My relationship with my husband feels more like one between mother and son than between equals. Annalisa Barbieri advises a reader
Ive been with my husband for eight years and we have been married for three. We are in our mid-30s and still havent decided if we want to have children. I am more hesitant than him.
I have left my home country, family and friends to live with him. While it was extremely tough at the beginning, I feel I have now built something nice a good job, a house, all in all a very convenient life.
My husband is a very sensitive, good-natured person. He has mental health problems and we have been through some very difficult times in the past. He is now stabilised, but I still wonder if the illness could come back and how I would be able to cope with it especially if we have a child, and no family support.
I have been seeing a psychoanalyst and it has helped me understand why I am so undecided. But unfortunately, despite the work I have been doing, from time to time I still get a feeling of suffocating with him, and I want to run away. I feel that I chose my husband for the wrong reasons and that our relationship feels more like one between mother and son than between equals. I still dont know if this can change, or if it is better to change partners and choose more wisely next time. The crises Im going through maybe one every few months affect my husband a lot and I can see how much I hurt him. I want him to be happy and stop making him suffer, and sometimes I wonder if Im the right person for him.
I have had an affair with an extremely handsome man who is also very ambitious, self-confident and successful quite the opposite of my husband and it was exhilarating. The affair might continue. Im not sure yet, but Im definitely open. Which should be my life from now on: not leaving my husband because Im scared of whats next; leaving my rather nice, if not exciting, life, and the benefits of an affair now and then if the opportunity arises, I wont be actively looking for it I think; or motherhood; or starting all over again and moving back home?
When I first got your letter I almost put it to one side for a few weeks as I thought it was too similar to a recent one should I have a second baby?. You asked in your longer letter whether having a baby will calm you down. But then I realised that this really isnt about a baby but about your marriage.
You cannot have a baby to cement a marriage. You may have a baby with this man, but thats a way down the line, when you have first sorted out your relationship issues.
Its interesting how you put the bit about the affair almost at the end of your letter, as an afterthought. Unless your husband knows about this and you have an arrangement (and I offer no judgment for such arrangements they can work very well if all parties are in agreement), then this really is the nub of your problem.
I consulted Stefan Walters, a couples therapist. You sound lost and fearful, and it is fear which is keeping you trapped, he says. This presents as a problem about having a baby but its really not that, you sum it up when you say: I feel I chose my husband for the wrong reasons.
Walters also says you are doing a lot of predictive thinking. In other words, you are imagining a lot of what your husband may be thinking or what he may say. Why not let him answer for himself? he asks.
We guess that, perhaps, the reason you cant talk honestly to your husband is because of your affair.
Instead of talking, says Walters, you have retreated and are having an affair. An affair is often not about getting away from your partner, but the person you think youre becoming. You are trying to escape your own narrative. I thought this was astute and a sentence you should linger over.
Walters reiterates that having a baby is not a fix [for your marriage], and it is never a good idea to make a decision out of fear. While its great you are going to therapy, Walters says you both need to go to couples therapy.
I asked him how you might broach the subject of your unhappiness. Come at it from a place of vulnerability, not aggression. If you are aggressive, it will make him defensive, he says. Try to name some of the emotions you are feeling, so dont blame, but say something like: Im scared about the future, I have these insecurities. Ask him how he feels.
On some level, says Walters, your husband will probably already know how you feel, so a conversation may come as a relief.
There were some contradictions in your letter: detachment, clarity, feeling like the adult but also sounding immature. You seem to lack ownership in some of your choices, says Walters. If you always put yourself in the role of parent, your husband has no choice but to be the child. Why dont you allow yourself to be cared for for a change?
If you dont communicate how you feel, any other long-term relationship you undertake may also suffer from this lack of intimacy (remember intimacy is not about sex necessarily, but about communication), and you may come up feeling exactly the same in a few years time.
Your problems solved
Contact Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence
Follow Annalisa on Twitter @AnnalisaB