Things are bad.
August 13, 2012 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Our marriage is crumbling, and it's taking me with it.

I have an ill partner who's not terminal but not going to improve. Caring for my partner involves working a lot for health insurance and taking care of many, many things around the house. It's very tough for me to take care of my partner, take care of the house, and work enough to have enough money to keep the house and the healthcare. It's tough for my partner to do any housework whatsoever. Our home has become a shameful hovel.

Sex is nearly non-existent and almost always on my partner's terms. We have both changed physically over the years, and the thought of our bodies together making love makes me nauseous sometimes. My partner does not see it that way, but illness and medication often collaborate to deny my partner the physical pleasure of lovemaking. We're talking neurological damage, painkillers, benzos, maryjane and good ol' SSRIs (I'm on a low dose of SSRIs and have little-to-no side effects).

Things have changed recently—suddenly I'm very aware that I want children badly, and with few exceptions over our eight years together my partner is anti-baby. My partner's illness now precludes children. It hasn't precluded a number of pets, though. Too many for my liking with everything else I have to do.

My partner's career is on hold... no, it's scattered to the winds thanks to the illness. My partner spends most of the day in bed watching television, socializing on various sites, and coming up with new projects which invariably go nowhere. I spend my days working, commuting, and working again when I get home with cleaning, cooking and DIY. I have little time for recreation or rest. Recently I've been trying to reconnect with old and new friends, with positive responses. My partner has responded with jealousy and insecurity.

It's really bad for both of us. I feel like my life goals aren't just on hold but aren't being respected at all. My partner indicates the same. When we talk, it often ends up in bickering or bitter silence. My partner accuses me of mocking, which is not the case. I accuse my partner of piling things on me all the time, which may not be the case (I'm perhaps not looking at things as rationally as I should, it's tough to tell).

It's so, so difficult to live with this little happiness. My eye has started wandering, and I'm attaching to inappropriate potential partners who symbolize things my partner is not. I can feel myself checking out of our life together and focusing on my life apart. I want to leave and at least try to accomplish my life goals. My superego says "No, leaving partners in the lurch is not what Good Peopletm do." My close friends urge me to keep fighting the Good Fighttm. My partner will rapidly go downhill with the loss of my medical insurance (we're in California, and it's an expensive illness). My partner is very attached to our pets and would feel real harm being separated from them. In the future, who will want to build a life with someone who abandoned an ill spouse?

I'm kind of at my wit's end. There are no MFers to be dumped already, just some good people who may have made some mistakes and are going to have hell to pay. Please, please help us.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Can you end the relationship but not get divorced until your partner finds a way to stand on their own? If I were in your position, I would remain married so that my partner could have health insurance, but separate and move out. I would effectively end the relationship without formally breaking the marriage contract, at least until my partner could figure out alternative means of finding support. Perhaps seek out a social worker who can help both of you to figure out what resources are available to your partner.

Please don't do this to yourself. No one deserves to watch themselves follow a path that will inevitably lead to misery.
posted by greta simone at 11:32 AM on August 13, 2012 [23 favorites]

My partner will rapidly go downhill with the loss of my medical insurance (we're in California, and it's an expensive illness).

Can you separate but keep your partner on your insurance? I don't have an expensive illness but health insurance is a ridiculously expensive nightmare anyway. My ex has been my ex for more than 6 years. We live completely separate lives in different states but have remained legally married all this time because of health insurance.
posted by headnsouth at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Separating while staying legally married is the way to go. I think you owe it to him to maintain his health insurance for as long as you can. I don't think you owe him much else, except maybe referrals to resources (home care, disability income, etc.) to replace what you had been providing.

After taking care of those things, I absolve you from all guilt. You deserve to enjoy your life and to be in rewarding relationships.
posted by moammargaret at 11:53 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you get divorced, your now-husband will have little or no income, which would likely qualify him for Medicare and other social services. Do some research into his options before resigning yourself to a life of unhappiness and despair.
posted by kate blank at 11:56 AM on August 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

You need to put your brain on pause. Your partner is not at fault for his/her illness. You need to stop thinking about fantasy and start living in reality. You are stressed. You need respite. Respite doesn't mean imagining a life w/someone else so that person has to deal with the burden of being with someone who has to transform all his/her sadness and never get sick or jealous or worried.
posted by discopolo at 11:59 AM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just because your partner is ill, doesn't mean that your marriage shouldn't end because of other factors.

He's probably freaked out about being sick, needing you, relying on you and maybe things weren't so hot before all this happened but now they're a downright disaster.

I too think separation will be the best thing here. Perhaps get him into a place like a group home, where he can have companionship and the care he seems to need.

I know you're working to keep your house, is it possible for you to sell it, if not for a profit, to get out from under the mortgage? Would it be more affordable for you to live in a small apartment?

Is your husband on disability? Should he be? Can we start looking into options for him? Perhaps we can get his family on-board to help, since you want to extricate yourself from the situation.

No one walks in your shoes, so be prepared for some judgement, especially from his side of the family. Don't let it get you down. They don't know what it's like to deal with him.

For right now, see if you can gather up your friends and family to help. Sound the alarm, you're sinking and need help. See if folks can help with cooking, cleaning, dealing with the animals and etc. It's easy to tell someone to hang in there, it's quite another thing to actually rally-round and physically help.

You're allowed to leave. You're allowed to live the life you want to live. You are not a bad person (not at all). You are a person who is overwhelmed, sad and exhausted.

Take care of yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:59 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

I disagree that you owe your spouse health insurance for as long as you can provide it. Isn't this the exact situation that we pay into disability for? If s/he is truly unable to work, there is assistance for that, and it's not your responsibility.

You didn't mention having been to any counseling.

In addition, you talk about how sex is revolting to you, but it's also apparently non existent due to medications? Both of those issues could be addressed if both partners want to.

Being with someone who suffers from a chronic illness does not mean you have to suffer. The problems in your relationship have only been brought to light because of the illness.
posted by jesirose at 12:00 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Isn't this the exact situation that we pay into disability for? If s/he is truly unable to work, there is assistance for that, and it's not your responsibility.

It's not clear to me if you are referring to short-term disability (which is administered by the state) or permanent disability (which is administered federally). Short-term disability in CA is easy enough to apply for, but it's really only a partial wage reimbursement program (and only for qualified workers). It's not medical care, and it's not permanent.

If you're talking about permanent disability through Social Security, it is almost without a fail a long, arduous process to qualify -- I've known people who've taken years to qualify, and it's my understanding that this is not uncommon at all.

So yes, in theory it sounds like the U.S. should have a proper safety net in place for exactly this sort of situation. In practice, we absolutely do not.
posted by scody at 12:14 PM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

SSDI != health insurance.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:15 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

What does "zpg" mean in your tags, and what is the significance of including "breeders"? I feel like we're missing something.

Anyway --

I get what people are saying about how you deserve to be happy, and that's true, but isn't marriage is for better and for worse? Of course, you're in the "much worse." You don't say how long it's been this way. It seems like you mentally checked out awhile ago, given that you don't mention trying anything like counseling or housekeepers or support groups for the illness. Are you willing to try these things, even if it's just so you can get on some solid emotional ground and thus make better decisions? You're drowning right now and you need to get your head above water.
posted by desjardins at 12:21 PM on August 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

I would definitely understand if you were to go for a separation. However, I'm guessing that your partner isn't happy either and that you both want/need things to change. I don't know if a social worker or counselor is the appropriate choice but I suggest trying one of them.

Caring for someone sick, whether a parent, child, partner or someone else, can be incredibly draining emotionally not to mention financially and physically. You need a break of some sort. That may sound like something you can't do right now because of work, housekeeping and such but I encourage you to make it a priority. Even taking an afternoon off and sitting in a cafe with a cup of coffee can help me clear my head from time to time.
posted by kat518 at 12:34 PM on August 13, 2012

The OP wants children. Their spouse didn't want kids even before it became clear that they couldn't have kids. This is a dealbreaker in any relationship. If the OP dreams of children and winds up not having them because they stayed with a partner that didn't want them, that is a sure route to soul-destroying bitterness, hatred and resentment. (I never wanted kids myself BUT I know that many (most?) people want kids the way they want food, clothing and shelter. I would NOT advise someone to shelve that dream.)

Yes, society will judge the OP - especially if OP is female, because women are supposed to nurture to the point of martyrdom - but the OP actively resents their partner and doesn't want to be married anymore. And the ill partner on some level KNOWS this and KNOWS that the OP is so stressed they are seeing Partner as a burden, not a joy. It stinks all around.

Now if the OP didn't want kids I'd advise the same as desjardins above if OP hasn't tried counseling, housekeeping or support services - BUT OP wants kids and Partner adamantly does not. What would Partner do or say if you told them "I am having kids come hell or high water?" Would Partner be the one who wants out then? In any case, it is going to be a choice between staying or having kids, most likely, because "oopsing" a partner usually ends badly and you DO have to think of your future children and their welfare.

OP's spouse should be eligible for disability, though there is a waiting period before Medicare kicks in. OP could separate but not divorce, and keep Partner on their insurance, until Partner is eligible for Medicare.

And yes, definitely, get family and friends on board to help in Partner's care. If Partner has no family or friends who can help or their family is abusive - that's a tougher call. But caring for Partner shouldn't fall on the OP alone.

California Specific Links:

California Disability Regional Resources (Master clearing house with links to different services all across CA)

Home and Family Services for Persons with Disabilities

Aging and Disability Resources for California
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:35 PM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

Zpg stands for zero population growth. I'm guessing the OP's partner is politically childfree and not just not into kids.
posted by spunweb at 12:56 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also - I would feel irresponsible if I didn't add - don't have a child now; it would be disastrous to bring a child into this particular situation at this moment. Get help for yourself (and partner) first. Whether you ultimately decide to stay or go - make sure you are in a position to be a parent instead of it being just one more stressor. And if you leave you might wind up being a single parent if you do not find another partner. And if by any chance you DO stay and have a child, you will be effectively a single parent. Single parenting is doable, but more difficult, especially without a support system.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:59 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

You need more help than a low dose SSRI. Living with/caring for/being married to/loving someone with a debilitating illness is one of those things that People Need Help Doing--even if only briefly. So try to find some help--a therapist, a support group, respite care, whatever. Your marriage may be reparable--it may not be--but you need a quiet and safe space to think about that.

You ask: In the future, who will want to build a life with someone who abandoned an ill spouse?

Leaving an ill spouse does not make you unloveable until the end of time. Ending your marriage does not make you a bad person; it does not ruin your life. Ending your marriage, also, does not necessarily mean abandoning your spouse. Packing a suitcase and driving away without a second glance is abandoning your spouse; going through a divorce process that helps provide for your former spouse (whether that's keeping him on your insurance, or paying maintenance, or facilitating the transition to disability/Medicaid) is not abandonment, not in the sense that means "cruel" or "heartless" or "failing".

I also know plenty of people who divorced from (or otherwise left) partners who were very ill, or very addicted, or suffering from untreated (or even treated) mental illness who eventually found new partners, eventually recovered themselves from the experience, and built good lives for themselves. Those new lives were not undeserved.

Many of those people were in relationships that probably wouldn't have survived anyway. It was harder to see when things were good--even if the cracks were obvious in retrospect--because when circumstances are optimal (youth, health, positive cash flow), you have the energy to maintain your self-worth and care for your relationship. When surroundings are bad, it's hard enough to care for good relationships, but almost impossible to care for bad ones.

What good people do in those circumstances is find the kindest way to leave.

But, really, you need some Respite Care, so you can figure out whether this is a solid relationship in terrible circumstance, or a bad relationship in impossible circumstance.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:06 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your post reminds me of this question to Dear Prudence: link She also links to her friend Susan Baer's story which you should definitely read. Though both the LW and Baer already have kids, so YMMV.
posted by foxjacket at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2012

I sound like a broken record, but:

There's a whole sub-category devoted to separation and divorce.
posted by luckynerd at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2012

In line with foxjacket's Dear Prudence link, I firmly believe that marriage is a two way street, and that you don't have to be yolked to an asshole, no matter the cause. (Note: spouses in that link are brain damaged, not assholes. Yours seems to be more asshole than brain damaged, but there is a case to be made for not insisting on an unequal relationship.)

Marriage is about MUTUAL support and respect. You BOTH made vows. Fighting the good fight does not include supporting a regime of toxicity and emotional poverty.

Put on your own oxygen mask first. Take care of yourself. That doesn't necessarily mean divorce, but get some distance and figure out some options for the future that are humane for both of you.
posted by itesser at 1:30 PM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

If your partner can go on the internet there are a few work-at-home things that are legit, if they qualify. It's not going to make you rich, but it's enough to hire a cleaning lady or get some takeout occasionally. If you mefimail me or email me I can fill you in on them.

You sound like you're at the breaking point, and you and your partner need to sit down and talk about exactly what needs to be done to make your life easier (such as rehoming pets). The resentment oozes off of your question, and I think it's more that you feel like your partner is not considering your needs (again, I come back to the pet thing--sounds like your partner wants to keep them no matter what you think). Ultimately, it is the unwillingness to consider your needs just as valid as your partners' that will wreck the marriage, not the disability.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:32 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I feel with a few exceptions to your story, that I could be your spouse. In fact I was a little afraid at the opening paragraphs my DH wasn't telling me everything that was on his mind and was spilling it here on Metafilter.

First, I'm surprised at all the DTMFA posts. Isn't marriage supposed to be for better or for worse? I get that not every relationship can weather a storm like this, nor should it, but I feel a bit like everyone is seeing the OP's spouse as a shiftless loser, not someone who is ill and unable to take care of themselves.

Have you talked to your spouse about your feelings? It sounds like there is bickering and blaming, but no real conversation about how you're feeling. Being a care taker is hard, I can see the toll it's taken on my husband. Which it turns out is is hard on me too, worrying about him in addition to myself. So he's worrying about me. I'm worrying about him worrying about me. Which in turn he's worrying about me worrying about him when I should be taking care of myself . etc. etc. etc.

Before you make any major decisions, you need therapy to work through your feelings, and you two need couples therapy. And your spouse needs therapy if he/she is not already in therapy to help deal with the disability.

I'm probably being a bit defensive, because as I said earlier, reading your post I though "I could be this persons spouse." So I'm going to share some things that may or may not apply to you and your spouse and may help provide some perspective.

Before I was ill, I made the lions share of the income. It was hard work, and I worked a lot of hours to get to where I was in my career. This means that now without my income we are really hurting financially. It's been an incredibile burden because we've been steadily bleeding off money, so my husband is not only fighting to keep up with money, but looking for a better paying job in this terrible economy.

I have become really bitchy because god damnit, I hurt a lot and the pain affects my mental state. I try my best to keep my emotions in check, but I can't always. Fortunately DH has been extremely understanding thus far, but I worry that he'll not want to be with a broken person who is just bitchy and angry all the time.

Before I got ill, I did the lions share of chores around the house too, all of the cooking, and most of the cleaning. Now that's on his shoulders and I don't think he realized how much there was to do around the house. So it sucks, but it's what I was doing before. The house is a mess, but we've mostly come to terms with it because it's a small piece of mind rather than fighting over a messy house.

I watch a lot of tv, because frequently, that is the limit to what I am physically capable of doing.

I spend a lot of time on social networks because I am unable to go out to socialize with people and I don't have a workplace to socialize with people anymore. Social networks have become my lifeline to the real world.

I come up with projects all the time that go nowhere because I miss being a productive part of the household. I keep thinking I can come up with an idea that will help pay the bills, or keep me mentally active, or keep me up-to-date in areas of my professional expertise because I want to get back to work and I don't want to be years behind professionally.

This is my story, not your spouses story. But it hit a little close to home and I think you need to look at the "for worse" part of your marriage vows, get some professional help (therapy), before you decide that you are done. Your resentment over your spouses disability is palpable, but it's not really fair to blame them. Nor should you blame yourself for your feelings, but you need to understand where they're coming from and how to deal with them. I don't think cutting your spouse lose without exploring those options is the answer.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:32 PM on August 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

I don't know whether you should leave your partner or stay, but I do have a few thoughts on some practical steps you could consider while you're there.

1) A housekeeper. Once a week shouldn't be an unbearable burden if s/he is just there for a couple of hours- enough to deal with the absolute worst of it- but I think it would be worth the financial cost because of the amount of time, stress, and energy it would save you. If you really can't afford that, maybe you could do some sort of barter or trade, maybe even with one of your friends. If you have mutual friends, or you have family that you like nearby, don't be afraid to haul them in for help once in a while. That's what social networks are for.

2) By the same token, maybe having people over more often- casually, helping make supper, chatting over coffee while you clean up, watching movies, that kind of thing- would help you to have more socialization time and your partner not to feel so jealous because you're out socializing without him/her.

3)You say that you suddenly want kids. Is this a biological clock thing? Loneliness? A desire to be loved or to have control? Finding excuses to end the relationship? Or do you genuinely want kids? What were your motivations for not having children, and is your current desire to have them worth ignoring those motivations?

It seems odd to me that you're wanting to have kids now, when you already have an ill partner and a bunch of pets that you're having trouble taking care of, and you're exhausted and overworked. What brought this on?

Whatever it is, I'd suggest volunteering with kids for a bit; that can help with the baby fever. If you are really convinced that you must have children in your life, and your partner really doesn't want to make that commitment/ has idealogical reasons against it, maybe you two can compromise by fostering a child at some point in the future. There are always lots and lots of kids in need of loving homes, but it's not always a long-term commitment. Of course, I don't think that now is an appropriate time to do more than consider these options.

4) Are there ways that you could make it easier for your partner to help out around the house, or make the household stuff simpler, like getting rid of extra stuff, putting things in more convenient locations, using simpler systems, putting (pretty) boxes around where you can just put random crap to get it off the floor, etc? You have said that your partner spends most of the day in bed, but didn't say whether they're able to get up and do a few small things. If you're partner's at all able to help out, it would probably make you both feel better

5)how much time are you spending cooking? there are pretty good frozen foods that you can get and they're not always super expensive. There are also lots of simple, easy to prepare dishes that don't require a lot of time and effort. Or, there is the possiblity of cooking large quantities at once, like on the weekend, and freezing them.

6)why is sex usually on your partner's terms? You're equally important in this relationship. Is this something that you can discuss with your partner? Is any of the lack of desire on your part attributable to built up resentment?

7) Is there any way that you could find someone to help out for a couple of days or a week so that you can take a vacation and decide what you really want?

I hope that it all works out for the best, for both of you.
posted by windykites at 6:13 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just a data point. I have a friend who's been in a relationship with a man for *25* years, they refer to each other as "husband and wife", but they will never be married. He is, in fact, still married to his first wife. Long, complicated story, but he's still married to her so that he can provide her with health insurance. I can promise you someone in your future would understand your situation and love you, too.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:43 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

It seems possible (unless I misread your description of things) that your spouse's general attitudes are in conflict with your wellbeing. The illness is both contributing to, and masking, this deeper problem.

If you want a different life, make it happen.

No guilt necessary. Your options are many. Start exploring.

I'm sorry. I have trouble understanding why your partner's illness makes them completely and utterly unable to do anything and thoroughly absolves them of all responsibility, including the responsibility to keep the marriage emotionally viable. And yet, this person is able enough to stay home alone and take care of themselves and the pets while you work? Am I missing something here??

Is your spouse helping with budgeting, paying bills online, researching resources and programs to alleviate your burdens, and other computer-based tasks? If not, is there a valid reason for them not to be contributing??

Anyway. You want children and a completely different lifestyle. It doesn't sound like there is a lot of affection in your home.

Anyone judging you for leaving hasn't walked in your shoes. You are free to ignore them.

I hope you get help and peace soon!
posted by jbenben at 7:59 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Windykites - you are very condescendig about the OP's desire for kids. Wanting them is enough.
posted by zia at 9:10 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

zia - I didn't read Windykites' post as condescending of the idea of wanting children, but rather as an honest assessment of what it would mean in the OP's current situation. The advice on how to proceed with this desire is spot on. The decision to have kids (should be) a deeply considered commitment. Frankly, at a certain age (which varies greatly) some women who've not wanted kids experience a sudden longing to have one. In some cases this is truly a calling. In other cases it's a reflex because we know that our window of fertility is drawing to a close. Speaking as a woman who ended up falling into the latter category, I am glad I had friends to help me think through my feelings. A newfound wish to make babies is complicated and personal and if someone says "I think I want this but I'm not positive", suggestions on how to process that feeling are more constructive than a reflexive "Go! Go! Go!" attitude.
posted by SakuraK at 10:48 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you're talking about creating an entire human life that is totally dependant on you for many years and that will be forever shaped by their time in your care, just wanting is not, in fact, enough. We're not talking about just wanting an ice cream cone; we're talking about creating and taking responsibility for a living person. If that doesn't strike you as being worthy of reflection, I'm pretty concerned. Having children just because you want to, with no regard for your real motivations and ability to provide a good home, is one of the most horribly selfish things a person can do. I have known lots of people who have kids for the wrong reasons, and everybody involved suffers for it- but the kids suffer most.

It's not just about that, though. It's also really important for the adult to understand their motivations; I would think that it's obvious that the OP has a LOT going on right now. Are you honestly trying to say that taking a look at the roots of these new feelings is a useless endeavour? Because I think getting some insight into these feelings would be a pretty healthy excercise. Self-reflection, especially when you're exhausted and overworked and disconnected, is usually a good thing. An honest assessment of your emotional state is pretty vital to maintaining emotional health.
posted by windykites at 5:02 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Anonymous - I am in effectively the same position as you, although I think it's going somewhat better in our case. My goals and desires are not necessarily the same as yours, either, but some of what I'm going through might be helpful for you. I guest-blogged on my wife's site at the end of last year:

Chimp Speaks, Part 1
Chimp Speaks, Part 2

Some of that might speak to what you're experiencing. If I can be of any help, mefi mail me.
posted by el_lupino at 1:13 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Posting a bit too late for anyone to read this, but wow el_lupino, that brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing.
posted by kellybird at 11:49 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Toes-down best pedicurist in Hollywood?   |   How can I improve my cat's carrier anxiety? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.