My wife wants to separate after 23 years of marriage. She is under a lot of pressure from work and grad school. We have a daughter that is a freshmen in college and a son that is 15. she has a very intrusive mother, which has really never cared for me. Two weeks ago my wife said she was through and wanted to separate to see where she was and what her feelings were for me. She said she is tired and that she is weary and tired of raising me too! This all caught me by surprise. We had a rough time several yrs. ago when she was going through treatments for cancer. she is considered a cure, but it got us financially strapped. During that time, I had an affair of the heart, but not physical with one of my daughters teachers. I kept a journal with thoughts and ideas that was written very passionately and my wife found it. She said she has never forgiven me for that and the fact she thought I was not there for her when she was ill. I was scared to death I was going to loose her and at the same time working to keep a roof over our heads. I got into a business partnership that has been like driving on five miles of bad road. It has been very hard on both of us, and I bring a lot of that frustration home with me. But other than the partnership, I thought all was going smooth. this hit me by a complete surprise.
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It sounds like a very difficult time for you both. It is very hard to be a caregiver; it demands a lot. You’ve been under a lot of stress for a very long time, and have coped in ways that have consequences (although I don’t doubt that you did your best at the time). The cumulative effects are now catching up to you.
It is not uncommon for one partner to "leave" another without the other partner being aware that this is happening. The leave-taking occurs slowly at first, just in the form of angry thoughts and is not expressed. A very sensitive person (who was not him or herself fatigued from stress) might pick up on it, but many do not. When the thoughts of frustration finally mature into a desire to separate and this wish is spoken it can appear that it has come out of the blue, but that is not the case. It has been smoldering for a while, and only now is there a visible flame.
You cannot change your wife; her feelings or her thoughts. What you can do is to take responsibility for yourself and your own actions. Talk with her if she will talk with you. Try to learn all you can about how she has experienced you as acting childishly; about how she has experienced you as abandoning her in a time of need. Just listen to what she has to say and do not try to argue with her (though this may be difficult to do). This is information gathering for you. You cannot address and change what you do not acknowledge.
When you’re ready to do so, go to her and tell her that you are deeply sorry for the ways that you’ve let her down, and mean this. Tell her you love her and mean more than just that you need her. Be willing to change (and work at changing) how you have been behaving. Talk about this to people who are in a position to help you cope. Attend psychotherapy either individually, or as a couple, or both and find a way to afford that if you believe it will help you make these necessary changes. Your wife’s desire to leave you may be something you cannot alter, but it may also be a way for her to tell you that if the relationship is to continue, it needs to continue on a different basis that she finds more acceptable. If you can find a way to find that new basis acceptable too, you may be able to continue.
Be kind to yourself during this difficult process. Recognize that you are in crisis right now and be easy on yourself. Try to avoid the temptation to cope with this stress in negative ways (such as overeating or drinking). If it becomes the case that your marriage is indeed over, let yourself grieve this death (for that is what it will be), and realize that life will continue on through the other side. Things have the potential to get better again for you even though right now you will not have any knowledge of what shape that future might take. It is frightening to be alone and to not know, very frightening, but it doesn’t have to be completely terrifying if you can keep this larger perspective in mind. Good luck to you.