Getting Through the Shitty Marriage Times
August 6, 2016 4:45 AM   Subscribe

People with long, reasonably rewarding relationships: how do you get through the times your partner is a bummer?

We've been together for 15 years, have two kids, own a nice house, couple of modest cars. I have a strong and interesting career that pays well enough to support us all. There are a ton of stressors: one kid has some significant emotional issues, and has both mess and therapy. Husband has been out of work for multiple years, and although he doesn't have the best temperament for it, has done a career change and is hustling up freelance work in his new field now that he's mostly at home. He's in treatment for anxiety and ADHD including weekly therapy and medication. One of my parents lives in our town now and has little social support, so I step in a lot there. My other parent is in my hometown, also with limited income and social support. I myself struggle with ADHD, anxiety and a history of major depression. Really, just assume everyone in this story has a very anxious baseline and severe attention deficits.

So my husband isn't in great shape, in terms of his career or his mental health. His physical health is ok, though he's got some middle-age spread. He does much of the kid juggling with help from my mom, but they're in full time camp/school so he's got a lot of time. He's also shit at managing the house, so the sink is full of dirty dishes, clean laundry is piled on the shelf, every surface is cluttered. I don't have time or energy for many chores during the week, but clean like a crazy person on weekends, if I'm not shuttling kids or working. I feel like I'm carrying the lion's share of household management, as well as bringing home the bacon. Couple's counseling has been of limited value, I.e. Nothing changes.

So this is a hard time; everyone feels stressed and under appreciated. I'm frustrated with my husband's reluctance to use and rely on checklists or other tools, to see and deal with the filthy bathrooms, to notice ... anything. And naturally, although he was never much of a romantic gesture guy, my husband's interest in taking care of me, or taking care of shit for me, seems like nil. I've been super clear about my needs, and they don't get met.

BUT, we love each other. We are good partners in taking care of our kids' unique issues. We have all the inside humor, and he really gets and enjoys my weird jokes that are butt and fart jokes that rely on a passing knowledge of the American short story or some other weird trivia. And things suck right now for him, so of course he's at the very bottom of his game. I'm hopeful that things will be better in the future -- but what do I do for now? I'm angry a lot, and sad a lot. I don't have enough sleep. I have a mental list of shit I haven't done, and shit he hasn't done, and I can only work on mine and remind him endlessly about each item before he does it, or I give up. How do I keep going and trust that it's going to get better?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (49 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
For some reason, I read through your post and the phrase "household coach" came to mind. I Googled it; I found an "ADHD Household Coach", but I think it would probably be possible to find a life coach-by-phone and pay that person to check in with your husband and suggest things for him to do around the house.

This is in lieu of you checking in with your husband and suggesting things for him to do around the house. Could be friendlier for him and a huge relief for you.

What do you think? Is this a good idea?

As for how to get through it... Can you get away for a day or two, especially if the kids are in camp etc.? That could give you some space so you're not constantly confronted by the dishes, and he could have a chance to maybe focus on the house, too.
posted by amtho at 5:19 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

One concrete thing to try: Making daily lists for him.* By which I mean a really specific list hanging on the bathroom mirror, with tasks in their order of importance to you. A list hanging in the kitchen. One posted in the laundry room. And etc.

You can let him know that you're going to do this as a help to him (maybe he's too overwhelmed, or doesn't have the mental energy to see how it all fits together, or just needs a lifeline until he can remember all of this stuff) and do it every day. Maybe put it on his phone, too? It seems that he is not a list maker--but maybe he'd be more willing to be a list reader? It may also help you to put it on a list so that you're not spending the time and energy to constantly remind him of what needs doing. Maybe you can add a little personal joke or note and hide it in there as an incentive to read the list each day?

* God, yes, if you need validation that you're pulling more than your share--you ARE. It's not fair, and it's frustrating as all hell. I award you so many Getting It Done points! I do recognize the irony of adding to your workload. I am working on the assumption that you have been super clear about your needs in a way that isn't working for him, and that maybe, if you present them in a way that he can visualize and/or check off, they stand a better chance of being met. Look, you shouldn't have to do this. But here we are. Good men who laugh at your trivia-encoded fart jokes can also completely suck at noticing/managing the work of the house, and somebody has to find the workaround so you don't perish.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:39 AM on August 6, 2016 [13 favorites]

It sounds like you're in household backlog hell, which is probably overwhelming him to a point of apathy on top of all the other issues. Would you consider hiring a housekeeping service to get the deep cleaning done, ask your husband to manage a certain area, do the housecleaning you can easily manage, and then hire a housekeeper for the stuff you find you aren't able to manage?
posted by DoubleLune at 5:40 AM on August 6, 2016 [25 favorites]

Is your husband functional? It sounds like he is. I'd sit him down, and tell him these are things you need.

You are not going to be able to respect your husband if he's doing literally nothing productive for 30 of the hours you're at work each week. When you come home to clean up after him, it's a slow relationship killer. You don't need your home to look like a magazine cover, but you are not going to clean up after your unemployed husband when you're supporting the family.

Honestly, if this keeps up, no matter how much you click, it's probably going to end it divorce. Because it is just sooo lack of empathy on his part.
posted by Kalmya at 5:47 AM on August 6, 2016 [39 favorites]

Assuming you have the budget for it, have your husband hire, schedule, and oversee the housecleaning service. You can give feedback, but make it his problem to solve.
posted by nobody at 5:49 AM on August 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
1) I need to clarify: husband spends much of his time doing "hope labor" -- research about his new career area, minimally paid or volunteer work to build up his portfolio, a little networking.

2) I also suspect he's working very hard to get what household stuff done that he does get done -- but I know intimately how much energy can go into getting minimal outcomes when you are struggling with ADHD. So his perspective is that he does a ton -- and that effort isn't recognized.

3) We're barely making ends meet as it is. When we're both working, we have a weekly housecleaner. Adding additional costs is not an option, because...

4) Smaller child is in full time care, which is $$$. I've told husband that he has to be covering this cost, whether it's tutoring, Trader Joe's, whatever. It hasn't happened.

5) He cares about us! He loves us. He's trying. It's just not turning into outcomes. And I don't know how to help given that I am short on time, money and energy.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:33 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

And naturally, although he was never much of a romantic gesture guy, my husband's interest in taking care of me, or taking care of shit for me, seems like nil. I've been super clear about my needs, and they don't get met.

Sorry to say, but from someone who's been there, this is the bottom line. You do it all, he does very little; you're at the breaking point, and though you've communicated that clearly, his priorities are such that he will let you twist in the wind. There is literally nothing you can do about this except decide to take it or leave it. It ends when you say it does.

Please consider that there are an awful lot of definitions of "love" out there. You say that you two love each other, but what does that really mean? His definition of love somehow is able to accommodate watching you kill yourself and be miserable, yet not step up and act with compassion.

Something you may not be able to see, because it's very different from how you approach loving people, is that he may be feeling affirmed by the dysfunction in your lives and so that's part of why he feels loving for you. For instance, he may get a lot of sense of satisfaction and power from resisting your requests and watching you struggle and fail, as a way of coping with his own sense of shame and inadequacy. When my ex-husband finally admitted such a thing, it was the killing blow to our marriage--but it also made a lot of things make sense, too, like why he would say he loved me and wanted to stay married while also being disengaged in a very similar way that you describe.

Let me tell you also, as someone who's been through that fire, it may feel unthinkable to take on the burden of deciding to end the marraige when you're already burdened with everything else... But losing the freeloader and the immense emotional drag from that sadistic, passive aggression at the center of my life was unbelievably liberating. You will do very well when you decide to leave this baggage behind... Better than you can imagine.
posted by Sublimity at 6:35 AM on August 6, 2016 [68 favorites]

For the weekend cleaning stuff, could you turn it into a regularly-scheduled family event? You all (including kids, assuming they're both old enough to help or "help") go into one room together, or split up in two teams to tackle separate rooms, maybe turn up the music, give it a half-hour per room, and have some sort of assessment stage at the end like the kids deciding which room looks shiniest or most improved, or doing something beforehand like hiding pennies in various obscure-yet-need-to-be-cleaned areas such that whoever finds them has obviously cleaned thoroughly, and seeing who can find them all. Then have some kind of celebration ritual afterwards like going out for pizza. Something like laundry could be folded once a week on a weekday, with all of you doing it together while watching a movie/tv. If there are meals you all eat together, you all clean up after them together too regardless of who cooked and maybe find some kind of way to make it a fun time. For clutter, work on getting to the point where there's a designated place for everything, which is the only thing I've found to work for me with respect to ADD.

Sorry if this sounds stupid - for me a lot of the resentment comes from doing this things alone while people around me are not. I also think it's pretty important to teach kids to do life things. If you do take this approach, make sure to take things slowly: before focusing too much on the quality of the work, get them all used to joining up and doing it.

Talk with him about whether he feels alone too (working at home can do that in the best of cases) and see if there are concrete tiny things you can do for each other to make you both feel less alone. (Again, because sometimes it's easier for people to make gestures when making gestures is a group activity.)
posted by trig at 7:19 AM on August 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Another thought to add. A friend of mine is in the middle of ending a marriage that structurally was very, very similar to what you describe. Her husband was underemployed, the kids were in school or care all day, she did all the domestic stuff as well as work full time, he professed love but never stepped up. Turns out that he was spending a lot those hours online chasing affairs (virtual and actual) rather than working. If your husband is home full time, has no kid care, does no house work, and only minimal "hope work" to show, it may be that he's able to sustain his self-regard despite such lame performance by getting an ego boost in this way. A key logger on your home computer might be helpful here.
posted by Sublimity at 7:20 AM on August 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Your little one is in full-time childcare while your husband is unemployed, and meanwhile this is driving you into the poorhouse such that you can't afford a housecleaner? No. Absolutely not. He hasn't held up his end of the bargain, so it's time to drop down to part-time childcare and use the money to hire a housecleaner to come every two weeks. The executive function coach also seems like a great idea.

Look, I'm a former single parent who is now in a double anxiety/ADHD relationship. I recently had to have a come-to-Jesus talk with my amazing, incredible, magical partner, who did not make lists or have systems in place to make his life work, and now we're better for it, even though it sucked. But he has a full-time job and makes nearly what I make. "Hope work" would not stand, especially not while I was paying for full-time child care.

It sounds like you're basically living the life of a single parent (of three children!). As you can see, single parenting sucks. This isn't sustainable and he needs to know it. It's time for you to make some executive decisions to make your life sustainable.
posted by woodvine at 7:20 AM on August 6, 2016 [26 favorites]

everyone feels stressed and under appreciated
Why does your husband feel under-appreciated? What is he contributing that warrants appreciation? That sounds harsh, but -- of course you "feel like I'm carrying the lion's share of household management," because you are.

ADHD is a medical condition, not a way of life. He manages to do other things, like "hope labor" (which, by the way, is completely self-serving). He can do things around the house, but he is choosing not to. This is a choice. If you were not there, I promise he would figure out how to do the laundry and how to feed himself and how to wash a dish. He has decided to let you suffer. You are paying a very big price for the privilege of having him around to laugh at your fart jokes. I'm sure they are hilarious, but are they worth all this?

I don't know. I see lots of well meaning advice here that at the end of the day just means more work for you. What if instead you told your husband something like "I said I was tired and needed help, and I am done carrying the weight. I am no longer going to do the household stuff. I need your help. You are letting me suffer and I won't do it anymore." And then just... stop. No more. Drop the laundry, the dishes. Let him feel the weight of the pain he's causing you and your kids in his refusal to do anything at home. He keeps coasting because he knows he doesn't have to care. Stop letting him coast. This will be very hard but I think it's your only option left before separation. A hail Mary pass.

You said you have two kids, but you have three. This man is acting like an entitled kid. He is not a partner and this is not what love looks like. I've had many men who laugh at my jokes and claim to love me but at the end if the day they said they "loved" me because I was willing to be their mom, and saying they loved me without ever doing much to show it was so much easier than getting a job or making meals or cleaning the bathroom. All things they'd have to do without me, and all things I did for both of us for far too long because he knew the magic word "love." Actions speak louder than words. What is your husband really saying to you? "I care much less about your well being or stress level than I do about my desire to not pull my weight." How selfish.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 7:34 AM on August 6, 2016 [75 favorites]

I forgot to ask: why are you short on sleep? Is it unavoidable work hours or because of all the things you have to take care of after work? If the latter then are there any ways you can offload things like that to others, or at the very least to weekends? For example, if supporting your mother means going over to see her, can she come instead to your place, and if she's good with the kids can she get some of her social interaction by watching them or taking your husband out on an errand run instead of from you? Can you retire from kid-shuttling? Maybe there's a way you can get a majority of one weekend day completely free for yourself (or for yourself and whoever can or would like to join you in R&R). I think fatigue and the feeling of not having any time where the focus is you can really make everything feel worse.
posted by trig at 7:37 AM on August 6, 2016

BUT, we love each other. We are good partners in taking care of our kids' unique issues. We have all the inside humor, and he really gets and enjoys my weird jokes that are butt and fart jokes that rely on a passing knowledge of the American short story or some other weird trivia.

Try to set aside the "we love each other" part for now. Of course you do; so do all the people who write to Dear Abby and AskMe with intolerable situations like this. Love is something, but it's not everything. Set it aside and think about the rest: might you be able to find someone else who would be good at taking care of the kids' issues? You might. And if you wound up being alone for a while, would it be easier to deal with them if you didn't also have to deal with a husband who (let's face it, and forget the "hope" stuff) is providing nothing but extra angst? It would. Are there lots of people who enjoy butt and fart jokes? There are. Is it really essential that your partner get all your references to the American short story or other weird trivia? It is not.

Look, I understand. I've had relationships end; I've even had a marriage end. It's horrible. But it's not as horrible as the life you're leading now. You need to stop forcing those rose-colored glasses onto your face (He's trying! Things will get better!) and look at the situation as it is right now and as it will be for the foreseeable future. Is this how you want to live your life? Do you want to get to the point where you literally can't carry on any more, where you sit down on the floor and can't make yourself get up again? You need to look at this with the clearest eyes you can manage to use. Look at it as though it were someone else's life, and think what you would advise that person to try. Because right now, you're thinking "there must be some way to fix this that doesn't involve tearing my life apart," and you have to consider the possibility that there might not be.
posted by languagehat at 7:49 AM on August 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

About your husband's work, I can understand why he wouldn't want to do something like work at Trader Joe's in place of trying to get somewhere with the career plan he's got planned, and I know that a lot of part-time jobs are shiftwork where the hours are always changing. That said I think it's reasonable to devote some consistently scheduled x hours per day in search of a consistently scheduled x-hour part-time occupation, even if it's doing something terrible like uber or one of the work-from-home jobs you see recommended on askme sometimes (though external employment would definitely be best). He would still have the ability to make progress with his career, but also be able to make a solid contribution.
posted by trig at 7:50 AM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh man! Some parts of this could have been written about me. So I'm not sure if this will help or not, but a different perspective:

- in terms of romantic stuff, have you done the Love Languages stuff? It's really helpful sometimes at figuring out what stuff your partner might be doing that you don't see, because it's not your language. For example - my love language is words, and my husbands is acts of service - so both of us were doing the one we wanted, and not the one the other person wanted, and both feeling frustrated.

- in terms of effort and cleaning - sometimes people who struggle with mental health stuff need to balance self care stuff and productivity to get stuff done. Is there space for self care in his schedule? I found, for example, that if I start out working and do nothing but work all day until it is done, it makes me crazy and takes ten hours, whereas if I work, watch a show, work, read Metafilter, work, it all gets done with time to spare.

- I also found lists helpful made by my partner. What really helped us is we sat down and made a "minimum - medium - best" list of chores - we wrote up all the chores that needed doing, and then we placed them on a priorities scale. You mention he doesn't notice stuff - this really helps with that. Sometimes there's chores one person wouldn't think of as daily chores. Then you figure out, honestly, how long it would take to accomplish these chores, and make sure you're not overscheduling.
posted by corb at 8:05 AM on August 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Buy one box of black trash bags for every member of the household. Present them each with a box and tell them that you are starting a family challenge. Every week, everyone must fill up at least one bag with their clutter. If they fail to do so, you will do it for them.

It is impossible to clean a cluttered house. It is impossible to see what even needs to be cleaned in a cluttered house. Once you tackle the clutter (it can be a long process), everyone will be calmer and happier.

You are a family and that is a beautiful and precious thing. Your husband may not bring you flowers now but when the two of you are old and looking at your grandchildren, he will be the one who will remember with you and see which grandchild looks the most like your own children did at that age. He is your history book. He is your memories. You won't be able to get that with anyone else.

The thing that I see a lot of in my friends' marriages (I'm alone) is that they get so caught up in their own needs and worries that they forget that they are the only person in the world who is married to their spouse. It's such a fragile, beautiful thing. You are the only one who knows him better than himself. He is dependent on you loving him forever. That's such a scary concept for men and when you show that you are unhappy with something that he has done or hasn't done, it can be devastating. Work on saying at least one nice thing to him every single day. Eventually, he will relax and be able to say those things back. It will get better. This is just a moment and if you hold on, you will get through it to a better moment.
posted by myselfasme at 8:09 AM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two tiny suggestions: wash dishes together or eat off of the cheapest paper plates you can find. (In my house, I'm the one who works fewer hours and still puts off housework because the internet is nearly infinitely distracting. If someone talked to me during dishwashing the chore would become cheery. Disclaimer: I am not your spouse.)
posted by puddledork at 8:12 AM on August 6, 2016

It isn't going to get better and that is a choice your husband made a long time ago. You are hoping things will change but I think you need to accept that they won't: he isn't going to pull equal weight in the relationship/logistics/chores/money and things will probably get worse. You won't believe how much worse things will get. He isn't going to change and you have no control over that. You DO have control over how you react however. You may also want to consider how your husband's choice to add to your anxiety/household dysfunction is negatively impacting your children's health. And n'thing the comment upthread that most men that fit your husband's behaviour (which is NOT the result of mental illness but actually his character) are not faithful, so be safe and get yourself tested.
posted by saucysault at 8:19 AM on August 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

The thing that I see a lot of in my friends' marriages (I'm alone) is that they get so caught up in their own needs and worries that they forget that they are the only person in the world who is married to their spouse. It's such a fragile, beautiful thing. You are the only one who knows him better than himself. He is dependent on you loving him forever.

That's supposed to go both ways.
posted by Sublimity at 8:22 AM on August 6, 2016 [46 favorites]

If you aren't already doing so dedicate time for an activity that you love. It may seem like it isn't possible given everything going on, but scheduling x thing y times per week and doing it no matter what is very helpful for me. Ideally it would be either out of the house or in an area where you can't be disturbed. If this can involve regular exercise - walking, yoga, biking - so much the better. No one will give this to you and it is the most important of the things you can do.

Demand specific help from your partner on things. It's best if these are things that must be done and can't somehow slip away or be put off. So, for example, he makes all the lunches and takes the kids to school/care rather than he cleans the bathroom. It's exhausting and frustrating asking for help all the time so give him stuff that is impossible for him to ignore.

Schedule regular 10 minute clean ups with everyone in the house. For 10 minutes blast fun music and everyone, kids included, cleans up at the same time. It's difficult to rally the troops but it does make a difference to work together.

Good luck. Sometimes marriage is wonderful, other times a very tough slog. I hope you are soon back to a point where the wonderful is winning out.
posted by Cuke at 8:23 AM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you know what he discusses in weekly therapy? One of his top concerns should be "how do I help manage my household with my ADHD symptoms." I don't understand in fact how your situation has gone on for years without him asking his therapist for help on this.

Sure, every marriage has times when one partner gives more. Losing your job entitles you to a few months maybe of moping around and slacking. But the time has long since passed where he should have accepted that in ADDITION to "hope labor", his role in your family right now is to provide housework and/or pick up any part time work he can.

I think there is absolutely no way he has been averaging 40 hours/week of hope labor. Looking for work is depressing and burns you out quickly. Nobody does it 9-5 every day. So what else is he doing?
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:34 AM on August 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

I'm hopeful that things will be better in the future -- but what do I do for now?

My take? It needs to be more concrete than "in the future." Saying "a bad time/rough patch/a couple of hard years" is fine when that period is over, but it's different when it's indefinite. So, is there a point when you're anticipating things can change, like the smallest kid going to school full time or something? If not, identify one and commit to it.
posted by BibiRose at 8:35 AM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think all the folks in here calling for divorce might be jumping the gun a little bit. When I read your question (and follow-ups) carefully, I see this:

- Your husband has ADHD and anxiety, which he is getting appropriate treatment for.
- Your husband has been unemployed for several years (which sucks), but he is actively working on (1) hustling up freelance work, (2) networking and/or applying for jobs, (4) some degree of house & child care (even though it doesn't always meet your standards).

These things all seem fairly good signs to me -- I've seen plenty of Asks about this kind of scenario in which the husband denies that he has a mental health issue at all, refuses to seek treatment, and does nothing but sit around playing video games all day. Your husband (by your account) seems to be genuinely recognizing the issues and trying to improve the situation, even though his efforts don't always meet your standards.

- You have ADHD, anxiety, and depression, which I am guessing you are in treatment for? Not sure.
- You're the sole provider. You have a career that "pays well enough to support us all," but you also feel like money is tight and you're barely making ends meet.
- You've got two kids, one of whom has some challenging emotional issues.
- You're spending time & emotional energy supporting at least one, possibly both of your parents.
- You're cleaning "like a crazy person" on weekends, in between doing child care or working or (possibly) taking care of your parents.
- You are stressed, losing sleep, and feeling angry & sad all the time. You are constantly preoccupied by tasks that both you & he haven't done, and feeling anxious about both.

I understand that this question is about your husband's behavior, but have you considered trying to dial back the stress that's on you right now, independent of anything your husband is doing? Can you, for instance:
- Set sacrosanct appointments with yourself on the weekend during which you will not clean, caretake, or do anything except go for a walk or read a book somewhere out of the house or whatever else relaxes you.
- If you're not already getting treatment for your mental health concerns, do so.
- Make adjustments to your financial life so you're not living so close to the edge.
- Fully delegate & let go of certain tasks. "My husband said he was going to do dishes, that's no longer my problem, it's up to him to do however he feels like."
- Ask for more help from the people around you. Can either of your parents help with child-care, even part time? Can you ask your kids to step up and do more cleaning? Is there anyone else around you that can help?
- Make a habit of high-fiving yourself for the tasks that you accomplish, even when it's not the entire list of tasks you feel you need to do? ("Yay! I got done three tasks on my 200 item checklist, even despite all the challenges and stress I'm dealing with! Well done, me!")
- Make a habit of accepting a "good enough" result for the tasks you feel you need to do? ("Well, there are enough clean plates to eat dinner off of. Good enough.")

All I'm saying is, in a situation where you are the sole breadwinner, your partner is out of work, you have two dependent children (one with a medical issue) and two semi-dependent parents -- maybe devoting some time to self-care is actually a critical survival tactic. You are under a tremendous amount of pressure, regardless of anything your husband is or isn't doing, and it sounds like you are not ever letting yourself off the hook. Sure, it's important to have a clean bathroom, but it's perhaps even more important for you to have time to decompress -- if you're running yourself down and getting incredibly burned out, that's not going to do you or your family any good at all. Choosing to take that time seems like something that's within your power, no matter what your husband is doing -- it's not like he's holding a gun to your head and making you clean the bathroom, right?

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but I very much recognize the pattern of checking off tasks as a coping mechanism for anxiety. Problem is, this can drive you down the road to exhaustion and burnout -- which, in my experience, can sound like a relief sometimes. Sometimes, anxious brain says, "If I just drive myself into a complete nervous breakdown, perhaps I'll finally prove that I've tried as hard as I can and I can't do any more, and somebody else will pick up the load for once." This is a bad deal, and you don't have to accept the premise of it if you don't want to. An alternate way to look at is is, "I'm only human, and I can't expect super-human results from myself, especially in a really difficult situation like the one I'm in now. Furthermore, taking care of myself is important and worthwhile, and it's good for both me and the people I love. How can I make that happen so that I can be the person I want to be for myself and them?"

I strongly feel that, if you're able to do that for yourself, you may find that your perspective on your husband changes. You can't actually control anybody else's behavior but your own, so start with being kinder to yourself and see where that takes you. If you're able to go a little easier on yourself, you may find that you can extend similar kindness to your husband -- and that's a game-changer in ways that are hard to even comprehend when you're stuck in a negative feedback cycle like the one you describe. I think, based on your description of the situation, there's enormous potential for improvement in this situation.

Good luck -- it sounds like you're in a rough spot right now. I hope you can find some ways to go easier on yourself for a while, until the universe starts treating you a little better!
posted by ourobouros at 8:37 AM on August 6, 2016 [42 favorites]

It's so easy to get resentful when you are overwhelmed with practical responsibilities. And you've got everyone's emotions on your shoulders as well. It's easy to see how you could be so frustrated.

In the last few years we've been dealing with multiple pregnancies and miscarriages, successful pregnancies, newborns, nursing, hubby's chronic back pain, surgeries, and fulltime jobs. Plus various family stuff.

What has helped us is taking off the pressure of the practical stuff as much as possible. We've hired in someone from CL to cook for us every week, so that we're not eating crappy take out all the time. Once in a while we hire in housekeeping help. Once in a while we hire someone to come and do honey-do type stuff, or someone to do the driving for our older family members.

Hubby was just talking to me about it this week. He's pretty conservative with regard to our budget, and even he says it's money well spent, because it has, in essence, saved our marriage. Essentially we've redistributed what we might have spent on therapy to these other expenses, and we just talk about our marriage on our own couch.
posted by vignettist at 8:39 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Those pointing out that you need to re-evaluate your finaces are right. You will save a tonne of money by eliminating child care entirely. Your husband's "work efforts" sound like mostly fun social time - he can fit that in after he has done the housework and childcare. I would have a more lienient view if he was newly unemployed, but several years of networking and volunteering without any actual employment means there is no ROI beyond stroking his ego.

Use the money to free up the stresses in your life and have a vacation to yourself with some close friends.
posted by saucysault at 8:52 AM on August 6, 2016 [11 favorites]

this sounds like a money issue more than anything. divorce is expensive.

if you can afford daycare for one child, i suspect you *can* make your salary work. but it will require some hard choices about the way you all live. but the first choice is: are you really ok with your husband being unemployed? what if he never works again? unfortunately he doesn't have a lot of control over that. Trader Joe's is kind of competitive, they have good benefits, decent pay. depending on where you are he might not be able to walk in and get a job... a job which only pays for childcare so he can work that job, which makes it that much harder to pick up freelance work, etc.

You need to be able to say to your husband: it's ok if you never work again, i can take care of you, but you need to take care of these things for me and this is how much money we have to live on. it sounds like taking your youngest out of daycare is necessary. the problem is, it's impossible to be happy as a stay at home parent if you think you *should* be out there earning an income. every second is going to be agony for him if he thinks he is a failure for being stuck at home with a kid.

of course this requires him being honest to himself about his career prospects and willing to take on raising a kid, among other things.

bottom line: if you can solve the money problem, then the other things are fixable.
posted by at 9:00 AM on August 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

but if you can't solve the money problem, then making household chore lists is just demeaning and, believe it or not, divorce is just going to make the money problem worse.
posted by at 9:04 AM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Based on my own experiences, your husband's problems handling things at home sound to me like anxiety and depression, so I wonder if he needs to try different meds. I doubt that he feels happy about the way things are going either, even though (or specifically because) he's the one dropping the ball.

Aside from that observation, things definitely need to become more equitable and more effective than they are now. Not noticing that the bathroom is a bit grimier than it should be can be chalked up to individual differences, but dishes stacking up in the sink is pretty clear cut and has a clear solution. Maybe your husband would benefit from UFYH (which I saw somewhere else here on the Green).
posted by duoshao at 9:17 AM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a strong and interesting career that pays well enough to support us all.

You are lucky that you have job security and a good career; however I wonder if your husband is taking advantage of this situation. It sounds like YOU feel taken advantage of. It hasn’t been said, but what is your Plan B if you do somehow lose your job? Have you discussed this with your husband? Is he assuming that it will always be there?

one kid has some significant emotional issues, and has both mess and therapy.

None has mentioned this either, but your kids no doubt pick up on the fact that mom’s stressed and Dad’s done next to nothing. I agree strongly with those who suggest executive function coaches. I’d attack this two ways - a coach to come in the house, weekly, and hold EVERYONE accountable for doing X. You don’t mention your kids’ ages, but a two-year-old can pick stuff up and put in a “to put away” box. There is no reason - NONE - not ADHD or anything else - why no one can help you with stuff around the house. In fact, I’d argue that working as a family WILL help your children, because rules create safety. Right now you’re the only one following the rules. And that’s exhausting.

He's in treatment for anxiety and ADHD including weekly therapy and medication.

Is his therapist effective? What is he doing in therapy to address his lack of help around the house?

One of my parents lives in our town now and has little social support, so I step in a lot there. My other parent is in my hometown, also with limited income and social support.

No one mentioned this either, but is it possible to delegate this aspect of your life to another close relative? Maybe check in by phone and have them help with other things that require more time? You’re tapped as it is.

I myself struggle with ADHD, anxiety and a history of major depression.

Are you in therapy? Is that effective?

So my husband isn't in great shape, in terms of his career or his mental health. His physical health is ok, though he's got some middle-age spread. . . He's also shit at managing the house,

OK. How does he start his day? Does he have a gym membership? I’ve worked with folks with ADHD and all of them say that getting started is the hardest part. He needs a schedule. He needs to follow something in order to be a responsible, responsive adult taking care of his family, and right now that isn’t happening. Would things change even a little if he started his day at the gym? I ask this because 1.) it would get him OUT of the house, where it’s easy to assume there’s nothing to do, and 2.) it would force him to change his environment, and coming back home is like going to work - where, like every other adult who has to go to work, there is a pile of sh*t waiting for him to do. Working from home is his job, but managing his responsibilities is also part of his job.

so the sink is full of dirty dishes, clean laundry is piled on the shelf, every surface is cluttered…. I don't have time or energy for many chores during the week, but clean like a crazy person on weekends, if I'm not shuttling kids or working. I feel like I'm carrying the lion's share of household management, as well as bringing home the bacon. Couple's counseling has been of limited value, I.e. Nothing changes.

Do you have a family therapist in your area? It sounds like it may be time to fire your therapist and find a new one. I read your post twice, and what jumps out at me is that this is a family problem, not just a marriage one.

I think you need to gather the family, or go to family therapy, and announce to everyone in the room in a strong voice, like you REALLY mean it, exactly how you feel and that for you, this is unacceptable and needs to change. Ask them how a cluttered and unkempt house makes THEM feel. This isn’t just your problem - it’s theirs too, and everyone deserves a home where they have the space and freedom to feel SAFE, not OVERWHELMED. This is a team effort, from your smallest child (unless they are a baby) to your eldest. EVERYONE HELPS. NO EXCEPTIONS. How do you gain buy-in? You work as a family. You have a therapist guide you through this, and you meet weekly to hold everyone accountable. If you do this with your children, it’s not just you against your husband. It’s a family effort where the two of you model what it means to pull together as a family and support each other.

I don’t think you can do this on your own. I think you need a professional, to help YOU get everyone else’s buy-in, and to maintain the effort.

So this is a hard time; everyone feels stressed and under appreciated. I'm frustrated with my husband's reluctance to use and rely on checklists or other tools, to see and deal with the filthy bathrooms, to notice ... anything.

Oh, the thing I said above, about everyone helping? There is no “clean the bathroom if it needs it.” It’s just “clean the bathroom.” There is NO assessment here, NO judgment, NO opinion. These lists have to be “you do X” not “you do X if it’s needed.” If someone shirks on their responsibilities, hold a family meeting and discuss it, not as a judgment, but as a problem with a challenge that needs a solution. Brainstorm. Write the problem, the obstacle to the problem, and brainstorm solutions on a big whiteboard or something large, so everyone focuses, and everyone participates. Seriously - this needs to be strategized. This is a systems problem, not just a marriage one. No one is helping you. It’s not just your husband.

Your husband’s reluctance to rely on tools is likely because he feels infantilized. I’d argue that if EVERYONE in the family uses such a tool, including you (even if you don’t need it), it becomes part of the system and normalized. He’s a man, and all people but men especially don’t want to feel like they’re being singled out and treated like children. If you do this as a family and approach all solutions and problems that come up as a family, there is no singling out. There is only “Here’s our problem - what can we try as the solution?”

BUT, we love each other …And things suck right now for him, so of course he's at the very bottom of his game…..How do I keep going and trust that it's going to get better?

Honestly OP it sounds like things suck for all of you right now. You didn’t mention the kids, but I’m sure they are affected by this. How can they not be? Believe it or not, this can make you stronger as individuals and stronger as a family, but you can’t HOPE that it gets better. You have to MAKE it better. Get outside help if you need to, like a family therapist (is yours willing to have sessions at the house with everyone?)

Best of luck, OP. I really think you guys can do this, but you need everyone's buy-in and a third party to come to the house, help you work together, and hold you all accountable when you need support to keep everyone in line.
posted by onecircleaday at 9:20 AM on August 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

I love the way people suggest the quick run away DTMFA solution, as if a separation would not simply make things more complicated as there would be no increase in income, but there would be a big increase in expenses. It is always possible that if you and spouse break up he would get the kids and you would only have to pay support no higher than what you contribute to them now, and would immediately meet a loving new partner with a big income who would want to contribute to increasing your standard of living while looking after your emotional needs. But it's not as likely as simply adding the expense of more transit, additional housing and utilities and eroding the commitment and contribution of the non-custodial parent.

Minimizing and simplifying may help.

Pare down the things that need cleaning and looking after by having the absolute minimum number of items. With this system you need one bowl, one spoon, one mug and one plate per person. Two pairs of underpants, two bottoms, two tops and two pairs of socks per person, etc. Everything else gets hidden so it isn't used and doesn't have to be washed or put away, nor can it get in the way of vacuuming, or cleaning.

With this system, in order to eat dishes must be washed. There are no spares. Doesn't matter whether they get stored as clean or dirty. Every change of clothes requires a load of laundry and every meal requires a sink load of dishes. The basic house cleaning and maintenance gets reduced way down so that if spouse can't do it, you can. You end up getting into routines, like making meals always starts with filling the sink with hot soapy water.

If you can pare down like you were going through an emergency situation, down to the absolute minimum maintenance this way you can simplify the logistics. You are staving off a household collapse - it may not be imminent, but if you break and go into a depression and spend the next two months mainly in bed watching netflix and eating frozen mac'n'cheese and throwing the sticky paper trays under the bed and lose your job because you can't face getting up the the morning, you will be in an emergency situation.

Another thing you can do is each make a list of what you think needs to be done to maintain the household to make it livable if you lived alone. It may be that your spouse simply doesn't really care if the kitchen looks like a bomb exploded and the toilet has a fringe of soft black mould dripping from under the rim. He may be able to work and thrive and feel comfortable even in those conditions, or he may not be able to deal with the house unless it is already reasonably orderly. Anyway, compare your lists and see if there is a significant discrepancy. It might be possible for you to point out two or three main trigger areas and get him to commit to looking after those, for example, take out the compost and rake the cat pan so the house doesn't stink, and then make sure there is a clean counter, clean mug, clean spoon and the wherewithal to make tea. If he can commit to that, perhaps you can face the house when you come home from work exhausted to face the mountain ahead of you, because at least you can start with a cup of tea, and not overwhelmed by odor.

Book a weekly hour where spouse is on duty, fully on duty to look after your emotional needs. He rubs your feet, tells you he loves you or washes toilets, or whatever dumb thing you think will make your emotional needs get met. The only caveat is that you can't spend money. Anything else is on the table.

Then to make it fair book a weekly hour where the reverse is true.

Conversations like, "What do you need to make this work for you?" and "What is disturbing you the most this week, and how do we change it," would also be featured during these two hours.

If the weekly hour of slave time does not create an improvement in your feeling of being nurtured, there is probably a problem with emotional response, likely secondary to depression or exhaustion. At that point you could try going for emotional release, something cathartic, like a crying jag, or laughing yourself sick.

Your situation is, unfortunately all too common. Kids have special needs so become an enormous drain on resources. One or both adults end up either sick, or unemployed, or under employed, or all three.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:25 AM on August 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

My ADD xwife worked well with minimal posessions and the flylady system of "get everything clean, once, then do 15 minutes of cleaning in a set room one day a week, and everything stays clean'
posted by Jacen at 9:26 AM on August 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you can get by on one income, I would advocate your husband putting his career on hold, taking the kid/s out of care and full-on embracing being a stay at home dad. He can probably find a community of parents to hang out with during the day. If he feels like he needs to be productive he can blog or do something like that. With the savings from quitting daycare, pay for a house cleaning service and a weekend evening babysitter for a date night.
posted by betsybetsy at 9:46 AM on August 6, 2016 [11 favorites]

The problem here is the limbo. It's that he isn't committed to his responsibilities as a stay-at-home spouse (which is what he is) because he isn't reconciled to it and is thinking of them as less important than his hope work. But you have tried "his way" now for a while, correct? And it is not working. So time to redistribute the load.

Figure out what the budget would look like with the kids out of childcare. If you're scraping by ok with them in childcare, then having them out should really help. Sit down with the hubs and show him the numbers. Explain that you can't carry the double load anymore, and he needs to step up to do the stay-home spouse stuff, including childcare. Couch it in terms of "it sucks your job disappeared, but this is where we are, you're a great dad so I need you to focus on that in terms of your role in our workload."

With any luck you will have room in the budget for help with the cleaning. You still may need to institute regular periodic cleaning as part of the daily routine. You may need to start with something like "after kids are down, we each do 20 minutes of cleaning. You take the kitchen and I'll sort the laundry." This won't be unfair, as you will have been working at the office all day and he will have been with the kids, which is also hard work. And with you there, he's going to get better results.

It sucks that you have to manage and cajole this. But I think once you take him out of the limbo of "I'm unemployed but still can't concentrate on the kids bc I'm kinda wishing I was working" you will get better results than you would divorcing him. The thing is, with a child involved divorce doesn't really sever the ties, and the whole thing becomes very expensive and draining.

Good luck, you are super strong & amazing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:50 AM on August 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

Person here with a long, very rewarding relationship who has been through some tough times involving depression and come out the other side very successfully.

So I see two very different messages in the original post. Are you good partners who love each other, and your husband wants to contribute but is currently at the very bottom of his game? Or is your husband a third child who has to be endlessly reminded with checklists and other tools before he will do anything?

Personally the times I most thought my own marriage might not last were those when I felt like my wife cared more about the house or her job than about our marriage (or that I had just lost my father and didn't know if we waited too long to put him in a nursing home). Once the fog finally lifted I could see that she was concerned but just didn't know how to help me. But at the time it seemed like all she cared about were things that really didn't matter by comparison.

So, based on my own experience, and IF you really do believe he's fundamentally good partner who's going through a temporary rough patch, I'd be careful which of these two messages he's going to pick up through his current fog.

(Disclaimer - I'm not trying to downplay how difficult it must be for you in this situation. Just trying to shed some light on what this may look like from your husband's perspective, IF he really is a basically good partner vs. a third child.)
posted by wps98 at 10:09 AM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can relate as the husband in this situation. Two things worked for us (worked in the sense, that we're on an ongoing mission to keep the ship upright -- it hasn't sunk.)

1) An ultimatum: I had to deal with my depression and pessimism, or it was going to be over.
2) She had a serious injury followed immediately by a life-threatening complication. I became a full-time caregiver during the last semester of my degree, which was already challenging enough, as my temperament is exactly wrong for school.

So I just had to do it and get used to doing it, which has fortunately stuck and now our workload at home is very equal, if not tipped more towards me, which reduces the stress and anxiety of an out-of-control environment.

I'm definitely not trying to say that people can simply get over their issues at will, but for me, the realisation that my my failures would lead directly to the end of our relationship was a gigantic kick in the pants, and gave me the impetus to work at it. That, coupled with the simple life-or-death necessity of taking on the work, really changed our lives.
posted by klanawa at 10:24 AM on August 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

As a male I just want to chime in and nth onecircleaday's paragraph about feeling infantilized and a good approach to avoiding it. I almost wrote something earlier about taking this approach of "this is our problem, what should we do".

I really really really hate being assigned things to do, but I'm more than happy to look at a list for the group and put my name next to my fair share of tasks.
posted by duoshao at 10:28 AM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

> I love the way people suggest the quick run away DTMFA solution

Just to clarify my own position: I am not saying DTMFA, I am saying if you refuse to consider all possibilities you are not looking at the situation clearly. It's great if anonymous thinks it through, talks it over with partner and therapist, and decides it can work if X, Y, and Z happen, and partner is on board with that. But having that background fear of "if this doesn't work out, if we break up, it's all over, life becomes unimaginable" is not helpful. Being able to see a breakup as a realistic possibility doesn't mean you're going to make it happen or want it to happen, it just enables you to think about things more clearly.
posted by languagehat at 10:57 AM on August 6, 2016 [11 favorites]

I recommend this article a lot: What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage and there are other links in my profile about marriage and what tends to work. I also recommend The Japanese Way to Building a Better Life, David K. Reynolds because I think you need action changes that will support feeling changes.

You deserve a break and lots of appreciation.
posted by theora55 at 11:06 AM on August 6, 2016

Every time I read a suggestion in here that you do more I wanted to throw my phone across the room. I have been sole chore-doer (never also sole earner though) and it is so tiring. And men of the world: if a to-do list is infantilizing there is a super easy way to avoid it, which is do some chores!

You said you've been clear about your needs and he hasn't met them. To me that says the love is there but the partnership is not intact.

I think you have basically three options. You can keep going as you're going and hope the freelance work will cover household help soon. You can dig deep and radically change how your life operates, which requires your energy - get rid of all the stuff, move to a smaller place to be able to afford cleaning (or offer room & board for cleaning or something), or renegotiate parts of your partnership.

Without understanding the freelance work, I agree that the most obvious life move is swap childcare dollars for housework dollars and he does the childcare. If he doesn't like that, then he can clean. Saying he won't use tools is like saying he won't take meds for a health issue. It's just a way of staying in a bad place. And frankly it reeks of patriarchy.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:26 AM on August 6, 2016 [59 favorites]

I'm with warriorqueen on this one. Cry me a river about being "infantilized". A really good way to avoid being infantilized is to not act like an infant.

I also laughed out loud at the "DTMFA" accusation. Please. I'm reading all these well-intended suggestions and thinking, my money is that the OP asked the question because *she has already tried many if not all of these things and they have failed*. There are a lot of us who have been in exactly that stuck place and we know what the answer is.

klanawa's reply is instructive. Note that it took his partner literally approaching death for him to get to the point of "So I just had to do it and get used to doing it". Note that *that exact thing*, "doing it and get[ting] used to doing it", was what his partner had been doing up to that point, and he refused to step up despite her pleas to change; and you will note that he did not have the excuse of being at death's door to not contribute.

For those of us who have been at that stuck place, actually, we learn that it may require cataclysm of that scale to make change. klanawa seems to have stepped up when his wife faced death, which is to his credit, but believe me when I say that not all of us would be assured of that outcome. Divorce is indeed hugely expensive and complicated, however from what I've seen it's preferable to other cataclysmic outcomes. When saucysault said "You won't believe how much worse things will get"--that ain't hyperbole, folks.
posted by Sublimity at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2016 [41 favorites]

I've skimmed other responses, apologies for repetition. I think/agree with anyone suggesting:

- Husband should get out of the house during the day - either for fitness or work (library, cafe). He is not seeing things because he's in a rut, in the same rooms, all the time, overwhelmed, probably. Exercise makes such a difference for attention, energy, mood - community centres have discounted memberships for eligible people, or there's always planet fitness or what have you, or walking, if that's an option. I think it would do you good too. I have found it to be an awesome mood rejuvenator and stress release.

- Prioritize cleaning duties. What matters most - managing wet, organic material; dust and floors (kids-wise); and having clean clothes, towels, and bedding.

Daily: dishes and easy kitchen surfaces. Quick vacuum or sweep of floors in high-traffic areas, ad-hoc when they're gross - maybe a couple of times a week. Quick wipe of bathroom sink if nasty, ad-hoc. (Keep a roll of Lysol wipes or a paper towel and an easy to use spray cleaner visible, right next to the bathroom sink. Broom or light vacuum cleaner, also out in a handy place.) Tidying surface clutter that's in the living room, ad-hoc, everyone taking responsibility for their own things. This surface mess will probably not be ideal until your kids are grown, that's ok. A tidy-ish space does help settle the mind, so it's nice if it's done, but no one's going to die if it isn't.

Weekly: Each of you takes either A) the kitchen (good clean) or B) the bathroom OR a good clean of floors (proper vacuum/sweep and mop). So the bathroom gets a good clean every two weeks, same for floors. Kitchen person does the laundry. Bathroom person dusts. You both work at the same time. Saturday mornings or afternoons is cleaning time. Put a timer on, 3 hours, most of it will probably get done in that time. You can have a coffee break at 1.5 hours together. Finish by changing the sheets. Family job, because it's fun to fluff sheets and pillows (obviously not but pretend it is). You swap kitchen and bathroom-or-floor duties because doing the bathroom sucks.

- blocked time for self care, for you, definitely

- 2nd a part time paid job for your husband that is NOT connected with career or identity or risks commenting on it. It's just a job on the side for extra cash that isn't going on any resume. Will help him feel like he's contributing more and get him out of the house. Uber is easy (if you have a car & insurance, sorry if not) and pays ok money.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:40 PM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ask you husband to take a 2-year sabbatical from his career rut and in that time JUST GET A JOB -- Home Depot, tending bar, anything.

Unless you're making big bucks with a high marginal tax rate, 40 hours at $10/hour should bring home $250/week, which would finance 3 hours a weekday of housekeeping at $15/hour. That knocks out all the daily housekeeping and most of the big stuff too -- allowing you to hit the couch (or tend to other things) when you get home.
posted by MattD at 4:19 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

OP, I'm wondering if your husband has seen this essay?
posted by Sublimity at 5:49 PM on August 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

Do not write the chore list. Do not be in charge of creating the list of assignments as the General Manager. That still leaves you in charge of the house. You have a full-time job.

Sit down and decide what areas you'll split - you do the bills together or one of you handles them? Who does grocery shopping? He'll take over that entirely and meal planning? Then that's his, even if it means you eat frozen pizza every night for the first week. Have a household meeting each week and assign domains, and if he has more time which he does - then he should be in charge of the routine household chores (laundry, daily cleaning, meals) with brief weekend cleaning together.

And seriously consider taking your kid out of childcare. The cost savings would be worth it, child gets the wonderful experience of time with dad (he can homeschool if she's preschool/kindergarten age) and it's only for a few years.

I have a friend whose husband's career is in flux and he's not chasing his next job as hard as he should because their kids are so young - they've realised that having him at home while the kids are little has been so great for the kids. He works occasionally, and they go to part-day childcare and the rest of the time, he's there. Her job has long hours, and his next job would too, so they've chosen less money for more time right now. That will change when they start proper school in two years.

He probably won't want to do any of these changes immediately, but he should want to start doing them with discussion fairly quickly. If he digs his heels in and is making excuses and refusing - then you've got bigger problems than an overwhelmed husband and finances, you have an entitled freeloading jerk.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:04 PM on August 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

I find the advice that you could fix your situation if you only made a better, more detailed checklist for your husband to be incredibly demeaning. He's a passive resistant teenager. There is no level to which you could subdivide his checklist such that he would do it. The people who tell you that he'll be a decent human being if only you break his tasks down a little further are delusional.

You know that already. All I can offer is: you're not wrong, you are the only adult in your household, you never signed up to parent a perpetual teenager, and your kids are as disgusted by him as you are. You need to care for your kids, though, and cut the "hope laborer" loose. Trust me, your kids see more than you know, and seeing their father trying to be your eldest child is doing nothing good for them.
posted by SakuraK at 12:55 AM on August 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

I calmed down overnight even though I am still irrationally perturbed that people have responded to your sense of hopelessness and overwhelm about your husband not doing basic stuff with more demands on you to organize his exercise and be more caring of the fragility of marriage wtf.

I was upset because I have so been there, although it was before having kids and we were both working so it wasn't really the same. But I will tell you honestly how I coped.

1. My husband had been a very, very stand up guy about hard stuff, and he was working, so I had two things to respect him about. I clung to them. Do you? It sounds like you think he's a good dad. So, that definitely is something. I don't know if it's enough but I do think that's a thing you can be positive about both mentally for yourself and to say to him out loud. "I love how you turned that budding tantrum into a laugh-fest."

2. I didn't have two small kids at the time, so I had some space and energy and I ruthlessly decluttered and simplified our lives. (I was in therapy too.) I don't know if you could do this but if you decide it is a way forward, it might be worth taking some time off where you keep the kids in care, and declutter extremely. The trouble is, this is hard, and a life skill you have to acquire in the middle of everything. If you have friends you trust, ask them to help. (I have since been that friend.)

3. I framed my contribution in chores as a gift. 10-ish years later I'll tell you I am a bit sad that I spent my pre-child 30s cleaning and not writing or building my career. Because it was that second job. We had a house that was quirky and hard to maintain. But I did manage to let go of a lot of resentment. I got good at them which is something - did things right away, etc.

4. Then we had a baby and then toddler and after working and then getting up at 5 to do chores and staying up at night crying and tense with the weight of remembering all the chores at home and work etc. etc. I realized that this time no attitude shift could help. There just weren't enough hours. And I couldn't be zen when my child was licking the floor. So

5. I got serious about divorce. I had a plan. I treated my husband with care, mostly, but I did talk to him about it. I was very, very frank about what the costs were to me. "I wish I could enjoy this trip to the park but I am panicking about finding that missing shoe because the hall closet is a disaster."

6. He stepped up. Otherwise, honestly, we'd be done. I love him to bits, I'm plotting our 22nd anniversary this month, and he makes me smile every day. But I also am 45 and I am not willing to do all the chores forever...I only get so many hours on planet Earth and to do that I need a partner. And a partner works alongside me even if that means him doing the work of finding systems and reminders that work for him, or, if it's a true disability, creating a life that includes that reality like then we don't have a home that has a yard etc.

The thing is, when a partner is sitting in your space not helping, it is a burden. It is tiring because you aren't able to just find your own way, which might involve getting rid of everything not nailed down or eating the same menu every three days or moving into a place with fewer bedrooms but a walk-in also have to spend energy negotiating and communicating and remembering that he likes the honey ham not the chicken. So he needs to not just help but acknowledge that.

When you say he doesn't take care of you, it is wrenching. I am sorry.

I deeply know that tired, sad, scared feeling and it really is true and it's not about lists and walks. He's absent in critical parts of your life. Maybe show him this question as a start.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:10 AM on August 7, 2016 [41 favorites]

I cannot for the life of me understand how it has been rationalized/justified paying for child care when there is an unemployed parent. If he isn't contributing to the household financially then he has to contribute in other ways that ease the financial burden (as well as the burden on you). This is just how it works, no matter if it is a woman or a man who isn't working. Any grace period has been long since used up.

Your husband is now officially a stay at home father and will be taking care of the children full time. Any "hope labour" he feels he needs to do comes at a very very distant second to his role as primary caregiver and maintainer of the household. If he has difficulty completing things and getting things organized and done due to his ADHD then HE needs to find solutions for that. Not you. He needs to solve this. You are done being his parent and rescuer.

I just can't get past the childcare thing. If that were me, and if I lost my job and lost my ability to contribute financially, I would be doing everything I could to absorb outsourced services to reduce the financial burden on our household, and paying for daycare is the most obvious and costly one. I cannot understand how he got a pass on that, let alone for two years. Think how much money that cost over the past two years. While I absolutely understand the intention around the suggestions that you tell him to get ANY job to contribute, the amount of money you SAVE by having him be the daycare would likely be a hell of a lot more than what he'd make at a part time minimum wage job.

It just blows my mind that you are paying for childcare.

Perhaps unfairly, I have to wonder if the fact that he hasn't had to do much of anything for the past two years is part of the problem. He hasn't had serious demands upon him, he hasn't had actual real-life deadlines and consequences, he hasn't had to truly work hard and accomplish things the way pretty much every other adult in the world has to, so now he sort of... isn't. Maybe it is a "forgotten how" thing, maybe it is laziness, maybe it is an out of practice thing, but regardless, your husband just isn't accomplishing anything and is being tremendously self indulgent. He isn't functioning as an adult. You can be out of work and still function as an adult and he just ISN'T.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:59 AM on August 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

I feel like maybe I didn't answer your question, which was "How do I keep going and trust that it's going to get better?".

I don't think you can trust that it is going to get better, especially in the short term. Things sound pretty deeply fucked up, and it sounds like your having to do all the work to keep your household, children, and relationship going is pretty deeply set. You're feeling very alone and resentful of it (justifiably so) and that is only going to get worse the longer it continues. Getting your husband to step up and pull his weight is going to represent a pretty enormous shift in what his life has been the past 2 years, and is probably going to be unpleasant for him. He will probably feel like the carpet has been pulled out from underneath him, which in a lot of ways it will be. I would expect things to get worse before they get better. Additionally, your husband has learned that there is never any consequences for failing to do what he promises you he will do. He has no consequences for failing to do the things you have clearly and explicitly told him you need, and therefore there isn't a whole lot of motivation for him to do any of it. You tell him you need him to keep on top of the cleaning, he says he will, and then when he fails to do so you end up doing it. He knows this. So if you're serious about getting him to pull his weight and contribute to the household, then you need to get ready to allow shit not to get done so that he feels the consequences of his failure to do things. Not everyone can do that, though. Not everyone is able to let things not get done in order to create consequences for the person responsible.

What I would do is:
1. Have a proper sit down come-to-jesus talk with your husband where you explain that things must change, that the current situation is putting your marriage in jeopardy, not to mention your physical and mental health. Explain to him that after two years of this you are no longer able to continue this way, and that real changes are needed. Explain to him that every time he fails to do household tasks they fall to you, and you aren't able to do it all anymore. Explain to him that the choices he is making (to not contribute to the household, to incur costs unnecessarily (ie. daycare), to fail to give you the support you need in your marriage) is damaging your marriage, as well as your mental and emotional health. Explain to him that two years of the household bending over backwards to support him, his needs, massaging his ego, and his mental health has come at a great cost to you and your marriage and that things now have to equalize.
2. Take the kids out of daycare and have your husband now be full-time stay at home parent. That is money you can't afford to spend anymore. You told him that he was responsible for covering those costs and he hasn't, so this is the result. If he gets to the point where he makes enough to cover the costs then you can reevaluate, but until that time he now has to be your children's daycare.
3. Pay to have a thorough clean of the house done. This is a one-of thing, just to get things back in order. This gives your husband a solid baseline. Much easier to keep a clean house clean than it is to get a dirty house clean.
4. Clearly outline your expectations of him, jointly decide what household tasks he is responsible for and have them written up and stuck on the wall someplace visible. Acknowledge when he successfully meets those expectations, but also acknowledge when he fails to meet them. Create rewards and consequences.
5. Take a portion of the money you are now saving by not spending money on daycare and set it aside for YOU. This is you money, money you will use to do some self care regularly. Use that money to pay for a dinner out with some of your friends, or for a monthly pedicure, or whatever floats your boat. Maybe this money goes towards therapy. Your emotional well-being has been shunted to the side for two years, so you are now going to invest in yourself.
6. Get into couples therapy if you can afford it.

Marriages and relationships take work and effort. It takes both people wanting to go out of their way to make sure their partner is happy. It takes both people being willing to do that work, to put the effort in. Your husband doesn't sound like he's doing any of that relationship work, and it actually sounds like he is totally fine with your doing everything. He doesn't have a problem with the fact that you are:
- the soul financial provider for the family AND
- the primary caregiver for your children AND
- the person responsible for the cleaning and upkeep of the household AND
- your having to do all the emotional labour in the relationship.

Seriously, ask yourself (and maybe him) what his role in the family is.
He isn't financially providing for the household.
He isn't the primary caregiver for the children.
He isn't maintaining the household in terms of keeping it clean and in good condition.
He isn't supporting you or giving you what you need emotionally.

So what the Christ is he? He should be at least ONE of those things, or have an equal share in all of them. But he is nothing. Maybe I'm not being fair, but I sincerely don't see what role he is serving in the household apart from adding to your emotional drain and financial drain. And this isn't about his being out of work. There are plenty of out of work people who still support and contribute to their households, families, and relationships. Maybe he hasn't made the connection that YOU have to do everything he fails to do, that the things he doesn't finish end up being finished by YOU.

You have explicitly told him that your needs are not being met, that you are unhappy and dissatisfied and stressed out, that you no longer feel your relationship to be a partnership, that everything feels incredibly one sided and that you feel unsupported and the end result has been..... nothing. After two years I would be thinking very seriously about the future of the relationship, and I am a very divorce-adverse person. You are functioning as a single parent, with the added financial and emotional drain that he causes.

There are lots of people out there that will laugh at your obscure literary fart jokes.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:37 AM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Or if you can't take your kid out of full time daycare (being a full time parent is hard and your kids may need outside care to be happy)look for a part-time situation. Lots of churches offer 'mothers morning out' daycare/school from like 9-12 or 1, for like $200 a month for a few mornings of care. The name is very old school, but I've found they are great options with very skilled, nurturing staff.) alternately, find another stay at home parent who need to make a little cash. Then your husband does the rest, and you use the rest in yourself and hopefully a cleaner.
posted by Rocket26 at 11:18 AM on September 18, 2016

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