Dear New Shrink,
I am on the verge of ending a 20-plus year marriage, which also means the end of a family, as we have known it. Our children, three of them, are very upset, but generally speaking, doing well. One is ending high school and the other two are away at college, doing well.
As a couple, we are not happy, haven’t been for years. Our sex life dwindled long ago, but even though our relationship seems empty now, and we are mostly fighting, I find myself feeling really sad about letting it go. He acts as if he is fine with moving on but I know that he is sad to. What should we be doing? Are we doing the right thing? How does one know?
Thanks for your input.
There are so many things to consider here.
It’s unfortunate but the divorce rate here in the US, is 49 percent. Many of us are too quick to jump ship and don’t do the things, I believe, we should do or try before ending a relationship, especially one with a commitment of marriage.
Having said that, there is clearly a difference between attachment and relationship. If the relationship is bad and cannot be “fixed” so to speak, then it is probably time to call it a day. No point in being miserable and trust me, it’s not a favor to the kids to continue in misery.
The question is, where did you go wrong? Do both of you have the courage to look at the relationship realistically before you end it? Or maybe you have done this? It is not uncommon to see marriages end when the kids are grown up and leaving home. In this case it is because somewhere along the way you became parents only, no longer lovers and you forgot to take care of your marriage. Now you are like strangers.
Also, unfortunately, the birth of the first child is often the beginning of the end. This is because you move from your romantic dyad to a triangle. With triangles, someone has to be negotiated but it is not going to be the infant. The one left out, usually dads, will get hurt and jealous. That is where all the (bad) fun begins, if a couple is not educated and prepared for it.
No one likes to see a family end so it really is worth the effort to try some marriage or family counseling. It is especially hard at holidays when the grown kids come back but no longer really have a home to come home to. It’s very sad for everyone.
I have seen all kinds of bad marriages/separations turn around, so there is always hope, but it is not easy if you wait too long.
If you do separate, end your “attachment,” you can count on sadness. There is always grief and mourning when there is a loss of attachment. It comes with the territory. Expect sadness and a grief process when you end a significant or long-term attachment.
But an attachment, which we all need and is a basic instinct that causes us to form them, is very different from a relationship. After 20 years and three kids, you definitely have an attachment even if you no longer have a relationship. The attachment is that deep bond you feel, because you have it and have had it for awhile. The relationship is all about how you get along, how you “relate to each other.” If the relationship sours and cannot be rekindled, then you let go. With that letting go, most people also lose their attachments. Loss of attachment always means sadness and a grieving process. It is simply part of our make up and to deny it or suppress it will only make you sick in some way. Let yourself grieve, it’s natural and normal.
Just don’t get confused thinking that your sadness over a loss of attachment means that the relationship was good or meant to be.
Attachment and relationship are connected but yet two separate things. You can’t avoid the attachment sadness if the relationship goes but you can work on the relationship to see if maybe there isn’t something left to work with.
I have seen so many couples turn it around. You fell in love when you married, that love might still be there.
Give yourself, your family, the “relationship” a chance. Seek counseling. If the relationship is truly over, then expect the natural grief and sadness that comes with the loss of any attachment.
Dr. Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist whose offices are in Brentwood. One of her specialties is attachment and loss. Send your inquires and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.