Dear Margo: Midlife Crisis or Not?

My husband is not in love with me anymore: Margo Howard’s advice

Midlife Crisis or Not?

Dear Margo: I’ve been married to a good and honorable man for 22 years. We have two children, 21 and 11. We married young and had our first child a year later. We waited until we were more stable to have our second. We had a solid marriage, but there was always a lack of affection from him due to a dysfunctional upbringing. I learned to live without the outward affection because of his tender and thoughtful actions through the years. He was always doing nice and considerate things for me, making sure I knew I was loved.

That has changed. For the past couple of years, he’s become increasingly distant, spending more and more time away from home. Then, out of the blue, he tells me he isn’t in love with me anymore and doesn’t feel like he has a partner because I don’t like to do outdoor things with him. We started marriage counseling, but a couple of weeks after the first session, he admitted he was in love with a friend of ours. This friend does enjoy the outdoors and shares more of his interests than I do, but she doesn’t return his feelings and just wants to be friends.

I have moved out and don’t know if we should continue the counseling or if this marriage is over. He says he doesn’t know what the future holds and is feeling very lost right now. Should I give him more time and put my life on hold, or cut ties and get out of the marriage knowing that I can’t accept being his second choice? I am still in love with him, and the pain is almost unbearable. By the way, he still talks to her every day and wants to remain friends with her. –Heartsick

Dear Heart: It is hard to know if this is a midlife crisis and whether he will, at some point, see the light, see you in a different light or decide that the light has gone out, period. Do know that some of the best marriages are between people who do not share all the same interests, so don’t be too fast to hop on a Harley or strap on a pair of skis. And the reverse can be true, as well: Some relationships are built on a lot of togetherness.

My own feeling is that a marriage (a good one) really depends on mutual affection, comfort, chemistry — not outdoor activities. His announcing, by the way, that he no longer loves you and is in love with what’s-her-name, but it’s not reciprocal, would probably encourage me to call it a day. Furthermore, his wanting to torture himself by “remaining friends” with her is another reason I’d split. Try more counseling if he’s willing, but my hunch is that he’s emotionally outta there. I am sorry. –Margo, realistically

When Understanding Can Be the Key to Survival

Dear Margo: Like someone else who wrote to you, I, too, am middle-aged and have a sister who flies off the handle at imagined slights. Just last year I found a website and finally understood the wellspring of the abuse. She is a narcissist, and some reports say this is caused by the male role model being absent during a crucial development period in a young girl’s life. This website has helped me, and I learned that my sister thinks she is perfect and will never change, so I limit my contact with her to group settings only, where I can avoid her or move on when she decides to throw a tantrum so the day will be about her. Limiting contact is the only thing that works. For anyone else who has my problem, I offer this website. — Figured It Out at Least

Dear Fig: I pass this on to whomever might find it useful, with your compliments. A way of handling unbalanced friends or relatives can be a lifesaver. Understanding is a great tool for managing someone else’s disturbances. I have never believed in being victimized by either relatives or friends. — Margo, sympathetically

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to dearmargo@creators.com. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.

COPYRIGHT 2011 MARGO HOWARD
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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36 comments so far.

  1. avatar Constance Plank says:

    #1,
    I’d suggest moving on. Whether it’s due to a dysfunctional upbringing or not, it sounds like you’ve been more than understanding. You’ve accepted his lack of showing obvious affection by respecting his thoughtfulness and caring behaviors in lieu of more desirable behavior in a spouse. Those caring behaviors have lessened the past few years, and now he’s announced he’s in love with a woman who doesn’t love him.

    But he wants to stay friends with her. Hello? Is this high-school, or what? How about counseling for *you*, which is always helpful, to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of marriage to someone for whom you are his second choice! It might be a mid-life crisis, but since he’s already bad at showing you affection- but not her- I’d suggest taking care of yourself and your children first.

    Cheers,

    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA

  2. avatar butterfly55 says:

    LW 1, only curious as to one thing, why did you move out?  He is the one who should have left.  You should be at home going forward with out him, and perhaps in the future be with someone who is actually affectionate (indoors).

    • avatar Frau Quink says:

      Ltr. 1: You should not have moved out. Do not be the martyr here. This could hurt your children. Why not throw the bum out?

  3. avatar A R says:

    LW1: Hm. If you know that this friend of his does not return his feelings, then that indicates one of you has had a conversation with her about this. If that is the case, why is she still talking with him daily knowing his marriage is imperiled? Sounds to me like this friend of his isn’t exactly turning him away either. Not nice. Mixed signals on her part.

    However, with you being the wronged party (wronged by him and his wishy-washy love), I think you should get to decide what happens next. Do you wish to hang around, feeling bad, or do you wish to move on with dignity?

    I say hire a lawyer and start this second phase of your life on *your* terms.

  4. avatar Barbara says:

    LW#1: I would say move on but do it on your terms. Move back into your house and have him move out since he’s the one who seems to want to be done with the marriage. Interesting that he thinks you don’t share his interests. Has he thought about how he can share in yours? That’s the me-centric point of view that tells me this is over. All he cares about is someone who is into him, not that he can meet half way and share joint interests. This is very painful for you but start getting in control. Get a lawyer. Get your finances in order. Get yourself and the children into your own home and him out. Stay active and get engaged with outside activities, even though depression might tempt you to hide under the covers. It may be hard but tell him to go his merry way with this “friend.”

  5. avatar Michelles11 says:

    LW1…I’m with butterfly55, why did you move out?  Why would you leave the place that has been your home and is as much yours as his? 

  6. avatar Pat Lang says:

    “She is a narcissist, and some reports say this is caused by the male role model being absent during a crucial development period in a young girl’s life.”

    I have two younger sisters. My father was there the entire time we grew up. We all had a good relation with him up until the time he died. Youngest Sister was 32.

    Youngest Sister was BORN a narcissist. And, from experience, I can tell you, the best way to deal with a narcissist is to not have a relationship with them. My mother’s death freed me from having to deal – at all – with Youngest Sister, and the quality of my life has improved immeasurably.

    • avatar Brooke Schubert says:

      I agree that narcissism has nothing to do with the father figure.  My uncle is a narcissist and a sociopath, and he comes from a family with a strong father figure and 7 other children who turned out to be great people. 

      My mom and her siblings still try to maintain a relationship with their brother, and it’s heartbreaking to watch him destroy them emotionally.  They’ve lived with the abuse since they were children, and they just can’t see him for who he really is.  I have nothing to do with that monster, but I can’t stop my mother from trying even though I encourage her to cut him off.

      • avatar blueelm says:

        I agree. I really think it may be genetic, or at least there may be some kind of genetic link to it. Why do I think that? My family has at least one in every generation. I think that family problems can cause a lot of issues, but honestly from what I’ve seen a narcissistic personality or sociopathic tendencies are sort of a probability that some one seems to be born with and it’s almost impossible to avoid.

        I’ve learned distance is your friend, and remember– they are ALWAYS OK!

    • avatar P S says:

      I also agree. This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone tie in NPD with the father’s role in the N’s life.

      I too had to go no contact. On top of being narcissistic one of my immediate birth relatives has shown signs of being a sociopath. I hate that I had to make such a difficult choice but it’s what’s saved my sanity, my family, and my life.

    • avatar Jrz Wrld says:

      Indeed. It’s a genetic quirk. A fault in the wiring. Narcissistic tendencies can be cultivated, but true bone-deep narcissism is pretty much a biological event, imho.

    • avatar Davina Wolf says:

      I believe that narcissism as well as sociopathy are genetically programmed, like the propensity to develop diabetes or heart disease, and that parenting techniques may modify or accentuate the expression of the inborn traits.  

      My father, his brother and two sons are dangerously sociopathic while their sisters were fine.  These four people exhibit no conscience or empathy, are emotionaly abusive and have carried out various Medicare and tax scams schemes designed to benefit themselves while cheating the rest of us.       

      My mom, two of her 8 siblings and their father were narcissists–each has at least one permanently estranged, emotionally damaged, late middle-aged children, while her other five siblings are fine.  All grew up in the same house at the same time.

      My sister inherited the sociopathy from dad.  She was lying and cheating from the age of 2, having sex at 8, pregnant twice the year she was 11, promiscuous, went on to have 30 abortions (by her own count)  never developed ethics or conscience, changes jobs, partners and residences several times a year, has been alcoholic, drug addicted, and much, much more.  This sister lies, cheats and screws people over even when she knows you know what she’s doing–she’s not embarrassed or ashamed of herself.     

      Having both parents and one sibling with personality disorders, at 46 I finally learned the only way to survive is to stay completely away fom them.  My growing up was difficult and painful and I thought there was something wrong with me.  In fact, several counselors have told me that I should have been a felon because of my crazy family.   

      It’s commonly said that laypeople shouldn’t try to recognize and diagnose personality disorders, but when your family or workplace is full of crazies, it behooves you to read, think and figure out what you probably have on your hands so that you can protect yourself.  

      • avatar Deeliteful says:

        Davina:
        It’s commonly said that laypeople shouldn’t try to recognize and diagnose personality disorders, but when your family or workplace is full of crazies, it behooves you to read, think and figure out what you probably have on your hands so that you can protect yourself.  
        ___________________________________________________________________________________________
        Kinda like saying “Is it paranoia if they really are after you?” I think most families that are dysfunctional don’t recognize the “strangness” because that is what they are accustomed to. The lucky ones somehow “rise above their raising” and become mostly normal adults. Others don’t and the cycle continues. I now recognize the narcissists in my family were always like that. I just thought their behavior was odd/selfish/emotionally destructive and best to avoid them. I cannot imagine growing up in a household like yours. You must be a very strong person to have survived the crazies and not be crazy yourself. Congrats to you!

      • avatar P S says:

        “Having both parents and one sibling with personality disorders, at 46 I finally learned the only way to survive is to stay completely away fom them. My growing up was difficult and painful and I thought there was something wrong with me.”

        *nods in total understanding*

        I too thought something was wrong with me, a thought reinforced by my mother and brother claiming pretty much as such. My father’s favorite thing was to drive home how stupid he thought I was because my choices weren’t good enough (as in they were never perfect).

        When I read about NPD for the first time, it’s like someone shed a floodlight on the big picture and I thought WOW! I’m NOT the one with the problem, they are! It doesn’t mean I’ve never made mistakes or screwed up – of course I did, I’m human and life occasionally has a steep learning curve.

        But for the first time I realized they were wrong about those mistakes and screw-ups meaning I was a total failure, and that it was their perception that was the bigger problem. Learning about what their problem was served as a first step to my own self-acceptance. Ditto with learning to be accountable and make amends properly, as well as shedding false guilt and shame that never should have been mine.

        “In fact, several counselors have told me that I should have been a felon because of my crazy family.”

        IMHO, that goes to show your inner strength and character. I’m sorry for your upbringing and how much pain it brought, but you overcame them and they couldn’t take away the core of who you are. Kudos to you!

    • avatar flyonthewall says:

      I too think that narcissists are just born that way. Nothing to do with the father figure relationship. The narcissists that I know all had fathers that were present who tried to do a great parenting job.

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I agree with Margo’s advice. Let him figure it out alone. He’s silly to keep pursuing a woman who flat-out admits she is NOT romantically interested in him. Unfortunately there’s an underaged child in the mix here; all of 11 years old. I’d probably want to cut ties too, and move on; it’s NO marriage when he upfront admits he does not love her, and still wants to hang onto the other woman — who doesn’t want him. Frankly he needs personal counseling; his dysfunctional upbringing has led to this (spurning what he’s got for something he cannot have, and hurting others in the process).

  8. avatar Jody says:

    It is my perception that neither party in this marriage has taken care of themselves well. He is obviously looking for happiness outside of himself, when the only person that can make him truly happy is him. He wants her to like his activities. He has feelings for someone who is not (to the LW’s knowledge) reciprocating. This is a man who is struggling with happiness right now. I hope he comes to terms with why he feels the way he does, and takes responsibility for it. It is easy to blame your partner, which is what he’s doing by saying they have nothing in common. He is in “victim” mode, and until he becomes aware of this and/or decides to take care of his business, the LW will not see a change in him.

    The LW can only control herself and take care of herself and her kids…

    In the meantime… The LW is in her Meantime (or Mean Time). The beauty of being in your Meantime is you can sit back and relearn what you want based on experience. The older, the wiser. I believe it’s time for the LW to LET GO. Not just of the marriage, but of all the things she has held on to over the years that have become toxic to her. I’m talking about feelings, beliefs, perspectives, people, material things, you name it! Even her own feelings of being a victim. By letting go, the LW can begin to create the life she wants and take responsibility for her own happiness.

    As far as the kids go… The older the kids are, the more difficult divorce is for them to handle in most cases. But, IF both parties pursue divorce in an amicable way it can make the process easier. AND, if both parties pursue creating their own happiness, the kids usually follow in line and understand more. It is a basic want that we all have for our loved ones… We just want them to be happy.

    As far as the “friend”-with NO benefits goes… Maybe she has been waiting in the wings for the LW to move out, or for the husband to “officially” leave the wife. LW does not know the conversations they’ve had. And, quite frankly, this woman may have told him she won’t be with a married man. I will go further in saying I believe she has a character flaw. Because, if a married man befriended me and asked me to do things repeatedly without his wife, I would decline. I also wouldn’t be interested in having a conversation with him regarding his feelings for me. I would proceed to back off even further by discontinuing conversation and/or seeing him for a while, only agreeing to see him again if the wife was present each time. So… I smell a fish!

    LET GO! It’s the only way in this time to create happiness.

    Jody

    • avatar GardenGnome says:

      Well said Jody! And I couldn’t agree more about your assessment of the female friend situation. Very fishy indeed.

    • avatar flyonthewall says:

      I feel the same exact way about this letter, Jody. Thank you for typing it all out. LW needs to let go for certain. I too smell a fish in the other woman.

  9. avatar D C says:

    Didn’t she know he was outdoorsy when she was dating him?  There’s no way in the world I would have married a guy like that.  My idea of camping involves, at the minimum, Motel 6.  I stayed in a tent (up on a wooden raised floor with 4 cots) back in girl scouts in 4th grade, and that was it for me.  Hunting, camping, fishing — not for me.  And the man I married likes to fish — in the stocked lake in our subdivision — about once a year. 

    It’s a little late now, but lesson for the youngsters — don’t marry someone you’re not compatible with in hobbies that lend themselves to group or couples outtings. 

    For the LW – Move back home, tell HIM to leave, and get on with your life.  He doesn’t love you and he said it to your face.  What do you need?  A headline in the newspaper?  Move on and find your happiness!!  Because he is NOT it!

  10. avatar JCF4612 says:

    Dear L#1: I am so sorry since this is surely a heartbreak. But you’ll be better off ending this non-marriage now, as will your children. You are young enough to make your way as a single parent. And who knows. There may be someone out there who can offer what you’ve been deprived of all these years.    

  11. avatar Miss Lee says:

    I can understand why she moved out.  I left each of my husbands with the house, each for different reasons.  Beyond the practical reasons that dictated the move, it enabled me to get a fresh start without being haunted by the memories that always would have been present in those houses.  I feel them still when I drive by the old houses.  Now I have a house I own and am quite happy with my own space.

    • avatar butterfly55 says:

      I can understand your reasoning but I would think with an 11 year old that they would be better off staying in their home, going through their parents divorce is enough for right now.  And then she has the house to sell when she is ready, this fellow doesn’t sound like the type to give much in any settlement to provide for her future ( just a feeling about child support from someone that self-centered).

  12. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: Your marriage is over and has been for some time. You can either let this continue to hurt you, or free you up to focus your energies on yourself rather than someone who sounds a lot less than they appear to be. The house is irrelevant—if being away from it works for you, then do that and make your fresh start.

    LW2: “I mean she’s my sister.” Alas, if only she felt the same as you.

  13. avatar LCMom says:

    HEARTSICK: I’m sorry to hear of this. May I suggest that you stick with what’s true for you? This may take some deep looking on your part and it will take strength. And who knows what will happen with your relationship in the future, but I do know, that if you are living what’s true for you, you will be better and happier for it. I wish you the best.

  14. avatar Susan G says:

    LW#2 :I’m confident I’ll draw ire for this statement, but I’m sick of our therapy culture that 1) encourages us to revel in every old and new wounded for every new or old injury 2) pins blame, diagnosis and labels on everyone. Psychobabble-think helps no one be the slightest bit more functional.

    • avatar Jean B says:

      Valid points. The only way to get the message across is to let them know in no uncertain terms that the behavior (whatever the cause) won’t be tolerated. If that means cutting them out of your life, so be it. A narcissist has to have an audience. Take away the audience and there is no reason to behave that way.

  15. avatar Violet says:

    On the first letter, who cares if the other woman returns his affections, or whether it is just a mid-life crisis. It’s all his problem, not yours. He said he doesn’t love you any more. He can’t show you affection. Kick him to the curb; take back you own house and get on with your life.

    On the letter regarding the narcissist, knowing the diagnosis of someone who is making you miserable may help, but ultimately, I wouldn’t spend too much time diagnosing a family member or friend who was emotionally abusive. I would just cut ties. It’s not worth the trouble.

  16. avatar Lucy Henry says:

    LW2- Provided that a child has a loving mother or caretaker, I would think an absent father/male role model is preferable to an abusive one. Many people are raised by single parents, and most turn out fine. I assume the LW was raised in the same household as her sister, so it’s more likely her sister is just wired that way.

  17. avatar NevadaFriend says:

    Dysfuntional families do cause lots of problems for people, that’s for sure. Three of my brothers and one sister have passed on now, but I have one sister a year and a half younger than me. She is very pretty, is married,  and has lots of money but she is really a witch. I tried for years to have a relationship with her, really tried, but the insults and bitching about family members who have passed on is just too much for me. Our father was extremely abusive and alcoholic but she blames our docile mother for not standing up to him I guess. Our mother actually did try but usually got beat for her efforts.  Fortunately my sister lives in another state or I’d move. I really can’t associate with her any more. I tried just making it phone contact but had to quit that too. I’m sure she’s doing fine and I know I certainly am. We are in our older years now and I have a fulfilling life and have saved myself a lot of grief and stress.

  18. avatar Jean B says:

    LW 1: I don’t know about mid life crisis, but he is pathetic at best. I know a woman who went so far as to divorce her husband to be with another man. She was so convinced they were soul mates, a “match made in Heaven”, meant to be together forever and ever and ever. Problem was the “other man” didn’t want anything to do with her. This nutso went so far as to tell this man’s wife that she was PG with his child (not physically possible on 2 counts) and that he was spending time before and after work with her at her house (also not physically possible).
     
    For the curious, she couldn’t have been PG with anyone’s child because she got herself fixed many, many years ago, and she can’t be PG with his child when they haven’t done anything. He can’t be at her house and at work (a noisy place with distinctive sounds) AND on the phone with his wife at the same time. And from the time the husband leaves work to the time he gets home, there isn’t space in there for visits. If he was skipping work for all the time this woman claimed he was at her house he would have been fired a long time ago. The wife already knew this woman was lying and already knows the woman is unstable. If anyone ever needed a psych ward……………………..sometimes there just isn’t any hope for the hopeless. Sorry.

    • avatar Violet says:

      It always baffles me when people get married and then complain about things they really should have known before they said their vows. I know people wear blinders early in relationships when everything is rosy, but by the time you are marrying someone, you should know they are not going to show affection, and they like being outdoorsy and you don’t.

      I once started dating someone whose idea of a great vacation would be to bike across Europe, about 100 miles/ day and rock climb. It sounded great and romantic, except I know I’m much too lazy to do that, and would prefer to lay in a hammock at the beach and read. Both approaches are fine for people that enjoy either option, but I knew over time, no matter how nice he was, it wouldn’t be a good match. Eventually, he would meet someone who could enjoy his activities.

      I knew well enough to admit to myself that it would not be a good match. It’s like if I meet the ideal guy, but he hates dogs, I can’t overlook that, since I love them. She should cut her losses and move on.

      Also, in response to letters where the LW says the husband is really good to them, but no affectionate, or is so sweet, but won’t have sex with them, been there; done that. Over time, being rejected in that way will wear down your self esteem. Show them the door and move on!