There is no attraction, and I have been feeling this way for a number of years
PROBLEM: I am a man in my mid-40s, married for more than 18 years, with two beautiful daughters. My wife and I met at a very young age, so we have been together most of our lives.
The problem is that I have no real feelings for her any more. There is no attraction. I have been feeling this way for a number of years, and I have tried to relight the fire on so many occasions through sex and by really looking at her and appreciating her as she is.
We attended marriage counselling some years back, but she stopped before we really got to deal with the issues. Five years ago, she decided to move into a separate bedroom. I had no say.
I find I am more relaxed when spending time alone or with my children. I told her last year I could no longer live with her and that I had no feelings for her.
She caved in and said she would try to change. She has made some changes, but for me the fire went out and I have not been able to reignite my feelings for her.
At this point in my life, I would rather that we were friends. She is a not a bad person; I think we are just not compatible. I would like to see her meet someone who will make her happy. I really want to tell her this but I haven’t the heart to hurt her.
I need unconditional love. I feel lonely for not having a soulmate to share my thoughts, feelings, dreams and aspirations with – someone who I can love back. I have tried to ignore the gap, but I know that I am being unrealistic.
ADVICE: The Dalai Lama visited Ireland a few years ago. In answer to a question posed by a middle-aged man about how to be more of a force for good in the world, he answered: be happy doing what you are doing, then others around you will be happier (I paraphrase).
It is clear from your letter that you have a huge capacity for suffering for the sake of others, but not perhaps the same capacity for happiness.
You sound as though your unhappiness has been going on for years, and you have tried all the conventional ways to fix this: counselling, focusing on your wife and hiding your emotions.
None of these has worked, and again you are forced to face the truth of your marriage, which you describe as joint parenting without intimacy or connection.
For you, this is not enough, and yet you think that your wish to be separated will create great upset and hurt to someone who is “not a bad person” and to your two wonderful daughters. This is a very difficult thing to do: to measure your own happiness against what you think will cause unhappiness to others.
You wish to find a deep connection with another person, but your practice has been to very occasionally let your partner know what is truly going on, and to spend most of your time hiding your innermost feelings. This does not auger well for your future aspiration of complete openness and connection with someone else.
Your wife is an adult who is just as responsible for the relationship as you are; she too has chosen to withdraw from closeness and honesty. It is not your job to parent her, but it is respectful to her to assume she can cope with the truth. No doubt she will suffer from realising you are no longer in love with her, but it seems likely she already knows this.
You both have a responsibility to your children. However, I am not sure they will thank you in years to come for sacrificing your happiness for them. They may then feel that they have a similar responsibility to you – that they cannot cause you any hurt by their decisions. Do you really want this to be your legacy to them?
You have faced three crises already in your relationship: the counselling, the moving out of the bedroom and your recent statement that you are not in love. In all instances you have stepped back from pushing these situations to conclusion.
Now you have another opportunity. This time perhaps you can have the courage to take the next step: full honesty and a determination that the pattern of the marriage cannot continue. You alone have to make the decision to fully stay or fully leave your marriage. Facing this requires courage, self-belief and faith that the other person is capable. Surely all these qualities are worth cultivating.