Originally created 08/13/97

Can this marriage be saved?



"I can't begin to count the number of evenings in the last few months that Howie has stayed out until dawn, or taken weeklong out-of-town trips in search of talent for his business," says Lila, a stay-at-home mother of two children, 8 and 6, who just celebrated her 10th anniversary.

Howie is co-owner of a small but successful talent agency that manages the careers of musicians, singers and comedians, and Lila knows that the late hours and club-hopping are part of the business. "That's how Howie searches for new talent, but I hate tagging along," she admits. "I'm pretty clueless when it comes to my husband's job. When they all start talking about this deal or that contract, I tune out. But the truth is, I'm never invited anymore," she says.

Though their sex life is as passionate now as it was when they met, in all other areas she and Howie have drifted so far apart that only the children are holding them together. He rarely shares any information about his day, never brings clients home for dinner anymore and, if he remembers to kiss her goodbye in the morning, it's never more than a peck on the cheek.

And that's so different from the way things used to be. "We were as close as the fingers on your hand," recalls Lila, "and we had so much in common. We're both incurable romantics who believe in love with a capital L. ... And we both came from broken homes where we were shuttled around from one relative to another and always felt like an afterthought."

That's why they vowed that, when they had their own kids, they would give them all the things they had missed - "stability, security and trust," Lila says.

After her first child, Bess, was born, Lila quit her office job; when Bobby arrived 15 months later, there were many days when she barely got out of her bathrobe before her husband got home.

Lila knows she's disorganized; she'll start several projects at once and leave them all incomplete. She gets easily flustered when a problem crops up with one of the children. "I don't know what I'd do without Howie," she says, her voice drifting off. "He's always been my anchor, the one I could turn to."

Howie, 32, is confused and agitated. "I dearly love my wife and my children, but Lila's helplessness is just too much to bear," he says. "I know I shouldn't say this, but she knows next to nothing about my business, and she makes no attempt whatsoever to find out what I do day in and day out. I'd like to talk to her about the pressures that build up, the deals that are almost signed and sealed only to fall through at the last minute. But Lila's blithe obtuseness makes me want to scream."

When the children were small, she imagined tragedy would strike at any moment. "There was always a Fear of the Week," he recalls.

"Once she called me out of a top-level conference to say that Bess had spit up her milk, the pediatrician was unavailable and what should she do?" he recalls. Even now, she refuses to leave the children with a baby-sitter, Howie says.

Howie doesn't want to see his marriage end, but he's tired of living with a woman overwhelmed by life's smallest demands.

Taming your worries

"Certain people are naturally more anxious than others," says Jane Greer, a psychologist in New York City.

Women's worries are also exacerbated by their sense of responsibility. "Society in general expects women to be the caretakers of the emotional relationships in their lives," adds Dr. Greer. "When children enter the picture, the possibilities for worriers multiply."

What's more, women tend to voice their worries more than men do.

Unfortunately, when worrying gets out of hand it pushes anyone near out of the way. Unable to deal with Lila's chronic neediness, Howie built a protective wall around himself. The result: an erosion of intimacy and a marriage on the brink of falling apart.

If you, like Lila, know you need to stop worrying, here's how to curb your anxieties:

  • Try setting aside a half-hour each day to worry. This will help corral your concerns and keep them from ruining the rest of your day. If a worry leaks out at another time, table it and push yourself into an activity that keeps you occupied.
  • Create a worry book. Often, writing down fears and concerns renders them less threatening. Write down any solutions, too.
  • Educate yourself. The more you know about any worry, the easier it is to control it. Get the facts and you'll realize that many of the things you fear are unlikely to happen.
  • If your spouse has indicated that your worries are driving him away, silence yourself. Find support in a friend, support group, relative or professional counselor before your marriage is in jeopardy.
  • From Ladies' Home Journal.