Ask E. Jean - Tormented? Driven Witless? Whipsawed by confusion?

Advice Vixens

Hi Vixens,
I could use some advice. I'm a 37 year old woman, married, and have a kid who is about to turn 2. I often think about divorcing my husband, and I can't tell if I'm crazy or not to have these thoughts nor do I know what to do with them. I'll try and be brief:

My husband is a good man but he hates his job and doesn't have many friends or hobbies asides from watching foreign films. He's handsome and exercises a lot. He's a sensitive man. He's a good dad in terms of the basics: he takes good care of our son, is loving, gentle, and so on. He also has OCD and anxiety and some body issues (bad back, bad shoulder, bad stomach, and so on). And he can get very riled up about people or politics sometimes in that he has angry outbursts, but never at me or our son. He also does more than 50% of the household labor. Like I said: he's a good man and a good person and I love him very much.

Here are the problems: I love my job. I love my kid. I'm a happy person. I wake up happy, I go to sleep happy. Politics and some aspects of my job make me upset from time to time but I'm very much a glass-half-full kind of person. I have a lot of friends and make friends easily, too. Also, I have what I think is a normal sex drive (would be happy with sex 2-3 times a week). So the problems are really just that my husband brings me down..... he's not fun. He doesn't like to do things other than watch movies or work out on his own. Though he's great at watching our kid, half the time he just sits on the couch while our kid plays around, so he doesn't really engage with him as much as I'd like him to. But it's hard for him because of all his physical issues and pain. He also hardly has a sex drive, or his anxiety gets in the way. Our sex doesn't feel good to me. It was never great, but it's gotten a lot worse. There's no oral sex, which has always been hard for me, and minimal foreplay overall. I just feel like he's the part of my life that makes me the least happy out of everything (obviously, the pandemic sucks and I worry about politics, but I mean more personally). I don't know what to do. I've tried talking to him about all this so many times, begging for us to do more fun things, to try more than just watching TV and movies together (we could play games, go on hikes or to outdoor museums or new neighborhoods with our kid, we could cook together, and so on). He gets upset and defensive...

So, yeah. I don't know what to do. We used to see a couples therapist and stopped. He says the source of most of his unhappiness is his job situation, and if that were fixed, the rest wouldn't suck as much, but he is resistant to fixing it on his own and really places a lot of the responsibility for doing that on me changing my job so as to create more opportunities for him (it's complicated). Anyway. I don't know. Do you all have any thoughts on this?

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    Hi, Anon! I do, yes. I think that there are two things going on, here.

    First, physical issues can be debilitating, and when you add in hating a job, I can see where your husband could be so depressed and miserable that he doesn't want to really participate in life.

    And that's very, very sad.

    But, you are neither his mother nor his therapist.

    The second thing is your expectations. Was he fun before you got married? If he wasn't, then you can't blame him for not being fun, now.

    And it's okay if his way of relating to your son is not the way you want it, as long as he is treating your little guy well and not being neglectful or mean. It's actually good for kids to learn how to relate to different types of people, so I would kind of let that one go.

    If he used to be fun and changed after you got married, welcome to the club. (One I no longer belong to.) There is a particular dynamic that happens in far too many American marriages, where once the wedding is over, the husband decides that he gets to be one of the kids.

    In your case, at least he pulls his weight as far as housekeeping, but a lot of guys just start treating their wives like mothers. It sounds like he is doing that emotionally.

    My advice is to sit him down one last time and let him know as tactfully as possible that things cannot go on the way they are.

    Change is hard. It's even harder when we're in pain and depressed, I know. But refusing to change his situation on his own, insisting that you change yours to make it easier for him, is not how a grown-ass man behaves. If he wants his life to change, he has to make that happen -- with your full support, of course.

    In my experience, problems like this often get solved easier with practical solutions rather than endless talk. Work together to make a plan with actionable steps and deadlines as far as him finding a new job goes.

    Make it clear that you love him and will support him through changes that are going to be scary and hard, but be firm that his unhappiness is driving you away.

    If he refuses, or does not follow the plan and meet the reasonable and doable deadlines you two worked out, then I would say go ahead and divorce him. Life is too short to be with someone who isn't a good fit for you.

    I hope that helps!

    reply to Robynne
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    Got to second Robynne's excellent advice.

    Also, why did you stop couples counseling? Because it sounds like you could really use that right now.

    And it sounds like your husband's issues aren't going to go away with a new job. Improve, definitely. But there are a host of issues, both physical and emotional that are bringing him low right now. So he should be seeing both a doctor and a therapist, separately from the couples counselor, just for his own sake (with the ancillary benefit of improving your marriage). I can tell you from personal experience that chronic pain can have the effect of distancing you emotionally from others. And sex? Fuggedaboutit!

    If starting to fix all of this seems overwhelming, make a list and tackle each item separately, or a couple at a time. And although I'm not a fan of the ultimatum, I would recommend in this case that you tell what the stakes are if he continues on as he has been and doesn't seek help.

    reply to Jill
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    I agree 100% with Jill.

    Also, I am not always as tactful as I should be, and want to make it clear that I was not suggesting any kind of ultimatum.

    No one is going to respond well to "If you don't change, I am gone."

    Far better to say that you love him, but that you're really struggling and that if the two of you cannot make some changes together, you aren't sure this marriage is what's best for either of you going forward.

    reply to Robynne
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    The big question I have is one that Robynne has already brought up: was he a "fun" person before the marriage and child? In other words has your world grown while his has been shrinking? Or has he always been someone with only a few narrowly-focused interests?

    The answer changes your approach. Are you looking to bring him back closer to the man he was before? Or is this a situation where you are realizing that he's *never* displayed the qualities you are looking for?

    The first scenario will take work, but if he is willing to *do* that work, it's possible that he can turn things around.

    The second scenario? Much, much more difficult. It's still possible that he may want to change -- but it's several orders of magnatude more unlikely. So proceed accordingly...

    But absolutely listen to Robynne and Jill's terrific advice, particularly about establishing a reasonable one-step-at-a-time doable plan -- with the aid of a therapist, if necessary. And good luck!

    reply to Kal
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