Dear Prudence

Help! Chronic Pain Has Turned My Husband Into a Monster, and I Want to Leave.

I know it sounds awful, but I feel trapped and overwhelmed.

A woman pulls at her wedding ring in a close up shot of hands.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Denis Valakhanovich/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

Two years into our marriage, my husband hurt his back while roughhousing with his friends. He suffered severe pain for two months before getting surgery. The surgery was botched. My husband now lives with chronic pain. It’s been like this for three years since the surgery.

Prudie, I feel awful for saying this but my husband has become a monster. He’s irritable and depressed 100 percent of the time. He’s lost all motivation in life. He’s on disability due to the injury and now has no reason to get up at a reasonable hour or get dressed. I do 95 percent of the household chores and my husband feels emasculated because he can’t contribute more. Meanwhile, he’s watching the same friends he was roughhousing with have kids, get promotions at work, and continue thriving in life. He’s bitter at the world.

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He takes it out on me. Every day he’s negative and angry from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep. I work full-time from home and sometimes drag out my workday just so I don’t have to face his commentary. Our sex life has disintegrated, and I’ve built an entire social life outside of him because he refuses to attend things with me (I can’t tell how much of this is due to his physical pain vs. his depression). It’s at the point where I’m thinking of leaving him. I broached the subject with my mom, and she was horrified that I would even consider leaving him in his condition. I feel trapped and overwhelmed. What should I do?

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— Trapped in Tucson

Dear Trapped,

You’re not obligated to stay in a marriage with someone who takes their negativity and anger out on you daily. It’s easy for your mom to be judgmental—she’s not there, being yelled at all day!

But I think it makes sense to give your husband a chance, and tell him what’s at stake, before you make any drastic decisions. Does he know how unhappy you are? He should! Let him know—in a conversation mediated by a marriage counselor, if you can arrange that—that as much as you hate what happened to him and feel badly for him, you can’t tolerate the way he’s treating you and need to see him do everything in his power to care for his mental health. His chronic pain and inability to work the way he used to are always going to be challenges in your marriage, but I have a feeling you will be able to navigate these issues much better if you can see that he cares about the relationship as much as you do and is making an effort. Whether he does or not is up to him.

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Dear Prudence,

My dad died when I was little and my mother died when I was 12. I went to live with my grandparents while my toddler sister stayed with her father, Dan. Dan would bring over my sister a lot, and she lived with us for a full year after Dan’s first marriage failed. I am very close to my sister despite the age gap. She is 12 now, and I have been having her over nearly every other weekend since I graduated college and moved home. My grandparents have shared custody, but my grandmother has been sick for a while. Dan is engaged again to a woman with two daughters of her own (they are 10 and 6). There is nothing wrong with these kids, but they aren’t mine. My time with my sister is precious to me, especially since our grandmother has been sick.

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Dan and his fiancée have been putting pressure on me to take on all three kids. They say I am spoiling my sister and hurting the other girls because they never get to do all the fun activities like my sister does. I am “dividing” their new family. Dan and I argued, and I ended up yelling at him. It was disgusting how he and his fiancée were trying to pawn off her kids on me so they could have a childfree weekend. They are nothing to me, and Dan has some nerve to act this way now when he ignored me my entire childhood after my mother died.

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Dan told me to grow up and stop punishing a pair of innocent kids for what happened in my past. I have still been taking my sister but the fiancée keeps making ugly comments about me to her and gets her own kids riled up. Dan does nothing. My sister is unhappy, and I don’t know what to do. Help.

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— Big Sis

Dear Big Sis,

Stay consistent and keep having your sister over. It sounds like she needs you in her life more than ever. I feel for the other kids, who do deserve fun activities and extra love just as much as your sister does, but asking you to care for three children on overnight visits is too much, especially since you don’t have an existing relationship with them. And honestly, no child should put in the care of someone who describes them as “nothing to me.” It’s sad that their parents don’t realize that.

Even though you don’t have any special feelings toward the other girls, the responsible and kind thing to do, as an adult, is to look out for their feelings and not make their lives any worse than they already are. Have a talk with your sister about not bragging about the fun activities she does with you—she might even keep some of these experiences to herself —so the unfairness isn’t rubbed in. Don’t send her home with toys or clothes or treats unless you can also provide some for the other kids. And let her know that while she can talk to you about the ugly things your brother’s fiancée says, you’re not going to make negative comments in return. Most of all, remind her that you love her and love spending time with her, and that none of the tension this situation has caused is her fault.

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Dear Prudence,

For several years, I’ve had a chronic illness that has severely impacted my life. There are theoretically things that could make my life more manageable, but I haven’t found a combination of those that makes me feel like I can live a normal life. Either way, something that I know really messes me up is a terrible sleep schedule. Because of that, I’ve decided that unless my life changes significantly, I can’t have children. It’s a strange realization, because I’m very ambivalent about it. When I was healthy, I could function very well under a bad sleep schedule, so I never really thought children would be an issue. I also, really, really like children. When my life changed, I started to realize that kids were just going to be too much for me.

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My decision not to have kids is very practical, and while I know it will allow me to live the life I want to live in my current circumstances, a part of me is a little sad. While I’m choosing to be childfree, I don’t quite feel like that decision fits my circumstances. I also don’t feel like I’m in the same boat as people with fertility issues since I’m choosing this. I’m having a difficult time processing this. I think the biggest reason this is coming up right now is because I have a new boyfriend and holidays are coming up. I’m worried that they’re going to bring up marriage and having kids. I don’t really know how to process this or what to say if anybody brings it up. My family already doesn’t support my odd, but amazing choices I’ve made in the past. I’m worried they’re going to bring this up as something weird and dumb that I’m doing. Do you have any advice?

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— Non-Reproductive

Dear Non-Reproductive,

If you’re still feeling ambivalent, you don’t have to make any big announcements about this. It’s fair (and honest) for you to say “I’m not sure” if your family asks about kids. After all, your relationship is still new. I don’t think anyone would expect you to have solid plans about starting a family at this point.

Protecting the sleep schedule your body needs to function properly is a very legitimate reason to choose to be child-free, but I have to say you don’t sound totally sure about it. I wonder if you’d want to use this time when you really don’t have to make a solid decision to explore your options a little. For example, are you in any communities of people who live with the same condition? Could you ask around about how others have navigated parenting, and see if they have any approaches that might work for you? Would you feel comfortable talking to your partner about what your future could possibly look like, and how he would feel about taking on more of the nighttime duties? Either way, you don’t owe anyone an explanation before you’re totally sure about your choice— and even then, it’s really no one’s business other than yours and your possible co-parent’s.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

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