Can we salvage our marriage?

-- Question for John --

We will have been married for four years, next week. My husband has walked out on me and our children three times now. The first two times we were fighting because of his family. This last time, we weren’t fighting, he said that he couldn’t make a living here, and that he was going to go get things set up, hoping that the kids and I would follow.

It’s back around where his family lives, and his family has hurt me so much, that I am terrified of putting myself in that situation again. He is able to excuse whatever his family has done to me, saying, that, “That’s just the way they are”. Well, I can’t cope with that. He was willing to move away from them, because he knew that I couldn’t be around them, but he tells me now, that his employer wants him to stay where he is at. I can’t cope with his family, and he doesn’t seem to be able to see the traps that they suck him into, because it has happened all of his life, i.e. it’s the norm. Not only that, I have been lied to repeatedly.

I don’t know if this can be salvaged. I love him, but how much does my love have to cost me and our children. I have timed all of this, and every seven months, it’s as if he can’t handle the pressures of being a husband and father, and just leaves. What can I do?

-- Answer from John --

You need counseling. There’s no two ways about it. There is no simple advice-column answer to this situation. Either you and he go to a counselor… or if he refuses (and men do make that mistake) then you go alone. The situation you present has enough difficulty and possibly hidden solutions that you cannot see right now, that your own vision and your husband’s vision is too blinded by the stress of the situation to find a good solution yourselves.

You need to talk with someone outside your situation, someone who has expertise, someone who can help you look at all your options and better see if there are any positive options you cannot see yourself.

This may include anything from you letting go of him and dealing with that… to both you and he recognizing the serious nature of the situation and committing both of yourselves to improving it… to you committing yourself to personal growth and getting beyond whatever problems you have with his family. Those are a lot of different directions to go, and you need someone who can get a real understanding of who you are and who he is to figure the best path through this mess.

Right now things do not look good or very promising. I do not like the fact he bails out so easily. I don’t like it if he lies repeatedly. Frankly, these are extremely bad signals, especially with two kids involved. It paints him as irresponsible, unreliable and untrustworthy. Of course, maybe the painter of this picture (you) has been biased and is not showing me the whole picture, or what she (you) has to do with making things the way they are.

I also don’t like the fact that your relationship with his family seems more important than you keeping your family together. If he needs to be in that location to be employed and that brings up problems with his family, then you may (1) need to work out some emotional things in yourself and (2) learn to set better boundaries with his family and (3) learn to get your husband to hear and respect your needs.

I frankly don’t see any way to make any real progress with any of these issues or choices or needs for change without outside help. You guys have probably been “discussing” this problem for a long time, and how has that been going so far? You will need to learn some new skills to solve this. That’s what good counseling can teach you. You need to tell him that you both need this kind of outside counseling help. You need to tell him this in very clear terms.

Say something like “I still love you very much and want to make this relationship work. I want to do this for our sakes, and for the sake of the kids. Right now, things are not working. We have each tried our best to make them work. We have not done very well. If things keep going like they are now, this relationship will not survive much longer. I’d like you to consider if that is what you want? And I’d like you to consider the effect on the kids. What I want and need now is for things to improve. I need to see how to do that. I believe we need outside help to find that solution. I can no longer see a solution. I don’t have the capacity to see one. I have not heard a solution from you that tells me you can see one either. A solution that works for both of us, that will help us improve and love each other better. So it comes down to this, right now. We either need to get some outside help to find out if we can find such a solution. Or we need to admit to ourselves that our love and our family is not worth the big effort it would take to improve and let go of this relationship in as quick and friendly a way as possible. What I want is to make it work and I am willing to find a way to make it work for both of us. That’s my vote. But I am willing to go along with whatever your vote is, because if we are going to make it work for both of us, we both need to vote YES, obviously. So think it over and let me know as soon as possible what you want to do.”

If money is an issue, which it looks like it is, then you may need to find low-cost community counseling services or even church-based counseling. You may need to shop around before you find someone who can really help you. But so what? That’s the cost of improving your life, and are you willing to put the effort into doing that?

If he is absolutely unwilling to go with you to counseling for the purpose of improving things, then he is probably afraid (and men do make that mistake). If that is the case, you need to get yourself to a counselor, no matter what it takes, for some real support for finding your own best answer and solution to this difficult situation.