Care and Feeding

My Husband Is Sabotaging His Own Health to Punish Me

I can no longer tell if I’m being unreasonable or he is.

A man sits in front of an illustrated landscape holding his knees and looking down
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband “Will” is a great guy—funny, charming, generous, and gentle—but he struggles with depression. Before starting medication in his 30s, he self-medicated with alcohol, a habit that continued even after he got on antidepressants. He had a few scares related to his drinking last summer (shortly after the birth of our second child) and stopped drinking for several months. This gave him the energy and motivation to get a second job. He finds the work at this second job meaningful, but the pay is unfortunately less than the cost of day care for our two kids. When he accepted it, we discussed that he would need to continue to work his first job, since we have used his paychecks to cover child care and groceries and mine to cover all other household expenses.

A lot of our problems are connected to his first job, which he hates. I have wracked my brain trying to figure out a way for him to be able to quit it, but we literally can’t afford day care without this income and the child care discount that comes with it. We had another discussion about his job recently, and I want him to continue working there for 1.5 more years, which will give me time to find higher-paying work (I’m a teacher) and will make it so that we are only covering two kids in day care for one year without his discount. This plan seems to have accelerated Will’s descent into a depressive spiral. He is drinking again, letting his medication run out, and waiting days before he refills it, and seems to have a constant, simmering anger at me. He has told me that this is probably how things will be until he quits his job.

I’m not sure what to do. I know that he is struggling with a job he doesn’t enjoy and with at least one disease (and probably a second, alcoholism). On the other hand, I’m drowning under the weight of everything. His second job (the one he enjoys) keeps him away until 6:45 in the evening, so I am already responsible for 75 percent of child care and 95 percent of household work. That, plus the sleep deprivation that comes with having a baby (I breastfeed, so I take care of all night wake-ups) has left me spent and out of sympathy. It has also made it so that I don’t have the time or energy to pursue my own career ambitions, which could help alleviate our financial issues. I worry that this constant level of stress has warped my perspective, and I can no longer tell if I am being unreasonable or if Will is. I just don’t know how to help him when he currently seems so uninterested in helping himself.

—Day Care Debtor

Dear Day Care Debtor,

It’s difficult being married to someone who struggles with conditions that make his attitudes and behavior hard to relate to or understand. You’ve tried to be patient and accommodating.

That said, your husband’s depression doesn’t give him permission to emotionally blackmail you. If he is “warning you” that he will continue to intentionally mismanage his illness if he has to keep a job he doesn’t enjoy, that’s exactly what he’s doing. Though he may not realize that he’s issued an unfair ultimatum, it’s important that you acknowledge it and act accordingly. Marriage is a partnership, and it can only work if both parties are committed to the health and success of that partnership. Your husband may not be in a position to maintain that commitment right now, and while you can be empathetic to his situation, it doesn’t mean you can keep the marriage afloat on your own.

Consider spending some time apart. If you’re already doing the lion’s share of child care and financial support, you may find it easier, if not less stressful, to do so in an environment where you don’t feel helpless and antagonized when you come home. Separation, whether temporary or permanent, isn’t a suggestion I make lightly, but it’s one you may want to consider if your husband is intent on being either self-destructive or only willing to work the job that supports himself and not the rest of the family. I wish you all well.

—Stacia

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