Q I found out my husband was involved with a young woman when she e-mailed me last summer and told me that she has been his girlfriend for the past four years. ¶ As you can imagine, I was blown away. My husband said he wanted to end this relationship and rekindle our marriage and that he would go to a marriage counselor with me. His therapy efforts were minimal, and after two weeks, he said he wasn’t over this woman, he didn’t think therapy was working, he didn’t want to go anymore and he might move out of the house. He finally took a place for four months and moved out, saying that he would still see this woman “as a friend.” ¶ This wasn’t my husband’s first extramarital relationship. He left me in the ’90s when he was involved with another woman, then came back a year later for the sake of “the family.” ¶ This time my husband left me as well as our 28-year-old son who is bright, kind — and schizophrenic. Our son volunteers regularly, sees an excellent psychiatrist every month, takes his meds every day, abstains from drugs and alcohol, and has even graduated from college. However, he hears voices that get really bad when his stress level goes up — and, as I told my husband, it really went up the week after he left. My son kept telling me how mad and sad he was, which must have made the voices get terrible because his screams in the night were loud enough to wake me up. ¶ I have been taking care of myself throughout this ordeal. I exercise every day; I’ve met with our pastor; I see my therapist, my family and my friends regularly; and I know that I don’t want to be in a marriage if my husband won’t give me the love and respect I deserve. How much time should I give him?
A How much time? Probably more than you want to give and less than he thinks he should get.
As much as you might want a divorce, you and your husband need time to decide, because you both may change your minds again and again.
But most important, you and, if possible, your husband, should join the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill to see how other couples handle the specific problems of schizophrenia, because it is your son whom you should consider most. Although he is a grown man, he is mentally ill; he is crushed by this situation and he will always need strong parents to handle his needs and keep his stress level to a minimum. Before you ask your husband to sign divorce papers, you should also ask yourself these serious questions:
●Can you care for your schizophrenic son by yourself, year after year after year?
●Will you have enough money to do that if you get a divorce?
●Will your husband take care of him if you get sick or incapacitated or die?
●And if he remarries, will his wife treat your son with the kindness and respect that he deserves?
Once you’ve answered these painful questions, you should make sure your assets are protected, and then promise to see a new marriage counselor for six months or even a year because it will take at least that long to decide whether to salvage your marriage and for your husband to learn how to express himself.
You can talk about your problems with your friends, your family, your pastor and your therapist and your children can talk with you, but your husband — like so many men — probably can’t tell anyone how much he hurts and why. Even you. This may have made his anguish unbearable and may even have made him look for someone who could open up his heart.
Infidelity has many causes. Some spouses are unfaithful because they are simply immature.
Some spouses stray because they want to feel young again or because their marriage has gotten a bit boring — as marriages do from time to time — while others run for the hills and the honeys if they’re afraid that they can’t support their families, financially or emotionally. Their sense of responsibility is so big and their fear of failure is so great that they simply skedaddle.
If you think your husband would pay more attention to a book than he does to you — or to a therapist — you might also give him two helpful books: “Why Marriage Matters” by Glenn T. Stanton (NavPress; $15) and “For Fidelity” by Catherine M. Wallace (Vintage; $15).
He only took the apartment for four months. That’s a signal that he’s unsure that divorce is the answer. Keeping the marriage together, as messed up as it is, may help your son the most.
But one thing is for certain: If you can’t work it out, you both should read “Learning From Divorce” by Christine A. Coates JD and E. Robert LaCrosse PhD (Jossey-Bass; $25), and then promise yourselves that you’ll never do anything that could harm your son.
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Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns. Her next chat will be Dec. 19 at noon.