Tell Me About It: I’m dissatisfied and afraid I’ll walk out on my family
I had dreams of travelling, but now I have a family who rely on my salary
Illustration: Akemi Hara via Getty Images
Q I am in my mid-40s and am struggling to stay in my current situation. I am married to a very good man and have four children who are all doing well. I know I should be happy with my life but I have what my son would call a “first-world problem”, and I am really afraid I will leave all this.
When I finished college I wanted to go to Africa and volunteer, but I got offered a lucrative job in finance, and I took it, thinking I would do it for a few years and then head off with the money I made. Now it is too late: the family rely on my salary and the kids go to a great school, but it costs a lot of money and I cannot afford to stop or change my work.
I can’t speak to my husband, as he is not doing well in his career and I would sound selfish. I am snapping at the kids, angry and distant with my husband and my disinterest is beginning to show at work. I can see a crisis coming and I don’t know what to do.
A There comes a point in life when we question everything, when the old directions no longer hold the same conviction and the drudgery and endlessness of making ends meet start to bear down on us. The recession has deepened this sense in many of us, with a cultural sense of “stuckness” filtering down to individuals.
It seems you have woken to the fact that you had an aim that involved travel, helping others and perhaps adventure, and now you find you are travelling in the opposite direction and are feeling powerless and hopeless. My guess is that you would want your children to realise their hopes and ambitions and you are sending them to a good school in the hope this offers them the best opportunity for this.
Being a person with integrity and the self-esteem to value your own principles can foster self-belief in your children. But what are you feeling right now: panic, unhappiness and perhaps bitterness? This is not something that can go unaddressed.
You had a desire to be part of creating change in the world; you also have a sense that you missed out on a chance to find out what travelling in unknown places might have offered you as a person.
It is time to take these needs seriously and not just see them in opposition to your current circumstances. How can you develop these aspects in your life? How can you honour your own need for expansion and challenge? This may take some time to figure out; you may need to have discussions with a trusted friend or mentor.
Choose someone you admire to discuss how you might find a more fulfilling role for yourself. Even if this involves a plan that takes years, it will ease your tension and give credence to your feeling that you need change and challenge.
While it takes effort and discipline to change our minds or behaviour, it is possible to change our attitudes. Writer and motivational speaker Stephen Covey suggests the importance of attitude in his 90/10 principle – what is happening in our lives is 10 per cent of the experience and the other 90 per cent is created by our attitude. What is your attitude to your life right now? Is this attitude helping or hindering your capacity to create change and optimism?
Your attitude to your work, family, husband and country sounds restrictive, defensive and angry. This may well lead to avoidance and criticism in those around you, and the loss of support and creativity will be a huge hindrance in your effort to find answers to your dilemma. Choose an attitude of optimism, and practise patience in realising your aims. What you want is worth waiting for.
Do you really need to protect your husband from your feelings? What does that say about what you think of him, that he is not someone you can lean on to share your innermost feelings and fears with? No doubt he already is getting the message that something isn’t right in your marriage, but he deserves a spouse who is honest and sees him as capable and part of a robust relationship. Not to share your fears with him is already creating a rift, and this will only multiply the longer you protect him. Practise courage, honesty and belief in yourself and have faith in the people around you.
Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist. For advice, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into