Why I'll "wait and see" about my marriage (even though we don't have sex!).
Marriage is not going so well for my husband Rob and me. Our fifth anniversary approaches, and we haven't had sex in more than a year. We've buried our feelings about that deep. We also avoid talking about finances and children, and anything else you could file under the category "future hopes." Outside of an hour of couple's therapy every week, we go about our lives as if nothing were amiss—running our household, dining out with friends, and catching new movie releases on Friday nights. We're good pals. (Yawn!)
When marriage promises so much more—stability, growth, intimacy—why am I content to stay put? In short, there's work to do, and I'm not talking about forever anyway. For the near future—six months, a year, maybe two—here are the ties that bind:
1. I'm giving myself a break. I wasn't always content to wait and see. In fact, I was nearly out the door earlier this year. Frustrated with our deteriorating rapport and needing space where I could think straight about the future I wanted for myself, I set out looking for an apartment of my own, crunching and re-crunching numbers to see what I could afford, and worrying about breaking the news of a separation to family and friends. The worst two months of my life ensued. Stress, broken-record thinking, and fear of loneliness—and about what others might think—had me crying every night. I couldn't get out of bed to face each new day. Figuring out how to rip apart a union, even an imperfect one, is agony. Needing a rest, I decided to focus instead on the silver lining of our relationship, and to gather my reserves for another go at serious contemplation later.
2. He makes life easier and even sometimes more fun. Rob may not be my ideal life partner, but he's a sweet guy who would give you the shirt off his back... or clean the bathroom even if he thinks it's clean enough but you're hell-bent on sparkling tiles in time for your visitors yet have no energy left to scrub them yourself. He's also enthusiastic about checking out new restaurants with me, or just catching the ball game on TV from the couch, cold beer in hand. While for better or worse we ignore our deep-seated issues around sex and money, we enjoy laughs together and keep each other amused. Life without him would require me to find new fun. If that sounds lazy, and you wonder just how much the bigger issues matter to me, remember, I'm giving myself a break at the moment. (See #1.)
3. It would be arrogant to think there's no hope. The work Rob has done to improve himself in the last year is amazing. He went from avoiding any sort of therapeutic situation to undertaking both individual and couples therapy. And while I say I'm sitting back and relaxing at the moment, that's relative. I always strive to make each day happier for us than the last. And in couples therapy we're learning to communicate better. There's potential, and to refuse it some time to reveal itself fully would not be fair.
4. I need to save some money of my own. Due to my admittedly insane and overblown need to "pay my own way" and not depend on a man, we've always kept our money separate. The thing is, Rob earns three times as much as I do, and so after paying our bills, his disposable income is considerably higher. Rob is a generous guy, and he supports me in ways that remain well enough below the radar to avoid offending my independent sensibilities—he unassumingly picks up the check at dinner and forgets to ask for my share of the grocery bill. If I leave, however, that's the end of his help, and with no family to count on, it's also the end of my safety net. It will be some months before I can save up for an apartment of my own. I'm not in any danger at home with Rob, so I have the luxury of being practical about this, and can wait until I have more funds available.
5. Life is hard. Let's face it: Life isn't easy. Separating would be hard, but so would staying together forever. To think we can make it through life and relationships without effort is naïve. So which challenge is the right one for me—rework this partnership into something more fulfilling, or separate and start anew? If I'm at all uncertain (which I am), a bold move would be foolish indeed. With all the challenges life throws at us—for me, an alcoholic brother and father with rapidly progressing Alzheimer's Disease come to mind—perhaps a supportive friend is more important than an intimate partner. Not sure I'd take that in the long term, but it's something to think about.
So I'm biding my time, and meanwhile being kind to myself and gentle with Rob. After I've put in a good-faith effort in couples therapy and saved a bit more of my own money, I'll reassess. If there's a chance at all that in the next year or so I'll be starting the long, painful process of extricating myself from a life lived together with Rob, I'd like to enjoy the calm before the storm.