How to Tell If Your Relationship Is Really in Trouble
3. You're Building a Second Home
In a lot of marriages, there comes a time when you realize, "Hey, my husband isn't meeting all my needs. And I just have to accept that and start taking care of myself." This can be a healthy decision. Let's say you love all things literary, and he doesn't. So you join a book group, and maybe make some friends on Good Reads or Shelfari. Metaphorically speaking, you've built yourself a little room in your life and filled it not just with books but with friends who love books. You have all kinds of wonderful conversations there.
Where things get dicey, says Doherty, is when you commit to more and more groups. As you get busier and busier, you build a room for each different activity, then fill that room with new intimates — now, you've built a gardening room and a PTA room, as well as a room for your weekly office drinks date. In fact, you have a whole house for your emotional life, and that doesn't include a room for your spouse.
One way to tell the difference between nurturing your own interests and moving out of your marriage, says Doherty, is to examine how you talk about your activities. If you're saying, "I've got to get my opera fix," on the way to the opera guild, then you're talking about your love of opera. But if you're saying, "I've got to do what I want," then you're looking for something much larger and more perilous for your relationship.
4. You're Keeping Coffee Dates Secret
After you've built the second home, there's often a tendency to hide what happens there. Let's say you and your friend—not your crush, not your secret love or your secret passion—from book club have coffee one afternoon. Over coffee, you two talk about the memoir Wild. You bring up your own mother's death. She brings up her own experimentation with drugs. The two of you share some pretty heavy intimacies. When you come home, your spouse asks what you did today. "I worked," you say. "And then I picked up the dry cleaning and called that guy about the car."
The problem is not that you shared an intimacy with somebody else, says Doherty, "but that you edited the event out of the conversation." In other words, you're hiding a meaningful exchange from the person you supposedly most trust—and you didn't give that person the opportunity to have that meaningful exchange with you. Another way to think about it? You took an emotional risk with someone, but you didn't (or couldn't or wouldn't) take the lesser risk of telling your spouse about it.
In all these situations, says Doherty, whether you recognize it or not, you're beginning to start a new life—as yourself, the individual, and not yourself, the part of a couple. At times, you may be convinced you're just giving yourself some space or giving your spouse some time to himself. But all that space and time can quickly turn into emotional light years. Thankfully, this distance can also lead to some clarity on whether or not you want to return back to where the two of you started—over thousands of revolutions of the planet that mark the rest of your experiences on earth.
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