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Divorce or Midlife Crisis?

QUESTION: My wife and I have been married for 23 years and I want a divorce. I feel trapped, though I have a lot of freedom within the marriage. Divorce seems best for me, but may not be best for her. Am I being selfish?

ANSWER: After 23 years of marriage, you owe yourself and your wife some time to explore your contradictory feelings before announcing your departure. It may be that you are trapping yourself by not finding words to express your feelings at this critical juncture in your life. Will divorce really solve the entrapment you now experience or are you running away from something much larger?

It is possible that your own disappointments are being projected onto the marriage and that you are avoiding a confrontation with a midlife crisis. Recently, the media has debunked the commonality of this life event. Yet, midlife does engender a reflection on where we have been in our lives and where we are still headed. If this self-reflection brings up regrets about past choices we have made or instills a sense of urgency to fulfill our lives, we may indeed find ourselves in a hotbed of conflicting feelings or even depression.

You may indeed feel trapped in a marriage with too much freedom and not enough intimacy. Your needs may not be met in the relationship -- but you are not talking to your wife about what is happening inside!

Find out the reasons for your conundrum of feeling burdened, and yet oddly free, at the same time. It is likely that you are feeling lonely in your marriage. You may be mistaking the freedom you feel for a disconnection to your wife. This would leave you burdened with the confines of the relationship but with none of the rewards of intimacy. It is likely that you are trying to meet her needs but not bringing your own needs to the table for consideration.

No doubt there are real disappointments in your marriage and a need for realignment in the face of life change, such as the departure of children. Every marriage must readjust to the intimacy needs of both partners in the relationship when children leave home.

When spouses have shared little intimacy in areas other than parenthood, they may be faced with a serious marital crisis. The work of this phase of the relationship would be to talk through the pain of this void and identify whether the marriage can become viable or not.

Meeting with a couples counselor may also be useful, to determine whether the marriage would best be recovered, rebuilt or ended. A counselor who can help you sort through your feelings and clarify the source of your emotional pain.

You are right to be worried about your wife if you do not give her the opportunity to discuss and explore feelings about this decision. This is her marriage, too. Include her in this process, rather than making unilateral decisions in a vacuum. Who knows? With her input you may even revaluate your decision.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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