How to Split Up?
Q: I am no longer in love with my wife of 21 years, and wish to leave her. She happens to be 20 years older than me, and we have no kids together. Hers are long grown. My problem is I don't know how to do this with as little hurt to her as possible. She is a very nice person, and very loyal to me, and I love and care for her a lot, but I'm not "in love" with her.
I can't bring myself to be mean to her, but I feel bad about one day springing the "I want a divorce" kind of line on her. There are many things about my marriage and her that I am just tired of. These are not things that can be worked out in therapy, because they are fundamental aspects of who she is. There are things, and I don't think they are out of line, I have asked her to change or be more flexible about, and she refuses and simply says "That's the way I am." So be it, but I am no longer willing to be married to that person either. I especially don't want anyone to behave differently under threat of divorce. That wouldn't reflect a genuine desire to accept something, only fear of the alternative.
Lastly, I think this is better for her. I have grown tired of chasing corporate success, and want a simpler life, even if that means a much lower income, but that is not what she wants. She looks at least 10 years younger, is very vibrant, sexy and sharp, and won't have trouble finding a partner that will give her the things I am not willing to work hard for. How do I most gently set the table to split up?? --Mark, 43
Dr. Susan: Alas, you can't drop a bomb at someone's feet and hope not to inflict harm. If you haven't talked about divorce before, if you haven't seen a therapist back when all these differences first began to matter so much, then your wife most likely thinks you're as content as she seems to be. I totally understand your wanting a chance to live a life more congruent with your values, regardless of the financial trade-off. And I'm sorry the two of you have grown apart rather than being able to begin a new life together with a different focus.
Suggestions: Don't phrase your wish to get out of the marriage as being in her best interests. The blow to her stability and her ego and her plans will be sharp and painful, so don't make light of that by saying this is better for her. It's better for you, and maybe something she can learn to accept in time, but never think there's an easy way to split two lives apart. I wouldn't go on about your belief that you love her but aren't "in love" with her. Everybody seeking a more exciting sex life with a new partner uses that line. After 20 years, everyone's feelings are different than they used to be at first. Many couples ride out the changes and find themselves very happy together. Clearly, you're not among those. Expect repercussions. She may very well be furious and possibly somewhat vindictive. Be extra generous with her, financially speaking, since that matters to her more than to you. Perhaps see a lawyer immediately. Then, when you break the news, if she weeps and wants to see a therapist, agree to go with her, even if only for help in expressing how very determined you are to move on.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.