Q. I never fell in love with my husband. I made a good choice on paper, but I don't feel intrigued or stimulated emotionally or intellectually by him. I just don’t really care that much about him. I never have, even though we get along well.
I am bored, lonely and don’t feel I can ever manufacture what I want with him. I just don’t think we connect that way, or that he can really fulfill what I need emotionally. I am depressed and hopeless. We have been married five years and don’t have children. Please help me decide what to do.
A. Your note makes me feel sorry for your husband. It’s not clear what you mean by “a good choice on paper.” Does that mean your husband has lots of money, an advanced degree, a high-status job, movie-star looks? I don’t hear you say you are miserable because you were swept away by an unemployed alcoholic gambler who beats you. Those are the kinds of relationships that don’t fare well.
Certainly, there are people who aren’t invested in their marriage, as you aren’t. I cannot tell you whether this is truly fixable, but I can tell you that it’s worth it to try.
You say you get along well with your husband, and yet you don’t care much about him. This is contradictory. For most people, getting along well is high on the list of priorities for someone they marry.
Put yourself in your husband’s shoes. It sounds as though he might be lonely in this marriage, too. Maybe this marriage is between two people who don’t make much effort to engage with the other. One partner’s lack of caring is enough to suck the affection and adventure right out of any marriage, and to guarantee it will stagnate.
So before you call it quits, I suggest you try actively engaging your husband. You say he cannot fulfill your emotional needs. I suggest you give him a chance to do so.
You did marry him, so undoubtedly there was something that brought you together. I suggest you resurrect all efforts to find out who your husband really is, to have fun with him, to do things together.
It sounds possible that you are suffering from depression — and not because it’s your husband who is making you depressed. In this case, your dispirited mood is not about your husband or your marriage. If you’re depressed, nothing and nobody will seem interesting to you. Feeling hopeless and alone are symptoms of depression. So if you are depressed, you need treatment for that before your marriage can move forward.
That being said, you don’t have children, so the stakes are low if you split up. But you should think long and hard about what is ahead if you do. How likely is it you will meet someone better? Would you rather be rid of your husband no matter what? How will you feel if he remarries and you never do?
A recent study showed that people who said they were unhappy in their marriage were perfectly happy several years later. Their mood had more to do with their individual situation than with a dramatic change in the state of their marriage.
People — and marriages — go through stages that are more happy or less so. Look at what else is going on in your life — do you have fulfilling work, close friendships, connections to relatives? These are also part of life satisfaction.
But if you really feel you never loved your husband, and are unwilling to try to dig up a spark, I suggest you resolve this before you consider having children.
If you truly cannot feel galvanized to make a change, spare both of you and move on. Leave because you are dissatisfied with this marriage — don’t wait until you meet someone else. That is a messy, guilt-inducing way to end a marriage. Be brave enough to do it the right way.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Recognize that marriages go through good phases and bad ones. A permanent bad phase might be a reason to end a marriage, but a temporary bad phase is not.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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