My spouse wants a divorce but I don’t…

I’ve been married 32+ years to a wonderful woman.  We married early, she was 20 and I was 24.  We were both in college but her family was critical and unsupportive when she was baptized (prior to dating me): she felt very alone.  When we began dating, I was in heaven; she was [is] so beautiful and I felt so lucky that she would have anything to do with me.  It wasn’t long before I popped the question but she did not give me an answer right away.  I think I understood this as there was so much going on with her family and we were both in school, and I must have seemed like a loon to propose with no major financial prospects on the horizon.  Three months later she surprised me on my birthday with a “yes” pointing out that months earlier before we began dating she had a dream about me and from what I recall of it, she concluded that she had been told by Heavenly Father that she should marry me.
With so much stress from her family and then mine, we eloped to the temple and were married with two temple workers and the matron as witnesses.  Not exactly a fairy tale.  Since she and I had never been intimate before marriage with each other or anyone else, I can only relate my first sexual experience that night as indescribable.  I knew that I loved her with all my heart and have been “addicted” to making love to her over the years and none else, physically, emotionally and loving her in every way that a husband feels he should.
I eventually left school to work after getting only an associates degree while she completed her bachelors. We had a child and my wife decided she wanted to go to law school. We relocated to another part of the country, where I was hired by the first company I interviewed at, a month or so before my wife and daughter moved out to the apartment I rented.  While in law school she had our son and at graduation she was given a standing ovation while she held him in her arms to get her diploma.
It’s now been 32+ years since we eloped to the temple.  In that time we’ve seen three marriage counselors (non LDS). At the first counselor my wife turned to me and said, “…When we got married, I didn’t love you.”  This crushed me.  I had loved only her and while I am not the brightest bulb in the box, my heart and devotion to her never wavered.  Since then, we’ve seen two other counselors and it has become easier for her to say to me when I ask her how she feels about me,“It’s complicated” instead of “I love you”. Most recently, her words were, “I don’t need a man in my life” and “I can’t see me being married to you for eternity” (her words). And why not?  She makes 3 times what I make and that makes me unnecessary, right?.  Her mother passed away a
few years back, bitter against her husband for reasons I’m not fully aware of (and some I am), and my wife said she does not want to end up like her mother, bitter for the rest of her life.  She constantly points out that we have only two children and our Church membership in common, nothing else. During counseling sessions I too found  it impossible to note any common interests, even though over the years I attempted to reinvent myself, something that I was not able to do to her satisfaction.  She has plans with other [women] friends/clients to vacation abroad without me.  I was specifically told with regards to one of these trips that I was NOT invited.  Often every week, she rebuffs me, refuses to engage in conversations and will almost without exception rejects me when I as for sex.  Masturbation is not an option for me even though out of curiosity when I asked for her permission to do so, she said to go right ahead.  My bishop is fully aware of what is going on but it seems bishops have gotten out of the business of counseling couples in marriage.  When I asked my wife if she would see an LDS marriage counselor she responded with , “Really? A fourth?”. It turns out the only one in our area is our daughter’s age so she is off our list now too (I have to agree.).  She rarely goes to church anymore and while I know some of that is from her demanding work load, most of it is personal; I usually sit alone in the back at church. I know she is struggling with certain aspects of her testimony.  She no longer believes that dream she had of me so long ago as credible direction from God that we should have married and as such, with no romantic love for me, there is no reason to remain married to me. I work a couple of times a month in our temple, but I always go alone. I see happy couples at church (though I know not everyone is…) playing off of one another and at the temple holding hands, smiling at each other.  Such scenes crush my soul and I often turn away and withdraw to stem the flood of pain in my heart.  I refrain from pornography, masturbation, flirting with other women because I know indulging would be wrong.  We’ve slept in separate rooms for years, yet I long to be touched and held.  The periods of depression have been severe. I can’t say that I haven’t thought of taking my life at times, but I am sobered up by what that would to do my [grown] children and other family members.   I know that would be a very bad path.  As a kid growing up in a inactive-part member family, I had always thought that blessings in the Celestial kingdom and missions were for others like my friends whose families were active in the Church and did everything right.  I did not fit that mold. Only after some “divine” intervention did I serve a mission.  It was then that I found that I too could “receive all that the Father hath”.  Yet today, I feel unlovable and destined to live out not only my days but eternity alone.  I have perhaps the greatest empathy for those who have never married yet want to be.  My heart goes out to those who have lost a spouse they loved and were loved by.  There is a special sister whom I strongly admire who serves in the temple with me sometimes who lost her husband.  She chooses to go to the temple; she does not raise a clinched fist towards heaven but bows before the Lord  humbly serving with devotion.  I feel so conflicted when I see the good examples of others when I focus so much on my own pain.  Going to the temple is the ONLY respite there is in my life.  The comfort afterwards lasts but a few days or hours but the effort to get to and serve in the temple is worth it.
The most recent comments my wife has made is that she thinks we should wait until next summer to divorce as that would place less stress on our son.  Whether or not I agree with her time table, I am doing my best to take life a day at a time. I have come to understand that she is entitled to her free agency.  I also know that she never fell in love with me and that’s likely not her fault but probably my taking advantage of a 20 year old girl who was struggling to cope with a hateful family when she joined the Church.  I  love my wife but I must admit with many, many years of rejection from her and being told she does not want me, I don’t know how much I am still “in love” with her. We never fight.  We would probably make better friends than spouses.

My bishop asked me just recently if I thought I would remarry.  I said only if there was someone out there who could love me back.  My wife has made up her mind and it seems that she is just waiting for me to “come around” to her way of thinking. She’s an attorney who knows all the details of divorce in our state and is probably mentally prepared for it.  I am sure I am in denial, afraid of losing the one thing in life I have wanted so much.  There is no one I can talk with (the bishop can only listen so much before he’s heard it all before) and about something that I don’t want telegraphed in my ward or stake, I cannot confide with anyone we both know.  I want her to be able to come and go to church when the time comes that she feels she wants to get more active and so I would move to another ward or stake so she can have her privacy.  It seems the less of me around might help her come back to church since she acquaints me with the Church so closely.In closing, I am so very lonely and cannot find where I fit in if I even do.  I thought we ‘were that we  might have joy’ especially when you work so hard to do what’s right.  I need to follow the example of the sister in the temple who pushes on despite [possible] despair.
One of the most painful situations to be in is a marriage where love and intimacy are not reciprocated.  In fact, what you describe is an emotionally abusive and neglectful relationship.  Here are some thoughts:
  • It is very difficult to know how to move forward when one partner wants the relationship to continue while the other is wanting a divorce.  Your comments on agency are correct.  At some level, regardless how much we may want to love our spouse, we don’t get to stay married unless both people are committed and willing.  This is one of the hardest principles of marriage – so much is out of our control.  We trust another person with our heart, our vulnerability, our goals/dreams, our loyalty and our future.  Sometimes that trust and leap of faith really pays off – other times it tragically does not.  If your wife is already convinced she wants a divorce and is moving forward in that direction, there is little you will be able to do to convince her otherwise.  Especially when it sounds to me like she has been moving in that direction for many years – making this a chronic situation.  It sounds like her main motivations for continuing at this point have to do with the sake of your children and possibly religious reasons she now is also pulling away from.
  • It becomes in your best interest then to figure out what you do have control over.  Mainly yourself – and how you can go forward in a healing way.  I notice lots of self-depracting comments towards yourself.  Usually self-esteem takes a big hit in emotionally abusive relationships.  I recommend you begin individual sessions with a trained therapist to help you address issues of self worth, appropriate boundaries going forward, learning how to advocate for yourself and facing acceptance of your wife’s choices.  AAMFT.org is a good resource in helping you find a therapist in your geographical region.
  • It is important to not fall into the trap of re-writing our history in ways that are unhealthy.  For example you mention “my taking advantage of a 20 year old girl who was struggling to cope with a hateful family when she joined the Church.”  Nothing of what you report supports this statement.  It sounds like you pursued and dated a love interest, eventually taking the risk of asking for her hand in marriage.  It sounds like you respected the space she needed to make that decision.  Whatever reasons she had for answering in the affirmative at that point of her life are not your responsibility.  She was an adult and she made the decision to accept your proposal.  If she made the decision to marry you for other reasons than being in love – that falls on her.  And remember, she may be re-writing her history as well.  Usually the process of choosing a spouse has many complicated factors – many happening at a sub-conscious level.
  • Staying married in a chronically abusive relationship is not healthy for the entire family system.  Often people will say “I’m willing to work on this marriage for the sake of the children” – a great reason to put forth a truly concerted effort and an important time to start marital therapy (hopefully lasting at least 10-12 months).  Our children deserve  for us to make this type of effort.  However, children are not a sustainable reason to stay together long term.  And if all they have as a role model for marital intimacy is the neglectful or abusive relationship of their parents – this can harm them as much as divorce.  They learn the same strategies and coping mechanisms being modeled and have a higher likelihood to repeat such patterns in their own marriages.
  • When a marriage dissolves, you are no longer responsible to take a compromising role in the relationship.  In other words, your wife’s testimony and her ability to engage with the church will not be your issue.  I encourage you to make decisions going forward that help you have the support and network you need to thrive – instead of making decisions as to what you might assume would be in the best interest of your wife.  The only area it is still important to be civil, respectful and able to work together is in co-parenting efforts.
  • It sounds like you have been in a sexless marriage for a significant period of time.  I’m impressed that you and your wife were able to discuss options such as masturbation – since she was not willing to share herself sexually with you.  It is my position that couples have the right to figure out their sexual boundaries and activities as a couple.  Therefore, if she is comfortable with you masturbating and you have no other sexual outlet in your marriage – this can be a healthy compromise until you both figure out more relational ways to be sexual (either with each other or in another relationship).
  • It was a red flag to me that you said you were “addicted” to your sexual relationship with your wife.  It is perfectly normal and healthy to have or want robust and frequent sexuality within marital bonds.  In fact it is important on many different levels: marital bonding, stress reduction, physical health, etc.  I’m afraid you are shaming yourself inappropriately by feeling you had a sexual need your wife did not share or reciprocate.
  •  It will be important to reframe your relationship in a positive way.  Often we speak of divorce as a “failed marriage.”  I believe this is shortsighted.  Regardless of what happens in a marriage – it is definitely a learning laboratory.  It is also a place where your children were born.  There is much to be celebrated and take with us from all of life’s experiences.  I’m not trying to minimize the pain and sorrow that comes with divorce – I’m just saying it is important to look at the process in terms more encompassing and compassionate than “failure.”
  • Get assessed and treatment for possible clinical depression.
  • Get good legal advice.

I’m glad to hear that going to the temple is a refuge for you.  I hope you can find other resources to help you during this difficult and painful time (your bishop, friends and family, a good therapist, home teachers, spiritual practice, etc.).

The Good Divorce: Keeping Your Family Together When Your Marriage Comes Apart by Constance Ahrons is a good resource.

Mixed-Faith Workshop
Advocacy against Female Circumcision
Finding your ACE Score
The Effects of Excommunication on All of Us: Healing Perspectives

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