Married With Kids, 25 Years Later, Is it Over? Relationship Advice
I think my wife and I are at the end of our marriage. I’ve been googling around for advice and came to your site. I wonder if you can help me.
We got married 25 years ago straight out of college and had 3 children. When the children came and our lives totally changed I realized how many things I missed out on. I hadn’t dated enough, hadn’t travelled or tried things I was interested in. I hated my life. I hated coming home from work to the house and wife and kids. I hated going to work to this job I didn’t like but with this family to support I was trapped. I felt disjointed. I stuck it out, never cheated or anything. I did the right thing and eventually the hate dissipated. I began to get really involved with my kids, coaching their soccer and taking them to games when they hit junior high and high school and it wasn’t so bad anymore.
For my wife it was the opposite. When the kids were little she was all about being a mother. She completely changed and threw herself into them during the time I was completely hating our life. Then when I flipped around and took an interest she lost hers. She realized she had no friends and no life and no sense of herself as anything other than a mom. She went through her disjointed period of wanting to be away from us. She got a job and spent a lot of time with this one neighbor that has no kids. She let the house go and did a lot of stuff with people from her new job.
The kids were old enough to fend for themselves and I can do my own laundry. Since I had gone through it first I guess I just understood what she was going through and I let her go through it.
She came out of it on her own and we started really talking about how we had screwed up our lives. Neither of us wanted to hurt the other or be in one of those cheating marriages. But neither of us was really happy. We love our kids and wanted to do the right thing. We love and respect each other. We agreed to get the kids out and into college and then split if that’s what we wanted. We both went to the kids’s soccer games and events, we took a mutual interest in them and everything was ok.
The last of the kids left for college a little more than a year ago. I’m not going to lie, we really are very financially tapped. We sold the house and we’re in a very small condo now.
I don’t know what to do now. We live like friends. Nothing is uncomfortable and we never fight. It’s just not like it was when we were first together in college. We’re not miserable or anything at all. It’s very friendly. We take turns cooking or ordering dinner. With the downsizing we only have one car so we wind up doing stuff together like going to the gym and we carpool to work. There’s no romance though.
There was a time almost 3 decades ago when we would make romantic dates, couldn’t wait to rip each other’s clothes off, go out and do things together excited about our lives. It’s hard to even imagine that now. The other night we went out for pizza, then to a movie and then shopping. We stopped at a diner for coffee and pie on the way home and talked about politics and the movie, and painting the living room. It was comfortable. I look forward to doing it again this weekend but forget that feeling of wanting to rip each other’s clothes off. We do have sex still. Not really often but probably more than many couples our age. Which is fine don’t get me wrong. Its just there’s no passion to it.
Is marriage is over. What do we do now? I don’t feel motivated to make any changes. It’s not like there’s someone else for either of us. What do you think, Veronica?
There are a few things I want to write about for you:
1 - Congratulations on the two of you coming through your disjointed periods.
2 - Your marriage isn’t over my friend. It’s just changed. And if you both want it to be, it can be pretty great.
3 - You’re confusing passion with romance, and both of those with love.
1 - Times of Dismay
You got married too young, you didn’t know what you were in store for, you went through a very strenuous time of being miserable. It’s common. Sadly it’s usually the downfall. Not every man sticks it out like you did, wanting to do the right thing and taking responsibility for the choices he’s made even if they weren’t the best ones.
The best thing about your crisis time is that you came away from it with understanding. Many men go through it, but not many have the ability to learn from it, and allow their partner the same luxury.
I don’t think you’re even aware of how awesome that is. Standing by and doing for the kids and picking up the slack at home while your wife had her “disjointed” time as you called it. I like that phrasing by the way. By allowing her the same time you had to cycle through the feelings and find her way back, you pretty much saved your marriage.
2 - A New Time
I’m assuming you’re both about 50 now.
The way you described your night out for dinner, a movie, shopping, and coffee, it sounds like a really nice night. I understand having to do certain things together especially with one car between you. But that wasn’t stuff you had to do, that was time you chose to spend together. Even after what must have been hours, you chose to go have coffee and talk about something other than the kids or things you have to discuss.
Honey, that was a date.
But comparing it to a date you would have had at 22 years old just isn’t fair.
3 - Romance and Passion
Passion is the heat between you that is sexually driven.
Romance is the warmth between you that’s driven by love.
If the romance comes back, the passion will most likely follow.
Romance isn’t a bodily function or a given in the equation of a marriage. Romance is something you do. You have to put effort and thought into it.
At this point after kids, decades, debt, and comfort, it may be something you have to work harder at than you did when you were 22, carefree, and new.
Make the effort to re-romance. I bet it’s been forever since you bought her flowers, or lit candles when you made dinner. I bet you haven’t told her she’s pretty in a long time.
When was the last time you took a shower or bubble bath together. When was the last time you gave her a card or left her a note that tells her she’s the one. When was the last time you slow danced. When was the last time you held her hand, texted her just to say I thought of you, brought her coffee in bed, sent her a song from itunes saying it expresses how you feel.
Try it. See how it feels. See if some sparks rekindle and ignite.
Men fall in love with the woman they’re hot for.
Women get hot for the man that they love.
There’s a very specific order there.
Re-romance, re-fall in love, allow yourself to find those feelings in you again, I can almost guarantee you they’re there.
When she feels you connecting to her heart again, she’ll find her heat for you again.
When she's turned on, you will be too. Make an effort not to take it all for granted.
The place that you’re in is comfortable and content. Many people would kill for that. It’s an achievement that after a strained 25 year marriage and 3 kids, that you two are so affable and willingly spend so much time together. This is a great starting point.
In addition to your use of the word romance, and the way you didn’t leave when you were so miserable, and stood by your wife when she felt that way, and the fact that you two still share a sexual relationship, there are additional tells in your story as to how you really feel. I don’t think you’re at the end of the marriage. I think you’re at the start of a new chapter
You said that the last kid left for college a year ago, and you sold the house. If there was ever a time to say you go your way and I’ll go mine, that was it. You had the perfect moment to leave, and neither of you left.
There are also all the things you did not say. You didn’t say you’ve lost your attraction for your wife. You didn’t have anything bad to say about her. You didn’t say there’s something you’d rather be doing now. I think you’re email is wonderfully open and insightful. So I believe if there were problems, you would have shared them.
In general, men tend not to stay in relationships they really don’t want to be in. I don’t think you’re asking me if you should be ending this; I’m pretty sure if that’s what you wanted, you would have done it. I think what you’re really asking me is, how do you make this work now.
You and your wife both did the right thing and now you have the right to be happy. It is my feeling that happiness is right there, between the two of you. My advice: date her again. Romance her again. Give it a try. You’ve come this far, you have nothing to lose. And deep down I think it’s what you really want.