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Subconsciously Making Decisions that Hurt My Wife

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have been married for 13 years. I have two young children. Over the last three years I have noticed a change in my wife’s attitude towards me. She moved out of our bedroom and into the guest room. She was having difficulty sleeping, however when she purchased the bed, she told me that it was for her mother when she comes to visit. However, she moved into the bedroom instead and without explanation. We have never really discussed our relationship.

I noticed that she stopped caring for me and started focusing on herself. In a few conversations she told me she felt her independence and freedom were being “threatened” by our lifestyle. I work fulltime, and she is a stay-at-home mom with an occasional part time job . I have had problems trusting her over the past three years. Because I was unaware of her changes in behavior, I began snooping at her diary and email a few years ago. She found out, and she was furious at me. Recently, she asked me if we could start anew, and I questioned her sincerety. I checked her email, and noticed a realtionship with another man. I didn’t have her permission to view her emails. I recognize that this is a symptom of a much larger problem. Unfortunately, I do not really know what that larger problem is.

She has recently told me that the larger problem affects my decisions in multipler areas of our relationship. I was trying to save our marriage by working from home to provide her with more time for herself, I designed a trust agreement that I signed and dated to commit to not violating her privacy, I lost 30 pounds to prove that I could change behaviors, I changed my daily routine from being a night owl (she is a morning person) to becoming a morning person and going to bed early, and we have both begun to see therapists individually. She feels I’m not taking the root of the problem seriously, and she felt that I was hiding behind these new behaviors and hoping the root of the problem would go away.

I think some of the issues are the decisions that I’ve made without speaking with her. I have made financial decisions without speaking to her. She manages our budget. I have difficulty listening. I seem to ask questions during a conversation that have previously been answered during that conversation. I have a fear of confrontation. She believes I act selfishly, and don’t think about her or my family. I have paid down our massive debt, but drained our savings account to do it. This was done against her will and without appropriate communication. Trust is a major issue right now. She also told me that anything I say seems disingenuous. I love her, and I want to save this relationship. We are both overwhelmed at where we are in our relationship, and neither one of us knows how to resolve these issues. Our only real hope seems to be with individual therapists. I fear, however, that she and her therapist will be focused on her way out of the realtionship as opposed to working things out together.

I’m so lonely and feel abandoned. I hate that I have caused her so much pain and that I am just consciously understanding that now. We haven’t been able to celebrate our wedding anniversary for the last three years. We are able to go to dinner, but it ends in sadness or pain. Any suggestions? Her therapist suggested she read, “Too good to leave, too bad to stay.” Mine suggested, “Finding the Love You Want.” I don’t think we are ready for couples therapy right now, but I do think I need to keep talking to her to better understand what my problem is. Any advice?

It must be confusing and difficult to be trying so hard and to feel that little you do pays off. I think that the “root” of your problem may rest in your first paragraph where you say you’ve never discussed your relationship. From your letter, it looks like you’ve each done what you thought was best without much cooperating with the other. No team or business or marriage can work like that. However well-intended each person is, unless everyone is on the same team, working toward agreed-upon goals, the result can be a mess.

I worry that your attempts at a solution are more of the same. Now you are both seeing an individual therapist who is only hearing your side of the story. The books the therapists recommended speak to the individual focus. I certainly don’t want to presume to comment on other therapists’ work without knowing the whole story but I do encourage you both to talk to them about why they don’t see you as a couple. Neither one of you made a 13 year marriage by yourself. You’ve both contributed to whatever is good and bad about it. From the information you presented, I would encourage you to at least explore couples work as a route to mutual understanding.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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