What a marvelous comment I received this afternoon! It came in reply to a recent post, When to Fix a Failing Marriage. This is definitely one worth fixing.
Here is the comment. I love it because it has so many of the elements of what I have heard from both men and women when their spouse suddenly gets restless or angry.
My wife told me 10 weeks ago that she loves me but she’s not in love with me anymore and wants out of our marriage. This came out of nowhere..she said I didn’t make her feel special and I gave too much of my time to others and not enough to my family. Her sister, brother in law, and most recently her brother had died giving my wife a sense of mortality. She told me that there’s got to be more in life than what she has. I thought we were happy for 21 years and then she drops this bomb. I love her and believe she is having a Mid Life Crisis. She doesn’t see it. Help!!
A mid life crisis can be seen only in the rear view mirror. For now, she’s experiencing a crisis, and she does not expect that time will fix it. But look at all the great information you have to work with!
Often, when a spouse suddenly changes demeanor or wants out, I have to ask if something has happened recently to change his or her outlook on life. Here, we know what it is: three recent deaths of folks in her own generation, three recent losses of her family support network. This is a huge disruption, almost as large as if she lost you, Larry.
In a year or two, she will have rebuilt her life without these people and without her former confidence that there is still time for her plans. She will rebuild it with people who acknowledge how much an earthquake like this has affected her and who support the dreams and plans that it has brought to the forefront. If she doesn’t, you would not want to be married to the shell of a woman left by pretending this was nothing. You need to be one of those people.
She says she still loves you. Believe her. If she’s not in love with you, she means simply that she cannot right now feel your love for her. But you know it’s there. Protect her from her mistake. Stand tall and give it another shot.
She says there has got to be more in life than what she has. Would it not be wonderful to be married to someone who finds the rest of it? Right now, she thinks she needs to divorce you to have it. All you need to do is say, “I want you to have this.” And then start looking for a Third Alternative to life as usual vs. life divorced. Those are not the only two options.
The next step, after you jump to her side of the net and agree there must be more, is to learn what she’s looking for, and to do it with interest, not argument. You must be open to hearing it. Once you know what it is and you have confirmed to her that she can have it and still have you, too, you can get into the details of how to get it without scaring the bejeebers out of you. Don’t bring up any of that until you know what she’s after.
She has given you a really big clue to why she does not yet trust you to help her get what she now feels is missing. Have you read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages? She narrowed down her list for you. There are two that match, and I am pretty sure you know enough about her to know which one she means.
One is Quality Time, the time you spend doing things together as a couple or a family with nothing else competing. It’s time when you are not thinking about anything else, taking phone calls, checking your email, or answering calls for assistance from anyone else.
The other is Acts of Service, the helpful favors you do for people. When she says you give too much of your time to others, is it doing things for them? Are there things at home you know she’s wanted your help with for a long time? If so, I would guess it’s this love language she speaks, rather than Quality Time.
Here’s the thing about love languages: it doesn’t matter how much you offer of the other four if you withhold the one that makes your spouse feel loved. The other three are Words of Affirmation, Gifts, and Physical Touch. We all have one, maybe two, that we recognize in our gut as the measure of real love.
If you want her to include you in her recovery, try offering lots of her love language, whether it’s Acts of Service or Quality Time. If you’re not sure which one, give her both.
When she says things that make you feel disrespected or unwanted, stop and Assume Love. Assume she still loves you and wants you in her life, but she’s been set adrift by these big losses. If this is true, how might you explain her words or her actions? For example, if she pulls away from a hug, and your love language is Physical Touch, you may at first interpret her action as a rejection of love. You might think this, because you would only ever pull away from a physical touch if you were rejecting the offer of love. But someone with a different love language can love you and pull away because she’s busy offering an Act of Service to one of your children or to a grieving relative right now or trying to provide Quality Time to someone other than you.
Please know that while she’s feeling unloved, she is likely to show you less respect than usual. If you want to keep her around, don’t spend any time ruminating on the question of whether or not she respects you or ever respected you. Lots of men get stuck there. She’s been with you 21 years, so it’s a good bet she respects you, but she’s female and feeling insufficiently loved, so it’s almost guaranteed she will feel less respect for you. It’s just how female biochemistry works.
I saw a great movie yesterday, and I was thinking about writing a post about it. It’s called Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. In it, a man whose wife has been busy with her career and is headed off to work in Geneva for six weeks, to his surprise, gets suddenly thrown into a project that requires all of his skills and taps into all of his passions. She discovers too late that she misses him. He ends up living in Yemen with the woman who dumped the project on him.
What I wanted to say to all my readers, what I would love to say to your wife if she asked, is that it is NOT necessary or even practical to abandon your spouse to change your life. I know this from my days of dating as a widow in my 30’s and 40’s. To a person, every divorced person who dates again reports that they felt held back from doing things by their spouse. But each of them was one of those spouses, too. We form a picture of who we’re married to that is trapped in earlier days. We stop even asking for changes. And then we end up divorced from someone who really knows us, divorced from our own past, separated from our children’s family, because of a fossilized image of the person we married.
So, to you, Larry, I say this: drop everything, affirm your love for her even if you fear rejection, and start asking her what’s on that bucket list of hers. Then figure out how to fit in into your plans. Ask for help coming up with new ideas that preserve what’s good from your past and brings in what you’ve always wished to include in your life.
She’s right; life is short. There is no time for a divorce. Get on with living. Either of you could die within the next ten weeks. Don’t waste them on worrying about whether you still love each other. Don’t wait for life to get back to normal. Just live them, fully together. Live them like they are your last ten weeks together. At the end of those ten weeks, sign on for ten more if you’re lucky enough to have the option.
You do not need to pull out of the marriage in advance. Live well enough, intensely enough, that even if she leaves you in ten weeks, these ten will have been worth whatever extra pain you feel because you did not protect yourself from rejection.
Please let us know what happens, Larry. I wish you strength and love.