Sunday, December 9, 2018

She Married a Useless Slug

Among the many sad parts of this story is the fact that the woman needs to write to a newspaper advice columnist to get a straight answer to her problem. She has written to Carolyn Hax, and Hax has offered the best advice… even though it’s the most difficult course. We are facing a situation where there is no good solution... we are looking for the least bad solution.

The woman calls herself “Life Is Too Short.” She has been married for twenty-three years to a man who does not make a living, at all. This same man does nothing of consequence around the house. So, it’s a very modern role reversal relationship, the kind that ordinarily does not work. In her case it does not work at all. Because she is both breadwinner and homemaker and lead parent.

The couple has three small children, but we do not know how old the husband is or how old the wife is. We also do not know why the husband does nothing to contribute to the family coffers.

Naturally, LITS has consulted with a therapist. Apparently, the therapist has not offered anything resembling consequential advice… because both the therapist and LITS believe that it can all be dealt with by pasting a few diagnostic categories on the husband’s behavior and working to set boundaries… or some such thing.

Until Hax added her view, no one seems to have understood that the solution would be for husband to get a job… assuming that he can. Anyone who believes that this is all in his mind or her mind should get a new job.

Anyway, LITS writes:

I've heard "life is too short" a lot lately. It makes me think I've wasted significant time, energy and money in a 23-year relationship that has caused me so much pain and exhaustion.

My husband is difficult and controlling. Both tendencies come directly from his family: His mother is a controlling narcissist.

When I was younger, I thought I just needed to improve and that would relieve some of his anxiety, selfishness and control issues. It was not until I had children that his tendencies really caused me to question what I was doing.

We live close to his family, all of whom have — on several occasions in recent years — given me the silent treatment, called me names and generally caused me a lot of stress.

After therapy, I've been able to establish good boundaries with his family. And I've tried in many different ways to talk with my husband to make him understand what I am going through. Since his family is his norm, he doesn't fully comprehend.

He now has meltdowns on a weekly basis that include the silent treatment and sometimes name-calling. I respond calmly most of the time, because I just have to accept him for what he is, since he refuses to seek help. I have three small children and a household to care for — he helps out at home only when and if he feels like it, and usually nothing too taxing. I also am the sole provider for my household. So, I work full-time and have a full-time household with little support.

I may have the opportunity to move for my job. I think perhaps physical distance from his family might work. Does it ever help in these situations? It is the only thing I haven't reasonably tried.

— Life Is Too Short

Should she move for her job? Yes, she should. And, as Hax astutely points out, one thing she has not tried is… divorce. After all, her husband is a slug and she will need at some point or another to grasp that she made a grievous mistake. And yet, the mistake has produced three children… so, breaking up the family.

I find it especially puzzling that his family treats her so badly. Surely, there is more to that story.

We remark, in passing, that, all things considered, a divorce will likely require her to give her husband alimony, and that a settlement might contain restrictions about where she can and cannot move. Those issues will need to be worked out with a lawyer.

Hax responds correctly:

Life is too short? Maybe. I say life is too long to justify spending its duration with an apparently capable partner who doesn’t contribute emotional support, income or proportionate domestic effort — you don’t even mention love, anywhere — and who does contribute selfishness, stress, poor boundaries, a nasty family and weekly meltdowns/name-callings/silent treatments.

I’m glad you found therapy helpful, and I’m glad your boundaries with his family have held. But allow me to suggest that wasn’t a solution unto itself, but instead was Part 1 of a difficult but overdue long-life/short-life overhaul.

Please explore Part 2 in private consultation with a very good lawyer, and in therapy again, solo. (If he miraculously relents, then he goes solo, too.)...

But ask yourself: If you were your child, would you want to grow up in this home?

For my part I would advise her to stay away from therapy… she has already tried it. It failed. A goodly part of her problem is that she thinks that therapy can solve the problem. It can’t.


Linda Fox said...

Actually, I have known families like this - most of them from the Mediterrean basin - which includes the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Greece and the islands, and, of course the Arabic-influenced countries.

In them, the man gets his status from his families' position. He feels himself unmanned if he works "like a peasant". He has no problem being supported by his parental family or his wife. This is backwards and crazy to Americans, but, I assure you, this is how those families work.

His parents and siblings, even to the extended family, feel free to criticize his wife unrelentingly. He feels no obligation to defend her. He takes no responsibility for housework, child care, or cooking.

In short, such 'men' are oversized babies, with none of the qualities that we think of as the essence of a Real Man.

He will likely NEVER change. Leave him, and make a life for yourself without him dragging you down.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

There's an interesting book about this phenomenon... called The Cult of the Virgin Mary, by Michael Carroll. It's a bit technical, but it describes the same family structures.