I have been in a long marriage (30-plus years) with some happy times (beautiful children, travel, etc.) but also a lot of isolation and loneliness. My husband is a workaholic who is also over-involved with community activities. I experienced emotional abandonment, often parenting alone while my husband worked late nights and did stuff that was for "the good of the families in the community." I always felt like the children and I were of secondary importance in his life because he was working on bigger projects.
As the children got older, I acquired an additional degree, a professional job, and activities of my own. This summer, he had a complete breakdown and became overwhelmed by his many activities and responsibilities, some of which included financial responsibilities to some of the organizations he's involved with, to the point that he was unable to do his for-pay job and almost lost that. He also became emotionally abusive to the point that I had to ask him to move out. He is now getting treatment, medication, and therapy for mental illness, and he now seems more stable and companionable.
Initially we agreed to separate for six months while he recovered, in the hope that with couples counseling we could figure out if we could still be in a relationship. After about two months, he wanted to come home because he is lonely, but I still didn't feel ready. His behavior during the height of his illness seemed to highlight some of the other issues throughout our marriage, and over the past couple of months I got used to being in my own space. While my husband's therapist says that someone needs to live with him to monitor his medication and mental well-being, my own therapist and some friends are saying that I need the time apart from him and that he should be responsible for his own recovery, so I stuck by my decision. I feel some guilt about having chosen something that is good for me, but might be harmful to him.
Also, with the season change, I am beginning to feel lonely myself and am starting to miss him. Sometimes I feel that I have made a terrible mistake and that I have both abandoned someone when he needed me, and have let go of the possibility of companionship over the winter months and the restoration of the relationship. I guess the season change is bringing home the fact that neither of us is getting any younger and that time is short for making amends. Other times I fear the return of the same old patterns that may have been damaging to both of us, and even the chaos of his illness if that resurfaces. I wish I could articulate what my question really is because I have so many: Did I do the right thing? Can this relationship be restored? What is the balance between self-care and responsibility in a long-term partnership?
– "Selfish" Wife
It's not selfish to prioritize your own mental and physical heath (the two are connected). You did the right thing, based on everything you said in this letter.
Also, it makes sense that you have good and bad days with this. On a random Tuesday you might feel wonderful about having your own space. The following Saturday you might feel lonely or guilty – but that doesn't mean you need to return to what you had.
His therapist is helping him manage his health, and there are others who can assist, right? Who else is in his life? What services are available to him? Everything doesn't have to fall to you.
The bigger question is whether your husband can be a good partner, and it sounds like it's way too soon to know. As he gets this help, what's different? Has much changed in two months? I can't imagine that even he knows what he can offer just yet.
The six-month marker sounds right for some kind of check-in about how things should proceed. It doesn't have to be the day you decide anything, just a status update. Also, getting through a winter could be informative for you. It might not be so bad with the support of friends. Maybe all big decisions should be tabled until you've both had a season to yourselves. Ask your therapist what healthy communication looks like with your husband as you continue to take this space.
You don't want to stay in this marriage to be a caregiver to someone who makes you feel unsafe. If you continue this relationship, it should be because he's managing his mental health and can be a different and better kind of spouse. Ask your therapist for confirmation, but I think it's too early to assess what your husband can be to you. Keep building your life, asking for help, and see how things feel as you learn more.
Readers? Two months? What about the guilt that comes with space?