My husband gets off work and decides to make an easy but unhealthy dinner and then immediately goes to the chair or couch. He gets mad at me if I do the same. However, he will just watch TV and be on his phone. He has little interest in going to social events. He complains about money but spends it frivolously. I do not know what to do. We have two beautiful little children who are dying to play but he won’t get on the floor and do that. He has struggled through finding the right job. He has been through several lately and the last one wouldn’t keep him because they said he was too lazy. He won’t listen to me, nor will his family see the problem. Several of them struggle with self-image issues and weight gain.
I know I’m not perfect, but I truly do love him. I just don’t know how to go about this. I do plan to talk to a counselor soon. I’m already on antidepressants. His behaviors have my depression and anxiety spiraling out of control. I am a nurse working the frontline in this pandemic. I have stress of my own to deal with that doesn’t get easy when mixing his issues in with it. What do I do?
Living in a relationship without true partnership can often feel worse than being alone. You didn’t get married to be alone, raise your children alone, and manage all the stressors of life for two adults. Even though there are times you might tolerate imbalance during different seasons of marriage, failure to return to reciprocity corrodes the very foundation of respect and trust in marriage.
It can feel unfair to be the one seeking additional help when it’s clear that your husband is under-functioning in his roles as husband and father. However, I’m glad to hear you’re seeking help for yourself through counseling and medication. You’re more likely to make healthier decisions with this type of support. Your children need stability, and your sacrifices to provide them with your presence will be a blessing to them as they grow up.
I’ve been married long enough to know that some issues aren’t going to be completely understood with one or even dozens of conversations. When you have two people with different understandings about what’s “normal”, there will be ongoing struggles aligning your vision of a healthy marriage and family. His way of living may seem perfectly normal to him, and he may not understand why you’re so upset. The biggest issue here isn’t that you have different expectations for marriage and family life. The biggest issue is that he’s not working with you on creating a mutually agreeable plan.
When you have a spouse who refuses to collaborate and chooses to live like an unaffected bachelor, you have some important decisions to make. Most people will get pushed to the extremes of either raising the volume on their complaints or go completely silent and collapse into a parallel existence. I totally understand how both approaches make sense when we’re pushed to our limits. In fact, they are both protests for connection. They’re attempts to get our partner to wake up and see our pain. Again, the suffering isn’t because you have different styles. Your suffering is because your husband simply doesn’t appear to care that you’re hurting.
The Lord teaches that our relationships are to be governed by “persuasion by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile”[i] These attributes can feel impossible to live when we’ve reached our emotional limit and wonder if we can generate any grace for our partner. Thankfully, the Lord also honors our limits and reminds us that we can “[reprove] betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then [show] forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.”[ii] This is a powerful model we can use in everyday interactions with our loved ones, but it can especially keep us centered when we’ve hit our limit and want to resort to methods that don’t align with our best selves.
This instruction from the Lord is less about technique and more about the condition of our heart. You love your husband and your children. You want the best for your marriage and family. You also respect your own limits and want to be in partnership. Your motives are pure and good. Make sure your communication and actions stay aligned with this goodness.
For example, if you start using insulting and abusive language to get his attention, you’re not only hurting him, but you’re also betraying your own heart. On the other hand, if you say nothing (believing this is more loving), but secretly harbor resentment and bitterness toward him, your love will get choked out. Charity may suffer long, but that doesn’t mean it has to be quiet. Love is powerful, especially when it’s aligned with loving words and actions.
You might have to take drastic actions, such as setting up a separate bank account to protect your finances. You might have to ask him to leave until he can engage as a husband and father. You may have a direct and difficult conversation about what this is doing to your mental and physical health. You might have to do things you never dreamed would be necessary to protect the integrity of your home and family. If you’re truly on your own in this marriage, you may have to arrange things in a way that disrupt his comfortable routines. However, you can do all of this with love.
You can use kind and respectful language. You can take care of your own physical and emotional health. You can advocate for the children’s need to have an involved father. You can express an intolerance for the disrespect he’s showing toward your feelings. You can recognize and appreciate any movement toward healthy living that he demonstrates. You can extend grace as he confronts his own unhealthy patterns. You can take care of yourself, extend grace, suffer long, be respectful, and expect movement all at the same time.
Perhaps this challenging scripture reads a little differently in this context:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.[iii]
Elder F. Enzio Busche further elaborated:
We know that we, in our imperfect bodies and in our strivings for perfection, are confronted with situations where members of our own families, or even a spouse, can behave like an enemy. Then the time comes when love as a power is needed and tested, for the person who has earned love the least needs it the most.[iv]
We often mistake love for silence and inaction. Instead, I’m inviting you to see love as clarity and action. None of us can generate this type of love on our own without God’s help. Moroni reminds us that we must our Heavenly Father to fill us with this love:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren [and sisters], pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons [and daughters] of God.[v]
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] D&C 121:41-42
[ii] D&C 121:43
[iii] Matthew 5:43-44
[v] Moroni 7:47-48