I lay here tonight feeling very alone- husband is working away- but also because I’ve been ill with shingles for the past month. My husband has been home through the roughest part of it, but I still feel very alone with my pain. I had this thought:
Through my whole marriage I have been alone in this relationship- right from day one.
During this last illness as I lay in bed in unbearable pain, keeping my tears quiet to avoid keeping him awake, all I could think was:
He doesn’t care. Why do I feel like I’ve faced every struggle alone?
It’s because I have.
My quandary is this: my husband is well liked by family, coworkers, and friends. He’s a hard-working man and provider. If I left him and people asked why, I couldn’t say it was because he is abusive or drinks. The only excuse I’d have would be: I’m not happy. It seems so selfish. So what do women in my situation do? I’m alone not only in my relationship- I don’t have friends to talk to, and don’t want to share it with family. I’m retirement age, and fear that I could never survive on my own- I haven’t worked outside of the home in years.
Well, dear reader, I want to start by saying that I’m sorry to hear that you have shingles and are in so much physical pain. I’m not surprised your emotional pain is surfacing- often, underlying emotional pain and unresolved emotional issues arise when we are in significant physical pain . Also, your marriage situation is one that many of my clients face once their children leave home. From witnessing so many women go through this, I feel I have a sense of how lonely and upended you are feeling right now. I’m not one of those people who will try to cheer you up here for three reasons:
- It sounds like that is what the people around you would try and do if you openly shared the truth with them about your marriage.
- There are plenty of personal growth books out there which would aim at doing the same and I think they are a pile of bunk so suggest you ignore them.
- And most importantly, the last thing you need when you finally summon up the courage to face an uncomfortable truth about your life is for someone else to tell you it’s not true or it’s really not so bad.
I sensed a profound sadness when I read your query and it touched my heart. And I get it- on paper- your husband is an all-round good guy. And yes, there are some obvious red flags in some people that scream to us, “Head for the door!” like addiction (along with staunch denial and the refusal to do anything about it). But in my opinion, the fact that you’re not happy in the relationship is a serious problem in and of itself. I’d also like to add that, “not happy” is too general here. I don’t have enough details of your situation to properly assess it, but in general, it looks like you and your husband have been growing apart for many years and now that the kids have grown up and moved out, you are metaphorically staring at each other blankly and saying, “Who are you? Who am I? Why did we get married in the first place?”
And now I need to put my couple’s therapist hat on and tell you that I strongly believe that your situation is highly fixable if the two of you are both willing to get some outside help, roll up your sleeves, and do some long, hard work. In fact, most therapists recommend that couples seek therapy after the kids have left because it is such a powerful time of change for everyone in the family. Why couple’s counseling? Because you are the two left sitting there staring at each other after the others have left and this is probably the first opportunity you’ve had to focus on your relationship to each other since the kids were born and if my math is correct, that should be nearly two decades! That’s a long time to be in a relationship without nurturing and reassessing.
As much as I empathize with what you’ve shared about how you’re feeling, I am also curious about what’s going on for your husband. Just because someone doesn’t talk a lot, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t having a lot of thoughts and emotions rolling around inside. And typically, women are the ‘expressers’ and men tend to clam up when it comes to communicating about emotions. However, a good couple’s therapist will be able to facilitate these conversations between the two of you by learning each of your ‘emotional languages’ and will give you tools to share what you feel, need, and want from each other in a constructive and loving way which will serve to bring you closer together, not further apart.
Lastly, I want to suggest that you work on building solid friendships outside of your marriage because in order to have a good partnership with our mate, we need to have multiple sources of support and love as well. Girlfriends can be incredibly helpful for providing support and sharing laughs and enjoyable activities with.
To sum up, I don’t believe that we should just up and leave a long-term relationship with a really good person without giving it a fighting chance to grow and transform in the here-and-now. If your husband refuses to work on things and tells you it’s ‘your problem’, that is a different story. But I would suggest giving him- and yourself- a chance to share how you’re really feeling, what it’s been like since you raised kids, who you are now, and what you’d like in a partnership now and in the future- first.