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Questions & Answers with Mike & Susanne

Mike Bellah Th.B., M.A., Ph.D.
In the first place, I am not an authority on midlife or aging. My academic studies have centered not in psychology and sociology, but in theology, English literature, and technical communication. Thus what follows is the opinion of a veteran not an expert. Here is advice from one who has walked where many of you are walking; simply put, these are words from a sympathetic fellow-struggler in this experience we call midlife.
(See also "My Qualifications.")
Susanne Beier, M.Ed., NCC, NCCC
A Ph.D. student at Walden University, Susanne earned her master's degree in counseling and psychology from Rutgers University. Her professional counseling practice, which began in 1985, focuses on adults in crisis, including those experiencing marital conflict, divorce, job loss and career change. A recognized authority on these subjects, Susanne has been featured in such publications as New Woman, Self, Working Woman and Cosmopolitan.
(See also "There's Light at the End of the Tunnel.")

(October-December 1998)

Please feel free to ask any question you want on this page. Just click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question. For more responses to these questions, or if you want to respond to something below, visit the Midlife Crisis Forum Page.

Notice: The answers on these pages are offered as a free and supplemental service to readers. They are not intended to substitute for individual, professional counseling.

December 18, 1998

Q Hello.
My husband is 40 next month and I believe he's in the throes of a midlife crisis which is tearing me apart. We have been married 20 years and have 3 children aged 18, 15 & 11.

15 months ago he changed dramatically and after much questioning by me, he admitted to meeting someone where he used to work. He didn't know the first thing about her but as he said ....he couldn't believe his luck that he'd pulled a young blonde, he even asked me if I wasn't secretly proud that he could pull someone like that....needless to say my response is unprintable!! He hadn't even slept with her, yet he said he loved her and was leaving me, saying I had always controlled him and he couldn't relax with me. I was devastated and begged him to stay...we have been together since we were 16, and I couldn't imagine life without him.

He said he felt "is this all there is to life" decided he wasn't happy and that the grass would be greener elsewhere. He also admitted he no longer loved me and hadn't done for many years. Although he never showed me affection, we always had a great sex life.

He bought a very expensive pair of cowboy boots and a pair of tight fitting black jeans....but unfortunately they didn't quite go with the Harris tweed jacket and the pipe he'd recently started to smoke!! But then there's no accounting for taste.

He has now changed jobs and is working in America while I live in England and he comes home every other weekend. This is a huge step for him as before this he'd had a fear of flying and had never been out of the country.

The problem is this......As much as I want to work at the marriage, he resists every attempt by me and says he is determined not to be controlled anymore....and yet he won't leave either saying that "he who hesitates is lost" and that he was leaving before because 'he was off his head' and felt after the confession, he had burned his bridges.

Ideally he wants to be on his own ...he says he would love to wake up 7 days a week without being answerable to anyone and although he acknowledges how selfish this is.....he can't help the way he's feeling. I think this may have something to do with him being an only child of parents who never showed him much affection.

He says I should just view him as a provider and in the meantime just get on with my life and leave him to get on with his job. His work appears to be the only thing that interests him. He has never been particularly close to the children and doesn't have friends. The woman he thought he'd fallen in love with was the closest he'd ever come to having a friend....especially of the opposite sex, and it turns out she didn't want an affair with him anyway. He had thought her friendship was something much deeper and he told her he loved her. He now feels a fool and has lost the only friend he's ever had....I feel I can't reach him anymore ....the more I chase the more he runs away. I need more than what he's capable of giving me and yet I don't want to lose him either. Please help me....I feel I don't know him anymore....we are both suffering desperately.

Penny

A Dear Penny,
I hate to say it, but your husband really has all the "symptoms" of mid-life crisis. Typically, if there is such a thing, the ones that have been the "good child," the ones who did everything that they were supposed to, are the most vulnerable and at this stage of life start asking, just like your husband is, "what about me?"

At the moment there is really nothing you can do, as you are in a no-win situation. If you chase him he'll tell you to leave him alone. If you leave him alone, he will say that you don't care, etc.. I strongly recommend that you meet with a counselor to help you decide what you can and cannot deal with, and...how to find your self-esteem again. Additionally, to help you deal with the children, as they are also going through a crisis.

Reality will hit your husband soon enough; hopefully in enough time before YOU decide to go on with your life. Typically when reality does hit, it hits hard, because often someone going through this will have managed to devastate pretty much every area of their life. It must be HIS commitment to want to return to you and the children. You can't make him do so. This is why I say focus on yourself and the loss that you and the children are feeling. Also, I recommend that you take the time to review some of the old letters posted on the Q&A site. You will see that others have gone through this (I am one), and came out better on the other end.

susanne

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hi,
In reading some of the Questions today, I saw a recurring theme that happens when a spouse goes through a profound mid-life crisis...The refusal to admit an affair or go to counseling.

First of all, if the person is leaving, why not admit the affair? If the marriage has become so difficult for the mid-life crisis sufferer, why refuse to attempt to make it better? Why do they feel it is so impossible to improve the marriage? Are these questions that CAN be answered?

These are two things that have really bothered me as my husband has gone through this. First, why not admit the emotional or physical affair (I'm not sure which in his case because he wouldn't even admit her existence until I had concrete proof and then claimed "We're just friends.") Second, why was he so positive that marriage counseling wouldn't help and therefore refused to try it? Because he would have to face up to hard truths and couldn't, maybe?

Hope these questions aren't too complicated to answer here!

Really Wondering

A Dear Wondering,
You hit the nail on the head. One of the reasons that the person who is going through this "identity crisis" typically refuses to go to counseling is exactly what you say, that is, that they would have to face a lot of hard questions and truths that they are running away from. Additionally, it would at some level make them face the point that they are responsible for their own actions and that those actions are putting others in a lot of pain.

However, there is another point to this. Often the person going through this doesn't realize WHAT or WHY this is happening, just that they are feeling very unhappy about everything. Also, not everyone goes through this process. Obviously. And part of our society has come to be pretty accepting of this "midlife crisis" thing, which does sometimes make the victimizer the victim. Like, "I can't help it...it's all your (wife/husband's)fault."

They are in a denial stage and pretty much in a stage like your typical adolescent who is trying to establish his/her independence. That is, you catch them with the "goods" straight on.. and they still lie about it. After all, if you deny it enough, pretty soon the other person will believe you...but mostly the perpetrator believes his/her OWN lies!

Unfortunately this type of crisis in a marriage really cannot be solved without some outside intervention...a minister, counselor, etc.. you need to have a third party there, like a moderator, to help to focus and refocus the reality of the situation. And...to help you (the victim) go on with your life enough so that your self-esteem is not totally destroyed...or shall I say, to rebuild that self-esteem that is so often lost when the whole family is put into chaos like this.

I wish I had some easy answers for you, but like anything else having to do with emotions and people, there never are any. Even though there is a common denominator in these things....there is still an individual situation for each one. As they are much in common, so are there no absolute commonalties with these things. Hope this helps you.

susanne

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hi,
I have a 46 year old fiancée he is Hungarian, who has been so depressed for about a year, everything seems black with no brightness in his life. The country is lousy, his job, everything gets him down. He has a lovely home, a good job and South African is a lovely country. Now my question to you is - is there a physical midlife crisis or male menopause in men and can it be treated.

Regards,

Laura

A Dear Laura,
Although there has not been as much research done on "male menopause" the data is starting to come in that indeed it does exist. It has to do, much the same as with women, with reviewing one's life, decisions made, etc.. I've heard some say it's hormonal, but haven't seen much documentation to back it up yet.

One thing is sure, and there is a lot of data about it, it is an emotional stage of development. Kind of like going through puberty. It happens without us really understanding exactly what is happening. Like adolescence it is how these feelings are handled that makes the difference in the level of positive adjustment to this stage of life. If there is to be one population that is affected more than others, it is the guy who quietly did all the "right things," was the most responsible, etc.. He is the guy who starts saying "what about me?" He may still love his family but still feel "absent" or disengaged from them. And at that point he is vulnerable to anyone telling him what he wants to hear.

I suggest strongly that you go to meet with a counselor, even if your husband won't. I know I tell everyone that, but it is the thing that needs to happen at this time in your life. You need to have a support system in effect to help you cope better with this "new/old" person in your house. Talk to your minister, seek out a group and/or individual counselor who specializes in mid-life issues. Don't wait too long to do it.

I know you want to work out your marriage, but HE has to want it too. And you cannot control his actions; you can only control how YOU react to them. I wish you the best.

susanne

PS. I also recommend that you review some of the old questions and answers on the best years website. You will see people who wrote in AFTER they survived something like this. I am one of them. Good luck.

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

December 9, 1998

Q Hi,
I had written you a while back looking for advice on my marriage. You suggested I get some counseling for myself as my husband is not willing to go with me. I was wondering how I would begin this effort. This would be a big step for me to take, it would be easier in a sense just to "leave things alone" but if I am honest I do need some support.

I don't want to waste time/money (who does I suppose) but where would I start, I had a brief experience involving my son a few years back with a counselor, he turned out to be very negative, I felt worse when I left. Any ideas???

Thanks, Disappointed

A Dear Disappointed,
I am very happy to hear that you are willing to pursue counseling. Yes, it can be a challenge and/or scary to seek out a counselor/therapist. There are some free counseling services out there (Victims Intervention, for example) and many counselors will work with you on a "sliding scale" basis. You may want to start by contacting governing bodies such as the NBCC (National Board for Certified Counselors), who can recommend someone in your geographic area. They will also ask you what kind of counselor are you looking for. For example, marriage, individual?? The NBCC has their own website. It is. http://www/nbcc.org I believe the American Psychological Association also has their own website. I'm not sure what their address is though.

When you actually have met with someone, ask questions like how much experience do they have in marriage counseling? What is their specialty? But most importantly....do you feel a "connection" with this person?? If not, CHANGE!! You should shop for a therapist as you would a doctor. Do NOT start to think that it is YOU who is the problem; often it is the "gel" that is not there between you and your therapist.

Although during therapy you may have to confront some negative things in your life, it does not mean that YOU should feel negative or under attack. We call the process, "bringing reality to the client;" that is, if someone is simply not seeing what is there, then we have to bring reality to them. That session may leave you feeling angry at the therapist (transference), but that anger should be dealt with during another session. So, the point of this is, TAKE CONTROL; that is, don't be afraid to ask questions, state your feelings, etc. After all, you hired that person. You are NOT at their mercy. If you don't like them, leave and find someone else. A good therapist will recognize when they cannot help you anymore and will recommend a new therapist.

I hope this helps you. Let us know how you are doing in your "therapist search." ok?

susanne

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hello,
I am 41 years old. My husband, age 46, has jokingly made references to his mid-life crisis over the last year or so but I think his crisis may have started about 2 1/2 to 3 years ago (about the time we stopped having sex). For about a year and a half, we avoided discussing why we weren't having sex and then, when I finally brought it up (well over a year ago by now), I was crushed to hear him say he has no desire to have sex with me. He tried to reassure me that it was nothing I said or did but that it was in his head. When I questioned the possibility of there being a biological reason for his lack of sexual desire (such as hormonal changes), he stated defensively, "There's nothing wrong with my libido." I was so confused by all of this that I finally saw a counselor (for short-term intervention). My husband made it clear that he didn't think there was anything (for HIMSELF) to be gained by seeing a counselor.

After a few sessions with the counselor, I encouraged my husband to speak with his doctor about this change in our relationship but he didn't and I don't think he will. We have since had discussions about separating (with my husband specifically suggesting a separation, not a divorce) because I think we have reached an impasse. He will not see a marriage counselor and I cannot continue to live with someone who does not see me as a wife or lover, but only a "best buddy." Surprisingly, he made a remark to the effect that he wasn't sure he really wanted for us to separate, yet he doesn't make (or can't make???) any move to improve the situation.

I miss the emotional closeness my husband and I once had for each other. I love him and I know he loves me but I fear that the longer we stay together without attempting to resolve this conflict, the more resentful and angry I will become and there will eventually be no hope for resolution. Can you imagine how I felt when I was leaving for a week to stay with my mother during and after open-heart surgery and my husband didn't so much as hug or kiss me goodbye? I have given up trying to initiate ANYTHING because I cannot tolerate any more rejection. He thinks we should "date" once we separate (thinking we could rekindle the romance) but I don't think that will help either one of us to understand what's been happening with our relationship.

Is there any hope for us?

Crying in Western NY

A Dear Crying,
I wish I had an easy answer for you, but I don't. You are on the right track on seeing a counselor by yourself to help you deal with this abandonment and rejection by your husband. Unfortunately there is not much that can help this situation until BOTH of you want to work at this. That means that you husband too has to want to make this better. What else has changed in his behavior? Dieting? Change of clothes? More athletic? I suspect that there is more going on here than your husband is admitting to.

Even if that is not the case, then the mere fact that you are going through this emotional abandonment means that you should continue seeing your counselor, or find another one if this one no longer helps you, to deal with the loss of, and to help you regain some sense of your self-esteem. You need to be able to decide what you can and cannot tolerate anymore. When you have reached that decision, then your HUSBAND can fit into your schedule.

At this time I get the sense that he just wants to "have it both ways," and want to continue being the "victim." He, like many midlifers, is behaving like your typical adolescent who wants to have it all their way and resents anyone getting in the way of their immediate desire. Your husband will not deal with reality until you decide how YOU will deal with his actions and learn how to stand up for your needs and rights again.

You DO have the right to have a healthy sexual relationship. Bottom line is, continue with the counseling. Have the therapist suggest concrete suggestions/techniques that you might be able to use to get your sense of self back. Everything else will fall into place.

susanne

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hi,
Despite being a 42 yo physician, I am at a loss to help my wife in what I believe is a severe mid life crisis. We have been married for 16 years, have three great girls (13, 12, 8) and have no financial worries to speak of. She however has become progressively withdrawn displaying no affection for me or the kids.

She has recently had plastic surgery, is becoming obsessive about exercising, and now has a very obsessive relationship with a male friend of ours who is 14 years her junior-age 30. Although she states that this relationship is platonic, and I believe it is so, it hurts me deeply has she spends hours on the phone each day with him, neglecting me and the kids.

I've gotten tons of advice from professionals and friends which range from: be supportive, be cool, withdraw, be assertive, separate, divorce, etc. I have been very open with her. She states that her problem is a "soul problem" and she does not desire counseling or therapy. She states that she feels no purpose and wants to have some meaning. Despite my being open with her about my feelings, I feel as I'm talking to a brick wall.

What to do? Hang in? Be supportive?

Perplexed

A Dear Perplexed,
As your experience confirms, many approaches have been recommended on how to deal with midlife, or identity crisis. My suggestion to you is to find a counselor who can help YOU to decide what you can and cannot tolerate without feeling that you have "sold out" your own identity. Supportive may be fine, up to a point, but after a while you are "rewarding negative behavior." And why then should a person give up their negative behaviors if it gives them a feeling of power and control over someone else, especially a someone who they have perceived as having all the power before?

You need to decide where you draw the line? Please don't misunderstand my point. I am very strongly "pro-marriage," but I also believe in dealing with reality. Are you holding on because you feel guilty at some level? Meaning, do you feel that YOU were the one that neglected your wife's needs until now? Now that she's doing her "own thing?" Did you take her for granted?

Often the person who's in the crisis (in your case, your wife), is not dealing with reality. In other words, how much will her lifestyle change without you? How are the children reacting? Women typically seek out "outside relationships" because of emotional needs. The thing most often heard is, "he LISTENS to me," when they talk about their new relationship.

The way you describe the situation with your wife, if it progresses, there is no other ending than an actual affair. Her "emotional affair" needs to end NOW! Before it gets out of hand. Of course, SHE will have to make that decision and will have to WANT to make that decision. I don't feel very good about her coming to this conclusion since she is not willing to go to counseling with you. It suggests to me that she does not want to deal with making any changes in her life. In other words, she's fine where she's at and probably willing to face any consequences that happen. At least for now.

You do not say how old your wife is. Women typically, come into their own identity "self-actualization" when they are in their early thirties. It is when the kids are usually older and they can spend more time on reviewing their lives and "how did I get here." This looks like where she's at now. The bottom line is that YOU need to find out who YOU are at this time. How did you get here and how do you find your self-esteem again? And this will be accomplished by going to a counselor to help you with this process. At that time you will find your OWN answer on how to best deal with this.

Only after you find out who you are, will you find out how much you can/cannot deal with and will take the appropriate actions to accomplish that. Let us know how you're progressing during this painful time.

susanne

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

November 21, 1998

Q Hi,
I believe my husband is experiencing mid-life crisis. I am 43 and he will be 45 in Nov. We have been married 24 1/2 years. Our children are 23,22 and 19. The older two are married, our youngest son still lives at home. Our daughter just announced to us that we will have our first grandchild in May. At 40, he began to "look" more at other women. I mean actually stop in his tracks and hang his mouth open. It was very embarrassing. Our sex life went downhill, as he suffered from impotency. I took this very personally as my body was changing.. getting heavier, growing facial hair, getting gray...I am now on hormones. During that time my Mom and my sister both died after long illnesses. My own self esteem suffered greatly and I knew he didn't find me attractive anymore. When we had sex I initiated it.

Then a year ago his mother died. Having lost both parents and a sister, I tried very hard to be strong for him during this time. Then his employer closed their doors. He had worked there almost 25 years, expecting to retire in 5 years. He became employed immediately, however he's only been there a little over three months and has now approached me with wanting to do something different but he doesn't know what that is. He said that he isn't happy with his life...needs to be by himself...doesn't know what he wants. He has told me that I am not his problem...that this is about him. He said he still loves me, but knows that I didn't love him for a long time, and that I always put our children first over him. I expressed my love for him...and told him he has always been the love of my life.

He has asked me to find a business to open. When I asked what type, he said he didn't care to just find one. I feel like my head is spinning...and I am as confused as he is. Should we attempt counseling together or separately. I am not even sure he would go but he has gone with me before. We have survived so many ups and downs. I had thought these would be our happiest years, just he and I, and now this. Thank you for a great site.

Feeling lost in Ohio

A Hi Lost,
One, these still can be your happiest years. You just need to work through some things first.

Two, if your husband is willing, seek counseling together. If not, go by yourself. You sound like you have plenty of issues to keep you busy for awhile on your own: you grief, your low self-esteem, etc.

Three, I see a lot of hope for you. Your husband realizes he has a problem (many of those in MLC don't). He says he still loves you. He sounds like he wants to plan a future together (the business), and you are expressing love for him (all very important things for your survival).

Finally, I'd be careful about jumping into a new business too quickly. For one thing, 75% of new businesses fail in the first year. Try not to pour cold water on his idea; just see if you can delay for awhile. After some careful research and planning, it might work. But you two don't need added financial worries right now.

Good luck.

Mike

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Dear Mike,
My nightmare began in late July when my husband started exercising, losing weight, and bought roller blades. He's 38 and I'm 39. He then became very quiet and distant. On August 28 he told me that he did not love me anymore, would never love me again, and our 15 year marriage was over. We have three children and I've been a stay-at-home mom for eleven years.

I love my husband very much and would do anything to save our marriage. He seems to view my desire to stay married and keep our family together as pathetic and desperate. I can't understand how someone I've loved for twenty years can be so cold and heartless.

Do you think there is any hope that our marriage will survive? If not, how do the victims of other people's midlife crises survive? How do I cope with having my marriage ended and my family broken up against my will?

Trying to Keep My Head Above Water

A Dear Trying,
You ask some very good questions, and my best answer is to point you to others with better answers than I would have.

I suggest visiting Friends of Best Years and trying out the interactive forum you will find there. You will discover a couple of dozen regulars who are in situations similar to your own--some who have just had the bomb fall, others who have begun to put the pieces back together.

They will give you plenty of both compassion and insight. Also, I stop by on a daily basis to join their conversations.

Hope to see you there.

Mike

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Mike
I'm writing a paper for my counseling class: Mid-life crisis: myth or reality, crisis or consciousness.

I found your web page while searching on dogpile.com. This is perfect for my paper and I'm sending for your booklets.

So my question is....Do you think its a crisis or an awakening? Excluding the affairs, sports cars and such.... because my feeling is that a small bell goes off in an individuals head and says....."Are you happy where you are and are you ready to spend the rest of your life in this place, or is it time to change?"

Debbie

P.S. I'm 49 finishing my associate degree in liberal arts and continuing on with my education in hopes of getting a BA in psychology with counseling certification!! So I'm not a youngun!!

A Hi Debbie,
I think maybe it's both: an awakening if you hear that bell and have the courage to take an honest look within, a crisis if you do not.

Mike

P.S. I'm also 49 and just finished some more schooling. Isn't it great to still be learning?

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

November 7, 1998

Q Hello,
I'm 48, wife is 35, and have been married almost 4 years. Second marriage for both of us. She tells me 3 weeks ago that she loves me, but is not in love with me. Said I have been a great husband, father to her sons, hardworking, bright and good lover, but those characteristics aren't enough to make her stay and work on her "feeling" which she says she lost 2 years ago, tried to get it to come back, but it wouldn't.

She moved out and wants a divorce. Refuses to get individual or joint marital counseling. Can anyone explain this concept of "feeling", or is she just using it as an excuse so she won't feel guilty about leaving?

Devastated in Dallas

A Dear Devastated,
I'm sure that there are many definitions of what "feelings" mean; it is my assumption that your wife is referring to what we typically refer to as "passion" and love. It sounds as if she has been withdrawing from you for a while. Also, not only men go through "mid-life." Your wife's symptoms surely resemble the ones typically described under "mid-life crisis." Additionally, women at your wife's age experience a whole new set of feelings of independence. That is, the kids are growing up and she is not so "needed;" thus, there is time for self-exploration, etc.

In one of my previous letters (check the Q&A section) I described the "cross-over" process that can happen in a marriage. That is, in the early years the male goes out to "support" the family and works, works, works. The wife in the meantime, typically bears the responsibility of taking care of the family and household, often while she is also holding a full time job. Men, as they approach mid-life, find themselves being tired of trying to conquer the world and begin feeling a need for "support and sensitivity and appreciation".

Thus, they look forward to coming home to the "home fires." Women, in the meantime, at this stage are tired of the "home fires" and feel an urge to participate in the "outside" world and try to fulfill some of the dreams that they had, and often gave up, in favor of a family. Thus....crossover.

Obviously, not everyone goes through this process in the extreme. Often, couples manage to grow with each other. Of course that is only the case if there is still a feeling of connectedness and love for the spouse. I suggest that you go meet with a counselor as soon as possible to help you deal with your feelings of devastation and pain. Even if your wife does not agree to come, go by yourself; it will only help.

Good luck to you.

susanne

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.
Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hi,
Thanks for this website. I am a female, 40 years old, 3 children (all girls, 16, 10, 8), husband an airline pilot, been married for 17 years, Christian, caretaker for mom (died 17 years ago, brain tumor), caretaker for dad (currently moved into Alzheimer's unit of nursing home), caretaker for abandoned father-in-law (disabled veteran for 35 years, divorced from husband's mother 18 years ago, left to fend for himself while mother ran off with army dentist to Germany). On top of all this, we have homeschooled for 12 years. My husband has always been very giving, very attentive, good provider, etc. We've taken it upon ourselves to care for all these people in our lives because we both thought it was the right thing to do. Our entire marriage has been filled with caretaking along with its emotional ups and downs.

Last March my husband planned a big party for my 40th birthday in California. (150 people expected). We flew out for the party, and after getting there, he told me he hadn't loved me for years, wanted out, and had no hope. Everything was my fault. He had never been first, etc. But, he still wanted me to stay for the party. Imagine that! I stayed, we came back home, and everything went to pot.

We have made changes. My father is being cared for now. His dad has been moved to S.C. to be with my husband's sister. My husband bought a Harley Davidson, and now takes plenty of weekend trips. He just insisted that we go to Disney World for a week, all of which he spent only 8 hours with us. The first night we were there he went to Pleasure Island till 2:00 am and couldn't wait to tell me about his dancing the night away.

Our girls are angry with their dad, especially the 16 year old. He's angry with them, with me, with his mother and sister, with my family, and especially with God for making his life so miserable. Now he says he wants to separate, not divorce, so he can 'find himself.' Meanwhile, he wants to dump every responsibility on me. And he doesn't want to hear about 'the God thing.' Our pastor told him to get some help. I am an counseling, but he refuses, because it's all my fault. Yet, he says he hates the person he's become.

I love this guy, but, quite honestly, I'm tired of this and I am experiencing my own level of anger. I gave up a dental career to marry him, have our children, homeschool, caretake our families while he's gone half the month flying around everywhere. I have read Mr. Conway's book about men in mid-life crisis. I don't want to give up on 17 years of investment, however, I feel the need for love, too. I am walking in unforgiveness, and am now attracted to someone in California (which I know is delusional, not to even mention sinful!!), but, I am on the verge of breaking myself. HELP.

No Hope from Norfolk

A Dear NH,
Your letter made me tired just reading about all of the activities and "giving" that has gone on in your marriage. It seems to me that everyone got time in your marriage, except the two of you. That is, you and your husband. Were you two so afraid of dealing with each other that you put up all these screens of "taking care of everyone else?"

Certainly I am not suggesting that you should not be making sure that your loved ones are okay, but you two overdid it. There are some issues here that I think that you (and your husband when he's ready) need to address as to WHY you felt the need to sacrifice your lives in favor of those around you? Possibly because of "fear of intimacy"? that is, getting close to each other emotionally? After all, you never had time to; did you? Isn't it amazing how well you managed to take care of everyone else and to put the emphasis on others taking care of your parents. But it had to take a crisis to get to that point. It should not have.

I feel strongly that you do NOT assume the blame for this whole thing, because you are used to doing so. This happened because both of you stopped working on your relationship and instead worked on everyone else's. Please go meet with a family counselor to help you and your daughters. This is a difficult time for them and they need to be helped to see that this is not their fault in any way and that their parents, BOTH of you, still love them.

Also, I suggest that you let the counselor help you to "find" yourself again. I also suggest that you drop this "other interest" immediately. It is not healthy for you to just jump into something on the "rebound." It is enough that one of you is acting as an adolescent. Make this the time to refocus on who you are, how you got there and how to get to the "rest of the way."

Take care.

susanne

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Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hello,
I first wrote to you about a year ago because my husband had begun constantly looking at pornography on the internet, talking sex with other women on it, etc. At the same time he became very critical of me, mainly making negative comments about my body and telling me he wanted to be "accepted" by other women, whatever that means. I now realize his self esteem was very poor. After following your advice of seeing a counselor (helpful), my self esteem grew...and has continued to grow.

Now the tables have turned. My husband is now the one who says "You have no idea how alone and unloved I feel." He must be kidding. I was placed second to all of his family for years, who could disrespect me in any way without any support from my husband. I felt cheated on because of the pornography and the sex talk. (He's always been a "looker" of other women - you said due to low self esteem). And the comments about my body -- frankly I don't know how you ever get past any of this. I can forgive, but not forget. I have lost a lot of trust.

I have stayed in my marriage because of my children. My husband now spends time with me, says nicer things to me, etc. But I feel blank to him inside. I don't trust what he says because of past lies. I look back and I don't care to look forward. He asks me about plans for our "future" and I don't want to discuss it. I feel like a fuse in me burned out and it can't be replaced. Part of it is his attitude. He says I should be secure enough the let him experience whatever, and that what he did was no big deal (I bet you hear that a lot!)

Although he stopped doing it, it still doesn't go away inside my head. Even when he says kind things he's never said before, I feel like the love died. Does this happen to others? I don't know whether to stay or leave, but I have taken it slow as you often suggest. Your advice in the past has been so helpful. Please send me some more!

Burned Out

A Hi Burned Out,
I am very happy that you did go meet with a counselor as I suggested. I am especially glad that it helped you!! My plan is not to sound like an old record, but again, I suggest that you go meet with a counselor, except this time I suggest a marriage counselor for both of you. If there is a chance to rebuild this marriage, that is the way to do it. If your husband refuses to go with you, then you've got your answer as to how much he wants this to work out. Lack of self-esteem (his) does not give him, or anyone, permission to "run over" someone else's feelings and/or validate their feelings (yours).

He may not think that it was "a big deal," but the truth of it is it was...because it devastated you in the process. Part of his "penalty," if there is such a thing, or his commitment to the marriage and you, is for him to let you express your feelings about it (with a third party mediator/counselor/pastor), without belittling and not legitimizing the pain that you felt. If he refuses to go with you, then go alone and have that person help you to make a decision that is best for your future...stay or leave. You will know when the time comes.

My wish is for you to make that decision having taking everything in consideration, not in "reaction" to what happened. Good luck.

susanne

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Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

November 2, 1998

Q HiMike,
What is the easiest & most effective way of generating interest & or participation for a family reunion? What would be the most inexpensive way of having a family reunion?

Nostalgic

A Nostalgic,
I'm assuming you've read "Reviving Your Family Reunion," where I share how the Bellah family renewed this tradition. In our case, we started in our family's hometown, where there were plenty of relatives with houses, and thus the cost was little.

Now we meet every two years in Ruidoso, New Mexico, a little mountain village in the southern part of the state. Here we must all get motel rooms, and we rent a large meeting room for mutual meals, but the cost is still quite affordable.

As far as generating interest--for the 1st reunion, I created a card with an old photo of all my first cousins. There's nothing like nostalgia to make family members want to get back together.

Good luck.

Mike

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Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hello,
I saw your webpage and was very impressed. I have a question: I am 38 years old and am a technical support person for a computer consulting firm. I have a steady job but feel I'll never master this field well enough to advance and make a really decent salary. I've taken aptitude tests and they've indicated I don't have a technical aptitude and I find myself trying extra hard to master my job a lot of the time. So, I'm thinking, maybe those tests were right...What do you think? Is it too late for me to pursue some type of writing career? Do you think I should just buckle-down and attack the career I'm in? I'm really very confused!

Any help or advice you could give would certainly be appreciated.

Uncertain

A Hi Uncertain,
I'd stay in your present job while researching and building possibilities for a career change (or maybe the addition of a 2nd part-time career).

Take some classes in the kind of writing you wish to do. Get involved in a local writers' group (ask local educators and writers) and start submitting your work.

By the way, our positions are similar. My degree is in technical communication where the jobs are, yet I also write my newspaper column and maintain this web site to express another part of me.

Let me know how things turn out.

Mike

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Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hello Mike,
About 18 months ago, aged 34, in response to some significant life choices I sat down and thought deeply about myself for the first time in my life. This resulted in a dramatic paradigm shift and a very powerful heightening of/or (re)connection with my emotions and physical senses. A midlife crisis + satori + break-out + spiritual awakening with brass knobs on?

For a while I was high as a kite on my new found clarity, power and freedom but this is now turning to desperate loneliness. It appears to me that very few people are able to see around the confines of their own cultural norms. I know from literature that I am far from alone in this, but with one exception I have not met anyone else who seems to be squarely in this ball park. There are many people who seem to have an intuitive grasp of whats what and whilst I feel very comfortable with such people they aren't able to interact over the more intellectual aspects. I also find a few who seem to have a clear intellectual perspective but lack a strong emotional connection (too dry/academic).

This is straining all my existing relationships - especially my marriage. If I interact genuinely and with integrity it typically raises questions that are very scary for most people. The only alternative I have found is to stand back from the relationship and take the responsibility for its careful management - this depersonalizes it for me - and still leaves me without genuine communion.

I feel emotionally and intellectually exhausted. I have gone a long long way on my own but now I am too weary and really could do with the council of a wizard. But where are all the wizards when you need one? I am absolutely at a loss where to find the quality of support that I can both trust and respect.

Any suggestions where I might look would be very welcome. I know the real answers have to come from within but just now I haven't any more energy for that.

Chris

A Hi Chris,
But there are still wizards--Gandalf the Grey for one. I suggest you read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I find the life philosophy there both wiser and more practical than that of most present-day sages (including this one).

Keep in touch.

Mike

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October 23, 1998

Q Hello,
I just came across your site by what appears to be luck and I am happy. I am 43, male, educated and experiencing severe loneliness and emptiness. May wife and I are going on 21 years of marriage this coming October and when I think we should really be enjoying each other, storms are brewing. She has completely displaced herself from me. She made the decision to stay home with the children and recently started a job and quit. Her principal and legitimate complaints/problems are:

A series of health problems severe anger because I did not support her with the new job (she always did for me) " " " of my constant demands for sex in the past " feels she has no skills for the future as a result of staying home " because she allowed herself to become dependent on me " doesn't know who she is at this time and wants to know " although I never used the word mine for anything she feels everything we have is mine and not hers I guess because I worked and she stayed at home anger at the bills we have accumulated but still are able to pay Severe anger at my not accepting a male friend she had made - he was always coming around and I got tired of being number two emotionally and we had a big argument. She is currently rejecting counseling so I am going myself.

I don't think she really wants a divorce as she said she is still home and doesn't want me to leave. She state I have to give her time to get over her anger and have not by continually asking when is this going to be over. I am still in very love with her but the situation is very difficult. I sympathize with her on many of the issues but do not know how to proceed as everything I do seems inadequate (the other day the van needed gas and I was going to take it and she said Al to the rescue - can't you let me handle it?) Is there any chance of this working out.

Many Many Thanks. Empty Al

A Al,
I am glad to hear that you are going to counseling for yourself. It seems that your wife is going through an identity crisis, which might have been introduced with the "male friend" you are referring to. You do not say how old your wife is and/or if children are involved. Or, how many children. I suggest that you give her some time, but also continue doing exactly what you are doing...going to counseling. It will help you to better come to grips with this situation and, hopefully, help you to rebuild your self-esteem.

You say that your wife felt that you did not support her job; what happened? As in most long-term marriages, you two need to redefine who and where you are in your marriage. If the kids are grown, or close to it, she may be feeling "not needed" anymore and is angry at the closest object...you. She may be feeling the loss of a "role" or "identity" since it all revolved around you and the household up until now. These are all things that I cannot give you an immediate solution for. She has to be willing to work things out....continue with the suggestions of going to counseling with you. If she doesn't, then continue going alone.

susanne

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Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hello.
I recently turned 39, have been married 14 years and have 3 children. About 4 years ago I had a first hand brush with death, which I'll not bore you with. The whole thing really got to me. I began questioning my entire life in my mind. I started with the reasons why I married my wife. I had to admit that I never felt the feelings I'd always associated with "love" for her. I never wanted to hold her or kiss her. The fact was I just never felt comfortable being lovingly physical with her. I did know I cared for her as a person and I trusted her as a friend. I knew she would be a good mother and wife.

I shared my feelings with a close friend and he was surprised that I had never thought about that before. He told me everybody's always talked about how you avoid intimate contact with her and always find a way to avoid it. This only added to my feelings and obsession with thoughts of discontentment. I'm a musician and a year or so later an attractive mid-40's woman really came on strong to me at a party I was playing. I had never quite experienced this kind of thing, someone so aggressive before. She, with my permission of course, took me back into a room, and we began kissing passionately. Let me tell you, I loved it! I hadn't felt like this in so long. We began talking on the phone regularly and things looked like we were headed for a full-blown affair. I was scared partly because of the fear of hurting my family but also because of my heart-felt religious convictions.

Right when I was on the verge of doing this I met someone else at a bar while I was playing. She was 20 years old and a college student. I couldn't believe someone that young and attractive would like me. She knew I was married but we continued to get more and more involved. Eventually we had a physical relationship that lasted the Summer. When she went back to school I tried to end it. Then she tried to end it. We went about 5 months without speaking and then one day I just called and the whole thing started up again. We are still speaking some, occasionally see each other and I think we truly love each other. The hypocrisy of a double-life however is really about to drive me insane! This has been going on and off for about a year and 5 months. I realize this is so destructive to me and everyone involved. I've been seeing a therapist for a year now. I make small strides but just can't seem to completely get her out of my heart enough to tell her this is OVER and I will not do this again.

I guess the reason I can't do that is that I love her or at least think I do. Questions: 1) Is there realistically any way this can ever work out with the other person? 2) All the self-help books I read start on the presumption that you were in love with you're spouse. What do I do if I never was in love with her? How can I make myself love her? 3) Any advise on taking what I know to be the truth in my head and making it REAL in my heart? I have had no luck I doing that so far.

Trying with No Luck

A Dear Trying
You question whether you really ever loved your wife. You probably did. It sounds though as if you've had some abandonment issues that you never dealt with; thus, you're afraid to "get emotionally close" with anyone else. The relationship that you describe is, although emotionally very high, not a real relationship. It is a combination of your recapturing your youth, "getting it right this time"....etc. You say that you've been in therapy for a year and make strides. That is good. There are no time limits when it all of a sudden makes sense. Therapy works with "baby steps," but little by little you move on.

Are you happy with your therapist? If not, feel very free to look for someone else who you may feel more connected to. Now for this affair. I too say, end it. Look at it as the "additive" behavior that it is. And the best way to deal with an addiction is to quit cold turkey. But you knew that, didn't you? When you find yourself wistfully thinking about this girl, force yourself to remember all the unhappiness that you felt when you two are on the "outs." Perhaps one more reason that you are hanging on to this "relationship" so dearly is because if you focus your energies on it, you never have to take responsibilities on rebuilding your marriage!

Have you given any thoughts to how much you would hurt and lose if your wife left YOU? And...took half of everything with her! Puts it into a whole different perspective, huh? Don't take your wife for granted, as she too may be going through an identity crisis and building up the strength to leave you because of the lack of emotion and love in your marriage. Have you ever asked her how she's feeling? It's time to focus on someone else, other than you....and no, I don't mean another woman.

What if you had a time machine and could see yourself and her as it was back then...what would you see? How has it changed? I suggest that you continue going to see your counselor and strongly suggest that you and your wife seek marriage counseling. This will help you to better focus on exactly what the problems in your marriage are that haven gotten you to this point. Best wishes.

susanne

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Q Hi,
My last child has left for college our son has moved my mom just passed away my best friend died about 5 yrs ago My husband and I have been married 26 yr and now that the kids are gone I feel useless, bored, and depressed I have started to go to the Y and taken up yoga but my days seems so long without any kids around.

Empty Nester

A Dear Empty,
I know what you are feeling. My kids both got married the same year I got divorced and my mother died at the end of that year. It was living hell and I too was trying to find out where I fit in. But, it gets better. In fact, it gets downright fun to not have "kids" living with you.

You do not say in your letter: how is your relationship with your husband? Are you two talking, going out? My suggestion is to meet with a counselor a few times who specializes in women's issues to help you through this adjustment period in your life. Also, I suggest that you do some volunteer work of interest. Hospital? School? You will find that your time goes by quickly and you will feel appreciated and needed again. Also, continue working out; it will help you feel better.

I wish I had a magic pill, but this is one more stage of life that there are not guarantees or really good "how to" books for. You just have to live it and allow yourself to enjoy this stage of your life as well.

susanne

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October 15, 1998

Q Hello!
I sure hope you will be able to help with some great advice!! My father-in-law just turned 50 and is totally miserable in his current employment. He desperately wants to change but doesn't have a clue on where to search for help. He has an associate's degree in business. He feels if he makes a change this late in life, he will take a drastic pay cut, and need a considerable amount of more college.

Please respond with some good advice.

Debbie

A Hi Debbie,
What a nice daughter-in-law you are to write! I've just reviewed a book by David Helfand, which you might obtain for your father-in-law. Also there are a growing number of career counselors specializing in helping midlife career changers (I'd go to www.metacrawler.com and search for "career counselor").

Good luck.

Mike

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Important: You may also view the Midlife Crisis Forum for additional questions and follow up responses to these.

Q Hello Mike:
As you can see by my handle I'm in the middle of my crisis. I am 54 don't have a family but been in the Corporate environment in Sales/Marketing for over 20 years. I have been very successful but for the couple of jobs I have been disappointed with the instability of start-ups, downsizing and the quality of or lack of Managerial Leadership.

I was laid off 5 months ago; the company (another start-up) couldn't keep people on board. I could paste my walls with Stock Options. I don't have the bravado, drive and motivation that I once had in the competitive world. I am bored with the minutia of the B S on the inside as well as dealing with the business world. I don't want to be responsible for Forecasts, datelines, P & L and always trying to be better than a minute ago.

The question that I have is how do I transfer my people/sales skills into a new career? I would like to get an idea in order to package my skills and discover a new career. Do I look for a counselor that has worked with Career Burned Out ? Or Midlife Crisis. Please let me know.

Burned Out

A Hello Burned Out,
You might look at the same book review I've recommended for Debbie and do a similar search for career counselors.

With your credentials, I suggest looking for something in the nonprofit sector. Perhaps, finding a job where you could champion a worthy cause and "give something back" to society might rekindle your passion.

Good luck and let me know what happens.

Mike

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Q Dear Mike,
My husband started his midlife crisis in the winter of 1994 after his brother died. He went through the typical stages: irritability, intense anger, even irrational statements. He left home and spent thousands of dollars that he didn't have, buying things that he never would have had a desire to have two years prior to that time. Then he became depressed and for months, did nothing but go to work. The rest of the time he spent sitting in front of the TV in the dark or sleeping. He didn't shave or bathe every day and looked terrible. Finally he came home and his progress has been a painfully slow process. He never was involved with another woman. In fact, he made statements about having no desire for any woman (me included) - ever! Said he had discovered that he was "a loner". This from a man who had previously been considered the life of the party and everyone's buddy.

In reading your column I find advice that makes sense but is difficult to put into practice in reality. I have always had a life of my own and continued to do things throughout the crisis. I have three children and two grandchildren and I am very active in church and community; also have a full-time job. However, I still long for the friendship that I once had. Today my husband still does not have any desire for sex and literally does not touch me in any way. If we pass in the hall, he very courteously steps aside to allow me to pass without having to touch me. For a while, I felt as if he was repulsed. Now my gut tells me that he simply has done it for so long, he doesn't know how to begin the physical relationship again. It's as if it would humiliate him to have to show that he might want me. Does that sound possible? DO you have any suggestions?

Please do not suggest counseling. He has made it plain that he will not seek professional help. I know that he is afraid and guilty. Thanks.

Stumped

A Dear Stumped,
I wish I did have some suggestions. What you are facing is one of life's toughest predicaments: how to help someone who doesn't want to be helped.

I'll be honest; my experience is that the task is impossible. Your husband has to come to a place where he wants to change, which usually means experiencing enough unpleasantness in present circumstances that the status quo becomes intolerable.

He might be closer to this than you realize. He can't be all that happy with what he has become either.

Mike

P.S. Perhaps some of you have suggestions for Stumped. If so, send me an email and I'll post your reply on the Midlife Crisis Forum.

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October 5, 1998

Q Hi.
My husband is going through a mid-life crisis, or as our doctor explains "clinical depression"...he is just very unhappy with his life. The depression made him extremely angry, and I asked him to move out of the house for awhile. Currently, I think he is seeing someone who "listens" to him.

He keeps trying to reach out to me and today told me that his unhappiness is inside him and that I am not the problem. Unfortunately, he is still refusing medication....but is willing to think about it...I don't know if I should continue to bother him about seeing his doctor or if that just causes him to dig in his heels...what do you suggest??? This is causing my family so much pain, but my husband's depression completely has taken away his concern or care for any of us.

Desperate in Washington

A Dear Desperate,
You say that your doctor is saying that your husband is "clinically depressed". Did he tell you that, or your husband? Did he give either of you a referral of a good therapist/counselor to contact? I suggest that you make an appointment with someone alone, for yourself, to help you with the confusion, anger and depression that you are dealing with as a result of your husband's depression. Your husband may agree to see someone with you, if he thinks he's helping you. However, the long and the short of it is that no-one can MAKE your husband seek out counselors and medication. He needs to do that by himself, no matter how much you want him to do that so that things will "return to normal."

Unfortunately, you have no control over him and his actions; you DO, however, have control over how you choose to deal with this situation. I suggest strongly that you meet with a counselor to help you rebuild your self-esteem so that you at some point can decide what you can, and what you cannot deal with anymore.

susanne

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Q Hello.
Emotional affairs are referred to several times in your letters. Would you please define emotional affairs? What is the difference between a friend and an emotional affair? In one column it was stated that an emotional affair is probably more dangerous than a physical affair. Why is that? Why would someone have an emotional affair?

With Questions

A Dear WQ,
An emotional "affair" is one that is not sexual but probably emotionally intense. The other person makes you feel "listened to, worried about and special." There is a lot of energy that goes into this type of relationship, which then detracts from time that it would take to make the primary relationship more attractive. In other words, if one spends hours talking on the phone with their "friend," meeting for lunch to talk with their "friend," etc., how much time is left for the actual relationship that they are involved in? Not too much.

Also, in an emotional affair there comes a point where it can either be taken further or it has to be broken off because of its intensity and detriment to the primary relationship. You ask what is the difference between a friendship and an "emotional affair," Number one, how much time is spend thinking about the "friend" while you are with your spouse/lover, etc.? Number two, is any time spent on fantasizing about this person (i.e. "wondering what they would be like to be with"). Number three, do you feel comfortable bringing this person to chat with you and your primary relationship?

Obviously, these answers that I give here are very general and no case is identical, but these are some "rules of thumb." Hope this helps.

susanne

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Q Please help.
I am a 40-year-old male from NY, who has been married for 15 years with an 11-year-old son. I think my wife is going through her mid life crisis and won't admit it. After all these years together she told me she wants to move out on her own because she feels trapped. she says she loves me and doesn't want a divorce, but the only way we can get back together is if she moves out.

Let me start out by saying that I lost my job last October 1998, and have been looking for work ever since. I have tried to start my own business because i am a salesman and would buy products and resell them. But things haven't been going well. She says that she wants me to be more responsible and she is leaving my son to live with me while she leaves. I don't understand that.

She says there is no one else in her life, but I don't believe it. She has become very secretive the last couple of months and goes out on saturdays in the morning and returns in the late afternoon. When i ask her where she went she tells me that she don't have to answer to me and to #@*# off. I tell her that she is still my wife and should respect me enough to let me know where she is.

I have a friend that just reappeared in my life after 15 years and she told me she wanted to leave me after she met him. I caught her calling him on the sneak and she lied to me about it.. But after questioning her for about 10 minutes she admitted she called him concerning a job he was to get me. I would have believed her but she was in the room when he called me and she heard the conversation, so i feel she lied about why she called him. I believe she is having an affair with him he won't admit it and neither will she.

I still love her very much and her behavior is erratic. First she loves me, then she hates me and i feel that this is not the women i married. she doesn't care about our son anymore, and she tells me that when she moves out she wants me to date her again and be romantic again. I know this is not normal for her and she won't see a doctor.

WHAT SHOULD I DO !!! I am head over heals in love with this women but she wont seek any kind of help Marriage, Therapist, Priest etc. PLEASE HELP ME

CONFUSED

A Dear Confused,
You are going through a very rough time right now and I wish I had a "magic pill" to make it easier for you, but unfortunately such a pill doesn't exist. So, in lieu of that let me ask you some questions. How was your marriage before you lost your job? How long did you try to work on your own? What happened? Did your wife work also or was she at home with your son? How did it happen that this "friend" turned back up in your life? Was this your or her friend? How long have you been at home since your job loss?

I recommend that you see either a counselor or minister to share this pain with someone in person. Is she willing to come with you? To help you cope with this? In your marriage, were you always the aggressive, outgoing one (Type-A personality)? Was she more passive and quiet (Type B)?

She may at this stage sense your vulnerability and show some passive/aggressive tendencies in dealing with her anger at you. These are all questions that you need to work through with a counselor/therapist. No one can make her come back until she WANTS to come back to you and your son. Please, make an appointment with someone so that you can properly express the sense of loss (job, marriage) and anger that you are feeling. This will help you to put things in perspective and will eventually allow you to rebuild your life, with or without her.

susanne

P.S. If you are low on funds, there are many agencies that will do a "sliding scale" fee structure.

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