I’ve been married for almost two years and love my wife very much but I’m also unhappy and not sure I want to stay in our relationship.
When we met, Diane had been working in a pretty undemanding, 9-5 job that she got right out of college and was planning to go on to law school. But since we got married she has changed her mind and just wants to stay where she is. I’m sad that she doesn’t want to challenge herself and that she isn’t as ambitious as I am. Sometimes I am a little embarrassed when we’re with friends, pretty much all successful, talking about our careers, and she doesn’t have much to say. Also, the kinds of dreams we’ve discussed (nice house, travel, being able to take time off to raise kids) don’t seem as feasible if she’s low on the earning ladder. I think she’s not keeping her end of the deal and although I try not to let it bother me, I sometimes get mad and don’t even want to be close to her. So our sex life is suffering, too.
I have told Diane how I feel but it hasn’t made a difference. She says that she likes her job and the people she works with and that her life suits her fine. She says we can do all the things we dream of doing even if she stays where she is, but I don’t think that’s realistic and I think it’s unfair that I should have to be the one who works really hard to make a good enough living for us to have the lifestyle we both want.
Should I look for someone who wants to be an equal partner with me? Aside from this, Diane is a great person and has the biggest heart in the world.
Let’s start with the big picture. You love Diane, but she’s not meeting your expectations and you believe she has reneged on the plan you made together.
Whether we like it or not, people change, not always in ways that we welcome. Of course, when our partners change, it affects us, but that doesn’t mean we get to decide how they’ll change. You can’t insist that Diane do what you want her to do. What you can decide is whether or not you are willing to live with Diane as she is.
This crisis is an opportunity to get clear on what is most important to you. Do you want a power partner more than you want the Diane you are with? If so, you might decide to end your relationship, because you have no guarantee that Diane will ever become the ambitious woman you would like.
Of course, even if you find someone who seems like a better fit, you may run into the same problem down the road, as you can always count on people changing in unpredictable ways. And then you will be in the same predicament in which you now find yourself. So you may decide that it is worth staying with Diane and her big heart. If you stay, you would benefit from finding a way to do so without resentment, because resenting your partner is a great way to have a miserable relationship. Then the question is: How do you stay with a person who is disappointing you in some important way?
The answer is that you actually don’t have a choice, if you want to be in a relationship. Sooner or later, anyone you are with will let you down, in large and small ways, because all people are different and at times will have very different priorities. It follows that if you’re going to be in a long-term relationship, you must learn to tolerate major disappointment. And Diane is giving you a great opportunity to figure out how to be close to, love and be sexual with someone who is letting you down.
Pay attention to how you let the actions and views of others affect you. My take is that you base your self-esteem to some degree on what you and your friends think of your wife’s level of ambition, rather than having your sense of self come from how you feel about yourself and your choices.
Finally, keep in mind that you’re probably not the only one in your relationship who’s disappointed in her spouse. I can imagine that Diane may be let down by your greater focus on career, by your expectations of her and even by your disappointment in her. Neither of you is “right,” of course. You each have your views of how you want to live your life and what sort of partner you want to be with. If you’re going to be coupled, you will both have to figure out when you can yield, when to hold firm and how to honor what is most important to both of you.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.