Dear Patricia: My husband helps everyone except me and the children
Published 21/11/2010 | 05:00
I HAVE felt broken-hearted for the last couple of years. I married more than 30 years ago, the children are now grown up, and I went back to work full-time two years ago.
My husband was always free to come and go as he pleased, while I raised the children and did the housekeeping. He never played any part in childminding. In fact, he was never really available to us. Yet he always responded immediately to any request from a neighbour or acquaintance.
People would ring our house in the middle of the night if they had a crisis and my husband would be only too delighted to go to their assistance.
But he worked hard, provided for us, and I ended up accepting the way things were. And I would have said that my life was happy. My hobbies became ones I could pursue at home. And if I went anywhere, the children had to come with me.
I now regret failing to insist that he play his part as husband and father and see, with hindsight, that I enabled him to opt out. He still does. One of our daughters lost her job and is in financial trouble, through no fault of her own, but he's not interested.
The relationship that exists between us really troubles me. My husband is quite content with it. I would really like to have a relationship of equals, and I try to discuss everything with him, even when he's clearly not interested, because I feel he should know what's going on in the family. For his part, he goes to several meetings a week, is involved in sport and other parish activities, and works hard for the community -- and loves it. Weekends, he goes to matches, watches sport on TV, and usually has a friend or two come round to discuss the week's events.
I work at my job all week and spend the weekend catching up with housework. I have nothing to look forward to. I am heartbroken that my husband ignores his own family, and am furious that he has the cheek to devote himself to others incessantly. It would be easier if he was a mean, heedless git. But he's not. He's a caring, attentive citizen, just not to me or the children.
I do sometimes go to social events with him and enjoy the company of others. But the feeling of abandonment by my husband never really eases and puts a barrier between us.
I am a widow within my marriage.
YOU used to be happy and now you're not. What's the difference between then and now?
No, I'm not being flippant. And yes, I do understand that you compromised then. You had the children, and you had the wisdom to see that you could adjust, and be happy, even though you didn't like a lot of your husband's behaviour. And yes, too, you are right. Your husband failed to take the important step of putting his family first. He remained, if you like, married to his community. He didn't make the necessary shift in commitment.
So I am not trying to wrong-foot you. All I'm saying is that you managed compromise then. What has changed?
Some of the answer is obvious. You were busy with the children then. That didn't just mean work. It meant you had company, felt comforted and loved, had joy and entertainment and were blessed with a lot of human contact.
And now they are gone. You still have work, too much of it perhaps. I mean, why wouldn't you get help in the house so that you don't spend weekends catching up on cleaning?
The hole left in your life is the human one of loneliness. I can see all that. The question is, why ask your husband to fill it? Think of this a different way. Many men retire, and expect their wives to suddenly become full-time companions. The result is often war. Just as women experience the empty-nest syndrome and suddenly want their husbands to fill the gap. Understandable, of course, but not wise.
Your husband hasn't changed. You have. Wouldn't it be a good idea to try and find some way of dealing with that fact -- some way other than putting your husband's shortcomings under the microscope?
No, I'm not saying that in order to let him off the hook. I'm saying it in order to help you find happiness. He hasn't actually abandoned you, you know. He simply failed to engage with you beyond a certain point all your married life. Yes, you could say you enabled him to opt out. More positively, and I think more accurately, you recognised his limitations, and refused to spend a lifetime fighting helplessly against them.
Catch a hold of that wisdom again.