Anthony kind of slumped into the office and comfortably settled himself into the easy chair. “Doc,” he said, “I’m here to find out if my marriage is over. To me, it seems like it really is.” He went on to explain that his wife, Julie, and he had been living two separate lives for as long as he could remember. She was very involved with the children’s activities; she worked full time and had a rather hectic schedule as a corporate attorney. They rarely ate together and their conversations, though cordial, were impersonal.
“She had a function at work and invited me to come,” he said. “I came because it seemed like the right thing to do. But it was weird. I didn’t know anyone there. Everyone knew her and she had something to say to all of them. To me, there was nothing to say. We drove home in silence.”
Anthony added, somewhat indignantly, that she also knew nothing of his work and his passions; she never asked. Finally, he mentioned, almost in passing, that he had been to another therapist who agreed with him that it sounded like the marriage was indeed over and that the reason he had come in for therapy was to get some help in easing out of his comfort zone.
Anthony looked up, his wide eyes searching, and said, “But I don’t think that’s why I came into that guy’s office. I wanted something else.”
Ah-ha. There it is. It’s always there. That spark. That little telltale giveaway that comes after 15, 20, or 30 years of marriage, more or less. It’s the connection. People are connected on a deep, soul level whether they want to recognize it or not. Like embers that refuse to die out, there’s something there that, when kicked, can roar into a fire.
I think Anthony was looking for the fire.
“What a great opportunity!” I said, smiling at him.
“Huh?” he replied.
It’s always nice to get people’s attention with an unexpected view of life. But I really did see it as a great opportunity. Let’s say he walked into a party and started talking to some hot chick. If he wanted to get to know her, he’d be asking her about her interests, her dreams, her goals, her activities. He’d be sharing these with her. On the other hand, she could find him boring and she could just walk away after 10 minutes. Or he could. And then he’d have to start over. Meanwhile, back at the courthouse, he’d be fighting over the custody of the children and there would be bitterness over the undelivered dreams. He’d have to shell out large sums for the attorneys and it wouldn’t be money well spent. It would be sad money, and he’d wonder what he was really accomplishing.
So I asked him: Why not get off his duff, stop expecting his wife to show interest in him first and just start asking her the questions he would ask the beautiful stranger?
“Oh, that wouldn’t work,” Anthony assured me. “I already tried that years ago. I would ask my wife questions and she would give me these non-answers. She wasn’t interested at all.”
“Did you ask her at a candlelit dinner in a nice restaurant?” I asked, smiling.
“No,” he admitted. “It was over the breakfast table while we were trying to get the children out the door. But that was a better alternative than at dinner when we have to keep on top of homework and we each have work of our own to do.”
I asked Anthony what line of work he was in. He explained that he was a systems analyst for a large company. In answer to my question, he informed me that he had worked hard all his life to climb up the corporate ladder and he was proud of how far he had gotten.
“I imagine the same is true for Julie,” I responded. He agreed, and I pointed out that they certainly had a work ethic in common.
“Oh, yeah,” he laughed, “that’s one thing we have in common. Besides the kids, of course.” Anthony grew silent. He was smart enough to see where this was going. Things worth having take effort. He got up in the morning for work and put his full attention to it; he could certainly do the same for his marriage.
So, to answer the question we started out with: When is the marriage really over? We don’t know until we try doing the things that stir up the embers. When we’ve tried everything—and I mean everything—and nothing has worked, then we can ask that question again.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.