My wife and I are in our 50s and have been together for 25 years. Until two years ago, I was in a high-pressure job, with stints abroad; I then moved to a much less pressured job in London, where my wife also works. Our marriage has had its ups and downs, but I was looking forward to building a better relationship and finding a way to rebalance things.
Then the pandemic struck. My wife and I both switched to working from home, but we reacted differently to it. The isolation makes me irritable but my wife loves it. She was always more introverted and felt released from the burden of the commute and also, I suspect, from being among other people for much of the time.
Now she obsesses about how noisy and awful London is, and yearns to move to a rural setting – I think she would jettison any cultural benefits in a heartbeat. The idea of moving to the country feels like a step in the wrong direction and is panicking me considerably. Already I am thinking, is a pied-à-terre remotely affordable? Is there some intermediate solution? This different need for social interaction has always been a thing for us, but lockdown has brought it into sharp focus. If I stopped working and didn’t replace the work relationships with alternatives, I would wither as a person, yet I don’t know how to arrange things so we can both get what we need.
You don’t need to do anything yet – in fact, it’s better if you don’t. No one is living a normal life at the moment. You were all set for a less stressful, no-more-working-abroad life that would have given you more balance, and you haven’t fully experienced that yet. I think you both need a stretch of post-pandemic time to see what life is actually like since the change you have already made. Maybe there will be more balance than you think.
The psychotherapist I consulted, Chris Mills, and I both felt it was to your credit that you have given this dilemma thought and know what makes you tick. I moved to the countryside (from central London) 14 years ago, but the change was two years in the planning and talking.
One thing is vital: know thyself. The essence of who you are doesn’t change – it goes with you wherever you live. So if art galleries/theatres/good pastries/shops/whatever are key to your happiness, you need to factor that in. There is no point thinking you will magically change once you get to the country, so it’s great that you have already worked that out.
Of course, this applies to your wife, too. It’s one thing for her to be introverted in London, but will being in the countryside be too much introversion for her? This is why you need to talk. At the moment it’s all theory. Mills and I were struck that you seem to think the solution is for you alone to work out: it isn’t. Talking it through further with your wife will help.
You also seem to equate moving to the country with giving up work; it doesn’t have to be quite so all or nothing. I know you didn’t want to commute, but it might be acceptable if you don’t have to go into the office every day.
At the heart of this situation is a couple who realise they want different things, so how you bridge this divide is what matters. “You have probably,” Mills suggested, “been able to live your lives without treading on each other’s toes too much. Lockdown has brought to the surface a lot of things that may have been swept under the rug before. Maybe you are now both confronted by what your marriage really is.”
He said the issue is “you don’t know how to talk across the difference divide”.
You may need help doing that, possibly with a counsellor (even a few sessions can help, see links at the end for registered practitioners). How did you discuss differences before? Or have you never really done that?
You might be able to get a pied-à-terre, but those practicalities are for later (what you don’t want is you to end up living in town and your wife in the country). And a pied-à-terre doesn’t have to be in London – it could be in the country. You could also try renting a more rural place – some people might think that is throwing money away, but if it brings you closer to a decision, it is well spent.
This isn’t by any means curtains for you and your wife. See it, Mills said, “as a really good opportunity to get to know one another better”.