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Parallax - Advice

December 16, 2002

Last Chance?

Dear Conversely,

Ask us a Question!I've been with my husband for eighteen years, and married for eight of those. We met when we were very young and have no kids. Unfortunately, he never grew up. He left 'Mommy' for me and I am guilty of accommodating him for way too long. He is a taker, having very little understanding of the concept of giving. A year ago, I had an affair with a wonderful man who was tender and giving—the exact opposite of my spouse. My husband found out and begged me to stay, promising to change. But he has been hot and cold since, and has maddening outbursts, due to his hurt over my betrayal. We are in counseling, but even the counselor says, 'He just doesn't get it.' I feel trapped. Doomed never to feel 'special' and always feeling unloved, yet feeling guilty for wanting to leave. Guilt got me in this situation in the first place and my husband has a knack for placing blame on me. I don't want to feel like a prisoner to my marriage. Any advice? Email to a Friend


Her view:

Dear Imprisoned,

There is nothing worse in life than feeling hungry for love. And, you are in fact, in that position right now. Guilt in relationships is a thing of medieval times. I think you've given it a fair shot and I hate to tell you to end a marriage, but I see no happiness here for you, any time soon.

As you say, there are 'takers' out there. And, frankly, they do not change. They never become genuine givers. They may put on an air of giving to keep what they have or get what they want. But in the end they are takers at the core, and they will always reveal themselves this way and cause perpetual unhappiness.

It's really a question of how miserable you are willing to be throughout the rest of your life to mitigate the guilt you will feel over someone who has not been generous with you from the start. It sounds like a mismatch. You married too young, and frankly, it isn't a fit. Counseling is a great step toward getting these feelings out in the open and trying to fix the damage, but you can only try so long.

You need to decide where your breaking point is, and how high your demands are for happiness. My advice is to be a little selfish here—in many ways, love and a good relationship are all there really is.

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His view:

Dear Imprisoned,

Guilt is not a good enough reason to remain in a bad marriage. If there is no love left for your husband, no passion and no common purpose (like kids), then it may be better for both of you to end it.

That said...I believe your feelings of guilt will compel you to try a bit harder. For example, since your affair, have you really changed your married life or have you fallen back on old patterns? In other words, are you still accommodating him because that's just the way you are? Perhaps to save your marriage you need to stop being his mother and force him to grow up.

Also, you need to make it clear to him that you will leave if he doesn't change. The fact that you go to counseling and feel so guilty only reassures him that he and the marriage are still your priorities, rather than yourself.

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