Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Role Reversal Marriage on the Rocks

Another day, another role reversal marriage. One that is, unsurprisingly, not working. I don’t really have an answer to this woman’s problem. Neither does Carolyn Hax. The difference is, I know I don’t have an answer. Hax does not. She thinks that if the husband does not like being on his wife that can only mean that he has a neurological disorder and ought to be diagnosed.

So, here is the letter:

My husband just quit his job. Again. Third this year, sixth in four years. He's sort of a jack of all trades, but mostly works in restaurants. I've always been the higher earner, so we're stable enough and I don't really mind about the irregular income. But it affects everything at home, every time: He's unhappy in the job, which brings down the atmosphere at home. Then he quits and feels insecure and tense about being jobless, so everything at home is also insecure and tense. Then he eventually gets a new job and things get better.

Right now, we can't make plans to see family, for example, because who knows if he'll have to work and he won't have built up any vacation time. I tried to talk about this after the most recent quitting, but our conversations about it have been unproductive, because he's so tense and ratty.

We have no kids, and we learned from experience a few years back that he can't just stay home and not work, because that's so much worse than what we're going through now. Any suggestions?

For our part we do not know how old this couple is. We do not know whether they ever want to have children. We do know, because she suggests it, that she, being the breadwinner, cannot really take time off to care for children. If so, his inability to hold down a job is preventing her from having children. Or perhaps she does not want children. We do not know.

This means, if I daresay, that this couple is detached from reality and is playing out a struggle over ideology. It's an ugly picture.

Clearly, her husband feels unmanned. We do not know if her way of interacting with him makes him feel unmanned. But, we do know that he reacts badly to doing nothing. And we do know that he does not like the situation. We do not know how household chores are divided, but surely it is a source of contention.

Of course, the obvious solution is a separation. We do not like to recommend such actions, but clearly the couple is mismatched. If he were on his own or if he was with a woman who was not such a superior earner he might do better at his job. He might be more motivated.

So, as I see it, he is reacting like a man who has been unmanned, in part by his wife and in part by his inability to support his family. Evidently, he is looking for a way out of the marriage. If so, will he be entitled to alimony? We do not know.

So, what does Hax have to say? Why, she says that he is neurologically impaired. She implies that he ought to be happy with his circumstances. If he is not happy, then he must be sick. Of course, she notes that she is not licensed to make such determinations, but clearly she is making them anyway.

Allow her her uninformed opinion. Responding to the question of what the wife should recommend to the husband, Hax says:

A neuropsych screening, if he’ll agree to it. Your question pings like an old pinball machine — jack-of-all-trade-ism, job-hopping, restaurant work, anxiety, ping, ping, ping. I’d guess there’s a diagnosable condition in there driving a high need for stimulation and a low tolerance for tedious/repetitive tasks.

I’m not saying it’s ADHD — layman, not my place — but, an ADHD information site, has a good section on evaluations here that would apply to anyone with a possible neuropsych issue:

The point of a diagnosis would be less about fixing it and more to help him understand how his mind works and how to make choices that suit his nature better.

A job that has less repetition to it and more built-in novelty, for example, could hold his attention longer. If that’s a unicorn, then maybe a circuit of recurring seasonal jobs would allow novelty and stability both.

Did you notice the contempt? Do you wonder why men are angry? Do you think that Hax and the wife together understand male psychology and male behavior. If that’s the attitude that the wife is visiting on her husband, the best solution for him would be separation and eventual divorce.


Anonymous said...

Sigh. Some years ago I was a regular reader of Carolyn Hax's column and enjoyed it very much. Then it went behind the paywall and subsequently WaPo and the rest of the MSM went nuts. (Hmm, never thought about the paywall as the cause. But that's a discussion for another day.) Sounds like it's gone down a steep, politically correct hill.

Anyway, my reaction was even more old school. The husband's pattern of behavior is indeed aimed at breaking up the marriage, but in a very passive-aggressive way. I don't think he's so much unmanned as he is just realizing (unconsciously, I suspect) how to turn his wife against him. He's pushing her until she kicks him out.

I'm in my 60s now, but this was a very common pattern when I was in my 20s.

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