July 12, 2022 at 10:00 am #403822
I’m not sure what I want to get out of this – it’s helping me to write this down and I may end up answering my own questions, but please bear with me and I’d really love some support / advice as I’m feeling a bit lost – confused, angry, sad, bitter – all of the above! I need to move on but it’s hard…
My husband announced in March that he wanted a divorce after 20 years together, 18 married. We have two teenage children.
I think he’s in the midst of a midlife crisis.
He had a very dysfunctional childhood – a mother who verbally and physically abused him, no father on the scene, no praise or encouragement. A house of blame and shouting and being left alone a lot. As a result he has a constant need for reassurance and praise. I’m a few years older than him and I think that inadvertently I took on the role of the mother to his child. This isn’t a role I wanted or that comes to me naturally, but it worked well – I was the organised, practical one, him the creative one. I asked many times if he wanted responsibility like bills, organising holidays etc. but he said no, he was happy for me to do it.
Then, in the last 2-3 years I had noticed him becoming more introverted, irritable, losing passion for things like gardening which he used to love, not doing things around the house that he helped build, not speaking to his family as much, not seeing his friends, talking about mortality.
He shouted a lot at our teenage children, mirroring how he was parented. This damaged their relationship with him and how they view him as a father. When I challenged him about the shouting he accused me of being ‘against’ him and on ‘their side’ (he is very binary, often taking on the role of a victim when all I’m trying to do is have a discussion).
In the midst of it, he got a new job where drugs are a big part of the creative process (weed mainly), and where there’s lots of existential thinking going on. He became fascinated by podcasts about monogamy, psychedelics, consciousness etc. He’d talk ‘at’ me about this, almost preaching to me. I like a good debate but every time I asked questions or challenged him on it, he saw me as being ‘against’ him. He started talking about how humans aren’t supposed to be monogamous, how he’d always been in a relationship, how he felt he should be free to do what he wants without being answerable to anyone – this forms the background to his decision to go and I even got the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line… He even said I was controlling and that he felt he had to report to me. Something I thought I’d always been careful not to be and I feel was his choice, not my requirement.
We had some therapy but it was a disaster. After a couple of individual sessions, in our first joint session, the therapist laid into him making him feel even more persecuted than he did before and making him feel it was two against one. We stopped the therapy and he won’t consider starting up again.
For a while after he left (to live next to one of his new workmates) he’d come and stay, saying he did miss me but was confused. A week ago, he then decided he didn’t like the limbo and that we should both move on. Just like that. He keeps changing his mind.
When he announced about the divorce he said he’d been speaking to ‘his friends’ for a while about it. This really hurt and my main frustration is that he didn’t talk to ME. What I can’t come to terms with is whether or not he’ll go back to the old him. He is a reflector, the type of person who would get really passionate about something then go off it and change his mind. But I’m not sure this time.
I think he’s been brainwashed and that he’s also going through a classic midlife crisis – loss of passion for friends / family, exploring mortality, joining a dating agency (he said he did this when drunk and has now frozen his profile), having ‘fun’ with his new friends…
I find myself trying to analyse him and tell him what he’s going through. How do I back off and leave him to it? I want the old husband back, the one I loved so much, not the one that’s turned into a pot smoking teenager living the bachelor life – he’s not even stepping up to his role a father at the moment and having moved over an hour away, has left me with the majority of the responsibilities. The kids say it’s a better house without him which makes me sad!
I always get the feeling that he’s quoting what someone else has said to him and not really speaking as HIMSELF. He is almost acting in a certain way because he ‘should’ not because he wants to – the child being told what to do, not the adult making their own decisions. This is very frustrating and I feel sad – almost like he’s died.
Is this a midlife crisis that will pass? Probably the question that nobody can answer but thanks for gettingJuly 12, 2022 at 12:12 pm #403873AnonymousGuest
“Is this a midlife crisis that will pass?” – I think that it’s a combination of his very dysfunctional childhood and a midlife crisis. I don’t think that it will pass in the sense that he will return to being his old self.
“He shouted a lot at our teenage children… The kids say it’s a better house without him“- unless he no longer shouts at your teenage children, he shouldn’t be back to the house, should he?
Reads to me that your understanding of his behavior is excellent. I agree with it. Let’s see if there is anything that I can add by re-reading your original post part by part and commenting:
“20 years together, 18 married… He had a very dysfunctional childhood – a mother who verbally and physically abused him, no father on the scene, no praise or encouragement. A house of blame and shouting and being left alone a lot… I took on the role often mother“- 20 years with you have been a great improvement over his childhood. He experienced a functional life with a much improved mother figure/wife.
“I was the organised, practical one, him the creative one“- it worked for him, he was content.
“Then, in the last 2-3 years I had noticed him becoming more introverted, irritable, losing passion for things…not seeing his friends, talking about mortality“- (1) he became partly aware that he was not yet a grown up, that he was … an aging teenager. You can tell that he viewed himself as a teenager because he accused you of “being ‘against’ him and on ‘their side’“, them being his teenage children, (2) it is quite depressing when a person becomes aware that he is getting closer to death while still a child.
“In the midst of it, he got a new job where drugs are a big part of the creative process (weed mainly)… He became fascinated by podcasts about monogamy, psychedelics, consciousness etc.“- as a teenager he wants to leave home and venture into an adult, independent life. He is excited about the prospect of creating a new grown-up life for himself, a life on his own terms.
“He started talking about how…. he should be free to do what he wants without being answerable to anyone… He even said I was controlling“- a teenager asserting his independence!
“For a while after he left (to live next to one of his new workmates) he’d come and stay, saying he did miss me but was confused“- he asserted his independence by moving away from home, on his own. And like a teenager, he had his weak moments when he missed home.
“When he announced about the divorce he said he’d been speaking to ‘his friends’ for a while about it. This really hurt and my main frustration is that he didn’t talk to ME“- teenagers, in their quest for independence from their parents, distant themselves from their parents and get closer to their peers. They don’t reach out to and hang out with their mothers, they reach out to and hang out with their friends.
“I always get the feeling that he’s quoting what someone else has said to him and not really speaking as HIMSELF. He is almost acting in a certain way because he ‘should’ not because he wants to – the child being told what to do, not the adult making their own decisions“- he is not yet an independent adult, he is still a teenager who is struggling to become independent. Becoming independent is a process, not an event… therefore, it is understandable that he is looking for input by those he considers independent, quoting them, mirroring them perhaps.
“A week ago, he then decided he didn’t like the limbo and that we should both move on. Just like that. He keeps changing his mind… What I can’t come to terms with is whether or not he’ll go back to the old him… I want the old husband back, the one I loved so much, not the one that’s turned into a pot smoking teenager“-
– I am thinking that he does not want “the old him” back and so, if he senses that you want the old him back, he will not want to be with you. If you want him back with you, you’ll have to want the new him, the independent man he is trying to become.
I understand that in his mind, at this time, being independent does not mean being a responsible husband and father. It is not surprising to me because teenagers, when they think of independence, do not think about getting married and having children. Being independent for a teenager means living away from home, away from parents and having new experiences with their peers.
“How do I back off and leave him to it?“- (1) like I suggested, if you express to him that you want his old self back, you are not likely to get the old him back. Instead, he is likely to rebel against you, (2) it is very difficult and maybe impossible for a teenager to become emotionally independent from his mother, when his mother is emotionally dependent on him. It helps a teenager a lot if the mother appears okay without her son needing her, (3) you don’t want him back if he feels that he failed at becoming independent, that he goes back to living with you because he failed.
Your best bet, seems to me, is to indeed back off, to not express to him that you are emotionally dependent on him, and to abandon much of your past role in his life, the mother-wife role (even if and when he asks that you resume that role in moments of weakness).
anitaJuly 12, 2022 at 1:29 pm #403879
Firstly thank you so SO much for taking the time to read my post and for your detailed response. There’s a lot in there and I feel reassured (if that’s the right word) that you’ve backed up a lot of my ‘armchair analysis’ of his behaviour. I feel that coming from a place of understanding the issue is the first step in my journey (I hate that word!) of moving on and this exercise has really helped me.
I think you are right – this is more a scenario of a teenager leaving home than the classic midlife crisis,, though he ticks a lot of those boxes and is in his late 40s. But I’m not sure either that he will ever go back to being the ‘old’ him. He didn’t leave behind a lot of adult responsibility so there’s nothing to return to once the ‘crisis’ is over. The house and bills are all in my sole name and I can turn my hand to gardening which was always his domain. Good for the soul.
Your response has really helped me to frame how I behave towards him now. I have always been pretty resilient / stoic and have managed to seem outwardly in control, though there have been times when we’ve talked and I’ve become upset. I say ‘talked’, I’m not sure he’s really listened to me or grasped what I’ve said, and you’re right – perhaps he’s not interested. He has always lacked empathy, and throughout our marriage it was like I was never allowed to be upset. He just wouldn’t have known what to do. I will stop all reference to wanting the old him back – that makes good sense.
We have agreed that we won’t divorce yet – there are things to sort out that will take time and we need to work out finances. At first he said he wanted nothing from me but of course that was never going to happen. I think he feels a lot of guilt that I was always the main breadwinner and have paid the mortgage all these years as well as building myself a pension, always with ‘our’ retirement in mind – things I’d gladly have shared with him if we’d stayed together. He on the other hand is self employed and rarely earned enough even to pay tax. Now he’s moved he’ll have a more hand-to-mouth existence and it’s only a matter of time before he’ll start thinking more about future finances. I’m prepared for that. Meanwhile, there’s at least 3 years until the youngest leaves home for university, if that’s the route he takes, so nothing in our living arrangements will significantly change until then.
I can now accept the old him has gone and, despite the sadness of the situation, I relish the opportunity of building a new me as well. There’s a lot of sadness for what has gone before and I am still effectively going through a bereavement but this will pass. If he comes to a place of regret and a desire to reconcile, the bridge may or may not still be standing and if it is, my side of it will be ten times stronger.
Anita, you are truly amazing. Thanks again.July 12, 2022 at 2:13 pm #403882AnonymousGuest
You are very welcome and thank you for your last line, it made me feel good. I imagine you said things like this to your husband (“he has a constant need for reassurance and praise”, you wrote in your original post). It leads me to think that he is stupid for having left you.
“The house and bills are all in my sole name.. He has always lacked empathy… we need to work out finances. At first he said he wanted nothing from me… I was always the main breadwinner and have paid the mortgage all these years as well as building myself a pension… He on the other hand is self employed and rarely earned enough even to pay tax… Now he’s moved he’ll have a more hand-to-mouth existence and it’s only a matter of time before he’ll start thinking more about future finances. I’m prepared for that” –
– combining his history of lack of empathy and your prediction that he’ll live hand-to-mouth, I hope that you are indeed prepared, legally prepared: that you saw a lawyer and are doing all that you can do to legally protect and keep what is yours!
“I can now accept the old him has gone and, despite the sadness of the situation, I relish the opportunity of building a new me as well. There’s a lot of sadness for what has gone before and I am still effectively going through a bereavement but this will pass“- excellent attitude, if I may say so! It helps a whole lot when we accept that which we cannot change- or that which we shouldn’t try to change.
Thank you again for your kind words and I hope that you post again anytime you feel like it.
anitaJuly 12, 2022 at 2:48 pm #403885HelcatParticipant
I’m so sorry, that is an awful situation to be in. I hope that you are taking extra care of yourself during this difficult time? It sounds like you are putting a lot of effort into handling everything and taking care of your children.
The only thing that I would suggest is that perhaps he should be politely encouraged to re-engage with his children. It is not fair on you or them that he has stopped performing his parental responsibilities. He only lives just over 1 hour away, it really isn’t that far. Of course, this should be achieved in a safe way, without exposing them to verbal abuse.
Some parents from abusive backgrounds have difficulty with teenagers as they explore their boundaries and freely express their own opinions. You also mentioned that he doesn’t like his opinions being challenged which fits with the theme.
I’m curious if you have had any recurring themes in arguments during your marriage over the years?
Sorry I don’t have more to share, this is a reflection of that I think you’ve done a great job trying your best to resolve this situation. Also, Anita has already given you a lot of good advice.July 12, 2022 at 2:49 pm #403886HelcatParticipant
Apologies for the formatting issues, for some reason the edit function is no longer working.July 12, 2022 at 3:15 pm #403890
Many thanks for taking the time to respond, and for your kind words. Your question on the theme of our arguments once again brings to mind the teenager theme. We only really argued about his going out with friends, drinking to oblivion and turning his phone off if I tried calling him to see when he’d be home . He called this controlling and felt he was having to report to me – something I now see as typical teenage behaviour. I never got invited out and he rarely took me on any ‘dates’. To me he confused controlling with concern but he doesn’t acknowledge that when I try to explain it to him, so I’ve given up.
It may sound as if I’m sounding increasingly negative about him. We did share good times and have similar taste in music, design, TV and food! I guess we were better suited as friends. The parent child relationship was never going to work long term which is a shame. And I’m ok thank you – lots to think about in the near future. A holiday with the kids (and not the husband!) and a new job to get my teeth into. I’m sure I’ve got more tears to cry but I know I’ll be ok.
You’re right though about damage to our kids – our son is having therapy and his relationship with his dad contributes to the need for this (more to do with covid, teenagers, discipline at school). On the positive side, his dad has agreed to attend a session – maybe more – with him. I think he (dad) wants to mend things which I’m really happy about, though his way of mending things seems to be to become a friend and not a parent. He knows he can’t shout any more as he doesn’t live here but hopefully the therapist will emphasize the need for him to be a positive, fatherly role model, not a mate to go to the pub with.
Our daughter is about to leave for uni and she is very mature. It helps a bit that she’s studying psychology! I think she will be fine but I’ll keep an eye on her.
He IS too far away though and I think he knows that, but he won’t move closer – he’s having too much of a good time living next to his workmate/friend. He’ll miss out in the long run when his children effectively say they owe him nothing but that’s for him to deal with.
And Anita’s advice and kind words have really boosted my resolve to. This really is a great place I’ve discovered, just at the right time!