We’ve been married 38 years but I feel my wife left me many years ago

Tell Me About It: ‘Intimacy has gone and I am living the life of a bachelor in a marriage’

PROBLEM: Myself and my wife have been together for 38 years. We have three grown-up children, the youngest still living at home. We are both semi-retired and our mortgage paid. Everything is going great except our relationship.

We have had some problems with our marriage over the years but now I think problems within our marriage have come to a head. I would say that the whole Covid crisis in the last few months has brought problems we have to a head and we have not spoken to each other for three weeks. When I say I am not happy with the way our relationship has gone what I mean is that I feel my wife left me many years ago. We are living together but she has left me. She very rarely wants to do anything with me, walks on Sunday, weekends away, etc. I feel I have been abandoned and am living the life of a bachelor. Intimacy has gone many years ago. An important issue is that anything we do together is always initiated by me and I feel she is just going along with it.

What makes it worse is that, when we were younger, we always talked about the things we would do when the kids grew up and the mortgage was paid – travel etc. We even talked of moving abroad for part of the year. At this time in our lives where the world is our oyster, we should be enjoying ourselves. But now all that is gone, and I can barely get her to leave the house.

I have tried to talk to her about it. I even set up marriage counselling which we attended, but she doesn’t get, or doesn’t want to get, what I am saying.

She spends many hours at home, sometimes morning till evening or all weekend, working on her hobby which takes up all her time and I am left on my own to do my own thing.

I feel powerless and trapped. I can just continue to live the life of a bachelor in a marriage or I can end the marriage and try to build a new life for myself.

I love my wife and all I want is my relationship back the way it used to be.

ADVICE: You sound very sad and disillusioned with your marriage and Covid-19 seems to have put the reality of it into sharp relief. That you love your wife makes your situation more poignant, as it seems that the “coupleness” has gone from your relationship. Even companionship and friendship seem to have drifted away.

It is admirable that you tried couple therapy but say that does not seem to have initiated much in the sense of “fight” in your wife to save the marriage. Perhaps it is time to accept that, in spite of years of effort, it is actually over.

It seems that both of you are living very restricted and lonely lives

This is a huge thing to accept but perhaps you have been coming to this conclusion for some time now. Have your children commented on your relationship? Or close friends? If they have noticed how unhappy you are, it may be time to ask them what they see as the situation and what they would wish for you. If you are to make substantive changes in your life, you will need a lot of emotional and social support. One caveat is that, from what you indicate in your letter, your wife may be suffering from depression or a related condition – her difficulty in leaving the house and her withdrawal from social life might indicate she is in need of some help. However, you indicate that she has a hobby and maybe this is keeping her occupied, but it seems that both of you are living very restricted and lonely lives.

While suggesting separation would certainly cause a crisis in your lives, it may be necessary in that it forces both of you to take stock and make a decision about your relationship. If your wife offers you a possible route back to some level of togetherness, it would be important to set out a track for that to happen – without this, it would be very easy to slip back into the patterns you now have. The other option is that you move ahead with the separation and this is a daunting task but one where you get to take a risk with life. We cannot foretell the future, but we know that what we work at is a good indication of what might follow. If you are to do this, you should commit fully to a new existence, one where you prioritise finding someone to love who will love you in return. This will be challenging and not without pitfalls, but there are many people of all ages who are seeking to share their lives and the first step is to let possible romantic partners know that you are available.

This will probably involve you putting a profile up on a suitable dating site so get online and start researching. After 38 years, it will take courage to start again but your life deserves connection and joy and it is never too late to seek this.