husband. This isn’t just your problem to fix: it has to be a joint effort. Be strong but not mean, compassionate but not a doormat, and he will rise to the challenge of healing the relationship.
This time when he comes home, be calm but brutally honest. Tell him you don’t know where your relationship is going, or if you even want to be in it – but for the sake of your family, you would like for both of you to set your egos aside and see if you can come up with some workable solutions. Counseling would do your marriage and family wonders – but I’m not going to hold my breath. However, you can get him to agree to really try and work things through for a set amount of time, if you will do the same. This sets a tone that states that if things do not change or improve, each of you has an “out.” It takes some of the pressure off, and also reinforces that one way or the other, things are going to change.
Your husband will be around the kids, but it’s going to take some time before he figures out what to do with them. Until he grows up a bit more himself, he isn’t going to get nominated for any “Father of the Year” awards. However, he will learn – and he will learn to enjoy them.
You know what you have, and you know what to expect. Any changes and improvements that evolve will happen because you initiate a break in the cycle. So take a deep breath, find the steel in your spine, and do what you need to do. While there certainly is a bit of risk involved, ultimately you have nothing to lose.