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Should She Leave Her Husband?

QUESTION: I separated from my husband 5 months ago. We had been married nine years. He was a heavy drinker, casual drug user, verbal and mental abuser, and very controlling. Since then, my life started to take on a new direction and I've finally started feeling good about myself. I have terrific friends and family cheering me on.

About a week ago, he returned, asking for a second chance, and promising/vowing he would change. I let him return and I have seen the changes. The problem is that a lot of love has been lost since about two years ago, and I don't feel for him like I used to. I can tell he is trying very hard to make this work but I can't make myself get closer physically or mentally like he expects me to. I feel very unhappy. I don't know how to tell him and I don't want to hurt his feelings since he's trying very hard. All I do is watch his every move and wait for a slip-up from his part to send him packing. I realize now I loved my semi-single life and even grew closer to my daughter. Please give me a suggestion to make this easier for both of us.

ANSWER: Ever heard of too little too late? It is likely that you did not develop the strength to require change in your marriage, until there was little left but resentment and anger. Your move towards independence has fortified your belief in yourself, and you are now painfully conscious of all that you gave up by staying in an abusive marriage. Though you may still hold some fondness for your spouse, you are vulnerable to feeling "used" and trapped by guilt, rather than true desire.

It is not your job to make your husband's life easier by over-compromising yourself. This was a problem in the past in your marriage. Be careful that you do not make the same mistake twice! Do not rush into recommitment. Instead, take time to consider your choices and the feelings that are behind the decision of whether or not you want to return to the relationship.

Marriage is a two way street and you may feel that your husband's past abusive behavior has damaged your respect and your desire to be with him. You may be right! Perhaps you are allowing him to move back in with you too quickly. And by not having any avenue for processing the negative feelings accumulated in the marriage you may feel even more pressured and resentful about his return.

His changed behavior and your newfound independence allows you room to feel the reservoir of past hurt. If you are to successfully "take your husband back," the two of you will need to process the anger and pain you have accumulated in nine years of marriage. It is not enough for him to change. He must also hear your feelings, not out of punishment but in order to digest the resentment that has built up over the years. If this process creates the space for a renewed relationship together, so be it. However, it is also possible that the marriage is not recoverable for you. Take time to discover the truth.

Consider the possibility that you may need help in processing the past before you can consider whether or not you want to include him as a major player in your future. Seek consultation with a competent marriage counselor to facilitate this process if you find you have enough energy to work on the marriage. If not, seek individual counseling for your own recovery from this situation. Allow psychological space to explore yourself and the meaning that the last nine years has held for you.

It is your job to take care of yourself. Take time to recover. You spent many years with your spouse before he saw "the light". It is only fair that he give you time in return. Refrain from making this important life decision out of guilt! You may find that with time and healing you feel differently him. If so, a new foundation will have to be built between the two of you. This may or may not include marriage. Much depends on whether the positive feelings you once had are dead, only buried.

Be honest with your husband and yourself. Taking care of YOU is the first order of business. And the only chance for a possible recovery of the marriage. After all, if you don't take care of yourself, who will?


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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