Relationship Connection: I am losing my identity

Question

My wife asked me to leave our home over a year ago. She says she doesn’t want to reconcile but isn’t interested in divorce – we’ve been married 32 years and have 4 kids.

I don’t want a divorce but hate being in limbo. I rarely see her nor do I hear from her except an occasional email. Things were hopeful initially and we were going to counseling together but I think that hope is gone.

Ironically, we both had trust issues early on outside our marriage – mine were sexual and hers were emotional and physical, she dated and fell in love with other men. It was toxic, I know.

I’ve had some tough breaks lately – changed jobs, faced officer discipline in the military, excommunication from my church, and now dealing with being a pariah. The shunning is the hardest part – I’m not welcome in my own home. I’m asked to come home to do yard work and chores when the family is away.

So, I’ve lost my identity as a husband and father; and lost my professional ambition and drive. It’s a downhill spiral! I’m not sure I can handle anymore of this.

What do I do?

Answer

I can see why you are confused. Telling someone you don’t want to reconcile while simultaneously telling them you don’t want to end the relationship doesn’t make much sense. I’m sure both of you are emotionally frozen – not sure how to move forward, but also not wanting to end things. This dynamic actually isn’t that uncommon with couples that long for connection, but are terrified of getting hurt again.

A year of silence is a long time, so perhaps it’s time for you to break the silence and insist that you both sit down and figure out what’s possible for your relationship. You don’t need to be demanding, but you do need to be clear that you want to know which direction you’re headed as a couple.

Losing your attachment bond is the most painful thing you’re dealing with, so make that your priority. Even though you’re losing other aspects of your identity, the isolation and inability to know where you stand with your partner begs for resolution. It would be one thing to have a separation and continue to talk and work toward resolution. However, being suspended in limbo isn’t sustainable.

If you want to stay married to your wife and work through your issues, then make it certain what your intentions are and stay consistent. If she won’t respond to your request, then you may find yourself having to make a very difficult decision.

This decision is so personal and far reaching that you can’t let anyone make it for you. Either you stay and face your marriage, hoping for a change as you continue to serve your family. Or, you move forward with divorce and begin a new life as a single man.

We live in a time when long-term commitment isn’t valued and people who choose to stay in difficult relationships are viewed as weak or desperate. I don’t believe this is always the case. In fact, I agree with Dr. Ed Tronick who said, “We thrive in the messiness of human connection. Without it, we wither.”

Even if you feel you need to leave your marriage and begin a new identity as a single man, you should never lose your identity as a father. Granted, the parenting context will change, but you can take charge of your relationships with your children and reach out to them. Even though you and your wife are going through a difficult separation, you don’t have to put your children through that same experience.

You are not powerless to make changes in your life. Don’t let this situation paralyze you into inaction. Move toward your wife to keep working on your relationship and see what is really there. Then, you can make a better-informed decision about your future.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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16 Comments

  • Cali Girl October 1, 2014 at 7:37 am

    YOUR WIFE IS PLAYING WITH YOUR EMOTIONS & CONFUSING THE CHILDREN. YOU NEED TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT & SHARE CUSTODY. SHE HAS ALREADY MOVED ON, NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. YOU CANNOT FORCE SOMEONE TO LOVE YOU.
    YOUR WIFE HAS ISSUES. Not to be rude but she wants to reap the benefits of being married while being single. OVER SHE DOESN’T WANT YOU BUT DOESN’T WANT ANYONE ELSE TO HAVE YOU EITHER. SHE’S SELFISH & IT MAY BE ALL ABOUT $$$

    • Koolaid October 1, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      Date the wife of your wife’s new boyfriend. That will show her!

  • Dana October 1, 2014 at 7:42 am

    You are a wimp. Man up and move on.

    • pedro October 3, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Dana! While the advise may be good, the name calling is not helpful. The man had his life ripped apart by the one he loved and trusted. It would be simpler if she just said ” It is over. I am never going back to you.” Cruel as it sounds, he would then be free to get on with his life.

  • ladybugavenger October 1, 2014 at 9:46 am

    What? She doesn’t want to be with you, she doesn’t want a divorce…ohhhh I get it…she wants you to work for her (if, yard work, only when they’re not home) without having to live with you….that sucks!!! Its all or nothing buddy- you tell her… and I’ll warn you it will get ugly when you take a stand but no one will call you whimpy for leaving her once and for all. Here’s a hint: file for divorce first!

  • Bobber October 1, 2014 at 10:06 am

    I don’t know how Geoff can possibly even think of giving advice w/o knowing the details of the excommunication!!! That is the most important info to know!!!

    • Anonymous October 1, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      Why is that the most important information to know? Who cares? I’d be more concerned with why he is facing military discipline. Maybe he’s gay. If so, good for him. Dump the women and find husband who will actually understand you.

    • Koolaid October 2, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Maybe her new boyfriend is their bishop. I don’t think it would be a good image for them if the congregation saw the hubby lurking around the bishop and his new gal. I’m sure the church highly wouldn’t recommend that.

  • sagemoon October 1, 2014 at 10:26 am

    The woman’s got some issues. Kick her to the curb and quit mowing her lawn!

  • Michael October 1, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Either you’re married, or you’re not. Tell her that you are moving back in to be the father and husband you are and want and need to be, or it is time to move on and end it with divorce. In my experience, asking you to move out is just a way of saying that one partner (your wife) is not yet ready for divorce, but when ready, with a back up love supporting her, or mentally able, she’ll drop the hammer. Meanwhile, you are hoping this whole time that your partner will come around. Your marriage is broke, fix it, or get busy fixing you.

  • Good Mormon? October 1, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I think Dana pretty much said it all.

  • Koolaid October 1, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Saw the root of your issues immediately when you said excommunication from church. Church puts funny ideas in peoples’ heads, especially one about women being servants to men. What is the cure for that brainwashing?

  • The Rest Of The Story October 1, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    If your marriage was founded upon religious identity, or membership in a certain “church”, then it really wasn’t a healthy marriage. I’m sorry for the pain you are going through. It sounds like she’s holding out that you will come back and see the light and “repent” of your sin and rejoin said church. In the experiences of many of my friends who have found themselves in similar situations, either the spouse eventually has a change of heart about the religious aspect both previously shared, or the couple both go their separate ways. It’s not fair for her to keep you in limbo. If you have no intention of going back, and she has no intention of leaving, then she needs to do the honorable thing and let you go.

  • Herd October 2, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Have you tried Viagra or Cialis? Something in your marriage is dysfunctional.

  • joanna October 2, 2014 at 9:16 am

    There’s alot going on here. Officer discipline? You don’t just get that for forgetting to unplug the toaster.

  • pedro October 3, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I feel your pain. I did 18 months of trying to find out why she did not want divorce but did not want me home. The emotional stress paralized me. In order to save my career and my sanity, I demanded that she either work with me to save the marriage or give me a divorce. I am now divorced and have a good relationship with my kids and get along with my ex. Life without her is far better than life in limbo.

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