Ask Andrew – I love my family but I resent my wife
I am stuck in a horrible cycle with my wife of 22 years that just never resolves. On the surface I put a lot of effort into our relationship – I listen and am attentive, generally give my wife the freedom to do what she wants to do and encourage her, talk gently to her and bring her things that she wants, try to be collaborative, focus on her pleasure during love making and keep myself active and fit and intellectually sharp and work on my spiritual development.
However, beneath the surface I am continually resenting her because she rarely reciprocates, is a bit of a control freak and fairly lazy. I am always approaching this with a wrong motivation, as if by ticking all the boxes on the “perfect husband” scorecard that my resentment towards her is somehow justified and/or that she will “see the light” and somehow change. She goes to lengths to point out when I “miss things”.
My big mistake was marrying her when I wasn’t in love with her but instead for idealogical reasons because I was critical of our society’s ability to commit. In my uncompromising youth it was like marrying someone I didn’t love was somehow a political statement.
A few years ago I really fell in love with someone else but didn’t have an affair except inside of my head. These paradoxically were my most productive years but also triggered a near divorce and a nervous breakdown.
So, with that behind me, and with a family I love and want to keep together where do I go from here? My wife and I seem eternally wary of each other.
Oh dear. What a horrible muddle. A decent and principled man who has somehow ended up hurting himself and everybody around him.
I’m not surprised that your wife is wary of you, holds back and sounds rather angry beneath the surface. I’ve counselled lots of couples where there is an unspoken secret – or an accusation that is occasionally thrown but vigorously denied. It eats away at the heart of the relationship despite everybody’s determination to be nice and keep the show on the road.
Let me try and put you into your wife’s shoes. At some deep level, she knows that you don’t love her. Can you imagine how that makes someone feel about themselves? Feeling unlovable is probably the most horrible feeling in the world, especially if you didn’t feel truly loved as a child or were desperate to win the love of a parent but failed (it would probably explain why she signed up and stayed for so long in this marriage.)
So what are you going to do about this? If you haven’t read, ILYB, please do so. It explains about the three kinds of love and how we confuse them and the misery this causes.
If you were seeing me, I would try three different paths:
1. Discovering if you have had an idealistic and unreasonable idea about love. We get a lot of our ideas about love from Hollywood movies and the idea of soul partners where being ‘meant’ for each other and connecting on a such a deep level magics away all problems. As you can guess this is impossible and stops us learning the necessary relationship skills to make a relationship work. If you have had an affair in your head, by its very nature, this is going to be based on fantasy, suppressed lust and dramatic moments snatched together. If you’re basing what love means on this explosive mix, you are likely to be disappointed by the day to day reality.
2. You have been suppressing your feelings to become the ideal husband – because you feel guilty. This includes your anger and resentment but over time, it will become all your feelings. Even the tender ones and, dare I say it, the loving ones. If you are honest with your wife, let your anger out about her being a control freak and lazy, you will slowly but surely get in touch with all your feelings. (I call it being assertive – rather than passive – and I explain more in ‘Resolve your differences’)
3. You tell the truth and shame the devil. It will be horrible but there is an opportunity to change. She gets all her anger out. She discovers about the affair in your head (assuming she doesn’t already know) and can begin to deal with her lack of trust for you. I think it goes without saying that you would probably need to be in relationship counselling to achieve this but once the dust has settled you can look at the REAL truth. My guess is that you did love your wife. I doubt you would have got married just to prove a point. It’s just that you went into this relationship without the Disney soul mate ‘can’t live without you’ kind of love. (And ultimately, it doesn’t matter because you’ve got something more valuable: we’ve raised a great family and got through all these problems together kind of love). You see once these secrets are said out loud, in the real world, they can be tested. Most people find that they did love their partner but the delicate buds of early love were squashed by their fears of being hurt (especially if they had seen their parents destroyed by love or or a lack of it.)
Lots to think about. Good luck