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Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Can My Marriage By Saved?”

From the forums:

My husband and I have been together for 10 years. In the 10 years we’ve been together, a lot has happened, both good and bad. Full disclosure: Once in college while we were on a break, I cheated on him with a friend, and over the last year I did have an overly friendly texting relationship with a male friend. This texting friendship ended last summer, after my husband found out about it.

I have thought about leaving my husband many times through the years due to his behavior and, at times, our incompatibility. He never learned how to deal with emotions well, and he has pretty significant anger issues. It is significantly worsened by drinking, which he has been working on. His anger can be raging and unpredictable at times, and at other times much more subtle, as just an undertone in a conversation. He seems to have the moods and emotional level of a teenage boy. Some of my therapists have referred to it as emotional abuse, which might be accurate in a sense – he does often blame me for his actions and anger, dismisses my concerns, does not recognize the way his anger hurts me, etc., but at the same time, he doesn’t ever call me “stupid,” or isolate me from friends/family, or tell me what to wear, or many of those other obvious signs that one would consider emotional abuse.

After an extremely uncalled-for fit of anger on his part, I have been strongly thinking about divorcing him. I was adamant about my decision for a week or so, but now I’m having serious doubts, and I am getting very emotional about the possibility of losing my best friend. I am filled with both hope and doubts. I am unhappy with the way that he acts and treats me, and yet I also recognize that I have been no saint in the marriage. We don’t have kids right now, but I want them. So I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I have to decide if I want kids with a man who has anger problems, or whether I need to jump ship to get moving on with my life with someone else down the road.

Is this marriage salvagable? And how? Do we think people can change? Is this anger fixable if he takes me seriously enough? I feel like a lot of my trust and security has dissolved from his unpredictability, and I’m sure he feels that about me with my history of seeking comfort elsewhere. HELP! — Can We Save This Marriage?

You already know the answer to the questions you’re explicitly asking, which is: no, your marriage can’t be saved. It’s been doomed from the start, and you’re well aware of this. I’ll save time and energy pointing out all the ways this marriage is doomed since you already did that for me in your letter above. Instead, I’ll cut right to the chase and answer the question you’re implicitly asking – the one you genuinely don’t know the answer to and desperately want insight on: yes, you will get through the pain and the grief of ending your marriage and losing your best friend.

The pain and the grief won’t disappear overnight. You will have periods, as you did a week after making your decision, in which you will second-guess yourself. The pain will feel unbearable and you’ll wonder why on earth you’re putting yourself through it. You will miss your husband. You will miss the life you shared, the security you felt with him, the good times you had. You’ll try to convince yourself that the bad parts weren’t that bad, that no marriage is perfect, and that if you’d just hung in there a little longer, it would’ve gotten better. Maybe kids would have changed him. Maybe time and maturity would have changed him. Maybe even your leaving him temporarily was enough to finally get him to understand the seriousness of the problems and now he’ll commit to doing the work on himself so you two can rebuild your life together. None of these things will be true and if you give in to these thoughts and take your husband back after you leave him, you’ll be even worse off than where you were before because he will have called your bluff. You’ll have no credibility. He’ll know that even if things get really, really bad and you leave, you’ll come back.

Here’s what will happen if you leave and don’t go back: It will be awful for a little while – lonely, sad, painful, all of that. Then, it will be a little bit better. The sun will rise again, you’ll feel warmth, you’ll find joy again in the little things that used to bring you joy. You’ll think, “Maybe I’ll be ok after all.” Then, you might have a setback or two – a bad day, a bad date, an anniversary that makes you miss your ex. That’s when you call a friend, a family member, your therapist. Don’t call your ex! You will get through these setbacks. And then, finally, the fog will lift. Maybe it takes six months, maybe a year. It might take two! There’s no concrete timeline on grief. It’s not even linear. But there is a sort of endpoint. It could be a moment, but more likely, it’s a realization one day that you are…happy. And you’ll realize that you’ve been happy for a while. And you’ll know that you are far happier than you ever would have been with your husband even if things had gotten better with him – even if after lots and lots and lots of work and therapy and commitment, things had gotten better, you are still happier without him and it didn’t cost you as much as staying with him would have.

Everyone who has ever left a bad marriage can tell you what I’m telling you. They’ve all felt what you are feeling right now – the deep down knowing what the right decision is, the second-guessing, the doubt, the fear, the grief. It is not unique to you, this pain. And, I am happy to say, what awaits on the other side of it is not unique either. There is great joy and relief to be felt. It can be yours. If you can summon the strength to get through the tough months ahead, the good life on the other side, free of the toxicity you’ve experienced for the past ten years with your husband, will be the reward. You can do it.

***************Follow along on Facebook,  and Instagram. If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

11 comments… add one
  • Kate December 1, 2020, 9:44 am

    Wendy’s right about everything.

    And you might not even feel that awful. I remember being surprised I wasn’t totally devastated after my divorce.

    And after the breakup of my next LTR, yes, I was messed up for a bit, but I ran around and had a lot of fun. And a little over a year later I met, not to be corny, the love of my life, who I’ve been married to 7 years now.

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  • Helen December 1, 2020, 10:12 am

    I left an abusive relationship when I was younger. It took me 2 years to get the courage. I didn’t have much in my life besides him and I was worried about being lonely, bored, miserable. But it didn’t take long (like a week) before I realized how much less stressful my life was. I had bouts of loneliness, at first, but it didn’t take long before I had built a life I loved. I made friends, and 7 years later I met my amazing husband. My only regret is I didn’t leave him sooner

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  • ktfran December 1, 2020, 10:57 am

    Loved Wendy’s advice. And I liked everyone else’s on the forum. You’ve been together for a long time, your entire adult life. It will be hard and feel daunting to start over but to echo Wendy, it will very much worth it.

    I spent nearly all of my early 30s single. Building a support system (friends, family, therapist) was vital for me. Also vital was developing a routine. And finally, knowing more about myself and being comfortable by myself so I could find the right partner, someone who added to my life but I wasn’t desperate for, was vital.

    You can do this! I think you’ll be much happier.

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  • Peggy December 1, 2020, 1:39 pm

    Yes great advice from Wendy! I waited far too long to leave an unhappy situation and once I did, the relief and peace was amazing ,and I realized things had been worse than I even knew. Also, when I told him I wanted a break, to think about things, he just said nasty things and even when I left, he did nothing to repair the relationship as I hoped he would… So, go with the good advice here. Good luck!

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  • Anonymous December 1, 2020, 1:57 pm

    So I’ve been reading Wendy a long time but have never commented – until now. This letter could have been written by me!! I even gasped when I read it. Albeit, I didn’t marry my ex until my mid 30s and didn’t have any cheating but the drinking and anger and blaming and inability to handle his emotions was all there- and still is. One would think having your wife leave you because of it would force some change but nope, nope, nope. Now I recognize it as emotional abuse even though it wasn’t overt. Buuuutttt I had gone and had 2 kids with the guy. And it got MUCH worse after the kids (life stressors and all that). So now I have a 4 year old and a 6 year old and WILL NEVER BE RID OF HIM (since we share custody) even though we’ve been divorced almost 3 years. It royally sucks! So, please don’t spend anymore time with someone who can’t/won’t change. You have a chance to start over and have kids and an intact family – go for it. You won’t regret it in the long run. As Wendy said, you already know the answer – hope this just gives you more validation.

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    • Dear Wendy December 1, 2020, 2:56 pm

      Thank you for sharing! I always appreciate the longtime-readers-first-time-commenters!

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  • Kali December 1, 2020, 2:02 pm

    WWS

    GO. Don’t waste another day on this man. I spent far too many years in a bad marriage and regret the damage it did to my daughters and to me. You don’t have to have those regrets. Please. Love yourself enough to walk away.

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  • Bittergaymark December 2, 2020, 11:39 am

    I agree with everyone else. The answer — sadly — is no.

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  • Hadley December 2, 2020, 2:19 pm

    I stayed in an unhappy marriage for nearly 20 years. I spent a lot of time convincing myself I didn’t have a “right” to leave because it wasn’t clear-cut emotional abuse, because I behaved badly sometimes too, because maybe I hadn’t really tried hard enough, because he DID get better about some things so I was obligated to give him a chance, right? Looking back, I wish I’d left a lot sooner. You don’t need an ironclad reason to leave someone. Being unhappy is reason enough (particularly when you don’t even have kids together!)

    It will hurt a lot at first, but what Wendy said is true. First, it is absolutely not going to get better if you stick it out. Second, you are probably even unhappier than you realize. It’s like the lobster being boiled slowly — you don’t realize how bad it really is until you are out of it. After you get past the initial pain of leaving you will be STUNNED by how much happier you are. Third, and probably the thing you need to hear most — you are not obligated to put up with being treated badly just because you have behaved badly, too. The fact that you cheated doesn’t mean that you must be sentenced to a life of relationship misery. Your bad behavior doesn’t excuse his.

    Take the time to grieve what you’ve lost, and at the same time, spend some time getting to know yourself as an individual, not as part of a couple. Figure out what you love, what you need, what you will not tolerate ever again. Some day you’ll find a healthy relationship, and you’ll find yourself marveling at how free you feel in it, and at how much you like the person you are when you are when you’re with him. I know this because I’m living it right now. My boyfriend trusts me, respects me, and owns his own emotions (doesn’t take his anger out on me, for instance, or make me responsible for his insecurities). You’ll get there, but first you have to do the hard thing (and NOT dive into a new relationship right away, before you are done grieving and learning to be okay with being alone). I promise you will be okay.

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  • brise December 2, 2020, 2:42 pm

    Sometimes it is better not to try to find a moral fault in a divorce. It doesn’t work. You will be both better off without each other. Really, it is obvious. And your life will be greatly enhanced without an angry partner by your side.

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  • Amy December 2, 2020, 3:06 pm

    Do it! Rip it off like a bandaid! Wendy is exactly right.

    In 5 years, you are going to be 5 years older than you are right now. You can be 5 years past the decision to leave, or 3 years past the decision to leave, or 1 year past the decision to leave, or still wondering if it’s worth it to stick around in a 15 year relationship. Things like this just don’t get better. You have the choice to run your life… and if you wait around hoping someone who doesn’t treat you well is going to change – you are letting something outside of you run your life (like fear, inertia, etc.) and those things will not do a good job running your life.

    You’ll gain so much in the next few years as you move on. Good luck from a woman who could have written this letter myself 10 years ago (and in fact I did write a letter to Wendy about 9 years ago when I was having the second thoughts about my situation because I was grieving and lonely and worried that I wouldn’t find someone). It was worth it! Things fell into place – as they do in life. I’m CONFIDENT that they will fall into place for you too if you do the work to get through the hard feelings.

    One additional thought: I don’t think I know anyone who has been divorced who doesn’t think it was worth it. There are good things ahead of you!

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