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updated 7/15/2009 2:45:50 PM ET 2009-07-15T18:45:50

Q. I have been married for seven years and have lost any sense of happiness or excitement toward my wife. We had a great relationship early on, but I soon noticed that she had a spending problem. She spent my entire $66,000 bonus in a year, behind my back, by telling me she had it invested in an IRA. This is one of many examples.

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She dictates who I can be friends with and, if I object, she causes arguments, which have turned violent. She emotionally abuses me by insulting my family and telling me that I will never accomplish my goals. The only thing that has kept me in this relationship is that we have two kids, whom I love more than anything.

I am currently away for a few weeks and all I am concerned with is meeting other women. It makes me feel great that I can actually have fun with another female. I hate my relationship, but still have feelings for my wife. I think I would be happier with someone else, but how do I leave my kids? I confront this question all day long and I just don’t know what to do. I am only happy when I meet other women and I do not feel guilty about my dealings with them. I am 27 years old and feel that now is the time to start over if that’s what I decide to do.

A. The first thing you should do is try to save your marriage. You split up only if you cannot, or if your wife is unwilling to do her part.

Meanwhile, you are attacking your problem in the wrong way. You are already thinking about the outcome; what you first must do is deal with the process.

Your current way of coping with the misery caused by your marital problems is to avoid dealing with your wife and to fool around with other women. Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is not to say your wife’s actions are OK or that you should tolerate her bad behavior, but you are not doing anything to improve the situation. And it is imperative that you take action.

Though you may prefer to avoid confronting your wife, avoidance will make things harder in the end. If you do leave, you will want to know that you did everything you could to save your marriage. Fooling around on your wife because she is horrible is not the right thing to do. Leaving her because she is horrible might be, but you are not yet at that point.

So first, you must let her know that you are wildly unhappy and you want to work together on a solution.

You are not clear about who is violent toward whom, or the nature of such violence. But if one of you is being physically violent toward the other, it is time to part company now and get professional help before even considering getting back together. One or both of you could become seriously injured or permanently disabled.

You and your wife have many things to discuss. You must let her know you cannot stay in this marriage if all she does is criticize and insult you, your family and your career.

You must discuss your budget as well as the friendships she objects to, and negotiate a plan that works for you both. Go through each arena of conflict and see whether both you and your wife are capable of rising to the occasion and altering the way you interact.

Your letter raises some red flags. How could someone spend $66,000 without your knowledge? You should know what is going on with your finances. Couples often have one or the other “in charge” of the money. This is not a healthy situation.

Don’t you read your financial statements? Don’t you discuss your spending with each other? What did she spend this money on? Do you have a reasonable budget for living expenses, or is she using this for food and medical care? Or did she spend it on frivolous things?

It seems that you are, in part, glad to socialize with other women because you feel (understandably) like punishing your wife. Indeed she has betrayed you financially, and so now you are betraying her emotionally and maybe physically. But your attempt at revenge this way won’t solve your problems. It will just make you feel like a bad guy and a lousy father.

I suggest you be direct with your wife. Let her know you can work toward forgiving her only if she makes sure her behavior doesn’t continue. If you cannot forgive her, and therefore forever feel the need to exact revenge, or if she will not change course, then you will leave her. She is either amenable to working with you or she isn’t. She will need to prove to you that you can trust her.

Obviously, the kids are a motivating factor in terms of keeping you together. But it won’t be helpful for the kids to grow up in a household where their parents hate, resent and betray each other. I am usually in favor of saving a marriage, especially when there are children, but if your situation stays this toxic, staying together for the sake of the kids isn’t doing them any favors.

It is worth it to figure out whether you have a future with your wife before you focus on either flirting with someone else or finding someone else. As long as you are putting your attention elsewhere, you will not put much energy into saving your marriage. If you decide to end the marriage, then once it is over you are clearly free to be with whomever you wish.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: A weak marriage can be strengthened and saved, but only if both spouses genuinely work toward that goal.

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 “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.

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