Reader Resentful writes,
I have been married for 20 years. We have three children: 20, 16, and 9. Up until about 7 years ago, our marriage was really good. After staying home with my daughter for her first year, we made the decision for me to go back to work.
I started a new job. I absolutely hated it. My husband told me I needed to stick with the job. He said no one likes their job and I need to just suck it up. Well, I sucked it up for 2 years. My doctor put me on extended leave for depression. I left that job and have successfully worked at 2 different jobs in the last 4 years before finding my current job, which I absolutely love.
I have always held some resentment toward him for making me stay at the job I hated. To this day, he reminds me that he has had to be the foundation for our family because I am so flighty and unpredictable.
During these years our marriage has slowly deteriorated. His tone has become more negative toward me and our children. He can be very condescending when we disagree. I feel like I am more like a daughter than a wife. He stopped showing me the love and affection he used to. He would tell me how lucky I was to be married to such a great man.
My self-esteem plummeted. A little over a year ago, I started talking through text to a guy friend. Although I never physically met up with him, I did have an emotional attachment to him. He was giving me attention and a positive outlook on life. I knew this was wrong.
My husband found out about this and was devastated. In his eyes this was an affair. I told him I thought separating was the best option for us. He begged me to work on things. We went through counseling for a while, but he felt like our therapist sided with me more than she should have.
He will still bring up what I did a year ago almost daily, wanting to talk about how I hurt him. He will talk for hours and hours at a time. He gets upset that I never bring this subject up and feels like I am trying to sweep things under the rug. I have grown numb to our long discussions. It is always about him... always.
We are "temporarily" living in a two bedroom house. Yes, the four of us plus my oldest when she is home from college in a two bedroom prison. He feels like this is the best option until we are ready to buy a house. With all of the long talks and the cage of a home, I feel like we are neglecting our children. I decided to make plans to leave. Last week is when I told him I no longer wanted to be married.
This was a huge wake up call to him. After hours of begging, he convinced me to take things day by day. He is really trying to work on himself, but I still feel like I made the wrong decision. It crushed me to see his heart broken like it was. I love him and I care about him, but I don't think I am in love any more.
To make matters more complicated, I am attracted to a man at work. I have not taken this friendship any further than just a friendship, but it has been so long since I have felt "giddy" about someone, and I know I'm really just trying to fill the voids in my life. I know I could pretend my life is fine and go with the flow as my husband's wife and be sort of unhappy. The other option is to leave him. He would be crushed and would probably hold a lot of resentment toward me. Do you have any advice?
We call this an "empathic rupture." You needed your husband's empathy about your job situation, and your depression, and the fact that your child was so young when you were leaving her for a job you didn't even like, and he met your sadness with dismissiveness and invalidation. It is very hard to recover from empathic ruptures, and if they are not repaired, they can lead to grudges, resentment, and bitterness that eat away at a relationship, even years later.
Aside from this job situation, it seems like your husband takes a very parental role with you, and can be very narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. He tells you what you "should" do, and the dynamic of your marriage is such that you listen to him until you have some kind of breakdown. I believe that on some level, you used to believe in your husband's opinion of you as "flighty" or impractical, and you remained with him because you thought you couldn't be on your own. Now, you're starting to realize you disagree with many of his decisions, and you no longer find that you need him to advise you on anything.
In line with the previous dynamic of the marriage, your husband continues to try to tell you what you are "wrong" about (now, it's the emotional affair, before, it was the desire to leave your job), and you are expected to sit down and listen to him rant at you. Now that you've tired of this pattern, your husband doesn't know what to do and feels panicked over the marriage potentially ending.
On a deep level, it sounds like your husband is tremendously insecure, and derives his self-worth from telling others what to do and why they are wrong. He acts like he thinks he is so intelligent and awesome, but in reality, he is likely feeling very anxious and foolish over many things now, including you having had an emotional affair, the fact that you guys aren't in the position to buy a house that would be comfortable for all of you, and now obviously that you want to leave him. In actuality, if your husband is like many traditional males, he was likely feeling bad that you had to go back to work despite wanting to stay home with your daughter, and so he acted all tough about you having to "suck it up" rather than saying he felt bad that you had to go in to a job you hated every day.
I believe that you and your husband could potentially repair this marriage, but it would be a paradigm shift. You would need to openly acknowledge and explore the toxic patterns that you both perpetuated in this marriage for the past decade or more. You would need to be open and honest with one another instead of seeking to escape and avoid the true problems via ranting and raving and criticizing (him) or looking outside the marriage (you). This would be tremendously challenging work, and there is no guarantee that you would be able to move forward together. But, if you were able to understand one another in new ways, the upside to you both and to your children is huge.
I also recommend individual therapy where you can explore why you remained in this marital dynamic where you are criticized and berated. I would imagine this is something familiar to you on a deep level from patterns you observed when growing up. Keep me updated, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Never Tell Your Spouse To "Suck It Up."
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.