Adapted from a recent online discussion.
My wife and I have been together for 20 years. We’ve always had a very close and loving relationship.
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A few years ago I found myself unemployed, and ended up taking a second-shift job that keeps us apart during the week. After talking it over, I recently turned down a chance to go back to days in order to take a promotion and more money.
My wife, who is a fairly shy person, has been lonely, and she’s started to develop a life without me — going to the gym, attending music functions with friends and so on. I have encouraged her to do so.
Last week, I was beginning to sense something was different, and after some discussion over a few glasses of wine, she told me she was “infatuated” with a guy from the gym. They’ve become friends. She later said it was nothing, just a crush and I should not be concerned.
I don’t think she’d really cheat on me, but I can’t shake the feeling that our once-close relationship has been compromised. She assures me that I’m making too much out of it, and that it’s all just because she’s lonely, but I’m really hurt that she would want someone other than me.
Am I making too much out of this?
— Sad Husband
DEAR SAD HUSBAND: You “can’t shake the feeling that our once-close relationship has been compromised” because it has been. You and your wife spend less time together, do fewer things together, and lean on each other less for emotional nourishment now.
That is the boogeyman here — which also means, by process of elimination, that your wife isn’t the boogeyman, nor is the object of her crush, nor are you for taking a second-shift job or encouraging her to socialize. You’re all just doing what humans do, which is adapt to the circumstances you’re given. You adapted to your unemployment, your wife adapted to her loneliness, the guy adapted to a new person arriving at the gym.
Of course it hurts, but I think dwelling on the upsetting nature of this will be counterproductive. All your energy — and I hope your wife’s — needs to be directed at finding a way for your marriage to adapt to your new circumstances.
How you do that is up to you, but you have options: You can take the day job, trading a pay cut for a marriage boost; you can make more purposeful use of the hours you share; you can agree to meet each other halfway by adjusting your sleep schedules …
And you can be as understanding as you can muster. Instead of being upset with her for her new attraction, for example, you can express gratitude that she shared with you, say that you miss her and feel a little hurt, and suggest working to get your closeness back. You can also recognize that you could very easily have had your head turned by a new woman at your job. This is something long marriages encounter almost as a matter of course.
Again, this all hinges on your wife’s cooperation. You’ll know whether you’re making too much of this based in part on how much she makes of it. I hope she rallies in kind for you.