I want a divorce but my wife’s past trauma means she won’t let me | relationships

My wife and I have had problems almost throughout our relationship. For more than a decade she has struggled with intimacy, exacerbated – we think – by a sexual assault 12 years ago. She then found out she was pregnant and after an agonizing wait we confirmed the baby was mine and now have an absolutely incredible child together.

After all that, she had a combined diagnosis of PTSD and postnatal depression, during which time she racked up huge piles of debt. She then had an affair with my best friend. I think both were symptoms of her illness, but her behavior since then has prevented me from building up trust again. I don't think she's cheating on me, but I'm sure that any choice between my happiness and her own will see mine as less important and immediately discounted. I am now at the point where I want to part.

I believe there are many ways parents can work together and raise a healthy and happy child. I have offered a completely equal financial arrangement (there is a big difference between our salaries) where I will help her buy a house. I would then rent until she can put the mortgage in her own name. However, she has threatened to fight for sole custody, refuses any financial help and has announced to move into a welfare home. While none of this is likely, it doesn't give me confidence in a quick fix – and any ongoing accusations would only hurt my child.

I think we would be healthier and happier apart, but I fear the impact could be so harmful that our child would be permanently affected. I also think I deserve some happiness, some time and space for myself to heal.

I am sorry that you both find yourselves in this situation. In times of impending separation, people often bring past hurts to the negotiating table, which can make a clean and healthy breakup – something you want – very difficult to achieve.

I spoke with family psychotherapist John Cavanagh (aft.org.uk), who said one "cannot underestimate the impact of sexual assault on intimacy". Add to that your wife's mental health and her ability to handle situations where she feels out of control, and Cavanagh wondered if you've managed to really talk about it? Did she ever get any specialized support back then?

There is no doubt that you both could benefit from couples therapy to help you separate in the healthiest way possible

Cavanagh felt that you both "had to deal with a lot of complex issues right from the beginning. The uncertainty of your child's paternity and the added complexity that it could be the result of an attack … all of that happened to what should [have been] a time of joy. How you talked about it as a couple feels really important.

Were you able to give space to the feelings of the other at that time? The reason is that times of stress usually follow a pattern. This pattern can be given by examples that have grown up, so it could be a "corrective script or a replicative script," says Cavanagh. You can choose to follow the examples you are shown, or try to challenge them and do things differently. In your case, he suggests, "that pattern might be to manage conflict through separation".

Cavanagh wondered if your wife actually wanted to separate? "You've offered what sounds like a fair deal, but she communicates that she doesn't want to take it by rejecting it," he says. But it seems she doesn't want to talk either. You express a very clear idea of what you want, but what does your wife want – do you know this?

He had a technique he wanted to share, "We know that some people really struggle with co-parenting after separation, but if they can remember the shared joy of what brought them together and about their child, then come across negative comments or thoughts, maybe those good memories could be used to remind them again that they need to communicate well for the care and love of their child."

There is no doubt that you both could benefit enormously from couples therapy to help you separate in the healthiest way possible. But of course, whether your wife will go along is another matter. I hope that she does and that you can come together with some help to separate.

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