Dear LetterBalm: My husband of 25 years had an affair that lasted for three years and devastated our family – our two children hardly see him. I did take him back after he was gone a year, regretted the relationship, returned and apologized. Meanwhile, I had taken a hard look at myself, lost weight and enrolled to finish my college degree. My kids were out of the house by then, so I joined a gym and a travel club and made new friends. My husband hasn’t taken this well. He’s needy and whiny; he hates my school schedule and social life. (“I came back, and you aren’t paying any attention to me.”) He has health problems but refuses to take his medications. He comes home from work, eats dinner and watches TV. I’ve made a million suggestions about doing things together, but he refuses. He also refuses to go to family counseling – I’m in therapy, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I used to think my husband was the most wonderful, honorable man in the world. But now I just want him out of the house. I feel guilty telling him. This sounds terrible, but how can I find the words to unload him?
You were cruelly betrayed. Rather than giving in to self-pity and despair, you set about doing the difficult work of remaking yourself. In the process, you grew strong and confident. Ms. L.B. cries “Brava!” You have no reason to feel guilty – your therapist is probably echoing this. Your husband is manipulating you into feeling sorry for him using his medical problems as an excuse. He was always able to count on keeping you in line, but that is no longer happening, and he can see that you no longer love, respect and need him. He is in a deep hole of his own making, and he’s probably depressed and afraid of counseling. When you have everything ready (including legal and financial plans), sit down with your husband. Don’t be deterred:
Kenneth, we’ve been on a long journey with many ups and downs, haven’t we? Married almost 30 years, two terrific children and grandchildren. But I don’t think this will come as a surprise to you: We’ve come to the end of the road. I’m moving ahead, and you seem to want to stay in the same place. I’ve offered so many times to help you, but you won’t take care of your health, you won’t get counseling, you won’t do anything we used to enjoy. I don’t want to be married anymore. I want a divorce. It’s been a difficult decision, but I have to consider what’s best for me. I’ll stay here in my home while everything is worked out. I have no problem living as roommates – we’ve been that way for a long time. I suggest you get a lawyer. There’s nothing you can say; we’re beyond talking. I truly hope you find the strength to begin improving your life.
Ms. L.B. regards Labor Day as her least favorite summer holiday – not for the noble sentiments it represents, but for the fact it marks the formal conclusion to lazy days of summer. But she does fondly remember buying school supplies. There’s nothing like a crisp new spiral notebook and a brand-new pink eraser. LetterBalm will return, pedagogically, on Tuesday.
Dear LetterBalm: I think I’ve gotten myself into a bind. For almost a year, I’ve been seeing a man who’s been divorced for a couple of years. I’m in my mid-40s, divorced with no kids. He has three children, ranging in age from 16 to 23, who live at home and do little to help him. This means he has minimum time for me. I’m trim, and I always try to look my best when I see him. He’s sloppy and overweight, and he tells me how to dress and act and what we do on our infrequent dates. This bossiness makes me anxious because I remember how hard I worked to please my parents who pretty much ignored me in favor of my brother and sister. My parents had an abusive marriage, and they split up several times, which devastated me emotionally. I know I have to get out of this, but I panic about losing him, and I’m crying all the time. What can I do?
–Don’t Want To Lose Him
First, dry your tears. Then, take a deep breath and think about your situation. You’re dating a man with three uncooperative children old enough to know better. He’s fat, slovenly, unattractive, bossy and probably a controlling bully if given the opportunity, which you seem to want to grant him. You fear rejection from him because your parents hurt and rejected you time and time again. Consider this: What would your parents say if you showed up with Mr. Wonderful? They’d have a field day criticizing you and your wretched choice. Ms. L.B. says it doesn’t take a brilliant person to suggest that your unresolved parental issues have damaged your self-esteem. You’re repeating your behavior of trying hard to win your boyfriend’s attention as you did with your parents. Seek therapy, even just to begin to feel better. When you’re stronger, have a (carefully rehearsed) brief conversation with your boyfriend at his home. Don’t make excuses, and don’t let him steamroll you. Then leave, because you’ll be finished with him:
Walter, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re so involved with your children and your home that there is little room for me. You need time to tend to the responsibilities of your family. It’s only fair to both of us that we not see each other again. I truly hope you find someone who can appreciate you. This is the last time I’ll speak to you, so I want you to know that I wish you well and hope you and your kids have a good life. Goodbye.