I tell this story often:
I used to know a couple before I was married myself, second marriage for both of them. They were both past the age of having children when they married, their children were all adults, but they were both very involved with both his children and hers. They got along well with his ex-wife. I once had a chance to talk to him outside of her earshot, and learned a lesson I won’t ever forget.
He told me that he wished very much that he had figured out what was going wrong with his first marriage before he had given up on it. When his second marriage began to hit the skids, his second wife insisted on counselling. Through that, he realized that at least part of the problem was him. Actually, what he told me was that the problem with both marriages had been that he was a jerk, while convincing himself that all the problems were someone else’s fault. Once he realized how he needed to change, and began to change himself, the second marriage went very well.
He said he would never tell his second wife this, but that he regretted that he hadn’t figured this out sooner, because by his reckoning, instead of having two families to look out for, he would have had one family with better relationships and less damage done to all involved.
He said that he tells everyone he knows who is contemplating divorce not to leave the marriage until they have gone to the trouble to figure out what went wrong. He thought that this was the least you owed to your commitment to the marriage. You don’t leave until you know the problems can’t be fixed, so at the very least you don’t go jumping into the same problems all over again. Otherwise, his theory was that you’ll usually be attracted to another person very similar to the first one, ignore the warning signs you ignored the first time around, and you’ll be in the same boat again. It’s been twenty-five years since he told me that, I’ve seen marriages come and go, some lasting and some not, and I think he is absolutely right.
If you can, get counselling with your spouse. If you can’t, get counselling alone. Get a legal separation, if that is needed for your safety, for the safety of children, or for just protection of mutual assets. Otherwise, try to hang in there and be no less than decent in your behavior, no matter what your spouse does. If it is within your power, don’t divorce until you know that the marriage is ruined, as well as what ruined it. Don’t date again, even if you are granted a decree of nullity, until you’ve looked well into what your contribution has been to these situations. When lightning strikes twice, you gotta wonder if you’re not looking at a lightning rod.
By the way, “low” self esteem isn’t an impediment to marriage, per se. Most of us have low self-esteem, under certain circumstances. Few of us are so healthy that we are unaffected when those close to us undermine our self-esteem or when we encounter difficulties and failures over a long stretch of time. There are people who always humble and healthy, but a lot of validly married people don’t quite reach that benchmark! :rolleyes:
Seriously, though, consider the possibility that if being married to you hasn’t improved your wife’s esteem of herself, you may even, unknowingly, be part of her problem. This is a particular concern if you sense you have a pattern of attracting women with low self-esteem. I would be careful with the use of the word “pathological”, though. Though you might truly be displaying the effects of some psychic injury of your own, lacking some particular skills and virtues of relationship doesn’t make you diseased. You may simply be ignorant of what to do, and may mean well and go about “helping” in unhelpful ways that actually undermine your relationship. When you learn a healthier way that works better, you may be only too happy to employ your new-found skills. It is not as if we learn relationship skills by instinct. If there is one thing that The Fall means, it means that virtue is no longer our first instinct.
Remember the famous definition of a dsyfunctional family: “A family with more than one person in it.” You’re not going to ever find an easy marriage or an easy family, only a difficult marriage or family whose work, stresses and frustrations you wouldn’t trade for the world. Believe that your marital problems can be solved until you’ve proven otherwise…and may God be with you!