My husband and I have been married for six years and our house is a mess. From the outside it looks like we are always in the midst of a yard sale. Many repairs are needed but nothing gets done unless I roll up my sleeves and do it myself.
My husband says all the right things when I go to him with my problems. He agrees to comply with my requests. He agrees to clean up his messes and give me my own set of tools (like I used to have before he took over). He agrees to stop spending money on foolish things and instead put the money in house repairs and badly needed upgrades. He agrees to a lot of things.
His job is seasonal, so he promises that when winter comes he will get projects done around the house. Instead, he spends money (that was supposed to help us make it through the winter) on eBay for his expensive hobbies. Three winters in a row he has done this. He lied to me about the spending, finally confessed, and then continued to do it. No projects were ever done.
Then he will say, "When summer comes and the days are longer, I will get the projects done." In other words, they will never get done.
This has been going on for our entire marriage. I noticed early on that he didn't pitch in and help me with projects like painting or yard work. Yet, I helped him with things that are typically considered man's work. I assumed we were a partnership and we would help each other. In fact, he never even gave me a word of appreciation.
All the while his demeanor is so sweet and kind. His voice is always sounds caring. He portrays to the world the image he wants them to believe.
So, when he does not follow through on what he says he is going to do and I approach him about it, he lies, pouts, or leaves.
Finally, I got an answer from him as to why he is that way. He said, "I don't want to do things on your timetable." In my opinion, he resents me and is taking out his anger by NOT doing anything. He won't confront me because that might make him look like the "bad guy." It is so confusing because, as I said, he says the right things and he appears outwardly to be caring. He hugs me and tells me he loves me but his actions say otherwise. (By the way, he does not demand anything of me. He couldn't care less if I do any housework. He doesn't even eat dinner with me. He eats a bag of popcorn or candy. So I feel that I have no value in his eyes).
I thought we were making progress in counseling, but then he decided he wanted a motorcycle. That would be fine if the clutter was gone and we had the money, but none of that is true. I became so angry that I cut up the carpet, which was badly in need of replacement anyway. The next weekend, I painted the living room, bathroom and bedroom -- no easy task. When my husband came home I told him I was able to move all the furniture, but was not able to move the bed back in place. He said, "That's ok." That's ok? I wasn't asking for forgiveness or approval. I would have liked him to say: "Wow, I can't believe you moved the furniture in the first place. And the paint job looks great! Thanks for getting that done for us. I know it wasn't easy." Just half of that would have made my day.
He doesn't get it from my point of view, which leaves me with anger issues toward him. Sometimes I feel like the marriage is probably over. Can you tell me what is wrong with this guy?
Signed, Feeling Useless and Ignored
Dear Definitely Useful,
I would have to talk with your husband to get the full picture. I can draw a few conclusions, though, based on the following facts from your story:
- Your husband is willing to live in a mess, while you are not.
- He is aware of your needs and yet he does not step up and take care of them, despite promising to do so.
- He does a poor job of making you feel valued and loved.
- You exhibit considerable anger toward him.
I suspect several factors are at work. The first is what I would refer to as a maturity issue with your husband. When we are young we often are free to dedicate much of our time and energies to playing with hobbies. As life progresses, however, we must learn to balance these activities with adult responsibilities. Your husband consistently chooses to have fun without taking care of business first. Money and household repairs are obviously large issues for the two of you, yet he plays the winter away without first addressing either of these problems. He could help your situation tremendously if he learned about "work before play."
He sounds as if he is able to do the household projects. He has the tools, is able to hold down a seasonal job, and shows enthusiasm and energy when it comes to his hobbies. The question, then, is why he doesn't want to take care of the house repairs. Part of it might be simple laziness but I don't think that is the answer. Like I said, he shows plenty of energy for the activities that interest him.
I suspect you came very close to answering your own question when you suggested that he harbors resentment. The incident with the carpet shows that you sometimes express your anger in demonstrative ways. I'm guessing he has probably heard plenty of loud and angry words from you. He, on the other hand, has difficulty expressing himself freely and truthfully. He bottles up his feelings and says mostly nice things, even though it is clear there are issues between you. The two of you have considerably different personalities when it comes to resolving conflict, and you have yet to find a way to make these different approaches work together effectively.
I get the sense you feel like you have little control over the relationship. He "inherited" all the tools, which wasn't by your choice. The projects didn't get done, though you would like that to happen. Money is spent in ways you would not choose. You feel powerless.
The first thing I would like you to come to grips with is that you have considerably more control than you realize. You are half of the relationship. He acts, you react, then he reacts to what you just did. In other words, you have just influenced his actions. Unfortunately you don't seem to be influencing his actions effectively, in directions that would strengthen your marriage.
For instance, you express plenty of anger and frustration. What has that bought you so far? Does it elicit the behavior from him that you want? Obviously not. Instead you get a passive aggressive response where he says all the right words but doesn't follow through.
So it's time to put on your thinking cap. What actions on your part might encourage him to respond differently? For example, what if you calmly suggested making an action plan to take care of a specific household project? Pick a task that is obviously doable, pick a date or timeframe when you know he is available, and ask him if he thinks that would work.
Based on your history, I understand how you might feel you are way beyond asking. You might feel that demanding is more appropriate at this late stage, that he has not earned anything better. Asking is almost certainly the only way, though, to get the result you want. You need to empower him, to make him feel valued, like you think he is competent. You need to stroke his male ego. Let him know that despite all that has gone on, you still have confidence that he can do a good job on these projects. If you give him a demand, he will resist as a way of retaining his place in the household pecking order. Instead, ask his opinion. "What do you think dear? Which day would be better for you, Wednesday or Saturday?" Then, when he suggests next Tuesday, give him some enthusiasm. "Sure, that would be great!"
Find ways to "catch him being good" so you can heap praise on him. Show him how much you appreciate his efforts. He must do something around the house, like taking out the garbage. Start the process of change by reacting positively to his efforts. Do more than just say "I appreciate that." Give him a smile, a hug, a bottle of beer -- whatever will make him feel good in some tangible way. In cases like this, actions speak louder than words. (You already know this; his supportive words have meant little compared to his unsupportive actions. Don't make the same mistake in the other direction.)
"Wait a minute," I can hear you saying. "You mean after all he has put me through, I'm supposed to be nice to him? How is that even remotely fair? Why should I have to be the one to fix this? He's the one who wouldn't do the projects. He's the one who lied to me. He should be the one to change, not me."
Sure, that is the result you want. The problem, though, is that you can't control his actions. You do, however, have complete control over your own actions and can use that to influence him. In every problematic relationship, someone has to be the one to step up first. Someone has to say, "This isn't about who is right and wrong anymore. I just want things to change, so I'll start by changing my own behavior."
More than that, you need to accept responsibility for your role in creating the mess you are in. He has been reacting to you. You chose your own behavior, so in a sense you chose his reactions as a consequence. If you accept this as a problem with "us" instead of simply a problem with "him" then you will be closer to the positive mindset you need to work toward a more effective solution.
This might sound like a knock on you but it really isn't. You are in a tough situation and have reacted in an understandable way. Don't give yourself a hard time over what you may or may not have done in the past. Instead, take this as an empowering message -- there is something you can do.
I feel like this discussion addresses only one dimension of your complex situation, but it is a critical aspect of your relationship. He obviously doesn't react well to anger and criticism. If you can recognize that, I suspect you will be closer to identifying and using more effective motivators for his personality type. Hopefully that will open the door for him to reciprocate and to start making you feel valued as well. Kindness and supportiveness tend to be contagious. By showing appreciation toward him, you may find the same thing starts to happen in the opposite direction.
All the best and good luck,
If you haven't already done so, don't forget to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my favorite response on Saturday with a link to the winner's blog.
Also, if there is anything you would like to know about me or this site, now is your chance. Your interview questions are needed so I can be interviewed online. You can find the details here.