Lesley Garner offers advice to a man whose wife has asked him to leave the family home.
My wife and I separated six months ago, but our problems started a couple of years ago, when our sex life faltered. We have been together for 12 years and have three beautiful children. I love my wife with all my heart, but she seems to be depressed and is blaming me for making her that way. I do suffer from insecurity because I feel she is too good for me, which she is. She is the most wonderful wife and mother and has always supported me. However, she doesn't talk about her feelings and therefore feels she has been neglected in the past and that no one cares. I do care and always have, but I am not confrontational, so if I sense anything I bury my head and hope it goes away.
I don't believe she wants to divorce, but she said I had to leave to make sure the children don't suffer from my insecurity or the environment we were creating. I agree that the children come first and therefore that time apart may help. However, I don't know what she really wants because she won't talk about it. I feel that this quite unfair on me, although it may mean that she doesn't really know herself.
She says she doesn't want to go back to where we were, but won't rule out getting together again in the future. That is what I want, and I will do anything, given the chance, even if it means staying separated and dating her again without the pressure of living together.
I have asked her to go to counselling but she won't go. I'd like to go as a couple but I am going alone instead, as it is the only way I can show that I am taking my issues seriously. I really don't know what to do with myself. I am out in the cold. I want her and my children back together but don't know how to make it all better.
How on earth can I get through this? How do I give her space without losing contact with my kids? And what if she thinks I have got over it when I haven't, and then decides she can move on. I don't want to move on without her. Any advice is welcome.
This is a clear and depressing picture of how a relationship and a family can fall apart, not through spectacular rows, blatant infidelities and shocking cruelty but by being eaten away by mice. You and your wife are the mice here, scurrying around the edges of your marriage and ducking into your private holes in the skirting board, avoiding any confrontation and utterly deluding yourselves that your children will be happier if their father cruelly and inexplicably absents himself rather than staying present, with all his human imperfections. I wonder how many marriages there are like yours, eroded from the inside until they fall irrevocably apart. I suspect there are thousands.
By comparing you to mice, I am not trying to belittle the very real pain and anguish of the situation you are in. From my bird's eye view, I can see that all this scurrying and hiding is an attempt, through fear, to avoid great pain. But the sad thing is that your attempts at avoidance are leading you to the greatest pain and loss of all. Without taking the risk of telling the truth, there will be no prize of a possible reunion.
But telling the truth in a marriage is potentially very dangerous, which is why we have evolved the structure of relationship counselling and guidance. A neutral, professionally trained facilitator can sit between two uncommunicating partners and guide them into saying what they really feel and think. The presence of this third person means that both sides have to listen to each other and that they do not descend, as blocked communicators invariably
do, into an endlessly repeating downward spiral of accusation and defence.
Congratulations to you for attempting this process on your own. If your wife refuses, for the time being, to look at going with you to Relate (www.relate.org.uk), would she consider going on her own, for the sake of the children, if not for you? Without some positive action being taken by you as a couple, I don't see a way out of this impasse.
I can spot several major problems here. One is that the sex stopped a year ago. Why? How? Who stopped what? I suspect this is a symptom rather than a cause, but it is crucial to the problem. Another serious problem is that she won't talk about her feelings. A third is that you avoid confrontation and won't talk about feelings either. This is a recipe for disaster. A fourth is that you tell her you're not good enough for her. This is a fruitless line to pursue and likely to drive a wife mad. Between your insecurities and her depression, your marriage is dying – and it's all down to a lack of communication. If she is depressed, by the way, then I hope she has discussed this with her GP. Depression should never be taken lightly.
What happened to the joy in your marriage? One approach of marital therapy is to take the couple back to the beginning of the relationship in order to remind them of what it was that drew them together in the first place. What did you share that gave you pleasure? What made you laugh? When things go wrong, we focus on the bad and completely abandon the good. But it can be found again. Your children, as well as you, need to find the joy.
One serious danger in your present situation is that you will lose your children. Another is that you will lose your home. You must do everything to prevent this. It is adult wishful thinking to imagine that the children will be happier if one partner leaves the house. Children will tolerate almost anything to keep their family together, and yours must be finding the present situation very difficult and bewildering. Children need certainty and security. They are not longing to "have their space". They will be longing for you to walk back through the door. I think you need to get back home as soon as you possibly can.
Your wife is laying down all the rules at the moment. If you wish to salvage this situation, it is time for you to stop following her lead and take control. Make an appointment with the marriage guidance counsellor, book a babysitter if necessary, and insist that she comes along with you at least once. Another advantage of going to counselling is that it focuses the mind and moves the marital debate on, even if things get more difficult.
There is no avoiding difficulty now, whatever you do, but it is better to work through it. Do not allow the situation to settle and grow, or you will find it has passed the point of no return. She is not being honest or fair with you, and everyone is suffering.
I think you would find it very helpful to do some reading on dealing with difficulties in relationships. I recommend two Relate guides by Susan Quilliam, Staying Together – from crisis to deeper commitment and Stop Arguing: Start Talking – The Ten Point Plan for Couples in Conflict. Buy copies for your wife, too.
The thing is, women talk to each other. While you are sitting on your own, suffering, she is probably talking to her female friends and veering off on a path, at which you can only guess. It is high time to stop the guessing in your marriage and reopen responsible grown-up talks.
Finally, you mention dating without living together. Don't waste a second: ask your wife out for the evening and make sure it's to do something care-free and fun. The joy can't start soon enough.