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“My wife doesn’t want a real marriage but I’m afraid to leave”

I've been married for 20 years. Last year, my wife told me that she can’t give me what I want — that is, affection, intimacy, saying “I love you,” trying to make me happy, etc. She essentially wants to cohabitate and just raise our children together. She had been a stay-at-home mom our entire marriage. We haven’t slept in the same room for 15 years, even though the first couple years of our relationship we were having sex on a daily basis.

Recently, she told me that she married me in part for financial security rather than love, although she gave no hint of that when we married 20 years ago. I thought that we had something very special back then. She has had frequent bouts of depression and attempted suicide a couple times before we met. She’s never had a friend for more than a couple of months, and I’m the only person in her entire life who hasn’t abandoned her (but I feel like she’s abandoning me). Her parents abandoned her, her siblings did, and my family abandoned both of us because they can’t deal with her.

She’s extraordinarily beautiful physically and extremely intelligent, but she’s addicted to shopping, she’s vain, she lies, she’s a know it all, and she’s a spendthrift. She also thinks of herself first—she says that, if I love her, then I should expect nothing from her in return. I tell her that if she loves me then she should show it. She responds that she hangs out with me and that should be enough. She tells me that I’m just selfish to want more.

She is not willing to go to any kind of counseling. And she tells me that she knows I will never leave her. She knows that I’m afraid of what my leaving would do to her and the children.

But I don’t want to stay. My children are afraid to show affection for me because their mom doesn’t. When she leaves, they have fun with me and we wrestle and play and laugh. When she’s there, they ignore me like she does. If I tell her this, she screams at me and tells me that I’m delusional.

I don’t want to stay, but I’m afraid that she’ll kill herself if I leave. I’ve watched her bang her head against the wall until she would bleed when she becomes emotional. When I threatened to leave last year during a fight, she banged her head horribly and the held a kitchen knife to her heart. I feel like I can’t leave because she could hurt herself, or she will quickly enter into an unhealthy relationship which will then end badly. My children need their mom, I want her to be healthy and happy, but I am miserable wondering if this is going to be the rest of my life with her — no affection and the cold shoulder. Any suggestions?

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