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Am I selfish for wanting to leave?

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers words of wisdom to help with whatever is troubling you

by Psychologies

Q. After much heartache, I told my husband that I was unhappy and thought that we should separate. I am 34; he is 49. He is a good man, but I feel as if I am living his life with little determination of my own choices, or influence in the relationship. I live in his house, surrounded by his things and abiding by his rules.

I recently found a job that I love, but the self-esteem and independence that I experience at work is not evident at home. My husband is making me feel guilty for wanting to leave and says that, if I did, he would lose his chance of having children. He says I am selfish. Am I? Name supplied

A. I’m interested in the word ‘selfish’, but am thinking of it as ‘self’-ish – relating to the self. What you are trying to do is bring more of your self into your marriage. The question is for your husband: does he want to be in a relationship with you, as your whole self; or is he simply seeking a body to carry ‘his’ children?

Marriages can and do get rebuilt from this point, but it will take work from both of you. The challenge for your husband is to accept that, and the challenge for you is to hold onto, and honour your self. It’s a fantastic start that you have found a job in which you feel like the right person in the right place, and it’s completely appropriate to seek that feeling in your life overall.

On the theme of words, I suggest that you check the definition of ‘coercive control’, now enshrined in UK law. It’s a pattern of behaviour, not just one argument, which seeks to strip away that sense of self. I ask this because a controlling relationship can be difficult to recognise when you are in it, and I’m bothered by the phrase ‘his rules’. I’ll give you a behaviour checklist and, if you recognise a pattern, you will definitely need external support.

The marriage vows are to love, honour and cherish. If you hear the word selfish, and use it as a reminder to cherish your self, would that help?

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Photograph: iStock

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