Lifelines: Trouble in long-term relationships

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Anne Chilton gives her advice to two people struggling in their marriages.

My wife has just told me she isn’t sure if she wants to be with me any more. We have been married for 20 years and I thought we were doing all right. We have a lovely home; two great daughters; holidays abroad twice a year and no financial worries. It was what I thought we both wanted – a good quality of life.

I have worked hard and reached quite a high level in my career. I always assumed we were working for the same things. Now she says she is unhappy; she feels she has been like a single parent all these years and that I’ve played little part in family life. To an extent, this is true but I was working long hours to provide the sort of life I thought we both wanted. I don’t understand what went wrong. We are still together at the moment, but only just. What should I do?

The key word here seems to be ‘assumed’; you assumed you were both working towards the same goals. The problem is that if we start making assumptions about what others want we start to lose touch with what they actually want. It sounds like you were still working towards the dreams you had when you were young. Did you ever talk about your progress and if these goals were satisfying you both? I wonder what goals your wife was working towards?

The hopeful thing here is that you are still together, and when you ask what you can do the answer is simple – stop, look and listen. Things are going to need to change and you both need to go back to basics. By this I mean really listen to each other. Listen to how isolated and lonely she has felt; this doesn’t mean to say she hasn’t appreciated the good things, but you can’t have a conversation with the latest dishwasher. She wants to be with you, the person she fell in love with, not a fantastic career history.

It will be difficult and you might consider seeing a couple counsellor to help you have all those conversations you haven’t had over the years so that you can both start to build a shared future that meets both your needs.

My partner and I have been together for 12 years. We didn’t live together as he worked away, often for months at a time, but we would see each other whenever we could and kept in touch, speaking maybe a couple of times a week if possible. When he came back we would spend maybe a month together, then he would be off again.

I used to live for him coming back and hated when he left. But I would keep busy, and had a good social life. My friends all understood that when he was back I wouldn’t be around for a few weeks.

I thought we had the ideal relationship. Then he said he was coming back for good. We have been living together for six months and I feel terribly lonely. I thought we would spend all our time together but he’s never here. All I do is clear up after him. Last week we had a row and I told him how I felt and he said he felt unhappy as well. We haven’t talked since. How did it go so wrong?

Nothing went wrong but the basis of the relationship has changed and it sounds like you haven’t talked about how it will be different. You lived for the times when you were together for those short, intense experiences. Now that you are together all the time, the longing isn’t there and you can be with each other any time you want.

Did you and your partner talk about what your relationship would be like when you were together; the sort of relationship you would have; the day-to-day details of life? Perhaps a couple counsellor could help you both work out what you want. The dreams you had are just that, dreams, but making them closer to the reality you want is not the stuff of fantasy, it requires you to talk about your relationship and how it can work for both of you.

Twitter: @RelScot