[Two Pronged]: Friends without benefits
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I married my best friend, but now he has become ONLY a friend.
My husband and I have been married for almost 8 years. We started out as friends, then entered a sexual relationship without labels, so we were not exactly bf-gf. I got pregnant and we stayed together more exclusively then. After two years, he proposed and 8 years later, here we are with 3 adorable kids.
We had a crisis around two years ago, where he dropped the bomb that he wasn't happy and he wanted to end our marriage. I was distraught and depressed. Let's just say I lost myself in the depression and became this pathetic little lady that was all about begging for him to come back. I made matters a lot worse because I think he lost his respect for me when he saw me like that. And alas, like most troubled marriages, a third party (his co-worker) became involved. It was at that point I decided to take my kids, move back with my mother and support my family by myself.
I was doing well with moving on when around 6 months later, he suddenly came back and said that he wanted to try again to make our family work.
There was no talk about us, our marriage. It was all about what is best for the kids. And our kids really are a lot happier when they see us together. Our relationship with each other has been very amicable – we talk about our day, make plans for the future, make big decisions together, but it’s just that. We are like two friends that are co-parenting for 3 kids. Ever since he came back, we haven't slept in the bed alone (our youngest co-sleeps), we haven't deeply kissed or have had "alone" time. We haven't had sex. That was 3 YEARS AGO ( I can imagine everyones gasps and coffee mugs dropped on the floor.)
I have actually tried to discuss it with him. But he says he is OK with this, both of us working towards a common goal of raising our kids in an ideal setting. He says that he is willing to sacrifice everything, including a chance for a happy and fulfilling marriage for their sakes.
So this is my predicament. We actually get along very well. We are closer than ever, but I'm starting to question our relationship. Is this as good as it gets? Am I doomed to a sexless marriage in my 30s? Can it really actually work? What if our kids grow up and move out? I’m afraid if I stay in this marriage I will grow resentful of him, and one day I may explode and blame him for everything.
Thank you for your email.
You say that what was a happy marriage had its first crisis 2 years ago when your husband (let's call him Tom) announced that he wanted out. You give no reason and seem to have accepted the inevitable once he got involved with someone else.
While you are in the process of moving on, Tom suddenly turns up and says he wants to try again, for the good of the kids. No reason for his volte-face is given and you do not say why you agreed to take him back despite his failure to discuss his other relationship with you.
Family life is now going well, with your adorable children living a no doubt “adorable life,” but your marriage exists only on paper. You say that you have tried to discuss it with Tom but his answer was merely that it is OK and that “he is willing to sacrifice everything, including a chance for a happy and fulfilling marriage, for them” (the kids). You seem to have accepted this, not even questioning Tom’s statement that the kids’ successful future requires sacrificing a happy and fulfilling marriage. Is this an allusion to the fact that he has no sexual feelings for you and yet is prepared to forsake all others for the good of the kids? We don't know and you are not telling us.
What you are telling us, judging from the above, is that up to now you have been consistently accepting Tom’s vision of your marriage and family life. He moved out, he had the affair, he moved back, he decided you would be friends without benefits.
However you have reached the point where you are beginning to question things.
“Is this as good as it gets? Can it really actually work?” Of course it is not as good as it could be but it's certainly as good as Tom is currently allowing it to get. You know that it can work because you have told us so, though there is no guarantee that one or both of you might not change your views in the future. Having a real conversation with Tom about having a complete marriage would be a helpful start.
“What if our kids grow up and move out?” It's inevitable and then you will be left with each other. Again, having a real conversation with Tom about having a complete marriage would be a helpful start.
“Am I doomed to a sexless marriage starting in my 30s?” Only if you want to be. People do strange things ostensibly “for the good of the children.” Only you can decide if the sacrifice is appropriate and one you wish to make. Religion, morality, social pressure etc. all play a part here, too.
“I’m afraid if I stay in this marriage I will grow resentful of him. And one day I may explode and blame him for everything.” Unfortunately my crystal ball is having an off day but with everything else you have to deal with, I think that this is the least of your worries.
Best of luck,
Thank you very much for your letter. Since Mr. Baer has answered all the questions you’ve asked, I have the luxury of focusing on what I feel are the more important nuances of your letter.
Actually you do NOT get along very well. I daresay, you do not get along at all. You are walking on eggs, keeping your mouth shut and your heart locked so you don’t destroy the status quo?
What sort of relationship have you allowed yourself to get into? Certainly not one between equals; certainly not one you would accept from a real friend. This is a pretend relationship where only meaningless things can be talked about—mainly logistics regarding your children’s lives, and hypothetical situations/decisions about a future so uncertain that planning for it seems futile.
Your husband told you “he is willing to sacrifice everything, including a chance for a happy and fulfilling marriage, for their sakes (your children)."
Were you supposed to be grateful that he’s with you despite its being tantamount to “sacrifice(ing) everything”?
What a bloody insult.
Psychotherapist and marriage counselor Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W. in his blog says, “As our children grow older, they tend to replicate relationships similar to what their parents modeled… It’s not what we say, but what we do that matters. Telling our children they deserve healthy, respectful, and loving partnerships isn’t taken to heart if we don’t have the courage to live up to our own words. What we model for them is very much what we might expect for them in their future relationships.”
If you stay married to this non-caring, holier-than-thou man, sacrificing his life for the “good of the children,” you are virtually telling your kids that this is as good as it gets: a sort of marriage full of sacrifice and mediocrity, rather than joy and mutual support.
Your children will be all right whether you stay together or not. The growing body of scientific literature is replete with studies confirming “that about 80% of children of divorce adapt well and see no lasting negative effects on their grades, social adjustment, or mental health.” (Psychologist Constance Ahrons did a 20-year study and published her findings in her 2004 book We’re Still Family: What Grown Children Have To Say About Their Parents’ Divorce).
The reason I like this book and the article Reconsidering the “Good Divorce” is because they present a more realistic view that both the adults and children emerge as least as emotionally well as they were before the divorce.
The last two sentences in your letter are: “I’m afraid if I stay in this marriage I will grow resentful of him. And one day I may explode and blame him for everything.”
Rather than blame, now or in the future, what might be more relevant is understanding, so you see the true circumstances under which you are living and act upon them ASAP. Perhaps forgiveness too, forgiveness of self, if you continue to do nothing to prevent a future you fear, even loathe.
Good luck, dearest Toni, may you have the courage to do what I feel you knew was the best option, but merely wanted permission to do. I hope you write us again if there is anything else you need clarifying.
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.