"Help! I hate my husband."
This is how a letter starts in my Inbox today. It's from a 41-year-old woman named Cindy in Dallas who has been married for 12 years. I get hate mail like this using slightly different language several times a week. Substitute the word "hate" for "loathe", "despise", "can't stand" and occasionally, "wanna kill".
I always tell these women the same thing: You are definitely not alone. Plenty of wives feel this way. Plenty of wives think about divorce at least once a month, if not more, and manage to stay married for decades. My conclusions about the see-saw between hate and love come not as a psychologist or as a minister who counsels her flock. I am an author of five relationship books, including The Secret Lives of Wives, to whom women tend to tell all, about joy and sorrow and cheating and lying, about hot sex and no sex - and lots of dish in between.
Any woman married for longer than six months, if she is honest, knows the eggshell thin line that separates loving from loathing. The deeper the love, the deeper the potential to hate. Any wife who is honest knows the compulsion to throw things, to hiss, to swear, to sit in the driveway in your bathrobe, engine running, sobbing.
What wife among you hasn't occasionally sucked down too much wine to numb the pain of grinding against the same person, in the same house, every day, for weeks, months, years?
Yet we stay married because the love out-muscles the hate in our relationships. On those days we are socked under a gray malaise, we are suddenly lifted into the light as we walk by an old photo of the family, arms looped, heads pressed together, as if we are one big animal. And so it goes; happy some moments, miserable some moments, yet grounded in this flux of emotions by a fundamental commitment to each other, to the children, to forge onward.
I know from my own 24-year marriage and from the resilient women in The Secret Lives of Wives who have stuck it out for up to 60 years that marriage is ever-changing. Their own survival stories prove that periodic explosions can open up the channels to richer and stronger relationships.
I ended up having an hour-long email conversation with Cindy from Texas. She hit my heart. I felt her pain. I've been there, and persevered. Hopefully these snippets from our exchange will help you swing through the moods of hating toward loving, or at least toward liking him a lot, again.
"At some point every week I feel like leaving him. When we got married I imagined this great life we would have together and instead we seem to always be fighting, about the kids, about the fact that he is so remote, about the stupidest things."
"Are you still attracted to him?"
"Sex is still, good, yes. But we don't have it very often. I find myself lusting after other men."
"Have sex more often with your husband. Keep the lusting in your imagination unless you want a torn up heart and buckets of guilt. Fantasy can be way better than reality; take it from one married woman who told me how she took a hubba-hubba office mate to a nearby hotel. Once he took off his shirt she saw a back that was so hairy she couldn't even kiss him: As she put it: 'He was gorgeous in his suit and I should have left it at that.'
"Sorry if this offends because your husband has a hairy back. I'm sure he's adorable, but it wasn't this woman's taste.
"No hairy back - don't like them either. I know I'm lucky to be married to someone sexy. Some of my friends don't go near their husbands. But this hate I feel, it simmers and I wonder if it's a sign that there could be a better partner out there for me. Little things grate on me every day. My husband chews his food loudly. I hate his father. I hate our domestic hum-drum. This can't be love!"
"Does he beat you? Is he gambling away all your money? Is he verbally abusive to you? Does he whack your children? Is he a philanderer?"
"No, he's a gentle man and a hands-on father. I have never been suspicious of him being with other women. He makes a good living, and that has enabled me to stay home with the kids.
"My hate comes from this feeling that I'm missing out on something else."
"Here's what you are missing out on, according to some wives who write to me. How about the agony of finding out your husband is sleeping with your best girlfriend? Or, getting daily critiques from your husband that you are repulsive to look at and lazy? One woman shared with me how her husband grew so frustrated with their autistic five-year-old he tossed him across the room."
"Yikes! Okay I admit I don't have any really big problems. So what about this sense of just feeling bored?"
Last one from me:
"In the early years of marriage, during my 30s and into my early-40s, I often longed for a different life. In my 50s, I am grateful for a predictable routine with the same husband who has helped me raise four interesting sons. We loathe and we love and we carry on. When boredom hits, I go drinking with my girlfriends.
"Could my life be better with someone new? Perhaps, until the new becomes old, which it inevitably does. Does my head get turned by chiseled men in well-cut suits? Yes. Then I remember that I don't want to necessarily see what's under those threads. Acting on lust often turns out not to be true love but to be true disappointment. It takes grit and prolonged intimacy to love deeply and hate deeply and thus is the rhythm of family relationships. Ever tell a sibling or a parent, 'I hate you'? Then, an hour later, you are hugging and wetting each other's faces with tears.