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#1344: “How do I end a marriage less than two years in?” from Valerie L's blog

Dear Captain Awkward,

I regret getting married. It seemed like a good idea at the time–about two years ago now. My husband (29yo he/him) and I (26yo they/them, but he sees me as a woman) are an opposites-attract type of couple. At first I felt like he was a good influence on me–he’s more outgoing, more spontaneous, more playful, more relaxed. He’s a good catch–hardworking, stably employed, loyal and caring, the works. He continues to be as loving and attached as he’s always been. But in the last six months, our differences in values and interests are getting to be too much for me. I’m not attracted to him any more and I feel like I’m lying when I say “I love you, too.” There was a point at which I wanted to be attracted to him again, and I tried the nurture that. But now I’m at a point where if I ask myself what it would take to make this marriage work, the only things I can come up with are “companionate, non-sexual, open marriage” which is basically just roommates with tax benefits. I fantasize about living alone.

Is this just the beginning of the end? If he were only my boyfriend I’d break up with him, but we own a house and have partly joined finances. Is there a point in going to couples’ counseling? Do I kon-mari this relationship that no longer brings me joy? He knows I’ve been generally unhappy lately, but how do I tell him that I’m this unhappy in our marriage and not just unhappy in general? I can’t imagine waiting this out more than a few more months.

Cheers, and thank you,
P.

Dear P.,

It sounds like you’re done with being married, so what happens if you let yourself be done? Assume that it’s not a question of whether you’ll end the marriage, but when.

I recommend that you take at least a few days to yourself to think through the process of ending the marriage, such as:  researching how legal separation and divorce work where you live, consulting an attorney, thinking through how to best disentangle your finances and housing so that everybody is in the most stable possible position, and planning out your own next steps. Part feelings, part logistics, think about questions like: How can you be kind and gentle to your husband and to yourself on your way out of this relationship? How would you want him to treat you if your positions were reversed? You fantasize about living alone, so what are the actual steps for getting there? What kind of support from friends and family would help you land on your feet? Do you know where all your important paperwork lives? In a perfect world, what should happen to all your stuff?

If there’s a supportive friend you can stay with or a place you can go to get privacy and space as you think this through, that will help. Having the beginnings of a plan in mind for how to do the thing you need to do is a good way to get your courage up to actually do it.

Then, when it’s time, tell your husband what’s up.There is no good way to tell someone news that they definitely do not want to hear that will magically prevent them from feeling hurt, so I suggest keeping it short and straightforward: “I’m so sorry, but I don’t want to be married anymore and have started investigating the best way to dissolve our partnership.”  

He’s probably going to ask why, which is a fair thing to do, and you may be tempted to start listing reasons in an attempt to build an airtight case that will make him understand and eventually agree with you. Can I suggest not doing that? Those reasons end up being the kind of thing that sticks in the mind forever, and if he hasn’t done anything wrong and has mostly held up his end of the bargain, there’s no need to list out enough shortcomings to “prove” why this needs to happen.”Wanting to leave is enough,” it is the reason.“I’m so sorry, there’s no one reason or satisfying explanation, and it’s not anything you did wrong, I just know that my feelings have changed and I would be happier if we separated.” “I’m so sorry, but you know I’ve been unhappy lately, and I know this isn’t going to work out between us.”  

In my opinion, couples’ counseling isn’t a great idea when one partner has already decided to leave the marriage. Why drag everyone through an expensive, wrenching pretense of fixing a relationship that one person already knows is unfixable? Some people who know their relationship is pretty much over try it anyway because they want to know (or demonstrate) that they tried every possible solution before walking away, and some people want a witness/referee for how bad things have gotten, or a divorce doula who can facilitate difficult conversations about parting ways, which, legit! But an individual counselor could help you make good decisions just as well, and one benefit of breaking up with someone is that it frees you from the obligation of “working on” the relationship together.

When the dust settles you’ll be one more human who made a loving, hopeful choice that didn’t work out quite like you planned. Your taxes will be weird next year. Somebody will have to buy someone else out of the house, or you’ll sell it and split the proceeds. Everyone will be sad, mad, or both for a while. There will be a gauntlet of people saying “Holy smokes, really? But you *just* got married!”  that you will both have to navigate, and you’ll have to find a bunch of ways to say “I know, this did not turn out how I planned, either! It’s sad, but I know this is the right choice for me.” These are not pleasant or easy prospects, but nothing here is insurmountable.

Between now and then, there will be many conversations with your now-husband as you hammer out logistics, but the one that communicates “I have decided to leave, plan accordingly” is the most crucial one. What does your husband need to know right now so that he can make good decisions for himself? Start there.


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By Valerie L
Added Jul 20

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