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Ask Dr. Norman Brown Your Own Question

Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 1144
Experience:  Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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I have been married to my husband 16 years. He took on my oldest

Customer Question

I have been married to my husband 16 years. He took on my oldest two children as his own as well as us having two of our own together. He's been a good dad and a good provider. After many years of emotional and sexual abuse, I fell out of love with him and have grown to resent him. I allowed myself to fall for someone else. My husband knows about this other man. We went through a two year separation and then we decided to try again. He moved back in but I'm still aching over this other man. I know that this other man wants to be with me as we have started talking again. My oldest two children are no longer living at home and it's just the younger two and my husband now. Sometimes I think that I should stay with my husband to keep the kids and him happy. Other times I think that there can be no way that my husband is happy because he MUST feel my distance. We no longer even have a physical relationship. Would you please konk me on the head so that I can stop feeling this way and put my kids first? If not, then it has been helpful to type this out... I bottle it all up inside and it's affecting my health. Thank you.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dr. Paige replied 2 years ago.
Hello. You said the ultimate sentence that gets people in trouble. Staying to keep the kids and your husband happy is NOT the answer at all. Your husband feels the distance and so do your kids. Even though they may be young, kids at all ages feel things like that. I always tell parents in a strained relationship who are staying together "for the kids" that what they are doing is hurting their kids and causing damage in them for the future. They are seeing that their parents are not happy, feeling that it is because of them and it causes a lot of different problems in their lives. What you need to do is find YOUR happiness. The example you need to set for your children is that they too need to seek happiness in life and its ok if they fall out of love with the person they used to be in love with. It's ok for them to have happiness with someone else.
I know you are looking at convenience and living situations, BUT there is much more at stake here. You did this before, you had a separation with your husband for 2 years, so obviously things were different at one point. I don't recommend running right from this into the other guys house, but I would say to work it out where you are by yourself or with the kids without your husband, maybe however you had the arrangement before. Be honest with everyone involved, including the children to whatever level is age appropriate.
You need to follow your heart. You need happiness. Your children will understand if all of this is handled in an honest way. If you are certain this is what you want, you have been abused in the past, you have given this a good try and feel the marriage has run its course. You can't live your life in this situation day after day, year after year. You think it effects your health now? What in 10 years? Life is too short for regret. Your kids will not take a lesser role of priority if you choose to be with someone other than their father. People get divorced and remarried all the time. When all people involved are honest and mature about everything with each step of the way, it works out just fine for everyone involved.
You are not selfish for doing what you need to do for you.
Look at your future and look at your kids' future and think about what is best to do.
Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 2 years ago.

I have to differ with Dr. Paige, because I've written book chapters on divorce and children of divorce, as well as a doctoral dissertation on the love lives of children of divorce, based on research and interviews with hundreds of my students in Psychology of Relationships. I'm not going to argue that you should not divorce "for your children's sake," but I'm not going to sugar-coat the effects of divorce either.


Children of divorce unconsciously do not trust marriage, and expect it to lead to divorce sooner or later. Since they're helpless to prevent their parents from divorcing, they'll do what they can to be unusually self-reliant (a good thing) so they don't need to depend on a partner for their basic security. They'll be hypervigilant about how to keep their security in an unstable parental landscape, if the divorce takes a long time before reaching a stable outcome. They'll be hypersensitive to anything going wrong in a love relationship of their own, play their cards close to their chest, be both passionately hopeful and self-protectively deceptive and keep escape avenues open, to make sure they don't feel helpless in their own love relationships.


A lot depends on how amicable the divorce is, and especially how cooperative the ex spouses are in child rearing afterwards--but one spouse can't force the other to be cooperative, when 1/4 are good-friends-cooperative and 1/4 are enemy combatants. Divorce children are clever at getting what they want from each parent separately, and play them against each other. They are unlikely to trust that a "we-ness" of lovers who marry each other "till death do us part" can really exist, because interview research has found that even after 15-20 years of marriage divorce children are still worried that something will strike them down. Is that awful? Well, there are worse things, like being exposed to parents physical abuse of them or of each other. In that case the children may also doubt their own ability to parent safely--but the research on that is scant, compared to that on the persistence of divorce-proneness & fear of helplessness in love relationships, which leads people to be too devoted to "holding on to their own power," like many people who are themselves divorced, including psychotherapists, who aren't immune to any of these effects, because they are unconscious. Loving requires a balance of surrender and self-reliant power, and a person may be able to achieve that balance if he or she is aware of his/her unconscious needs for power and control in love relationships.


What did your kids experience during your 2 yr separation? Were they shuttled between yourself and your husband? How would a post-divorce arrangement be different than that? Don't virtually ALL kids grow up with some deficits and psychological wounds? Yes. Children with an alcoholic, drug-addicted or mentally ill parent are all scarred as demonstrably as children of divorce. Is it possible that the kids could have a better relationship with each parent if you were each happier because you weren't living together? Yes, and I've seen a few students that had two loving dads and two loving moms who cooperated well in supporting them, and these young adults really did express the "it'll all work out fine" attitude that Dr. Paige expresses.


Some parents wait until the kids leave home to divorce, but that's not as easy in the hard economic times of today. Could your husband find someone else to make him happy? It's not your problem, but it sure would be nice if he could. Perhaps if you let your husband stay on the condition that he tolerate your intimacy with the other man, he'd be inclined to find the same thing for himself. That's a long shot, and I sure wouldn't count on an "open marriage" agreement to proceed smoothly, though it might.


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