Tuesday 21 August 2018

Dear Mary: My husband is never off his phone - is he depressed?

A reader's husband is never off the phone
A reader's husband is never off the phone

Mary O'Conor

My husband is always on his phone. He ignores our children and will not help in any way with them or with housework. When he's home at night and weekends, you would think he would want to spend time with us but he doesn't. He just lies on his bed, aimlessly scrolling through Facebook.

Sometimes I want to break his phone. I've talked to him and he refuses to stop. I've suggested he may be depressed and maybe counselling would help. Or maybe we could all go out and get some fresh air.

I used to struggle with depression but have learned ways to overcome it. He denies being depressed and won't listen to any of my advice and if he is not depressed, then he is the laziest person I know. I don't want my kids growing up feeling ignored, which they do now. They talk to him and try so hard to get his attention but all they see is the back of his phone and they get absolutely no response which upsets them. I like doing outdoor things, or indoors if it's a rainy day, and embracing life. He works in computers so is on his computer and probably phone there all day also. I do his laundry, I cook his food, I do everything for him but even when the kids are in bed, he ignores me. What can I do?

Mary replies:  We have all to some extent become dependent on our mobile phones. The feeling of panic on discovering that it has been left at home will be familiar to many. There is even a word for it, 'nomophobia', indicating fear of being out of mobile contact. But your husband appears to be totally addicted to his phone to the utter detriment of family life and his relationship with you.

It could be that he is depressed and using his mobile to keep these feelings at bay. There is also a theory that smartphones are addictive because they trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine in our brains which make us feel good. But whatever the reason, things will have to change before it is too late.

It would be unrealistic to expect him to stop totally - as one would with an alcohol addiction - so try to reach some form of compromise. Explain that family life is suffering and that you are pretty much at the end of your tether. Tell him that you cannot continue to do everything for him while he continues to ignore you all. Try to set some boundaries and ask that he limits his time on the phone. There should be a few hours when he is giving the children his full attention, and some time for the two of you. During the children's time you should arrange to do things that they like to do, but with him taking part. Or he can help them with homework during the week if that is appropriate - I don't know their ages. Then he can fully indulge himself for, say, an hour before bedtime.

If he is unwilling to do this, then your contribution to helping him such as laundry, housekeeping and food will have to stop. If you have a sex life, that too should stop. You must be prepared to implement these threats if he doesn't want to co-operate.

You all deserve better.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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