I’ve been married for almost 25 years and am at my wits end. My wife has changed these last few years. We disagree on so many things and she is full of anger. There is no joy or happiness in our relationship, our marriage, anymore. My life is filled with pain and misery and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being miserable. I want peace, and if possible happiness. I’m thinking of getting a divorce (we were at this stage and went through couples therapy once before several years ago) to escape this constant negative atmosphere and find some peace, even if it means being by myself. Do you have any advice?
Thinking of Divorce
Dear Thinking of Divorce,
I have great compassion for your situation; it certainly is not an uncommon one among couples who have been married for a long time. Before you take the step of getting a divorce, I would ask you to consider the following.
One often hears people complain that their partner has changed. Indeed, your wife probably says the same about you. But people do not change over the years. What does happen, though, is that certain character traits get more hardened and pronounced. That’s why it’s commonly said that people get more difficult as they get older. So your wife is the same person she always was. The things that you loved her for, that brought you happiness, are still part of her. It’s just that the things that were always problematic in your relationship are more pronounced now. And she probably feels the same is true about you.
You say that your life is filled with misery and that you experience no happiness anymore. I’m sure it seems that way, but I doubt that that’s literally true. What is more typically the case is that the pain and misery becomes one’s focus, one becomes invested in it, and it becomes so overwhelming that it drowns out the good moments. Just like your wife’s being difficult and angry drowns out your experience of the things about her that brought you happiness and still are there.
What you should try to do is focus on the good moments in your life ... recently. Think about a recent period of time. Go through it carefully day by day and remember the pleasant or happy moments that you had together. The good experiences that you shared. Depending on whether your heart and mind have been hardened to her, it may be difficult to recall such moments because your mind will block them out. Meditate on this, sit as quietly as you can, and try. If necessary you may have to go back a little further in time.
Finally, remembering the good person that she is and the person that you once loved and brought you happiness, put yourself in her shoes, think about her needs, think about her suffering, and try to do things that will bring her joy ... they can be, and probably best are, little things. We spend most of our lives typically focused on ourselves and our needs, regardless of the good works that we do and the care we show our loved ones. It is wearing and breeds frustration because we never have what we want and think we deserve. By focusing on offering joy to others, we go outside of ourselves which brings with it a huge relief.
There is a Buddhist grace, part of which says:
“With the first taste, I promise to offer joy.
With the second taste I promise, to help relieve
the suffering of others.
WIth the third taste, I promise to see others’ joy
as my own.”
Now, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. So your wife should also read this and follow my simple advice. But before you ask her to read this, talk to her and explain what you feel for her, all the good things about her, but also what has changed, and explain how you are going to change your approach to the marriage and your relationship with her.
Don’t expect her to say, “Oh, that sounds wonderful,” or something similarly positive. Given her anger she will probably be skeptical, in which case actions do speak louder than words. Give her some time to see the change in you. Hopefully then she will respond positively and be open to considering my advice and offering you joy as well. Normally, when one offers joy, you expect nothing in response. But in a marriage, a response is reasonably expected.
The problems between the two of you have obviously been building for quite some time; they will not disappear in a flash. Hopefully though you will begin to see movement in the “right” direction before too long.
Ultimately though, if she does not respond to your obvious expressions of love and affection, getting a divorce may be the only answer for you. No one should live in a relationship that is not reciprocal.