The Third Chapter

I have been with my husband for 22 years, married for 18 of them. We have three kids between 19 and 15. I'm now looking at my husband and I can't remember why we even got together. It's not awful, it's just dull. Our lives had become a long string of duties revolving around the kids, but now, their needs from us are very different and we have time and freedom. But we don't know what to do with it. It seems like a lifetime ago since we were romantic or excited to be together. I'm not hurting, but I am bored. SM


Esther Perel talks of her thirty year marriage as being divided into three distinct chapters. Importantly, herself and her husband reacted and evolved in the needs of those chapters and she talks of having three different marriages to one man. She is very wise. We start with the hedonistic or self indulgent early years, in the middle, we have the probable heavy logistic of early parenting and then....and then...what? What have our relationships become? Unwatered plants gathering dust while other higher priority tasks got the love. Not necessarily. There are always solutions.

In a wonderful extended interview with Trista Tippet in her existentialist On Being podcast, renowned psychotherapist and relationship expert Perel asks, Is the Erotic the Antidote to Death? That's a big one for you.Her point really, is that we crave that sensual attention that invested love generously delivers. Quite simply, we want to feel loved. That is hard to give, yes, let's start with the giving, when everything is a whirling dervish of single school socks, broken bulbs, sports runs and dinners.

By your own admission, you've come up for air. You finally have time to reflect, this can be incredibly rewarding but also challenging as try to move together into a new phase. We enlisted the expertise of Dublin based psychotherapist Anita Courtenay. She is as down to earth as a warm embrace and a cup of tea, her thoughts are below.


This is very common occurrence that effects many couples of all ages and stages of life. So let’s start on a positive note, you have time and freedom that are luxuries many parents do not have. I am glad to hear that your marriage isn’t  ‘awful', describing it as ‘dull’ would suggest to me that there are many things you and your husband can do to revive or spice things up.

There are a few layers to this. Firstly, was there a time when you did prioritise time together? Perhaps you just got out of the habit? Let’s face it, life is hectic so it could be that you both just haven’t spent enough quality time together over the past few years. It is so important for couples to set aside time for each other and nurture their relationship. Not only does it help maintain the relationship, it also helps us escape the stress and pressure of the daily grind. At times our routines can be monotonous but unfortunately they are necessary in order to keep the show on the road and our earthlings alive!

Secondly, I think it is important to establish what you want. Ask yourself are you fulfilled as an individual? What brings you joy? What feeds your soul? Then perhaps look at the dynamics of your marriage. You say you can’t remember why you got together? So perhaps you could take the time to do so, try sitting somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed (no phone/gadgets etc.). Simply write down or journal how you are feeling. Really soul search and ask yourself the above questions. Also you could write your ‘love story’ the good and the bad, how and where you met, your wedding day, the birth of your children etc. Explore what is really going on for you before you delve into the works of your marriage.

Also consider how your husband may feel? Does he know how you feel? And does he feel the same? Just because you are married for 22 years it does not mean he can read your mind! (Although it probably should). If your husband feels the same I would suggest an evening or weekend where you can discuss everything. Try to have a clear, open and honest conversation about how you are feeling and include him in your thought process. My concern is that you could really hurt his feelings and your words could be misinterpreted. This is why it is so important to explore your feelings first and set the intention for the conversation beforehand.

Another option before you approach your husband could be to attend a counsellor for short-term individual work (4-6 sessions). A counsellor can offer you a safe and confidential space to talk about difficult things. There is a misconception around therapy that things have to be dire in order to attend however this is not the case, more and more people are reaching out for support regarding similar issues. Once you find the right counsellor for you he or she can be a great sounding board for all of life’s issues and the delightful curve balls that are thrown our way! Furthermore by saying you ‘don’t know what to do with it’, perhaps short-term therapy maybe a good option for you especially if your husband is unaware of your feelings. It is a potentially tricky conversation and at the moment you can’t pin point where things have changed but 22 years together and 3 children is sure worth taking the time to try and work things out.

I hope this helps. I wish you the very best, there is some soul searching and work to be done but the chances are you’ll enjoy the process and have a tone of fun rediscover yourselves along the way.


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