Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“After 40 Years, I Can’t Stand My Husband”

Marriage

I have been married 41 years and dated my husband for three years before our marriage. I am 60 years old and I am afraid to live on my own. I am a housewife. We have two grown daughters, and one granddaughter we raised from birth who is 21 and still living with us and going to a community college. I am so unhappy in my marriage. My husband is a very negative person in every aspect of his life. He is going to retire in about two months. This has put him in a very angry mood, which I understand. It’s big decision for him to make. It is for me also. I just can’t live with his anger and negativity anymore. I love him, but at the same time I can’t stand him. Part of me wants to leave him because he is making me so unhappy and is making everyone else uncomfortable when they are here. By “everyone,” I mean our daughters. Our granddaughter, whom we raised, just doesn’t like him. I don’t really want to leave, but I just can’t live with his anger and negativity anymore. I don’t know what to do or think. — Over It After 40 Years

Your confusion is clear and the most important thing you need to do is get clear about what it is you want. Do you want a divorce or separation? Would you be willing to stay if your husband and/or relationship changed? Obviously, you cannot change your husband, which I’m sure you know after more than 40 years together. But it is possible for him to change, especially now that he’s retiring. I wouldn’t expect the change to occur quickly, or necessarily at all. But often, when people experience a big life change — and retirement is certainly among the biggest — their temperaments change too. Maybe his career has been especially stressful and draining. Or maybe just the idea of retirement has been so scary or nerve-wracking that, once it’s over, he will begin to calm down. Or maybe he won’t.

Two things I’d suggest: counseling (for you as individuals and for you as a couple) and time apart. If you can afford it, I think your husband living in his own small apartment, while you stay in your family home with your granddaughter, could give you both the physical and psychological space to figure out what you want. I can appreciate that, after spending your entire adult life living with the same person, the thought of living alone is scary. But you can do it. You’ll be ok. Being a “housewife” doesn’t mean you’re incapable. If anything, you’re more capable than most to live alone. You know the domestic life inside and out. It’s far more difficult for someone who doesn’t have experience in–let’s call it “domestic arts”–to suddenly find himself or herself living alone. You already have the tools for taking care of yourself. And if it’s loneliness you are worried about, you have your granddaughter still at home and you can find ways to keep busy and find companionship (e.g. volunteer, find a part-time job, join some clubs, take some classes, go to church, etc.).

At sixty, you could still have twenty, thirty, even forty years ahead of you. You’re too young to be resigned to a life and partnership that leaves you so unhappy. It’s time to move on and forward, whether that’s on your own or with your husband in a relationship that is different than what you’ve had. You had your childhood and then your had your many years raising a family (both your children and then your granddaughter) and now it’s time for your third act. Make it count. Make it for you. This is your time. You’ve taken care of everyone else. What will you do to take care of you now?

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

33 comments… add one
  • katie

    katie March 18, 2014, 9:13 am

    “domestic science” used to be a real thing! although i like “domestic art”. and fun fact: “domestic science” is the way that women were first allowed into science. the first female graduate of MIT was admitted under the idea of domestic science. she was allowed to study chemistry because she was a woman studying how to clean better.

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    • theattack

      theattack March 18, 2014, 9:18 am

      Omg no way.

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      • katie

        katie March 18, 2014, 9:58 am

        yep! i read a whole book about food history in america, and the changing roles of a housewife was obviously a big impact to the way we ate at home. it was super interesting! there were a lot of people (men and women) who really tried to raise up the role of a housewife into a very valued, and even sometimes paid, role in society. and then women like ellen richards, the MIT graduate, were able to make careers for themselves where none existed before teaching “domestic science”, which would eventually turn into home ec, and then also researching “domestic science”. its sad that their ideals never really caught on.

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      • avatar

        iseeshiny March 18, 2014, 10:05 am

        There are no thumbs, but I want to like this comment. This is really interesting.

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      • theattack

        theattack March 18, 2014, 1:07 pm

        That is fascinating.

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    • Diablo

      Diablo March 18, 2014, 10:43 am

      katie, what you don’t mention is whether that woman actually DID learn to clean better. Bwahahahaha, just kidding! I’m sure she did.

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    • avatar

      jottino March 18, 2014, 11:45 am

      This is amazing! I want to look her up now. And I wonder if I can ask them to give me a MS in Domestic Science lol. I certainly don’t know how to clean any better. My default method is to just throw some solvent at it.

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  • avatar

    Alecia March 18, 2014, 9:15 am

    This is one of my favorite responses you’ve ever done Wendy. Heartfelt, direct, and honest. Best of luck to you LW.

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  • theattack

    theattack March 18, 2014, 9:18 am

    WWS all the way.

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  • LlamaPajamas

    LlamaPajamas March 18, 2014, 9:18 am

    This is breaking my heart. LW, I sincerely hope you get some lengthy alone-time so you can escape from the negativity and realize that you can absolutely make it on your own.

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  • avatar

    Seattleite March 18, 2014, 9:31 am

    OP, if “afraid to live on my own” in any way involves fear of supporting yourself, or of financial devastation, please see an attorney. Having some information about what your financial future might look like can do a lot to erase that fear.

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  • avatar

    thatgirl March 18, 2014, 10:08 am

    Making this decision, at any age, can be frightening! I remember being afraid to leave my first husband because I thought I needed him to survive financially. Turns out I didn’t, and I stayed a lot longer than I probably should have due to that original fear. Do what Seattleite says…See a lawyer…initial consultations are free where I live. Develop a game plan…either to stay or to go, and weigh all of your options. Can you stay with one of your daughters temporarily? Will your husband leave and pay some sort of short term support? All things considered, 60 is too young to be stuck and miserable (although any age is!). Good luck to you!

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  • avatar

    AKchic March 18, 2014, 10:55 am

    I feel for this LW. My grandpa was a difficult man to deal with at times, and my grandma stuck by him through it all until his death. Of course, we all tried to convince her during the dark times that she needed to leave. He wasn’t physically violent, just a drunk, negative, bullying man when alcohol is in him, which was all the time. They had a system where she’d hide his whiskey and only give it to him a few times a week, and he drank beer from noon until midnight.
    LW, your husband may change. He may not. The only way to facilitate change is to actually communicate what you want in life. You want him to stop being so damned negative. Tell him so. Schedule time for a therapist, either for yourself alone, or together as a couple. See what happens. It could be a medical reason for his constant grumpiness. Example: my grandpa hid his own emphysema and cancer diagnoses from the family because he didn’t want anyone to know, and he figured he wouldn’t be around much longer and didn’t want to waste the money on himself to try to make things better. He increasingly got more cranky and thinner, and none of us could explain why, and anytime we suggested a doctor, he’d get pissed. Had we known he already had a diagnosis, we wouldn’t have pushed so hard for the medical advice, and might have tried convincing him to cut back on his cigarettes and beer and put more effort into therapies that might have helped him.

    It’s scary sometimes, not knowing what the unknown will actually be like. However, you are miserable in the situation you’re in. That’s not fair to you right now. Nor is it fair to your children or granddaughter. Your husband needs to know this. He can’t change his behavior if he doesn’t know it’s a problem.

    Good luck, to whatever you decide to do.

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  • avatar

    XanderT March 18, 2014, 11:22 am

    LW – You deserve to be happy! However, I urge you to contact an attorney to figure out your financial future. I am guessing your husband is retiring with the notion of supporting 1 household and not 2 on the retirement income that is available. If you leave him, would it be best financially if he continues to work instead of retiring? Does he have any idea how unhappy you are? Does he have any idea that you are considering leaving him – after he gives up his job? There are 2 sides to every story. I urge you to think this through, LW, and discuss it with your husband.

    I, myself, at 50, love living alone! I make my own rules up as I go. However, I have to be very careful financially. I lived with the negativity for 20 years before I stopped trying. The difference is that I worked full time outside the home and had my own income. I am NOT saying that you should allow finances to be the ONLY determining factor in your decision. However, you absolutely must know your financial situation and have a plan for your financial future post divorce. Good Luck!

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark March 18, 2014, 12:01 pm

    You talk A LOT about your husband’s negativity — with interestingly ZERO concrete examples. And yet — there IS a lot of negativity in this letter. Your own. Look, your husband has spent forty years working away at a job that he probably found mildly enjoyable (at best) for a family that sounds decidedly unappreciative. Um, no wonder he has A LOT of negativity. Think about that. Think about your own actions. Do you show your husband that you appreciate him and what he does? Frankly — you haven’t built much of a case that you do.

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  • avatar

    sarolabelle March 18, 2014, 12:28 pm

    LW, go on a 10 day cruise with your granddaughter WITHOUT your husband. Sounds like you just need an escape from each other to me. I wish there were some examples in your letter.

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  • avatar

    Lucy March 18, 2014, 12:43 pm

    I can’t really tell if the LW has tried to address this with her husband or not. If not, then he at least deserves the chance to hear how she feels and make changes if he can – and she might have more chance of success if the discussion comes in the context of a marriage counselor.

    If she has discussed it with him and he’s showed no interest in changing his behaviour, then I’d vote for getting a therapist and a lawyer, in that order, to help her through the transition. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to disentangle your life from someone else’s after 40+ years. But if you’re miserable, and he’s miserable (he certainly sounds miserable), then what’s the point of continuing?

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    • avatar

      Lindsay March 18, 2014, 1:05 pm

      That’s exactly what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how to say it. If this were a younger couple, I assume that there’d be some talk to communicating with the husband, figuring out if it’s depressed, etc. I was a little surprised not to see that here. Maybe this is really off-base, but it reminds me of a dynamic I’ve seen among some older couples (not sure if it’s age-based, or just generational) where you believe that it’s normal to hate your spouse or where you don’t actually communicate ABOUT the relationship. (I’m not trying to generalize about everyone, but I do believe marriage has undergone some changes over the years.)

      What I’m wondering is, has he always been like this? Has it ever been addressed? I sympathize with the LW, but I also wonder if the husband knows anything about this. To be honest, if someone was displeased with their partner for decades and never said anything about it, that would imply to me that they didn’t really care about the relationship either.

      In terms of financial stability, I agree that seeing a lawyer is a good idea. Wendy talks up the ability for a former homemaker to keep her own home, but I seriously doubt that’s what the LW was concerned about. My mom is divorced and 65 and is, I hate to say it, nearly incompetent at fending for herself financially. So, it’s really, really important to talk this through, and I’d suggest doing so before the husband officially retires because he may not be prepared for the kind of financial hit that a divorce entails.

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  • Guy Friday

    Guy Friday March 18, 2014, 1:29 pm

    Anyone else bothered by the part of the advice that discusses the husband living in his own small apartment? If the LW is unhappy and has brought this to his attention and he hasn’t done anything about it, make plans accordingly. But it’s not HIM who has an issue with the marriage; it’s HER. Saying “I can’t stand you anymore, so go live somewhere else while I stay in this house you paid for” — and, no, I’m not minimizing the important role of a housewife, but he DID technically pay the money for it — is unfair, in my opinion. If she feels the need to leave and find another place then I understand, but he shouldn’t be kicked out.

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    • bittergaymark

      bittergaymark March 18, 2014, 5:50 pm

      I sure was. C’mon! A bit sexist — no? It’s also absurdly naive to think that a couple that is about to LOSE it’s only source of income can easily simply absorb such an additional expense.

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    • katie

      katie March 18, 2014, 9:12 pm

      you know what bothers me? how people advocate getting married as such a highly desirable thing in this country but have no idea what it entails. if you enter into a marriage that is a 50/50 no fault situation should divorce happen (and *everyone* should know what kind of divorce situation a potential marriage could become), then you enter into a 50/50 no fault divorce situation- for the duration of the marriage, not for just when its happy. its hilarious how when everyone is happy the attitude is all “whats mine is yours! its ours! we are so happy and in love and we share everything – legally now yayyy!!” but then the minute someone is unhappy the lines in the financial sand are drawn. im with sampson below- the LW and her husband both have to abide by divorce laws. if those divorce laws stipulate a 50/50 split what does it matter what she or he did while married? it doesnt, but all of a sudden when divorce is on the table it matters. all of a sudden its a very important fact that *he* paid for the house.

      so honestly who cares who moves out where, when? really? it doesnt matter. and i dont think its weird for one person to say to the other -whichever gender- “im fed up, cant stand you anymore, get out”, which is essentially what this LW would be saying. if she went out and got her own apartment, he would be paying for it anyway through whatever divorce laws stipulate he would have to pay her.

      this and many other things is why marriage is not high on my priority list. marriage is ridiculous, so much of the time…

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  • avatar

    TECH March 18, 2014, 6:03 pm

    To believe that a 60 year old woman who ostensibly has never worked or had a career can make it on her own is pretty niave. You could make an argument that she could get spousal support if they split, but how many courts are willing to grant support to a woman who leaves of her own accord? The husband could be seen as the injured party in this scenario.
    This whole letter just made me think of the movie Hope Springs with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. My advice here is pretty limited. But LW, maybe that movie will give you inspiration.
    In the meantime, please seek out counseling, and develop a plan. Whatever you are comfortable with. It might mean getting a part time job, or learning a new skill or hobby.
    But I agree with others that telling your husband to move into an apartment is a bad idea. He paid for the house. Kicking him out of his own house wouldn’t be the right move.

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    • iwannatalktosampson

      iwannatalktosampson March 18, 2014, 6:06 pm

      No fault divorce means no fault. It doesn’t matter if she’s the one that leaves. Everything still gets split equitably. Which (normally) means 50/50. Courts are unlikely to deviate from that. I can see how that sucks in some cases, imagine if your spouse cheats on you and you’re the breadwinner and they still get 50%. But there cheating doesn’t matter. (In most states – and this is not legal advice).

      But it is very unhelpful to point out that her husband is the injured party. It is helpful to recommend she speak to an attorney.

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      • avatar

        TECH March 18, 2014, 6:10 pm

        Obviously I’m not a legal expert. I was trying to make the point that that the LW would likely have a very difficult financial future ahead.

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      • iwannatalktosampson

        iwannatalktosampson March 18, 2014, 6:13 pm

        Right, and I just don’t know where in your letter you’re getting that. Plus to recommend someone stay married for money is just as icky as to encourage someone to marry for money. You couldn’t pay me enough money in the world to be miserable. This coming from someone that did give up large financial stability for happiness.

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      • avatar

        TECH March 18, 2014, 6:19 pm

        I wasn’t suggesting that the LW stay married for money. I was just being realistic that it’s likely she will have a tough financial future if she strikes out on her own.

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      • iwannatalktosampson

        iwannatalktosampson March 18, 2014, 6:22 pm

        I don’t know why I’m arguing about this small tiny point but apparently I can’t stop. I just don’t get where you’re coming up with the opinion that it’s *likely* that she will have a tough financial future. How do you know this? If her husband is in a position to retire at all it’s likely that they have a house, it’s paid off, they have retirement savings, etc. So if all that is split in half the only thing they will likely have to do is downgrade their homes.

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      • avatar

        TECH March 18, 2014, 6:28 pm

        The LW did not provide enough details. But if she’s never worked, financial independence might be tough for her. I could be wrong. Maybe they are very well off and money is not a problem. We don’t for sure.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark March 18, 2014, 6:25 pm

        With two deadbeat daughters (well, okay, one at least) and a grand daughter that they had to raise as their own, it seems rather doubtful to me that money is in any great abundance. And even if it IS split even steven between them, she will so NOT be keeping the house, but rather living in a shitty apartment, i suspect…

        Also, if somebody is NOT happy about retirement, that suggests to me that he is being forced into it by his workplace…

        The LW says her husband has a shitty attitude, but her own letter doesn’t exactly make her sound like a great big ball of fun.

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      • iwannatalktosampson

        iwannatalktosampson March 18, 2014, 6:30 pm

        You know who else isn’t a big ball of fun? Me. I tried taking Monday and Tuesday this week off of work to decompress and instead I got 3 work calls yesterday, ended up having to work remotely for about an hour, and got a bitchy call from my boss at 9:00 a.m. this morning, and then ended up coming in at 11. No vacation goes unpunished.

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  • avatar

    scattol March 18, 2014, 7:37 pm

    What’s got me bothered is that she’e been married for 40 years and just NOW she decided she can’t stand him. Were the other 39 years just as shitty? That makes a big difference because if she could stand him for the first 30 and got a problem with the last 10 my hunch is that it’s probably more salvageable than if she regretted it from day one.
    .
    This first step would be to identify why he’s such a pain and see if something can be done about it. I wouldn’t be surprised that he’s pissed off about retiring and that could take a while to work itself out. But I would try this before moving out without assets or any job prospect.
    .
    Splitsville sounds good to the 20 something in this crowd but this LW will have it tougher than a 20 year old hottie with a college degree. Not that LW should stand a bad temper but she might want to put more effort into this marriage than typical facepalm friday MOAs.
    .
    Wendy, Where did the thumbs go?

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  • Classic

    Classic March 19, 2014, 12:33 am

    This letter seems fake to me, mainly because I haven’t heard the word “housewife” used seriously in decades, but perhaps that’s a regional thing. So, imagining it as real– seriously, this husband of yours has provided 100% financial support for you for 40 years (details are missing here in the letter), and you are still complaining? I’m impressed. If he is negative and unhappy, maybe it is because of that, and maybe he doesn’t like you too much either? Maybe he feels used and unappreciated? Since you say that you don’t want to leave, how about if you get out and do some work for pay for awhile, just part-time. Then you’ll get your time away from this monster and he can enjoy a little bit of relaxation and private time in your joint home.

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  • avatar

    rona1973 September 5, 2014, 9:25 pm

    To afraid to be alone, you’re a mirror image of myself, 41 years, kids grown , no love, my hubby had big anger issues 11 years ago found out he had sugar type 1, after getting him on meds he was nicer. But by that time I had stopped loving him. He’s selfish and self centered. Something I had ignored for a long time. Time to move on, but work pays too little to live on my own. I did meet a wonderful man online , though complicated I will leave my spouse for the other man, gl hun.

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