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TODAY contributor
updated 3/25/2009 1:58:20 PM ET 2009-03-25T17:58:20

Q. I have tremendous guilt for marrying a nice man that I didn’t love. In retrospect, I know why I did it, not that it is excusable. I am working hard to own my part in this. I was too young, with no self-esteem, doing what I thought I was supposed to do and trying to please everyone but myself. I didn’t even realize I needed to please myself.

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Unfortunately, as I aged, the realization of the gravity of my decision to marry this man has so eaten me up that I have completely shut down emotionally because of guilt. I feel awful to have hurt not only him but our children. How does one move forward and forgive themselves in this scenario? He is a good person, a great dad and friend. Should I hold out for hope I can develop feelings for him?

A. Because there are children involved, and because you say your husband is a great father and friend, I don’t think you should end this marriage without trying to save it.

The madly-in-love bliss that people claim to have in the early stages of romance often dissipates and evolves. Many people still love their spouses after many years, but not with the heart-pounding kind of love you hear about. Romance has to be worked on to be recaptured and, in your case, can be worked on to be acquired.

I assume you are saying you feel no sexual attraction for your husband, who is an otherwise great guy. It’s not like being married to him is torture or that he is cruel toward you and the children. I would advise seeing not just a couples counselor but a certified sex therapist. You can find one at aasect.org, the Web site for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

Often in cases like yours, there has been a loss of desire and ability for arousal. This can be worked on therapeutically with talk or with behavioral exercises to ignite some attraction. I would ask why you married your husband in the first place. There must be at least something that kept you around long enough to do that.

As you know, when you bring children into this world, it is even more important to try to stay together, because there are so many ramifications for the children. The longer they can remain in an intact family, the better.

You complain about missing out on feelings. You could have married a man you loved and then fallen out of love — as many people do — and you would have the same complaint. You might split from your husband, fall in love with another man and realize in a decade that he is not so great after all. I suggest you consider your alternatives. Will you be better off if you stay or if you go?

Of course, you are entitled to seek a satisfying life. Is it possible you will try to save your marriage and have no results? Yes. If, after attempting to light the fire, you find there is truly nothing there, it isn’t fair to either of you to remain married.

Another thing to consider is whether you have idealized notions of what you are missing. Some people split from their partner in the belief they will be happier. Then they find they aren’t happier. Those who stay and work on their marriage often do find themselves happier down the line. It is easy to blame unhappiness on not being in love with your husband when you are actually unhappy for other reasons.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: I suggest people work on their marriage and give it a fair chance before picking up and leaving.

Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.

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