Dear Patti,

I married my wife 10 years ago. I was only 19, into drugs, always angry and on a downward path. My father deserted my mom and me when I was 10. She tried to raise me, but she was both domineering and neglectful. I know she loved me, but she was more interested in her career and her current boyfriend than me.

My wife came from a dysfunctional family, too, and we supported and encouraged each other to change for the best. I’ve grown a lot because of our relationship. If I’m honest, though, I’ve never been in love with her and think I only married her because I was just a lost kid.

Early in our marriage, it was clear our dynamic wasn’t working. I poured all my energies into work and caring for our two dogs. I’ve been deeply unhappy, but I stayed because my parents had divorced and I vowed to not give up on my marriage no matter what.

We don’t have the same interests. She loves to dance, give big parties and spend all her time with her family and friends. She admits she has a small town mentality and likes it that way. I want to travel. I love art, music and politics, but these topics bore her. She hates museums and I really enjoy them. I care about her but I’m usually lonely when we’re together because we don’t open up and talk about topics that are relevant to me. I can’t ignore that things feel off. I often feel helpless, lost and trapped. Lately she has been putting pressure on me to try to have a baby. Once we have a child, I probably won’t ever leave. I never want a child of mine to feel the pain I experienced from a divorced home.

Part of me believes I made a lifetime commitment when I married and need to stick by her through bad times as well as good. It’s not her fault I feel the way I do. She’s waited a long time to start a family and deserves to be a mother. On the other hand, I want more out of life than staying in an unhappy, loveless marriage where I don’t belong because of a desperate, impulsive decision made when I was 19. Part of me wants to run away screaming and another part of me believes I should wait and see what kind of a life we could build together.

What should I do?

  — Scott

Dear Scott,

There are crucial decisions in life where there’s no quick, easy answer. Only you and you alone can find your truth. Whether you stay or leave requires a lot of soul-searching, and no one can make that decision for you.

Don’t let a family member, friend, spiritual guide or therapist tell you what to do about your marriage. Unfortunately, even if you become confidently clear as to what the correct decision is, it doesn’t mean it will be a pain-free choice. If you leave, most likely there will be emotional suffering and grief over divorcing your wife. If you stay, there may be pain and loss over giving up the dream of a different life and relationship you’ll never achieve.

In a decision as big as whether or not to stay married, it’s imperative that you consider the possible ramifications that your leaving may have on others but also balance that with your own needs. Since there’s a part of you that expresses a deep respect for marital commitment, I recommend you give 110 percent to this marriage before you walk away. Seek support from a professional counselor. With hard work and perseverance, you and your spouse may be able to overcome the unhappy times you’ve faced together. On the other hand, if after confirming to yourself you’ve done everything possible to improve your relationship, you may find that you’re living in a loveless marriage with no viable options and still want to leave. If so, stop postponing your own fulfillment and happiness.

I understand you have empathy for your wife’s desire to start a family, but I agree it’s probably not the best idea to bring a child into a family where you’re unsure whether you even belong there yourself. 


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.