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Ask Dr. Zoe – Is This an Unhappy Marriage or Mid-Life Crisis?

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‘Johanna’ Asked:

How do I work on my marriage when your husband tells you everything in his life is in the air right now OR tells you “I’m sorry I’ve been living your life. You wanted kids and to get married, not me!” We’ve been together for 17 years now. How can I move on from that? I’m hurting right now.

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Your husband is going through something right now that’s making him question all of his choices in life. Unfortunately, that includes you and the kids too. Maybe it’s true that he felt pressured to get married and have children. Maybe it’s actually that he’s unhappy with how his life is turning out and he’s creating a new story that takes the responsibility away from him and his choices.

Either way, you are in a world of pain and your job is to shore yourself up and ride out this storm. It’s easy to hunker down in hurt and become defensive and distance yourself from him. Don’t do that. The hard thing is to face this thing head-on and be open to talking about the difficult, very painful things with him.

There is something very real that your husband is feeling about not being heard or having the options to make his own life choices. Maybe that’s his own doing. Maybe it’s yours. My experience tells me it’s probably a combo.

You can’t get rid of the kids and you are already 17 years into your relationship, so arguing over the past is a big time-sucker. How you got here matters very little compared to what you need to do to get to a healthier place.

The best thing you can do for your marriage is to be willing to meet him where he is and help him feel heard by you. Everyone wants to feel like their feelings matter.

“Everyone wants to feel like their feelings matter. How you got here matters very little compared to what you need to do to get to a healthier place.” Dr. Zoe Shaw

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Basically, what I’m asking you to do is to believe him. That’s how he feels. Now, let’s understand why.

I don’t know what he means by “up in the air.” If you aren’t sure either, you need some clarification.

Understand His “Why”

Additionally, you can gain some understanding while still validating him by saying some things like:

1. “I’m really sorry to hear that you feel like we haven’t created this life together. I’m glad you are telling me now how unhappy you are. We can’t change the past, but starting today, how would you live your life differently if I had no say in it?”

2. “How can we make this work within the constructs of what is already here (marriage and children)?”

3. “What would you need from me in order to feel like you are living your life and not mine?”

4. “I don’t want you to live my life. I want to support you to live your own and be with you as we live our lives together. How have I kept you from living your life?”

By the way, don’t rapid-fire those questions! Most men don’t deal with that well. But you need answers to these questions, over a few conversations, to truly understand what is going on with him and what his needs are.

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As he responds to you, now is NOT the time to remind him of all the ways you have been open to his plans or supported him in pursuing his dreams or encouraged his investment in his friend group. I hope that you have done those things. Now is the time to listen and validate how he feels. Understand that his feelings are real and he is feeling this way for a reason.

It’s also important to find out what has been going on recently that has magnified this feeling in him. There is a reason why he is confronting you with this now, when it hasn’t come up over the course of 17 years.

It’s tough to listen to your partner when it feels like what he is saying is outrageous or unfair. This is where the rubber meets the road in being a supportive wife. If he feels heard and understood, you may see a change in him.

Reach out for help. This is a great time to seek couples therapy. A good therapist can help both of you understand how you got here and what you can do to change the dynamics in the future. You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace!


For more relationship advice and related articles, start here…

How Do I Know What Defines Me?
Why You Should Just Have That Hard Conversation (And How to Do It)

Marriage Advice That Will Change Things More Than You Think…
5 Questions to Make the Most of Couple’s Counseling
Ask Dr. Zoe – My Spouse Wants a Divorce, What Should I Do?
Put on Your Big Girl Panties and Get to Work (On Yourself)

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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