Wednesday, May 31, 2023

My husband won’t lift a finger to help me. Should I stay or go?

The dilemma I am 47, have two primary-school children and a marriage that is in slow decline. From our initial pre-marriage ideals of a kind of Scandinavian shared approach to parenting and marriage it became apparent that, in fact, our underlying approach was that of his parents. The expectation is that I do everything. Nothing is done in an abusive way, but there is a passive detachment which I see in him that mirrors his dad. In his side of the family, the women run around doing everything while the men watch TV and discuss the news. I have brought this up numerous times, both in frustration and anger and in calmer, sadder moments. My husband will acknowledge this when I am calmer and will try to be more of an equal partner, but after a short time everything falls back to how it has been.

I often think about being single. I am not interested in being with another man, but sometimes I find myself wondering if I would have a more equal relationship with a woman. I don’t want to break up because of our children. I have talked with him about splitting up, but he only laughs. Do I stay married? Or should I get out?

Philippa’s answer For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health… and we should add another vow along the lines of having to stay together when, despite our best intentions, we end up being like our parents. My husband, after 30 years of marriage, kindly points out to me whenever I have turned into my mother and I remind him, with all the goodwill I can muster, when he is reverting to the model of a Victorian patriarch. However much we might not want to, without the gentle challenge of a loved one, we will revert to mimicking our ancestors.

Right now, you are furious. I don’t blame you, your husband, without realising it, keeps reverting to type, leaving your headspace taken up with remembering to get milk and loo rolls, while he can chat about loftier ideas with other men. You are cooking dinner and listening to children read to you at the same time, while he watches the news and when you tell him you are reaching the end of your tether and have fantasies of not having him around at all, he is not taking you seriously. Sounds very tempting from an I-told-you-so perspective to leave, I can see that. He breaks his promise about the Scandinavian model on a daily basis and this hurts you.

It seems when you shout, he cannot hear your words, but just tries to defend himself against the shouting. Very tough when you are trying to teach your children about life to have to repeat yourself to a grown man as well. But when you nudge him without shouting, he does respond – maybe you need a shorthand word, so you don’t need to go through the lengthy explanations each time. Maybe start calling him by his dad’s name?

You can have one more gentle long chat, the sort he takes notice of, and then stay a week or two away with a friend. It may bring it home to him just how much there is to think about and do that should be shared. Remind him the children have grown out of all their clothes and shoes on your way out. Watch this clip of comedian Simon Brodkin on YouTube ( – share it with him, too.

When you fantasise about it, divorce can appear like a lovely quick fix, but it rarely is. It can take a long time to rebuild yourself afterwards. There are complications about splitting the finances, with both parties usually ending up with less. No divorce with kids is a clean split as you must continue to co-parent and the things that annoyed you when you were together continue, but with less goodwill to work through them. The children suffer and act out. If you have a new same-sex relationship, it will have its own problems and rocky patches to work through. Men tend to repartner more quickly than women when there are children involved and resentments tend to grow rather than recede.

At 47, it is possible your oestrogen levels are falling. At the beginning of my perimenopause I felt homicidal until I got some HRT. It is as though nature didn’t realise we’d still be rearing kids in our middle-age and thought we’d do well with less patience and more rage by now, but we are having children later and need our patience a bit longer, so it might be an idea to have a test to see if you are perimenopausal. And if you get HRT and find yourself more tolerant as a result, I do not suggest you let your husband get away with not sharing the physical and emotional labour of the home, but it may give you more patience when you remind him to think about what needs doing and not leave it all to you.

Relationships go through good and bad times, it’s why we need to take vows at the beginning of the commitment. If relationships were all plain sailing, there wouldn’t be marriage to keep us together when things get stormy. I don’t envy your position right now in the middle of your storm, but I do think it is one that can be weathered.

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