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Divorce dilemma 1: ‘My marriage is a life sentence’

I'm shocked at the intensity of my feelings for the woman at work and how much time I spend thinking about a different type of life

January 16, 2013 | By:

Every month, divorce therapist Charlotte Friedman answers a dilemma from a reader. This month, a man whose 25-year marriage is in a rut of routine and no sex. (Scroll down for more dilemmas)

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Even the arguments have become boring…

‘Phillip’ writes: I am fed up with my marriage. Really fed up. It has nothing to do with my wife; it’s all me. She is a really nice woman and a fantastic mother to our two children. But we have been together for 25 years (I’m 54 now) and I am beginning to feel like my marriage is a life sentence.

If I met my wife now, the chances are I wouldn’t want to marry her. We are in such a terrible rut: we have the same conversations, the same arguments and the same routine. To be honest, I am bored.

I feel completely invisible. We hardly ever have sex and we just carry on in the same humdrum way.

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What makes this worse is that recently I have become tempted by a woman at work. I know it would be easy to have a fling with her, yet I don’t want to break up our family.

I feel trapped. I am worried that being attracted to someone else means that I am ready to walk out of the marriage, and that scares me too.

I think, in spite of my confusion, I would like to remain in my marriage but I am shocked at the intensity of my feelings for the woman at work and how much time I spend thinking about a different type of life. Neither of these scenarios has my wife in them.

This is a real crisis.

Charlotte Friedman replies: This is a dilemma that many people, both men and women, face in their fifties. It is easy to feel invisible. The nice little reminder in the office that there is still life in you only serves to reinforce how alone you feel at home and how exciting life could be if you turned your back on what you know and what is familiar to you.

If you are expecting fireworks after 25 years, I think you need to recalibrate your expectations. However, if you are just asking for a spark to be rekindled so that your stomach does a little flip when you see your wife, or so that you look forward to seeing her at the end of a day, then that, I believe, is possible.

However, it takes two to do that. First, you don’t mention if your wife knows how you feel. For all you know, she may feel exactly the same as you. Second, you mention the same arguments. Often, arguments are the ‘life’ in a relationship, a way of staying connected and creating some communication that isn’t just about whose turn it is to put the bins out. It is a good indication that you both want something more from each other.

So the question is, how do you begin to feel visible again and create something between you that is less humdrum?

Start by going out to dinner or making a candlelit supper at home. Tell her you want to have a good talk. My suggestion is that you make an arrangement with her, a date night once a week or once a fortnight.

You both need to dress up for it and make an effort and do something that you wouldn’t normally do. There is to be no mention of the children, and mobile phones are not allowed to be looked at.

Tell her how you feel. Ask her what she thinks would create something more intimate between you, something that is different from how you both are with your friends. You will find that if both of you invest in this, you should discover something new in each other.

The woman in your office may seem very tempting, but she is not the answer to your problem: she is just a symptom of it. You and your wife are the answer to your problem.

If, when you read this, you feel that doing all these things would not sort out this problem, then you will need to look at the alternative, which, as you say in your email, scares you.

Think about how you might feel having an “it’s over” conversation with your wife. Imagine a life that is the one you think you want. All these things are a balancing exercise.

You, like many others in their fifties, are calculating exactly where the best case scenario can be found. This is different for each person. My advice is to try what I have suggested and only then to start thinking about ‘what next?’. Each scenario brings with it a different set of issues, and this helps you see which set is more comfortable for you.

Charlotte Friedman runs the Divorce Support Group

Click to ask Charlotte about your own marriage dilemma