Relationship Connection: My wife is going through an identity crisis

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Question

My wife and I are in our early 60s. She just retired two months ago and is having a severe identity crisis.

After over 30 years together she has told me that she doesn’t appreciate me, and I should find someone who does. She says she wants to be open to seeing other people. She doesn’t want to be physically intimate with me. She says that all the years when I thought we were, literally, making love, she wasn’t feeling it, and that she just felt like she was doing her job as my wife.

I am vacillating between being furious with her and being completely heartbroken. On the one hand, I can’t make her love me, but on the other, I am really mad at her for not dealing with this years ago.

We have been in counseling many times for fairly long periods, and I thought our relationship was fine. We have two grown children who are going to be collateral damage if she continues on down the path she keeps suggesting to me.

I would sure appreciate any advice or counsel you can give me.

Answer

Your wife has delivered a painful assessment of the relationship. You can argue with her about whether or not it’s accurate but at the end of the day, you have to decide if you want to be right or you want to be married. Your wife is having a different experience than you.

Yes, it would have been nice to know this years ago, but you didn’t. Perhaps she didn’t know either.

I find it’s helpful to assume that people are doing the best they can with what they understand at the time. Sure, there are certainly times when people lie and deceive, but I don’t find it’s helpful to start with that assumption.

You can imagine any number of scenarios for why she would make such a pronouncement. We all want to receive the benefit of the doubt, so I recommend you start there. Assume she’s confused about your relationship and is trying to find something better.

This is a critical time for you to slow down to better understand your wife’s perspective. It might be tempting to drag her into counseling so you can fix this problem. However, I recommend you take what you’ve learned from years of counseling and do your best to learn what she needs.

Share your heartbreak with her and let her know you want to stay with her. She needs to know that you’re not just heartbroken for you and your kids but especially for her. She’s obviously hurting and has been for years. She needs to know that you are hurting because she’s hurting – are you?

Sometimes we get stuck in roles and routines in our relationships without thinking through the effects it’s having on us. Hopefully she can redefine these roles and expectations with you while choosing to stay married. You want to make it clear to her that you are flexible, curious and willing to understand what hasn’t been working for her in this relationship.

Hopefully she is willing to share more about her experiences being married to you. Even though we have a tendency to rewrite our own histories when we’re in pain, let her talk enough so you can get to the pain and better understand where she’s hurting.

She may remember events and circumstances differently than you, but those aren’t the most critical components. What’s critical is for you to listen for the pain and show compassion, concern and any appropriate accountability.

This is not a time to argue perspectives or offer solutions. She is clearly hurting enough to end your time together. It’s likely she’ll start out with complaints, criticisms and specific examples of times where the marriage felt like a chore to her. Stay with her and keep listening.

Eventually, the softer underbelly of her emotions will surface, which are the more accurate indicators of her pain. You need to hear where she’s really hurting and not get distracted by the examples. Reassure her that these feelings matter to you. Thank her for having the courage to show you where she’s really hurting. Do everything you can to let her know that her pain matters to you.

I can’t promise she will stay with you. Only she can decide that. However, your willingness to stay with her as she shares painful emotions will do more to save this fragile relationship than any other approach you could take.

Hopefully she will sense your genuine commitment and love for her and decide to rebuild a stronger connection.

Stay connected!

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

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4 Comments

  • ladybugavenger June 1, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Sounds like your wife has been going through an identity crisis most of your marriage. It’s sad for sure wasting all those years being married but not in love. Your kids are old now so they won’t be collateral damage, I’m sure they felt the stress growing up and probably will say, finally.

  • .... June 1, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Oh heck get a girlfriend and have a party

  • voice of reason June 1, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Dude, you’re in your 60’s and she’s tired of you. Just move on. No one should be stuck in a relationship they don’t want to be in and she clearly doesn’t want to be in one with you any more. Wish her the best luck you can possibly muster and let her be happy. If your happiness is dependent on her being miserable and stuck with you, well, doesn’t that just make you a peach.

  • frankslob May 27, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    Thank you Geoff!! I have been going through this journey with my wife over the last year and a half. It was refreshing to read your perspective and guidance you provided.

    I have found all the thoughts people share end up being selfish and self serving. Your article has confirmed to me that the journey we have together through marriage is tough and a long road. The expectations that are put on our spouses by society leaves them feeling if they don’t conform to social norms they are less than perfect.

    It has made reconfirmed to me that the path I have chosen to l support my wife in finding value in herself. Not only will it help her it will strengthen myself and our relationship, what ever it may be.

    Life is complicated and I made a commitment through marriage to her that if I don’t keep will undervalue myself. Looking past ourselves is the most difficult challenge we face. I hope that others that read your article can fine pease and guidance to put the effort in as I have.

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