Don't want to live a life of regret, but want to be honorable.
This is going to be tough for me to get out, but I need to purge my system of these feelings. Warning, this is a wall of text so bail now if you aren't interested in a long, complicated read. But I want to do my story justice. I'm a 37-year-old man, married to a 36-year-old woman. We've been married for over 13 years, but together for 18. I met my wife shortly after I graduated from high school, while she was a senior. I had never dated a woman before her - she's my first everything. Girlfriend, kiss, intimate partner, wife. We're everything to each other. In our early 20s my wife went through a surgery which exacerbated a chronic pain condition we were unaware that she had. It started with her being very anemic following a major surgery, which steamrolled into a diffuse and non-identifiable pain we eventually learned was fibromyalgia.
During this time, my wife also developed a panic condition which impaired her ability to finish the degree she wanted at her University - originally, she was enrolled in Business classes, but had to transfer to a degree in Psychology. Thankfully she was able to graduate (just barely) – but it was the first instance in her life where she had to make a major modification to her behavior based on her health, and instead of getting treatment for her panic disorder instead chose to withdraw (could no longer do presentations in class). At the time, I just wanted her not to be in pain, so I encouraged her.
My wife comes from a religious family, and so when we began seeing each other heavily they insisted we get married. We did, at the ages of 23 and 22. I had just started my first job in Information Technology at a great employer, although my salary was quite low. Her father told me I needed to pay her last year of University since we were now married – I considered it my responsibility and shouldered the burden. I also shouldered the financial burden when she could no longer work and had to focus on school-only.
After graduating, my wife did not feel up to continuing her educational aspirations (originally thought about being a counselor or therapist) and instead became unemployed for about a year. Eventually, because the bills had piled up (her University, wedding, honeymoon, rings, etc). I insisted that she get a job – I basically made sure she got a job in childcare which was full time, and paid fairly well. She appreciated the help, but also felt bitter that I had “forced” her into the decision. This was an early, problematic pattern in our relationship – I would see a deficit (or a perceived deficit) and I would go in and solve the situation.
For many years, my wife worked in her childcare job – during this time, she began to see increasing symptoms of fibromyalgia. She also developed vertigous migraines, increased anxiety, and a variety of other health conditions. Thankfully I have incredible health insurance because of my large and very visible employer, but even with incredible coverage there is a certain degree of expense that is placed upon us dealing with it. It was very painful to live with a spouse who is most of the time ill – and unable to do many of the things that I so desired. I spent many years alone – she would work all day, come home, take medication and fall asleep all evening and on the weekends.
We tried so many things – and continue to – for her health. We have access to excellent healthcare in Seattle, with all of the latest techniques designed to deal with what she is going through. If she’s going to get “better” or (more reasonably) manage her symptoms, it’s here.
Our sex life was troubled for many years – we did not engage in relations before we were married, and not on our wedding night. It’s only the last 6 years we have been intimate – part of this had to do with the traumatic surgery my wife went through to remove a large tumor – it required something called a DNC, which is essentially a scraping of the vaginal wall. She went through 2-3 of these before her surgery, and became traumatized to any stimulation in that region due to the extreme pain and discomfort. She ended up going to a therapist to address this, and eventually we settled into a (more) healthy sex life which continues today. About 5 years back, my wife attempted to switch careers which ended in a major failure; previously, she was working two part-time jobs after which she switched to one full-time job. With the new full-time job, she suffered a major anxiety attack and health issue which resulted in an overnight stay in the ER and her declaring she could not do the job. Because she left the old jobs, she didn’t have an apparent path towards employment (in her mind) so she decided to take a year off of work.
I should note that throughout this process I was attempting to build my career as much as possible, to compensate. I went back to school and received a Bachelors of Science in Business/IT Management, and recently enrolled in a MBA program. I worked my way up the chain, moving from a Technology Analyst to Lead, to small Department Manager and eventually an Operations Supervisor of large, functional unit. I have spent quite a bit of time on my personal health (work out regularly), attend personal therapy, done a lot of work in mindfulness, have hobbies and friends.
Because of this, I have been (mostly) able to compensate for the financial aspects of my wife’s condition. After she took a year off, however, it did put us in a bad place – it should be noted that 5 years ago I had just made the transition to a small Department Manager, and while I was making more we had moved into a more expensive location which required we both be working to maintain our lifestyle. Following the financial crisis, salary freezes / cost of living upgrade reductions were made at my employer which slowed down my ability to make more money directly at the time my wife decided to take a year off. Additionally, living in the Seattle area, there was a major population boom due to Amazon and other tech companies which significantly drove up the cost of living. Three years back, we moved to less expensive area just as my wife got a new job – a part time position, as she felt she could not do any more. During this time, I have utilized the significant increase in income I have secured due to a large promotion to build a large savings, pay off all debts, and continue to build my career. Truthfully, my career is where I throw myself to avoid some of the pain of my home life.
One of the most troubling aspects of my wife’s behavior is how she withdraws – from me, her friends, her family. She is angry at everyone for not “understanding” her condition – when I say this to her, she becomes defensive and says I don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ve been in couples counseling for 1.5 years now, and while I think it is having some positive effects it also feels like the communication piece between us is somewhat stuck in the mud – I fully admit some of this comes from a certain degree of me disengaging from frustration. My wife’s method for dealing with all problems seems to be simply stop doing the thing that causes her pain – not turning towards the anxiety as a growing or learning experience, but instead turning away and hiding from it. She says things like “She depends on me for life” and she would “Die if I ever left her”. I don’t know what to say when she says that to me.
I’m no angel. A few years ago, I kept trying to numb myself from the pain of our disconnect by drinking; I ended up quitting, going to AA, and have been clean & sober for almost 2 years.
In a last-ditch effort to find my wife “purpose” (she often says she has none) we started trying to have children. Dumb, I know, and in hindsight I realize what a selfish decision that would have been. But we wanted so desperately to repair our relationship and marriage, and somehow the idea of a child (something we had wanted since we married) seemed like the answer. Unfortunately, it appears her surgery -may- have caused an issue, and after years of infertility treatment and failed adoptions we had to give up. This process started 4~ years ago, and ultimately culminated in a few failed rounds of IVF last year. I’ve somehow managed to pay off the two rounds of IVF, but at great personal cost (had to do a bunch of consulting to bridge the gap in funding so I didn’t go into massive debt).
Needless to say, all of these things have put an incredible amount of pressure on our relationship. During the day, I feel empowered at my career site where I feel I have a high degree of control and success. At home, I deal with a partner who has (historically) been completely dependent upon me. There were many times I avoided going home, because I simply did not want to be in the same room because her sadness and anxiety overwhelmed me. Recently, things are better – lots of therapy has brought a bit more closeness, and some acceptance and growth on my wife’s part. That being said, I feel incredible burnout in my relationship and often teeter on the edge of simply wanting to “call it quits” and move on.
She’s the only woman I’ve ever been with, and I love her dearly. I fear (as she’s threatened it) that she would harm herself if I was to leave – I also don’t know financially how she would make it, although she does have family in the area where she could have a free place to stay. She relies heavily on my income, my support, as well as my health insurance. I don’t know how she would make it without a plan, given all of her treatments. I’m in this very painful, on the fence, undecided place. Do I continue to work as hard as I can to try and make this work? How hard and how long should I do that? Am I willing to give up my dreams of being a father for a potentially failed marriage? If I call it quits, will things just get worse? Could I handle being without her? Oddly enough I’m actually in a pretty good spot right now – contemplative, reflective, thinking about where I am and where I want to be. I do feel like I am a great partner – not perfect – but someone who has a lot to offer a potential spouse. I don’t want to live a life of regret, and I owe it to myself to be happy. But I also feel like I have a commitment to be a loving and supportive husband and I want to be as honorable to my wife as possible, even if things don’t work about between us.
I’m completely open to any and all advice. I hope I don’t come off as callous or uncaring – I am anything but. I am emotionally battered by all of this.