Mid-life Crisis

Q: I just told my wife that I do not feel much love for her and that I thought we should split up. I do care for her, but don't feel much "romantic love" for her anymore. I've felt for a long time that I was "lying" (although I did not overtly lie) about my feelings and the state of our marriage. The truth is that I would rather be free than be with her. I'm in my mid-forties, and there isn't anyone else, although I often fantasize about other women. Is love a "choice"? Is there some way I could learn to fall madly in love with my wife, so that I was happy to be with her again? -- Jack

Dr. Susan: I'm going to assume your wife hasn't reacted with sheer joy to your admission. Have you heard of midlife crises? Some men -- just like you -- realize they're no longer young and that their lives are no longer exciting enough. The solution seems obvious: fall madly in love with a new woman. Many act on such attractions before telling their wives they want a divorce, and some confront their feelings before they act on them. If it's true that there's no one else waiting in the wings, you still have time to avoid making a drastic, foolish mistake.

The problem, as I see it, is that you're asking the wrong question. "Mad love" can make a mess of your life. Sure, it's great to have that intense attraction at first, but it always evolves into something deeper. At least, at its best, it evolves. If you both pay no attention to your relationship over the years, it deteriorates instead into a dreary ho-hum thing that has you fantasizing escape. To be honest, you may not be able to fall madly in love with your wife exactly as you did the first time, but you can find a new level of pleasure and delight with her, if you both feel it's worth the effort. Rest assured, those other women you're longing to fall madly for will only stay exciting for a short while. Then it's ho-hum all over again.

It's not your wife's job to hand you happiness on a plate. She may, in fact, be more bored with you than she has admitted, and she may adore the idea of making your marriage a priority for a change. "I'm not feeling romantic love anymore" is a lazy attitude. Your telling her you want out of the marriage has probably begun the shaking-up process. Now behave like a caring adult and, with your wife, work to find ways to see each other with fresh eyes. Break some habits and patterns. Many many marriages go through what you're going through and come out the other end much happier. Check out my book Loving in Flow, where long-term couples tell in detail how they got past similar midlife crises and doldrums.

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