'I don't love my husband, but he's a kind man. Should I leave him?'

Our resident agony aunt has some advice for a woman who is craving a new life. 


Dear Rhona,

I’ve been with my husband for seven years and we have one young child.  He has always been a great support to me, there when I need him and was amazing during those early months of having a new-born baby.  There is nothing he wouldn’t do for me or our child.  I just don’t think I’m in love with him anymore. 

I feel like I’ve changed a lot since I became a mother but he’s the same; he likes routine, hates change and is perfectly happy with the way things are. We have a fairly regular sex life but that’s mainly because I just get on with it to avoid a confrontation. I’m just so bored and feel like we have nothing in common anymore.  I’m not interested in anything that comes out of his mouth and he just looks at me blankly if I talk about what’s on my mind.  We don’t even bother fighting anymore.  I feel like I’m just about holding it together but could also walk out the door tomorrow and never come back.  He’s a good, kind man and is mad about our daughter.  Am I off my head even thinking about leaving him?  Is anyone actually happy in their marriage? I don’t know what I’m at but I need a bit of perspective here. 

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Craving a new life, Dublin. 

I couldn’t help but think of the now famous quote by Gloria Steinem when I read your letter.  “The surest way to be alone is to be married,’ she said in the early 1970’s.  Although she was protesting archaic marriage laws at the time, and the life-limiting restrictions imposed on women, the sentiment continues to strike a chord.  There is little more isolating than surviving a marriage where communication has completely broken down but the passive-aggressive pleasantries of daily life rage on.

Nearly every married couple I know has questioned their future together at some point.  For most, there is no black and white answer and it often takes a dramatic event – a death in the family, an affair, an apocalyptic fight –to call it quits.

I referenced this a couple of weeks ago but it’s worth mentioning again to give you some perspective.  According to a recent US study, only 30% of married couples surveyed were ‘happy.’ (And that is always a relative term!)  It’s stacked against a 50% divorce rate and 20% staying in ‘unhappy’ marriages.  Admittedly, that may not transfer to the Irish populous where the divorce rate is under 5% and one of the lowest in Europe.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that we’re a nation of smoochy lovebirds. To be granted a divorce here, we have to prove that we’ve been living apart from our partner for four out of the previous five years, so divorce figures are skewed, with many opting to legally separate instead.

Marriage through the ages evolved from trading wives for land and stock – or even swapping wives with political enemies – to safeguarding aristocratic bloodlines with arranged couplings.  Until the late 19th Century the ol’ ball and chain was default child-bearer and housekeeper, with many men believing that love was incompatible with marriage and something that could only flourish in adultery.  The concept of romantic love as a lifetime binder is a fairly recent one and a high bar to set.

So, within a relatively short space of time, we’ve swung from marriage being a business arrangement and hoping that the long-suffering wives were getting their fair share of adulterous action to pinning our hopes, dreams, personal validation and future happiness on one person.  We expect our partners to fulfil multiple roles – collaborator, parent, lover, friend, entertainer, mentor, legend - and the pressure is immense.

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Added to that is the sense that once you publicly commit to a particular narrative, via a wedding for example, you are less likely to really examine any emerging ‘flaws.’  As Robert Cialdini wrote in his bestseller, Influence: “We all fool ourselves from time to time in order to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already done or decided.”

And I think that’s what you need to really explore first.  Have you opted out of connecting with your husband because he falls short of the impossible ideal or, have you been fooling yourself for seven years already? What constitutes a ‘happy’ marriage to you?

Before you talk to your husband, explore why you haven’t left already.  Are you immobilised by guilt, thinking only of your husband and daughter, or are you afraid of being alone in the future if you make that leap? Neither are reasons to stay necessarily as both are driven by fear.  At the same time, you are inextricably bound so deciding to leave solely based on your desire to move on, and foregoing their needs entirely, would also be a mistake.

Try to visualise your future life without your husband.  Get on to Daft.ie and search for your new home. That will be a depressing leveller in terms of the Irish rental market but will be a telling indication of how you feel.  Are you excited at the prospect of independence and a new life or paralysed by nausea?

Rather than lashing down a grenade, take it slow from here.  Maybe you’ve just hit a bump in the road? Maybe you’ve both become complacent and neither of you are making an effort? Give your husband the opportunity to embrace change and evolve with you. Consider counselling and some time away together, alone, to really try to reconnect.  I know the prospect of ‘alone time’ is as appealing as a  right now but it will at the very least shine a light on what’s wrong, if not affirm what’s right.

If you do end up walking away, make sure you’ve given it your all.  As national treasure, Maeve Binchy once said: “Happiness is in our own hearts. I have no regrets of anything in the past. I think that a lot of your attitude is not in the circumstances you find yourself in, but in the circumstances you make for yourself.”

Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart.  If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it.  Write to Rhona at [email protected]

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