Today’s case study comes from Ann, who is understandably upset about the situation she finds herself in.
My husband of twelve years has been going through what I thought was a midlife crisis for the last six months, but I now believe is actually limerence. He has become obsessed with a woman he works with and declared that he loves her and isn’t sure he wants to stay married to me any more or stay living at home with our children. I’ve been going through a hard time with illness, but this just came out of nowhere and I don’t know what to do. I am trying to be understanding, but I can’t stop thinking about this other woman and wondering what she is like. Is she leading him on? Does she even know how he feels about her? Are they already having an affair?
My husband won’t say anything about her, and gets angry when I ask questions which makes me think that maybe it is all in his imagination and not real. I know I should be angry with him, but I just can’t stop resenting her for destroying my marriage and being this mysterious romantic woman who is obviously so much more attractive than me his boring wife.
As the overused phrase puts it: there’s a lot to unpack here.
First up, the dynamic of Ann’s relationship with her husband is obviously troubling. He is being deliberately uncommunicative, she is trying to be understanding. I do always try to bear in mind with these case studies that we’re only hearing one side of the story, but it’s hard to see much cause for optimism given the lopsided effort being put in here.
Ann’s husband has disclosed his feeling to her, but we don’t know if he has disclosed to LO. In fact, LO is a total black box mystery enigma. That’s almost certainly the reason why Ann is fixated on her as the shadowy woman who is directing events – not knowing what’s happening means that Ann is unable to make sense of her predicament. Is this LO a competitor who has to be fought, or is this an innocent third party and the real issue is her husband?
In fact, let’s short-circuit the analysis and just get to the point: the real issue is Ann’s secretive husband.
The only real hope for recovery after limerence rocks a marriage is if no “red lines” have been crossed (as defined by the spouse) and there is a sincere wish to repair the marriage from both sides. That requires a mental framing between the spouses of “us against the problem,” rather than “is it me or her you want?”
In Ann’s case, her husband is cutting her out of the information loop completely. He’s withholding about the situation with LO, he’s vague and non-committal about the future of their marriage and family, and is obviously just internalising the whole situation and sees it as his business to deal with.
The most charitable reading of this is that he doesn’t want to burden Ann with his problems, but his anger and refusal to communicate suggests it’s more an issue of wanting to keep this to himself.
But, none of this really helps Ann. She’s still going quietly mad with curiosity and confusion. What can be done to make sense of the situation?
The clearest perspective that can be achieved, I think, is to accept that the LO doesn’t matter. The situation certainly matters, and her conduct towards Ann’s husband may be a factor in the progression of his limerence, but at a fundamental level the LO is incidental to the fact that Ann’s husband shouldn’t be fraternising with anyone else if he is married.
The LO could be a manipulative, mate-poaching narcissist, she could be a totally innocent bystander, she could be enjoying the attention and so flirting with him, or any other intermediate scenario. None of that changes the basic outcome: Ann’s husband is not respecting her as his wife, not communicating with her, and not showing any signs of contrition. None of those problems are caused by the LO.
So, my advice to Ann is to accept that it is totally understandable and natural that the infuriating uncertainty is making you resentful, but the larger truth is that knowing the specific circumstances of the LO’s behaviour will not actually help resolve the emotional distress, or make your husband more cooperative.
Instead, I would suggest seeking support for yourself. You need an independent person who cares for you to help make sense of what you are going through, and discuss what your options are. This could be a trusted friend, or an individual therapist or counsellor. It’s also worth exploring why you are finding it hard to direct the resentment where it belongs (as you know deep down you should be more angry with him) and what that means about the dynamic in your marriage.
You could also download the free Anxiety to Action guide (link in sidebar, or on the resources page) which covers some practical steps you can take to improve communication with a resistant spouse and to look after yourself at a time when the person who is supposed to be looking after you has instead betrayed you.
Not much comfort to offer this week, other than trying to clarify where action needs to be taken. Hope it’s some help…