Lessen the likelihood of making a mistake

Dear Patti,

I’ve been married for 17 years and don’t think I want to be married anymore. I haven’t really been in love with my husband for many years. Although I love him, my feelings have turned into a brotherly type of love. It seems like we have completely different visions for life and not much sexual or personal chemistry left; we merely exist under the same roof. If I sound unsure, it’s because I felt this same way four years ago and had an affair with a man who turned out to be an alcoholic. In the end, I was relieved I hadn’t impulsively left my husband. This time, I wouldn’t be leaving because of another man but to find a more honest and brave me.

I don’t want to just take the safe way out but try to create the life I want to live.  Part of me says I should toughen up and get divorced. Is leaving self-serving or is it self-saving? Each day I stay married, I die a little bit more inside. I don’t want to make a mistake, but I’ve been so unhappy and am tired of pretending everything’s OK when it’s not. Ending my relationship will most likely be devastating, but I believe it would also be liberating and healthy.

We don’t fight. It’s just that we aren’t close and I find myself living a life he has mapped out for us on his terms, not ours. I don’t care about golf, fundraisers, fancy cars or clothes. These things leave me empty. I want to experience love, passion and beautiful sex. I want to have a vegetable garden, take long hikes and maybe even try a career as a painter.

In my mind and heart, the relationship is over, but how do I know for sure that leaving him is a grounded decision I won’t regret?

  — Dawn

Dear Dawn, 

If you’re longing to get divorced and yet simultaneously dreading it, that’s understandable. It’s a colossal, life-changing experience. Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee you won’t regret this decision. Here are a few suggestions, however, that may lessen the likelihood of making a mistake.

First, it might be wise to see a psychotherapist. Explore the possibility of whether or not you’re suffering from a disorder such as anxiety or depression. Ruling out having a mood disorder lowers the chance of making an ungrounded life decision.

Process through any emotions such as anger, grief or fear that may be connected to your past. For example, if you’re still traumatized from your father moving out and leaving you and your mother, you want to make sure you’re not recreating past traumas in your personal history by leaving your husband. Also, in psychotherapy, work through any old, unfinished emotions connected to historical events you had with your husband. Leave your husband because you believe it’s a healthy choice, not because he cheated on you or lost the family fortune 15 years ago.

Write a personal declaration that includes what’s most important to you, what you want out of life, how you want to live and start becoming the person you want to be now. Do this before leaving your husband, don’t wait. If you want to be an artist, hiker or gardener, do so. I’m concerned that if you experience your life as controlled by your husband — and not staying true to who you are — what’s to stop you from losing yourself in the next relationship? It may be beneficial to learn how to be true to your authentic nature, desires and talents right away, no matter who you’re with. While you may or may not resurrect the marriage, find the strength you need to revitalize yourself.

If you do decide to leave, take it in small steps and see how you feel before you take the next action. Initially, you might want to separate rather than file for divorce. Maybe go to marriage counseling and see him on weekly dates. Experience how that feels. If you still don’t want to be married, take more steps toward dissolving your marriage.

Go slowly before committing yourself to another man. Give yourself time to understand yourself, and try not to accidentally get lost into another person’s life again. 

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 website,