He Wants to Leave

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on infidelity, unrequited love and marriage.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on August 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

After 19 Years of Marriage

After 19 years of marriage, my husband informed me that he didn't love me anymore. He has been stuck at a job he hates and he works long hours. He informed me that life was too short to be unhappy. He told me that he was going to leave me, including our three children. We've been married since we were 17 and had three kids by the time we were 21. After a lot of heartbreak, he told me he had cheated on me several times over the past few years. I don't know what to think or do anymore. We're building a new home, and this hits us the month before closing.

Obviously, your husband knows that some changes in his life are needed, but he's settled on the wrong ones. Changing partners isn't going to do a thing to improve a job he hates, and for most men, a job is central to the way they define themselves and organize their lives. It has a certain primacy. Looking for a new job can be difficult and threatening to one's sense of self.

Your husband has done what many men do—looked elsewhere for some excitement at a difficult time, hoping it will magically distract him or jump-start his motivation, instead of taking the more challenging path of examining his own dreams, his skills and his work goals. Your husband has some serious thinking about himself to do that he seems to have avoided.

A spouse could be of enormous help at such a time. And perhaps you should have been more attentive to his dissatisfaction, encouraged him to open up about his work difficulties over the past few years and helped him identify a new path. That might have kept him from looking for attention elsewhere. He still needs that help, but it's much too hard to provide it to someone who has just dealt you a trauma by destroying the rules you thought you were both living by.

You and your husband are both in pain. But you need to look under the pain to see whether real feelings can be salvaged. If so, this is a time when each of you needs the other to heal. You can know something about his true feelings if he shows any empathy for the pain he has caused you by cheating. If you're both willing to give the marriage a try, then I suggest you contact a good marriage and family therapist. It could be the best investment you make for yourselves and your children.

In Love with My Professor

I am a student and always busy. My husband gets mad. He asks me to drop studying, but I want to go for my goal. What's more, I am in love with my (divorced) biology teacher, as my husband has lost my heart. He beat me up on Mother's Day because I went to a museum for extra credit for a biology assignment. Moreover, my husband has started e-mailing my teacher. The teacher pays attention to me, and I am totally in love. Can I e-mail him or is it not appropriate behavior for a student to contact a professor?

It's a good thing you are continuing your studies, as there's lots you need to learn—about relationships and about yourself—although your husband needs to know even more. First of all, there's no excuse for one partner beating up another, ever. Your husband obviously has deep doubts about himself, and they probably kick into high gear whenever you pay attention to anyone or anything else, including your studies. That's not your fault, just an advisory so that you can keep yourself safe. There is nothing that you do that requires him to respond with violence; he is responsible for his own bad behavior, including trying to deflect you from the admirable goal of education and communicating with your teacher. A true partner supports his spouse's positive goals.

That said, it's your job to tell your husband what is acceptable behavior. As long as you choose to stay in the relationship, you can tell him kindly that you wish to continue your studies and that you would like him to support you in that effort. You could even spell out what that support could consist of.

I'm sure your professor is nice and worthy of admiration, but he undoubtedly looks especially attractive because he is in a position of authority, fosters your primary goal and pays attention to you, in contrast to the miserable treatment you get at home. It is very common for students to "fall in love" with their teachers, but it's not the real thing and you should make no attempt to act on it. Under no circumstances is it acceptable for you to communicate with your teacher in any way except about classwork. Doing otherwise could get him in trouble.