Ask Allison: 'Am I betraying myself by staying with my husband?'

Q I have read a few of your replies to people who have been in relationships that they would like to leave. I suppose my question is, how do you know it is time to leave? I have a situation that is quite similar to one you answered a few weeks back. I am married with small children and I get on okay with my husband. We were never love’s young dream, but we used to have a great laugh and a good sex life. Now, we bicker all the time as we are both so stressed and stretched by busy jobs and young kids. We never have sex, and haven’t since the youngest was born three years ago. I don’t fancy him at all, in fact I sometimes think I hate him. How much of this could just be down to having small kids? Am I betraying myself by staying?

A The Collins Dictionary defines ‘betrayal’ as ‘if you betray someone who loves or trusts you, your actions hurt and disappoint them’. The first thought to sit with is, do you feel you are betraying yourself from not having experienced what you feel would be ‘love’s young dream?’ Write out what that would be like for you. This is important to do – to gauge the baseline from where your expectations, hopes, dreams and desires come from.

Come at this from a place of compassion. Come at this, as you would a friend. The opposite end of the spectrum of betrayal is to trust. Trust and listen to your inner thoughts, be aware of how they make you feel. What emotions are coming up for you? Can you identify them specifically? How do these emotions present themselves? Do you feel it in your body? If your husband says something or doesn’t, do you feel it as a sinking feeling, a pain in your heart or a trigger to anger?

Give yourself some time to question and think about this and write your answers out. Validate on paper what you have been thinking in your head. Then, breathe in for four, hold for four and exhale for four. It can be quite the reveal to see your thoughts in black and white.

Place your hand on your heart and stomach and allow yourself to feel and connect to the feelings you have identified.

Acknowledge any pain, hurt, disappointment, emptiness, loneliness or anger.

Validate how it has made you feel. Breathe into the feelings and soften and comfort any pain that comes up for you. Softening hard pain can dissolve the internal conflict of hearing and feeling it in its most raw form. For a meditation of the exercise ‘soften soothe allow’ you can listen to it on https://self-compassion.org/guided-self-compassion-meditations-mp3-2/

Did you ever have conversations with your husband about your hopes and dreams for you both before you got married? Have you had any conversations like this in the last three years? Do you know why or how things changed from your last child’s birth? Can you identify what you may hate about him and why? Are anger and resentment present and if so, when did these feelings arrive and why? Did anything change how you felt about your husband after the last birth? Did you feel supported within the relationship?

Timelines can be helpful in pin-pointing when things began to change.

Even if you were disappointed in your marriage before or with the relationship you have been in, you seem to have been more connected together before the last three years, with the friendship and intimacy going well. Can you identify any specific times or situations where you this changed. When and what caused the hurt and disappointment?

In answer to your question ‘how do you know when it is time to leave?’, I feel this is where you may feel betrayed by you. I cannot answer that for you, I softly ask you to trust yourself and to begin exploring what has been going on for you in the last few years and then to take the following steps:

Dr Tracey Hunter put up an excellent post saying: Healthy intimate relationships involve growth and challenge from which you can choose from either of these two challenging paths, A or B. The framework of which may be a useful guide for you at this difficult time:

Challenging Path A or B – Dr Tracey Hunter

Challenging Path A: Choosing the short-term discomfort and temporary unsettling feeling caused by a confrontation about something really important that needs to be cleared out.

Challenging Path B: Choosing long-term dissatisfaction accumulating in resentment about not getting your needs met because the first time your raised your complaint you were dismissed so stopped raising it and remained silent.

She notes that “there is a point of no return” in relationships and I wholly agree. Authentic intimacy is demanding and asks us to engage in, and stay with, painful and difficult conversations and necessary confrontations.

Marriage expert John Gottman separates couples into the ‘masters’ and ‘disasters’ of relationships. Which seems harsh and polarising. The ‘masters’, he says, turn towards each other and the ‘disasters’ turn away. How do you ‘turn towards’? It is really seeing and engaging with your partner, it is noticing and picking up on their small bids for attention which in turn, are bids for affection.

Turning away is the small, impervious disregard or lack of attention in the small, everyday things that leads to feelings of disconnection, hurt, disappointment, resentment and a lack of intimacy at every level.

The question is, which challenging path do you take? Only you know that answer. Trust yourself and then take it to the next level – speaking with your husband, or individual or couples counselling or mediation are the potential paths available.

The fire of intimacy can’t be lit with burnt feelings of anger and resentment. The next step for you is to identify whether the emotional damage is irrevocable, and ask what would it take to rekindle the spark between you both.

If you have a query for this page, email Allison at [email protected]

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