(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: “Dear Dr. Kenner. This is the situation: I’ve lived with my husband for five years before we married. We’ve been married for five years and are both in our early 30s. I met him at a nightclub by accident. He is a great father and an excellent husband. My problem is, I am not in love with him. I do not find his looks attractive. He’s handsome but he’s not my type. I love him but I am not in love with him.” That’s obviously a contradiction. People mean very different things when they refer to that, when they make that statement. “I tried to break off our relationship years ago but I had three children from a previous relationship and he was a good man and he helped me out with the kids. My mom told me that I need to learn to love him because he’s a good man, so that’s what I did. I don’t love him the way he loves me. And I need to know what to do. We now have five children, and since then, my mother has passed away. I’m ready to just be happy. What do I do? Mary.”
Here’s what I’m hearing in your question, Mary. You’re telling me you had three kids, you met a nice guy at a nightclub. He was good to you. Catered to you, catered to the kids, so what do you do? You marry him. But there’s one crucial missing piece. You know he’s not the one. He doesn't know he’s not the one but you know he’s not the one. He’s a good guy but you’re not attracted to his looks. My guess is there are aspects of his character that you don’t like too. But you used him. You used him to help you out with your kids and you tried to break off the relationship because the contradiction got too much for you years ago, but you got pressure from your mom who said, “You’ve got to love him more.” You buckled under. Now fast forward. You’re married five years, two more kids, with five total kids, two with him, and now you’re feeling trapped and resentful. Mom has died and you want out of the marriage. It’s very difficult to raise kids. I have empathy with you there. To raise three kids alone is very tough, but it’s even harder, Mary, when you invite a nice guy into your life and then you try to fake a love that you don’t feel. You know he’s not your soul mate and you don’t like his looks. If my husband didn’t like my looks, I would not want to be married to him, even though he’s a dynamite guy. I don’t want him to wake up every morning, to look at me and say, privately, he wouldn’t say it to me, “Ooh, I don’t want to be with her.” I mean, think of what our sex life would be like!
So you’re trying to live a lie. That puts pressure on you and your husband and your kids who are not dumb. They can feel the tension between you. The question you can ask yourself is, could you come to love him more and be more attracted to him physically? That’s the question mom asked. And you didn’t like it. So you can ask yourself, what undermines your feelings of emotionally intimacy with him? I’m hearing that you sound more motivated to leave the relationship rather than to try to rescue it. If you wanted to rescue it, I would recommend Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch. If you don’t want to rescue it, you’ve already made up your mind and you just want to leave, then be very careful going forward. Because you don’t want to make the same mistake you made in the past. You knew you weren’t attracted to him in a soul mate sense or physically, but you didn’t think longer range of how this would pan out for yourself over the years and how it would pan out for your kids.
If you plan to leave, think it through carefully. Think of the consequences long range so that you can work to minimize them now. There are always going to be consequences. You say you want to be happy. But if you just up and leave, you’re going to be dealing with complex responses from your five kids. And they’re not going to be beautiful. They’ll be anger, sadness, guilt, frustration, fear, so you want to think it through on all levels. Financially, emotionally, and with each of your children’s response to the fact of a possible divorce and to the way you leave the marriage.
I would recommend therapy for you, because if you end up with troubled kids, you’re not going to have personal bliss in another relationship. Get some help to think about this. Also ask yourself what is really going on in your life? Are you attracted to someone else? Are you someone who doesn’t speak your mind openly, so that you’ve harbored resentment for years? Are you unhappy with yourself, Mary? And just hoping that a man will help improve your self-esteem? Maybe your husband is such a good guy that by contrast, you feel like you’re not so good? That’s a self-esteem issue. I feel very badly for your husband. It’s hard to live with someone who only feels lukewarm about you, and my guess is I suspect he feels used and trapped, that he senses this on some level and is desperately trying to hold on to you.
I’m not going to give you the same advice as mom. I’ll tell you that you can leave, but do a lot of careful thinking before you leave. Work with each of your children. Maybe get them in counseling to prevent problems. I know there’s a wonderful book on divorce, Helping Your Child Through Your Divorce, on my website DrKenner.com. I hope that helps, and I hope that helps prevent you from making the same mistake all over again.