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Not sure how to support my wife

Community Member


My wife and I have recently (sort of) decided to separate, or rather she wants to separate (but I don't). We've always had a truly enviable relationship, but things started to decline on her end when she started working from home, then really intensified with the lockdown. She is most definitely suffering from burnout but on top of ADHD and anxiety issues. She didn't love her job before (she teaches English to non-native speakers), she really started hating it when she had to do it online.

Her feelings of frustration and anxiety have caused her to see our apartment as a negative place, so about two months ago she started staying at a friend's place at first only saturday nights, but eventually all weekend, every weekend. Unfortunately I was also scooped up as part of our apartment, so she lost her feeling of connection to me as well as sexual attraction. There is a pretty clear connection between her stress levels and those feelings, but this is impossible to see when you're in a crisis. While she is well aware of these issues and has started doing therapy as well as taking antidepressants (which I fear may have actually made things worse over the past few weeks), she has a difficult path ahead, so I want to support her.

Despite my efforts to help her relax (setting up our bedroom for massages, making some of her favorite meals/desserts, putting her up in a hotel for the weekend so that she could be completely alone, etc.), her mood and outlook have only gotten worse. She recently decided that she wants to move into separate places, yet has since also talked about quitting her job, which we talked about her doing before she mentioned separation, and trying to find something she doesn't dread doing. She is quite open about the fact that she doesn't know what is going to happen, so I have had to come to terms with that, but it isn't even clear what she wants to happen in the short term.

I feel conflicted, because she keeps telling me she needs time and space, which I have tried to give her, but at the same time I also know that she needs support right now. I'm concerned that without support, she will get discouraged with her therapy and give up. The past three weeks have easily been the worst of my life, but I am trying to be strong for her. This is complicated by my own anxiety and depression issues, but I'm now in a better position to support her. I just don't know the best way to do that, especially if we separate.

27 Replies 27

We're officially separating, apparently. We've only briefly spoken on the phone, but the main message was that we would separate and talk about it tomorrow. I don't know what to talk about, as I feel like she has made up her mind and, being pretty stubborn by nature, is unlikely to change it anyway. I think she is making a mistake making such a huge decision in the midst of a crisis, but that doesn't really matter to her, it would seem. I'm wondering whether it would be better for me to avoid even talking about why all of this is happening, how she's feeling, etc. and just skip to the practical stuff. I feel that the things she may tell me regarding why she feels the need to separate will only serve to hurt me, as there is nothing I can do about them. However, I also don't want to deprive her of her own opportunity to express how she is feeling. Not sure what to do there.

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi jsm1974

I'm so sorry to hear she's announced a separation. I feel so so very much for you.

What an incredibly tough conversation to be having. I'm hoping she remains thoughtful as she expresses herself. If you choose to go ahead and meet with her, perhaps this is something you need to mention from the start. Whether you mention 'My self-esteem is at an all time low, so be careful with what you say to me' or you simply express the need for her to be constructive in expressing what she needs or feels she has missed out on (focusing on her and not you), the choice is also yours in how you wish for her to approach the situation.

I imagine this will be an opportunity for you to express what you know and what you don't know. What I mean by this is, for example, when your wife says something perhaps like 'I need more adventure in my life and feel I'm just not getting what I need', it's an opportunity to say 'I don't know what is holding me back from bringing out the adventurer in me' or 'I think I know what stops me from from adding ventures to life. I feel there is a safety in what's familiar to me. What's familiar holds no fear. I honestly don't know how to manage fear'. As I say, just an example.

I've had a number of conversations with my husband over the last couple of years regarding how depressing our marriage has been at times, in a number of ways. I've never set out to specifically change him. I've only ever tried to bring out the best in him which would lead to change, as a consequence. I can easily see the best in him, just waiting to be fully triggered to come out. I know this because I've seen hints of these aspects of him and those moments have always led to him experiencing joy, outside of his comfort zone.

You mention your wife making what you feel is a mistake, in the midst of a crisis. If it's a kind of crisis of identity, not knowing which aspects of yourselves you need to begin bringing out (so as to have the relationship evolve in a positive direction), it would definitely be a shame not to remain together for you both to help each other consciously work on that. With you beginning to work on so many of your abilities, I can imagine more of the best in you emerging over time. Perhaps this is something worth mentioning to her, the fact that this process has led to you finding more of the best in yourself. The best in our self is often a gift to our partner.

Wishing you only the best

Community Champion
Community Champion

I am really sorry to hear that.

From what you have said, it sounds as though your wife's mind is made up. My hope is this is a discussion that can be had without getting argumentative. It is also a difficult question as to what to talk about. You were not sure whether to talk about feelings etc. Whether it is the right time or not, is something only you can determine. Yet I feel that to deny and repress feelings is unhelpful - both hers and yours. Of course, this is something you could take up with family or friends or professional. Listening to you.

Hi jsm1974,

In my opinion I would say if you are not ready to have this conversation with her, then don't have it yet. You need to protect yourself and your feelings and look after you. Talk with her when YOU are ready. In the meantime, there are family, friends and professionals who can help you process. I know it is important to deal with issues and not avoid them. My question is, will anything she is going to say be helpful to you or make you feel better at this point in the separation.


I don't know when I'll ever be ready for this conversation though. I'm still sitting here anxiously waiting for her to come home even though it'll be even worse after that. This separation will mark the end of our relationship, realistically, so I don't know why she doesn't just get it over with and dump me.

What I guess I really want is some way to cope until my mindfulness techniques are better developed. The only thing that seems to help is near-constant communication (actual interaction), but I simply don't have people to communicate with.

Knowing people like you all are listening really does help too, so thank you all for keeping in touch! Seeing a new message gives me a spark of joy that is much needed right now.

Hi jsm1974,

I'm so sorry you are going through this and about how it is making you feel. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a quick way to feel better. It's like you have to go through the stages of grief of a lost relationship in order to reach acceptance. This takes some people longer than others. In the very short term, I guess trying to distract yourself in any way you can (like constant communication). I count to 100 by 2's or 5's (probably not that healthy) but it forces me to concentrate on something. Is there something you can do to focus your mind on something else, even for a little bit to relieve the upset you are feeling? Come back to talk anytime. There is always someone here to listen and try to help.


I'm still struggling to find any distractions (other than talking) that aren't also triggers. Anything on TV, including things we didn't even watch together, is a trigger. Music of any kind is a trigger. Pretty severely limits what I can do for distraction, but hopefully with lockdown ending I can find some other options. Unfortunately, I have no ideas so far as nearly everything I do I think about sharing with her (which I guess is probably normal at this stage).

The main hurdle that I think I'm struggling with at the moment is my age. I'm 47, which I know for a lot of people doesn't seem like a problem, but I was already struggling to come to terms with that before. It's hard not only to imagine what starting over (completely...even financially...) would look like, but also to really feel like there is a point to starting over. Everything in this world that I enjoy doing is tied to youth, so the idea of leaving my youth behind while at the same time starting over is pretty overwhelming. In the past I could always tell myself "well at least you have the partner you always wanted." Ouch.

Hi jsm1974,

Those 'triggers' are the worst and it is so difficult not to follow them down the path of obsessive thinking. I ask myself if the thoughts are helpful and making me feel the way I want to feel. I give them a mental shrug and tell them to go away. Give myself a more pleasant thought to follow. It mostly works for me though I'm further through the process than you. I can tell you it does get better (hard for you to believe right now I know). I can understand you are feeling overwhelmed though I would suggest age is not a barrier and happiness can be found at any age even if some concessions to youth have to be made. Here to talk.