Responding to “I don’t love you anymore and I want to move out”

mid-life-crisisI stumbled across this 2009 article and was frankly drawn into it. So MANY Waywards end up feeling like this man felt.  The woman in the article never says whether he was having an affair or not, but the reasoning he used to get out of his marriage many people can relate to. And her response was amazing, mature…and effective.

When faced with your spouse telling you “I don’t love you anymore. I don’t know if I ever have. I want to leave”, how obvious is it to strike back out of anger, fury and hurt. And that’s exactly what your spouse in this case WANTS you to do. Give him or her the excuse to leave by attacking them. But that’s not what this woman did. There’s something to be learned here, whether it’s related to an affair or not.
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The last word: He said he was leaving. She ignored him.   When Laura Munson’s husband asked for a divorce, she ducked instead of fighting. He needed to learn, she says, that his unhappiness wasn’t really about her. Happiness starts within. Eventually, my husband got it.

Let’s say you have what you believe to be a healthy marriage. You’re still friends and lovers after spending more than half of your lives together. The dreams you set out to achieve in your 20s—gazing into each other’s eyes in candlelit city bistros, when you were single and skinny—have for the most part come true.

Two decades later you have the 20 acres of land, the farmhouse, the children, the dogs and horses. You’re the parents you said you would be, full of love and guidance. You’ve done it all: Disneyland, camping, Hawaii, Mexico, city living, stargazing.

Sure, you have your marital issues, but on the whole you feel so self-satisfied about how things have worked out that you would never, in your wildest nightmares, think you would hear these words from your husband one fine summer day: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out. The kids will understand. They’ll want me to be happy.”

But wait. This isn’t the divorce story you think it is. Neither is it a begging-him-to-stay story. It’s a story about hearing your husband say, “I don’t love you anymore” and deciding not to believe him. And what can happen as a result.

Here’s a visual: Child throws a temper tantrum. Tries to hit his mother. But the mother doesn’t hit back, lecture or punish. Instead, she ducks. Then she tries to go about her business as if the tantrum isn’t happening. She doesn’t “reward” the tantrum. She simply doesn’t take the tantrum personally because, after all, it’s not about her.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying my husband was throwing a child’s tantrum. No. He was in the grip of something else—a profound and far more troubling meltdown that comes not in childhood but in midlife, when we perceive that our personal trajectory is no longer arcing reliably upward as it once did. But I decided to respond the same way I’d responded to my children’s tantrums. And I kept responding to it that way. For four months.

“I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.”

His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, “I don’t buy it.” Because I didn’t.

He drew back in surprise. Apparently he’d expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind.

So he turned mean. “I don’t like what you’ve become.”

Gut-wrenching pause. How could he say such a thing? That’s when I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn’t.

Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and I repeated those words: “I don’t buy it.”

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “the End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

My husband hadn’t yet come to this understanding with himself. He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had supported our family of four all along. But his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically. And now he wanted out of our marriage; to be done with our family.

But I wasn’t buying it.

I said: “It’s not age-appropriate to expect children to be concerned with their parents’ happiness. Not unless you want to create co-dependents who’ll spend their lives in bad relationships and therapy. There are times in every relationship when the parties involved need a break. What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?”

“Huh?” he said.

“Go trekking in Nepal. Build a yurt in the back meadow. Turn the garage studio into a man-cave. Get that drum set you’ve always wanted. Anything but hurting the children and me with a reckless move like the one you’re talking about.”

Then I repeated my line, “What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?”

“Huh?”

“How can we have a responsible distance?”

“I don’t want distance,” he said. “I want to move out.”

My mind raced. Was it another woman? Drugs? Unconscionable secrets? But I stopped myself. I would not suffer.

Instead, I went to my desk, Googled “responsible separation,” and came up with a list. It included things like: Who’s allowed to use what credit cards? Who are the children allowed to see you with in town? Who’s allowed keys to what?

I looked through the list and passed it on to him.

His response: “Keys? We don’t even have keys to our house.”

I remained stoic. I could see pain in his eyes. Pain I recognized.

“Oh, I see what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re going to make me go into therapy. You’re not going to let me move out. You’re going to use the kids against me.”

“I never said that. I just asked: What can we do to give you the distance you need … ”

“Stop saying that!”

Well, he didn’t move out.

Instead, he spent the summer being unreliable. He stopped coming home at his usual 6 o’clock. He would stay out late and not call. He blew off our entire Fourth of July—the parade, the barbecue, the fireworks—to go to someone else’s party. When he was at home, he was distant. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. He didn’t even wish me “Happy Birthday.”

But I didn’t play into it. I walked my line. I told the kids: “Daddy’s having a hard time, as adults often do. But we’re a family, no matter what.” I was not going to suffer. And neither were they.

My trusted friends were irate on my behalf. “How can you just stand by and accept this behavior? Kick him out! Get a lawyer!”

I walked my line with them, too. This man was hurting, yet his problem wasn’t mine to solve. In fact, I needed to get out of his way so he could solve it.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m a pushover. I’m weak and scared and would put up with anything to keep the family together. I’m probably one of those women who would endure physical abuse. But I can assure you, I’m not. I load 1,500-pound horses into trailers and gallop through the high country of Montana all summer. I went through Pitocin-induced natural childbirth. And a Caesarean section without follow-up drugs. I am handy with a chain saw.

I simply had come to understand that I was not at the root of my husband’s problem. He was. If he could turn his problem into a marital fight, he could make it about us. I needed to get out of the way so that wouldn’t happen.

Privately, I decided to give him time. Six months.

I had good days and I had bad days. On the good days, I took the high road. I ignored his lashing out, his merciless jabs. On bad days, I would fester in the August sun while the kids ran through sprinklers, raging at him in my mind. But I never wavered. Although it may sound ridiculous to say, “Don’t take it personally” when your husband tells you he no longer loves you, sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do.

Instead of issuing ultimatums, yelling, crying, or begging, I presented him with options. I created a summer of fun for our family and welcomed him to share in it, or not—it was up to him. If he chose not to come along, we would miss him, but we would be just fine, thank you very much. And we were.

And, yeah, you can bet I wanted to sit him down and persuade him to stay. To love me. To fight for what we’ve created. You can bet I wanted to.

But I didn’t.

I barbecued. Made lemonade. Set the table for four. Loved him from afar.

And one day, there he was, home from work early, mowing the lawn. A man doesn’t mow his lawn if he’s going to leave it. Not this man. Then he fixed a door that had been broken for eight years. He made a comment about our front porch needing paint. Our front porch. He mentioned needing wood for next winter. The future. Little by little, he started talking about the future.

It was Thanksgiving dinner that sealed it. My husband bowed his head humbly and said, “I’m thankful for my family.”

He was back.

And I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore.

When life’s knocked us around. And our childhood myths reveal themselves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest sucker-punch of them all: It’s not a spouse, or land, or a job, or money that brings us happiness. Those achievements, those relationships, can enhance our happiness, yes, but happiness has to start from within. Relying on any other equation can be lethal.

My husband had become lost in the myth. But he found his way out. We’ve since had the hard conversations. In fact, he encouraged me to write about our ordeal. To help other couples who arrive at this juncture in life. People who feel scared and stuck. Who believe their temporary feelings are permanent. Who see an easy out and think they can escape.

My husband tried to strike a deal. Blame me for his pain. Unload his feelings of personal disgrace onto me.

But I ducked. And I waited. And it worked.

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You’re more likely to get the desired outcome with compassion, understanding, and love, then fury, anger, revenge and listening to the advice of your friends.

I read this and I was in awe of the woman’s maturity, strength and courage. We could all learn a lesson from this.

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23 thoughts on “Responding to “I don’t love you anymore and I want to move out”

  1. i read a similar story somewhere else a while ago… if i ever find it again ill come back and post it.

    i cracked up @ trekking through nepal… i have suggested perhaps he needs to go backpacking through india lol. i also didnt buy much of what he was saying, but, well me and my big mouth… just had to tell him so, and i had to tell him why too. zzz.

    i like to think, that if there hadnt been an affair, i would have been able to handle things in a similar way… “i like to think” 😛

  2. I can relate to him. I certainly felt like I wasn’t “golden” anymore after baby and I did all the things he tried. What I needed from Mike was a similar reaction to what this woman did. I needed time to come to the realization that life wasn’t over after baby and I was still valuable to this relationship/family. Too bad I got the opposite.

      • I was not saying that’s what I was experiencing…I just felt the same when everything changed for me after having our child. I didn’t feel like I was attractive, I didn’t feel like I was helping to support our family as I had – that maybe Mike was upset with me for having to bear more weight in providing for us. I knew our sex life did a 180 and my attention was no longer solely his. Most of my focus went towards being a mother and learning that role. I neglected him and felt bad for it, but being a new mother with no help from anyone else sucked the life out of me.

      • So to summarize: You no longer felt good about yourself, started to avoid sex, neglected your husband, and while he made a POOR AND STUPID choice, doesn’t it seem apparent as to WHY he turned to someone else? Not a justification, but to me, it’s pretty clear. So when you realize THAT, then perhaps it gives you as a couple some ground where you both can admit to being wrong and to remake things? I know you already probably know this, but gosh, the way you put it is so utterly clear.

        Spouses that are neglected due one of three things: They accept it while resenting it, they resent it and find their needs met elsewhere, or they neglect back.

      • It has been clear to me since the first few months after D-day…I know where I went wrong in our marriage; I am not confused as to what led us to being vulnerable.

        The thing that kept us from progressing for so long was that I couldn’t come to a place of forgiveness. I don’t care how many reasons you have to cheat, I can’t wrap my head around how someone could make that decision. Why be a sneaky asshole and put your spouse at risk? You should be man enough to walk away from your marriage if you are man enough to be with another woman.

      • Yes, he made a TERRIBLE decision. But how much in degrees is it worse than purposely neglecting your spouse? And how much is it chicken and egg? Both of you were at fault. HORRIBLY.

        If the point is trying to say who has the bigger sin, ok, him. But in the end, they are both sins. Trying to decide who was worse, you or him, is rather beside the point if you wish to save and improve your marriage isn’t it?

        You made him feel unloved, unwanted and sexually rejected. She didn’t. While what he did was horrifically wrong, can you not see the cause and effect here?

        Yes, he had the bigger sin. You “win”. Fine. Look at it that way. Now where do you want to end up?? Are you pursuing justice or forgiveness? You can’t pursue both.

      • I am not comparing and trying to say who was more at fault. I’m just saying that what kept us from progressing was my inability to forgive him for what he did. I don’t think he has forgiven me either.

        But see, I have come to a place where I have been able to move on. I am not stuck anymore. This was all a big issue for me up until a couple of months ago. I hardly ever bring up the affair. If we discuss anything, it’s about what we need now.

  3. ok. In this instance, there wasn’t an affair. This is about someone’s MLC. I get it. I think Mid-life Crises lead many people, however, to affairs, not just men. It’s that “tick tick tick” of time that you feel, and not happy with your current reality, and wondering where you are going. The depression can lead you to look for ways to feel good about yourself again, and an affair can feel (at least temporarily) rejuvenating and self-affirming. Of course, the “crash” comes later — to your life and your psyche. Anyway, I thought this was great.

    • Laura Munson did everything right and her husband certainly might have taken this to an MLC level had things gone differently. But this was more of a midlife transition and it danced at the door of MLC. Why wasn’t it an MLC. I actually wrote a really wrong review of her book a few years ago and we discussed it at the forum. It was only a few months long. He also did not have an affair and did not move out, but some MLCers are At-Home and some don’t have affairs (my survey has 83% of male MLCers having a physical affair). The main reason I would not classify it as MLC is time. According to Jim Conway (author of Men in Midlife Crisis) MLC averages 2 – 7 years; I’ve considered saying 3 – 7 as 2 is rare and people set-up expectations for the lowest number they hear/read. The people at my forum suffer a lot: infidelity, projection, Monstering at them… and relative to what they went through Laura’s experience was easy; they wish they could have it like that.
      Now could it have not been an MLC because she did everything right. Absolutely and I think her behaviours–perfect–were preventative. But that does not mean they would have that easy an outcome in most situations. I did a lot of that too, but the alienator was already around in my situation. What she did is what I train others to do, but I also tell them not to expect that to bring their MLCers out of it–once in a full MLC a person has to go through–no preventing.

  4. I tried something like this with my husband when I thought he was having an emotional affair,It did not work he became even more involved with her. I believe looking back now this is when it became a physical affair. He would tell me “you will not treat me like this, I wont be ignored ” it really got bad. At that point I almost stopped talking to him all together. It’s been a long year ,I feel better about my self but he is stilling covering up for him self . Nothing will ever be the same ,if we last.

    • Not every marriage can be recovered, no matter how good the advice or tactics attempted. Some people just want “out”, I’m sorry to say, and the affair is the “exit-strategy” type. They need to firmly cling to a new vine before letting go of the old one. I’m sorry to hear it.

  5. I absolutely love this woman’s resolve. It a great story of someone doing the opposite of what’s expected of them.

    Your words “You’re more likely to get the desired outcome with compassion, understanding, and love, then fury, anger, revenge and listening to the advice of your friends.” is very right on.

    However (and don’t shoot me) I find it hard to beleive that if that woman had found out her husband was in a three year affair, wrote emails declaring his love for her friend and telling her friend that they were meant to be together, spiritually, physically etc………….and how desperately he wanted her….bla bla bla….and tha they we meeting up in cars and hotels for sex.that she would have responded the same way. I think she would have responded differently then expected but the kind of pain that cuts the heart from and affair would have affected her or I would say she is super human.

    Things came out of me that I never thought would come out of me when I found out. I felt like I could physically kill him I was so distraught and even he will tell you taht was not the me he knew for 26 years. I felt like I had stepped out of my body and became someone else. I think though I have handled very well since then and have not done what was expected of me and I do beleive that my husband and I are going to have a great marriage now and so does our counselor. True forgiveness and compassion are vital in the healing process.

    I could be very wrong about her though………………….just saying! 🙂 I love reading inspirational stories like this!!!!!

    • Yes, I’m not saying that her tactic would “work” for everyone, but it showed real maturity and understanding and perseverance and it worked out for her. Taking that stance would be hard to do for most who are so completely blinded by rage, anger and a massive blow to their self-esteem caused by an affair.

      It takes courage to see past the obvious “symptom” — the affair — and looks towards the “cause”, which may not be as apparent.

      In this case, there was no affair, but the outcome was similar. The man wanted out based in an inner sense of deep unhappiness.

      anyway thanks for your feedback.

  6. This is a very good article. It’s hard to restrain yourself in difficult circumstances but showing compassion and understanding is the best approach. I know it has helped my relationship in the past. I’ve made mistakes in my life and I guess because of that it allows me to understand others better. My husband was involved in some sticky situations and I could have yelled at him and nagged but instead I understood that “shit” happens and the focus is ultimately how we cope with it after the fact and learn and grow from the bad experience. My compassion and understanding through his trials over the years made him more understanding and forgiving of my mistakes.

    Acting out towards a partner with anger and bitterness is sure to them away. It’s always best to remember that we are all imperfect as humans. That helps me to better understand people.

    It’s very true that happiness comes from with in however, I believe that partners in a healthy relationship bring out the best in one another. They support each others dreams and goals.

    There is no difference in a partner who neglects a spouse and with holds sex than a partner who strays from a marriage and has an affair. Both partners are at fault. You are right about cause and effect relationship. It’s a vicious cycle and up to both spouses to nurture and feed one another. Blame shifting and thinking the other partner’s mistake is worse rather than being accountable for your part will ultimately lead to failure.

  7. What’s done is done is what I try to remember. Focus on positive and look forward if you want to save your relationship. Does it always work? Hell no! But if you want to achieve a better relationship I don’t think looking back so much is the best remedy. I agree so whole heartedly with the author, they do have to experience whatever emotions they’re feeling but if you can’t even show them that it’s a good, fulfilling life that they have why would they want to return. It’s not only about the destination, it’s about enjoying the journey bumps in the road and all. I cant tell you that my story will end as happily as the above but at least I stay true to who I know I am by trying!

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