What To Do When Your Marriage Is Miserable

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Q: I have been married twenty-five years, but I don't know if I want to stay married. I'm confused. How do I distinguish between a real crisis in my marriage and just another bad spell (of which we have had our share). I try to keep in mind all the compromises that have kept our marriage going, and sometimes I can focus on the basis for what I used to consider a deep, loving and committed relationship. But I feel so angry at my husband that I can't focus on the good stuff anymore.

Our children are all out of the house and we are alone. But contrary to all of those commercials on television, instead of enjoying each other more -traveling, sports, cultural events or just plain talking -- we are spending less time together.

I think my husband must be having an affair. Why else would he not be more focused on me? I can almost understand why he would stray. We are no longer all that interesting to one another. We don't look to the other for stimulation and certainly not for intrigue. Nor do we try to appreciate what the other is saying when we differ. Instead, we argue. We've heard all the old arguments before. Instead of trying to understand one another and appreciate that one of us could be in some emotional pain, we just power on through. We seem to be just exasperated and bored. Arguments and disagreements are just another reason to walk away.

The last infuriating incident involved a dinner party we had for a friend's retirement. As usual, I pulled the whole thing together -the menu, the drinks, the guest list, etc. I didn't mind because this is one the compromises I've made in my marriage -- I'm caterer-in-chief as well as the toastmaster and he's in charge of the Air Force or something -- and I've grown accustomed to it. I thought the dinner party was a success until my husband told me that while I had toasted our friend just fine, I had neglected to toast his own impending retirement. He had me there.

Isn't it true that if someone wants to justify their own distance or their own straying, they'll turn anything into a justification. In other words, there is nothing I can do that will be enough for him. He wants to leave and that, apparently, is that. Do I hold on?

A: Look at your question! You started with your own anger and confusion and ended with the certainty that your husband, not you, is the one who wants to leave the marriage. Are you wondering if you should allow yourself to continue to be a victim or are you wondering if there is a way for you to seize control of a situation that is spiraling downwards and can only end badly.

I think you should trust your own. You husband is straying or is thinking of doing so. You are right to assume that when someone is afraid to take a difficult course of action -- like breaking up a marriage -- they attempt to get the other party to do the heavy lifting for them. Your husband wants you to walk. This is not something he is aware of, though, or even something that he deeply desires. Rather, he is expressing -- yelling, is more like it -- his dissatisfaction. He probably believes he is making compromise after compromise in your relationship while, somewhere else, there is a woman who tells him what a delight he is. It is easy for him to believe that you are the one who is difficult, not very thoughtful, and certainly not very exciting anymore. When one person in a relationship is unhappy and wants to blame the other, that's a powerful impulse. Nothing can change it. Therefore, you will feel like there is nothing that you can do that is enough.

But, I think there is a larger issue here and one that would be more helpful to focus on. You don't trust your husband because you don't trust yourself. You feel his dissatisfaction with everything you do, because you also feel dissatisfied with him and your relationship. You want to have an affair. You want to find some excitement as well as some emotional support. You may be a very capable woman. But at the moment you also want some emotional support, the proverbial shoulder which, in your case, you think has been claimed by someone else.

The day-to-day aspects of your maternal role have vanished. The kids are gone, the glue that held your family together. You are insecure and unsure of your future. You had a role and now it's gone. You want to run away -- from sadness, from fear. From life itself.

But before you and your husband take permanent vacations from one another, try something simple. Take a long vacation, but take it together first.