She Wants Him to Walk Away

Q: My wife recently decided that she has been unhappy for some time and wants a separation. She has asked me to move out and see where that will take us. I have rented an apartment but it's not available yet. In the meantime, I'm still living in the house and we have very little contact other than when we have to do something with the kids. I have asked her to go to marriage counseling but she refuses, and each day she seems to become more upset and tells me that she does not know what she wants. She becomes very angry at every little thing I do, and if I don't call her she will call me just to ask a stupid question and then say oh never mind. She keeps telling me this would be so much easier if I would have just walked away instead of wanting to work things out. We have been married for 14 years and I don't think that I should just give up and walk away from my wife and kids. I don't know what to do with all of the mixed signals that she is giving me. -- Daniel, 39

Dr. Susan: My first thought is that your wife is having an affair. Now, of course, I could be totally wrong, but here's why I'm suspicious: (1) She doesn't want to try to work things out; (2) she says she doesn't know what she wants; and (3) she's more and more emotional, irrational, and confused no matter what you do. If she is having an affair, that would explain why she just wants you to get out of the way, without any effort on her part, so she can decide where her new relationship is going. People in affairs are often deeply torn and wish their spouses would disappear so they wouldn't have to make the hard decision of asking for a divorce.

But let's assume there is no one else involved in your wife's life. Try your best to explain to her that marriage counseling is specifically intended to help people figure out what they want. Ask what she is afraid would happen if the two of you at least discussed your situation with a third party? After all, there are kids involved, and surely she sees she owes it to them, if not to you, to handle a possible divorce with as much forethought as possible. I'm not real crazy about separations, myself. I think they're usually simply an easy first step toward divorce, and rarely do they help people understand their partners better or learn to get along better. You need to work this out together, not apart (unless one of you is abusive, in which case staying apart is necessary). Obviously, she needs to tell you very clearly why she is unhappy and give the marriage a chance to improve, give both of you a chance to keep trying until there is really no hope left. So many people are quitters when it comes to marriage. You're right not to just walk away without knowing what's really going on in her mind and her life.

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