Dear Carolyn: I’ve heard “life is too short” a lot lately. It makes me think I’ve wasted significant time, energy and money in a 23-year relationship that has caused me so much pain and exhaustion.
My husband is difficult and controlling. Both tendencies come directly from his family: His mother is a controlling narcissist.
When I was younger, I thought I just needed to improve and that would relieve some of his anxiety, selfishness and control issues. It was not until I had children that his tendencies really caused me to question what I was doing.
We live close to his family, all of whom have — on several occasions in recent years — given me the silent treatment, called me names, and generally caused me a lot of stress. After therapy, I’ve been able to establish good boundaries with his family. And I’ve tried in many different ways to talk with my husband to make him understand what I am going through. Since his family is his norm, he doesn’t fully comprehend.
He now has meltdowns on a weekly basis that include the silent treatment and sometimes name-calling. I respond calmly most of the time, because I just have to accept him for what he is, since he refuses to seek help. I have three small children and a household to care for — he helps out at home only when and if he feels like it, and usually nothing too taxing. I also am the sole provider for my household. So, I work full time and have a full-time household with little support.
I may have the opportunity to move for my job. I think perhaps physical distance from his family might work. Does it ever help in these situations? It is the only thing I haven’t reasonably tried.
— Life Is Too Short
Hax: No, it’s not. You haven’t tried divorce.
I’m not saying you should have, just that you haven’t.
Generally I avoid pointing out things people hardly need to be told — I don’t explain there’s such a thing as adoption, for example, to people struggling to conceive, because duh — but the blind spot in your letter seems so vast I feel compelled to make an exception:
Divorce is a valid legal and emotional remedy for 23 years of pain and buffer against 23 more.
Life is too short? Maybe. I say life is too long to justify spending its duration with an apparently capable partner who doesn’t contribute emotional support, income, or proportionate domestic effort — you don’t even mention love, anywhere — and who does contribute selfishness, stress, poor boundaries, a nasty family, and weekly meltdowns/name-callings/silent treatments.
I’m glad you found therapy helpful and I’m glad your boundaries with his family have held. But allow me to suggest that wasn’t a solution unto itself, but instead was Part 1 of a difficult but overdue long-life/short-life overhaul.
Please explore Part 2 in private consultation with a very good lawyer, and in therapy again, solo. (If he miraculously relents, then he goes solo, too.) Read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. Don’t skimp on self- and child-preservation, or safety, especially given a possible relocation. Assume he’ll make this as tough on you as he can.
But ask yourself: If you were your child, would you want to grow up in this home?
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m. Pacific time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.
(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group