Pain in the offing

Pain in the offing

There really is no easy way to leave your lover  

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 05/29/2014

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Dear Patti,
I am 46 and have been married to Leann for 15 years. We worked together daily in the same firm — she’s an attorney — and we’re still each other’s best friend and supporter. We’re at the pinnacle of our respective careers and very little has ever gone wrong in our lives except for our inability to conceive children. I wanted to adopt, but Leann only wanted our biological child. I feel like she doesn’t miss motherhood the way I miss fatherhood.   
She’s strong, wonderful and extremely intelligent, but even at the beginning of our relationship my romantic feelings for her were always limited. Our sex life is good but never great because she’s naturally too aggressive, very athletic, tall and thin, and doesn’t have the soft, feminine body type I’ve always desired. I tell myself I’m being too critical and superficial. Out of respect for Leann, I’ve never cheated, flirted or shown interest in other women. Lately, however, beautiful women are expressing their attraction to me and, secretly, that feeling is reciprocal.

I’ve wondered if I’ve made a great life mistake and should’ve kept Leann as a best friend/sister or even business partner. I’m depressed because while it’s unthinkable to hurt her by leaving, I can’t help but feel I’ll live my life without ever experiencing true love and deep romance, nor will I ever know an intense love for my own child. I know Leann loves me and I’m extremely lucky to have her, but I still feel trapped and conflicted, sometimes fantasizing about meeting a single mother and ending up madly loving both her and her children. I’d appreciate your input.

— Paul

Dear Paul,
You have deep ambivalence about one of the biggest life decisions you’ll ever make; specifically, whether to leave your best friend/life mate of 15 years or stay in your present life where you often feel you’ve settled and compromised in a detrimental way.
Unfortunately, there is no clear, correct answer, nor is there an answer without pain. 

Since you’re presently aware of feeling trapped in a lifestyle and circumstances that don’t feel like you’re being true to yourself, you may not easily be able to take in what I’m about to say. There’s no way you can leave a wife who — in your own words — is wonderful and has been your best friend and mate for 15 years without a deep, deep loss that may be extraordinarily difficult to ever repair. While you may connect with another woman in a passionate way which initially fulfills an empty part of you, there’s the possibility once the “honeymoon period” is over that you may become dismayed to find your new relationship lacks important qualities Leann already has and that you may now be taking for granted. It’s not easy to replace one person with another person if you’re attached to the first. 

Conversely, the relationship with Leann may continue to stagnate or even deteriorate, causing you future unhappiness. I’ve had plenty of patients in similar situations that regretted staying, regretted leaving, were happy they left and happy they stayed. There is no unproblematic solution.

In order to not make any impulsive, ungrounded decisions, I recommend individual counseling, not so a psychotherapist can tell you whether to leave or stay, but rather to explore your emotions and make sure your deep dissatisfactions aren’t stemming from similar feelings you had in childhood. Did you feel unattached, hungry for more meaningful, loving experiences? If so, you could leave Leanne and the same unfulfilled feelings from childhood could follow you. 

I also recommend couple counseling, as these feelings of separateness might be intensified due to anger or other painful feelings. For example, are you resentful Leann gave up on having a family? Maybe you need to share how deeply disappointed and saddened you feel; if she lacks empathy for you, that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. You said she was too aggressive in bed. Is she too aggressive outside of bed? Do you feel manly with her in general? All of these issues should be explored in counseling.

If you do decide to make a grounded decision to leave your marriage, don’t beat yourself up with shame and guilt. While you owe Leann a lot, you don’t owe her your life if you don’t really belong there. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site,


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