Sarah Weir
September 17, 2014 4:18 pm

Dear Sarah,

Help, please help. I’m 24 and married to a decent guy—a guy who I’m terrified I’m falling out of love with. We’ve been together for three years, and married for just over a year. When we were dating, we never argued. We had normal disagreements, but they were respectful and never turned into real fights. I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with him. About two weeks into the marriage, all that changed. Now, we have a big fight at least once a week, usually about something that’s not even important.

When we’re arguing, I get so frustrated I just want to walk out. The love that I have for him now isn’t the same as I felt three years ago. It’s the kind of love I feel for my BFF or my brother—unconditional and unending, but completely platonic. I no longer sense that he’s the only man in the world for me. Recently, I’ve started lying to him about working late, just so I can go back to my mom’s place and have dinner with her instead (she doesn’t know about it, either). I feel horrible, because I don’t want to hurt him, but I’m craving time to myself. I’ve even developed a DEEPLY closeted crush on a friend. I’d never ever act on it, but I feel so damn guilty when my mind wanders off to this other guy.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to stay, because I’m simply not happy—but I don’t want to leave him either, because that feels like I’m giving up on everything we once had. We started seeing a marriage counselor because of the fighting, but my husband has stopped going regularly since—by his own admission—”It doesn’t seem to be changing how often we fight.” The agony is tearing me in half. I don’t want to hurt the man I love, and whom I promised to love until death—it seems wrong. I also didn’t bargain for our relationship to change so fast and dramatically. I know you can’t say conclusively whether I should leave or stay—but if it was one of your children, what would you advise?

—Heartbroken in Michigan

Dear Heartbroken,

My heart is breaking for you too, because I believe you are trying to do the right thing but are suffocating in pain and guilt and confusion. If you were my child, I would tell you that I’d love you no matter what your decision, and that there is no shame in ending your brief marriage—if that’s where you come out after some hard work and soul-searching. Frankly, I’m not a “til death do us part” type of person, especially since you are in your early twenties, with most of your adult life ahead of you. Yes, over time marriages do go through cycles of discontent and delight, and yes, the early flames of ardor often burn into warm embers of enduring friendship. However, after only one year of marriage, I don’t believe you should be grimly setting your jaw and saying goodbye to passion and romance. Think of the decades of a cold and bitter partnership stretching before you. Think of your future kids growing up as witnesses to a joyless union.

Still, can you save your marriage and help it grow into something vibrant again? Of course that’s something only you and your husband will be able to determine. It’s troubling to me that he’s essentially quit counseling. You’ll need wise assistance getting out of this stuck place of fighting and misery, and you’ll need to both be committed to making it work. That’s the first thing to address: it’s time to have the Big Talk about whether or not both of you are even willing to try with your whole hearts. If the answer is yes, find another marriage counselor who you both like—therapists are definitely not one-size-fits-all.

The fact that you have started lying is a flashing red warning sign that you should act now—before you do something that might break your marriage irreparably and cause him more hurt than he deserves. That crush you mentioned, maybe you won’t act on it, but what if a post-fight text led to a drink led to. . .? It’s shockingly common how frequently people subconsciously force the end of their relationships by engaging in some kind of deceitful behavior—usually an affair—rather than addressing their real problems head on. It only makes things more painful and muddy. Meanwhile, it’s OK and normal to want some time to yourself. Have dinner with your mom, see your friends solo, you don’t need to lie about it.

Things may feel unbearably difficult right now, but if you approach your troubled marriage with love, gentleness, and honesty, no matter what the outcome, you and the man you married will eventually end up in a better place.

Love, Sarah

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