It can feel devastating when you’ve given much of your adult life to your spouse and your family and then one day it seems as if your spouse is just ready to discard everything that you’ve worked for. There are many unpleasant factors about getting older, but having a middle-aged spouse experience a midlife crisis and think that you or your marriage is the problem can be maddening. It can feel like no matter what you do, he isn’t sure if he wants to be with you anymore, even though you’ve done nothing wrong and nothing has significantly changed – other than your spouse’s perception of life and what (or who) he wants in it.
Someone might say, “I have been married to my husband for almost 25 years. We met when we were really still children. We have gone through so much together – getting through college, building our careers, having children, struggling with illness, caring for our parents, and financial ups and downs. You name it and we have been through it together. I will say that the last three years have been particularly challenging. We started a business together and things did not go as planned. We fought hard to keep the business, but eventually, we just had to fold. We didn’t want to lose everything on a sinking business. So letting this dream go was devastating for us. But after we sold, things settled and it felt like a relief. Except for my husband has gone a little crazy. Now that he doesn’t have the business taking up all of his time, he has decided that he needs to take some time off and find himself. He is going to travel extensively. I assumed that I would make at least part of this trip with him, but he told me that he wants to go completely alone and that he wants to evaluate what he wants out of life. He also says that he may decide that he no longer wants our marriage. I am devastated by this and I feel thrown away. He swears that there is no one else, but I feel very betrayed. I have given this man so many years of my life and now he may not want me anymore? I have supported him through thick and thin. And now that we’re approaching the time of our lives where our kids are getting to be less problematic and we should hopefully recover financially and can enjoy life, he suddenly wants to make his escape? I am not sure what to do about this. I know that this is his life and he gets to make his own decisions, but it’s our marriage. And it makes me feel just awful to be set aside in this way.”
I know how you feel. I too went through a marital separation at a time when I thought I was well beyond the age to worry about that. But, life happens sometimes. I got through it. I am still married today. But my husband also went through some things that made both of our lives a bit difficult for a while. Below, I will try my best to offer some tips that I found helpful.
As Much As You Can, Try To Step Back And Imagine What He’s Feeling: I am not justifying your husband’s behavior. But I think that once you can see things from his point of view, you can then craft the stance that is going to make things better and not worse. I say this from experience. My first response when my husband started complaining about being unhappy was to tell him that he was being self-centered and that he was crazy if he thought that life is always sunshine and roses. But, of course, when you have this sort of response, the unhappy person is going to be defensive and is going to think that you don’t care about their dilemma. Instead, try to sympathize with the fact that he likely sees himself as a man in middle-age who is now having to recover from a huge financial blow. This situation would be stressful for anyone. He might be beating himself up over it. He might have hoped that he could be a better provider for his family. If you can see him as struggling rather than selfish, this helps tremendously. This mindset allows you to be a little bit more empathetic and approachable and that is likely what he is seeking much more than someone insinuates that he is wrong or who suggests that he just snap out of it.
If He Insists On Taking Time, Then You Do The Same: Some men who are struggling in this way absolutely insist on having their space and they will not be talked out of it. Sometimes you can try to compromise – you can offer to stay with friends while he sorts himself out. But not all men are going to accept this. So, if he insists on traveling, moving out, or whatever he needs to do, try to use the time to your advantage. Men do not find it attractive when you just wait for them to make a decision. Instead, you want to actively work on yourself – see friends, go to counseling, pursue your own hobbies, and stay busy. Your husband will likely notice this and it is so much better than just waiting or continuing to demand more from him when he is so resistant. I know that it’s hard, but I promise that it makes the time go faster and it makes his perception of you better.
Maintain Positive Communication: The truth is that many of these husbands eventually find their way during their midlife crisis or their struggles. Many just need time. Unfortunately, it is so easy to debate, pressure, and argue during this time that our marriage is often damaged and the separation can be prolonged or even turn into a divorce if we don’t play this correctly. That’s why I can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain positive and supportive communication. I know how challenging this request is. But I also know that when you argue, avoid one another, or have multiple misunderstandings, you are less likely to get back together. The best thing that you can do is to reconnect during this. Some people do this via counseling and others just maintain a supportive relationship until their husband’s struggles pass. Once they do, you may sometimes need to examine your marriage for weaknesses, but it’s easier to do this once he’s in a better place. And at least you haven’t done any more damage while separated.
I know that this hurts. But you can’t control his feelings or behaviors. You can only control your own behaviors and your reactions to him. Try not to do anything to make this worse. Try to take a supportive (rather than combative) stance. Use the time to your advantage and get help if you need it. You’re welcome to read about how I handled a similar situation (mistakes and all) at http://isavedmymarriage.com
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