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Sunday Independent September 20 2009

Dear Patricia: Hurt by her disdain now I'm jobless

Patricia Redlich

WHEN my wife and I got married, I had a house with no mortgage, a very successful business, and we loved each other. She loved me, respected me, treated me well and I treated her likewise. She didn't work initially, which didn't bother me in the slightest. I knew she wanted to work, felt sure she'd find her niche, and never ever saw her as a "kept" woman. Twelve years and four children later, my life is upside-down. My business went bust and I'm jobless. My wife has a very well-paid job with reasonably short hours. We are not poor by any means.

The problem is how my wife treats me now. She constantly reminds me that she's the one earning the money, while I am not. She regularly gives me the silent treatment, and runs me down in front of the kids. As a result, they have no respect for me either, and copy their mother's behaviour towards me. They also take her side in arguments and make me feel even more of a failure.

I have done my best to get a job. I've also taken additional training courses. I drop the kids off to school, collect them, cook all the meals, mow the lawn, do all the shopping, and keep the house tidy. In fact, my wife has nothing to do anymore except her job. But she seems to hate me and to be ashamed of me. We used to be best friends. We used to go everywhere together. Now we never go out. She has a wide circle of women friends, and heads off with them to girly movies or out for a meal. She even leaves me out when visiting her parents with the kids. She seems to resent me being in the same house. It's as if she could only ever tolerate me in very small doses and can't stand me now, making me feel in the way all the time.

This makes me feel very low. The constant degradation, the constant attempts to control me and every minute of my day, the refusal to talk to me -- all on top of having no job -- weigh heavily on my heart. And it doesn't help that I haven't really got any friends of my own. I constantly dream of escape -- just running away and living in a cottage -- or sometimes doing away with myself. Who would care? I'm not necessary anymore. I'm no use to anyone. They'd be better off without me, would hardly miss me at all. And she could meet a successful man.

These are the thoughts that go through my mind frequently. My self-esteem is at an all-time low. Of course I won't act on any of these thoughts, but I can see how some people do. And I know that if my wife was describing our situation she'd talk about my being "grumpy" all the time. But I'm only grumpy because of the frustration of being constantly put down.

I'm all at sea, and grabbing at passing straws. I've no idea where I'll be in one, five or 10 years. How can I show my wife that she's tearing me apart, bit by bit, breaking me into pieces?

Patricia replies:

THE problem with being grumpy is that it's a victim's response. And like all victims, you're blaming someone else for the way you feel. So let's set the record straight. You are grumpy because you choose to be. Yes, your wife is being disrespectful, unloving and profoundly unkind. She most certainly is not being a nice person right now. The point is, you could handle it differently. You can handle it differently. It's up to you.

At the moment, your wife is firmly in the driving seat. And you have put her there. That's because you share her discomfort, dislike, disdain, for the current status quo. Why does it matter to you that she's the one who's earning? As things stand, that seems like the best solution. You're the house husband, she's the bread-winner. You do the valuable, necessary and life-enhancing work of running your domestic lives, and most particularly caring for the kids. Your wife always wanted to work outside the home, she now has a great job which she enjoys, and has the back-up of a loving and efficient husband who keeps the home humming. How bad can that be -- for either of you?

Yes, I know she disrespects you. But that's just plain stupid. What lends her stupidity any weight is the fact that you share her disrespect for you. You don't really think much of yourself. And that, my friend, is your responsibility. Yes of course I know that being a businessman, the provider, the financial success is the official way to go. It's not the reality for lots of men, and their numbers are increasing. Instead of being grumpy at your wife's bad behaviour, you should be saying "welcome to post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, darling".

You're not doing the domestic bit as some kind of menial mopping-up job. You are actively engaging in the new reality you both find yourselves in. Nor is your wife working because she was forced to. She, too, has made an active choice, given the circum-stances. She has absolutely no reason to complain. Neither have you. On the contrary, you should both be proud of yourselves. You are a great team, both choosing to be winners, not losers. Start acting like a winner. And tell your wife to do the same.

And get a life. You don't have to make instant friends. You can take up some physical exercise, go for a pint, watch a football game, anything. Just create a world outside your family. It may not be fun at first, but it will grow on you.

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