When do you know it’s time to end a long-term relationship? A little background: we’ve been married 10-plus years, have tween-aged children, used to argue a lot, but now we just don’t talk about anything serious, ever. We do not co-parent, we co-exist. Separate bedrooms, zero intimacy, both of us have a strong commitment to our family. This is not a crisis, it’s just not the life I thought I’d be living at this stage of my life. I’m in no rush to leave but I wonder if I should be? Your thoughts?
— Stagnant Waters
My thoughts? So. Many. Thoughts.
I am thinking how hard that must be for you both. I am thinking how easy it is for all of us to slip into complacency. I am thinking how disappointed your younger selves might be. I am thinking what this model is creating inside your tweens. I am thinking how challenging it can be for any of us to bring ourselves out of a rut like the one you’ve described.
But that’s what it is: a rut. You have mutually agreed not to work on this. Even if those words were never spoken, an agreement is what this is. I am sad for you both — that neither one of you has decided to challenge this deal, that neither of you can imagine getting back to a place of connection together.
You ask me when it’s time to leave, but I ask you: Could you ever consider using all that you’ve learned about human nature in starting your family — to which you say you both are committed — as a springboard? Could that process move you into a place where you could recreate the bonds of intimacy and love that created that family? I don’t think it’s time to leave until you’ve tried all you can try.
Believe me, I know how dangerous it might be to be that vulnerable. Spouse may or may not be able to meet you in that space of reaching just yet. But it may be worthwhile to expend some patience and persistence in this effort — not only because you have a family with young brains developing all kinds of expectations and beliefs as they witness your distance from Spouse, but because you have put so much work into the experience of being with this person. Why not try to capitalize on that instead of starting over with a brand new one?
Yes, I know this is going to feel like a huge task, but please don’t romanticize breaking up, moving out and starting over; those are enormous tasks as well. Try reaching for Spouse again. At least you will know you tried.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at stacymurphylpc.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to firstname.lastname@example.org.