Posted by: Me | 2005/06/05

Help me

We were married 5 years and lived in South Africa, before moving to Switzerland, about 2 years ago. Our leaving South Africa was primarily at husbands insistence, since he didn’t share South Africa’s national concerns and aspired to live in Europe. They have a child age (2) who was born shortly after their arriving in Switzerland. Husband was not happy with his work in Switzerland however and wife struggled to get used to the language and culture. Husband sought work in the United Kingdom and in January 2005, moved to U.K.

Over the last two years their relationship has deteriorated and is currently in crisis.

As an individual, husband has been through much trauma. After some years of divorce, his jealous father murdered his mother. Husband was 14. His father was convicted and sent to prison; leaving him and his sister without parents. During his early teenage years, Mark was regularly sexually molested by his music teacher. This relationship continued for some time, leaving deep emotional scars.

Wife appears to have come from a more stable and more conservative family background. Her general world-view and ideas about marriage and relationships are conventional and have been concretised.

While wife's boundaries are clear, husband has more loosely defined boundaries; thus displaying a greater propensity to experiment and explore.

It appears that they were relatively happy, in the first five years of marriage; and that the turbulence in their relationship started with wife's pregnancy and their moving to Switzerland.

The ‘Other woman’

Husband confessed to (still) being in love with an old flame with whom he had a very brief relationship some years ago. Although there hasn’t been any sexual infidelity, the communication and intimacy with the other woman has continued at various times during the last 2 years. This requires much deeper examination around the questions of whether this is motivated by a waning interest in wife, or the genuine empathy that husband claims to have with the ‘other woman’


Husband is also ‘bi-curious’ and has a desire to experiment with both homosexual and extra-marital sex. This is not motivated by lust for any particular person, but rather to explore alternative lifestyles.

Getting to know your (real) partner

These revelations have come as a surprise to wife, who is consequently ‘devastated’; and feels her marriage is a farce. The man who courted her and then stood in church with her to take their vows, has now introduced incredible insecurity into her life. She feels hopelessly inadequate and “numb with pain”. she thought they were happy and that husband's frustrations were about work. The revelations are interpreted therefore that husband has changed.

Within his own psyche however, husband simply continues to battle with the issues that frustrate his desire for happiness and contentment. Probably due to feeling of guilt about his complicity to the sexual abuse he was coerced into, as a young boy and the apparent immorality of his desires, he tries to suppress these and live the more conventional life. As a result of these feelings of guilt and his not wanting to cause wife any unnecessary pain, husband has hidden from wife the turmoil in his own mind. As his levels of frustration become intolerable, he feels wife doesn’t allow him to be what he is. Wife on the otherhand, feels alienated, left out and betrayed.

Further pressures - parenthood

The couple are also struggling with parenthood. Life is not flexible as it was; and husband and wife don’t have the same freedom they had as a couple, two years ago. Husband is also the sole bread-winner, leaving wife to care for son who demands her attention, virtually 24 hours a day.

After dealing with the stresses of work, husband tries as much as possible to spend time with his son. Over weekends, their plans must consider son's needs; and this means that husband and wife have less time and energy to devote to their personal needs – reading, movies, socialising, travelling, etc.

Further pressures - financial

As wife is devoted to son and doesn’t want to work anymore, the full financial burden falls on husband. This adds to the pressure upon him and he has started to resent that wife can’t/won’t work. wife feels this is grossly unfair, as she has a full time job with son, while husband at least has a work-life, outside of the home.

While already insecure because of husband’s interests outside of their marriage, wife is further hurt by husbands threat to withdraw financial support. At a time at which she needs reassurance, the threat of having no material support leaves her especially hurt and vulnerable. At this point, wife is at her lowest and feels that she is of no value – wife feels deeply hurt.


This frustration leads to bitterness, conflict, acrimony; which is breaking down the respect and love that husband and wife have had thus far.

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Our expert says:
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Gosh, Me, quite a long saga here ! And I find it a bit confusing, that the story seems to shift between the 1st and 3rd person. Let's see. The husband has had a childhood that would have been disturbing to anyone, but apparently the marriage was getting on relatively well until the additional stresses of moving to Switzerland, and the struggle, eventually abandoned, to adjust to work and lifestyle there.
I'm not so interestd in whether the husband has a genuine empathy with the "other woman", the old flame, but in why he fels she should have even the remotest claim on his empathy --- can she really find nobody in all Africa who can empathize with her ?
And I don't buy the argument that any intelligent person decides to try extramarital sex, and homosexual relationships, as a cool intellectual experiment to explore alternative lifestyles. What other lifestyles does he plan to sample next ? Surely these are based in his own sexual interests outside the marriage, and also in men. Such interests are within the range of normal, but undesirable within a marriage.
If the husband feels a degree of guilt about feeling he may have been complicit in the earlier experience of sexual abuse, this is quite a common feeling, though of course he is not to blame for activities initiated by or at least encouraged by the older person who had sole responsibility to ensure that such things did not happen.
One can understand the uncomfortable feelings of both husband and wife. I'm not sure that anybody is preventing the husband from "being who he is", especially as who he is doesn't sound clear to him yet. That all of one's proposals or desires are not approved of, or encouraged, doesn't constitute preventing someone from being who they are. In deciding who one is, one inecapably has to take into acount the views of those with whom you are in a committed relationship, and, indeed, of society at large. You don't have to follow all the views o fsociety, but you cant complain of being thwarted if they differ from yours.
I don't here much in this mesage about the husband having concerns about he wife's desires or needs, or whether she is being enabled to be who she is.
I understand that the couple may feel some constraints on their entirely free choice of pastimes due to having the child, but this is inevitable, and not everyone chooses to see this as a problem. Lack of income, geography, many other such facotrs constrain absolutely all of us from spending all of our time as we might otherwise freelly choose.
If the husband resents the wife spending time caing for his son --- what on earth does he expect her to do ? Work fulltime ? Then who does he expect to care for his child ? And how does he imagine he could possible "wiothdraw financial support" for his wife and child, who, even in the event of a separation or divorce, he would have to pay to maintain.
Surely what you are describing are a couple, who should be spending some of that timer, and that income, on (a) marriage counselling, to work sensibly and producively on their relationship, and (b) on personal individual counselling for each of them, to help the husband deal with all the issues he has arising from his problematic childhood and his more recent apparent sense of being unsure about who he is, and the wife for her sense of hurt, and fear of abandonment.
Both seem to deserve this, and likely to benefit greatly from this, as would their child.

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