I am growing. My husband is not. It is opening a distance between us.
March 19, 2013 9:44 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I (a woman) have been together about 15 years now. I have become more self-reflective over time; I know myself better, I am less likely to react impulsively, etc. My husband seems stuck in the same place he was when he was 25 years old. I am feeling us growing apart and it is stressing me out; I want to understand why he doesn't seem to be growing any further, and whether there's anything I can or should do.

I'm trying to separate out this particular question from run-of-the-mill marital tensions, though I'm sure some will creep in, especially since frustrations magnify other frustrations, you know? Let me first say that my husband is a good person and a good husband and a good father (and this is part of why us growing apart freaks me out!). Right now he is working full time at a demanding but prestigious and well-compensated job (and it is far less-demanding than the job he was at two years ago; the hours are limited and reasonable). He works hard but he likes his work and he is home every night for dinner and is able to spend lots of time with our kids. I am working part-time from home while managing our children's lives, particularly since one of them has had some (minor) special needs come in the last couple years that has required a lot of doctor's appointments and OT and PT. Obviously we have some stressors but they're fairly normal stressors (work, children) and we have excellent health insurance, a great support system, and we are monetarily comfortable (we aren't well-off and I worry a lot about college and retirement, but I know we'll be able to pay our bills every month and we can afford to replace broken appliances and get car repairs done).

As the years have gone by I have become more self-reflective and better at managing my emotions and reactions; my understanding of the world is more complex and nuanced. I would tend to say I've matured, although I'm trying not to use loaded language. More and more, however, I'm noticing that my husband seems like the same person he was at 25. He doesn't seem to gain any self-knowledge as time goes by, and he hasn't gained any skill in self-regulation, if that makes sense. I can give a couple of examples, I guess. This is hard to talk about.

Last winter he decided to take up cross-country skiing after a long break from it. As he does with all his hobbies, he took it up 150%, bought new top-of-the-line equipment, went in whole hog. (This is a little aggravating but I have decided not to be the fun police as long as he doesn't spend our entire discretionary income on his constant parade shiny new hobbies and keeps the clutter from them to a room we have designated for his clutter.) Someone had mentioned the New Trail on the far side of town and we had talked about how it was in bad repair. Well, I could tell this idea was percolating in his head and when a week later he said he was going skiing, I asked him where, and he said he wasn't sure, he was going to go out and see how he felt. I knew, that with New Trail having been mentioned a week earlier, he was going to go to New Trail, no matter how ill-advised. It was five times farther away than he'd been skiing regularly. I said, "Well, don't go too far, the weather isn't very good and you're still building stamina." He said, "I won't." Instead, he skiied the twenty miles out to New Trail, skiied part of new trail, and then called me to come rescue him ... which, since I was so sure it was going to happen, I hadn't taken a pain pill yet for a serious back injury because I knew I'd have to drive to go get him. I loaded up all the kids and we went and rescued him. I said I knew he'd go to New Trail and I'd have to go rescue him, and he indignantly asked why I didn't tell him this was going to happen if I knew it was going to happen, and I said, well, if I warn you, then you become twice as determined to go through with it, you do it anyway, AND you're mad at me for being the fun police. He thought about it and agreed that was true.

Yesterday, I reminded him several times he needed to do certain chores before he left for work this morning because of my schedule with the children and some people we have coming over. I reminded him not to stay up too late playing his new video game (which he's been doing all week and consequently he's been cranky all week, and I have not been complaining about it or even mentioning it until last night. Well, of course he stayed up playing the game, and not a single one of these chores got done, not even the ones that would take five minutes. It's like he has absolutely no idea that he will stay up past midnight, as he has hundreds of times in the past, and be unable to get things done because it's too late. It always comes as a surprise. He can't seem to manage to pause his game for half an hour, get mandatory tasks done, and then go back to the game. He's always convinced he can accomplish the mandatory or desired tasks but hardly ever does so.

Another example of lack of self-knowledge, he says his hobbies are drawing, writing, making models (and he has top-of-the-line collections of equipment for all of these hobbies). He draws maybe once a year; I've never seen him make a model; and writes perhaps once a month. His actual hobbies are video games (which mostly seem to make him frustrated and angry) and DIY home repairs (which he never finishes and, again, make him frustrated). He seems aware neither that what he SAYS he likes to do is not what he actually does, nor that the things he claims to enjoy (video games, home repair) make him unhappy and stressed. I do not understand at all why he engages in leisure activities that just make him stressed out!

When he gets upset about thing X, he acts like (and appears to think he is) upset about thing Y. He doesn't seem to have any knowledge about what he's reacting to, and sometimes it feels like having a fourth child, emotional-regulation wise, that I'm trying to teach to understand his own emotions and express them appropriately. But of course his patterns are a lot more ingrained after 40 years.

I can feel us growing apart because lately I frequently feel like I'm the only *emotional* adult in the house (obviously he takes on the adult responsibilities of supporting his family), and when I talk about my complicated emotional reaction to Some Event (or even Some Movie or Some Novel), he seems uncomprehending and tries to simplify it and say, "So you're mad, then?" I'm increasingly frustrated that he can't understand my thoughts and feelings at all, and it makes me feel more and more distant from him, and I feel frustrated that I'm having to constantly help not just the children but also him regulate and manage their emotions and reactions and help them understand themselves. I really dislike this sense of having a fourth child instead of a husband.

To me, it feels like I've matured and grown in an organic and natural way, but I realize it's possible I've changed completely and he's stayed on the path of who he was when we got married. I guess I thought we would be maturing and growing together, because I certainly didn't think personality development stopped at 25.

My questions are, I guess, why/how does someone -- a good, smart person -- manage to gain so little self-knowledge? And what should I do about this growing distance?

(I am trying to talk to him more, make sure we're having lots of conversations on all different topics; I am reluctant to talk to my friends because after 15 years in one place and with kids, most of our friends are both of our friends and I am reluctant to appear to be maligning him; I am in therapy but I've mostly been talking about stress with my kid's diagnosis and, I don't know, I may need to find a different therapist to talk about this distance from my husband, she doesn't seem very sympathetic about it. We did go to a couple sessions of marital therapy right after my kid's diagnosis but my husband thought it was really "blamey" when we started talking about stuff between us and isn't eager to go back.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (95 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't sound like you've evolved and he hasn't. It just sounds like you don't like your husband all that much anymore.
posted by xingcat at 9:56 AM on March 19, 2013 [34 favorites]

Right now he is working full time at a demanding but prestigious and well-compensated job (and it is far less-demanding than the job he was at two years ago; the hours are limited and reasonable).

The tradeoff of working long hours at a demanding job is that you don't get much time for self-development.

However, you do gain an advantage in the form of money, so use it to pay someone else to do the home repairs and chores in order to make sure they get done. I assume part of it is also that he's tired and doesn't want to spend all his limited free time doing chores and home repairs.
posted by deanc at 9:59 AM on March 19, 2013 [14 favorites]

I hear you about the new hobbies with expensive equipment, but the flip side of that is "why bother, if you're not going to do it right?". I sometimes think that women have been taught that they can just use any old thing until they get good at something and then they'll "deserve" the shiny new whatever it is. Picking him up from the ski trail seems trivial to me--shit happens. Don't keep score.

If he's working and getting paid well, he must have learned some good habits somewhere along the line. I'd bet that he thinks since he's earning a good salary and keeping your family solvent, he gets to enjoy his time off.

Having said that--can you hire someone for some of the household stuff--housecleaning, home repair, regular babysitter--so that you can pursue a hobby or a social group or an outside activity? I'm not so convinced that you're becoming a Wise Woman and he's staying a Man-Child. Most men I know are reluctant to admit they love video games because it automatically brands them as childish. Have you ever played any? Have you two done anything fun together without the kids?

Maybe you are growing and maturing, but maybe you're also so stuck in Momville that you haven't let yourself play and that's why you resent your husband's ability to enjoy himself.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2013 [23 favorites]

(I think you HAVE evolved and he hasn't, because you've said you've evolved and you've described how you've evolved).

I think the problem is you are conscientious, mindful, and self-reflective, and he isn't. Furthermore, you seem interested in self-improvement and he doesn't (I say that because he's playing video games at night instead of doing something that involves learning and growing). This is a personality trait difference that I've noticed among people and I think it might be fundamental and therefore unresolvable. It would be interesting to know though if he exhibits more of those traits (conscientious, self-reflective) at work. Do you have any information that sheds light on that?
posted by Dansaman at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

The things you mention would be considered cute quirks in someone you love. I realise they are annoying but they aren't horrible habits (and inflating hobbies is par for the course for most adults). But it sounds like there is a bit of learned helplessness going on (you rearranging your plans because you knew he would need to be rescued) as well as him responding to your low expectations. Maybe the last couple's counsellor was not a good fit? My husband and I went through several until we found one that didnt; automatically take "my side" and instead demanded I ask hard questions of myself and the role I played in our dynamic. You said you are trying to talk to him more, what about doing more together, not as parents juggling logistics but as partners? The point about him working full-time versus you part time and how that affects a parent with multiple responsibilities is very true. What about flipping that around and you working full time for a while and he can work part time from home and have the time and energy to devote to himself?
posted by saucysault at 10:05 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not entirely the angle you're going for, but all the things you describe seem to have elements of "he starts thing X and puts all his time into it for a bit ... and then he forgets it and moves on to something new." or "he focuses on thing X and completely loses track of everything else."

Have you thought about getting him checked for symptoms of ADHD? Rather than you feeling that you've grown and feeling that he hasn't (which seems a little bizarre; surely if he's still managing a good career and life that he's grown and changed in some ways in these 15 years?), perhaps there are other underlying issues that should be resolved.
posted by barnacles at 10:06 AM on March 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

This pattern of failing to plan ahead, starting lots of different things and not ever finishing any of them, getting super zoned in on attention-grabbing tasks (like video games) to the point of tuning out family responsibility . . . assuming you're not exaggerating / focusing on his negative behavior out of frustration with your marriage, I can't help but think that it sounds like it could be related to ADHD or some other kind of executive functioning issue.

You have a kid with special needs. You didn't specify the type, but, is it possible some of those issues are inherited? Autism spectrum disorders, ADD-type disorders, and depression share common genetic risk factors.

Of course, it could easily also just be that you and your husband have fundamentally different personalities that have indeed grown more different over time. But I think it's worth thinking about ADHD or a related issue as a possible underlying cause for some of his behavior. If it is ADHD, he can learn coping strategies that may help the two of you work better as a team.
posted by BlueJae at 10:09 AM on March 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

You're not trying to help him. You're trying to change him into something he's not.

A mature person that has "matured and grown in an organic and natural way" would recognize that and try to be more accepting of what your spouse is rather than what he isn't.

No wonder he can't understand your thoughts or feelings as I doubt you understand them yourself. I'm guessing you have some personal ennui or esteem issues you need to work through and you're simply projecting your frustration on your husband.
posted by PsuDab93 at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

He sounds to me like a pretty normal guy. He explores active hobbies -- such as cross-country skiing -- as well as more passive ones. He works hard, makes decent money, and cares for his family. He has pasion about what he looks into, but isn't afraid to walk away when it isn't enjoyable. He gets sucked into engrossing video games.

You can rail against him, you can call him immature or in need of medication, or you can accept him. I'd find solutions (like hiring a handyman) rather than pointing at your partner and saying that he's a child -- assuming that the issue here is that you want to sort out the problematic aspects of your life and enjoy it with your husband, rather than trying to force him to be something he isn't.
posted by ellF at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

Instead, he skiied the twenty miles out to New Trail, skiied part of new trail, and then called me to come rescue him ... which, since I was so sure it was going to happen, I hadn't taken a pain pill yet for a serious back injury because I knew I'd have to drive to go get him.

Don't be a martyr. Next time, take your pain pill and let him deal with transportation. Warn him that you're going to do this if you want, but watch out how much you predict that he is going to fail to plan, because you'll make it true.
posted by BibiRose at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2013 [57 favorites]

I reminded him not to stay up too late playing his new video game (which he's been doing all week and consequently he's been cranky all week, and I have not been complaining about it or even mentioning it until last night.

I understand the temptation to say things like this - I really do - but you're treating him like a child. We all do things that are not optimal for us sometimes, I bet even you, and as long as he's not burning down the house or putting your children at risk some forgiveness might be in order.

I sympathize with your feeling like he's a fourth child, but sometimes I think this feeling stems more from a partner's need to control things that they shouldn't be trying to control and not letting people make their own mistakes. You say he has a good job and is a good father who spends a lot of time with your children. These are big, important things! I know people who use a mantra: "Is [his staying up late to play video games/insert annoying thing here] worth breaking up with him over?" If not, do your best to let it go.

Your concern over his emotional immaturity is a little more worrying, but maybe this is something that can be explored over therapy and some good discussions with him. Good luck.
posted by walla at 10:13 AM on March 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

To be honest I think your (obvious) feelings of superiority over your husband are much more of a danger to your relationship than his (fairly normal sounding) behavior.
posted by ook at 10:15 AM on March 19, 2013 [38 favorites]

It sounds like you are acting more like his mother than his wife. That isn't very seductive and could be one of the reasons you're growing apart. You can't change anyone's behaviour but your own. And if your guests are coming over, its your job to tidy first.

Sorry if this sounds harsh. I feel for the guy and I think you need to cut him some slack and treat him more like a partner.good luck!
posted by Pademelon at 10:17 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you need to quit rescuing him from the consequences of his failure to plan ahead. I hear you on how frustrating and irritating this is, but I bet that if he was stranded twenty miles out in the middle of nowhere he would think a little more carefully next time.

If he truly is incapable of planning ahead, some ADHD investigation might not be out of line. But start just by treating him as an equal, with equal capacity to get himself out of trouble.
posted by KathrynT at 10:22 AM on March 19, 2013

I think you have to let go of framing all of this as him "not growing." Each thing that bugs you may have totally separate causes and solutions, and the only thing that grouping them together does is give you an excuse to feel like you have the moral high ground. Everyone has some habits or ways of being that rub up against other people's, and after 15 years it's natural that these are beginning to take their toll.

Maybe sit with the thought for a little bit that it's not that you don't do X, Y, or Z because you're more mature, but because those things don't have the same interest for you as they do for him. You never had to fight a battle not to stay up playing video games because it wasn't ever something that you felt like doing. Conversely, he doesn't begrudge working long hours at a demanding job because it's something he enjoys doing.

As long as you come from a place of "he doesn't make the choices I would have made in this situation" you're going to struggle and be frustrated. If you instead address the concrete problems caused by your different ways of doing things you might get somewhere. For the chores, talk about hiring someone to do them, with the money coming out of what he would have spent on one of his hobbies. For future versions of the skiing thing, do what you need to do (e.g. take your pain pill) and let HIM sort out the consequences (calling a cab or a friend.)
posted by MsMolly at 10:22 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

I bet that if he was stranded twenty miles out in the middle of nowhere he would think a little more carefully next time.

Please don't behave vindictively towards the person you have married, for better or worse, because you think you're more "evolved" than he is. Doubly so if your vindictive behavior puts him in physical jeopardy.
posted by ellF at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

You both sound so intent on what you individually want that you've lost sight of what the other person needs from you. But you married this person and likely promised to "love and cherish" or something like it. Are you both still making that your priority?

The point is that if you can work harder at cherishing each other, the things that you need and want from each other will come naturally.

So, in the skiing scenario, you would either explain to him that you won't be able to pick him up if he needs it due to your medication, or you would go, and make it a big joke with the kids and with him, because you're happy to help him out of a mess. You're a team, remember - you help him out of his fixes and he out of yours.

And in the video game scenario, because he cherishes you he should really be wanting to not upset you more than that. If you can make it more about letting him make his own decisions and then learning from them, perhaps he will get more of a handle on that urge. Unfortunately, however tempting it is, guilt-tripping and constant reminders will get in the way of him fostering this sense of "I have the power to make her happy" and the will to do it.

TL;DR: either you both agree to work harder at regaining the admiration and respect that you agreed to maintain for each other, OR you agree to look for a therapist who can help you do this OR you consider that it may be time to reneg.
posted by greenish at 10:25 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Let me first say that my husband is a good person and a good husband and a good father

And this is why you need couples therapy stat. Because you each have needs that aren't being met. You need him to do certain things in order to make your life easier, and he needs you to let him do those things. You need to treat him like an adult, not a "fourth child". Because he needs a wife, not an angry mother.
posted by disconnect at 10:27 AM on March 19, 2013 [11 favorites]

I agree that the OP is definitely growing where her husband isn't.

The tradeoff of working long hours at a demanding job is that you don't get much time for self-development.

I think it's incredibly unfair (and possibly sexist) to suggest that the OP's life is also not demanding, if she's working from home while being the primary childcare giver and manager of her children's special needs issues. The difference, however, is that it's probably harder for her to sharply define boundaries between home and work responsibilities, whereas her husband gets to leave work at the office when he comes home. A number of the comments above seem to be suggesting that this is just the way men are and the OP needs to learn to deal with it. No, men don't get to lead a carefree, emotionally-unintelligent life while their womenfolk do all the heavy lifting, no matter how much money they make. His behavior has as much of an impact on his children as it has on you, probably more.

I can sympathize with the husband's impulse to vegetate with TV or a video game instead of something constructive. There are times when I sit down at night and think, "I should work on my French/learn a new Bach fugue/work on my current novel chapter," and instead I waste the whole evening playing Plants vs. Zombies. And I'm a woman. However, I do know that I need to stop and ask myself, "Is this what I really want to be doing right now?" Maybe for the OP's husband, an honest answer to that question is "Yes." But he needs to be willing to ask and answer the question honestly.

It might be helpful to come up with strategies that remove the burden of responsibility from you next time he does something stupid--for instance, tell him he needs to find someone else to come pick him up if he gets tired, because you won't be safe to operate a moving vehicle. Force him to own the consequences of his actions and to make grown-up decisions. Don't mother him or bail him out. He's a grown-up. Make him act like one. And, yeah, find another therapist who will take your concerns seriously. They are perfectly valid. There is a man-child in my extended family, and he is making life incredibly difficult for everyone who lives in his household, so you have all my sympathy.
posted by tully_monster at 10:28 AM on March 19, 2013 [82 favorites]

From the OP:
I do accept that he works hard and deserves to relax in what ever way he wishes, and he does do so within our budget and mostly within his free time constraints. We used to fight about it but I have accepted that it's okay for him to do his hobbies however he wishes. What I don't understand is why he spends so much time on things that just frustrate him and don't seem to bring him any enjoyment. (And when I ask him, he doesn't have an answer for me.)

I know all my examples are from hobbies, but that's because once I thought of one example, more from the world of hobbies kept jumping to mind, and also because it's hard for me to talk about ways this happens with his interactions with me or the kids because this is a really emotional topic for me. I am crying while I type this response. I mean, the skiing thing is a funny story we tell our friends and I do think it's funny and sort of cute, but it's also hard for me to understand -- yeah, I guess as someone said, his lack of planning ahead. Or the lack of self-knowledge where he didn't know he was going to New Trail, when it was totally obvious to me, because of the way his mind works, that he would go to New Trail.

It's not that I want him to stop engaging in his hobbies at full-tilt -- he won't, and I don't expect him to; that's not who he is. He is a very good person and an excellent father and I love him very much, but we just seem to be drifting farther and farther apart, and it's harder and harder for me to get my emotional needs met through him (and not all of them -- I don't expect that -- but ANY of them). He HAS grown in some ways, especially with the kids. But he and I are drifting farther and farther apart, and it feels like (to me) that the root of it is his refusal to do any self-reflection and that when I self-reflect and change and grow, he's not very comfortable with it, and so just prefers not to talk about it with me, not acknowledge it, act like I'm the same person I was 15 years ago. (For example, I used to be very flakey and he hated it. I made a concerted effort 10 years ago to stop cancelling plans, not showing up, being late, blowing things off, etc., largely because he pointed out to me how rude it was, and I am NEVER flakey anymore. But he still complains about me being flakey as if it's an inherent part of my being.)

It's just that I don't understand his lack of self-knowledge -- I feel like that's something most people gain as time goes by? -- and that it's getting harder and harder for us to engage emotionally because he's so reactive and living so much on just the surface of his life. Our friends notice it too -- when he has immature reactions to things in front of them, they say things like, "Well, he tends to react first, think things through later" or "You know he's not really a planner" or "He's doesn't cope real well with emotional stuff." I feel like there's this whole person inside of me that he doesn't even know anymore. He's constantly surprised by my interests and ideas and expects them to be what they were when we first met and I just don't know what to DO, because I miss him.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:30 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was about to write everything tully_monster just said.
posted by chowflap at 10:30 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you are exaggerating. It's really really annoying to want to engage deeply where the other person just doesn't "get it."

In my house, it helps when I get more patient and understanding, but in my house the disconnect is due to language and cultural differences + normal husband and wife stuff. In your house, it sounds like your husband hasn't had time or space to grow as a person, and as noted above, working to support your family has likely taken up all energy your husband might have spent otherwise.

You know what? I think you are totally right that spending free time on pursuits that makes one angry and stressed, like video games, is a poor use of your husband's free time. It would be awesome if he dropped the video games and picked up tai chi, started reading self-help books, developed a meditation practice, or any number of pursuits in this same vein -amirite??

I don't know how you encourage your husband to start doing stuff for himself that is good for him.

I'm not sure how to fix what you are talking about. Just wanted to tell you I don't think you are having misperceptions about your husband.

Suggestions to create more time and space for you as a couple, and individually, are likely spot-on. That, and maybe cultivate some deep appreciation for your husband where he's at? It sounds like he's been working hard for you and your family, focusing outside of himself rather than focusing inward over the years. It's a sacrifice he's made to keep everyone clothed and fed, y'know, so it's not like he's wasted his energies all these years.

Don't worry. I think you can work through this and reconnect. You've got A LOT going right. Life is long, both people aren't always on the same page when married, but you surely can get back into alignment with each other.

In the meantime, don't make this into a bigger thing then it needs to be. Be kind. That's the way through IMHO and IMHE.
posted by jbenben at 10:34 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've noticed with some women who have children, they get so into the role of Mom that they try to mother their coworkers, their friends, their spouse.
posted by Houstonian at 10:34 AM on March 19, 2013

My 2 cents. Try a spiritual psychologist. First for yourself, and eventually for the 2 of you.

The focus is generally on growth and opening up yourself and the people you love to another level of experience and love.

my shrink is a buddhist (I'm not) but I appreciate his compassion and understanding that is built on a lifetime of practice of his philosophy.

The first great nugget I got many years ago was "anger is frustration caused by unrequited desire". I think about this every day.

a first swipe could push this aside as too simplistic... but when you think about it, it solves for X.

We are all big babies mad that we aren't getting what we want, how we want it. All of us.

When we stop wanting it our way and step back... life is a lot less frustrating.

The trick is to get ourselves on track and centered and from that place, start helping out the people we love get centered too, which makes our connections deeper and more meaningful.

When you get to the place you want to be and feel great about it, you still have to meet people where THEY are... another paradox of growing and learning. also hilariously frustrating!

AND, Partnerships are always renegotiable. When it isn't working the way you set it up... get to a place of peace and compassion within yourself first and then invite your partner to dive in with you to see if you can get to a new place together.
posted by bobdow at 10:35 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Please don't behave vindictively towards the person you have married, for better or worse, because you think you're more "evolved" than he is. Doubly so if your vindictive behavior puts him in physical jeopardy.

It's not a matter of vindictiveness, or shouldn't be, especially where dealing with outdoor survival is concerned. Her husband has apparently never given serious thought to what his limitations might be, and that's something that anyone engaged in an outdoor sport--hiking, snowboarding, skiing, whatever--needs to consider very carefully. If he knows she absolutely won't be available to come pick him up when he gets tired, he'll (hopefully) think twice about doing something that might make him look look stupid to his friends or to search-and-rescue. What if she had a sudden emergency with one of the kids, while at the same time he lost his cell phone signal and couldn't communicate with her? That's the kind of question grown-ups ask before engaging in activities involving reasonable (or even considerable) risks, and he apparently isn't in the habit of asking such questions.
posted by tully_monster at 10:36 AM on March 19, 2013 [22 favorites]

There are lots of ways to grow that aren't always immediately apparent.

I can understand the the emotional regulation skills are a major issue. I think that you will need to take the lead on using the appropriate language and pointing out the times when using an emotional regulation skill would benefit your interaction/conversation. My partner of 9 years has never been an "emotional skills development" person, whereas I have studied psychology extensively because I had to work through my own issues, and also worked in the field. Obviously this can be difficult at times, but I don't think it would help me or him to expect him to study the same way I have. Instead, I try to point things out in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way. For example, say I present an idea or a feeling and he starts telling me all the reasons it's not okay or whatever. I see this in a lot of people who basically have their decision in mind and will respond to statements based on rationalization of their preconceived preferences rather than full consideration. In that kind of situation, I will tell him - time out - there is no way you have had enough time to reflect on what I've said, so let's think about it and come back to it later.

My partner is not particularly verbal, especially in these areas, while I am. Your partner may have the same issue when he simplifies things. Tell him in advance when you tell him your feelings that you don't want an immediate response, you just want him to process it. He will probably be a lot better about relating if he doesn't have to do so on am immediate verbal level.
posted by decathexis at 10:37 AM on March 19, 2013

Please consider solo therapy. Is something else the matter? Are you drifting apart for other reasons? Your tone seems unempathetic and unjustifiably superior, and your anecdotes are not especially telling of immaturity.

Lots of people say their hobbies are XYZ, but they only do them every once in a while. Lots of people think that they won't stick with bad habits (i.e. staying up late), but the habits are hard to kick. Maybe he has ADHD, but even if he does, he's clearly functional. ("Sometimes he stays up playing video games" is not what people mean by not being functional.)

Is there a communication issue? Are you bored? What's up?

If ADHD is an issue, would you consider introducing your husband to things like GTD or the Pomodoro method?


Also, to be blunt, you don't sound very reflexive at all about how you are reacting to your husband's behavior. When you said that your husband had not grown at all and whatever, I thought we were going talk about tantrums or runaway investments in ostrich farms, or whatever. Instead, he just sounds like Phil Dunphy.

This makes it weird when you repeatedly assert that you're the emotional one, the self-reflexive one, the mature one. I know that we're only seeing one small slice of your life, a small slice in which you're annoyed and frustrated, but you sound...different than advertised. Are you familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Effect? People who think they are excellent at XYZ are often much worse at XYZ than those with a more modest, more realistic view of their abilities. Consider modulating your self-evaluation of these traits.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:37 AM on March 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

This sounds really frustrating. In addition to all of the recommendations already given, have you tried to spend time on a hobby yourself?

It appears that you do a lot of time thinking and reflecting on your family and not a huge amount of time doing stuff that you purely enjoy. I think it might be really good for you to carve out time each week, while your husband watches the kids, where you can do something you love. Take a class, join a book group, start an exercise program, etc. The bottom line is that it seems like you are missing the joy in your life that your husband is getting from his many hobbies and there may be a bit of jealously at the root of your frustration.
posted by JuliaKM at 10:41 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please forgive me, but it sounds like you nag your husband. Case in point:

"I reminded him several times he needed to do certain chores before he left for work this morning because of my schedule with the children and some people we have coming over."

Who decided that these "certain chores" needed to be done? Did you two agree that, for example, the garbage needs to be taken out and that husband will do it? Or, did you decide for yourself that he needs to take out the garbage and inform him that there will be no more video game time until he "does his chores"? On the same score, you talk about "mandatory or desired tasks". Declared mandatory by whom? Desired by whom? Paying the mortgage every month is mandatory. Making the bed every morning is not. If a chore takes five minutes to do and is more important to you than it is to him, guess who needs to do that chore? I almost never make the bed - my wife does. The reason is that she cares if the bed is made and I don't. She doesn't make her problem my problem.

I also notice that the things your husband cares about are "clutter" and must be quarantined to a single room. I am going to take a guess that while your husband has "clutter", you have "belongings" that are free to exist in other rooms of the house.

"I do not understand at all why he engages in leisure activities that just make him stressed out!"

Because for many men, it is important to succeed even at hobbies. For example, scrapbooking is not a very popular hobby with men because one does not "succeed" at it in any objective way. However, things like video games and a home repair have objective goals. Either you have beat the game or not. Either the back door hinge got fixed or not. When goals don't get achieved, people tend to get frustrated. The choice is then to give up or keeping trying to succeed.

Lastly, you talk a lot about how he isn't emotional enough. I know that it is very popular to say that people need to get more in touch with their emotions. I dissent from this line of thought. When I read the world news every day, I do not think that cold, rational thought is running rampant over the planet. Instead, I think that people are *too* in touch with their emotions. You complain that he tries to simplify things when you are upset, but it is generally the case that making things simpler is better than making them more complicated. Maybe he is actually trying to solve the underlying problem and you just want to vent?

Maybe there is more to this, but what I have taken from this is, "I have a husband who is a wonderful father and provides for us. However, I think he has some silly hobbies and he doesn't do the chores I think he should. How can I make him understand how I know better?"
posted by Tanizaki at 10:48 AM on March 19, 2013 [11 favorites]

From the OP:
"When you said that your husband had not grown at all and whatever, I thought we were going talk about tantrums or runaway investments in ostrich farms, or whatever."

Well, he does have screaming tantrums when he's frustrated or angry and seems incapable of responding to frustration in a more mature way, but he's unempathetic and gets extremely frustrated when our small children whine or have tantrums (especially the one with the special needs, whom he feels is old enough to have "grown out of it" despite the fact that HE DOES THE SAME THING and HE'S FORTY), and he did lose more than $20,000 in bad, emotional investments. It's really hard to talk about these things because I don't want to be critical of him.

I do have my own hobbies. I don't get to spend enough time on them, but I think that's largely a function of the time demands of young children, not a refusal on my husband's part to create time and space for me to relax.

I know I am sort-of all over the place with this. It's really hard to verbalize, I feel really frustrated and really scared and really lonely, and I don't have any friends I feel comfortable discussing it with, which is why I'm doing an anonyask. I know this is pretty scattershot and unfocused and I don't sound very emotionally competent on this topic. I'm just so scared and I don't know how to try to fix this.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:50 AM on March 19, 2013

Upon reading your update, OP...

Sorry for most of my first answer! You are a little deeper into this situation than where I was pinpointing things. Sorry.

You NEED to discuss this with him. Take steps to get this lack of alignment between you as a topic on the table and open for ongoing discussion.

Maybe you can find a new therapist to help you get the ball rolling without coming off as blamey?

A lot of open discussion. This is a pretty serious threat to the stability of your marriage. Your husband deserves to be fully informed of your feelings and experience, he deserves the opportunity to give you his full attention. I hope you can work through things together.

I really hope he steps up.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:51 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I don't understand is why he spends so much time on things that just frustrate him and don't seem to bring him any enjoyment. (And when I ask him, he doesn't have an answer for me.)

Is it possible that the reason why he doesn't have an answer for you is that the video games do bring him a lot of enjoyment? I mean, he keeps buying the things, and playing them even at the risk of further nagging from you. As someone who has played a game or two in her life, I can understand that sometimes what's great about them is the fact that they are difficult and frustrating and then you try and try and try and then suddenly you finish the level or what not and it feels _amazing_. It's a kind of adrenaline/endorphin rush that makes all the previous frustrations worth it.

It seems like you are judging him for doing things that he doesn't enjoy in the right way. Like, if he was drawing more, then he'd be being creative and he could be proud of that (and, maybe, you could be proud of having such a creative husband), but that's not what he wants to spend his time on.

If you need more time to work on your own hobbies, then there are a few ways of getting it: you could convince your husband to help more, you could hire someone to help out some around the house, or you could lower your standards of what is mandatory a little. The first one seems unlikely, unless you can convince your husband that what you think is required actually is, so it feels like, without spending more money, you'll have to do a little of the first and the third.

Have you considered joining a book club or something where you could have more evolved conversations about topics that you're interested in and your husband is not?
posted by sparklemotion at 10:54 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sometimes the best way to get someone to shape up is to simply lay out baseline expectations and have them figure out why they aren't making them.

For example, if your husband is cranky all week because he stays up late playing video games, emphasize to him it's not acceptable for him to be a jerk to you and the kids--but without saying ". . . and you're that way because of video games."

If your husband is about to go pursue a hobby from which you think he might need rescuing, tell him "I'm about to take a pain pill and won't be able to drive you"--but without saying "so don't go on New Trail" afterwards. Then take your pain pill and he will need to make his arrangements if he gets stuck.

This doesn't address the emotional support aspect, which is something that you should really go back to therapy in order to pursue. But by setting reasonable, baseline expectations he will hopefully figure out the standards of behavior he needs to pursue in order to get them done.

Maybe there is more to this, but what I have taken from this is, "I have a husband who is a wonderful father and provides for us. However, I think he has some silly hobbies and he doesn't do the chores I think he should. How can I make him understand how I know better?"

This is a terribly uncharitable reading of the OP's post, and your entire response sounds like "Women are such emotional nags, why can't they understand man's desire for rational success?"
posted by schroedinger at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2013 [35 favorites]

Also, to be blunt, you don't sound very reflexive at all about how you are reacting to your husband's behavior. When you said that your husband had not grown at all and whatever, I thought we were going talk about tantrums or runaway investments in ostrich farms, or whatever. Instead, he just sounds like Phil Dunphy.

This makes it weird when you repeatedly assert that you're the emotional one, the self-reflexive one, the mature one. I know that we're only seeing one small slice of your life, a small slice in which you're annoyed and frustrated, but you sound...different than advertised. Are you familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Effect? People who think they are excellent at XYZ are often much worse at XYZ than those with a more modest, more realistic view of their abilities. Consider modulating your self-evaluation of these traits.

Wow. Just...wow. To me, it sounded as if this was an incredibly difficult question for the OP to articulate. That in her follow-up she mentioned that she was crying while typing only reinforces that impression. The examples she has given may seem minor, but it also sounds like she's afraid that voicing valid concerns about more serious manifestations of her husband's lack of emotional maturity would essentially be a betrayal of someone she loves and respects but with whom she is finding it increasingly hard to live.

There seems to be a lot of retrograde woman-blaming going on in this thread. Women are too serious and responsible! They don't know how to have fun! They insist on bossing or mothering or dominating their husbands or telling them what to do! (I know I used the verb "mothering" in a previous comment, but when the husband insists on acting like a child, what can one do?) Or they want their husbands to talk about their feeeeelings! Men don't want to talk about feeeeelings! They want to talk about sports! Et cetera.

Therapy, yes, absolutely, and it should focus on her issues and concerns and not her children's. And I also think taking time to do or pursue something the OP enjoys, on a regular basis, would really help preserve her sanity--not because she needs to learn to be less uptight, as some people seem to be implying, but simply because she deserves to enjoy herself once in a while, too.
posted by tully_monster at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2013 [81 favorites]

If he is really not meeting any of your emotional needs, that is a real problem. Back when you were 25-year-olds dating I bet he did meet some of your emotional needs. It's reasonable to ask him to do some of the kind of stuff he used to do that made you feel loved, especially if you will enthusiastically reciprocate. If he's not willing to pay attention to you, that should be a deal breaker.

It's not so reasonable to expect that he will change his personality over time in the same ways that you have changed. It sounds like he's a basically good guy with some pretty normal minor flaws and he might never change. If you need to be with someone who is actively striving to perfect himself, you might be with the wrong guy.

When you're learning how to do something, it is always difficult and annoying for a while. It sounds like he enjoys challenging new things. I can understand how he might want to be the kind of guy who does his own plumbing or car maintenance, for example, and then face a steep and frustrating learning curve. There's nothing really wrong or immature about choosing to tackle projects like that in your free time even if it's tough and you can afford to hire a pro.
posted by steinwald at 11:02 AM on March 19, 2013

Wow, so many uncharitable readings in this thread. OP, I sympathize! The fact that certain chores need to be done when company's coming over and that sometimes, yes, you must put down your video games to get them done on time, should not be too much ask.

I think therapy for you or together would help. Therapy just for you at least would resolve the feeling of being alone and scared with no one to talk to.
posted by bleep at 11:05 AM on March 19, 2013 [21 favorites]

It sounds from your updates like you are feeling scared and stuck. You need to get yourself feeling less scared and less stuck. The way you are reacting right now is, as I read it, to try to control the situation/get up in his head. I think, paradoxically, you would feel less scared if you stopped trying to control most of these things. Instead I think you could save a lot of energy by identifying those things you really need to (and can) control. A lot of stuff you can just let go. If he were drinking or doing drugs, we'd all be telling you to get to Al-Anon to deal with codependent behavior. They don't have Al-Anon for things like video games, at least not that I know of. But you may be actually getting into a codependent pattern with that. Sorry; putting labels on things can be irritating but some of his behavior sounds like it's not going to change and focusing on controlling it is misplaced when you could be dealing with other stuff.
posted by BibiRose at 11:14 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's just that I don't understand his lack of self-knowledge -- I feel like that's something most people gain as time goes by?

Hahaha. No. There are plenty of people 20 years older than your husband who are just as lacking in self-knowledge as they were when they were younger. And these are successful, stable people. They just spend much less time on "self-development" because they have other things to worry about.

Look at it this way: you say your husband has a prestigious, high-powered job that he's very successful at. He spends a lot of time on it, and he's good at it. Everything he's wanted to do, he's done. So why would he see any need to change? From his perspective, everything about himself has paid off, so there can't possibly be anything wrong with him or any need for him to change.

That doesn't help the fact that this can be very, very annoying.
posted by deanc at 11:14 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry that you're going through this. It sounds really frustrating.

I used to frequently pack for my husband when we would go out of town for a weekend because he won't have underwear unless I pack it for him. I used to pack for him to ensure that he would have socks, underwear, undershirts, etc. I'd also make sure that he packed whatever medicine he needed and ask if he brought a book so he wouldn't be bored.

Lately, though, I've stopped packing for him. Partially because I'm lazy and have a hard enough time packing myself and I also found that packing for him was a way to distract myself so I wouldn't pack for myself until the last minute. It was a super small way of making myself a martyr ("I have to stay up late before our trip to pack because I had to pack for you"). And also, it's not my problem if he doesn't have a book or undershirts, especially when most of our visits are weekend trips to visit our families. If he NEEDS undershirts, we can go to Target or he can deal for a weekend.

This is a super small thing but I think it gives him some accountability and it's a way to show that he has to do some things himself and live with the consequences himself on a small, safe scale. This weekend, he forgot a belt. He frequently commented on needing a belt. I suggested that we go to Old Navy and he said it was okay.

I know you love him and care about him but sometimes you have to let him fail at things so he realizes there are consequences. Don't do stuff like hold off on taking medicine so you can bail him out. That's not being vindictive - you need to take care of yourself. It also sounds like he gets alone time - do you? And if you can hire someone to buy groceries or pick up around the house once a week, you should absolutely do it. It makes a huge difference in relationships.

Also, at the risk of sounding mean, I think you should try to identify your real problem here. You phrase this as a problem where you're growing and evolving and he is not. That sounds almost like "I am better than he is and he needs to up his game." Which may be the case but phrasing it that way isn't productive. I think that people generally respond better to specifics. I want to see a pattern in things, like my husband values his time more highly than mine, when sometimes, there isn't a pattern there - he just didn't realize he was being inconsiderate. It's easier to say, my husband is immature but if you can point to specific things he did that were immature and specific ways that you would like him to do differently, you might be more successful. People may say that this is "keeping score" but this stuff is hard to articulate and these are examples, not a laundry list.
posted by kat518 at 11:19 AM on March 19, 2013 [11 favorites]

The examples she has given may seem minor

I hadn't seen your second follow-up either, OP, so I was referring to your video-game and hobby examples when I made the above comment. I am truly sorry to find out that I was not far off the mark.

The more you describe of his behavior, however, the more he sounds like the emotionally immature family member I mentioned in my first comment. He also tends to blow up in sometimes scary ways. Out of curiosity, OP, is your husband at all close to his family? What are they like? Do they tend to encourage/condone that kind of behavior? Were either of his parents emotionally abusive or controlling when he was a child/teenager? Conversely, can you turn to them for support or advice?

If this is the first time you've ever talked publicly (if anonymously) about this problem, it's a huge step. In the family situation I mentioned, the spouse hasn't been able to talk about it or been willing to ask for help, and that's been frustrating and worrying to those of us who can see what's going on but who have been rebuffed, but I know it does take a lot of courage to take that first step.

It's not you. It's definitely him.
posted by tully_monster at 11:20 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe part of the reason he isn't growing is you are protecting him too much. He is acting like a kid so you are having to step up into the "mothering" role when what you really want is another grown up to be a partner with. I know it can make your life harder to let him fall on his ass a few times, but that's how kids learn to walk and your husband learns not to do something stupid like ski too far for his skill level or leave things a mess when visitors arrive. While it makes things easier, and yes probably stops his temper tantrums when you save him, he's a grown man and he needs to fail to learn.

Also stop tip toeing around the temper tantrums, my Dad used to control my mum the same way. She'd bend overbackwards to avoid his sulking or his carrying on and throwing things. Your husband has learned that throwing a hissy fit gets him his way, while it's emotional growth of sorts it's not productive, use your reactions to encourage him to more age appropriate responses.

I can see where having his hobbies take over so that he's doing them every night and not helping around the house when needed can be a huge pain in the ass, and I wish I could find the magic button to solve that for my computer game addicted husband. We came up with a compromise that works for us. I get him for 30 minutes when he gets home from work, I can ask him to do any job in that time and he will run around like a mad thing doing as many as he can in that time frame. Once the time is up he can do what he likes for the day. Which often times does include him doing other chores around the house, but I find it less stressful for me as I know if he doesn't do it today he will catch it another day. I get to stop nagging and get help, he gets to know he can relax from his job without feeling guilty or resentful. With 2 kids that time might need to be longer, and while he deserves time to unwind from working all day so do you without having to save his ass or nag at him.

Figure out clearly what you want him to do. A general request like I want you to help around the house will just be so much noise to a goal oriented person like your husband, give him exact requests. I need you to do xyz or spend x minutes a day helping me. I need you to have this done by 9pm. I need you to not throw temper tantrums in front of our children so we can model the behaviour we want from them.

You sound to me like you feel guilty for being annoyed with your husband. It is perfectly alright to feel annoyed and frustrated with your husband and to still love him and get that he works hard to provide for you all, just because you are the SAHM does not make your feelings invalid and give your husband carte blanche to act like a 12 year old kid. Face it if you are raising kids you are working way longer hours on a much more important project than he is and maybe he should be making an effort so you get to relax and do your hobbies. Ignore all the grumpy people that seem to be projecting their own frustrations onto your situation.
posted by wwax at 11:22 AM on March 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

After the second followup: OK, those examples do sound much more serious than the relatively trivial stuff you led off with in the original post.

And I do get (from your first followup) why you did that -- because talking about the real problems is hard, so you divert to talking about (and being unnaturally annoyed at) the inessential stuff like video games.

That same communication problem you're having here is very clearly in effect when you try to talk about this stuff with your husband. That's a problem. There are a lot of clues to that effect in your posts: there are a lot of references to you not saying things, biting your tongue, silently judging his decisions, not wanting to be the "fun police", etc. (When you develop shorthand phrases to describe certain situations, that's a sign that they come up pretty frequently.)

The one and only thing that keeps a relationship going longterm is being able to communicate, effectively, about the hard stuff. That's on both of you. You both need to work that out.

Framing this all -- both in your own head and when discussing it with him / us -- as you growing and changing and being self-reflective and mature, and him being stuck in some state of arrested development, is an extremely unproductive way to deal with these issues. It's possible that things really are that one-sided, but even if it is, framing the issue that way is a better way to end the relationship than to improve it -- because is sounds like you've already decided that you're definitely right and he's definitely wrong, and if he hears you frame it that way he's going to react defensively instead of being able to work with you, and it's just not going to go anywhere good.

(And I don't think it really is that one-sided. I'm not reading you quite as uncharitably as some others here, but just for example you said about him "When he gets upset about thing X, he acts like (and appears to think he is) upset about thing Y. He doesn't seem to have any knowledge about what he's reacting to". Compare this to your own displacement from the real issues that didn't come up until your second followup to your original carping about irrelevant things like 'he plays video games instead of drawing'. Self-knowledge is a tricky and variable thing.)

TL;DR: couples counseling. Really truly. There's much more here than we can untangle for you, but step one is finding ways to resolve your obvious failures to communicate effectively with each other (on both sides.) Work with a professional on that. Together.
posted by ook at 11:24 AM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

It seems like a lot of people got rubbed backwards by your daring to present yourself as self-aware and evolving. Women aren't supposed to acknowledge our strengths, remember, unless we qualify them with a laundry list of our far-more-substantial failings, amirite?

But that said, I think the issue of emotional evolution-vs-not is oblique to your real problem, OP, which is that somewhere along the line your husband stopped being a reliable partner in the family unit, and became something more like a wild card. (Temper tantrums, unpredictable behavior, danger-seeking behavior, loss of money...)

And this is terrifying, because he's a breadwinning wild-card.

I think the calls for therapy are mostly merited; an objective observer may be able to get across to him, in a somewhat less loaded fashion than you can, that a family is not atomized individuals who share a house. It's a machine with integrated parts, and right now he's throwing hazardous cogs all over the damn place. And kids definitely internalize those temper tantrums; he's doing them more damage than any of you probably realize right now.

You have my total empathy, OP. Your husband sounds A LOT like my dad, who was a wonderful man and a great father, but mom eventually felt she couldn't raise functional, healthy kids while being married to him. Because he might come home and TA DA no job.

He did eventually change his ways, and by the end of his life would probably have made an outstanding husband. But he had to basically hit bottom, before his internal growth began, and part of hitting bottom meant getting divorced.

I sincerely hope this isn't in the cards for you, OP, but if it's any comfort, we kids turned out great, we had a wonderful relationship with him, and my mom took back her peace of mind and financial stability. She's really, really happy.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:24 AM on March 19, 2013 [51 favorites]

OP, I like that you have taken the time to write a balanced question in which you strive to be fair to your husband (acknowledging his strengths as a father and a provider) while also voicing your frustration with the distance that has developed between the two of you. I see from your updates that there are many more things you could have said about him but out of loyalty to him, you did not. I think you are to be admired for your forbearance here, not bashed as you have been by a distressing number of people.

Setting aside my reactions to the appalling sexism and dismissiveness I'm seeing in some of these replies, let me see if I can be helpful.

I want to understand why he doesn't seem to be growing any further, and whether there's anything I can or should do.

It has been my experience that some people simply don't realise there is another dimension to grow to. Or, they may realize it exists, but it might not be a way they're naturally inclined to grow (in the way that others don't take naturally to exercising and developing their physical self, for example).

Also, it may be that he is simply overwhelmed with what he is dealing with right now (juggling his career and his responsibilities as father, husband, and friend). I'm not saying that he's doing a perfect job of meeting his personal responsibilities--you wouldn't be writing if he were--but it may be the best he's capable of right now for a variety of reasons. It may be that adding another dimension of growth is just not something that he has the reserves of mental/emotional strength to tackle. I don't know this, but it's a possibility.

My questions are, I guess, why/how does someone -- a good, smart person -- manage to gain so little self-knowledge? And what should I do about this growing distance?

Off the top of my head, I can only think about these three things to suggest to you:

- look after yourself as best you can, which includes talking to a decent therapist who understands your concerns on these issues and who can tell you if you are expecting too much or too little. That person can help guide you in a far better way than we can once he/she knows the details of the situation, which are clearly more complex than you care to spell out here
- remember that no one can change another person, and that other people will only change if they want to. You can express to him your unmet needs and your concerns in a loving but honest way, but you can't *make* him meet them or grow in any direction
- I agree that it's good to let him reap the consequences of his actions (including letting him find his own way home from his ski trips). You might consider reading Codependent No More by Melody Beattie if you haven't already; also The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Goldhor Lerner

For what it's worth, I sympathise with you in the examples you have given.
posted by Amy NM at 11:29 AM on March 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

[Folks maybe chill out a little turning this thread fighty. Answer the OPs questions, don't get huffy with other commenters.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:31 AM on March 19, 2013

Seems like a lot of answers are unfamiliar with the type of situation being described.

To me, OP's 'personal growth' means overcoming a difficult psychiatric issue, such as (and maybe likely) anxiety. The flakiness OP describes is an extremely common manifestation of generalized or social anxiety or both. OP's husband sounds like he is afflicted as well. Constantly jumping from shiny new hobby to shiny new hobby without really digging into any of them sounds like an effort to keep a constant defensive screen up to protect him from some fearful inner stuff.

To ME, the point of OP's story is that she has done hard work to overcome a very difficult personal issue, of which flakiness was merely a symptom, and now she has 'seen the light,' she has gained a lot of clarity on why she behaves how she behaves and feels what she feels, and is now trying to move past that and enjoy a life not hampered by any complicating psychiatric issues.

Husband does not self-reflect in this way. OP sees her former self in her husband, OP knows the sort of work that it takes to get through issues like his, knows that if he gained some of the kind of self-knowledge that she has he could live a life that contains less of the stress she sees in him. And she IS in a position to recognize clearly when he is stressed because she has perhaps felt that way herself and because she has been by the guy's side for many years.

This question seems to me very closely related to a question like, "I've quit drinking and my life is better for it, but my partner still drinks. How do I move forward with someone with whom I am no longer on the same page?"

So what do you do? It's an extremely tough situation. Trying to tell a proud person they have something wrong with them and you know how to fix it usually won't go over very well. The way that I finally came to frame my own issues might go over better, which is to realize that my anxiety (including flakiness, severe procrastination, hobbies I obstinately banged my head on even though they caused a lot of a stress and anger) was not myself. My anxiety was the thing DISALLOWING me to be myself. Whereas before my understanding of my life was that I consistently failed and failed again at things I knew I should be able to succeed at due to some kind of personal shortcoming, my understand now is that I was trying to run a race dragging a couple hundred pounds of chains along with me.

It doesn't have to be this hard (for either of you), and as reprehensible, impossible, and frightening as deep introspection and personal growth and honesty seem sometimes, this is the way you drop the chains and find out what the full potential of your life is.

But some people are permanently closed to that option, maybe mostly men.
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:32 AM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

There's a lot going on here, so I'll pick out one thing: you need to let go and quit trying to optimize his life for him or you're going to drive yourself nuts.

What I mean is...well, let me pull from a personal example. Every morning, my wife goes flying out the door in a flailing panic and a good 50% of the time she forgets to make her lunch. This is because she has decided waking up X minutes before she needs to leave is the PRECISELY OPTIMAL time and she doesn't want to miss a second of sleep. However, maybe a shower runs a few minutes long or she spends a few minutes looking at cat pictures on the internet and suddenly her entire PRECISELY OPTIMIZED TIMELINE is thrown off and she's running behind so she goes flailing in a mad panic to leave on time and it cascades into things like her forgetting her lunch or her coat or her book when she goes flying out the door in a frantic whirl of limbs.

Now I know, and you know, this is entirely preventable. And I have suggested things to her like making her lunch the night before or waking up a few minutes early. And she doesn't want to listen. She wants to do it Her Way. So I could be annoyed when she spends the morning in an angsty panic for the 10,000th time, or I could just recognize that this is what's going to happen and let her live her life the way she sees fit and save myself the brainspace and if she's hungry, well, tough shit, you know?

So you can set some boundaries but let him do his thing. Set aside a budget for his hobbies and if he blows it all on shiny things, well, he can wait til next month. He can play all the video games he wants but if he's going to be a surly dick to you or the kids, he has to wait until you're in bed. That kind of thing. Then let him do them without trying to optimize his fun or enjoyment for him.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:39 AM on March 19, 2013 [33 favorites]

I think your idea of finding another therapist for you to discuss these issues with is a good one. Its clear that this is scary and painful for you and it sounds like it would do you good to talk to someone.

I think you should also consider re-opening the idea of couples therapy. Your husband though it was too blamey last time, so maybe consider trying out some other therapists. I will say that framing the problem as you growing and him not growing probably isn't going to help matters. It may or may not be true (I can't tell from the question and your follow-ups and I certainly don't know you), but I do feel certain that presenting the problems in your marriage to him in that way will not be productive. It may be better to focus on particular issues, like his temper.

I think some of the suggestions above about mothering him less make sense. I understand picking him up from the ski trail, as it can be dangerous outside in the Winter. However, there are probably situations where less is at stake and you can leave it up to him to succeed or fail. Sometimes, my wife and I act like I need a great deal of supervision from her, but we've been moving away from that model. I'm sure there are mistakes that I make that could have been prevented had she been telling what to do, but being my boss is stressful for her and infantilizing for me and usually I'm able to take care of problems that arise (I certainly am at work.) If she leaves me and the kids at home while she goes away for a weekend, the house is fine when she returns and everyone is healthy.

I would suggest not focusing on his hobbies, other than to make sure that you both agree on the budget for your respective hobbies. (I get the annoyance at seeing him stressed out while playing video games, but that's really something he has to work through or maybe you are missing the extent to which he is enjoying himself. My wife has been playing games on the computer with this stressed out look on her face the last few months. It was driving me crazy, but I'm trying to let it go.)

I'm sorry this is so difficult for you and I wish you well.
posted by Area Man at 11:53 AM on March 19, 2013

If I can also just add that the idea of 'our money' is often fraught with peril. If you each make sure you have a certain amount of your own money you can spend on you without any say-so from your partner, a lot of fights and resentment can be eliminated. This is a bit easier to work out when each of you is working and contributes a proportionate amount according to what you earn to shared expenses (and then the rest of your money is yours to spend on you). My understanding is that you're looking after thekids at the moment but there should be an understanding that that has a value and that some of the family income should be for you. Its amazing how many other issues are solved once you tackle the problem of money.
posted by Pademelon at 12:05 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I also feel sorry for your husband, but a bit sympathetic to you too. It sounds like you're just really getting on each other's nerves to my ears. I wasn't entirely sure how the examples illustrated stunted maturity. It sounded like people who are just understandably fed up with each other's quirks. Could one of yours possibly be a tendency to try to control your husband? Or to judge him more harshly than you judge yourself? It sounded a bit judgmental how you talked about his video games and bedtimes and lack of commitment to his hobbies. I can understand where you're coming from, it just didn't sound like you guys are on the same team. And it wasn't even a "how can I support him" question as much as a "how can I handle his deficiency" question.

What if you started by revising your mindset to begin to think of yourselves as a unit? That way you're a couple on a journey together, and it's not like you personally have evolved and developed this great wisdom whereas he's leagues behind you. That's what it sounds like your perception is currently, and to be honest it doesn't really sound that evolved.
posted by mermily at 12:09 PM on March 19, 2013

I'm going to agree with the idea of more therapy, but really more of a focus on these issues in solo therapy for you. It's unclear whether your husband found couples counseling "blamey" because of the therapist's style or just because he got called on some of his shit and didn't like it, but IME the latter is not unusual.

Also, is there a chance you tried to start expressing the issue to your therapist the same way you did here? Please know that I'm not trying to blame you for anything - this stuff is hard to talk about, especially if doing so feels like betraying a loved one, and sometimes we create euphemisms or ways of talking around the subject, even in therapy. I'd like to think a good therapist would press for more detail and try to get to the heart of the issue, though, so maybe you do just need to see someone new.

Which brings me back to why I think more solo therapy might be good for you for the moment - I think you need to get some more clarity about what's going on and how to talk about it before you try to get your husband back into therapy he's pretty sure to resist.
posted by camyram at 12:11 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I read the third follow-up post too, which it seemed I'd missed. It looks like I didn't have an accurate read on the situation. That changes things.
posted by mermily at 12:24 PM on March 19, 2013

I think that like_a_friend nailed it.

I wonder, though, if the reason you are having such a hard time communicating this to us is because you're preventing yourself from laying this all out internally. It's scary and hard to admit how large a problem like this actually is, and I wonder if you aren't trying to avoid that by focusing on less important details. For example, your subsequent updates make it clear that this is far more serious than your initial framing suggested.

I suggest opening up a document and writing out the entire problem. You can delete it afterward if you need to, and you don't need to show it to anyone, but I suspect part of the problem is that you can't deal with the issues in your marriage due to framing that is preventing you from understanding what the real issues are. Once you can admit to and understand the issues, you'll have something to take to your therapist and actually get support on.
posted by zug at 12:27 PM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

This sounds really frustrating, and I'm so sorry. The things you describe would make me feel very lonely too. However, I do see a bit of judgement/mothering in your post that makes me worry, because the most fruitless and frustrating thing you can do in a relationship is try to change your partner. It's not your responsibility to figure out what's wrong and why he's behaving this way. It IS your job to articulate your needs in the the kindest way possible, and work with him to figure out how they can be met. It sounds like he's not hearing what the real issue is (and it did take two updates for me to start to grasp it too). Which means that you're not talking, he's not listening, or both.

In the short term, I would literally throw money at the problem. Hire some help with cleaning, chores, projects, babysitting, etc. Get yourself some breathing room. Do what it takes to make you feel nurtured and capable of seeing the best in him again.

Long term, therapy for you, both individually and as a couple.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:29 PM on March 19, 2013

Whether it's a useful way of looking at things, I don't know, but so, so many of the behaviours you describe might easily fall under the ADHD umbrella (persistent behaviour; making inaccurate projections & planning things poorly; impulse and emotional control problems... notice too that his actual hobbies of gaming and woodworking are dopamine-reward & short-term gratification strategies, as are the skiing and other outdoor activities. Regarding lack of awareness around what he actually does vs. what he thinks he does, many of us are prone to that bias. He may identify as a writer or model-maker, but may not be sufficiently equipped to engage in the requisite processes).

While those things could potentially be explained by ADHD, the lack of insight/psychological awareness and difference in communication styles are something else, I think. Many people (men included) who've been diagnosed with ADHD are emotionally perceptive, empathetic, able to articulate themselves and interested in doing so.

Will just suggest, maybe, considering continuing your own growth through career, to distract from marital problems; to bolster retirement plans (and any other decisions you might make down the line); and to meet like-minded people, who may fulfill some of the needs your husband can't, at the moment. I gather this may not be practical given your current parenting schedule, but it might be something to think about down the line.
posted by nelljie at 12:52 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd like to really defend the fact that it's hard to care about self-growth when you're doing a nine-to-five. It's not an excuse, and it's not about gender, except for the fact that breadwinners tend to be male.

It's about trying to find balance in your life. If your job is emotionally and intellectually draining, your after hours self will start to look decidely un-intellectual and un-emotional. When I have a particularly grindy day at work, I'll go home craving intellectual stimulation. If I'm given a stack of new legislation to interpret, I want to go and watch some shiny explosions. A brutal work at week will leave my partner dealing with a twelve year old, because I'm just tired of having to always meet deadlines, keep up a certain quality of work, and watch that I don't accidently curse up a firestorm when it all goes to hell.

Likewise, being the primary caregiver, you crave being able to pass off the responsibility baton and have some real connection with an *ADULT*.

I don't think it's an unresolvable conflict. It's a natural segregation of housework that's lasted for a long time, but it places economic stabiilty over emotional compatibility. That means you need to consciously make room for you two to maintain common ground and that sustain that connection.

When your lives are fairly similar, I think it's easy to get by in a relationship with poor communication skills. In the middle of dinner, I can say "pass the, y'know, the thing" and my partner has a pretty good idea I mean the salt. If I'm scrunched over the table working on a hobby they don't care about, it's a lot harder to say "the thing" and have them know what I'm talking about.

I think if you stop trying to make it about "I'm growing and you're not" and more about "we've grown into our separate fields, and I don't understand you anymore, and I need you" you have a much better chance of making it work. Having a lot of amunition just seems to feed into the blamey feeling he had, which shut down the communication process last time.
posted by politikitty at 1:15 PM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

[Again, folks, please focus on answering the asker and not on arguing with each other.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:34 PM on March 19, 2013

Argh, your head and heart must be hurting so much over this. Sharing it with us on the green is a huge step, and good on you to articulate even some of this problem.

This jumped out at me: "...lately I frequently feel like I'm the only *emotional* adult in the house." From what you've told us, that's accurate. And scary. I can see how you identify the same patterns in your husband's behavior and emotional regulation that you do in your children, and why seeing the similarities would be so frustrating. But (and it's a big but) this isn't mothering a fourth child, it's dealing with the problem of adult autonomy* in the person who's supposed to be one half of a give-and-take relationship.

He's a grown man. You know that. You also know that you can't *make* him do anything, and sometimes can't prevent him from doing things (even stupid ones), and that you could stand there holding open the door of compassion/fairness/maturity/good example-setting all day long and he still might never make it over the threshold.

So what you're left with is you. You and your ability to fairly, kindly express specific needs. Your ability to set and enforce boundaries (short of life-and-death or major financial stuff) about what you're *not* willing to do for him. You have an ability, at least in theory, to go out into the world and do a hobby that makes you happy, to go meet new friends that are yours, to find a therapist who will listen to you. These are things you can do for yourself, and maybe reduce the load of feeling like you have to oversee your husband's emotional life (even and especially when it feels like you're the only emotional adult in the house, even when he's going to make a dumb and easily-avoidable decision and your advice is clearly logical and sound...figure out what you can live with, and then let him fall down).

Put on your own oxygen mask FIRST. Good luck. Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like a listening ear.

* MeFite-coined, though I don't recall who said it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:43 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

While those things could potentially be explained by ADHD, the lack of insight/psychological awareness and difference in communication styles are something else, I think. Many people (men included) who've been diagnosed with ADHD are emotionally perceptive, empathetic, able to articulate themselves and interested in doing so.

Yes, this. I think working through this, and separating these two issues, might be helpful.

I think this is one of the reasons why there is such a strong emotional reaction to this thread - if you have ADHD, it's really hard constantly being told by your loved ones that you are flaky, lazy, rude, or insensitive, when in reality you try really hard to remember (but sometimes mess up your schedule), are genuinely a hard worker (though you do do in a more scattered fashion), and are truly engaged with, and care for, your loved ones (even though your talking style might inadvertently irritate them). These are two separate issues, and someone with ADHD can still be an equal and competent partner, as well as highly self-reflexive and emotionally mature, even if many people dislike the way they go about things.

Or you can have ADHD and still be a jerk, like any jerk in the rest of the "normal" population.

I think that once you separate some of the issues you've conflated, it may be easier to see what the problem is, and how you might go about trying to solve it.
posted by vivid postcard at 1:49 PM on March 19, 2013

A lot of people are addressing some of the big issues, so I'm going to take on the small issues.

Your husband says his hobbies are writing and drawing, but he spends more time playing videogames. You are puzzled.

An explanation for this:

Videogames are not what we think about when we think of "hobbies." Even for those of us who play them. I'm a pretty avid videogamer - I'm also a writer. I'll give you one guess as to what I spend the most time doing - but if I were to describe myself today, I would tell you I was a writer, not a videogamer. Why? Because videogaming is not a hobby, like moviewatching is not a hobby. Hobbies are things that you do which are fun and productive in some way. Videogaming is just pure fun. Enjoying videogames is like enjoying movies or books - it is a piece of art, meant to be consumed, which is also interactive in some way.

You see him getting frustrated with the videogames, and wonder how he can be having any fun. Maybe because the games are frustrating - the levels are hard, or what have you. But while he is engaged in the videogame, he's watching and participating in a story - a story which may feel more interesting than his day to day life right now.
posted by corb at 2:16 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

You may or may not be more mature than your husband, but I'd recommend staying away from that kind of thinking. Frankly, judging other people's maturity is not the most mature thing to do. And even if it's true, how will it help you (or him) to focus on that?

Focus on the specific behaviors that impact you and the kids that you need some change about. Ask him respectfully and gently, but clearly, for change about those things. Don't try to change who he is as a person (it won't work), but feel free to request changes to specific behaviors.

I think stating that you really do want to go back to therapy, but you'd like his input to help choose a therapist that feels less blamey to him, would be a reasonable request.
posted by latkes at 2:16 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

latkes: "Focus on the specific behaviors that impact you and the kids that you need some change about. Ask him respectfully and gently, but clearly, for change about those things. Don't try to change who he is as a person (it won't work), but feel free to request changes to specific behaviors. "

This is how we're managing my partner's (undiagnosed) ADHD. My mindfulness is only as good as I make it and trying to change him doesn't work, so it's behaviours + my reactions that I work on. So we have calendars, we have lists, we have areas that are our responsibility. If he stays up late and is grumpy, well, fine. Whatever. He can be grumpy, that's his perogative, as long as he gets his other shit done I don't care. Well, I do, and he does, but we have tried to create a tolerance for grumpiness (works for me too). But the main thing is that we get the work of being a household done with minimal BS and then we can work on other stuff (hobbies and so on).

And for the things that just keep happening? We are really unsympathetic and we will actually list why. "Why are you surprised that this happened? You did it Thursday, and last week, and the week before. You are not allowed to be surprised that when you stay up late and don't participate in the household that you are tired and I am angry. That is how it works when you choose not to do what needs to be done." - we use concrete examples though, not 'you always' or 'you never'. Actual dates or examples ("You can't be surprised that your parents are flaky, remember the interview? Remember getting your laptop cable back? You can be hurt, but don't act surprised."). As soon as I started doing that things got a lot better because my partner could see that yes, actually, it was a pattern but also could work out internally why it was a pattern.

We still have issues, and they aren't even close to the ones you've listed, but that's how we're dealing with the day-to-day stuff. He can work on himself at whatever speed he wants (0kph) and that's fine, as long as he is a part of the family and we tackle things as a family.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:03 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the manchild thing is incredibly irritating - why can't he take responsibility for himself and his actions; why does he have to pass the buck to you?

A lot of the men who go to dommes are men in powerful positions professionally - lots of stress, lots of worry, lots of important decisions to make. So they go to a space where they can behave in a completely different capacity.

This is similar to what you're husband is doing. If professionally he has to be mature, make important decisions, and deal with a lot of stress, when he comes home, he wants no responsibility at all - he just wants to do what he feels like doing. And when you do what you feel like doing, you also don't think about consequences and details - you just want to do it.

I'm not saying it's right - I'm just saying that that's the other side to this job that he has. If he wasn't in such a stressful position, I think he'd be more in a position to be able to step up more at home.

You work part time and look after the children - this is also a lot for you to do - and it sounds like you don't have an escape. What are your video games and skiing? Do you have something?

Everyone needs something where they can just be the opposite of how they are day-in-day-out. This isn't a failing on their part - it's a necessary requirement of getting through life without burning out. I think you need to find that something for you before you burn out.
posted by heyjude at 3:21 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have developed what I'd call a theory, that he's not growing and not self reflective. I do this too, but I've learned it's rarely helpful. Usually I make a theory when I have this huge backlog of things I'm not expressing, and suddenly I see a pattern emerge out of that list.

I'd say, take all these things one by one. Needing rescued while skiing, or even not realizing how often that tends to happen, is not really all that similar to not being able to converse about your emotions. Focus less on creating an explanation of his behavior and more on what exactly you want to happen.

I think therapy would be good, since you seem to be struggling to ask for what you want without feeling like "the fun police," so maybe some help there would be good. Also, I think therapy might be your best hope to have conversations with your partner deepening in these ways you want.
posted by salvia at 3:57 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

From the OP:
You guys have given me a lot to think about and helped me clarify my thoughts and frustrations somewhat. I think my first step will be trying to bring this up with my therapist, with an eye towards giving couples' counseling another try -- but that's frustrating because I know I can't MAKE him go, or make him want to go. It's hard because it feels like just one more thing I have to deal with, but I don't think I can go on with this stress so internalized.

Some of the "mandatory" chores he blows off include paying bills (I now manage all the finances), buying food for the children when he insisted he was going to the grocery store and I shouldn't bother, feeding the children at a reasonable time when I'm not home, changing diapers, putting them to bed at a reasonable hour -- he just "forgets" and then gets frustrated that the children are whiney because they're hungry or exhausted, and then it's my day that's all screwed up the next day because they're off their schedule. Not all the time, but sometimes, and it's always the same pattern of failing to realize the consequences of, say, getting involved in a novel half an hour before dinnertime. Once he's had the impulse to read, he doesn't seem able to defer gratification, and once he's reading, he can't divert his attention back to the children. He just always follows his immediate impulse, regardless of how it affects the people around him. He has missed children's doctor and dentist appointments, an IEP meeting, and similar -- things we scheduled around his schedule because he insisted he had to be there. Really MANDATORY things that have to get done. I already have a maid service in to clean the house since the special needs diagnosis, and other than that I really couldn't care less about vacuuming and bed-making and these other sorts of chores. The other thing he does is, he insisted he was going to take over washing the dishes because I am so time-pressed and I don't like doing dishes. So what happens is, he intends to do them, stays up half the night playing his video game, is too tired so he goes to bed with the intention of doing them the next morning, is late for work the next morning so runs out the door intending to do them when he gets home, and the cycle repeats. When after five days I just do the dishes myself because I'm tired of hand-washing sippy cups every time I need one, and I don't say anything about it, he blows up at me as soon as he comes in the door and says, "I SAID I was going to get to the dishes!" I feel like he puts me in no-win situations where he insists he'll do something, never gets to it because he's so bad at managing his time and planning ahead and understanding his own failure-points in time management, and when I go ahead and do it myself, he takes it as a rebuke.

I _have_ become very zen about him mismanaging his OWN life, even when it means I go to bed alone every night because he means to come up in twenty minutes but then gets distracted and never does (which makes me sad but I've quit nagging him about; it doesn't help and it just makes everyone unhappy), but I think reading the answers in this thread has made me realize the real stress point is when it affects the children and he doesn't follow through on things with the kids.

I also now think maybe he DOES know some of this behavior is really problematic -- you guys helped me see it's really some specific behaviors that are out of line, rather than his self-knowledge or lack thereof -- and maybe he is avoiding the problems, dumping them on me, refusing to talk to me about stuff, etc., as a way to avoid dealing with the fact that he's not being the father and husband he'd like to be. In couples' therapy his attitude was, "everything would be fine if she just stopped bringing it up; the problem here isn't that we're not communicating, the problem is that she's communicating depressing things that I wouldn't have to hear about if she'd stop talking about them." And he's pretty happy since we stopped couples therapy and I resolved to just deal with stuff and not complain about it; his shit gets dealt with and nobody complains to him about it.

Since I resolved that a while ago, I stopped doing his laundry, for example, if he couldn't manage to put it in the dirty clothes hamper, and now he runs out of laundry and gets really aggravated but still doesn't seem able to either put his stuff in a hamper or do his own laundry. (He has a specific way he wants his clothes put away, which I don't do right, so he insists he put away his own clothes, but he never does, they just sit there in piles, so separating his clean from dirty clothes is a gargantuan task.) So I have been trying to let his poor task management/planning consequences fall on him, but as someone said before, I start to feel like a single parent who happens to have another person who lives in the house with us but otherwise is unconnected. He obviously manages these behaviors well enough at work, though I think it is a struggle for him, but he is just totally refusing to manage them at home and, at least when it comes to the children, that isn't fair.

Thanks for all your input. I tried to answer some of the later thoughts in the thread but there are a lot of answers. I'm chewing over a lot of what you guys said and I'm going to re-examine whether I'm nagging about things that don't need nagging about, and I really appreciate you guys taking the time to listen to me and help me think through this emotionally difficult (for me) situation. (And I'm sorry to the mods for creating modding work, I didn't realize this would be a touchy issue.)
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:58 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just want to say, that sounds super hard, and you are clearly trying strategy after strategy to manage it without growing too resentful. I hope therapy helps, because you clearly need support in dealing with this frustrating situation, and because ideally he would be(come) aware of its impact on you and a partner in finding an approach that's more workable for you both.
posted by salvia at 4:11 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

The problem is, you don't get to zone out - ever. You have kids to look after, one of whom has special needs? (that alone is so much work), plus a part time job - so you effectively have one full time job (kids) and one part time, paid job. So you're working longer than him, and just as hard, if not harder. So him coming in and flopping down on the couch because of his 'hard day' is just... what, dude?! Most adults work 9-6, in this he's not at all unique. I work full time, I have worked two jobs, sometimes three. My husband works a 60 hour week minimum, and frequently it's 80/90, over 7 days. He is still functional around the house and looks after his basic safety. We both respect each other and are considerate. The children in my care have good models in us, and thoughtful treatment. No tantrums and him lazing around while I clean the house.

I think I'd be at the end of my tether too, if I had to do all that and be responsible for him not dying in a snow drift and all the housework. Working a full time job does not exempt you from family responsibilites. My dad used to pull this. He'd come home at 6 and be like 'Well, I've done my bit! You don't know how hard I've worked!' as my mum went out to her second job, effectively meaning she was working a 14 hour day. And we had to babysit him - at the age of 10 I was cooking his meals from scratch and ironing his shirts and washing up his dishes because he 'just wanted to relax'. Sound fair?

You don't get to relinquish responsibility because you do a normal work day like everyone else. I'd be very unhappy with this manbaby act at 40. Yes, you need space for yourself and your hobbies, but more importantly he needs to man up, wake up and notice that even if he's stuck at 25, you're not. I do think couples counselling would be good but if he's characterising it as blamey instead of facing up to stuff... how effective it would be is debatable.

I would see a therapist seperately about your husband because I think you're going to need a serious talk with him and being as prepared and calm and aware as possible will help it to go better. Good luck, and memail me anytime.
posted by everydayanewday at 4:15 PM on March 19, 2013 [21 favorites]

To me your husband seems very passive-aggressive, entitled and manipulative - probably unconsciously, I will take your word for him being a good man who may do a number of the things he does because of possibly undiagnosed ADHD, or because of high-pressure job, or because you might nag, or because everyone needs to decompress... but still, in my eyes he is borderline abusive, what with the walking on eggshells around such issues as the washing up, the laundry etc.

There are a few practical steps mentioned above which you might try (the time-management around hobbies, where you both get time allowances, the budgets for hobbies, etc), but I think without some good couples counseling your life might become increasingly miserable and hopeless-seeming. I'd also spend some time trying to figure where my own boundaries are and the limits beyond which things become intolerable (lest you become a slowly-boiling frog). Maybe figure out what an ideal-but-still-realistic scenario would look like for you, try to work towards it together. But I'm sorry to say that the working-together part may not pan out and I feel you might also want to give some thought to a possibly necessary exit plan down the road.

I'm really sorry you're going through this, it's hard to love someone and realize that you might have hit the end of the road - or even only a real low point. Good luck.
posted by laceysocks at 4:18 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Doesn't want to talk about his issues? Is much happier now that you've just shut up about it?

This does not sound good. This is not him being a good husband. Forcing you to live in a pile of mess because he doesn't want to make the extra effort, when you have kids to look after and work from home is very self-centred. I work a lot from home, and the state of the house affects me. He's out of it most of the time. You are not. He's willfully worsening your living conditions because 'just stop bitching about it and there's no problem'? Do you even exist as a person in his head?

'There's a lot of work he needs to do' is a massive understatement here. I hope he is willing to work on it with you.
posted by everydayanewday at 4:28 PM on March 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

One more idea:

Why don't you go out of town for 2 weeks, and leave him to take care of the kids? Go visit relatives or friends, or just go on a cheap vacation.

Give him plenty of notice, but don't ask his permission. Just say, "I am really overwhelmed and need a break. I need two weeks by myself some time before June. I'm flexible about exact dates, but I definitely need this time."

This will give you a chance to get a break and some relationship perspective, and him a chance to step up with caring for the kids.
posted by latkes at 4:29 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think it's great you've updated this, and I think that continuing individual therapy, while going to couples' therapy, is a good idea.

In some areas of your question and updates, I feel very sympathetic to your husband: you will talk about how he "forgets" to do something, or never bothers to finish projects, or seems to be passive-aggressively avoiding "mandatory" tasks, and I get a sense that you are being judgmental, mainly because as someone with adhd, I have genuinely forgotten important, seemingly unforgettable, things; flaked when I really didn't mean to; thought I was doing something helpful for a loved one, when it turned out that, apparently, I was not; etc. I've frequently been told that I am lazy and a fuck-up, even though my accomplishments very much say otherwise. When I was younger, the judgment I faced really cut to the core, made me feel awful, and set up some defensive behaviors that probably led to a vicious cycle. Things are better, though I still wish people would try to be more understanding, and not take my mistakes so personally.

In other areas of your question, though, I feel so sympathetic to you: maybe he is "forgetting" tasks so he can get out of them, he keeps making promises that you feel are not being kept, and even if this is some sort of major ADHD(-esque) condition beyond his control, or whatever, you have kids, and raising kids is hella hard, and, frankly, it ups the ante. Even if this behavior is caused by something medical, psychological, environmental, and doesn't relate to any negative intent on his part, it's still something that needs to be addressed, and I think you guys need to address it.

I can easily see both sides here, and envision many possibilities and explanations, all of which seem reasonable. This is probably why there are so many strong opinions in this question.

The only way I can see you resolving this is with some professional help, mediation, and assistance, because I think it is the only way you guys can get to the root of what's going on, and how to solve it.

Your feelings about this situation are valid; you should not disregard your own emotions. At the same time, it is also possible that your feelings are grounding in untrue, incomplete, or inaccurate assumptions (or not!), there may be things you are doing to exacerbate this situation (or not!), and what ends up being a reasonable solution may be something that, right now, you cannot even imagine (or not!).

Counseling will probably help you work through all that.
If he comes with you to counseling, and works with you on this, then you may find that he defies the negative characterizations made of him in this thread. If he refuses, well, then you've just learned something about his commitment to working through problems in your family system.

But I think you need the support of someone skilled, because this could go in so many directions, or could get real hard, really quickly.

Good luck
posted by vivid postcard at 4:37 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think therapy is good, not because you absolutely need to change yourself, but because you need to vent. And if you don't have anyone around you who you can trust, then why not pay someone to do this for you? What you want is not someone to give you advice, but someone to just lend an empathetic ear.

I did this once over the course of a year - I had some big issues, but no one to whom I could speak to. I spent 1 hour a week venting to a therapist. I wouldn't say that it helped 100%, but it sure helped to ease the tension. Maybe you could meet somewhere other than the office just to make it feel less like a therapy session and more like meeting a friend (although I don't know what can of worms this will open up, especially if your therapist is a male or if people like to gossip)

You also need to make yourself happy? Ask yourself what you could do to make yourself happy - you'll need to be reasonable, but if you always keep your eye on the prize, which is your happiness, then these compromises will seem less... compromising.

You're not a bad person for feeling that you are more mature than your husband! I have no idea why so many people are making you feel bad for this. But believe me, it's OK to feel this way!

But you do need to address these feelings lest they transform into hurtful actions. Focus on yourself and what will make you happy!

feel free to memail me if you need to talk more.
posted by bitteroldman at 5:58 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

OP, please feel free to memail me. The more I read your updates the more I feel there is something manipulative and abusive going on. I have been in an emotionally abusive relationship and am here if you would like to talk, even if what I'm saying sounds extreme and nothing like what you're going through. But forgetting important things? And then being angry that you're doing them? Temper tantrums? Blaming you for bringing up problems - "if you just didn't feel that way, we'd be fine"? I'm worried for you.
posted by blue_and_bronze at 6:09 PM on March 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

As you've continued to describe his behavior he seems less "forgetful scamp" and more like "manipulative, selfish asshole." Not feeding or paying attention to the kids? Blowing up at you when you do tasks he's been perpetually putting off? This is really fucked up behavior. He may not like thinking about the things he does wrong but that doesn't change the consequences of his actions or the effects they're having on the kids and you.

I have a friend whose ex-husband sounds like yours. Pretty disconnected from family tasks, unwilling to confront his own negative behaviors, made a lot of money but acted like a giant manbaby. She pretty much had to manage everything in order for bills to be paid on time, savings to be saved, the kid to be fed and dressed. They divorced over a year ago and her life is so much easier and better for it. She and her young daughter have a better relationship since he isn't stressing them out, it's easier to run the household without his constant cycle of I'm-gonna-change-but-not-tonight gumming up the planning process, no more passive-aggressiveness bullshit on a daily basis.

Lay it down, you need to return to therapy and he needs to start making changes in his behavior. He has to be a participant in the family rather than an impingement to its function.
posted by schroedinger at 6:57 PM on March 19, 2013 [15 favorites]

This sounds really, really difficult. Feeling like a single parent with a grown man at home has got to be very tough. Having that grown man refuse to help out and then yell at you when you do the things that need to be done because "he was going to do it" is not OK. And then I see this:

He's pretty happy since we stopped couples therapy and I resolved to just deal with stuff and not complain about it; his shit gets dealt with and nobody complains to him about it.

Oh, I am so, so sorry to hear this. That is really upsetting to read. When I put it together with what he said in couples counseling - that the real problem is you communicating - I get a sick feeling in my stomach. That sounds familiar in a way to me that I hate to admit.

Couples counseling is about solving problems together. No one person is the problem. Your relationship is like a third person, almost - it's a living, breathing organism that needs care and feeding. One person does not cause all the problems.

Unless one person is abusive.

So, I... have to unfortunately agree with blue_and_bronze here, based on stringing together all the things you said, especially the above statement. I think that the word abuse might need to be on the table at this point, at least for you to look into.

I would take a look at the book Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft and The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. Keep an open mind. Go to counseling alone again. Tell your therapist that you feel alone and helpless and that you don't know how to deal with all the confusing feelings you're having. Tell your therapist that your husband is not pulling his weight, and that you feel like a single parent.

Ask yourself hard questions. What would make your life better? What can you - just you - do to make this situation more tenable, other than what you have already done?

Do you have to think about separating or leaving him in order to have a happy, fulfilled life?

Questions like that.

Best of luck to you, OP. Thank you for asking this question.
posted by sockermom at 7:02 PM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

I feel like your complaints have changed substantially as this askme as gone on. Maybe that is because you realised what you had accepted as normal really wasnt okay for you, or you didn't want to list all the details upfront to avoid a chorus of DTMFA or whatever, but I think it has affected the answers you have gotten. I think your problem is bigger than askme can really help and it is a deep-rooted and systemic problem.

You described him from the start as a good husband and father; but later talk about him mismanaging money in a major way, refusing to address your concerns with honesty, ignoring dirty diapers and not feeding the children as just a selection. These are the types of problems that child protection services would open a file over - these are not minor concerns. You also sound really overburdened in multiple areas, say you cannot unwind with your own hobbies due to looking after the children but mention his extensive video gaming and other hobbies multiple times. Which makes me wonder, what IS a good husband and father in your eyes? And why do you describe him as such when his actions appear otherwise? This sounds like a failing, and flailing, family with only one person recognising the problem. You can't fix this problem by yourself. And I agree with those that say his behaviour, his recognising that you have concerns but his refusal to honestly listen or work with you is on the abuse spectrum. So what can you do? I don't know, to be honest. I think you need to get as much stress off yourself right now as possible. Up the maid visits, get more takeout, reduce your workload, hire babysitters even when he is home. Spend more time doing things for you to ground yourself (exercise, yoga, mediation are great for this). Switch up your therapist, go back into couples counseling. Stop walking on eggshells around him and be more assertive about your needs (and the needs of the children he is ignoring). Good luck, seriously.
posted by saucysault at 7:03 PM on March 19, 2013 [22 favorites]

Yeah OP, as you've added more updates I've realized that your problem is a lot less trivial than you originally made it appear.

I hate to say this, but I think you need to start making contingency plans for divorce. Separate your finances enough to give yourself a cushion, investigate the cost of rental houses in your area, etc. BUT, before you go through with it I would give him one last chance at couples therapy. He needs to commit to a least [some reasonable period of time....maybe a year?] of sessions, and he needs to realize that he's not being a true partner in your marriage and _want_ to fix it. He should probably also be going to an individual therapist because he does have some kind of avoidance issue that needs dealing with. Or you walk.

Ultimatums are usually a bad idea, but if you're prepared to walk, you can go through with it so the situation is his to lose.

I hope that he loves you and your family enough to at least _try_ to shape up.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:10 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm going to take you at your word that he's usually a good father and spouse, but it sounds like when he fails, he fails spectacularly. It's worth thinking closely about whether you truly feel this way in your gut, or if the last few commenters might be right and you're in an abusive situation.

That said, I'm usually highly skeptical of internet diagnoses of ADHD, but I'm going to suggest that he gets checked out. If he's doing well at work, it sounds like he might be spending all of his executive function and willpower there and then comes home exhausted and unable to do anything useful/productive. The giant blow up about the dishes and avoiding talking about the problems in your marriage sound to me like he knows he's screwed up but doesn't feel like he can fix it so he's avoiding the issue in hopes that it'll go away.

Again, I'm usually a bit skeptical of people overlabeling others as ADHD, but so much of what you said resonates with my own experience (inability to do household chores or hobbies you really want to do while being otherwise successful, shame/avoidance of talking about his flakiness, inability to go to bed when he's tired (executive functioning is harder as you get more tired), not changing even after he experiences the natural consequences of his actions, etc).

However. Meds will not be a panacea. If he's been this way for 40 years, these things are both coping mechanisms and plain old habits, and breaking them will require concerted effort on his part. What helped me was going to a CBT-style therapist who helped me examine my routines and where the failure points were. Having that hour a week of accountability has made a huge difference for me. But it's definitely been a slow process and took a couple of months for things to really change in my case.

If he's reluctant to go, you might try framing this not as an issue of "he's screwing up and needs to change" but as a matter of your household only being able to tolerate so many goofs and lately you feel like if you make any, everything will topple over. It's about giving you the space to screw up too, as much as it is about him becoming more reliable.

On discussing this with him: It sounds like it's really hard for you to talk about this with him (or anyone) and that you might need some prompting and to have things pulled out of you a bit. Have you told him as much, that you really need him to ask questions and not let things drop? And that you know it's hard for him to do that (because it is hard to probe someone else for how you've screwed up) and so you want to go to therapy where someone else can help make sure you say what needs to be said?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 7:43 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

OP, are you scared of him ever? Or intimidated? Have you ever just yelled at him for not doing what he said he would? I ask because if flat calling him out is either unimaginable or has had a result that scared you, you are dealing with a more serious situation than just growing apart. I am not telling you to have a fight, just saying that most couples have them and you should be able to do so without being actually afraid of the other person.

Right now you are probably fighting the urge to let it go and do nothing. But if your marriage has anything worth saving, demanding that your partner be a partner will not end it.

Go slowly. Explore these issues with your therapist and get them to help you figure out your next step..asking to return to couples therapy, probably. Also you need a plan for what to do if he refuses or it fails. If you are this unhappy, doing nothing should not be one of your options.

You are right that you can't make someone change. That doesn't mean you have to accept how things are.
posted by emjaybee at 7:56 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I feel like your complaints have changed substantially as this askme as gone on.

Yeah, Nthing all the replies to this effect. It now seems that you were really minimizing this man's behavior in your first post.

I don't feel like I have a ton to add, but I do wonder why you did that. I don't mean that in an accusatory way: I just mean you should probably ask yourself why, and what it says about the dynamic between the two of you.

Good luck; this sounds really tough.
posted by Broseph at 8:07 PM on March 19, 2013

Each update kept getting worse and worse...now it is to the point where what is being described bears no resemblance to the initial question.
posted by 99percentfake at 8:09 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

You've written a lot in your original post and follow ups and something that keeps jumping out at me....She doesn't respect her husband. Everything points to that. It's impossible to respect a man when you feel like his mom. From everything you say, it certainly sounds like he behaves like a petulant, bratty, defensive teenager.

It's odd. I'm sitting here thinking it's the plainest thing in the whole world that OP does not respect her husband. Yet OP herself, for whatever reason, hasn't said that. So it makes me wonder: Am I reading into this the wrong way? Am I drawing her conclusions for her? Maybe she hasn't thought of it in those terms or isn't framing it that way intentionally. But it just seems so damn obvious.

So start there. You've communicated to us that you don't respect your husband. You've probably communicated to him that you don't respect him. So what would happen if you just up and said it to yourself or to him? It's certainly a cold, harsh and uncomfortable thing to admit, but it's the truth about how you see him.

Things seem bad enough that it might be interesting to play around with what might happen with you both if the only thing that changed is that you're no longer willing to dance around that cold, hard and uncomfortable fact. You know it. He either suspects it, knows it or fears it. What happens when it's said out loud?

You don't have to be right. You don't have to be justified. You don't have to question your motives or go spelunking into his. You don't have analyze behavior or communication. And for Christ's sake, you really don't need the DSM. You just need to decide if that's the truth about how you feel.

So that's what I suggest. Just focus on that for a few days and nothing else. Don't think about why, don't think about should, don't think like or love or good with the kids, don't question your own integrity, don't think about what to do with it. Just think I don't respect my husband. See if that rearranges anything.

Think of it as a little touch stone. You're all over the place. You have a lot to think about and lots of raw feelings. It's a simple, small, clean, clear thing in a storm of problems that are anything but.

Best of Luck.
posted by space_cookie at 8:46 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

(My Phone Is Stuck In Title Case, Sorry.)

In Rereading Your Update, I Really Think His Stuff Could Be Physiological. I Hope You Guys Do Go Back To Therapy And That You Describe The Full Extent As You Have Here. Many ADHD People Talk About Feeling A Lot Of Shame, And I Wonder If That's What His Anger Is About. Finding A Solution Here Could Really Help Him. [Sorry Again; Stay Tuned For My "How To Turn Off Title Case" Askme]
posted by salvia at 10:15 PM on March 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

wow, this is some serious neglect on your husband's part with not feeding the kids and missing important doctor's appointments. if it is caused by ADHD then fine get him treated. you might want to consider something like co-dependent's anonymous to help you set some firm boundaries with him. marital therapy sounds like a necessity at this point. as for him not wanting to go i think you just need to sit down with him and tell him how scared you are for your marriage and how much stress you are under with the way your lives currently are. don't blame or make "you" statements but be vulnerable and let him see where you really are with all of this emotionally. tell him "i feel scared for us. i'm really, really stressed out and i don't feel connected to you anymore" or something to that effect. if he still won't go to therapy you may have to consider separating from him if he doesn't start dealing with his issues in a serious way.
posted by wildflower at 12:10 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

In couples' therapy his attitude was, "everything would be fine if she just stopped bringing it up; the problem here isn't that we're not communicating, the problem is that she's communicating depressing things that I wouldn't have to hear about if she'd stop talking about them." And he's pretty happy since we stopped couples therapy and I resolved to just deal with stuff and not complain about it; his shit gets dealt with and nobody complains to him about it.

Oh no, this is not good at all. Please don't let him get away with this. He needs to be able to hear and discuss the truth, or he's not your partner. You need a partner or nothing at all.
posted by bleep at 9:11 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Haven't read all of the comments yet, but I want to nth like_a_friend. The update you gave later really points to the fact that some truly awful major shit is happening (screaming, wasting $20,000) and that the issue is NOT videogames or skiing.

How about posting again next week about the absolute worst stuff that is going on -- stuff that scares you, stuff that feels like a real problem, unequivocally, and see what response you get to that. Once you take the step of posting it online (or even just writing it out for yourself), get a couples counselor to help you deal with it. That's the real hard stuff, and you need REAL help to get that under control.

I'd also like to comment on the ADHD piece. My boyfriend has ADHD and a lot of the issues you described. Sometimes he is also a jerk in exactly that way (but not a screamer or a money spender). The two are related but not the same. I would do two things, based on this experience:

1. Learn about ADHD and relationships -- there's an education piece here. Even if he doesn't acknowledge his issues, it's important to educate yourself.

2. As others have noted, take time for yourself. Be more "selfish" in the sense of doing what YOU want.
posted by 3491again at 10:04 AM on March 20, 2013

I've gotta say, this is one of the most engaging discussions I've seen on askmefi. It's clearly hit a nerve with many people.

I'm sorry your post inspired so much hostility. I don't quite understand these reactions. When I described your post to my wife, even she too got a little hostile about you. Go know.

I did notice, though, that several of the comments that are sympathetic to you drew a lot of favorites.

Well, first, I agree with all the people who've recommended that you adjust your behavior that may be enabling your husband's irresponsible actions, and also the suggestion that you hire people to do some of the things your husband doesn't want to do around the house. It sounds to me as if he may be stretched too far at this point. You sound intelligent and knowledgeable, so you're probably familiar with the phenomenon of ego depletion. If not, check it out. He's got it.

It seems to me that another way to frame the problem is that your needs have changed, and his ability to satisfy these needs is (and probably always was) limited.

But here's the thing. I get the feeling that you and your husband are in an old-fashioned, he-does-this-I-do-that kind of marriage. You praise him for the qualities of a good husband circa 1952. I don't mean that being a good breadwinner, good father, and faithful husband are no longer important. But at some point during the last 50 or 60 years, some of us, both men and women, started to want more. We started to want not just someone who can play the role of a spouse, but someone who could be an intimate friend. This, it sounds like, is what you want and aren't getting. I hate to be a marriage wrecker, but I don't think you're going to find that in your guy. He sounds like a straight-up Gary Cooper. Yes, you love him, but I'm not so sure you like him.

I'm a fellow with certain similarities to your husband—emotional, somewhat immature, unrealistic, self-indulgent. But my marriage works because my wife and I cherish each other as friends. She has always been willing to put up with a lot, because she likes me, and loves spending time with me. I'm an interesting character, a good conversationalist, a good listener, a good lay, and emotionally very revealing. I haven't always been a champion breadwinner, but I've always been an excellent friend. If she had to rescue me from a ski trail, she'd do it gladly.

So I'll ask you: Do you like your husband well enough to put up with his adolescent behavior? And, how about this question: Does he like you well enough to make some adjustments himself? So far, it doesn't look like it.
posted by markcmyers at 10:27 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

OP, I relate to a whole lot of what you've written, in the broad strokes. You love your husband and know there is a lot of good in him, and you reflexively characterize him as a good man, husband, father--and it's painful and confusing to acknowledge the ways that he acts that is truly contrary to that. It's hard to understand why someone fundamentally responsible and good acts in ways that are clearly irresponsible and hurtful, and why the awful consequences of those a those arent self-evident and self-correcting, and why you can't get any traction addressing these things directly. This happened to me too, though the details were different. Written a lot of it in MeFi if you want to look through my history.

My husband and I have made a lot of change and things are much better now--still improving yet--but it took putting my foot down and insisting on change. Took a long time, was very painful, included a year of separation and many times thinking we would end up divorcing. But bottom line is, I spent a long time expecting, hoping, asking for change, and it wasn't honored (in hindsight, he attributes this to conflict avoidance and emotional blunting arising )from family of origin). Demanding change and the threat of divorce were what was needed to get the conversation changed.

It's so scary to lay down the law like that, but from your updates, it sounds like you really can't go on like this much more and you need things to change. It is totally, totally unfair that you need to take on the responsibility for pulling the emergency brake too, but he evidently won't do it.

I'm really uncomfortable with the diagnosis slant to this discussion--we don't have nearly a complete picture of this man and your situation from this discussion. We don't really know what's going on inside his head. But what you can be sure of is that you can't change him. You only have the power to change yourself and to request him to change. It would probably be much more productive if you presented this as "things are really not working for me and for our family, and we need help to find a new and better system" rather than by blaming him explicitly. When couples get stuck, as you two are, it's a two person dynamic. This is NOT to blame you for his irresponsibility--just to say that almost certainly you both have slipped into the state of pressing each others' buttons simultaneously. Having an impartial, helpful witness can go a long way to getting you both out of it. If he really won't go, definitely go to counseling yourself.

I often recommend Terry Real's New Rules of Marriage on MeFi for good practices to get out of this rut. Definitely check it out. It is great for getting a handle on what is fair and what's not (both assessing your own actions and his), and has great approaches to start effecting positive change even if your spouse isn't on board.

Feel free to Memail if you need a sounding board. It's hard, hard, hard, but worth the effort to demand change. Best of luck to you.
posted by Sublimity at 11:11 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some people seem to be very focused on the way you originally framed this question, and how it changed as you sent in updates. You say that your husband is a good husband and father, and then you say that he doesn't feed the kids, yells, and stays up half the night goofing around and then is a pill to you because he didn't sleep and is crabby.

I know that when I left my abuser I had to pull the wool off my own eyes in a sense. I told myself for so long that he was a good guy, he was so handsome and successful and everyone loved him and when he was nice to me he was so nice to me... I fooled myself, because the reality of my situation was, well, I can say this now, but I couldn't say it then: it was horrible. It was horrible.

But I didn't want it to be horrible, because what did that say about me, that I put up with it?

I thought it said that I was foolish. That I was stupid. That I was in it for the sex, or that I was in it because he was handsome and I felt special when I was out with such a handsome man. I thought it meant that I was naive, that I stayed with him. Or maybe it meant that I deserved to be treated that way, and I stayed because I deserved it. Maybe he treated me that way because I wasn't good enough.

None of those things were true.

What it actually means is that I am empathetic and compassionate. It means that I am a caretaker; that I have, as he used to lovingly (and he did mean it lovingly), "a servant's heart." It means that I am very strong, and that I can withstand things for what I believe is a greater good (in this case, I put up with really terrible behavior in the name of love). It means that I am determined to make things work. It means that I try. It means that I put other people ahead of myself.

I guess what I'm trying to say to you, OP, is that it is OK that you aren't being honest with yourself about what seems to be going on.

This is a tremendously hard thing to be honest about.

I am proud of you for starting to ask these hard questions. Keep it up.

You are special and you deserve to have a good, solid, real partner. A person that stands by you and cares about how you feel and what you think. Someone who doesn't dismiss your problems, but who tackles them head-on -- like you have with him.

And I want to address specifically the idea that you need to change, that he behaves this way and that you should "put up with it" or "ask yourself why you don't respect him" or "it is just his ADHD - for which has not received a professional diagnosis". A lot of the advice in this thread along those lines came before your admission of what sounds to a lot of us like abusive behavior on his part.

This is not your fault. Explore individual therapy. Look at things like the Violence Wheel - does your husband fit into any of those pie slices? How many? Couples counseling typically does not work in situations like this because the perpetrator flips everything around and blames the victim - eerily similar to what you described already happened in couples counseling. Individual counseling might be very helpful for you. A domestic violence support group could be a tremendous help, too - in my group, two of the women said "I don't think I need to be here, but my individual therapist recommended it, so here I am" and by the end they both said "Oh! I did need to be here. I am so grateful I did this, even though it means that I had to look a cold, hard, scary truth right in the face." So, think about it. Just think about it.

And be kind to yourself. Someone needs to be kind to you, and I don't get the impression that your husband is consistently kind to you in the way that a partner should be.

Best of luck, OP.
posted by sockermom at 11:14 AM on March 20, 2013 [13 favorites]

Just commenting once more to underline the last several responses: OP, this is not your fault.

Your last follow-up seemed to imply that you were taking the comments suggesting that you were being a "nagging wife" to heart, and that has worried me. I suspect now that because of the length of this thread these commenters may not have seen your follow-ups, in which you describe explosive and volatile behavior that raises all sorts of red flags and that you may now be beginning to see as abnormal and unhealthy, at the very least. Please don't see yourself as someone who nags, and please don't go back to minimizing the situation.

You did not bring any of this on yourself. You've been interacting with your husband in good faith. However, you need a genuine "reality check" from someone who isn't just a flood of disembodied words on the internet and who has expertise not only in marriage counseling but in domestic abuse counseling. And when I say "reality check," I think I really mean "sanity check," as in, "You're not overexaggerating this. You're not making yourself look good at your husband's expense. This really is going on."

And please consider whether there are friends and family members to whom you can open up about this. They may have observed your husband's behavior toward you and may not know how to broach the subject. I hesitate to say this because they may also attempt to minimize the problem, but you absolutely should not have to go through this alone.

Good luck. You sound like a thoughtful, intelligent, caring, loving person who wants the best for everyone in her family, including her husband, and you deserve far, far better. Please check back in at some point and let us know how things are going.
posted by tully_monster at 2:25 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I totally agree that this is not your fault and frankly, you are being really patient putting up with this. I could honestly not sleep (let alone have sex) with someone I have to mother during the day.

I think what you need to do first is realize that your feelings are totally valid and your concerns are logical. People in relationships grow together. Interests change, responsibilities and emotional standards change, and it is perfectly normal for you to expect your husband to become less erratic and more reliable with age.

Respect your own feelings and give them importance, otherwise no one will. Talk to your husband and propose marriage counseling. Make yourself stop warning him about the possible outcomes of his decisions, and don't cover for him if he fails to do something. He *must* do his share of the house work, like any grown up would. He *must* consult you before throwing away 20k (seriously?), and he must stop the tantrums.

And pay no attention to the comments that monetize family roles. You have at least two part time jobs, with one remuneration. It sounds like you do most of the housework, so there is no reason to say that his contribution to the household is more valuable than yours and he deserves some sort of break from adulthood.

You say that he is loving and good, but the irresponsible spending, the lack of interest in your feelings, the tantrums and the neediness make him sound kind of selfish. I was actually mad myself reading his oversimplification of your feelings, because it read like such an adolescent response to a serious conversation. It sounds a little bit like he does not want to make an effort to know how you feel or how happy you are. You say you don't want to limit him and you don't want to hurt him. You say you want him to continue with his hobbies, even though they involve buying skiing equipment while you have no retirement plan (not cool). Are you sure he cares as much about your hobbies and your growth as a person? Your whole question makes it really clear that you think things through and you CARE. Is this reciprocal? A marriage is supposed to be a synergy, where you are a happier person with your partner than without. You are supposed to make each other better and happier with time. A counselor will help you both in achieving that.

Read this comment by essexjan on AskMe. Don't focus on the divorce part, but the insight into relationships is very interesting.

I really do wish you the best.
posted by Tarumba at 3:42 PM on March 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

The lack of change and inability to perceive changes in you, plus the emotional distance, plus the executive function issues, plus the lack of insight and cognitive empathy...

Look into aspergers syndrome and High Functioning autism in adults.

Also feel free to mefimail me or email me for more information.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:44 AM on March 21, 2013

You might want to read the description of "The Demand Man" in the previously mentioned Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
posted by jaguar at 4:55 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your further updates are very, very eye-opening, OP. I wish you the best of luck, and I'm sorry if I had misjudged you.

If you aren't already speaking to your own therapist, you really really ought to. This sounds serious.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:14 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have to agree that a lot of people are focusing on how you "changed your story" in a way; but if you've ever, ever put up with an emotionally manipulative partner, it was obvious from your OP what was going on. Would I have guessed right away about the temper tantrums, not feeding the kids, &c.? No, not in detail. But your story about saving him from the ski hill made my stomach sink, and I knew right away he was probably at best lazy and unreflective, at worst emotionally abusive.

I agree that you should experiment with accepting the idea that you don't respect him. I know you probably deeply want to salvage the situation; you're crying as you tell the truth about it. But it sounds like you are completely missing a husband and you might have to come to terms with how your feelings have changed before you can establish personal boundaries that make it clear what he needs to do to remain your partner.

I agree with the exasperation expressed in an above comment-- are you even a person in his mind? It seems like he's incredibly self-absorbed and treats you like a housekeeper. I have a feeling he has no actual, persistent idea how hard your workload is-- he seems to think that as a person working outside of the house, he's entitled to live like a bachelor, while you both work and take care of the household and children almost entirely on your own. It's actually kind of sickening and probably is a result of him devaluing you in his heart.

As for video games-- I like video games, I play video games, but my days of losing my head in a video game to the point where I couldn't keep track of my life or mood and treated others with disrespect ended in high school. I like reading, I like watching TV and movies, but a responsible adult responds to outside concern, rather than burying his head further. I don't think it matters a single bit why he plays video games and whether they make him happy or make him frustrated-- the problem is that he deals with all these inputs like a child and let's them regulate his behavior, instead of regulating it himself.

My mother's second husband was very very emotionally abusive and also physically and sexually abusive, and he was a pro at creating situations like the ski hill one-- where he knew he could do something reckless and subsequently draw on the reserves of everyone else, both to get his way and keep people in line. It was never direct verbal abuse-- you're stupid, you're ugly-- just bullshit like that that kept everybody else in his thrall. He knew almost subconsciously what the effects would be, I think, similar to the way children lie and manipulate because they know what works, though they aren't entirely aware of what they're doing in a broader sense. Children don't see grown-ups as people like themselves-- they're different, sometimes a source of gratification, sometimes an obstacle. This is how emotionally abusive men treat their wives (who HAVE to become "mothers," this is not your fault).
posted by stoneandstar at 9:16 PM on March 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

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