‘We are two broken souls pretending we are fine living together’

‘There is a huge echoing void between us. I don’t know what to do’

PROBLEM: I’m not really sure where to start, or the best way to sum things up, but here’s a try…

My husband and I met in college, spent the next 10 years as really close friends (strictly platonic), started dating, were engaged two months later, married a year after that and we’ve been married going on four years. We know so much about each other but yet can’t seem to just be a couple. I regret now fast-forwarding through the dating phase (admittedly, I think we wouldn’t have gotten married if we hadn’t). Neither of us grew up with stellar examples of what a stable, emotionally healthy adult was, so we are two broken souls pretending we are fine living together.

Without offering all the reasons why, there is a huge echoing void between us. I’ll just say, the void is bigger than we ever were. I don’t know what to do. Neither of us are happy in the least. We have tried various ways to communicate to no avail. It sucks. It sucks really badly. I don’t know how to break the cycle and I miss being happy to be alive. I’m doing my best to not detail all his shortcomings here knowing it’s not all him; however I do feel he’s really putting our relationship on the fast track to disaster (again, all he’s every really known).

When do I get to stop being the bigger person and take care of myself? Or how we do manage to come together at all at this point?

ADVICE: You were 10 years as friends before dating and this leads me to believe that there is real care in your relationship. However, it does beg the old question of whether you can transfer from long-term friendship to romantic love. Many people have found that this is very possible – look at love blossoming in the workplace, for example.

However there is the issue of the habit of 10 years of close friendship and how that is such a different relationship from enduring romantic love. In our intimate situations, we tend to play out all our family of origin issues, such as how we learned about love and affection, how we learned to display hurt and fear and how we learned to communicate.

If we have a good awareness of all these things, we have an opportunity to tackle and challenge them in our primary relationship because love is such a strong motivator and force.

However, if our awareness is not very high, we can be subject to repeating family patterns that not only caused us distress and pain as children but that somehow we repeat exactly as adults.

Friendship allows us to be supportive of our troubled friends as it does not demand that we live in the daily experience of the distressed friend, but lovers are usually caught up in the throes of the stormy defences of past inadequate attachment.

There are two issues here: your own self-care and unhappiness and your husband’s struggle with being in an intimate relationship.

You both seem caught up in despair and unhappiness and this does not auger well for anyone having the energy or hope to take on the issues of communication and hurt that exist in your relationship. At least you are seeking help and therefore have some energy to demand that change happens.

However, one of the largest symptoms of being in a despairing situation is exhaustion so you will need to take action immediately for your own well-being – so that you can make good decisions for yourself. At a physical level, this means committing to sleep, exercise and good food but it is probably at the emotional level that you are depleted.

You need to be around good people: people who care about you and are optimistic. You also need to have support for your situation and this involves asking friends to stick with you while you try to figure out what happens next.

This does not mean asking for advice at this stage, but rather listening and understanding.

You will need to modify the amount of time spent with your partner so that you can be compassionate and reasonable when you are with him. If this relationship is to have any chance of survival then you are the best positioned person to create this possibility.

You seem very sure that your husband is acting out his familial past and if this is the case, he needs professional help to address it. This is now a crisis and as always, this offers an opportunity for change. Talk to him about your distress and loneliness and ask him to go for help – with you in the first instance and then he might continue on his own should that be decided.

Give him time to reflect on this and all the support you can muster; but should he refuse or decline, you will have to commit to your own life and happiness and this is a fact that he needs to be aware of and that you need to be clear on.