Dear Prudence

Help! Is It Crazy to Leave a Marriage That’s Mostly OK?

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Married couple holding hands.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.

Q. Wanting more: I’m married, with two young kids. In many ways, my husband and I get along quite well: we have great conversations, we enjoy the same activities, we like the same music and movies, and we (mostly) parent well together. He loves me very much and is devoted to me.

However, I’m unhappy and have been thinking of leaving him. Part of the unhappiness comes from me realizing that I’m queer, and feeling like there isn’t room for me to explore my queerness in our marriage; part of it comes from my husband’s mental health issues, history of alcohol abuse, and lack of drive. He hasn’t been steadily employed in a long time, and also hasn’t been very successful as a stay-at-home-dad. There are other issues, too.

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Here’s my question: Is it crazy to want to leave a marriage that’s mostly OK? I also know that if we split up, I would likely end up with custody of the kids, at least initially, because my husband is unemployed and somewhat unstable. It feels like I would be giving up a lot in exchange for loneliness and full-time single parenting. I’m scared and don’t know how to make this decision! I’m seeing a therapist. We have also tried couples’ counseling, but it didn’t help much.

It’s not crazy to want to leave a “mostly-OK marriage,” but I don’t think your marriage is “mostly-OK.” You say you’re unhappy, for starters, which is not the same thing as “fine” or “neutral.” You’re also feeling stifled by heterosexuality, you’re worried about his alcoholism, concerned about his parenting, and frustrated by his inability to find work. Having great conversations is important, but if those great conversations tend to stay in the realm of the movies and hobbies you both enjoy, and never touch on subjects like how to deal with mental illness, or your husband’s drinking, or what success as a stay-at-home parent looks like to both of you, I’m not sure how much of a foundation you can build on conversations. It’s understandable that you’d balk at the prospect of being a single parent, and there are always risks that come with divorce. But I don’t think you’ve described a mostly-solid marriage with a few cosmetic flaws. You’ve mentioned serious rifts and incompatibilities, admitted you doubt your partner’s parenting at least some of the time, as well as his drinking problem, and have already tried couples’ and individual counseling. I’m not at all surprised you’ve given divorce more than a passing thought. I wish I could give you a “yes or no” answer, but I’ll confine myself to this: It makes sense that you’re considering divorce. Continue to reflect on the pros and cons of pursuing it now, or a few years from now, consider Al-Anon if you’ve never sought support for how your husband’s alcoholism affects you, invite the advice and support of a trusted friend or two, and put all your options on the table.

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