Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding from Carvell Wallace every week.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’ve been married for a little under five years, and during that time I’ve found myself raising not only a child but also a husband. I have a lot of affection for him and often tell myself how lucky I am to have found a man who is patient and understanding and who mostly does what I ask him to without complaining. He is also a great father, and everyone who knows him would describe him as gentle and happy-go-lucky. My problem is that over the years I have lost a lot of respect for him and have recently come to realize that I don’t love him at all.
He is notorious for messing up in huge and financially irresponsible ways. He seems aimless in his career and almost every other area of his life. Unless I direct him to do something, he rarely makes any decisions for himself. Over the years, he’s gotten better about sharing household duties with me, but I still carry much of the emotional labor in our family since I find myself having to tell him exactly what to do (in our house, his job, and so on). Experience has taught me that when I stop paying attention, we both pay in huge ways due to his inability to follow through. We’ve had a number of talks about this and tried counseling before, to no avail. Honestly, we don’t have the money to keep pursuing counseling any more.
On one hand, I desperately want our child to grow up with two parents who are married to one another. I know that he is a good person. My life isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, I am so tired of putting in the work and reaping almost nothing in return! I sometimes wonder if there are others out there my husband and I are better suited for—two people who could meet more of our individual needs (emotionally and physically). All in all, I’m terrified I’m wasting my “youth” (mid-30s is still youthful!) in a loveless marriage.
Am I just wishing for imaginary greener pastures, or am I right that if I don’t feel up to saving the marriage, we should consider separating? Am I settling for a marriage that’s just OK when I could have a great one? Am I a monster if I sacrifice some of my child’s stability for my own happiness?
—Almost Ready to Wave the White Flag
You pose really important questions in your last paragraph. One of the most difficult things about marriage is having to wonder if your desire to go elsewhere is a good instinct or the wanderings of a perpetually unsatisfied mind. Of course, it is not easy to tell. But there are a few clues in your letter.
Let us start with the phrase “I don’t love him at all.” Not every loveless marriage has to end. I have heard that there are couples who make this arrangement work for decades. But it’s definitely not the greatest sign for the longevity of a marriage. Maybe a clearer way to look at it is that a marriage is made up of two distinct elements: romantic and sexual desire, and logistical partnership. In other words, a marriage is a business that you are running alongside someone whom you are also sleeping with. For the marriage to last, it would help for the sleeping-with to be good and the logistical partnership to be workable. The situation you are describing points to problems in both areas and that’s not great.
This might be the kind of situation where I would toss out the possibilities of open marriage, polyamory, or something along the nonmonogamy spectrum. These arrangements are, of course, not right for everyone (I tend to think of it as a kind of orientation) but, assuming that the people involved are down for it, it is definitely one logistical answer to the old This person is great and our life together is great, but I don’t feel like there are a lot of logs in our fireplace, so to speak situation. However, you’re describing something more like I can’t co-partner with this person for logistical reasons, and also there is no attraction and that’s a far sight worse.
So I would say that it is, in fact, time to start thinking of what else you could be doing with your life. Whom else you might be with, or what else you might be able to do if you weren’t bothered by the prospect of being with anyone. It is normal to worry about what this might mean for your kid, and that is no small thing. It really isn’t. But you can take comfort in the fact that there is a very good possibility you and your husband will make far better co-parents than you do spouses, and that, in the long run, may be a good thing for all of you.