Dear Neil: I have been with the same man for over 25 years. We have raised a family and made a life together. He tells me all the time how beautiful I am, and we are affectionate with each other. I love him deeply and am sure he loves me — but I feel like the give-and-take in our relationship is out of balance. He does not work regularly, so I take care of all the finances — and I often feel like I have to take care of him. I have told him of the things I would like for him to do, but often it takes him weeks, or he forgets and I wind up doing them myself. He gets upset about me telling him what to do, but if I don’t, very little gets done.
I’d really like him to have some initiative and motivation to get a job, help with our finances and to fix our house, which is falling apart. I am having trouble thinking about ending this relationship and tearing up our family, but I don’t feel I’m in a relationship with an adult. It feels that it’s time to face the fact that he will never be the adult I need for him to be.
Struggling in Denver
Dear Struggling: Your story illustrates one of the fundamental questions an intimate relationship forces all of us to address. That question is: “What can I reasonably expect from my relationship/spouse/intimate partner? And if I can’t change things or make the relationship better, would it be wiser for me to leave it — or is what I have too good to lose?”
You have three basic choices in this dilemma. First, you can be bitterly resigned to the fact that your husband is not the man you hoped he would be, and you can either leave the relationship or you can stay in the relationship but feel angry and resentful toward him.
Second, you could be appreciatively resigned, in essence recognizing that you can’t have everything, and that on balance, there is more good than bad in your relationship.
Third, you can attempt to fix what’s wrong, using the following approach. Invite your husband to air all of the major grievances he has with you — every reason he feels picked on, unappreciated, undervalued, judged or criticized by you, and how he would like the relationship — and you — to be different. You would not respond, get angry or be defensive. You would honor that he has the floor and respectfully allow him a full airing of the wounds and grievances he has with you.
My guess is that he would give you great insight as to why he has been resisting you and what he would need from you in order to be more cooperative with what you ask.
The two of you would then be in a negotiation with each other. If you would give him some of what he desires and wants (I’m guessing acknowledgment, recognition and appreciation), would he be willing to pull out of his inertia and proactively go after finding a job, so that he could help relieve the financial burden on you? And in the meantime, while he is looking for a job, would he be willing to commit to fixing several things around the house that are in dire need — say in the next two weeks or so? It may be that he feels he is doing quite a bit and that he isn’t being given credit for all the time and effort he contributes to the household.
Your call. Considering everything, which would be the best choice for you?
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 22nd year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website at www.heart relationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.