By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

I’m a 35-year-old mother of six who’s in a terrible marriage and miserable. I got married at a young age, without having a degree or a career, and immediately began having children. Thinking back, I’m not quite sure why I married my husband. I don’t think he was ever right for me. But I was living my life on autopilot, just moving along, doing what was expected of me, following a path that I never questioned; frankly, I was living an unexamined life.

My husband and I are like two ships passing in the night. He does his thing and I do mine. He works and I run the home. We don’t have much interaction other than talking about things that relate to the actual running of the house (do we need a new roof?) and issues related to our children. I don’t think he knows all that much about me, nor does he care. Over the last few years, I’ve started becoming more introspective and realized that I am unfulfilled and unhappy. I’ve tried engaging my husband in conversation, date night, shared activities, and so on, but he shows no interest in trying anything new and seems to have absolutely no interest in improving our lifeless marriage.

When I told him that I was miserable, he basically said it’s my problem. I asked him if he has any feelings for me and he said, “Not really.” He’s like a shell of a person. Not much going on there. I have no idea what’s going on inside his head — maybe nothing or maybe he just doesn’t want to share anything with me.

I want out. I want to get divorced and get to know myself better and go from there. But I am totally stuck. With no career and no prospects for a decent job, I can’t even think about divorce. My husband doesn’t earn a lot of money, and I know that if I tried to get some sort of decent settlement from him, he would fight me tooth and nail.

With this long, complicated introduction, I’ll get to my real issue. Believe it or not, right now I feel like I have a bigger issue to deal with. Lately, I find myself obsessing over my enormous resentment, even anger, toward my mother. I blame her for the predicament that I find myself in. My mother never raised my sister and me to think about what type of husband we should look for. She never discussed what qualities were important, and we certainly didn’t learn much from observing her marriage, which left a lot to be desired. I think she would have gone along with just about any marriage proposal that came our way. There were no standards, no checking out, no heart-to-heart conversations with us.

Additionally, she never talked to us about becoming independent and having a career. I don’t understand how she let me get married and never encouraged me to have something to fall back on just in case. Now I feel trapped, with no way out. And I believe that if my mother had raised us differently and taught us what’s important, I would not now be feeling as though any prospects for a happy life are gone forever.

I am angrier at my mother than I am at my husband because I feel that my mother loves me, as opposed to my husband who doesn’t, so I should have been able to expect more from her. I feel she let me down and set me up for a lifetime of failure. Lately, I find myself not taking some of her calls or, if I do, I speak to her in a very cold way. I want to tell her how I feel and yet I ask myself, “Why bother? It’s too late now.”

I wake up feeling angry and hopeless and I go to sleep feeling angry and hopeless. I don’t know where to turn for relief since I think my fate is sealed. Without a kind husband and with a mother who totally let me down, my world feels almost like it’s over. How do I move forward from this terrible place I find myself in?

Hopeless

Dear Hopeless,

It sounds like you’ve recently entered a new stage of life where you are beginning to take stock of yourself and attempting to figure out how you got to the very place you are presently at. Many people find themselves suddenly waking up, as if from a coma, and looking at their lives from a much more critical and honest place and wondering the very same thing. How did I get here? And more important, how do I get out of here?

As you so aptly put it, you lived much of your life on “autopilot,” which isn’t all that unusual for most of us. For better or for worse, our lifestyle is pretty much mapped out from a very young age. Often it’s a good thing. In our community, most of us know that we will go through the yeshiva system, attend the predictable summer camps, probably spend a year in Israel after high school, and, for most women, often jump right into the dating process, whether or not we are prepared emotionally for such an important moment. In that regard, your history probably mirrors that of many other young women who were part of the same “program.”

The problem, as you’ve pointed out, is that in your case there was no preparation for these life-altering milestones. No discussion with your mother about what to look for in a man, what makes for a good marriage, or about the importance of getting an education that will enable you to be financially successful yourself. You are correct—these are necessary conversations that every mother should indeed have with her daughters (and sons), way before they go out on their first date.

So here you are, filled with anger over the predicament you find yourself in. It sounds as though your anger is overflowing and has nowhere to go. When we walk around with so much anger, it usually needs a receptacle into which it can be placed, and it sounds as though you’ve decided that your mother will be that receptacle. Frankly, this arrangement is not doing you or your mother any good. The problem with anger, as I’m sure you’ve heard said in various ways, is that when you’re angry at another person, you are allowing that person to live rent-free in their head. Your mother probably isn’t feeling the pain of it anywhere near the level that you are experiencing. Living this way is a lose-lose situation for you.

Several suggestions: Firstly, though explaining to your mother how disappointed and trapped you are feeling right now will not suddenly earn you a degree and give your marriage a jumpstart, I believe the conversation will be liberating to you on some level and allow some of the steam to be released. Hopefully, you are both capable of talking about what was, what is, what might have been, and your present sadness over your situation.

Once that’s off your chest, I think it’s important to realize that we can blame our parents up until a certain point in our lives, but there comes a time when we have to stop blaming and start repairing our lives on our own. You don’t want to find yourself 70 years old and still putting the onus of everything that is not right in your life on your mother. In a perfect world, we would all get the perfect mother (and father, siblings, husband, and children), but life is far from perfect. And there are no perfect individuals. Everyone makes mistakes, and usually they are not intentional. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to search for solutions to our problems. They are not always easy to find and probably even harder to achieve, but with enough determination and grit, anyone can advance his or her cause.

You’ve tried talking to your husband about paying attention to your marriage and putting in some effort, though, so far, it seems as though you’ve gotten back zero results. Continue to make every effort you can think of to shake him up and let him know that the present state of your marriage is unacceptable and something needs to be done.

In the meantime, you need to work on yourself— o n your anger, your blaming, and your own individual success. You may feel like an old 35-year-old, but, G-d willing, you have lots of life ahead of you in which you can work hard, find a career, achieve the independence you so desire, and create more satisfying relationships. With the right attitude and by not allowing yourself to be bogged down with all that anger, it’s very possible that the best is yet to come.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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