“It’s like being held hostage by a perfect idea of ​​what a relationship and a family should be.”

Max Kisman statue

Helena (43): “I live with my husband in the Twilight Zone for a long time now: there’s a lot of trouble between us to be happy for both of us, but the rule seems consistent enough. You don’t want to split. For at least 11 of the twenty years we’ve been together, I’ve been looking for a way to escape this impasse, but it didn’t work out. Somehow I want everything to be perfect and the more I strive for perfection, the more difficult it becomes to deal with. I hope life becomes easier and more comfortable for us. I would like to reshape our relationship with my husband, regardless of any agreement, but I don’t know where to begin. I find it hard to detach from everything I’ve always thought of as “real and good”. It’s as if I’m hostage to a perfect idea of ​​what a relationship and family should be, through shared ideas and wise advice that we’ve come to see over the years as our gospel, and the key to a successful relationship, but for the sake of it it clearly doesn’t work for us.

A happy couple sleeps together in bed every night and has sex twice a week. A happy couple who eats dinner with their children every evening, plays games in the afternoon and goes on trips with the whole family to feel connected. Personally, I appreciate the weekend walks with family and if they don’t, I’m disappointed or feel like I’m falling short. These compelling standards seem to have captured an entire generation of highly educated people, and nothing happens by chance with us. When my kid goes to seventh grade, I see that sensitive little guy enter that big school, and if he’s having problems adjusting, I care. My husband is easier on this and when I start talking about him, not yet from the top of his newspaper, he yells, “John, it’s going to be all right.” And that’s the problem. Not that the baby has completely different parents, as that might only benefit him, but I feel left out. I want a man who listens and responds to my concerns, not someone who, when I suggest going out for a weekend “together,” says, “That’s not my priority right now.” This is the epidemic of modern family life: if you really want to make it right, there’s so much to do and I’m so tired of doing my best and overcompensating.


However, our marriage is far from loving. If love were the criterion for a successful relationship, my husband and I would have a big party, but that soft love always loses out to the tangible “that’s how it should be put” image. The sex drive is not tolerated for the same reason. With my libido low, I’m clearly out of step. This is also not appropriate. My husband is annoyed with our low frequency sometimes once a month. But we’ve never had a stormy sex life and not everyone is alike, right? I don’t understand why “good sex” is defined in quantitative terms at the end. But if everyone around you, including your friends, feels this way, you have to be strong against it. Sometimes I wonder: – and we talked about that too – wouldn’t we be better off together if, say, we decided not to have sex at all? Then the two of us as ex-lovers, as good friends or whatever name you want to call them, maybe just parents, raise our kids in one house. That he sometimes has someone around to have sex? Then we will care a little about the utmost importance attached to sex and we will not have to dissolve an entire marriage and make five very unhappy people.

What is also possible, as I recently shockingly thought, is that one has a relationship to the other. Being less interested in sex because it doesn’t pay enough attention to me. This goes a long way, of course, if the intimate feelings depend on what kind of parent the other person is. But there is no doubt that there is some truth in that. Late last week, I said I wish he would take care of me a little more now and then. “It would be nice if you could pour me a cup of tea.” Since then he has become more nurturing and suddenly I find him more attractive again. But the energy-consuming gray cloud that we’ve been groping through for years hasn’t suddenly been resolved. Because a bounce like last week is just part of our pattern. Now I know everything could be different next week.

the hunt

If I could just shrug my shoulders, if I only thought: Let other women convince their men to join in fun afternoon games for the whole family, we do it our way. Sometimes together, sometimes separately. If I was just thinking: If he doesn’t want to come, I’ll go alone with the kids? But instead, I try to accompany my husband, keep pushing myself to make love, and keep doing everything to make the kids happy at home. Relationship and family are a tangle of feelings and conflicting needs. It seems that restricting each other is inevitable. His individuality frustrates me and he is frustrated by our lack of sex. “Now that the pubs are open again,” he said recently, “I’m going to go fishing.” This will be the first taboo we have to settle. I wonder how much comfort it would give us. Or maybe I’m really jealous.

Will we ever find each other in that misty gray area? I don’t know and I haven’t known for a long time. Couples therapy usually focuses on breaking up or staying together, it’s no coincidence that our therapy has been aimlessly moving through the middle for a while.

At the request of the guest, Helena’s name was changed.
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For this column and podcast of the same name, Corine Koole searches for stories about all kinds of modern relationships, and about people of all ages and all preferences.

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