Love Taps: Better Apart?

Friday, October 06, 2017

Dear Patrick: My husband was out of town for an important job. This temporary assignment lasted for more than a year. We only saw each other once or twice a month. The sex was intense! He was saving up all his desire for me, and I was definitely needing his attention.

He is home again, and things are not so good. We are fighting more. The kids are having trouble adjusting and are playing us off against each other. And the sex has dropped off to a rare and boring event.

I just don’t understand how being separated could have made our marriage better. I missed him so much. I cried and swore that when this job was over, I would never let him out of my sight. Well, he’s home now, and I just want to take the broom and sweep him out the front  door. Not permanently—just for, oh, two weeks?

Am I a bad wife? I think I still love my husband. I don’t want a divorce, I know that. What is going on?—Confused

Dear Confused: The stereotypical ideal relationship features a couple who hate being apart. Every minute together is bliss. There is no conflict. And there are also no secrets, no ambivalence, and no bratty kids who are old enough to figure out how to get what they want when Mom and Dad are cranky with each other.

There are a couple of different explanations for what is going on between you and your husband. The first one that comes to mind is the fact that you got used to managing your daily life without him. You didn’t have to get his approval if you wanted your child to start taking piano lessons, for example. While that was going on, you were also missing him like crazy, and that can lead to idealizing your partner. The guy who showed up after the job was over may not resemble the sex-glazed image you had of him during a steamy phone call. Now that he is back, a period of adjustment is inevitable. You need to start sharing the power again, and he needs to understand—even appreciate the fact—that you became more assertive and competent because you had to take the family reins.

Spend some time alone together. Talk about your courtship. Why did you decide to get married in the first place? What are your favorite memories of each other? Come up with a list of things you can do together that will keep you in touch with the magnetism that drew you together. Each of you make a list of your top three problems. Try thinking of each other as a resource or consultant you can go to when you have run out of your own ideas. If that doesn’t help, consider some couples counseling.

The other possibility is that the two of you simply do better if you are not living together. That doesn’t automatically mean a divorce. It might mean each of you should take turns working out of town, or perhaps you just need to have separate bedrooms. Let some air into the relationship and see if that feels more natural. The fact that you have kids makes this a lot tougher to manage. Childcare is a big job, and it should not fall on just one parent. The welfare of your offspring has to be factored into whatever decisions you make. As long as you love each other, you don’t have to separate. There is nothing wrong with creating a less traditional marriage.

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