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UK Relationships/Divorcing wife wants to just be friends.


QUESTION: Hello Steve.

I have been separated from my wife of 10 years for 3 months now. We have 2 daughters, 4 and 8. My wife left me after 2 difficult years where she felt taken for granted and that I didn't find her attractive. We had virtually no intimacy and I also had issues with my 8 year old where we were arguing all the time.

Recently, when I moved out, hostilities stopped and we are all getting on well. I see the kids all the time as my wife is keen for me to do so. She also wants to develop a friendship with me, where we can hang out and watch a film together when the kids have gone to bed etc. She says that she would be totally lost without me as a friend. She knows I love her and want more than a friendship but isn't interested in a romance with me. There isn't anyone else..she just wants to be happy with herself and the children.

This is so frustrating for me. They live round the corner and I miss them at night. I have told her that I hope that in time things will change but I respect her decision right now.

Should I wait it out and just be her friend? I want an intimate relationship with her but just don't want to push her away. I compliment her all the time which she likes but doesn't want me to get the wrong idea. What should I do?

ANSWER: Hi Andrew
Firstly let me apologise for the delay in answering. I have been on holiday for 10 days but forgot to update my profile on the website.
Let me say first of all I think you have reason to be optimistic. From your short mail it seems like we have two fundamentally decent and reasonable people who have reached a tough patch in their lives.

I have a couple of questions before I can offer any real advice. Firstly you mentioned that you didn't find her attractive and had little intimacy. Did you take steps to resolve this? Or improve it , or understand it?

So , to my thoughts. On the intimacy issue I want to be clear - there is no such thing as a normal sex life. The newspapers will tell you that there is, and glossy magazines and TV shows love to publish statistics but it's nonsense. People live perfectly happy marriages having sex once a year and people can be in dreadfully unworkable marriages and have sex 4 times a week. There is NO normal. A sex life needs to be mutually acceptable to both partners - that's all - the frequency or nature of that intimacy is up to the couple.
Similarly , we are constantly exposed to myths about marriage - a marriage is not a contract promising life long love, tenderness and agreement. A marriage is a contract promising a lifetime of compromise, negotiation , give-and-take and sacrifice. Successful marriages are not successful because the couple are "soulmates" or because they have some kind of pure instinctive love. Marriages that are a success are such because the couple is prepared to work at it every single day.

I sometimes liken a marriage to a garden. You can plan it, lay it out and plant it. It will grow and it will be beautiful but then you need to constantly work at it to keep it there. You need to get rid of the weeds , you need to prune and trim and nourish the parts that aren't growing so well. And sometimes you need to tend to it in the rain and the snow and on the hottest days, when its tough or inconvenient or hard work. It will bring you great joy for a lifetime but if you just plant it and let it grow with no further effort it will be spoiled.
So it is with a marriage, anyone who tells you they have a great marriage with no effort and no work is selling something.

An on the appreciation side, it doesn't have to be grand gestures. Sure some flowers or a surprise dinner are great but appreciation can be in smaller ways. Does she always do the dishes, does she always get the kids ready, does she always hang out the washing. Is she always first out of bed to attend to the kids on weekends? Appreciation can be as simple as taking turns. As acknowledging, you are a great mum and good wife and I want to help a bit more. Sometimes these small things can help enormously.

The second issue, your older daughter.  I am a father of two kids of similar age and I can tell you I am totally familiar with the frustrations of fatherhood. It is perhaps life's most fulfilling experience but it can be one of the most difficult and testing experiences too.
However, your 8 year old , no matter how awkward or difficult or disruptive she might be, needs you. And she doesn't need you to be an equal she needs you to be a father , a guide and a mentor.
And Andrew you have an enormous obligation to her. You are the looking glass through which she will view all men in the future. You are her yardstick for measuring men, understanding men and engaging men. If you get it wrong she will get it wrong so you need to get on with that and get a lot better at it.
You are an articulate and intelligent adult. She is a child, and no matter how difficult she can be, or how precocious , arguing will solve absolutely nothing. Discuss things with her , present her with logic and help her understand but mate, you're a man , you shouldn't be arguing with a kid.

One thing I have learned in parenthood and from counseling over the years - kids need boundaries. They think they don't , and they will often test those boundaries. But they need them , it helps them make sense of the world as they grow and it helps them feel safe.
You need to find a way to set those boundaries of what is expected of her and make sure that there are consequences if she doesn't meet them. Those consequences should be denial of something that she values, maybe time on a computer or ipad or time with friends. Similarly surpassing your expectations should be rewarded - a trip to the movies or extra time doing something she enjoys (avoid food treats either as rewards or punishments -it teaches kids bad habits about food).

If she crosses the line , explain to her why , in a calm and adult way , if she explodes and shouts take her firmly but gently to her room and explain that she can stay in there until she is calm. Sit outside the room if you must. When she is calm go in and explain to her what she has done wrong and how much you love her and how you expect better next time because you have faith in her. Don't shout - no matter how much you are tempted to.

She needs to know that her daddy is in control. It might not seem like it but believe me she does. And she wants to know that he can exert that control without shouting or bawling or losing his temper.  She will grow up with 10 times more respect for you and your wife will see you in a different light too. I'd be sure of it.

Oh and one final point. Talk with your wife about the conversations treats or denials that you go through with your daughter. If she sees that you are both united and agreed she will be quicker to accept it than if she thinks she can play one off against the other. And be consistent, when a kid cries its tempting to give in. Don't. You're not hurting her, you're setting boundaries.

So I think you need to talk to your wife and give her the friendship she wants. But I also think that you need to offer her change. I'm not surprised that she may be wary of starting off again if she feels that within a month of you moving back in it will be back to a lack of appreciation and you and your daughter shouting at each other.
Offer her real change, offer her solutions but also think about what you need from her - a marriage is never, ever totally one sided. What do you want from the marriage? Tell her.

Good luck Andrew and feel free to contact me again if you need to talk.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Steve. The problem I have is that she only wants to remain friends for the sake of the children. She has even encouraged me to go and find someone else! She says that we are finished and needs space as I go and see the children too much.
All I ever did was love her but her expectations were so high that nobody could ever meet them..and she knows that no other man would be enough for her.

People tell me to let go and live my life, but my family is my life. Meeting someone else is not an option. The divorce is in progress and there doesn't seem to be any apetite from her to reconcile as she feels that we were both unhappy in the marriage..which I don't think was true.

She knows how I feel about her and the children so I don't get why she is doing this. She isn't acting as a friend because she doesn't even speak to me unless it's via messages. I always feel an atmosphere when I visit the house as she feels uncomfortable and says it's hard for her seeing me. The kids jump on me and love seeing me. I just don't know what to do to save the marriage and keep us all together.

Hi Andrew

It certainly sounds like she is convinced. Its quite common for one partner , who is or has been unhappy, to do the "we" thing. "We" are unhappy, this isn't working for "us" while the other partner is thinking "actually no I was fine".
Its usually a way for the unhappy partner to convince themselves that their actions aren't selfish.
Have you been to marriage counseling? Has she even considered it? Has she clearly articulated why she was unhappy? Was the threat of a split present for months or years or did it come out of the blue? You mention that she wants to develop a friendship with you and watch movies but also say she only talks to you by SMS.

You need to find time with her. Try and get her to meet you for dinner or at least a coffee, on neutral ground if that makes it easier and get her to talk about this.
Ask her what hope there is for reconciliation. Don't hold back, be entirely honest about your feelings and your hopes foe the future and tell her the compromises you are willing to make to make it happen. But then the ball if firmly in her court.

Ultimately though a marriage needs 2 people to want it to work and if she is absolutely convinced that it wont then you may need to find a way to move on. I think its far too soon for anyone to be talking about "someone else" and in fact far too soon to give up on the marriage but if it gets to the point that its irretrievable you need to look after yourself too. Your feelings, your hopes and your relationship with the kids are just as important as hers so don't let yourself be at her beck and call when she wants and cast aside when it doesn't suit.

Good luck , I really hope you can work something out.


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Steve Wilson


Any questions on families or relationships are welcome. As are any issues or problems that you have with communicating or simply being understood by those around you. I have voluntarily worked as a counselor in the past, both with individuals and families. I cant promise to have an answer to everything but will help as and where I can, without making judgements.


Both a former telephone counselor with a well known international support organisation and a former police officer within a major UK city. I've helped with numerous issues and worked with individuals and family towards conflict resolution.

Bachelor of Arts (Honours). I've received training in family and teenage counselling.

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