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‘My Husband Left Me For A Younger Woman’

Ladies' Home Journal

“After 22 years of marriage, Max left me for a 25-year-old,” sobs Sara, 50, a slim, attractive woman whose voice shakes. “Why, out of the blue, would he run off with Maggie, a waitress from his favorite bar?”

Sara, an aspiring actress, met Max, a copywriter at a major New York advertising agency after she graduated from college. “Acting was the first thing I’d ever felt really good about,” admits Sara, who remembers feeling insecure and unattractive as a little girl.

But when Max asked her to marry him, Sara joyfully gave up her theater dream to settle happily into the role of the perfect wife. Describing their early years as a happy romp, she recalls “It was so lovely to let myself be taken care of. We had a nice home, lots of friends, two beautiful daughters, and New York City was our playground.”

But some difficult years came along. First, Max had a nervous breakdown from the intense pressures of his job. He quit and uprooted the family to start his own agency with a friend in Atlanta. Sara went along, although with misgivings. “I’ve never said no to Max.”

Sara now sees there were warning signs. Max had been distant and preoccupied for weeks. Sara couldn’t recall the last time they made love. More telling, he had lost his usually terrific sense of humor. Sara blamed all this on the reversals in Max’ business and his Herculean effort to get it back on track. Now, she doesn’t know what to think or do. “Max has been my whole life for so long, I don’t have an identity apart from him,” says Sara.

“Well, it has happened, and Sara better get used to it,” says Max, with no hint of remorse. “I care about her and I adore my daughters, but I’m worn out. For once,” he insists, “I’m going to do something for me!”

Raised by poor but ambitious immigrant parents who pushed him to excel, Max feels he’s carried all the burdens. “I killed myself in New York, then uprooted the whole family for a failed dream,” he sighs. “My efforts to develop the agency down here have been fruitless, and I’m so deep in debt I see no way out.”

His wife, Max says, has been a martyr through it all: “She never actually complains, but she makes sure I’m aware of how valiantly she’s restraining herself.” When he sees her long-suffering look, he’s sick with guilt. “But with Maggie, I feel relaxed and happy. She thinks I’m wonderful,” Max reports. And when he’s with her, he feels wonderful, too.

The courage to say no

“Max and Sara were not secure enough to express their feelings honestly, though they both knew their relationship was in trouble,” notes Pat Pillow, an Atlanta clinical social worker. Max concealed his concerns with ironic humor. He assumed he knew what his wife was thinking. Sara avoided arguments by being a meek little wife. Had they spoken up sooner, they might have averted a crisis.

Like Sara, many people find it difficult to determine where their responsibility to others ends and their responsibility to themselves begins.

These suggestions gave Sara the courage to become her own person:

1. Resist the temptation to automatically say yes. Build in time to consider the request.

2. When you say no, explain the situation from your point of view without criticizing those who asked. If they react angrily, stay calm and focused on your point. Don’t blame, pass judgment on them for asking or back down.

3. Remember that you don’t need to offer lengthy explanations for your actions or defend your decisions. It’s perfectly okay to say, “I’m not sure why, but I’m just not comfortable doing that.”

4. Don’t expect to change other people’s reactions or responses. By calmly and kindly asserting your feelings, they’ll eventually learn to accept the new you. After several weeks of counseling, while Max straddled the fence between his mistress and his marriage, Sara erupted: “You can do what you like with your life, but I’m not about to let you destroy mine.” The next day, she registered with an employment agency and within a few weeks had found a job in a public relations company specializing in the entertainment industry.

Awed by Sara’s self-reliance, Max found his respect for her increasing and he began to share his feelings and fears more honestly. When his business finally folded, Sara gladly took over the job of managing the family finances, and her newfound confidence helped her husband focus on founding a small, creative ad agency.

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