Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Do I Tell my Husband I’ve Been Unhappy For Years?”

I have been married for nearly 20 years (lived with hubby for a couple of years first) and we have a small child, under five. I was in my early 20s when we married (and, let’s just say that now I don’t recommend getting married that young), but I have been pretty unhappy in my marriage for probably the past 7 years or so. I have a serious aversion to confrontation. I avoid it like the plague. I’m also, in some ways, a bit of a wimp. Thankfully, I am successful in my career, and it is an escape for me.

I swallow the things I want to say about my husband not helping me with household chores, about his not helping a bit in the raising of our wonderful offspring (he has never changed a diaper or given a bath or been alone with said child for more than 30 minutes). As a for instance, one night, I was extremely exhausted and trying to do the dishes, he said, “Honey, you’re tired, go to bed. You can finish this tomorrow.”

Other things include some verbal abuse (he has called me names and yelled at me in anger). Never anything physical though. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. The thing is, I want so badly to go, but if you were to ask him, our marriage couldn’t be stronger! Seriously, I deserve some kind of award (or flogging) for being such a great actress. I’ve worked up a budget, and could be okay just me and our child on our own in an apartment (rent, insurance, car payment, daycare, etc.; I’ve looked into it all). I could even do it without any child support. It would be REALLY tight without that, but I wonder if I would be happier and a better parent. I’ve even found an apartment complex that I like (haven’t taken the step of actually looking at an apartment yet). I’m just seriously stuck on how to tell him I’m unhappy. Part of me is afraid of the explosion; part of me is afraid of no reaction; part of me worries about what a hermit he’ll become without me there (he’s very overweight, works mostly from home, and is very down on himself as it is).

I have a history of not standing up for myself, have tried a few sessions of counseling, but can’t get past whatever block is inside my mouth, throat or head. I’ve read somewhere about cognitive therapy for assertiveness and have been researching therapists in my area (hey, it’s a step in the right direction), but I’d really like to hear from you and your readers about how they may have extracted themselves from similar situations. I know I can’t be alone in this. Wendy, Dear Readers, can you offer me some advice, suggestions, stories about how you may have handled something like this? Please? — Muted Voice

I can offer advice, but not about how I handled a similar situation. I’ve never been in a similar situation. I mean, I’ve never been married 20 years or parented a small child, but beyond that, I’ve never had the problem of not being able to speak my mind. If anything, the opposite problem has gotten me into trouble a time or two, so it’s hard for me to relate to where you’re coming from. It’s hard for me to understand how you’d consider walking away from a 20-year marriage and the father of your child for a life of single parenthood and financial instability before even making the smallest effort to address the issues in your relationship. If confrontation poses that much of a challenge to you — if you are that unable to find your voice — then therapy probably is your best bet here. But I wouldn’t stop at individual therapy; I’d make an appointment with a marriage counselor who can help you and your husband learn how to effectively communicate, finally, after all these years together.

I suspect the temptation from many readers will be to blame your husband for the state of your marriage. He’s never changed a diaper?! Or given your child a bath?? Or helped with any household chores? Scandalous! But, then, you’ve never asked those things of him, have you? You’ve never expressed that you need help with those tasks. For all we know, he works 60 or 70 or 80 hours a week, makes a great living, and doesn’t see his role as a husband or father stretching beyond that. That doesn’t make his lack of support right, but if he has one understanding of what his role is and you have another understanding of what it should be and you two have never discussed the dichotomy — if you’ve enabled him to continue being less than what you think he should be as a partner and father — the blame most certainly cannot fall 100% on his shoulders.

What I would do if I were you is to think about your small child. Presumably, you’d do anything for him or her, right? Isn’t that a mother’s instinct? To protect her child and make him as happy and comfortable as possible? And doesn’t that include doing everything in her power to provide a solid, stable home? To give him two parents who, even if they’ve fallen out of love with each other or no longer work together as romantic partners, can effectively co-parent despite whatever differences and personal limitations they may have? Because we all have personal limitations. You can’t find your voice. You don’t know how to express yourself. Those are your limitations, but you have to figure out a way to push them if not for your own benefit, than for your child’s. Quit using fear as an excuse. Just suck it up, sit your husband down, and tell him you aren’t happy — that you haven’t been happy in years — and that if your marriage has any chance to survive you need him to go to therapy with you and learn how to communicate. It’s your job as a mother. If you want your husband to stand up and be a better father, you need to be a better mother and this is the first step.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

103 comments… add one
  • avatar

    emjay August 30, 2011, 7:37 am

    I agree with Wendy here,, on all points. I have to ask,, do you come from a small town where this kind of timid behavior was instilled and accepted as role of husband and wife? I only ask because believe it or not, there still are some very small towns where people still like to believe we are livng in the 1920’s,30’s etc, and this is considered normal. Therapy would still be your best bet, and couples therapy as well. If these things cannot be resolved at all, then I would definitly consider your next step as leaving him, but trying to do so on the most amicable terms (at least for the sake of yoour small child). With divorce being the easiest answer for a lot of people, it is not the right thing for most people, and sometimes when problems are brought to light they can be fixed and/or changed if the other person (as well as yourself) are willing to go that extra mile to change them for a better more full filling relationship. And I aslo agree that you do need to voice your feelings, in a calm manner. See how he feels, maybe he doesn’t even realize these are the things bringing you down especially since you never voiced any concern about them to begin with. There is a lot to this situation, and it is time for both parties to be able to talk things through and see if it is salvagable. You loved each other once, and he does really seem to be in a comfort zone here, but if he is still in love with you, I’m sure he will at least be open to helping the both of you get over this hurdle and see if you can build a better future together. If not,, then you will know it is time to move on.
    I hope this helped you LW! Best of luck, and I hope we do here a happy update, regardless of the outcome.

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      ktfran August 30, 2011, 10:31 am

      I wouldn’t limit this type of behavior/thinking to small towns. One of my best friends has lived many places and she has a similar complaint about her husband not helping much with the baby. She was upset because he wasn’t helping with the diapers, the feedings, the baths, just holding her so my friend could have a few minutes to herself. I asked if she had asked him to do any of these things. She said no, that he too should know what to do. Some people might not have that innate knowledge about children. They might not know their spouse needs help. How would they if they aren’t asked? They may need a little prodding. It’s all about communication.

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    Nadine August 30, 2011, 7:46 am

    I’m sorry I dont have any advice, I just wanted to congratulate Wendy for her advice. I think it was beautifully put and just right. When I read the question, I felt hopeless, and so sad for the LW, but after reading your response, Wendy, I felt better and that there is a solution.

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  • avatar

    Renee August 30, 2011, 8:43 am

    Not for nothing my father never started doing the dishes, until he was retired and bored out of his mind. My mother never complained, because mowing/shoveling was my dad’s job. The division of housework isn’t what bothers me, but the lack of appreciation over the years.

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  • avatar

    kerrycontrary August 30, 2011, 9:09 am

    I really agree with Wendy’s advice that the LW needs to suck it up and talk to her husband. I think that not talking about things is how people end up getting divorced a lot of the time because, as the LW said, she’s been unhappy for 7 years and has never spoken up. Now she’s ready to walk out the door. Even if they tried couples counseling it may be too late (Most marriage counselors say that people come in for counseling after a significant amount of damage has been done). I think that the LW’s husband would be completely blindsided if she moved out and filed for divorce. If this is truely an abusive situation, then leave as fast as you can. But if not, its only fair for you to talk to your husband.As Emjay said, perhaps he has a different understanding of your roles as parents and spouses. Maybe he would be willing to change for you if you asked.

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  • avatar

    silver_dragon_girl August 30, 2011, 9:21 am

    Your husband doesn’t sound like a real winner, but even so, it would be so colossally unfair of you to leave him that I can’t even wrap my head around it. You’ve gone seven years being unhappy, so unhappy that you’ve planned a complete exit strategy, and you’ve never once indicated to him that things need to change? How is that remotely fair to him? What could he possibly have done to deserve to wake up one morning and have his wife, out of nowhere, tell him she’s leaving and taking the kid?

    I think Wendy’s advice is spot on, and I strongly encourage you to follow it. Find a therapist today, someone who can help you overcome this crippling fear of “confrontation.” After a few months of that, I suggest working in some couples therapy, because your husband is going to feel incredibly betrayed when he finds out about this (probably).

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      silver_dragon_girl August 30, 2011, 9:29 am

      Also- After I read Regina Ray’s advice, I re-read the letter, specifically the hints about verbal abuse and “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” This is concerning, because if you’re in fear for your or your daughter’s safety, LW, that changes things. If you honestly feel that by bringing things up with your husband you might be endangering yourself or your daughter, then you shouldn’t do it without a mediator of some sort present, at the very least. This is a concern that I would definitely bring up with a therapist, if you have one. They can help you identify signs of abuse and decide whether there are any major “red flags” for potential physicality.

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      • avatar

        ReginaRey August 30, 2011, 9:40 am

        Yes, this. I definitely think she should discuss her concerns with a therapist FIRST. They will be able to help her gauge whether her husband is abusive and likely to react in a way that could endanger her and their child, or if he’s got a bad temper that he has difficult controlling (but wouldn’t ever hurt – mentally, physically, etc) his wife and child.

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      • Budj

        Budjer August 30, 2011, 9:49 am

        While this should definitely be a concern, it is also very possible that the LW is so skittish that a minor argument could be filtered as a catastrophe….if you are already scared shittless about voicing anything to anybody then I wouldn’t rule this out as a potential reason she is going there in the letter…but again, LW…definitely heed the advice above if it fits your situation.

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      • avatar

        silver_dragon_girl August 30, 2011, 9:59 am

        Yeah, I tend to agree with you…but then I think, well, what if there IS something there? I would hate to completely ignore someone’s concerns, even if there is a high likelihood they’re unfounded.

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      • Budj

        Budjer August 30, 2011, 10:04 am

        Yea totally. If it’s ever a possibility it would be horrible to ignore it….better to bring it up and be wrong.

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      • avatar

        amber August 30, 2011, 10:04 am

        And not that it’s OK to do this but I was wondering if perhaps he is over-reacting (yelling) to get a reaction from her because otherwise she doesn’t react? (Once again not ok to do this). It doesn’t sound like either one of them are great communicators and they definitely need to work on it.

        I agree though that if you feel threatened and especially since she has a child to worry about it’s good to err on the side of caution.

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  • avatar

    ReginaRey August 30, 2011, 8:43 am

    It sounds less like you’re asking for advice than asking for permission to leave this marriage. You’ve done all the research, made some pretty solid plans, and are just waiting for someone to give you the OK.

    But the thing is, you’re the only one who can decide that. Ultimately, I don’t think you can just up and leave without attempting to communicate with your husband first. You truly need to sit down with him and explain to him the issues you are having – that you have not been happy for quite some time and that you’ve had a lot of difficulty expressing your unhappiness and concerns for many, many years. Then calmly and rationally explain what’s eating at you – don’t leave anything out. Tell, don’t ask, your husband that you’ve looked into a couples counselor and that you’ve made an appointment for the two of you to go and work on your communication.

    Then, observe his reaction. Is he willing to learn how to communicate better? Is he extremely resistant to everything you’ve said? Does he make an effort to parent more and help you around the house after you’ve had this discussion? Give yourself a reasonable time frame – perhaps wait for 6 months to see how things go after you have a discussion and (hopefully) after you’ve been to some therapy TOGETHER. If nothing has changed, then proceed with a legal separation. If it’s amazingly better, then judge whether or not you want to keep working on your marriage.

    What I fear, however, is the gray area. Perhaps it gets a little better, but you’re still not quite satisfied nor happy. You’ve demonstrated that you are very fearful of confrontation and standing up for yourself, and I worry that you’ll allow yourself to get sucked back into a marriage that you don’t want to be in because it improved slightly (but not enough) or because you’re afraid to leave. In the end, you deserve to feel happy and fulfilled in your relationship. If you don’t feel that way, it’s OK to leave. Just put in the effort first, so that at the VERY least you feel stronger and more sure of your decision in the end. Whatever you do, do NOT go back and forth. If you choose to leave, then leave fully. It will be much easier on you and your child if you make a clean break and don’t waffle. Good luck, LW.

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    • avatar

      ReginaRey August 30, 2011, 8:47 am

      And one more comment – part of me wonders why it’s so hard for you to speak your mind. I worry that it may be because you’re afraid of your husband. You say he’s never physically abused you, but that you’ve suffered some verbal abuse. If you’re too afraid to speak your mind because you fear the consequences and reaction of your husband, then I’m not sure this marriage deserves to be “worked on” in any capacity. You should never fear your spouse or refuse to communicate because you are scared of how they might react. That isn’t healthy, and I hope you recognize that it’s just as abusive and scary as if he were to hit you. It’s not a good thing for your child to witness, either.

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      • avatar

        MiMi August 30, 2011, 10:51 am

        Yes, I was worried about the highly-defined gender roles at home, the expectation of an “explosion”, and the detailed planning for an exit. Dear LW, you can go to http://www.thehotline.org or call 800-799-SAFE (from work) for more information in general on what constitutes abuse, so you know what you are (or are not) dealing with. Good luck!

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      • becboo84

        BecBoo84 August 30, 2011, 11:05 am

        Your advice is spot on!

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  • leilani

    leilani August 30, 2011, 9:51 am

    I too tend to shy away from confrontation, and sometimes I wish I was more assertive. I have let issues I had with friends fly under the radar for far too long because I didn’t want to bring it up and make it a big deal. That said, I can’t imagine feeling that way with my husband. I’m not married, but in any intimate, serious relationship I’ve had, I’ve had no problem bringing up anything that was bothering me at any time. In fact, when I’ve tried to hold it in, it would be written all over my face and I’d end up blurting it out anyway. So I think this situation is pretty unique. I understand that now its hard to bring up, “I’ve been unhappy for 7 years and want to leave”, but it really shouldn’t have been difficult to say “can you change this diaper, I did the last one” 5 years ago. That’s not confrontation, that’s talking. That’s a relationship. Expressing your needs and desires is not a fight or something to be afraid of. It’s a completely normal part of any healthy relationship, and you need to have the ability to do that if you ever want to be in a healthy relationship in the future. I would definitely go to counseling and work on that before I threw in the towel on your marriage. Your husband isn’t perfect, but you haven’t given him or your marriage a far shot to improve.

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  • avatar

    va-in-ny August 30, 2011, 9:54 am

    You say you can’t muster the courage to talk to your husband about what is bothering you, but could you write to him about it? (much like you’ve done here). Sometimes, a voice can be heard simply by changing the medium. I know that when I get upset, I have a hard time focusing on exactly what I’m upset about and end up just spewing everything out that has ever bothered me. Writing it down helps me to keep it concise enough to get my point across.

    What worries me is that you’ve taken steps to determine if you would be alright not being in the marriage anymore. To me, that implies that you have already “checked out” of the relationship and will not put everything you have into making it work (which is what this would require).

    I fear that when you decide to leave and lay everything on him – everything that you have listed in this letter – he’ll be completely blindsided. You say that he would say the marriage “couldn’t be stronger”, so how do you expect him to change how he behaves when he has no indication that it is needed?

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      lets_be_honest August 30, 2011, 10:26 am

      I completely agree with your first paragraph. I often write e-mails or letters just because I feel I can get all my points across clearly, without interruption. I have found it works great for me, being someone who gets so hyped up in an argument that I lose track of my real issue. (Liked Budger’s advice above on taking your ego out of your opinion.) People may think you ‘hide behind your keyboard,’ but I really feel like, yes, I can say more than I would in person, or just really get my thoughts across clearly.

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    • avatar

      va-in-ny August 30, 2011, 10:27 am

      Another note: My boyfriend grew up in a family where the mother took care of the home and the children and the father was the primary breadwinner. I had to have a very frank discussion about how he could not just “expect” me to always do the dishes or clean up the house. I couldn’t fault him for having that expectation because it was all he knew, but I had to stand up for myself. Now, he is very good about being an equal participant in keeping an apartment clean.

      It’s not unheard of that your husband could think that he is being a good husband and father even while not helping with the dishes or the children.

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      • avatar

        iseeshiny August 30, 2011, 3:12 pm

        Yes to this! It was the same for me and my boyfriend, and when we moved in together, there were some serious compromises that had to be made. I (and my family) have always been… well, slobs. Organization by pile type stuff. Whereas his family not only is very tidy but his mom did all the housework in addition to having a full time job (they are Bosnian, he swears it’s “differrrent overrr dere”). So when we moved in together, after the initial two month honeymoon period we would have weekly fights about how I was both a slob and didn’t do any housework, and I would come back with the fact that he didn’t do any housework either… we would resolve to do better on both sides, but since laziness is a habit to be broken, we would fall back into old patterns of resentment, have another fight, another resolution to do better. The fights got more infrequent as we both got better and four years later, we own a clean home, which we both work to keep that way, and have found better things to fight about. (It’s a joke between us, that we have to argue at least twice a year or we’ll jinx the relationship.)

        I had a point here… oh, yes. If we’d given up on our relationship just because we couldn’t agree on division of labor, or because we fought too much when we first moved in together… well, we might have found domestic happiness with other people. But we have happiness with each other, and our relationship is stronger and more precious because we’ve had to work for it. Which is why I have such a hard time empathizing with LW. If the marriage ever mattered to her, why doesn’t it matter enough to fight for it?

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      • avatar

        va-in-ny August 30, 2011, 3:36 pm

        Yes, exactly what you said there. At no point in her letter was there a “I feel like I’ve done everything I could to hold us together.” But, she spent a lot of time figuring out that she could leave and it would be okay. People don’t make escape plans for relationships they plan to continue.

        The “you can leave those until morning” comment about the dishes stood out to me. This implies that he noticed she was tired, but really thinks that the dishes are HER responsibility. I don’t think it is an asshole of him to think that she should do the dishes if she has always done them. If there has never been a “Hey, can you help me dry these pots?” or “I’ll load the dishwasher if you empty it!” type of teamwork there, why should he be expected to pitch in? Why now, after 20 years? To me, the comment he made speaks of kindness: “I know you’re struggling today. Take a break. It will be alright.”

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    • avatar

      Christy August 30, 2011, 6:31 pm

      I agree with the other commenters that it’s sad she hasn’t been able to talk about him, and with va-in-ny that he will be completely blindsided once she tells him. And I do think after 7 years of this, she probably has “checked out.”

      But I don’t see how or why she would try to make it work. They should have been in counseling *7 years ago.* Counselors are not magicians who can erase 7 years of resentment. Some people might say they should stay together for the child’s sake, but as the child of parents who fought for years before they separated, I can tell you that it’s better to have happy parents living apart than unhappy parents living together.

      If she’s already checked out, the best she can do is get some assertiveness training so that her next relationship isn’t such a mess, and make the divorce as comfortable as possible for her husband and child.

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  • Budj

    Budjer August 30, 2011, 9:01 am

    100% agree with Wendy…you are ready to throw in the towel on a marriage after 20 years of passivity?…awesome… I’m not saying your husband is a saint, but holy moley if you’ve been pretending like it isn’t a big deal for you to do the chores for this long then why the heck would your husband think anything different? Additionally…he is overweight…in the house all the time…lack of motivation…do you think your husband might be depressed? I would look into that too.

    Lastly, to Wendy’s point of we don’t know what your husband brings to the marriage, maybe if you look at things like a division of labor you could harbor less resentment towards your husband….unless he truly is just dead weight then ignore this.

    One point of confusion for me is you say you have a career and don’t specify whether from home or out of home, but your husband works mostly from home and is never alone for more than 30 minutes with the child? I know there are a few possible scenarios (daycare, etc), but that is a hole in the letter.

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    • avatar

      TheOtherMe August 30, 2011, 9:09 am

      You are awesome.

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    • avatar

      silver_dragon_girl August 30, 2011, 9:13 am

      I can’t get the green thumb to work!!! This is great, though.

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        Bethany August 30, 2011, 9:33 am

        My green thumbs aren’t working either!! But I agree with what everyone has said so far. If the husband doesn’t know something’s broken, how would he know how to fix it??

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    • Budj

      Budjer August 30, 2011, 9:13 am

      And since I do have experience with wanting to avoid confrontation at all costs I will just say…it gets easier the more you do it…burying your head in the sand doesn’t get you anywhere. Remember to stay assertive and not be mean, angry or apologetic and typically the party on the receiving end will be much more open to your opinion and take you seriously without getting defensive.

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      • Budj

        Budjer August 30, 2011, 9:18 am

        One more tidbit I picked up along the road is separating yourself (your “ego”) from your opinion. It really helps you to maintain your emotional control during a touchy discussion…if you aren’t defending your opinion like it is an extentsion of your being you don’t get as emotionally riled up…which prevents both parties from saying “heat of the moment” things.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest August 30, 2011, 10:18 am

        This is great advice. I need to remember this!

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      • avatar

        demoiselle August 30, 2011, 12:23 pm

        It is also common to misidentify feelings of ANGER as being feelings of ANXIETY or NERVOUSNESS. I certainly have had that problem, and it interfered with standing up for myself. Sometimes it helps a lot to step back, look at yourself closely when you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety over a situation (what will happen if I tell so-and-so I’m upset?) and recognize that maybe instead you are actually *angry* that you’re being put into a bad situation.

        Re-labeling your feelings and admitting your anger is a great spur to finding the ability to assert yourself. It turns the negative feelings from gnawing at your own guts to making positive change.

        (Of course, this is not necessary for people who are already very skilled at recognizing and expressing their anger.)

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  • avatar

    demoiselle August 30, 2011, 10:13 am

    Well, the communication is obviously very bad in this situation, and I understand Wendy and other posters’ point about having to *talk* to the husband about what she needs before throwing in the towel.

    But at the same time, the fact that he could be so dense, unhelpful, and ungenerous both towards the LW and their child is stunning. He’s never changed a diaper? Never given a bath? Never cared for the child alone for more than 30 minutes, so she could have time on her own? For goodness sakes, rather than offering to finish the dishes when she’s exhausted, he suggests she return to them in the MORNING? I’m sorry, but to me that speaks to a pretty major personality issue. Though she should be able to speak up for herself, any halfway decent, considerate man and father should be stepping up a little more than THAT! And he works from home, too?

    Ughh.

    So, yeah. Counseling. Talk to the husband about what is needed. But if he’s just not a great partner, not tuned into her as a fellow human being at all, not interested in involving himself with the kid, then she has a right to walk out. She doesn’t need to carry the whole burden.

    And as Regina Rey pointed out above, there is a possibility that she doesn’t speak up because on some level his behavior/verbal abusiveness has indicated that *any expectation of him* in this arena would be unacceptable. In fact, I doubt that any person is so very cowardly and afraid of confrontation that she’d endure this kind of unfairness for many years without making a peep — unless she had reason to believe that such a conversation would be *very unwelcome.*

    Is it Ann Landers who used to advise wives to ask themselves if they’d be better of with him or without him? This LW will have to think about this question for both herself and her child. It sounds to me like she’s already decided how she feels, though, and is mostly worried due to fear for him doing harm to his own health if she leaves (more of a sign of an emotional abuser).

    Tough question. Good luck, LW. I hope you can work it out, but his behavior is so neglectful and inconsiderate over such a long period of time, I’m not sure that therapy will be able to salvage the many years of tiny cuts he’s inflicted.

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    • avatar

      amber August 30, 2011, 10:30 am

      I wonder if they have had different ideas of what marriage/children look like since step 1. My Grandfather never did household chores or helped with the kids. He always took care of the more ‘manly’ duties around the house if you will. If the husband grew up in a home where that’s what he saw his father doing maybe that’s what he expected from a marriage. Not that it makes it ok to not help but if that’s what he knew and the LW never told him she didn’t want that or wasn’t happy with that. How is he supposed to change?

      I do agree that him yelling at her is not ok and that if she is fearful of him reacting even worse if she were to broach the topic with him than she should very careful. But, at the end of the day I think the main issue is two people who didn’t communicate what they wanted/expected out of marriage/kids. And her continuing to act like everything is perfectly fine with him isn’t helping.

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        demoiselle August 30, 2011, 10:45 am

        My dad was born in 1920, and was very much an old-fashioned kind of man in terms of distribution of labor at home, but he managed to take care of me on occasion, to play with me, to make the occasional dinner and/or breakfast, to take me out for long walks so mom could have time alone, to load the dishwasher when my mom was ill, etc. If this husband is really so very uninvolved, that seems to me to be more than different expectations, but actual selfishness and/or lack of empathy . . .

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        amber August 30, 2011, 11:04 am

        true, but at the same time if she never tells him she’s unhappy with how things are going he will continue to do it that way. and once again i think different families do things differently. My Grandfather never cooked, never. If you grew up in that house and saw that happening and that’s what you expected from your marriage and then your wife acted like it was fine, how would you know that it wasn’t. I’m not saying that what the husband is doing is ok, but it’s also not ok to not voice your opinion on things you are unhappy with in your home/marriage and then say you’re going to leave because you’re unhappy when you haven’t said a single thing. And not only that you’ve pretended to be content. Things will not get better/change if you pretend like you’re perfectly happy. And it’s not like they were newlyweds when they had the kid, they had 15 years of marriage under their belt. That should also have been 15 years of learning to communicate and voice what they wanted/expected of the other. And if she was already unhappy why have a kid?!? As much as marriage doesn’t fix a bad relationship having children doesn’t fix a bad marriage.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom August 30, 2011, 11:19 am

        I wondered why she had a baby after being unhappy. She’s been unhappy for seven years and the child is under five and the dad is totally uninvolved. I have to wonder if he’s not sure the child is his or if he didn’t want a child and she did and she went ahead and had one or what she was thinking. Having a baby isn’t a completely passive thing to do.

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        ReginaRey August 30, 2011, 11:27 am

        Well, there’s always the chance that the pregnancy was unintended. But if it wasn’t, I’m willing to bet that perhaps the LW thought it was “time,” and her husband didn’t argue. I can see a passive person afraid of confrontation secretly hoping that a child will solve problems, instead of addressing them out in the open with her husband. Since he probably figured she’d be doing all the work anyway, he probably said, “Why not?”

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        demoiselle August 30, 2011, 12:06 pm

        Many people do believe that children will bring out the best in everyone, or that it will bring a couple together. Or, it might never have occurred to her that him being an unhelpful husband would necessarily mean he wouldn’t step up to the plate as a father, either . . .

        I wish that people wouldn’t have babies to fix their relationship, but unfortunately it happens very often.

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        SpaceySteph August 30, 2011, 12:54 pm

        I know people think this but I cannot for the life of me figure out why. What is it about sleepless nights, extra expenses, and added responsibility that should make already unhappy or overextended people happier?

        Not that babies are a bad thing, but I can think of alot of things they do to make a relationship with your spouse harder (like that poor LW dad the other day) and very few things they would do to help a relationship.

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      • Budj

        Budjer August 30, 2011, 10:57 am

        I still think ignoring the fact that he could be depressed is bad. Unwillingless to take care of ones self, a lack of ambition, an obvious lack of motivation to keep up on house duties….it’s just as likely to be laziness or apathy (both exacerbated by depression) than an old-fashioned mindset…unless the husband is 30 years older than our 40s-ish LW.

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        demoiselle August 30, 2011, 12:04 pm

        True, Budjer. Depression is a really bad thing. I have always approached situations were one partner is afraid to stand up for themselves because of fear of what the other might do to him/herself as particularly worrisome, though. It could be depression, or it could be a kind of manipulation, and it gets really hard to tell from a letter which is which.

        I will never forget my (sixteen year old) high school friend who was afraid to break up with her fiance, who wanted her pregnant and in a trailer ASAP (not her aspiration at the time). When she broke up with him, he called her crying while he drove his truck into a tree and hurt himself. She took him back, and had a very hard time extricating herself from him. Was it depression? A manipulative/abusive personality? Or both at once? Who can be certain?

        Lots of responders are going to give the husband the benefit of the doubt here. And that’s not necessarily wrong. However, for this letter I’m going to swing to the other side, just in case.

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    • becboo84

      BecBoo84 August 30, 2011, 11:09 am

      I couldn’t agree more! It doesn’t sound like her husband even wants to be a father!

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      ReginaRey August 30, 2011, 10:27 am

      I’m glad you brought up the point in your 2nd paragraph. Whether or not anyone else will agree, I absolutely think it’s unacceptable that a husband and father would NEVER change a diaper, never spend more than 30 minutes with his child, never do housework, and never offer to help her out. It might be different if, say, he was the sole provider and she a stay-at-home-mom. But she works, too! Two working parents should absolutely be splitting the duties of parenting and housework in 2011. His unwillingness to lift a finger, combined with his accused verbal abuse, leave me VERY in question of whether or not he’s someone who she should work this through with, or leave immediately.

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      • avatar

        demoiselle August 30, 2011, 12:14 pm

        Thank you for your supportive comment. 🙂 I’m sure that my post will be very unpopular, but sometimes the unpopular point needs to be made, too.

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      • katie

        katie August 30, 2011, 9:57 pm

        i dont think it is necessarily un-popular in general; its un-popular with the readers of DW. i feel like pretty much all the women on here are very strong, assertive, dont-take-no-crap kind of women that shack up with men who will divide our houses up equally.

        unfortunately, that isn’t the case in much of the world.

        a husband never laying a finger on children or housework was very normal even here in the USA not long ago..

        im not saying its a good way to live, but a whole lot of people still live like this… as in, the husband doesn’t even think he doing anything wrong because that is just how life goes (as far as he knows). the LW never saying anything about it justifies what his life has become, and they are now in a never ending circle of unhappiness.

        its quite sad.

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        SpyGlassez August 31, 2011, 12:30 am

        My grandfather had never changed a diaper until I was born, and that was 30 years ago. It just wasn’t done.

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      • katie

        katie August 31, 2011, 12:56 am

        exactly- i mean that kind of lifestyle doesn’t even need to be a bad one necessarily, either.. the woman does the children/housework stuff and the man does breadwinning/”handyman” stuff. i mean it doesnt sound terribly unfair or anything to me, but it just has to fit with what you want for your life. this LW doesn’t want that kind of life, and her fault comes in with keeping quiet about that little detail.

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    KBobK August 30, 2011, 10:24 am

    As cliche as it is, men do not process hints. LW, your husband might realize you’re projecting resentment, but probably doesn’t know why. You have to tell men as plainly as possible what you want, when you want it and how you want it done. I know it’s a generalization and there are exceptions, but your husband sounds like he could fit into this mold. A lot of guys see black and white whereas women see all kinds of shades of gray. Like Wendy said, he may think he’s performing his role completely.

    Since you are very passive and non-confrontational maybe you could try asking your husband to do little chores for you slowly. See how he responds to you asking him bluntly/specifically and in a normal tone. Maybe try, “Honey I’m exhausted, do you think you could take the trash out for me?” Then see if how he responds to you. However, you have to be careful… you can’t ask him to do a chore and get irritated if they aren’t done your way. He’ll be new at this and has to learn. Then gradually increase requests and discuss with him the outcomes. This could help the communication barrier between you both.

    I just think that if you’re holding in 7 years of unhappiness and silence – unleashing that could be overwhelming for both of you and a little unfair. If you go gradually maybe it’ll help you find your voice and gain confidence, and maybe even some relief. Or you can see if he won’t budge on your requests that your plan for separation may be your best option.

    Don’t be scared, you can do it.

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      demoiselle August 30, 2011, 12:13 pm

      I believe there has been research that shows that men in fact do process hints and non-verbal communication just as well as women do . . . however, they have the privilege of ignoring it when it communicates something that they don’t want to hear. If you’re interested, I’ll look for links.

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    lemongrass August 30, 2011, 10:28 am

    i really don’t think that the LW can blame getting married in her early 20’s as the cause of the problems here.

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      Quakergirl August 30, 2011, 11:03 am

      I had a similar thought. The problem here seems to be two-fold: she married someone who had a totally different idea of what marriage should be, and they can’t communicate about those differences in opinion.

      That can happen to you whether you get married at 20 or at 50 if you don’t talk about these things first and know yourself and your partner well enough to know what you want. I know couples who married at 20 and are still happily married 30 or 40 years down the road, and I know couples who married at 35 and divorced 7 or 8 years later. It just depends on the people and the relationship.

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    • Budj

      Budjer August 30, 2011, 10:41 am

      I thought so too. The miscommunication issue would have been a problem if she got married at 50.

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    Sue Jones August 30, 2011, 10:33 am

    I agree with the counseling, for yourself alone as well as for you both as a couple. You owe it to your child to at least try and see if things can get better with some professional help. If you have not been able to communicate your needs to your husband, then how could he even know how to support you? Men were raised differently back in the day and I do not think My dad ever changed a diaper in his entire life with 3 of us and your expectations need to be clear because he, as well as many men of a certain age, do not get what being an equal partner and what you really expect of him means nowadays.

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    daisygarfield August 30, 2011, 10:35 am

    I agree with Wendy, I think that the advice was spot on. But, I do wonder if this relationship is beyond the point of repair. The LW has said that she has been feeling this way for 7 years and thats a long time of holding all of this in. She sounds pretty much that she’s moved on, doing all the investigating into leaving and such. Also, she has a hard time with confrontation and hasn’t stuck with conseling.
    However, I am not saying it’s impossible for her and her husband to be happy in their marriage again, just trying to make a point.

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    Amy P August 30, 2011, 11:25 am

    In some ways, divorcing her husband will only make things worse. He’s not going to vanish from the face of the earth just because they’re divorced. She’s going to have to negotiate visitation with him. It’s horrifying to even contemplate what weekend (or longer!) visits will be like for the child to the dad who doesn’t do any housework, shows a lot of signs of depression, doesn’t do anything besides work and hasn’t been alone with the child for longer than 30 minutes at a time. I’m thinking Froot Loops, unlimited TV, squalor and neglect.

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      demoiselle August 30, 2011, 12:07 pm

      Or it could be that he’d step up and clean up, cook, and care for himself if he didn’t have a wife around whose job he considers those things to be . . . many (not all, of course) single men do just fine with those tasks before they marry, and then seem to lose the skill or drive to do those things themselves.

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      ReginaRey August 30, 2011, 11:30 am

      This is an extremely relevant point. I hope her passivity wouldn’t allow her to be passive or afraid to voice her concerns for her child, in that situation. If she’s truly afraid to speak up, I’m worried that she might allow such visits despite her concerns that her child will be ignored or not cared for appropriately.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom August 30, 2011, 11:40 am

        When the court orders the visitation you can’t legally prevent it no matter what your concerns are. It isn’t your right to allow or not allow the visitation to happen.

        She also has to realize that he could get a girlfriend or remarry and she might not like the woman that he would bring into their child’s life because once you’re divorced you have no say in who the ex can date, live with or marry. They could treat your child as second rate to their own, say rude things to your child or ignore the child like they weren’t there and you can’t do much of anything about it.

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        lets_be_honest August 30, 2011, 2:42 pm

        Can’t figure out why someone would thumb this down. Its all facts.

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  • JK

    JK August 30, 2011, 11:25 am

    I really can’t get y head around the fact that LW has already investigated moving out, done the math, even found a building se likes, without ever having expressed to her husband how she feels (in 7 years?!?) Not to mention that the “offspring” is 5, so 1 year and a bit into being unhappy in her marriage it was a good idea to have a kid????
    I also have trouble expressing myself (esp. with my husband), it usually comes down to him asking me what’s wrong (I’m not the greates actress, apparently). FWIW he’s the same way, for me he’s even worse, it’s really hard to get things out of him, you pretty much have to use a corkscrew (like they say here).
    I think therapy is the best answer for LW at the moment, to help her figure out what she really wants, also as others have pointed out to realize if her husand is truly abusive (who hasn’t lifted their voice in a heated moment).
    100% agree with everyhting Wendy said.

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  • avatar

    Allison August 30, 2011, 10:27 am

    There’s a technique for communication for people like you and me who have trouble asserting themselves. DEAR MAN: .

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  • Jess

    Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com August 30, 2011, 11:30 am

    Bless you Wendy for giving some measured advice here because I agree that its far too easy to blame the husband and jump straight to the “how to leave” piece. These situations are so hard when a person is unhappy in their marriage but avoids it to the point that the unhappiness festers, deepens, and becomes (maybe) insurmountable. 7 years is a LONG time to let unhappiness grow –like a cancer. What might have happened had LW addressed these problems when they started? We’ll never know.

    This is not to disparage LW because it sounds like she is actually quite self-aware. I just wonder if she’s skipped a giant step between being unhappy and walking out the door —working on the marriage. Self-assertion is more than the ability to confront someone about leaving. It’s the daily work of addressing your needs, asking for help, and voicing dissatisfaction when you don’t get it.

    I won’t pretend to know a thing about this husband or marriage –let alone whether it can be saved. But I hope LW takes Wendy’s advice and starts by telling her husband (for the first time) that she is unhappy, tells him what she wants to change, and gives him a chance to make it better. Some therapy to facilitate this transition could do WONDERS.

    Best of luck to you LW.

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      Amy P August 30, 2011, 2:52 pm

      “I just wonder if she’s skipped a giant step between being unhappy and walking out the door —working on the marriage.”

      I also feel like she’s assuming that leaving = happiness. That may be the case, but at the risk of sounding like a copy of O magazine) she sounds depressed and I would suggest that she start living the life that she wants to lead right now–pick up a hobby, join a club (and leave the kid with husband for a few hours), meet some new people, volunteer, get involved with the kid’s school, take a class, etc. A number of these things will automatically require her husband to pick up some slack, which is a very worthwhile experiment. I would gradually expand the husband’s responsibilities (“I’m going to be gone this evening. There’s a can of soup on the counter and her jammies are on her bed.”).

      There’s a very good animal and human training book called “Don’t Shoot the Dog!” that may prove useful.

      If LW is depressed, she may need some medical help.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom August 30, 2011, 11:35 am

    LW I think you’re looking first for permission to leave and barring that words to use to talk to your husband. I have no clue how to leave a husband since I’ve never done that and have no desire to do that. I do talk to my husband and I’ll give you some words that may help, especially if you put them into your own words.

    Someday when you are tired, which is probably daily, plop down by or near your husband and tell him, “I’m feeling burned out. I’ve got my job and the house and “Juniors name here” to take care of and it’s getting me down. I’m to the point I need help.”

    This is a statement that uses the word “I” but doesn’t use the word “you” because you want to keep this positive. This is no way attacks him or puts him down but is a simple statement about your needs. He could ignore you or he could ask how he could help or he might suggest hiring some help. Have some suggestions ready for how he could help if he does ask. This is a way to talk to him without being confrontational but also expresses your needs. Avoiding confrontation doesn’t mean that you can’t ever talk about your needs, it means putting those needs into nonconfrontational words. He may just look at you after you tell him you need help because he may have no idea what to do and that’s why you need to be ready with a few suggestions.

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    • avatar

      mf August 30, 2011, 1:43 pm

      Great advice! “Avoiding confrontation doesn’t mean that you can’t ever talk about your needs.”

      Also, flattery and positive reinforcement always work with my fiance 🙂 When he does some home-related activity at my request, I always say to him, “I’m lucky to have you! You’re so wonderful and helpful!”

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  • avatar

    Jena August 30, 2011, 11:37 am

    Sounds to me like you’ve already got one foot out the door. Have you talked to your husband? Gone to therapy? Because it seems as though a)he has no idea anything is wrong because you won’t speak up and b)you don’t want to put in the effort to try.

    TRY. It’s a marriage and you’ve got a kid, this isn’t something you can just walk away from.

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  • avatar

    Bossy Italian Wife August 30, 2011, 11:40 am

    I feel as though you are taking responsibility for your lack of voice in your marriage, but certainly not enough. The fact that you have been unable to speak with your husband about being unhappy is a major roadblock to your marital happiness! Sure, you say you’ve been miserable for years… but you cite your husband as a source of this along with your own inability to speak up already and I feel like that totally discounts the happiness you could have with your husband!!!

    The bottom line is, marriage is a serious business, and it takes work. You haven’t put in any of the work to see if things can improve. This problem is likely to follow into all of your relationships…. if you can’t stand up to your husband and ask for what you need, will you be able to follow through with your child as they grow older and more challenging? This problem is greater than you gig fit credit for and definitely need individual therapy as well as couples counseling.

    If you ask your husband to come to couples’ counseling and he declines, that is one thing, but you have to give him the chance. Walking away without so much as a discussion and a good old college try is a detriment to your child. If you feel that you are so unable to speak with your husband, what about writing a letter or email?

    You need to consider more options before you just up and leave. Acknowledging your unhappiness is clearly a step in the right direction, but it is only the first step.

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      TheOtherMe August 30, 2011, 12:18 pm

      @Bossy Italian Wife: I just love your screen name & clicked on it & think I will be very happy spending a lot of time on your site. Is that you in the pics ?

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        Bossy Italian Wife August 30, 2011, 4:15 pm

        Thanks!! Yes, those are my [bossy Italian] pictures!!! I hope you enjoy the site and will tell all your friends! 🙂

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    Elle August 30, 2011, 12:03 pm

    I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that the reason why the LW has a hard time standing up for herself is because she was abused as a child. If that’s the case, LW, you definitely need therapy for it. For yourself, as well as for your child. If you raise your child in the kind of environment you are in now, the child will have a distorted image of what a relationship should look like.

    You could try to write your husband a letter, in which you detail all the things you can’t say to him. Also, you need to make it clear to him that you’re willing to work on your marriage, and plan to stay together, for the sake of your child. If you’re afraid of any kind of backlash from him, give it to him on a Saturday morning, while you are away for the weekend, visiting your parents, or a friend, or another family member. A couple of days should be enough for him to seriously think about your marriage, and calm down, if he gets angry. You also have to be very clear about what you expect from him, and be ready to hold him to it.

    I have a feeling his sense of entitlement is huge, due to the past 20 years in which he got away with it. IF he is willing to meet you halfway, it will take him a long time to get where you want him to be, and it’s highly likely he will fight you every step of the way. Since we know how much you hate confrontations, I think it is safe to assume it won’t work out in your favor.

    That being said, you should contact the local resources for domestically abused victims, as they will be able to provide you with counselling, as well as strategies to deal with your husband, and a way out, if that’s waht you decide to do in the end. Don’t worry about using their resources when your problem is not that serious yet, they will gladly assist in preventing abuse from happening.

    I hope you get therapy. If for some reason you can’t, the only piece of advice I can give you is to stop internalizing all the guilt in your marriage. Your husband is guilty 50%, since it takes two people to be in a relationship. Also, Google “learned helplessness”.

    My heart goes out to you, and I hope you find a way to be happier.

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      moonflowers August 30, 2011, 3:02 pm

      Seconding the possibility of an abusive childhood – it’s one of the few things out there that can cause people to be unable to assert even their most basic desires. If you learn as a child that anything you say either doesn’t matter or can be used against you, by the very people who are supposed to love and protect you and who you admire (parents), you get stuck in a mindset of “no one will ever listen to me and my needs are unimportant.”

      LW, if this sounds at all like you, please get therapy. I know you tried it a few times, but go back again and stay until you are truly better. Therapy doesn’t work overnight, or even in under 10 sessions, if you have an established pattern of behavior that goes all the way back to childhood, when our mental models for how the world and relationships should work are formed. You may need months and months of therapy to get to the bottom of this complicated mess and untangle it a bit at a time, but I promise you it will be so very worth it.

      Also, it sounds like your husband may be depressed and need therapy too. Is he overweight because he uses food to self-medicate? Is he bad at taking care of himself because he seems listless overall? A lot of times people find partners who have either similar or complementary levels of problems – people with issues gravitate to others with issues, because either those aren’t red flags for them (they have those problems too!), or because they fit together and reinforce them in a familiar way.

      Adult survivors of child abuse often end up in unhealthy marriages, for instance, where they “reeenact” the life they had at home – either to try to get it right this time, or because it’s all they’ve ever known. I know this whole “potential child abuse” deal is very hypothetical without more information, but I think it is something worth exploring in therapy, especially because many abused children grow up thinking that what happened to them was normal or that they deserved it, or that since they weren’t beaten or molested it somehow “doesn’t count.” Please go get help – not just for yourself or your marriage’s sake, but also so your child can have healthy role models to follow.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow August 30, 2011, 3:15 pm

        It’s a possibility, but one thing that stood out to me was that she is successful in her career and finds solace in that. Finding success usually takes some amount of assertiveness. I find it hard to believe that she is as much of a pushover as we are all assuming – she might just be a pushover in her marriage. Maybe it’s due to other circumstances, like child abuse, or maybe it’s because of HIS personality and her fear of his reactions.

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    Jubietta August 30, 2011, 12:28 pm

    I’ve always thought that a relationship where one person is unhappy is in real trouble. If both are happy, great. If both are miserable, at least then something will change and with any luck it will get better for everyone.
    It sounds to me like the LW has no positive experience with constructive confrontation. For me, that means using “I” statements to communicate, keeping your intentions for a win-win resolution to the problem clear, being willing to compromise once you understand the other person’s position, and keeping a willingness to try again if the first attempt at solution doesn’t bring the expected result.
    It comes across to me that the LW has gotten used to being on the bad end of lose-win situations, and maybe her exit strategy is the kindest way she can find to break that cycle. And while it changes her position in lose-win to win-lose, it doesn’t get to a place of win-win because her child and her spouse are going to lose for certain if she executes the plan as laid-out in her letter. I can understand that looks good after 7 years of martyrdom, but I’m worried that it isn’t really an opportunity for her growth into a more complete person.
    I’m going to repeat the suggestion for couples therapy. My marriage is stronger than average as far as communication goes and we still needed help communicating about a problem in our sex life recently. The best part about the therapist was his ability to get us both to look at the situation in a new way that alleviated my hubby’s guilt and my frustration with the situation. I came away with a sense of hope for our future, and things have turned a corner for us.
    LW, I hope you can find a way to speak your mind, like Wendy i feel that’s a critical life skill. I’m sure there are years of issues to work through if you find that you want to try to do that. I’m a hopeless optimist and I think that the only thing that can’t be changed is death, but only if people involved want to make the change. I could see many paths this could take that would lead to separation or divorce, but after finding hope for my future I’m hopeful anyone can find it.

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    iseeshiny August 30, 2011, 12:57 pm

    Abuse is such a serious issue that before I put in my two cents I feel the need to state the obvious for a second: it’s wrong, and evil, and verbal abuse is no less serious than physical abuse for all that it doesn’t leave a mark. Victims of abuse should be able to go for help without worrying that they won’t be believed, and everyone has a right to be safe from abuse.

    Abuse is such a heavy word to use, and puts such a stain on the one who it’s leveled at that I need to mention that “has called me names and yelled at me in anger” does not say verbal abuse to me. “Calls me names constantly,” yes, “yells at me in anger all the time regardless of what is happening or how or why,” yes, but there is a difference between a person getting angry and yelling, and the systematic destruction of self-esteem that has been my experience with verbal abuse. Yes, abusers sometimes pick out timid people to begin with, and maybe he has been yelling at her on a regular basis for the last 20 years, in which case she should absolutely leave, but a woman looking for concrete reasons to leave her husband might take a couple of arguments that involve a raised voice (especially if she’s non-confrontational and a raised voice makes her shut down) and turn that into “he’s cruel to me. He’s abusive.”

    I’m not saying there aren’t problems (he works from home but does no housework, never spent quality one on one time with a kindergarten-age child) but to me her voice does not sound like the voice of a victim of verbal abuse. It sounds like a woman who is upset with herself for letting herself being taken for granted, is ready to leave the man who has been taking her for granted, and is trying to convince herself that he’s actually a villain, not just a careless, self-absorbed man. I applaud her for recognizing that she’s unhappy with her situation and resolving upon taking steps to fix it, but I think she’s also doing a classic “woman” thing (and I do this too), which is getting angry at her husband for not being able to read her mind and magically tell that she’s unhappy. Which is absolutely unfair.

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      iseeshiny August 30, 2011, 12:59 pm

      And I should clarify that I’m getting this all from one phrase, and that maybe she’s downplaying the level of names and yelling. In which case I owe the LW an apology.

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      • JK

        JK August 30, 2011, 1:24 pm

        I got the same feeling (but you put it more elegantly). I think if the “verbal abuse” truly was that bad it would’ve been more than just mentioned in passing in the letter.

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        iseeshiny August 30, 2011, 1:54 pm

        Exactly! And you think it would be at the top of the list, before the complaints about his not helping out around the house. It’s not “I need to protect myself and my child from this abusive man,” but instead it’s, “He never does the dishes or changes a diaper or takes the kid out for ice cream. Oh, and he yelled at me.”

        I agree with the other comments that she’s already finished with him and is just looking for someone to tell her that she’s doing the right thing.

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      mf August 30, 2011, 1:20 pm

      Good comment. It’s possible that he is actually verbally abusive. But if he occasionally calls her names and yells in anger, I doubt that constitutes verbal abuse.

      Abuse is a really serious, heavy accusation to level against someone. We have to be careful when we use that word.

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    • CatsMeow

      CatsMeow August 30, 2011, 2:45 pm

      I’m not sure… Verbal abuse could help to explain her fear of confrontation/lack of self-esteem. Maybe he HAS been wearing away at her for years. Also, the “I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop” comment in regards to physical violence tells us that she fears it and does believe he may resort to that. We don’t know if her fears are unfounded/exaggerated or not.

      As far as housework goes, it does need to be negotiated and communicated, so she can’t necessarily blame him for never stepping up if she never voiced her displeasure — although for ME, it’s a “given” that housework/childrearing should be shared duties when BOTH partners work.

      So, yeah. If housework was her only issue, the ONLY thing contributing to her general unhappiness, then communication and couples therapy would be the best way to go. Maybe it’s the best way to go regardless. But I’m feeling like she really wants to leave, and there are other underlying issues, and I’m not of the opinion that parents should stay together JUST for the kids. If she doesn’t feel like the marriage is WORTH saving, why should she put forth so much extra effort?

      Speaking from personal experience, trying to communicate and/or negotiate with someone who is abusive (emotionally/verbally/physically) is NOT effective. I think that I would leave if I was in her situation, BUT I’ve never been married or had kids, AND I think that my own parents’ divorce was better for everyone involved (including my brother and me)…. so I have my own biases…

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        iseeshiny August 30, 2011, 5:02 pm

        I completely agree that’s a possibility, and if you’re right, she should absolutely get out now. I just get a vibe (I know, it’s hard to have a reasonable debate with a vibe!) that she is looking for an easy explanation for when assorted family/friends ask, “Well, why did you leave Jim?” – if she takes off with their kid without even attempting to fix things because that would require a confrontation and because she feels under appreciated and he’s a lumpish lump, she’s the bad guy. If she can say “He’s abusive,” then she’s vindicated and doing the right thing for herself and the child.

        And you’re right too, when you say that if she doesn’t feel the marriage is worth saving she wouldn’t put any extra effort. But she didn’t stay through seven years of unhappiness because she didn’t think the marriage was worth anything. And as far as I can tell she hasn’t put forth any effort to fixing it at all, let alone what could be called “extra.” And no, people should not stay married JUST for the the kids. But they should absolutely be considered when you’re deciding whether or not you’re even going to give it a shot.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow August 30, 2011, 5:39 pm

        Yeah, I totally see where you’re coming from. She certainly hasn’t put forth any effort into making things better for herself YET – but a lot of the advice tells HER to go to therapy, get him to go to couple’s therapy, work on HER assertiveness, etc. – and if she wants to try and salvage the marriage, then yes, those are things she should do. I’m just not sure if she even wants to try. It’s true that it’s her fault for letting things go on for this long without doing anything, but even if he could change, I’m not sure she would end up being happy with him. She doesn’t mention feeling any love for him, and in fact one of the first things she said was that she wishes she hadn’t married so young. She might just be done.

        And, haha, I guess that’s the “vibe” I’m getting. 🙂 Plus, like I said, I’m biased – I tend to be pessimistic about marriage in general and quick to tell people to “MOA!” whether they’re married or not.

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    mf August 30, 2011, 1:29 pm

    I agree 100% with Wendy.

    Yes, your husband hasn’t been pulling his weight. If he’s not helping out with housework and parenting responsibilities, he’s probably being a crappy father and husband.

    But if you haven’t spoken up about it, then it’s partially your fault. If you can’t ask for what you need, then you can’t entirely blame him for not meeting those needs. He doesn’t think the dishes are his responsibility because you’ve always made them YOUR responsibility instead of HIS. (And honestly, few people will jump at the chance to do the dishes, so I’m not surprised he didn’t volunteer. If you asked him to finish the dishes and he refused, that would be a different matter.)

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    • avatar

      mf August 30, 2011, 1:32 pm

      I should also add this:

      If he is being abusive, that’s entirely different matter. I urge you to see a therapist and to get out of this relationship ASAP (at least temporarily while you sort things out–then you can figure out what you want to do in the long term).

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom August 30, 2011, 1:36 pm

    I’m left wondering what changed seven years ago. If you were happy until then why not after? Did he help more in the beginning or did you do it all and not mind. Did things change or did your attitude about things change?

    I’m assuming you’ve never been assertive but that didn’t keep you from being happy. I’m assuming he never helped but that didn’t keep you from being happy. So I’m wondering what happened that upset what was working for you.

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      ReginaRey August 30, 2011, 2:39 pm

      This is such a good thought. Yes, what DID change exactly LW?? I presume there has to be a catalyst for the downward spiral. Did he lose a job? Did you argue about whether or not to have children? Or did you simply have some sort of epiphany along the lines of “I think I got married way too young…I don’t know if this is still right for me…” and then simply didn’t do anything about it, hoping it would get better? My favorite thing to say at the moment is: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” LW, clearly what you’ve been doing for seven or MORE years isn’t working. You even figured that out (7 years ago!!!), and you still won’t face your fears. Do it now!

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    LTC039 August 30, 2011, 12:56 pm

    I know it may be difficult for you to confront & whatnot but think about it this way: if you don’t do something, you’ll be living a miserable life. SO when you look back on your life you’re going to think back at how miserable you were, all because you were afraid. This isn’t a little problem that’ll go away, this is your LIFE, your marriage, your husband, & your child. Yeah the fact that your husband doesn’t help out around the house and with your child sucks, but Wendy’s right, have you ever asked him? The verbal abuse, if there’s no respect in your relationship, yeah, your relationship is doomed. I know my boyfriend and I have been really mad at each other, but we never call each other names, because that’s pretty much putting the nail in the coffin. I’m focusing on that because my ex was huge on verbal abuse & it really really killed my self-esteem, so I’m curious if you’ve become more and more inhibited over the yrs because of your husband or if you’ve always been like this. In any case, I feel that up and leaving with no attempts to resolve anything would be a disservice to your child. He/She is at a very impressionable age, it may not be the best idea to rip them out of their home, away from their father, etc… Advice is, try again. Do it for your child & for yourself (you’ll notice in the long run). Get out of YOUR comfort zone & speak up.

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    Amanda August 30, 2011, 2:02 pm

    Yes, yes, yes you should go see a therapist.

    Also, grow a pair. (I see you now, purple thumbs.)

    You said you were successful in your career. You’ve been married for 20 years. You have a child. You are a grown woman. Stand up for yourself and your child!

    Yes – confrontation sucks. It’s not pleasant. Most people avoid it, and I do sympathize with you on that front. However, if I’m unhappy I say something. And the not knowing what his reaction will be is awful. That’s always awful.

    If your husband thinks your marriage is strong and you just drop this on him without trying communication first, there will probably be an explosion because you are dropping a bomb on his lap where he lives. So before doing that, talk to him. Tell him you’re unhappy see if you can work on this marriage. Take a stand!

    At the very least your child deserves to see how somebody stands up for what they believe is right. After all, if your child came to you with this problem…wouldn’t you want them to be happy?

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    Sarah August 30, 2011, 2:26 pm

    This. This is it. This is the reason I am terrified of getting married. Seven years?? SEVEN YEARS?? You’ve been unhappy for SEVEN years and you haven’t said a word to fix it?!? What about your life makes it ok for you to be unhappy for SEVEN YEARS??? There is no reason good enough, there is no responsibility big enough for you to justify almost a DECADE of an unhappy life. Why have you let your fears and insecurities do this to you??? And please, please, do not insult yourself with the “I’m a wimp, I have a serious fear of confrontation, I deserve a flogging” crap. You know who hates confrontation? EVERYONE. Giving your insecurities some kind of uniquely severe standard is just feeding the beast. You want to stop being so insecure and confront somebody? Stop explaining to everyone why you can’t and focus on how you will.

    You have catered your life to avoid any confrontations of your life, and you’re doing it now. You will not ask your husband to do the dishes, but you will plan everything to move out to an apartment and deal with financial issues, all so you can avoid confronting him and dealing with the unpleasantness it will take to try to properly inspect your marriage with him? You’ve planned right AROUND the part where you openly discuss all your problems with your husband and have reduced it to a one time only conversation where he doesn’t even have the chance of getting you to work it out first. Being in a marriage means opening up every poring uncomfortable emotional wound to your partner on a consistent basis, and you have worked out a way to reduce it to a single tiny scalpel cut.

    You know why your husband thinks your marriage is strong? Because you haven’t told him anything different! You know why you’re worried about your husband’s emotional state after you leave? Because instead of letting him know piece by piece when he does something that upsets you, you are dumping an avalanche of unhappiness on him. At the same time you’re leaving him.

    There’s a reason why “men aren’t mind readers” is a constant phrase used in relationships. If I get mad at my boyfriend, but I don’t tell him why, guess what? I lose any validity I had in my argument. It is not fair to judge someone without hearing them out or letting them change (if they don’t care and they don’t change, then yes, they’re the asshole). Before you even think about leaving your husband, you need to figure out how to confront both yourself and your husband about these issues in therapy. You owe him the chance to deal with this without being left at the same time. And please, stop letting your insecurities make you miserable!!

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    • katie

      katie August 30, 2011, 10:08 pm

      all i want to do is shout “GROW A PAIR” to this girl and give her a swift kick in the butt to get things moving, but i think that would be too mean… you said it better. lol.

      seriously thought, people who act like this just make me angry.

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      Skybird August 31, 2011, 5:45 pm

      Not an excuse, just another point of clarification: When I HAVE mentioned to him that I need help, he always comes up with an excuse. When I’ve gone further with it, I’ve been yelled at and completely shut down. When I had strep-throat every month for 5 months, and asked him to help by taking our child to daycare (this was two years ago), he was too busy. So I had to drive our child to daycare, pick child up, all with a fever. So yes, men aren’t mind readers, but he has a history of yelling at me to get me to stop mentioning things wrong (and it has worked – it won’t work any longer).

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      • avatar

        va-in-ny August 31, 2011, 6:57 pm

        It seems like you’re going through great lengths to convince us all that you should leave the marriage. I’m not sure why. You’re in it, not us. You’ve already made your decision, it’s your responsibility to carry it through.

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    Emma August 30, 2011, 4:21 pm

    As someone who also has a problem with saying what is really bugging me (my fiance actually gets onto me about it all the time), and will let it go on forever if it avoids conflict, I can understand where you’re coming from.

    But let me give you a tip. Once you bring up the fact that you need to talk, sit him down, and are trapped in a situation where if you said anything else, it would seem silly, you’ll be able to talk. It’s hard to trap yourself in that situation, but once you do, it makes it your last resort.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark August 30, 2011, 4:53 pm

    Eh, I simply stopped caring about this person after she mentioned that she had been unhappy in her marriage for seven years and STILL decided to have their first kid five years ago. Seriously, I just can’t be bothered to feel anything for some one who so blindly and recklessly brings some innocent kid into their miserable mess of a marriage — one that SHE certainly had a huge hand in creating…

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      LTC039 August 30, 2011, 5:25 pm

      So true… soooo many people do this, a lot of people somehow believe a baby will make things better, but they don’t get that it actually makes things harder. That’s why there are so many broken homes…People refusing to deal with their issues.

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    • avatar

      va-in-ny August 30, 2011, 5:30 pm

      To me, the entire letter sounded insincere.

      “Seriously, I deserve some kind of award (or flogging) for being such a great actress.”

      Really? Congratulations!

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark August 30, 2011, 5:38 pm

        Yeah, the whole tone annoyed me as well. It was all just very phony sounding. Even the abuse allegations were so vague, so obtuse, I couldn’t really take them seriously… It felt like something else she just threw in there to win more sympathy… Hey, with many, it worked.

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      Skybird August 31, 2011, 5:38 pm

      bittergaymark, yes, I take full responsibility for my actions (and inaction) in creating this situation. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and it wasn’t until the last two years that I realized how long I’ve been living like this (just another point of clarification). I have been going through a MAJOR amount of soul searching since I’ve been getting the anxiety under control. It is a miserable mess, one my child does not deserve, but as his mother, I am going to do everything I can to make things better. Especially since I am no longer viewing the whole thing through a panicked, anxiety-ridden haze, as I was when I initially wrote in.

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  • avatar

    beans629 August 30, 2011, 5:27 pm

    LW, if you are truly on the fence about leaving your husband then I would advise you to go to amazon or your local library and get the book:

    Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay In or Get Out of Your Relationship by Mira Kirschbaum

    I would read the advice given here and then read the book and make a decision (in that order).

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      Skybird August 31, 2011, 5:39 pm

      Thank you for the suggestion. I will look into it.

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    lynda August 31, 2011, 5:22 am

    I think she should leave. I had thought I was an independent, intelligent woman, active in the community, the life we’d planned on living started fading away. He’d had a slight drinking problem that he swore was only because we lived in the city. Move to the country, suddenly he had more drinking buddies, and more ‘friends’ who thought a 6 pack wasn’t really drinking.
    This was a rural town, no option for counseling-no one even thought about it. Women put up with their men (etc). You aren’t aware how your self-respect erodes over a period of time…slowly as hope turned into ‘well that’s not going to happen’.
    I had a small business which didn’t bring in a lot of money but some, a shoe repair shop. The tools and machinery are specialized. I had closed the shop on Saturday, drove down to the library and when I was driving home I saw a friend and my husband in the friend’s trucking, speeding someplace…I went into the shop to lay things out for the next work day–and couldn’t find my hammer. (again, specialized). Under pressure from the ‘friend’, he had let him use my tools, my shop and because he didn’t know what he was doing, he broker the hammer. This is 1980 or so, even then a new one cost $30+ and would take at least a week to be shipped.
    I had made it quite clear to my husband that NO ONE was to use anything in my shop ANYTIME. Apologies meant nothing to me.

    His drinking increased, he behaved a a boor at parties at friends’ houses and when I realized I didn’t want to admit I was with him, stop going to the parties. I had been the designated driver which made it easier for him to drink. He still continued.
    We had wanted to have a child (one reason we’d moved to the country) but it turned out I couldn’t get pregnant. He was half drunk one time when I told him if he really wanted a child he could have a divorce. He said no, he thought god was punishing him for having slept with a friend of mine (he didn’t say who which told me which one).
    I swallowed that too.
    It got worse. We’d have good talks, I’d think we’d come to a good understanding only to find out he’d been drinking on the sly and claimed he didn’t remember anything we’d talked about. He insisted he didn’t have a drinking problem because he went to work everyday.
    He fell in love with a very good friend (she did nothing to encourage him, was blind to it) and when I discovered it, his comment was: Hurting you? I was hurting you? How?
    We moved on and things continued slowly to deteriorate. His bosses didn’t appreciate him. It wasn’t his job to try to understand what they wanted, they were supposed to do it.
    He was always happy go lucky when we were out–I was quiet because that’s how I am. I prefer the company of a few good friends and not a big crowd. “Hey, Mike’s here, now the party can begin” (yes, they really used to say that).
    The economy went belly up in a logging community and my business with it. in the same way he’d decided that we should take out a loan so he could get a motorcycle and save money on gas (he probably rode it less than 50 times total) he decided that we could move to Portland and I could get a job at a shoe shop or boot factory and then he could have a sailboat–he’s always wanted a sailboat.
    You know, a couple years before, I would have agreed with him. Anything to keep the peace. Everyone think’s he’s special. My friends (unless they saw him when I wasn’t with him and observed his behavior) had no idea anything was wrong.

    Something happened and I knew I had to leave. I dug out old Shoe repair magazines and wrote about jobs. No luck. I knew I couldn’t talk to him, he’d either not listen or get angry (never physical) and promise worthless things (“I’ll sell my hunting rifle and you can buy something you want’) or say, ‘I know you’re upset, we can talk about it later’. I had already learned ‘later’ never comes.
    So he came home one night to find a letter I had written about a job in Reno–his only comment: “I thought we agreed we were moving to Portland”. I had never ‘agreed’. I told him he could move to Portland if he wanted but I was going to move whereever I could find work. Without him.
    Once that happened I felt an incredible weight lifted. I contacted friends, told them we wouldn’t involve them we’d both need their friendship and friends in LA offered a studio appartment in their building…lovely area–and even better, asked me to bring my dog–their own had died and their house had been broken into.
    I had had an antique lamp since before my marriage and had discovered it was worth $1600 (1984). That was my grubstake.
    It took me less than three weeks to put things together and leave. I’m still renting from the same friends (a larger apartment), found a job through her dad, and remade my life.
    Turns out her husband was under treatment for depression—and everything I saw in him was what I’d seen in Mike. His older brother under treatment had tried to talk to him about it because it can run in families. Mike insisted there was nothing wrong.
    I know I have my own problems and I’ve worked through them with one therapy or another.
    I had two older sisters both of whom were married and divorced at least 4 times each (they lived in Nevada)…I asked the younger of the two how did she decide when to leave.
    She wrote me: “When all you can think about is walking out the door and never having to walk back in”. That was the most useful, valued piece of advice she ever gave me and it was true. If you leave too early, you’ll go back and that another kind of small hell; if you wait too long, you may lose more of yourself than you can afford to lose.

    Through several organizations I belong to and from converstations with friends I know that there are good therapists/couselors out there–but there are some that will just waste your time. You don’t have a lot of time to waste when you feel you’re dying inside little by little.
    The child is young and has probably not bonded with the father at all. An unhappy mother staying for the sake of the child? NO. If you can leave, all the time and energy you put into everything you had to do for him can go into the child. Your happiness can be genuine, not faked.
    I don’t care how he was raised or what he’s used to, if a man’s lived with a woman for that amount of time and he doesn’t pay attention to her unhappiness then he doesn’t want to. It’s not your responsibility to help him grow up, get counselling, re-enter the real world of real people with real needs. How much of his time ‘working’ at home is doing other things on the computer/ If he’s overweight (and it sounds like he wasn’t before) could be the sex life isn’t that great either. As far as being unhappy 7 years it could be that she is just now realizing how long she’s felt this way.
    I imagine if she told friends who know her about the situation they’d probably support her desire to leave. And ask her what they can do to help.
    Something else: being ignored is a form of abuse, telling the recipient “you don’t matter” My ex would be watching a football game and even during commercials if I tried to talk to him (about dinner) he’d ignore me. I got tired of it, so I told him (also ignore) since you didn’t reply you must not be hungry. I’m going to fix myself a cheese sandwich. Game ends–“Hey, what’s for dinner–how soon will it be ready?” I told him he could fix something for himself. And the next time if he ignored a request like that, the same thing would happen. He couldn’t explain why tv commericals were so important he couldn’t ‘hear’ me.
    Because I could finally be honest and speak my mind I wasn’t worried about hurting him. He tried to be nice to me, put on a good front, took me out to lunch. He still couldn’t grasp what was happening.
    I asked him, ‘I imagine you always thought if we broke up it would be you who would leave me…funny, isn’t it’. He agreed he thought I’d never leave. When I left (I only told a few friends) when people would ask he’d say I was on vacation.

    So I’ll repeat: “if walking out the door and never having to walk back in is what you want, do it. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it.

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    Skybird August 31, 2011, 5:34 pm

    Hi everyone. Muted Voice here. First off, I want to thank Dear Wendy for posting my letter, and to everyone who has commented here. I need to clarify a few things for everyone.

    First: I have mentioned to him that I’m feeling pulled in a million different directions, and that I needed him to engage in this marriage, in this partnership, and help me.
    Second: When I wrote this letter, I was undergoing some anxiety attacks, and went to my doctor. I am currently being treated for anxiety. Also, since I wrote, I have found an amazing counselor, and am working on several issues with her. Primarly, the fact that the way I (don’t) face things is behavior that was modeled for me as I was growing up. I have struggled with my own weight, depression, and self-esteem issues since my early teens, and have also recently lost 50 pounds, so that could also be what’s bringing up so much of everything else. I ran from one relationship straight into this one, without really knowing myself or what I wanted from my life. That’s my downfall, and another issue I’m addressing in counseling.
    Third: I do believe he is depressed, and have urged him to seek professional help. He talks about it, but doesn’t DO anything about it (as in make an appointment). And this is an appointment that HE needs to make, not one I can make for him.
    Fourth: He wasn’t always like this. I’ve checked with family and friends to make sure I’m not viewing the early years of our relationship with rose-colored glasses. He did used to help me with dishes, with laundry. He used to be supportive of my career. Something, somewhere changed, and it may have to do with the move to a new state 10 years ago. He’s not a good one for communicating either, unless he feels I’m doing something wrong, and then I’m the one modifying my behavior.
    Fifth: I waited and waited and waited until he said he was ready to have a child. I suffered a miscarriage early in my first pregnancy, and it was two years before I got pregnant again. So I didn’t force this child on him. He says he loves our child (who has been in daycare since 3 months of age, when I had to go back to work), but seems to want to spend more time playing computer games than interacting with our miracle. I can also see that there is some jealousy on his part, and he will (and does) readily admit that he is high-maintenance.
    Sixth: I would NEVER just leave him without trying to fix things first. I research and plan things now. I am also, just after today’s counseling session, beginning to formulate a loving way to speak with him, and try to engage him more, but also to let him know, in the most loving way possible, that I NEED him to engage, or there will be consequences, and also to let him know what those consequences are. (I had a breakthrough today, can you tell?)
    Lastly: My counselor confirmed (in the session previous to this one) that I have been living with a mentality of an abused woman (one can only stand to be called an inconsiderate whore, and to be told that, basically, I am a second-class citizen so often before starting to make the plans I’ve been making). And above it all, to be worrying about hurting him by speaking my mind in the first place.

    I will provide an additional update once I formulate the loving words and actually speak with my husband. I’ll just have to see how and where he takes it. He has a habit of getting defensive.

    Again, I want to thank so many of you for letting me know that I am not alone, and also those of you who gave me the swift kick in the ass, telling me to grow a pair. It is something I’ve thought of myself over the past few months. Thank you all so much. I am going to continue my therapy, and keep working on me.

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  • avatar

    It's not me, I swear September 27, 2011, 11:21 am

    Not sure if the LW is still watching this thread, but one (absolutely critical) thing to keep in mind: child suck your life force. That’s what they do. The younger they are, the more they suck (life-force, that is, children are actually awesome and don’t, you know, “suck” in the least).

    The older a child gets, the less impact they have on the constitution of their care-givers. In most modern relationships, a husband would absolutely be expected to shoulder some of the burden of childcare. However, not all men are up to that, yet can remain a very important part of their child’s upbringing and development.

    You should absolutely do as others have recommended in terms of communicating to your husband what you need to get by. However, you should also keep in mind that the burdens that seem so hopeless now will, in fact, lessen over the next few years. The child that, at 5 might need 45 solid minutes of parental attention to put to bed, will likely need 5 minutes, if that, at 9. If you do find a way to stick it out now, you’ll find be rewarded in the not too distant future.

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