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"He Wants Me to Be Donna Reed"

Drew wants to settle down and start a family. But Maxine isn't ready to put her career on the back burner. Can this marriage be saved?
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Her Turn

"I want a divorce. Drew can have everything — the house, the cars, the dog. I'm in love with someone else, a man who doesn't try to make me into something I'm not — unlike Drew, who wants me to ditch my job, have children and stay home with them. I have no intention of doing that, at least not right now. Besides, with Drew away so much, and totally unavailable when he is here, what kind of father would he make, anyway? 

"When we were engaged, Drew started looking for a house right away and told the Realtor that he wanted a place in a good school district. That surprised me — we'd never even talked seriously about kids or schools — but he seemed so happy that I never said anything. What keeps us going now isn't passion or romance, but decorating projects and financial planning. 

"Ever since Drew launched his own brokerage company, he's been traveling constantly, and often at the last minute. He'll call from a taxi on the way to the airport to say, 'I'm off to Minneapolis.' Then I don't hear from him for days. When he returns, he runs around to the mechanic and the dry cleaner. I'd be happy just to go for a walk with him, but he's always in a rush to get things done. 

"Yet when it comes to my own job, Drew is unsupportive. He never postpones any of his trips in order to attend my company's social functions, even though he knows they're important. He'd rather discuss adding a new deck to the house than ask me about the deals I've made. When I come home tired, he'll say something like, 'Maybe it's time to cut back on your hours — or see what other jobs are out there.'

"My career is exciting but challenging, and with the industry in a slump right now, my performance is especially important. If I lose an author to a competitor, I don't want to speak to anyone until I get my head together. But when I'm in that kind of mood, Drew doesn't console me or give me a pep talk. He just says, 'Don't worry, hon. It won't be long before you can kick back and have a baby.' I don't appreciate having my work dismissed that way.

"For a long time, I thought Drew might be dismissing me because I wasn't loving or sexy enough. So I'd cook a special dinner, and he would wolf it down and then go pack for his next trip. I'd cuddle next to him on the sofa, and he'd move away. But I sucked up my pain, telling myself that I was just being selfish.

"With Drew traveling all the time, I started to go out for drinks or dinner with friends from work. That's how I met Bruce, and one thing led to another. After we slept together for the first time, I was sick with guilt, but then I realized that I wouldn't have done it unless I was very unhappy. Bruce listens and gives me sensible advice. He knows how to relax, be spontaneous and have fun. And he never tells me I should quit my job.

"When I told Drew that I was leaving, he apologized for not paying enough attention to me. But I honestly don't think he can change."

His Turn

"I can't believe Maxine cheated on me. I'm a wreck. I've bought five relationship books to figure out what went wrong and how to get her back. I honestly had no idea that Maxine was this unhappy, especially now that all our dreams are coming true: We have a nice house in a great neighborhood, solid investments and good jobs. If we work hard and save money for the next few years, when we have kids we'll be able to afford to cut back on our workload and really enjoy being with them.  

"Despite what Maxine thinks, I'm thrilled that she's doing so well in her career. I just thought that we both wanted to shift our priorities from work to family eventually. Does Maxine seriously expect to keep up this kind of pace when we do have kids? Her job is consuming her life, and I wonder if she's really as happy as she claims to be. When a deal doesn't go perfectly, she withdraws and snaps, and nothing I say makes her feel better. How can I not suggest that she think about reducing her hours or even finding another job? Somewhere along the line, you have to make compromises, and if this career isn't working for her, then why not start there? 

"I admit I'm not crazy about the nights Maxine spends out drinking with her colleagues, especially if that's what led to the affair. But I can hardly tell her what to do, when my own job requires me to travel all the time. What I do understand is how hard it is not to get wrapped up in work. When I'm home from a trip, I'm so scattered that I don't know which errands to do first. I've always felt guilty about being away so much, and I realize I haven't been a good 'corporate husband' to Maxine. But I had no idea I was literally pushing her out the door. 

"I love Maxine so much that I'll let her go if that's what she wants. But I hope she'll give me a chance to be the husband she's always wanted."

The Counselor's Turn

"Maxine and Drew had a 'polite' marriage. Both avoided confrontation. What's more, they had never hammered out the specifics of their plans for the future. Drew had assumed that Maxine wanted the settled family life he was working hard to provide, simply because she hadn't told him otherwise. Like many people who are afraid of commitment, Maxine found it easier to focus on what Drew wasn't giving her than to acknowledge her part in the marital mess.

"Much as he loved Maxine, Drew was afraid of pushing her further away by objecting to her affair. But sometimes you have to risk losing someone before they realize that you are serious. Finally, Drew found the courage to order Maxine out of the house until she was ready to work on this relationship. Maxine spent the next two months living with friends; finally, realizing that she didn't want to lose Drew, Maxine ended her affair and moved back home. 

"Both Drew and Maxine prided themselves on being good communicators, yet they'd never had any meaningful conversations about their goals. Maxine expected her husband to know instinctively how much her work meant to her and what direction she wanted her life to take. I urged her to talk about her goals and feelings.  

"Similarly, Maxine had assumed that Drew was negating her work, when in reality, he was trying to help in the only way he knew how. She also realized that as much as she loved the challenge of her job, the stress was indeed piling up. One way for both of them to cope was by talking about their day. They found it a very helpful way to reconnect and feel supported.

"Now, for the first time, these two were ready to discuss where they saw themselves in a year, in five, in ten. Maxine said she did want children, but not for a few more years. That plan was fine with Drew. 'I didn't mean to imply that I was rushing her to start a family,' he told me. 

"Intimacy doesn't always come naturally, no matter how much two people love each other; it takes time and skill. These two now pay attention to the small things that trouble them and voice their feelings as they come up so hurts don't become deep wounds later on. They're spending more of their free time having fun together, and they kiss and hug often. While Drew is on business trips he calls frequently to say, 'I miss you,' instead of assuming that she knows.

"For Drew, recovering from Maxine's infidelity will take time. 'When you feel emotionally shaky, tell her,' I said. As the betraying partner, Maxine has the responsibility of listening to his pain. After Drew vents, Maxine tells him, 'I love you, and you're the only man I want.'

"'I've re-ordered my priorities,' Maxine said during our last session. 'I now know that I can count on Drew to be there for me in every way. And I feel confident that my choices are right for me. When the time comes to start a family, we'll know it, and we'll both be ready.'"  

"Can This Marriage Be Saved?" is the most enduring women's magazine feature in the world. The story told here is true, although names and other details have been changed to conceal identities. "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" is a registered trademark of Meredith Corporation.

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