In sickness and in health?
September 26, 2018 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I was married a little over a year ago to a very sweet and gentle man. It seems though that his anxiety and impulsiveness level, even with new and increasing meds, cannot help him. Though I love him, I worry how I will ever achieve a family with him. But I made a vow...

Hello, and thank you ahead of time for any insight.

My husband and I are both teachers in the same subject at the same school. I am a 33F and he is a 40M. What drew me to him was his kindness and gentleness and giving nature. We married after a year and a half of dating and now have been married a little over a year. However...

His anxiety disorder and impulsiveness, which I thought I could handle, is starting to make me question if I can achieve our dream of a family without it killing him first. He is impulsive with spending, frequently having to ask parents for money behind my back even though we make the same salary so I know it is enough to cover our needs. He has apologized profusely and is making steps, like budgeting and letting me view it, to try to stop that. He has also cut up a credit card his parents gave him because he was relying on it too much.

That aside (and I only mentioned spending because I feel he spends to soothe his nerves) his anxiety is off the charts. I see our marriage, though warm and loving towards one another, as a cycle of not doing anything because of lack of money, illness, anxiety, and tiredness. He is frequently sick, he just gets sick really easily even though he has been to the doctor, and his anxiety over his job (the same job I have with the same salary) causes him so much stress that I cannot relate to it as I don't have similar reactions to our job. This illness and anxiety leads to tiredness or smoking. He is/has been in therapy and is on the right meds with dosages. Without the meds he would fear himself dead he says.

THing is...he is the nicest and most supportive man I have ever dated (and the only one I have married). But I am starting to notice I look at him and his break-downs more as a child who is overwhelmed with and can't handle just day to day life. It is hard to empathize because we have the same position. Also, sometimes I shut down totally because I get annoyed or frustrated when he is rambling or freaking out about something. I just have this internal (is this cruel?) instinct to push it away/ignore the issues rather than soothe. I am starting to get concerned that adding a child to the mix someday, with the sleepless nights and expenses and such, may not be possible. And just the care of a child and the anxieties it brings will compound the anxiety he has over what feels like a cushy life so far.

I gave a vow, in sickness and in health, and I realize something is not right and he is sick in some way. But another part of me is wondering if I will have to sacrifice family and the ability to make happy memories to keep him stable. Can I? Should I? If I should, given his positive qualities, how? And if I shouldn't, given my age, what is the likelihood I would have my own bio children after years of dating anyways? Should having children even be a priority? I am not *dying* to have kids, but yeah I think I want them.

I don't feel scared per se, but I do feel pensive and cautious. We are in marriage therapy by the way.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Much as you love him, I fear that you will slide slowly into contempt since you're already starting to look at him as a child. And that is caustic. So what came to mind immediately is the old adage about putting on your own mask before assisting others, but around guarding against contempt. Here's my thinking... I suspect that your stress is ratcheted up by the fact that you both teach in the same school in the same department, especially since you don't relate to how he experiences the work (anxiety-producing) and say you're having trouble empathizing. You are not only monitoring and soothing his anxiety at home but also at work, which I can't think is good for either of you. If possible, I think one of you should find employment elsewhere. Moreover, though on first blush it should be you (as the holder of more spoons), I'm going to say that he's the one who needs a fresh start and a shot of confidence in his competency and a world where he's not joined at the hip with you. Maybe it shouldn't even be in teaching.

Can you have time where work is topic non grata, so you can just enjoy simple things together like going to the Farmer's Market or whatever?
posted by carmicha at 6:59 AM on September 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

Have you brought this up in marriage therapy? There is no easy way out of this. Whether you get divorced without ever having spoken the truth of why you want to leave, or whether you stick with this guy and work through every painful issue over the next years, or anything inbetween. There is no easy way. It's all hard all the way around. There's no magic snap of the fingers. So, to the unconscious part of you that wants this to be painless even though other parts of you know better: I'm really sorry.

FWIW I think the most correct choice is to basically read out this post in marriage therapy and see where that takes you. Like marriage itself, fixing your marriage requires you to take a leap of faith, put yourself in the hands of others without having a hope of controlling the consequences or the outcome, and see what happens. You don't have a hope of fixing this marriage if you're not completely and brutally honest. So, you know, try that.

I'm sorry you're going through this. I got divorced 18 months ago myself. I know a little bit of your struggle. Be kind to yourself. You are worth all the kindness and consideration that you routinely extend to others. Your concerns are not "nothing", and neither are they "bad". They just are. And they deserve to be taken seriously: first by you, then by your husband and by your marriage counselor.

Good luck.
posted by MiraK at 7:00 AM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

He is/has been in therapy...

Which is it? And if it is current but not helping him, then maybe he needs another kind of therapy, or more intensive therapy, or inpatient therapy, etc.

...and is on the right meds with dosages.

The right meds/dosages are constantly in flux, and his meds may need adjusting.

You are right to not bring a child into this mix. I would also add that it sounds as though he doesn't realize how much he is risking with you by not fully addressing his illness. Does he know your feelings are moving from supportive to repulsed? Have you had a come-to-jesus talk or are you tiptoeing around his anxiety? Do you really see him as supportive of you if he is sabotaging your shared ability to save money, vacation together, plan a future? Any friend can be a good listener, and kind to you. Support from your life partner is way more than that, and you don't describe it here.

And his parents need to stop enabling him, but good luck with that. If he is 40 and they are sneaking money to him without his wife's knowledge, that dynamic may be too far entrenched to change.
posted by headnsouth at 7:07 AM on September 26, 2018 [11 favorites]

You say he's properly medicated, but if he's spending recklessly and having highs and lows about that which are noticeable to you in such a way, I wonder if that's truly the case? It may be appropriate to have a discussion with him and your therapist (and him with his prescribing doc) about what's happening. You also need to be very honest about what you're feeling and how this is all affecting you right now.
posted by xingcat at 7:09 AM on September 26, 2018 [28 favorites]

My son is 7 and my husband comes from a different (tremendously different!) culture than mine where we live, so we have that challenge which ultimately is very similar to yours. Sometimes concerning parent and relationship issues my spouse can not hear me through the fog of his lens, the difference is my husband was not like this when we first married, nor when I was pregnant.

Please get out of this marriage any way you can, as quickly as you can. You are setting yourself and your child/ren for a future of major trauma otherwise. Your gentle spouse is already somewhat emotionally abusive because he can not self-regulate, it only gets worse with children. So. Much. Worse.


As I read your question, I imagined all of the possibilities of 33. Honestly, you could so easily get another job and move away. No fault divorces are a cinch. The harder part is if you drag it out and he loses his job due to his issues and then you have to pay alimony....

If his parents gave him a credit card rather than drive him to a doctor, then this is who he is and you are in an unfixable situation despite any pleading and cries you may hear. I urge you to think very very carefully before voicing any concerns to him, because that will ratchet up any anxiety and manipulation to support his anxiety. Then it will be harder to leave because he will be in such a pathetic state. Think seriously about making a quiet exit and explaining your reasons from afar, when you work somewhere new for your own safety and peace of mind.

At the very least get a new job away from your spouse. He’s never going to improve at the rate he’s going and you need a secure escape route. He’s not a real adult and never will be, you are not qualified or professionally compensated to support his condition.

Some combo of meds and therapy to address the places he has not matured due to illness might help him, but I urge you not to take on that project AND motherhood. Your children deserve THE BEST and this guy needs a mother himself. The answer is no, you can not have a family with this particular person and ethically and morally be a good parent because you know the hardship and dysfunction and likely eventual abuse that will befall you and any children dependent on this man. What do you want to do?
posted by jbenben at 7:11 AM on September 26, 2018 [25 favorites]

My partner of 14 years has kept a pile of secrets they have never in the length of our relationship even hinted about to me. Big deal secrets. Partner is extremely anxious and on occasion, self-describes as paranoid about specific potentially scary situations that are very, very unlikely to happen.

Partner has been an Aussie Shepherd about herding me to avoid dealing with their own ghosts, and for me it recently reached a personally unbearable level. I was ready to jump ship too, so calmly told my partner of my concerns, specifically how partner's issues are now affecting me, and a few of the specific things I find intolerable. Partner wanted to sooth my anxiety about our relationship and asked what they could do to help me. I said THERAPY. Therapy therapy therapy. Individual, then couples. I did offer the warning shot that I am no longer going to tolerate the way things are, and I am very serious and worried about the future of our relationship. They had no idea how strongly I felt, despite my previous attempts to communicate this to them.

It took them four months but they did finally find their own therapist and is meeting one-on-one with her, and when partner feels more ready, I will join them for couples counseling. If you do this it will help to find a therapist who is willing to do individual counseling AND is willing to let you come for "supportive sessions" (aka couples) so health insurance will pay for the couples part, since insurance doesn't generally do so. I also have my own therapist and have individual sessions with her. We each have individual homework and have various levels of success with the communication exercises, but I can tell this is not comfortable work for partner, and I see how they are learning to do differently.

Bowing out of the craziness is not a bad choice, and, if you feel committed to keeping marital vows, therapy may be really helpful too. If, after that, you are still stuck then you can reevaluate at that point. I wish you and your husband the best.
posted by mcbeth at 7:20 AM on September 26, 2018 [18 favorites]

So don't forget...there's another vow in the mix and it is to love and cherish (or love and honour). If you can't do that because contempt and misery are infiltrating your marriage, then that actually becomes a situation where you can't keep your vows.

It is really hard with mental illness, especially one that would keep you from goals like having kids. In my marriage of 24 years, each of us has come to different dealbreakers (1 each) where we had to turn to the other person and say "this is not tenable; you don't have to fix this overnight, but this is a dealbreaker and if it doesn't change then I can't stay." It's really hard to do that. In our marriage's case, it's worked out.

I would challenge your husband that his treatment plan is working. It's not. What you need from him: a life that doesn't involve frequent freakouts, and a capacity to be a good parent (responsible budgeting, good health, a certain degree of resilience and adulting.) I think it is fine to say to him that you need this to keep going.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:10 AM on September 26, 2018 [14 favorites]

My husband has some of these tendencies and I know how frustrating and tiring it can be. You're not a terrible person for wanting to push away. I hate to say it, but it actually seemed to get worse after we had kids. You definitely don't want to deal with an adult child along with an actual baby. Anxiety is a sickness, but he has to be actively working on getting better without you pushing him along if he ever wants to have any progress. Regular marriage counseling has made a significant improvement in our lives, but it took a while for me to be honest about how overwhelmed I was. I'll second MiraK's suggestion to share what you've wrote in your therapy session.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 8:21 AM on September 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I just have this internal (is this cruel?) instinct to push it away/ignore the issues rather than soothe.

You work with children. He is a child. You married your job. Of course it's not cruel to not want to come home to a second shift for the rest of your life. There is a fundamental incompatibility with you two and it's not your fault.
posted by rada at 8:52 AM on September 26, 2018 [25 favorites]

He's sick, but he's also making choices--he's choosing to spend wildly and then hide it from you, for example. Moreover, this is a pattern, one that his parents were clearly aware of and have been enabling.

You feel like you owe him in sickness and in health, but what does he owe you? Did he promise to love and honor you? Does this feel like a loving relationship in which you're honored, or does this feel like a one-sided relationship in which you're giving endlessly, soothing his anxiety and comforting him, handling the financial fallout of his spending sprees, and putting aside your own needs and wants to deal with the constant crisis that he's creating in your household? What are you getting out of this relationship? He's getting a caregiver and a financial services provider and a partner and and and. You're meeting a lot of his needs. Is he meeting yours?

I'm agree with the people who said you should get out, and sooner rather than later. If you aren't ready to do that, though, I'd sit down with yourself and maybe a therapist and write down some hard lines for yourself. For example, he's hiding financial problems from you--what if that escalates? What if you find that he's tapped his retirement account, or worse, yours? He smokes and spends to self soothe--what if he starts drinking, too? How much caretaking are you willing to do? I had a partner who very much fit what you've described here, and in retrospect, I wish that I'd figured out early on what my hard limits were. As it was, without them, things just kept ratcheting up, bit by bit, and I told myself that things weren't worse than they had been, I was just getting meaner--something that he was only too happy to accuse me of. I wish that I'd been brave enough to leave when things started going off track, before they got bad, and before I'd wasted years of my life with him.
posted by mishafletch at 8:57 AM on September 26, 2018 [12 favorites]

Please don't use Niceness as your bar for staying. Nice and supportive is the absolute LOWEST bar of being a good friend/partner and we've been trained to brush off so many red-flags and issues if only the man in our life is "nice".

You deserve more.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:01 AM on September 26, 2018 [22 favorites]

He's sick, but he's also been babied by his family of origin and is looking to you to provide the same anchoring. You need to be able to discuss with him your limits to doing so. It's hard to be expected to always be the strong one. Perhaps if he learns the truth of how this is affecting you, it will help him choose better treatment that also includes learning to stand on his own two feet. It sounds like his parents never made him do that. It doesn't mean he can't. (But he may have to learn that didn't isn't the same as can't, and that actually he can, and you may or may not have the patience to stand by while he does that growing.)

I also want to speak to the intersection of anxiety and parenting. I have anxiety, sometimes severe, catastrophizing and spiraling and what iffing etc and becoming a parent made it BETTER because suddenly there's this little being that requires me to be a grown up. So as you're sorting this out, know that could also happen when it's time to be a family. There's quite a history of very immature people doing a lot of growing in that nine months before they become first time parents. YMMV of course.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:49 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm curious: in what ways is your husband nice and supportive? I'm wondering this because we all read these words and then project our own idea of the specific level of niceness and supportiveness. And depending on what you actually mean, this marriage might be worth fighting for vs. definitely need to be jettisoned. KWIM?

Examples from real life and real people I have known whose spouses described them as extremely nice and supportive. Note: all three men are south Asian. Please adjust your cultural expectations accordingly.

- Guy #1 makes no demands on his wife. He is completely not at all controlling. This is really rare because of the culture this couple comes from, where husbands micromanage wives to a ridiculous extent. He never tells her what to wear. He does not tell her how she may or may not spend her money. They keep their finances completely separate, in fact, and he doesn't even know how much money she has. He does not restrict her work hours or her work schedule. Whenever she needs to work late, he will make his own meals and also cook for her without a fuss and without even mentioning it as a favor, even though in his culture, the normal would be to pressure her to quit her job because it interferes with her responsibilities at home. His wife has some complaints: he makes three times as much as she does, but contributes less than 50% to household expenses and nothing to the family's savings. She wishes he would stop giving away literally all "his" money to his sisters and to his parents without consulting her, but she admits she likes how he keeps his nose out of her finances. He's overall so nice and supportive, she really can't complain.

- Guy #2 has horrible parents who drive his wife insane because they are traditionally Asian in-laws: interfering, controlling, misogynistic. Tradition dictates that his wife must be respectful and subservient to his parents, and she is not. He totally does not mind. He would never, ever ask her to change her natural "fuck off" response to idiotic expectations just because it's his parents who are on the receiving end of it. His parents are on the ceiling about his failure to rein in his wife. He feels the pressure. He's still the only son in a south asian family. But he sucks it up and lets his wife be. His wife has some complaints: she wishes he would stick up for her boundaries with his family instead of her needing to do it (and always be the bad guy). But still, he's overall so nice and supportive, she really can't complain.

- Guy #3 watches his wife give birth and work at breastfeeding their first child, and loses his fucking mind. Totally panicks. He waits for an opportune moment when she's well rested and the baby's asleep to present her with a list of extra duties he would like to take over at home (in addition to their already mutually agreed upon chore chart). In addition, he would like to increase his share of the contribution to her retirement account. He panicked because he has realized they seriously underestimated how much work labor, birthing, and breastfeeding are, and so now he wants to make things more equitable, especially because he (being the owner of a sole proprietorship with no other employees) hasn't been able to take time off for parental leave. His wife has some complaints: he just doesn't understand how much of a toll breastfeeding is taking on her mental health, and she wishes he would just listen quietly sometimes without trying to fix her problem. He's says he's trying to be better about emotional labor but this drives her nuts. But still, he's overall so nice and supportive, she really can't complain.


Do you get it? There's wildly different levels of "nice and supportive." Where does your dude fall in the scale of Guy#1, Guy#2, and Guy#3?
posted by MiraK at 10:03 AM on September 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

He's sick, but he's also been babied by his family of origin and is looking to you to provide the same anchoring. You need to be able to discuss with him your limits to doing so. It's hard to be expected to always be the strong one. Perhaps if he learns the truth of how this is affecting you, it will help him choose better treatment that also includes learning to stand on his own two feet.

Eh, he's 40 years old. He's middle aged, heading towards late middle age. His anxiety isn't going to get better at this point unless he completely changes who he is and how he approaches life. Most people especially men get more anxious and fearful as they age, not less (I'm not making this up, it's tied to becoming more conservative, physical decline etc). The OP is 33, she wants a family.

I say cut your losses and look for a man who is starting out at your level of happiness and being a competent adult and go from there. Be more rational in your next choice of a husband though, don't just look for niceness, look for someone who has their shit together.
posted by fshgrl at 11:55 AM on September 26, 2018 [15 favorites]

I'm a 40 year old sweet, gentle woman. I have a giving nature. I also have 37 flavors of anxiety, which aren't wholly controlled by meds and therapy. (Panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, OCD, trichotillomania, dermatillomania, arachnophobia, all arranged nicely on a bed of bipolar disorder.)

I've had to work my ass off at not being impulsive with spending. And it's still a battle. I want All The Things, but since my anxiety is a large factor in my inability to work outside my home, my income currently comes nowhere near "All The Things" levels. I've had to ask my parents for money to help out, way more times than I'd ever imagined when I was younger. I purposely don't have credit cards, because I get into trouble with overspending and not being able to make payments.

My anxiety is off the charts. I have long spells of not doing anything because of lack of money, illness (I'm physically disabled, on top of the mental illness masterpiece), and tiredness. I'm frequently sick, getting sick really easily. When my primary caregiver is available, I see 3-6 doctors a week. My anxiety over my various and sundry attempts at creating income causes me an inordinate amount of stress. Unless you've had hours-long panic attacks for years on end, there's no way you could relate to it. I used to smoke, 2 or 3 packs a day, until it got so expensive I didn't really have a choice but to quit. (Cold turkey, the most miserable two weeks of my life.)

I'm in therapy, have been for about 4 years this time. I've been in and out of therapy since I was 11. I started meds when I was 19, and have been on and off them, too. My psychiatrist and I are trying to find a new combo that will better manage mood swings and high anxiety levels. I couldn't even being to tell you how many times over the last 30 years I've attempted to commit suicide. I stopped trying a few years ago, because I was very obviously bad at it, and I hate doing things I'm bad at.

I'm really nice and supportive of all my friends, and was wsupportive of my husbands, too, when I was married. But during my panic attacks and breakdowns, I felt more like an overwhelmed child who couldn't handle day to day life. I know my caregivers try to empathize, but unless it's something you've experienced, you really can't understand this level of anxiety. And I know they get annoyed and frustrated with me when I'm rambling or freaking out about something.

I have two children. They live with my parents, in fair part thanks to my mental illness. I was on the verge of post-partum psychosis after my son was born. I was convinced that because I couldn't breastfeed him, he was going to starve to death and it would have been all my fault. My then-psychiatrist upped my meds and told me to stop trying to breastfeed. When my kids were young, I had regular panic attacks over absolutely evertyhing, and absolutely nothing.

You do not have to sacrifice family.
You do not have to give up the ability to make happy memories.

You gave a vow, in sickness and in health. And that is a serious vow. But what your husband has is a serious mental illness. And SMI trumps marriage vows.

You should not be married to me.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 2:02 PM on September 26, 2018 [21 favorites]

(sorry to distract from OP; if I knew how to make the tiny font I would!)

Almighty Mommy Goddess, thank you for sharing your story. I'm reading it over and over; as a child of someone who had serious anxiety + BPD + ADHD but never knew it or took responsibility, it is strangely healing to read about a parent with as much self awareness as you. With all my heart, thank you and best wishes to you.
posted by MiraK at 4:19 PM on September 26, 2018 [18 favorites]

Oh man, you need to leave. It's been just about 3 years and you're already seeing this? Run away, sweet thirtysomething, run away.

The world is full of sweet, gentle men. So many. And so many of them face only minor mental illness and minor financial stress.

You are still young, but fertility does decline as a woman gets into her thirties. If you want to have children that are genetically yours, leave today, take some therapy for yourself, and then go back to dating. I have every belief that you can find someone wonderful.

FWIW, I have generalized anxiety. Becoming a parent greatly decreased my anxiety, because I didn't have time to ruminate. But I was already managing a budget decently and worked on my mental health stuff for years before this. . . That's no who the man you married is.
posted by ElisaOS at 8:06 AM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think your gut is telling you what you need to know, that this won't get better and the managing of his issues is going to interfere with having a happy life. I'm sorry. There are no guarantees in life but likely the short-term pain of divorcing will be outweighed by the benefits of finding a more equal partner.
posted by lafemma at 11:18 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

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