My husband has suffered depression for the past 15 years. It has taken many opportunities for a healthy and positive life from him in that time. He has gone back to school several times, trying to find his passion and came up dry every time. The last degree he got, he started at the age of 28 and as in mechanical engineering. He graduated at 31. He is from Europe and a culture which is very emotionally repressed. He moved to Canada to be with me. After a few months, he got a job using in engineering only to discover that it was not his passion either, despite being a natural problem solver and passionate about the workings of machines and systems.
He was a kind of non-actor for much of his life and the entirety of our relationship. All responsibilities of a couple fell to me; money, friends, planning for the future. All of this should have been red flags, but I come from an abusive home where I had to take on caregiving for my parents and siblings, so it came naturally to me to overcompensate. He said at one point that he didn’t want to worry about the future because he couldn’t be bothered.
In the first year of our marriage, he decided he wanted to switch careers again and move us to a farm where we could pursue self-sufficiency and work for ourselves. Neither of us has a background in farming or self-sufficiency, so he took six months out of his career to intern on an organic farm 200 km away while I continued to work so that we would be able to bu a farm. The farm wasn’t the best; it was very disorganised, and he always complained when I visited that the work was too hard. When he got back to the city, he took a temporary job as a waiter. During this time, I continually confronted him about his depression and seeking help. See, he didn’t understand that he was barely functional as an adult. He didn’t clean up after himself, didn’t cook for himself, didn’t manage his appointments or health. Again, that was all left to me to do for him. He went days without bathing or getting up from the couch. We used to have a joke about him changing from his “night jammies” into his “day jammies” and then back into his “night jammies.” Haha, I know, but I’m just a wife, not a psychiatrist. When he did pursue his interests, he didn’t engage. All of it looked like depression to me.
I begged him to address these issues, and upon threat of leaving, he finally did. His psychiatrist said he was one of the most emotionally repressed people she’d ever met and that he should try and address depression with medication and therapy. To his credit he did. His family was very harsh, particularly with regards to expressing emotion. He also went to a prestigious boarding school, where alumni graduate to run prominent corporations or hold political office (that’s why parents send their sons there), so I think he may have been taught that he was being set up to measure up to unattainable standards. In the years since his diagnosis, he has gone off his meds a few times without the guidance of a therapist or doctor because “he feels better and doesn’t need them anymore.” I told him that not even psychiatrists on antidepressants could make that decision for themselves, and he certainly isn’t able to either. Especially when every time he does go off them, he reverts to his depressed and helpless self.
Something that has always been a thread through his depression is a concern with environmental destruction and climate change. That is certainly one of the motivating factors with wanting to be self-sufficient. He and I do all that we can and has been suggested to reduce our carbon footprint: we’re vegan, we recycle, we cycle when we can, we don’t buy a lot of new stuff and always try to buy second-hand. We live rurally, but even then our cars are old, used and fuel efficient models. Where we live is in a housing bubble right now, so we rent a small house, but we have plots in the community garden. We hope to build an Earthship/sustainable house when things cool down and are learning about that now.
However, he is obsessed with conserving even more, to the extent that it is affecting his mental health and mine. If I fill the kettle up too much, even by half a cup of water, he’ll scold me for wasting energy. He refuses to believe that running a dishwasher is more water and energy efficient than hand-washing dishes, even though our energy efficient washer is far more efficient, many times over. He refuses to throw anything out, even if it’s broken or hasn’t ever been used because “that’s wasteful.”
Moreover, his concern about climate change never manifested as any activism nor action of any sort. He never raised money for environmental causes, nor went to marches or demonstrations before he met me. We have attended a few animal rights, and pro-immigration demonstrations, but those were from my research and at my request and it even took a lot of convincing to get his to those. In fact, for this all-consuming concern about climate and the environment, he doesn’t do much, except stay at home and be depressed. Which to me implies that it’s more about the “being depressed” than it is about the issue.
I think he has chosen these issues as a “load bearing depression repository” for him. Climate change and environmental destruction are these huge, complex issues that may take many years, if not our entire lifetimes to be resolved, if ever. They will always be there to feel shitty about, so if he claims that he is depressed about them, then he doesn’t have to face how he feels about himself.
I’m not discounting the seriousness of these issues, nor that they could be a factor in his depression. We should all be concerned and it *is* fucking depressing, but his depression hurts both of us, and I refuse to let it take more away from him than it already has. I confronted him about this again, because it is having a detrimental effect on my mental health, but he assured me that “he knows his depression better now” and it’s not about that (he has also gone off his meds again independently).
Last time I told him that I couldn’t live with him obsessing over the kettle or the dishwasher and letting such small things affect our relationship. He says he will never be able to do that; he will always be concerned with it. He implies that when I overfill the kettle or use the washing machine to preshrink fabric *for the clothes I make myself* I am not concerned about these issues, which is complete bullshit. He says I gave him an ultimatum, which I did. But I have tried, Lord have I tried, to reason with him.
I struggled with anxiety for many years myself, but the delightful “generalised” kind, now with added panic attacks. I know that I will never “know my anxiety” enough to think I have it licked. Indeed, anytime I’ve had that thought, I’ve realised it’s a red flag to check in with what is really going on because a mental illness’ “job” is to separate us from those who care about us and will use any method possible to get us alone with it.
How can I help him see and give up his obsessions, which are ruining both of our lives?
Can’t Get Any Greener (female pronouns)
Dear Can’t Get Any Greener:
For the entirety of your marriage you have cooked and cleaned and financially supported and cajoled and begged and emotionally labored and thrown your life into upheaval so that your husband could get to the bottom of his depression and “find his passion.”
And now you can’t even do the fucking dishes or make a kettle of tea without him criticizing how you do it. Strange how he has made his concern for the environment line up 100% with monitoring and controlling you to the point that he begrudges you every drop of water you use in your house.
You have already said everything, and tried everything and ended up here. You already know what you need to know about your husband. Whatever his good qualities, he is kind of a passive dude, bad at taking care of himself, and he exerts himself only under extreme pressure from you or when he can offload the effort and costs onto you. If love and loyalty and trying hard were enough to fix this, it would have been fixed already. You can care about people but you can’t do their caring for them.
If I knew a way to make him a) stop his selfish behaviors at home and b) engage more proactively in his own life, I would tell you. There is nothing to say. What could we say? Not everyone gets to follow their passions in life 100% of the time? Sometimes you just have to go to work and do your best by your family even when you’re not feeling it? Depression sucks and requires long-term boring maintenance and treatment and sometimes it will be bad and sometimes it will be better?Depression isn’t excuse to treat the people in your life like crap? There is more environmental activism on heaven and earth than the kind that maximally inconveniences and annoys your spouse?
If I knew the words that would help you leave him forever – to bathe or not bathe, as it pleases him, to work or not work, as it pleases him, to follow his passions as it pleases him, to put only the exact true one correct amount of water in the kettle – I would say them to you now. If this were a fairy tale, I would write the secret inside an enchanted mushroom and wrap it in a magic handkerchief that you could carry with you through the tasks and trials ahead.
We have 900+ posts on the site and probably half of them contain some variation this question (Praise Sheelzebub!):
If nothing changed about your relationship, and you knew it would stay just like it is now, how long would you stay?
1 more year?
5 more years?
10 more years?
How many more years can you pour into this man who pours so little back into you, who thinks even the water you consume would be better saved for “The Earth?” (as if you are not of the Earth and on the Earth, as if you are undeserving of water, as if he gets to decide that.)
You’re worried that he won’t make it without you, but he will. If you leave him, he will suffer for a while and try to get you to come save him and then he will fucking figure it out. He will get some kind of job, or make some friends, or “live off the land.” He will find a shelter or a food bank or move back in with his parents. He found you, didn’t he? He will find someone else, somewhere else, and he will survive.
If you’re not there yet, or ever, that’s okay. You are the boss of you!
In the meantime, it’s time for a therapist…for you. Unpack the ways your parents groomed you to put up with this man. Unpack ways to separate his choices and behaviors from his illness. Treat your own anxiety with the seriousness and care that it deserves. (If he wants to get therapy, great, but put the energy you’d spend cajoling him there into going yourself.)
In the meantime, it’s also time to push back hard at his policing behaviors. “When you do the dishes, you can decide how to do them. When I’m washing them, back off.” “You are not the boss of the kettle.” “I don’t want to hear it.” “Your constant harping on me makes me feel bad. Stop it.”
He’ll be like “BUT DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT THE EARTH?” and you can say “I do care about The Earth and hey, that’s not a stick to beat me with. It’s not a competition and nobody designated you Chief Earth Carer in our house. Back off.”
Interrupt him. Shut it the fuck down. You do not have to just take this.
And don’t try to dig into to his depression when you push back at him. As you point out, you’re not his psychiatrist, you’re his wife. And you’re not just his wife, you’re a fucking human being who gets to exist in her own house without being constantly monitored and picked at. Address the behaviors. If he has sad feelings because you are standing up for yourself, those are his job to deal with. He cannot save the planet by controlling you. That’s not how any of this works!
When you’re ready, if you’re ready, the time for threatening to leave will be over. You tried that already, he rallied just enough to get you to stay, and then reverted to form. If you decide to leave, skip to the part where you say “I’m leaving you” and then do it.
To my eye, you have done everything you can humanly do to make your marriage work, and it’s actually working perfectly…for him…as long as you are willing to comply with his ridiculous requests and subject yourself to his control the next time he wants to find a new “passion” and make you pay and pay and pay and pay for it. It must have worked for you sometimes on some level or you wouldn’t have stayed so long. That’s okay! That doesn’t make his bad behavior your fault! Just, there’s a reason you included the entire history of his behaviors in your letter. You sound exhausted. The costs are adding up, and you are not a selfish person if you want to get as much from your marriage as you give.
Or, to put it another way, your selflessness will never fill up his empty places, but his selfishness can drain you dry. You deserve a happy life that isn’t dominated by this guy’s needs. You deserve a garden of your own, and enough water to nourish it.
325 thoughts on “#963: “My husband’s extreme environmental beliefs are a problem. How can I get him to give up this obsession?””
Sustained cheering. Leave, leave now.
There’s really nothing else to say. Leave. Staying will bring you nothing but more of the same.
This is very good advice from The Captain as usual. My friend recently left a similar situation – only her spouse was obsessed with politics and activism to the point of being largely absent from the relationship. The cycle of I’m leaving and Spouse rallying/relapsing finally became too much, so this final time she reversed the steps – she left and then called and said, “I’m gone.”
She has told me that she feels freer and happier than she has in years. It was scary and stressful on the day she actually left, but once she did, it felt amazing.
LW I wish for you too to feel happy and amazing and light and free. Whether your husband is in the picture or not, I wish you that lightness.
Reminds me of my favourite John Green quote in the entire world: “It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”
Hugs and love, LW. You deserve so much more life then you are living.
The quote and pants’s comment remind me of my theme song for leaving the guy I described below. The LW might not be keen on a transatlantic flight (though maybe a super-fast train? or a trans-oceanic freighter?), but the feels are the thing, my god the feels. Can I embed a thing from Soundcloud? Let’s find out. If not, it’s ‘Milford Haven’ by the Oysterband:
extremely emotional seconding this wonderful song which was playing in my head as I read this letter and was a total, lovely shock to see upon scrolling down to the comments. it’s the kindest song about freeing yourself from a relationship I think I’ve ever heard. it’s been a good friend to me and I hope it’s a good friend to the LW if she needs it.
dear LW, there is so much more out there that you could be doing than all the things you are having to do because your husband isn’t doing ANYTHING. to borrow my favourite thought experiment of the Captain’s, /what if/ you no longer had to worry about how much water you put in the kettle? /what if/ you could put as much energy and thought and work into figuring out what will make you happier and more fulfilled as you are currently sinking into your husband? /what if/ you could come home and none of this was there, constantly happening?
I find ‘what if’ one of the hardest thought experiments (and therefore one of the most necessary) because situations like this can become so totally all-consuming that it seems like the only possible kind of life is one lived within them. forcing my brain to think ‘what if …something TOTALLY DIFFERENT’ sometimes feels like trying to form a sentence in a language I’ve forgotten how to speak. but it tends to lead to the best decisions I ever make for myself.
This reminds me of some of the Captain’s favorite advice, where she had a LW picture a room that was all her own, and her future self was decorating it and studying in it and doing what she wanted to do.
“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”
Having just left an almost-20-year marriage at the start of this year, I can attest to the truth of this.
I was in an emotionally/psychologically abusive relationship for 23 years. Like the LW, it was necessary for me to do all the heavy lifting, the cooking, the cleaning, the child care, the fixing of household things (or arranging for them to be fixed), the transcription of interviews so he could write books that never amounted to much…
All the while he bullied and belittled and broke me. No matter what I did, it was never enough.
Getting out was hard and I went broke in the process. But the worst day on my own has been a billion times better than being back in that place.
Please think of Future You, and honor that woman’s life by BECOMING her. As soon as possible. I wish you healing.
“You can care about people but you can’t do their caring for them.”
T-shirt material. That’s such a good, succinct way of putting it.
Oh, LW – you’re breaking my heart. Why do you have to do all the work – not just around the house, but in the relationship and in the *world*? Your husband is a vampire, sucking all the zest and joy of life from you. I realize he probably doesn’t mean to, but at some level, he has to realize how awful he’s been and is continuing to be, and…nothing changes. That’s the choice he’s made. I’m so sorry.
No, not a vampire, because some people think vampires are sexy.
LW has married a dementor.
While emotional vampires have been featured in CA advice before, I do really love the Dementor visual so much. LW May you break free of feeling all the happiness drained constantly from you and then hopefully eat all the chocolate…if you like chocolate.
Gotta admit, maybe I’m odd, but sometimes “emotional vampire” just makes me think of a Dracula type throwing a tantrum O.o
“Your selflessness will never fill up his empty places, but his selfishness can drain you dry.”
The Captain has said a lot of wise things very eloquently, but this is possibly the best I have read.
This man is not well, and not happy. But does he dream of getting better? Does he dream of a life where he’s strong enough and well enough to be an equal partner to you, and to support your dreams and fulfill your needs the way you’ve done for him the entire relationship? Does he even recognize that it’s an unequal relationship where you are giving far more than you get? Or is he perfectly happy to be taken care of? Does he put more energy into monitoring your water usage than he does into monitoring his own mental well-being?
I too was raised to be a caregiver, to see selflessness as the highest of virtues. But I can tell you from experience that you cannot love someone well. If he is not the primary force behind his own mental health recovery then it will not happen. And it’s just a matter of deciding how long you are willing to insulate him from the effects of his illness at the cost of your own happiness.
My heart goes out to you. You told him you cannot live with him obsessing over small things like the kettle in a critical way, and he told you he will always be that way.
I say…believe him. And give yourself permission to leave and let his problems be his problems, and not yours.
“This man is not well, and not happy. But does he dream of getting better? Does he dream of a life where he’s strong enough and well enough to be an equal partner to you, and to support your dreams and fulfill your needs the way you’ve done for him the entire relationship? Does he even recognize that it’s an unequal relationship where you are giving far more than you get? Or is he perfectly happy to be taken care of?”
I appreciate this because I have acute anxiety that my spouse and I have been trying to address for nearly 7 years while his relatively minor ADHD has just been there in the background, and I constantly feel guilty that I’m not able to put as much energy into us and into him as he’s put into me, especially because part of his ADHD is that he doesn’t think to take care of himself without someone reminding him to. But I do dream of that life and I am working towards getting better. And we’re getting him into counseling and possibly a few sessions with a couple’s counselor.
(Have there been any studies on which mental illnesses and neurodivergences are more likely to coexist in marriages? Because I feel like that ADD/anxiety is a really common combination in my friends’ lives.
I don’t know about studies, but this is true in my experience as well. Also, ADHD people also tend to couple up since there’s a somewhat distinct communication style that a lot of ppl with ADHD have and seek out in others. I have intensely hyperactive ADHD, while my long term boyfriend has ADHD-PI that mostly outwardly manifests as anxiety. I have known a lot of people who have only gotten diagnosed because of their partner’s previous diagnosis, with the partner saying ‘you know, you and I have some eerily similar problems. Maybe look into this?” Anxiety and ADHD are often co-morbid and also resemble each other a lot, even without comorbidity, so it makes sense that we would naturally gravitate and get along.
That’s definitely true. Spouse asked me earlier in our marriage if I might have ADHD. But after discussing and analyzing with him, no; the difference is that he has difficulty focusing on problems, whereas I can easily but am terrified to.
It’s also interesting that my dad probably has undiagnosed ADHD.
Are you an alternate reality me?
I had an ADHD diagnosis as a kid that got largely ignored & went untreated after my parents split up. Last year I read that article about women with ADHD and went “uh oh…um… hun???”. Not so much lightbulb moment as chandelier moment. My wife and I now both have shiny adult ADHD diagnoses and she has an additional GAD diagnosis and we have a house full of methylphenidate and OMG things are so much better now.
Hi! Hello fellow ADHD person diagnosed as an adult and your friendly moderator! We probably read that same article!
I think the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com are good to have an ADHD + partnership chat – can y’all pick this up there? Thank you!
i love this post, thank you Mir! “does he dream of being an equal partner?” oh my goodness, that speaks so much to a couple of my past relationships. even if he *does* dream that, want to be that person for you, he *isn’t* making progress towards that dream, he isn’t communicating that he even wants to change.
i totally understand being disappointed in a career and floundering around a bit. i totally understand depression and struggles to find the right medication regime. i understand climate despair. i understand picking small things that seem within control, even if they are irrational. i understand over-caring, enabling and supporting someone to your detriment. i understand loving someone who isn’t backing you up or helping you out. you can love and understand a person and enjoy their company, and still realize that as a partner they are falling (hopelessly?) short of your needs.
sending hugs and love for hard choices.
dear Greener – I am pulling for you. You are a microbiome with over 10,000 trillion living entities in your body. Hoping you can get planet YOU to a different orbit, as soon as is right for your huge and important self.
Dear LW, I’m so sorry you’re in this complicated, painful situation — let me thank you, however, for the excellent turn of phrase “load bearing depression repository”! A wonderful description of a phenomenon I’ve seen in my own struggles with depression that I’ve never really known how to describe. ❤
Seconded for sure! Between “load bearing depression repository” and “liquid anxiety” and all the brilliant comments here, I’m pinging with epiphanies. ❤
LW, I want you to think about life without someone who demands you suit him and pay for him and meet all his depressive demands. You deserve a partner, not a hole in the ground.
From LW’s description, a hole in the ground would be a vast improvement.
Yeah, they don’t complain about how you’re throwing money into them WRONG.
I was really struck by the absence of LW’s desires here. The frequency with which LW describes committing to the (difficult, draining) things that husband decided were important without any indication that these were things she also cared about made me ache for her.
LW, how many of these things would be doing if your husband didn’t care about them? And meanwhile, you have to pull teeth to get him to support the things you care about? Both of you are putting him first all the time, and a relationship built entirely on that dynamic sounds exhausting. Your desires and your goals and YOUR passions are just as important as his.
Yes! Do you want to be a vegan, live on a farm, buy secondhand, make your own clothes? If so, more power to you. That’s totally fine. But if you think wistfully about that nice new Prius/BACON/a lawn and white picket fence, well, you should be able to have any/all/none of those things that YOU want.
The Captain’s advice is wonderful, as usual, but that final paragraph – WOW. Dearest LW, please let those words envelop you and become both your armor and your blanket. You do not have to set yourself on fire to keep this man warm. Please, please, please leave this man. You deserve so much more.
This sounds so much like the relationship I ended last year. It took him cheating on me to end it but honestly his behavior was bad enough on its own. Like, right down to the kettle thing. He didn’t even have the dubious benefit of lofty motivations to excuse his micromanaging. He was very mentally ill but I had to badger him into treatment, and even then he remained convinced that nothing was wrong despite near-daily meltdowns. He just refused to do the work.
Get out. This is a terrible situation that will suck the life out of you. He deserves sympathy, but you don’t have to let him take over your life like this.
I was in that relationship for 20 years. I understand being unwilling to call it quits on such a long relationship but it sounds like it’s hopelessly one-sided and you do not have to stay where you are not appreciated or respected.
Wait, Allie. Are you ME? Because that sounds very much like the 15 year relationship I just ended. My husband had untreated ADHD that persisted to the point where it was exacerbating my own anxiety and depression. I never threatened to leave, but there were times where I had enough, and the whole rallying/relapsing cycle is all too familiar. The House of Velociraptors is sometimes built gradually, egg by egg. And I told myself it was ok because, hey, at least it’s not Evil Bees.
Anyway, it wasn’t even him cheating on me, or even getting his coworker pregnant, that struck the killing blow for us…it was hearing him frantically spout all the bullshit he’d told himself to ease the cognitive dissonance over the course of his year long affair. (My favorite: he was PROTECTING me by getting his needs met while trying to make it work.) It made me realize that I would always have to be on guard around him, because for whatever velociraptor-hoarding reason, he truly believed whatever he was saying at the time. That even though he would usually come around to facing responsibility for his actions, it would always come at the cost of me having to fight the casual reactionary gaslighting of a scared little boy, and did I really want to keep doing that forever?
So yeah. Fistbump of solidarity to you, fellow sojourner. ❤
Anyway. LW, I can't sit here and act like I have grounds to say ERMAGHERD LEEEEAVE, because I really did want to work it out with my dude, and would probably have continued to do so if he'd been willing. But I want to leave you with some hope. About three months into counseling, when he admitted he had no more feelings for me beyond friendship, I actually found myself strangely relieved. Over that time I had become dimly aware how much I'd contorted myself to fit into his world, and now I was…free. Recently, I've experienced these random moments of elation(!) when I realized I could do what I wanted to do in my own home, or make my own plans without having to see if it will give some otherwise indifferent dude a sudden case of the sadfeels. My depression and anxiety have mysteriously stabilized. I have time and energy for hobbies and basic self care and rad adventures with my awesome 9 y.o. daughter, now that I'm not constantly tending to this dying albatross of a one-sided relationship.
This is a bit eerie. I, too, recently left a 15 year relationship with a man whose mental unwellness took the shape of endless, constant micromanaging and emotional turmoil. He also used the “I was having sex with other women so I could focus on making our marriage stronger; I did it for us!” line of defense. He refused therapy or medication for his depression and anxiety, even after I’d pleaded, and demanded, and eventually threatened to leave. Finally, I did leave.
I am happier now than I had ever thought it was possible for me to be.
“Casual reactionary gaslighting of a scared little boy” – oh yes, I know it so well – what a great term for it. He doesn’t *mean* it (probably?) but there it is, again and again *every* *time* you try to address any problems. And the wondering which of your plans will be ruined for no apparent reason (it’s always your plans, not his). And the dread that whenever you have good news he’ll say he’s happy for you and then shortly after punish you somehow by putting you down and picking a fight and perhaps making sure you can’t even go and do the awesome thing any more because he had dad feels you need to attend to rather than whatever thing it was that mattered to you.
On hindsight I poured way too much of myself into that black hole.
“Sad feels” not “dad feels” DYAC
The one true place for dad feels.
Oh the Toast was so good! 🙂
“On hindsight I poured way too much of myself into that black hole.” Oh lord. Me too. I try not to regret it too hard, and chalk it up to the process I needed to go through before I could be ready to let go.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that I was being gaslighted, because there was no moustache-twirling villain: he was a generally decent, friendly, well-meaning guy who cared about me. And yet. There it was, time and again, with me breaking down and questioning my sanity, and him swooping in to comfort me and hold me and talk about how to make things better. And me apologizing of course, because ugh, what am I?
Looking back, it felt like Emotional Munchausen-by-Proxy. It felt like a cycle of addiction. And in the context of his untreated ADHD, maybe it was – “Big Damn Hero Crisis Management” lights up that dopamine pathway FAR more powerfully than “being reliable with the petty everyday shit that would prevent the crisis in the first place”.
Took me a long time to sort it out, but I eventually did. Just because it’s not intentional doesn’t mean it’s not harmful
Amanda, I keep trying to quote the best parts of your comment, but I can’t because it’s all awesome, and so, so familiar – right down to “casual reactionary gaslighting” and the random moments of elation.
I was struck by LW’s theory about the “load-bearing depression repositories”. Honestly, a few things about this letter reminded me of my own husband – not all the truly horrible stuff, but “choosing a huge, complex, not-solvable-by-me world problem to be upset about” aspect.
My husband suffers from anxiety, and in the past couple of years climate change has become a very big presence in his mind. It’s very difficult for me to respond to or help with, because yeah, climate change is a big deal. Yeah, the situation looks bad. Yeah, it really is a big problem that’s mostly out of our personal control. It almost feels like a placeholder in his mind for Something To Freak Out About.
To be clear, I don’t think he WANTS to be anxious and just chooses this to worry about. I think he feels anxious and doesn’t know exactly why, so his brain settles on something it knows will always be there.
I too thought the LW’s theory is a really wise thought. (though you cannot tell somebody else and have them see it about themself; they have to realize, themselves.) I will definitely be thinking about this theory as it relates to my own behavior.
That part resonated with me too. A few years ago I was struggling with anxiety and my fixation was being “a good person”. I went vegan, I ate only Fairtrade confectionery, I tried to be more green, and then my brain was still telling me that because I didn’t go even further towards zero carbon and be a Freegan (dumpster diving for food etc) that I was lazy and selfish and not a good person. It was the anxiety talking of course, but I can understand that obsessive spiral. I was single during that time so I don’t know whether I would have put that stuff on a partner, but I hope not. (For anyone wondering, I’m still vegan, but I cut myself a bit more slack for not doing ALL THE THINGS or not doing things perfectly.)
Thank you for taking care of yourself. I have a friend like this (tipping towards orthorexia), and it worries me.
Yep. I decided on ovo-lacto vegetarianism back in a moment of teenage clarity. Having a built-in stopping point, however arbitrary it may be, limits what would otherwise be a limitless supply of anxiety for me.
My mother does that too! In much milder form than in this letter, and we don’t live together, but still. The water-saving, dish-washing, waste-separating fights I have with her, that are actually about something else.
Where did this societal meme of handwashing dishes being “better than” using the efficient, water-saving dishwasher come from? My husband insists on the same thing.
My gut instinct is that it’s rooted in simple societal misogyny. Washing dishes is what women should be doing… let a machine do it for them and they could use that time to get up to *anything* SO… let’s make doing it the long, hard way a virtue.
not always my husband had that one, and he was the one “washing” the dishes. I half-remember suggesting it years ago, and either we didn’t need a dishwasher, or it wouldn’t help because reasons, or But Enviiiiiironment… and he didn’t believe in bottle brushes either, so the bottoms of glasses were never quite clean… I was so glad none of that came up this time around.
Off on a tangent: I used to follow a blog by some women who had fled the Quiverfull movement. One of the Big Things in Quiverfull, apparently, is family self-sufficiency, so things like baking your own bread (if possible from flour you yourself have milled – no, I’m not kidding) are very prevalent. One of the women on that blog described how, when she was pregnant with her however-many-eth child, some people at her church offered as a gift a multi-purpose kitchen machine that would greatly reduce her workload. Her husband forbade her to accept the gift, basically on the grounds that it would make her lazy. He, meanwhile, had a fully kitted-out workshop with power tools for his woodworking.
I’ve been a professional climate change activist, so despair and intrusive anxiety are a constant occupational hazard. Everyone has to find some way to cope or they’ll burn out. For me, it was taking to heart Hillary Rettig’s advice in “The Lifelong Activist”: if you work 24/7, obsess over recycling every tea bag, and generally don’t take care of yourself, you’ll have maybe 5-10 years of work to give to the movement before you burn out. If you pace yourself and value yourself, you have 30-40 years. It really helps, for those conditioned NOT to value their own selves or peace of mind, to see that value through a different lens of contribution to the work.
And of course, “don’t mourn, organize.” One minute of targeted political action is worth a week of self-torture and handwringing.
The phrase we use in my house is “liquid anxiety”. Solid anxiety has its own shape, and once the source is dealt with (“I passed the test I was anxious about!”), the anxiety goes away (“I feel so much better now!”). Liquid anxiety pours itself into a container and takes the shape of that container, and removing the container just leads to the anxiety pouring itself into another container (“I passed the test but now I’m worried about my final paper!”) until the feeling of anxiety itself is directly addressed (with anxiolytics, hot baths, therapy, whatever works).
This is fantastic. I love that analogy.
Seconded. This whole comment thread is full of treasure, but this is one of the shiniest bits.
Oh dang, that phrase needs to go in my quiver.
That right there is genius. Thank you.
Thank you so much. That’s going to go in my toolbox from now on.
This is such a great new phrase to add to my vocabulary.
Totally giving this analogy to my son’s therapist. Liquid anxiety is how I’d describe his anxiety. This is great!!! thanks!
I’m de-lurking to say thanks so much for this perfect analogy. It gave me chills.
Man, that’s a really apt description. I’ve got a lot of liquid anxiety.
WHOA. Speaking of liquids I may have tears in my eyes because this is ME ME ME and I’ve never thought about it this way before. Wow.
I love this liquid anxiety analogy — so apt! Will use this!
I just whispered “Ohhh” to myself as I recognized my daily life of liquid anxiety in this….. Ouch. But thank you.
Not only am I stealing the term “liquid anxiety” for my own personal use, but I am officially nominating it for inclusion in the Captain Awkward Glossary of Pithy Rad-Ass Shorthand for Complex Emotional Concepts.
I’m honored! Thank you! I’m glad it’s so useful. 🙂
This was very helpful for me in verbalizing some of my issues – thank you for sharing it.
WOW. Wow. Thank you for this analogy. About five years ago I developed anxiety, but I didn’t realize that’s what it was, so I tried to tackle it as if it was a “solid” problem to be solved. I moved, moved again, quit my job, got another job, thinking all along that I was solving something tangible. (Twist: I wasn’t!) My anxiety continued to pour itself into whatever container arose until I realized it was a new state that wasn’t going away. It’s honestly been a process of grieving my old self, but also liberating to know that there isn’t something specifically *wrong* – it’s just a new mental health hurdle I’ve come across. I quite love this analogy for putting into words what the last few years have felt like.
Liquid anxiety is the perfect term!
I realized recently while on a weekend retreat at a beautiful mountaintop home, surrounded by my closest friends, but spinning an anxiety tale in my head about us all getting ax murdered in this remote beautiful place – that my anxiety will follow me everywhere and fill whatever space there is. It’s a background process always running in my brain. There is probably no getting rid of that and it’s probably best to accept it and manage it as best I can, rather than wishing my brain was different. It was oddly kind of freeing? Like….I’m not going to solve this, that’s not how it works, so let’s set our sights on at least not freaking out any more than “needed.”
I googled ‘liquid anxiety vs solid anxiety’ and the first hit was Diarrhea and Anxiety ><
That is a less beautiful metaphor, though I imagine it’s still occasionally apt.
I found out some months ago that the reason I’ve been suffering liquid anxiety is that it is a manifestation of certain types of colon pain.
Fixing the colon pain makes it all go away. It’s the weirdest thing.
In me at least, I found an easy way to tell what’s actual anxiety and what’s a colon pain symptom — I lie down. If that makes it go away entirely after some minute, and it returns some minutes after getting up, it’s colon pain, not anything else.
Leaving this here on the off chance it saves someone else years of misery.
Yesterday I had some intermittent chest pain. I googled heart attack symptoms. I pondered if this was a new form of anxiety attack for me. I got home and took off my bra, and the pain instantly vanished.
My anxiety takes this form too. But it’s shorter bursts of obsession. I went through a phase of thinking constantly about making sure everything I did was green. Then during a different stressful time in my life, I developed a fixation on getting rid of all possible insects in my apartment. And then on home security and safety because I became terrified of a break- n. Each time, I couldn’t stop thinking about my obsession, spent all my spare time researching stuff to do about it, etc. Their transience has helped me realize they are much more about having a place to focus my anxiety than they are about the thing I’m obsessing over.
Okay, are you me? Because this year I have had the eliminate-all-bugs-spray-everything-i-own phase, the unplug-every-electronic-terrified-of-house-fire phase, and the burglar-paranoia phase. With each phase, for days my stomach would be in knots, and every soare second went to these thoughts, with nightly anxiety attacks and sobfests. I could not think about anything else, until I found a new fear and forgot about the old one. Now it’s my work that’s got me anxious. I hate these cycles so much.
I know this feeling… For a while my anxiety latched onto bedbugs. Did I have bedbugs? How about now? Now? Better check the mattress again for signs. Is that a pimple or a bite? What about that? Better check the couch. Only what if you have them and they’re just extra stealthy? Check the mattress again. And so on. I’ve had similar cycles over whether my car has a leak.
That kind of anxiety can make life miserable.
Not to trivialise this at all but I read this as “whether my cat has a leak” and now I can’t stop semi-hysterically giggling.
Oh wow, you two just gave me some good insight into my anxious partner. We both have anxiety, but mine tends to manifest in physical ways (feeling ill, having panic attacks) while his is more of the random obsession variety. We moved and changed jobs late last year, and it just occurred to me that ever since he’s been having cycles of “must keep the house safe from break-ins” and “this table has to be clean or this entire day is wasted” and things like that. I’d been seeing them as sort of odd quirks, like, “weird that he’s so worried about someone breaking in through the window that’s way up high and off the street and also we have very barky dogs, but OK, I’ll make sure it’s locked even when we’re home,” but now it occurs to me that they’re probably just good fixations for his existential anxiety.
I relate to this so hard. Yes.
And the thing is, there’s always a grain of practicality within the obsession, it’s the degree to which it eats up EVERYTHING ELSE that’s the problem. But it’s hard to see that from the inside.
This is basically the plot of Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good: a woman negotiating how to protect her husband from all the bad things in the world, lest he try to solve them all at her and their children’s expense.
I call it an anxiety focus – I am dr diagnosed with OCD, though it’s gotten better with thyroid / vit d treatment. Once a month my hormones spike and I get really anxious. I’ve noticed obsess about one issue for a couple of days. I sometimes *pick* something to focus on, because if I can cry it gets better faster. It can’t be too close or current though – thinking about the dog or child dying is too much; walking through memories of a friend who died 15 years ago, or of a favorite icon (Prince and Bowie, sigh), works well. Sad enough to cry over, but distant enough that it stops after a nice cry.
My husband also struggles with anxiety, and it seems like his brain always needs *something* to be vaguely anxious about. So if there’s no looming personal crisis, it’s national/political/etc. Or even details about an upcoming vacation, which he loves to plan – will our plane be on time? Will we have a smooth transfer to the cruise port? Etc. So yeah, I can relate to this too.
Ah this is so me. Right now I’m displacing all my anxiety about an upcoming thru-hike on the cruicial, irreversible, hike-ruining (/sarc) choice between shorts or pants. SHORTS OR PANTS!!!
You need some of those hiking pants with the zips on the legs so you can turn them into shorts! But then I guess you’d have to anx about something like how many water bottles to take. 🙂
What about pants that zip off to shorts? I think good hiking/camping stores carry them. Maybe that’ll help ease *that* anxiety. 🙂
I was struck by this as well. I struggle with anxiety/depression, and the idea of a vast, complex problem as a “load bearing repository” really resonated with me. I don’t start out with the intention of “find a thing to hang my worries upon”. It usually starts as “here I am Doing A Thing that makes me feel powerful and competent!” and it works for a while. But eventually the feelings of helplessness and panic overtake me again, driving me down hard into deeper layers of obsession trying to chase that feeling of control/stability that I originally had when I began.
And that’s the beauty of these vast, complex problems, isn’t it? – there’s always a deeper layer to burrow down into, just as complex as the last. There’s never an end, and the anxiety goes fractal.
I recently learned a Dutch slang term for nitpicker, and it cracks me up because it translates literally to “ant-fucker”. I have totally adopted it as shorthand – “are you fucking ants again?” (Hint: if you have to ask, the answer is almost always yes.) It’s just silly enough to short-circuit the feedback loop of my obsessive thoughts so that I can zoom back out into some broader perspective.
I worry about the load-bearing depression repository with regard to my partner. Late last year I asked them to stop sharing so many awful news stories with me: multiple times per day, their genuinely sorrowful and sometimes fearful “Oh, no…” would hang in the air between us, and I’d either have to stop what I was doing – working, playing a game, relaxing with a hot chocolate and a book – to ask “What happened?” and have my mood immediately teleport into my socks at the answer, or sit there in deepest awkwardness as we both knew I was pretending not to have heard on purpose. It got to the point where, if they were at their computer or had their phone out, every time it seemed like they were about to speak, my heart sank.
So we talked and agreed that they would stick to sharing one horrible news story per day, preferably not while I was working, and I am MUCH happier now and my mental health is much better.
But I do know that they’re still reading them, aaalllll of them. And some of them relate to horrible crimes committed against marginalised groups that they are part of, so they spawn completely rational fears – but it seems like those fears create a framework in which their anxiety and depression are unassailable, because they are supported so strongly by objective facts that it seems pointless to challenge them. People like my partner are being murdered with gut-wrenching regularity, why shouldn’t they be terrified to walk five minutes to the corner shop for milk?
And, you know, I’ve done the thing, I’ve said that I worry that the amount of this stuff that they’re reading, and the way they’re getting it fed in live throughout the day without warning or respite, is bad for their mental health. And they’ve listened and decided to continue to do it, and that’s their decision and I respect it even if I think it’s a bad one. But I do worry, so much, because things out there aren’t going to get better fast, and if that means that things in here aren’t going to get better… well.
Sorry, I know this isn’t really on-topic, but it really struck a chord.
I think it is on-topic. The OP wrote about her husband’s anxiety which expressed itself as concern for the environment. Your partner’s anxiety expressed itself as compassion for people in newsstories. It took me a while to realize that to others my mother seemed very up on current affairs for a woman her age, but to me, every time she spoke about world events, it was just her usual the-sky-is-falling-the-sky-is-falling dance.
I kept an overdue library book at my house for a DECADE so when my anxiety-weasels started scampering about they had something to chew on that wasn’t “Mom slowly dying”. Keeping something unhealthy and bad around to feed those weasels with is a coping method, albeit a badly disordered one.
Seconding everything the Captain said.
But I would like to raise another point that might resonate with you, LW. Sometimes we invest so much in a project, or a person, that it is difficult to walk away, even though we would never decide to enter into the relationship/project now, if we just looked at the current situation without all that history. Yet we don’t walk away, because if we do, all that investment in time, money, caring, work, would be for nothing. In economic terms, this is called the sunk costs fallacy. (I am not a big fan of using economic metaphors on human relationships, but here I think it applies.)
But what if that if it was never going to be worth it, what if the deficit will just keep getting bigger and bigger? What if what you get back is never going to make it worth it?
LW,I would ask you to imagine this: If you could give past you advise, what would you tell her? Would you advice younger you to enter into the relationship you are currently in? Would you tell them to stay? Now imagine a future version of yourself, who only wants the best for you, who wants you to be happy – what would she tell you? Would she advise you to stay in this relationship?
“If you could give past you advise, what would you tell her? Would you advice younger you to enter into the relationship you are currently in?” Exactly! This guy sounds a lot like a drowning person who grabs onto a swimmer but won’t kick or try to float; he just wants to drag her down underwater so that they can both drown. He won’t be satisfied until and unless he makes you as unhappy as he is himself. Of course, if you followed his lead, you would both be homeless and out on the street. After you leave him, he will likely try to guilt you into getting back with him, and this is where you need to be strong. In addition to therapy, find a class you are interested in, hang out with group of friends, do anything, but don’t be home and “available” to listen to his nonsense.
There’s a name for that: sunk cost fallacy!
Sunk cost fallacy was the only thing I absorbed from my engineering economics class and dear oh dear do I see it crop up far to often in mine and others’ lives.
Yeah, asfaltkatt said that 🙂
Amazing reply from the Captain, and all the other commenters above. Dear LW: LISTEN TO IT ALL!
*** Please delete the previous version of this comment. Thanks!!
“You have already said everything, and tried everything and ended up here. You already know what you need to know about your husband.”
You do! He’s not ever going to become someone who is bearable to be in a relationship with, let alone good to be in a relationship with. Please, leave. You deserve so much better. You deserve a partner who will add to your life instead of diminish it.
Thanks a bunch.
There is a species of hoarding disorder that begins with a general anxiety about “The Earth” and ends with your house full of old newspapers, carefully crushed aluminum cans, #5 and #7 PET containers, ancient appliances that do not run, and everything else that cannot yet be recycled in your area or that can be but requires a lengthy drive which the Earth-minded person is unwilling to take Because Oil. I just want to leave a note about this, LW, because the chances of you being crushed by a cascade of phone books stolen off the neighbours’ porches as you pick your way through the goat paths of your rental home, surrounded by the susurration of plastic containers stirring in their lawn-size bin liners are very high if you stay with this man.
is there a specific name for that I can google (besides “hoarding disorder”)?
Not that I know of. If you add “ecological” or “recycling” you might get some useful stuff?
“compulsive” + recycling?
Oh, good call. Yes, Halpful, try this exact string and see what happens: “hoarding disorder” compulsive recycling
I’m currently living with someone with an unhealthy recycling obsession. She thinks she has OCD, but isn’t receiving treatment. She double checks the recycling and the garbage, both at home and at work, multiple times a day, to make sure no one has put something in the wrong bin, and to arrange the items in the recycle bin the way she wants.
She doesn’t think I recycle correctly and usually rewashes any container I’ve rinsed out, by filing it up with soapy water and sponging it out. She also digs out a lot of things I throw away that I’m fairly certain are on our city’s list of things they can’t process. She also washes out and recycles a number of things one isn’t actually supposed to recycle, like meat packaging.
I’ve learned it’s really uncomfortable to have someone literally go through your garbage. But fortunately she doesn’t try to convince me to do as she does, like LW’s husband.
My dad does this. My mom leaves him to it for her own sanity.
@tabbykat: ack, I do some of that. and feel horribly guilty when I put recyclable things in the garbage (usually because they contain abominations from the back of the fridge). and I still feel like my husband hangs towels wrong, despite knowing how silly that sounds written down.
it seems strange now that nobody saw any ocd traits in me until my adhd medication had exacerbated things to the point I was having 3-hour showers (and not even enjoying it).
@tabbykat: my mother goes through the garbage in her own home. One doesn’t realise how *invasive* it is for someone to go through your garbage! Whenever I stay at her place, I secretly collect all the waste I produce in a plastic bag, which I take with me when I leave again.
As a general resource that touches on the different motivations behind hoarding, I recommend “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things” by Gail Steketee and Randy O. Frost.
It’s a very compassionately-written book, and it helped me to understand my own relationship to my possessions, especially in light of my grandmother’s hoarding.
Oooh – and I have to recommend Matt Paxton’s ‘The Secret Lives of Hoarders’. The author runs a business that does cleanups for hoarders; it’s a job he ended up doing pretty much by chance when he needed the money, but he brought to it all the compassion he’d learned from making mistakes in his own life (a past gambling habit that he’d overcome) and, over the years, gained real insights into the many reasons that drive people to hoard.
(Although the one thing I would say is that it’s written from the perspective of how to help people like that, and not of how to set boundaries when someone in your life is like that, so it could potentially be a bit of a problematic read for someone who is struggling to set such boundaries. Not that he comes out against doing so – just that all his stories of significant others seem to be of them doing lots of stuff to help out and support the hoarder, and I can see that maybe not being what you want to read if you’re in the position of trying to get away from a situation and fighting guilt over doing so.)
Yes, I was going to say, this is very common with hoarders in my admittedly limited experience. Sometimes “The Earth”/”The Environment” and sometimes “The Poor” and sometimes “It’s a Sin to Waste What God Gave You,” but a strong sense of ethics around belongings plus anxiety plus inability to deal with excess in a timely fashion equals hoarding and disaster.
My grandmother was a hoarder, and wouldn’t get rid of anything, including 200 baby shoes that were slowly growing mildew, because “how could I send all those shoes to the landfill when there’s little children right in my home county getting infections because they have to walk around barefoot?” To her credit, when she was younger and hale and healthy, she’d actually take all these things that she’d collected and donate them–but when she was 80 and simply not physically capable of it, she still couldn’t stop herself collecting them and keeping them because it’d be wrong to put them out with the trash when someone might need them. The most devastating fight I saw between her and my father was over getting rid of ten cases of expired soup, because it’d be a sin to throw them out when people go hungry in this country every single day–and everyone knows that canned soup’s expiry date is really a ‘best by’ and it’s still good to eat–and the food bank won’t take them because of the date but surely someone somewhere can use them, surely–
She wasn’t wrong that people go hungry in the country every single day. She wasn’t wrong that 240 cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup (if donated before expired) would actually be useful in a lot of food banks. She wasn’t even wrong that canned soup is safe to eat well past the expiration date, although I can’t blame food banks for not taking those chances. The problem was that her hoarding was feeding her anxiety, and her anxiety was feeding her hoarding, and it ended in a spiral in which her home was full to the eaves of expired soup, baby shoes, and ladies’ church hats circa 1965, which were doing no one any good–least of all her and her family.
My late (hoarder) husband’s first (hoarder) wife was the ecologically minded sort, and her house had goat paths through the bags and bags and bags of recyclables. The city didn’t do curbside at that time, and the recycling centre was a good hour’s drive from her house (BUT OIL) and so things would just fill and fill and fill until she couldn’t move around, and then she’d reluctantly pack her car with bags and drive them to the center and it would begin again.
For some time I followed the blog of somebody whose beloved aunt had run the kind of antique store that is stocked 50 percent with new movers and 50 percent with stuff spotted at estate sales that’s worth beaucoup bucks and tagged $5. Basically she stayed ahead of her hoarding habit by selling the stuff that came in–until she got old, and slowed down, and…
The hell of it was, the man wrote, that all of the stuff that made the house and garage and back yard and side yard and driveway unusable was beautiful–or had been, at first. But he spent more than a year shoveling most of it into those big construction Dumpsters, one after another.
When I was much younger, before I met my late husband, I dated a couple both of whom ended up being hoarders. At the time we were dating their mutual disorder wasn’t that advanced, but within a few years of them buying property in the extreme exurbs, the house was full of stuff, the property was full of more stuff, more stuff was brought in on a near-daily basis…it was all useful stuff…sort of. Except the stuff that sat out in the weather sometimes wasn’t meant to sit out in the weather, the stuff that was in the house attracted moth and mouse…
You met my former mother in law didn’t you??????
The index case in *my* life was my late husband’s first wife, actually. 🙂 One of my grandmothers has hoarding disorder but it takes the animal hoarder form. My late husband was the lazy filthy sort of hoarder.
I think hoarding is more widespread than most people realize, honestly.
> (as if you are not of the Earth and on the Earth, as if you are undeserving of water, as if he gets to decide that.)
I’m not crying, *you’re* crying. ❤ ❤ ❤
onions? in my office? you too?
“You are deserving of water” is a hell of an affirmation to have to make to yourself.
It’s allergies. I swear.
*is allergic to FEELS*
saame and so beautiful
This! TW abuse:– Also a friend was raised in a house with her as the youngest of multiple children. She was told they didn’t have enough water for her and her alone to bath. Somehow they hit maximum family consumption on the second youngest? IDK. So she specifically had to sneak into the basement in the dead of night to wash herself in the sink praying no one would wake up and find her. The ways people can place arbitrary rules around consumption under the guise of money-saving or environmental responsibility is cruel and unusual.
What came through to me hugely in your letter, LW, was that although you say you’re not his psychiatrist, you’re clearly devoting a great deal of effort to trying to understand his problems and what might have caused them. You already know this, but perhaps it will help hearing it from someone else: put that burden down. It’s not yours to carry. Whether your husband’s problems result from his culture, from his time at boarding school, or just his messed up brain chemistry, it’s between him and his therapist to work on (and if he chooses not to, that still doesn’t transfer the burden to you). Instead, I’d love it if you could devote the time you’re putting into this on your husband’s behalf into thinking instead about how he is allowing his problems to impact your own life. Put your own mask on before helping others. You deserve this consideration from him, but if he’s not willing to give it, please give it to yourself.
Two things I want to pull from your letter, LW:
“Last time I told him that I couldn’t live with him obsessing over the kettle or the dishwasher and letting such small things affect our relationship. He says he will never be able to do that; he will always be concerned with it.”
“How can I help him see and give up his obsessions, which are ruining both of our lives?”
Based on this, he sees his obsessions. He knows that the way he’s behaving upsets you. But he’s not going to give them up. He’s told you that much. This is one of those situations where you’ve reached the limits of communication. Communication in a relationship is important, but it doesn’t help you much if there are no actions on the other side of it. That’s where you are.
I think you’re having some trouble separating out what’s within his control and what’s without his control, given his illness(es?) and upbringing. So I just want to counter with two things:
1) There are plenty of things he’s choosing to do (or not do) here that are entirely on him: he is choosing not to maintain treatment or medication, choosing to show no empathy or remorse for the way his illness affects you, choosing to stick to his own hard-line rules rather than considering compromise. He has the tools available to make this better for both you and him, and he’s not using them.
2) It doesn’t actually MATTER if every single one of these things is outside his control.
Good relationships are about hard work and communication and choosing to care for one another. But they’re also about compatibility. They’re about people whose goals and interests and values align enough that they can make a life together that *both* are happy with.
So even if this is simply who he is, even if every single thing that bothers you is just his illness talking and entirely outside the scope of his control, he can still be fundamentally the wrong partner for you. This can be the wrong marriage for you. And recognizing that and making a change does not make you bad person. It’s just the way life happened to work out. It’s like if you suddenly found out that gluten made you sick – you wouldn’t then be weak or childish for not eating donuts. You’d just be a responsible adult who takes care of herself.
I’m so sorry that you’re going through all of this, and that nobody seems to have much hope to offer you with regard to solving this situation. I hope it gets better for you soon.
I don’t know if this is helpful at all, being as the environmental concern is as you say a “load bearing depression repository”, plus he’s being unreasonable even if what I were going to say wasn’t true, but for what it’s worth:
From my (limited) understanding of things, most of the negative impact on the environment comes from industry as opposed to personal households. It seems like you do care about your personal impact on the environment and I’m not saying stop that of course, as caring about the environment starts with individual people and individual people do have an impact. But even if the issue of your half cups of water weren’t harmful to your mental health I’m not sure the effort/reward ratio would be as worth it as he might think.
Hi! I don’t think this guy can be convinced with reasons/evidence, so let’s not put effort into trying to logick him. As the LW points out, there are lots of activism-type-stuff that he could do if he cared a lot about working on environmental issues. He’s doing zero of it, and yet somehow has zeroed in on rationing the LW’s water use as problematic. That’s not something we can even refute with well-reasoned arguments or links to studies, because it’s based in control with a wee dash of misogyny (setting himself up as the sole Ethical Arbiter of their household). You can’t fight bullshit like this with reasons (sadly).
*nod* I wasn’t thinking that the LW can use this to convince him (hence that he’s being unreasonable regardless) but moreso that maybe this would help the LW herself, perhaps seeing an additional level on which what he’s doing isn’t okay. But yeah, I can see how this would be interpreted that way and unnecessary regardless of interpretation; apologies and thank you 🙂
Phew, ok, makes perfect sense. I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of moderating a “What environmental stuff is truly valuable” discussion when a) that’s not really the issue here and b) there are other sites & forums where this can be done much more accurately.
As a wise woman once said in my facebook feed “You cannot reason someone out of a position they did not reason themselves into”. This is an artifact of illness not a well-considered social position.
This also jumped out at me, but it was because the difficult partner is choosing to attack LW rather than the source of bulk of the problem.
Whatever this guy has, I’ve got it too – but I’m way way better at managing and learning about it. I’ve managed to turn it on itself by getting it obsessed with healing me 😉
My best guess at the moment is anxiety/perfectionism/ocd, although I’ve got a lot of other plausible theories to investigate.
The thing is, though… it is incredibly hard to fight, and I do not have words for how persuasive it is. It is *always* trying to trick me into believing that if I just follow the (impossible and ever-escalating) rules, everything will be fine. It’s like having an abusive parent stuck in your mind with you that just. never. shuts. up!!
And it’s hard to believe it’s worth resisting when you know that the abuse will escalate if you do and you don’t know if it will ever fully go away.
Please don’t set yourself on fire to try and keep him warm; not only do you not deserve that, it’s about as effective as trying to boil the ocean.
I think the best hope for him is letting reality smack him in the face a few times. 😦 Not in anger or anything, just… the only better tools we have right now are ones nobody but him can wield (cbt/dbt/mindfulness/etc). He might not be capable of choosing that path until it becomes the least uncomfortable option, or until he gets shocked back to reality, or something.
I have also had it. Even before LW got to the part where they don’t think this is actually about climate change, I was like, “This is not actually about climate change, climate change is just the hat rack on which his mental illness is currently hanging.”
My own mental illness has hung on many hat racks, some more absurd than others (highlights: The Time I Had A Phobia Of Stairwells; The Time The World Would End If My Dog Was Not Housetrained Right Now). Unfortunately, as you say, no one can take your crazy off the hat rack for you. I had a friend who was convinced if he just found the right city to move to he would finally be happy, and like two cities in I said, “You know, I don’t think this is actually about geography?” but he didn’t believe me. He had to move city a few more times and continue to be horribly depressed anyway before he figured it out.
ha, yeah, mine was jobs. my first few jobs were pretty sketchy, but then I got a job with wonderful people, and still couldn’t force myself to be productive 40 hours a week. so I tried harder and forced myself into a permanent migraine. 😦 kinda had to conclude there was a medical problem at that point, but, all the doctors could do was find something to block most of the chronic pain. everything else (both physical and mental) I’ve been figuring out for myself, pretty much.
I too have had many hatracks — apartments, jobs, partners — and that I need to manage the hat, not find new hatracks. Sometimes it gets blurry for me, because Going Back to Uni was a hatrack that helped me infinitely, whereas Adopting a Cat didn’t help the way I thought it would. (I did get to live with a cat, which is a nice result regardless!)
Yeah, there’s a term for this in Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon: the geographic “cure”.
This is such an important point. He’s the only one who can do anything about this. I also think it’s very easy to think, “This is the disease and not the person; if I can convince him to deal with the disease, everything will be fine!” and for me, anyway, it’s more complicated than that. When I was in college, I was diagnosed with both clinical depression and an auto-immune disorder within the span of one year. And they continue to be an equally big part of my life because they’re both very real, on-going health conditions with the potential to drastically impact my quality of life. Mitigating that requires you to stay up on treatment, monitor symptoms so that you can flag changes for your doctors, etc. It’s doable! But it’s not easy and it requires regular commitment and effort – and even when you’re doing everything “right,” there are still hard periods. I think LW has done literally everything she can to try to help him. Until he recognizes that depression isn’t something with a quick fix and he becomes willing to put in the work, I don’t think anything will change.
Captain Awkward, Sheezebub, and Awkward Army — I give you all a standing ovation (almost wrote ovulation?!?) for such clear and eloquent advice. I want to print out this whole letter and response thread and carry mustiple copies with me for my own use, and to pass out to others. LW, you are not a bad person because you were programmed to be a caretaker / enabler. Please take the Captain’s advice and take good care of YOU. When you’re ready, you’ll do what needs to be done. Also, I must add another standing ovulation for the phrase “load bearing depression repository.” That right there is pure gold. Good luck to you. You got this. Standing ovulations all around.
There’s no solution for people like him but leave. The sooner the better. He sounds like my ex. He could never figure out what he wanted to do, didnt want to shower for days, woke up at 4PM every day and let me do everything; cooking, cleaning, studying, helping him look for jobs/courses and still he would critize me for the way I hung my wet towels to let them dry. I pitied him a lot, his childhood had been horrible and it was obvious he sucked at adulting. I thought he needed me but he didn’t, thats just something they put up I think. Not just to make you stay but also to make sure you keep doing things for them.
Besides the therapy Captain suggested, Id like to suggest finding(if you havent yet) sometimes that empowers you and makes you feel great. I took dance classes(and still do) and it helped me a lot to get back to myself and gave me strength to keep detaching myself from him.
All the best ❤
Oh, LW. This sucks so much, my heart is hurting for you.
One thing I wanted to mention… your identification of environmental issues as a “load bearing depression repository” is so astute, and such a great phrase (which I will be stealing in the future!). I think many of us with anxiety and depression issues have our own load bearing depression (or anxiety) repositoires.
But one thing that I have seen in dysfunctional relationships is where one person has a load bearing depression repository… and then identifies their partner as one of the pillars of that repository. And it’s really toxic.
Here’s what I mean:
A load bearing depression repository is usually something that is so huge or continuous that it can never really be fixed (or will only be fixed far in the future) and that is defensible as important (even if only important to the person). The first criterion is necessary because it needs to be something that you can keep dumping your sadness or fear into for a long time; the latter is necessary because it makes it harder to argue you out of it–if your load bearing depression repository is what color of notebook to buy, eventually you can just buy a damn notebook and realize that hey, a blue notebook is not the end of the world. But if your LBDR is The Environment, or Family, or Our Housing Situation, or My Job, it’s ‘safer’ as a place to dump depression or anxiety because it’s so big and so important that you can’t just go ‘let’s just buy a damn notebook and see what happens.’
I can tell you right now that my LBDR is Email In General. Keeping up with email is a task that will never end, short of my abandoning modern life and going to live in the woods, and at least sometimes it’s important (I can’t just ditch it entirely, because it’s a requisite for my job, and even personally things like “your grandfather has died, the funeral is on tuesday, please let me know if you can make it” or “we had a security breach and none of your credit cards work now” do come in email). So when I have free-floating brain weasels telling me that everything is ruined forever, they can always attach themselves to the unending task of email.
But here’s the thing: that LBDR is something where the requirement of action is on me. I sometimes freak myself by being obsessive about email; I sometimes cause myself problems by avoiding email. But the person who has to read and respond to my email is me.
The toxic situation that I’m referring to, the one where a pillar of the LBDR is situated on someone else’s head, is one that a good friend of mine, Amy, went through with her move. She and her girlfriend, June, had to move within a year. The move was necessary (their lease was up at the end of the year and they were getting a new apartment), and so move-related tasks were necessary, but were fairly far away still. And there were a lot of things to do. And June latched her not-insignificant general anxiety onto The Move.
But what June did in response to having picked The Move as her LBDR was to find things that were not her responsibility and then fixating on them. Amy was going to pack the bookshelves. The bookshelves did not need to be packed immediately or even soon, but they had to be packed eventually, and June kept picking and picking at Amy to get started sorting them, weeding them, and packing them. Amy was going to deal with changing the utilities over. June kept reminding her and reminding her, over and over, to not forget about the utilities–even though they couldn’t actually change them yet, because they didn’t even have a new apartment yet. Amy was going to clean the kitchen up for move-out. June kept going on and on and on about every grease splatter and spill, because “you know they’ll dock us for that when we move out.”
Thing is, there were plenty of things that were June’s responsibility that she wasn’t doing anything about. Which was fine! Because the move was still a year away! But that didn’t stop June from bugging Amy about it continually, until Amy was about ready to lose her mind.
When I read your description of your husband’s environmental issues as a “load bearing depression repository” it suddenly made June’s behavior make sense to me. She had identified the move as her LBDR. But then she went one more step: she identified Amy as the person who was going to carry the load. She attached her every stray worry and fear to the move, and then she blamed Amy for the sum total, because Amy was involved in the move–and that shunted some of the worry away from guilt and onto blame. She was worried because she was depressed/anxious. She picked the move as something to attach her worry to because it was a definable important Thing to worry about. But then she relieved her anxiety by going “I wouldn’t be worried about this if Amy would just pack the books!”–even though a) there were plenty of things she needed to do too, and b) the books didn’t even need to be packed for at least another nine months. And when Amy went, “Okay, fine, I’ll pack the books earlier if it’s stressing you out so badly” it of course shifted to nagging her about the kitchen.
The relationship did not end well.
I think what I’m saying is: it’s good to be aware of peoples’ load bearing depression repositories. And they aren’t necessarily huge problems in and of themselves, except inasmuch as depression and anxiety are themselves huge problems.
But if your partner’s response to having a load bearing depression repository is to expect you to be the caryatid holding that repository up, be wary. Because in the end, what is happening is that you are being made responsible not for whatever it’s ostensibly about (water, energy; the books, the kitchen) but for their depression. And you cannot be responsible for someone else’s depression. You just can’t.
A) My LBDR is also email and/or mail in general and B) This comment is very, very, very wise. Between the Letter Writer’s incredibly astute definition of the term and this case study, this is one of those moments where I’m just going, whoa, so, THAT’S what’s happening when I do that.
Wow, yeah, that’s a great description.
on the other hand, I let my fear of doing that to my husband get so out of hand that we were living with a perpetual stack of unwashed dishes (one of his chores) and I had a stash of disposable cutlery and bowls for when everything was dirty because I didn’t want to touch the months-old sponge soaking in yesterday’s dish-soaking water, and I knew that if I started washing dishes it would become my chore in all but name (and I really wanted to have the spoons for that but didn’t). this went on for years before I finally came to my senses and told him I wanted to buy a dishwasher. (I probably should have just bought it, but, baby steps…)
And then I found out the counter around the sink had become a home for springtails in the meantime. >.< they're still there, I don't think we can get rid of them until the leaky faucet is fixed, and the plumber is a month and a half late at this point so I'm gonna have to start nagging the landlord soon… 😦
it's hard to guess when to try and change my feelings vs when to try and change the situation.
This is a very astute description and explanation. I’m pretty sure my ex and I took turns doing that to each other.
Seconding the love for load bearing depression repository. My husband and I are having a really tough year with some serious health and job stuff, and a few months ago we were right at the top of the Bad Stuff Roller Coaster, so to speak. We built different load bearing anxiety repositories – his was cleaning related and mine money related – and then pushed all of our “fixable” anxiety onto the other partner.
I’m really grateful that we happened to already be seeing a couples counselor so there was a low bar to entry for bringing this to someone who could facilitate us talking about our Real Anxieties That Weren’t Actually About Dishes. I can absolutely see how easy it would be for someone to spin out of control.
What’s sort of – funny? notable? – about this is that some LBD(A)Rs can be a useful tool in managing mental health, if they are chosen and used mindfully and with flexibility and patience. I’m thinking about a time in my life when I developed the habit of tidying my space because 15 minutes of setting things in order helped soothe my anxiety, and having a tidy, nice looking space was a self care thing for my depression. But, I was doing it myself rather than offloading it onto someone else, and I was doing it with the conscious knowledge that it was a selfcare tool, rather than incorrectly believing that the cause of the anxiety was untidyness.
Agreed! I use my LBDR about ‘people I love are going to die soon, horribly’ to make sure our fire alarm and extinguishers work 2x / year, and that everyone has their seat belt on before the car moves. Knowing that I was focusing general anxiety on ‘topic du jour’ has been a big help in managing the anxiety, even sometimes using it to drive productive behavior.
You and LW, these are so spot-on and great. This is one of those things that seems so elegant and simple and “of course, why didn’t I think of that before?!” Really, really great concept.
Whoa. This helped better illustrate my anxiety. Thank you.
woah…just woah…so real…giving me a lot to think about….also I think my mother’s LBDR was a happy family and finding a “loving husband and father to her children” and she asked us kids to get that for her.
I recognized myself so much in this comment. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, and read it in full to my therapist this week. It is really having a major effect on how I think about my life and some of the issues I’m dealing with right now. Thank you.
Please listen to the Captain. Especially, please find yourself a therapist, and work on the Team You who love and support you.
Your husband has told you that he’ll continue nagging about the water and not taking his meds. His obsessions (including his hoarding) will grow.
You have struggled so long and so hard, you deserve some rest.
I’m with the Captain and the other posters and Sheelzebub: how long can you bear this?
Jedi hugs if you want them.
Please, please do not go back to the land with this guy. If hand washing dishes feels like a chore now, imagine doing in the winter in ice cold water that you have to haul yourself (because he never got around to building a well, or the pipes from the well to the house, or whatever).
There’s a book called Back From the Land that talks about how the huge number of chores involved in living off-grid can be overwhelming even if both partners are participating.
This struck me as well. I think the Sheelzebub principle applies in that it probably isn’t going to get better, but I am worried it could just get worse and worse as LW and her husband get closer to the farming life.
From what I know of farming (second-hand), and what I know of untreated depression (first-hand, but everyone’s different), starting a small family farm isn’t going to work, even if they stay on the grid.
On the bright side, exercise, plants and sunshine are “good” for depression, but I don’t think they help full-on untreated depression. If you can get yourself from “blllerrggghhh” to “okay, sure,” with medication and/or therapy, it seems like exercise/plants/sun can get some people to “hey, this is nice!”, but you need something more for escape velocity from for the blllerrrgggh stage. (Bllllerrggghhh stage = me from 2008-2010.)
Even if the husband helps out at the rented garden plots right now (big if, but I didn’t see for sure either way), I’m pretty sure LW is going to do all the digging, planting, pruning, irrigating, weeding, fencing, building, watching for pests, etc. And that’s a lot. It really is. My dad and my best friend both grew up on family farms/orchards, and I have it so easy compared to them.
Plus it’ll be so, so easy for him to justify not wasting all that gas going into the city to a psychiatrist appointment/to fill a prescription.
I know many, many, MANY farmers because I work for a non-profit that works with farmers – big farmers, small farmers, medium-size farmers, organic farmers, conventional farmers, livestock farmers, produce farmers, orchardists, etc., etc.
It’s hard work even if you use all the modern fancy machinery. And it can be so isolating if you don’t have a support network, which most farmers do but which the OP and her husband won’t.
Just the thought of her out there with this depressed man chills my heart.
Yes. I grew up with and around farmers and “homesteaders” who didn’t farm per se but who lived off the land, often with an eye to self-sufficiency/a self-sustaining lifestyle. (Not usually for environmental reasons–most of them were on the far opposite end of the political spectrum–but a surprising number of the principles are the same.) Many of them were capable to some degree or other of self-sufficiency, if only for the pragmatic reason that a bad summer brush fire or bad winter snowstorm might block the roads, stop the mail, or bring down the power, and often because they enjoyed putting up their own food for the winter, making their own clothes, raising all their own food, etc. They did it, for the most part, out of love and out of a strong sense of responsibility to the land–not necessarily in an environmental sense, but very often in the sense of “this land belonged to my father and my grandfather and I have to do right by it–and not sell it off.” Many of them would not have traded that lifestyle for anything.
But the thing that I observed most closely is how intensely wearying and difficult it was. It’s a job that doesn’t get holidays, not really–or if you do take them, you pay through the nose for the huge amount of labor you have to pay for while you take your vacation. If you’re having an off day, you have to find someone else to milk the goats or pick the strawberries, or they’ll suffer acutely or rot on the vine. The term I’d pick for my observation of a farming life is relentless. There are a lot of things in life that you can let go for a few days or even a few weeks and it’s more or less okay; I’ve had depressed period where I barely managed anything but the very basics of hygiene and takeout and it was okay, ish. Had I been a farmer, though–not so much. The weeds keep growing. The plants need to be harvested. The animals need to be tended, and are relying on you to do it. If you have the money, you can pay people to do some or all of that for you; if you have an extended family who is equally invested in the farm, they can cover for you. But it has to be done. It doesn’t stop.
(There’s a wonderful, IME accurate, funny/sad/insightful This American Life piece on this topic, called “Farm Eye for the Farm Guy,” in which a long-time farmer coaches a basically hobbyist farmer on what is required of them as a farmer… and in the end the hobbyist goes, “I would never have started if I’d known it was going to be this hard.” Only it’s clear from context that what he meant wasn’t so much “hard” as simply “continuous.”)
It can be a wonderful lifestyle. I have seen people who absolutely flourish and thrive living like that. But it is not a lifestyle for someone whose energy ebbs and flows, who may check out for days or weeks at a time, who works in spurts. It’s not just hard work, it’s relentless works. Even when your personal world is falling apart, the goats need to be fed, and the peas need to be watered, and the spring greens need to be picked at 5am or they’ll wilt on the stem. For people for whom farming is a soul-sustaining way of life, that continuousness is a comfort, a backbone to their days. But for other people it’s the setup for a tragedy, and LW, I’m afraid from your description that that’s where this will go for you and your husband.
Ooh, very well put, except that on bad days, I’d say farming is not so much continuous as relentless. 🙂
It makes me think of a Garrison Keillor quote that I cannot find right now – it’s from Lake Wobegon Days, I think. The farmer asks his late-teenage or early adult son why he didn’t do some chore or other, and the kid says that he couldn’t because he’s been depressed. And the farmer thinks something like, “Depressed? What does that have to do with anything? What does depression matter to the Holsteins?”
That’s farming for you. The goats, the strawberries and the Holsteins have to be tended no matter *what*.
This is a +1 to your “Holsteins” reply – my DH and I say the same things about the cats, it doesn’t matter if the grocery budget is low or you don’t have petrol to get to the cheap supermarket… you can’t just say to your animals, “sorry, couldn’t get more food, you’ll just have to eat less this week”. For some reason they don’t get it!
I also wanted to leave a quick comment assuming you want to farm as badly as he does, and that you know exactly how much work goes into it.
Please don’t invest in more than you can do yourself without burnout.
If you can tend X square feet of crops, and he assures you he can tend a non-zero Y square feet of crops, please only plant X, not X+Y.
If you can just manage a small farm by yourself using Acme irrigation system, but he wants the more labor intensive Green A.F. irrigation system, it’s not a bad thing to go with Acme. Your net impact will still be good.
Yes yes yes, especially since living on The Land–especially in Canada–can be so isolating, it’s so easy for relationships to go from bad to worse. In the city you have friends, doctors, therapists, jobs, movie theatres, buses, within easy reach. When you’re 5km from your nearest neighbour and you can always see and hear when anyone is approaching or leaving your house, and your spouse has your car or your car breaks down or you’re snowed in and the tractor won’t start (who am I kidding, a guy who worries about water in the kettle won’t buy a tractor to do snow–he’ll insist on clearing half a kilometre of road by hand) and the nearest Greyhound stop is 50km away and and the person you’re living with goes from “annoying” to “scary”–
Let’s just say, the worst calls on my crisis line were from rural women. My province (Alberta) will give people emergency funding to get a cab or a bus out of a violent home situation, even from rural areas, but not all provinces or territories will. And there were times where we had to figure out how to get a woman to the Alberta/Saskatchewan border to get her out of there.
This. Once they’re in the middle of nowhere, LW will find herself in a Canadian remake of The Shining.
My aunt started befriending the local deer. And she wasn’t even on a farm.
This was my thought as well. Living off the grid is extremely labor-intensive; we lived like that for a while when I was a kid, and both my parents (and all three of us kids) actively chose to participate. Farming is a LOT of work. Pumping and hauling water, and heating it on the wood stove–which you cut the wood for, by hand, and split by hand–is a lot of work. Even a lot of people who are enthusiastic about it can’t sustain it long-term, especially without a community of like-minded people. My parents couldn’t.
LW, this guy isn’t even willing to do the chores involved in regular life. There is no way that the vast majority of this extensive work won’t fall to you.
AMEN. I’m with the comedian who said his girlfriend described her family as really into camping, and he said every family was into camping until we invented the house.
Back to the land, locovore, ethical food raising are all good, solid, noble pursuits. But even the most hardcore vegan radical dumpster diver in a first world country probably is far less prepared than they think they are for actual off the grid, no structures living, especially alone or with only one other person. And when that other person is a long-term depressive whose response to challenges is “go to bed,” you’re screwed before you start.
This is one of my favorites of your answers. I see you RISING UP, Bringer of Truth and Justice and Clarity. Mistress of Unpicking Difficult Tangles! Queen of Sorting It Out So It Makes Sense!
Thanks for the kind words.
It’s easy for me – I don’t love him.
It’s easy for me – I don’t have years invested in him.
Untangling this is so very hard for the Letter Writer herself. She’s so astute at naming what’s going on, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard as hell. It’s gonna hurt.
LW, the main thing I hear is that he is forcing you to make your world smaller and smaller. You cannot eat these thing. You cannot wear those things. You cannot travel, you cannot do this, you cannot do that. And now, you cannot even make a cup of fucking tea without having a load of guilt and hostility heaped on your head.
That’s no way to live, and it won’t Save The World, either. (I _do_ so like the phrase “load bearing depression repository” – that concept makes so much sense.)
This very much sounds like a frog-in-boiling-water situation. Ask yourself, if you were single, would you want to get _into_ this relationship? He won’t change, and by the sound of it, things will get worse. Get out while you still like your husband.
Always gonna be reposting this Lauren Laverne article.
“What I remember most about emotional abuse is that it’s like being put in a box. How you end up in there is the biggest trick – I never managed to work that one out. Maybe you think it’s a treasure box at first: you’re in there because you’re special. Soon the box starts to shrink. Every time you touch the edges there is an “argument”. So you try to make yourself fit. You curl up, become smaller, quieter, remove the excessive, offensive parts of your personality – you begin to notice lots of these. You eliminate people and interests, change your behaviour. But still the box gets smaller. You think it’s your fault. The terrible, unforgivable too-muchness of you is to blame. You don’t realise that the box is shrinking, or who is making it smaller. You don’t yet understand that you will never, ever be tiny enough to fit, or silent enough to avoid a row”
That is an excellent article, and I have so, so been there. Something I wrote (couched in fairy-tale terms) when I was in a similar place:
Cramp down. Contract. Force it.
Draw the laces tighter,
cut off the offending pieces.
Shrink to fit this life, this prince,
but midnight comes, as it always does,
and those gossip-birds betray the truth,
the bronze clanging of a thousand tongues.
Tear off the mask from flinching eyes,
the savage beaks devouring sight.
Bite your tongue. You were born to this.
In the end, there is always blood in the shoe.
This is gorgeous and painful in its truthnes
Thank you ❤
I am, thankfully, years out of that situation, and immeasurably happier (even though I'm dealing with a lot of life stress, especially medical/lack of insurance issues, I'm no longer with a person who made me feel like *that.*)
Wonderful poem!! ❤
Thanks so much! ❤
Back to the land?!?
My father grew up on a dirt farm in the middle of nowhere in the early nineteen-hundreds, and he spent considerable effort getting out and staying out of the land.
He could not understand those who wished to go back to the land.
Don’t do it. .. if he really wants to do this tell him to apprentice himself to another back-to-the-land person or group for a full year.
Yes, if you’re planning on doing permaculture, etc, (and this goes for anyone, not just LW’s husband) it is definitely a great idea to do some WWOOFing or similar to dip your toe into the water, so to speak. The idea of self-sufficiency and the reality are two separate things.
I’ve done a LOT of WWOOFing (well, like 8 months/8 farms worth, anyway.) And I can still recognize that working as a volunteer on a farm is not a lot like starting and running your own farm. Great things about WWOOFing: you still have someone else giving you structure and explaining what to do if you run into a problem; you have a constantly rotating cycle of companionship; and — most importantly — you are not the person who is responsible for making the money and/or the balance of food work. Besides that, if something is dysfunctonal in the way the farm is running, you can get out of there posthaste. I have never stayed a full yearly cycle on any farm, so I know there is a ton of stuff I missed about how each crop needs to go into the ground/be maintained/be harvested/marketed/cooked/whatever.
So, like, I am DOUBLY skeptical that he can make a self-sufficient farm run. Liking the idea of farming doesn’t mean a person would like WWOOFing, and liking WWOOFing doesn’t even mean a person would like running their own farm.
Yeah, it’s not just about facing the reality of it, it takes SKILLS, and a LOT of them.
Yeah, I follow a LOT of permaculture folks on various social media and the one thing it has convinced me of is that perfect permie/farming-in-general orthodoxy is just not possible if you want to stay in a healthy place mentally and emotionally. It is HARD stuff. It doesn’t so much solve problems as it causes an entirely different, day-in, day-out set of problems to materialize and continue to be big and important — and if you go into it with your eyes wide open, it can work. I don’t see that as the LW’s partner’s perspective, though.
Yes, this, so much this. (Lots of dirt farmers in my family.)
There’s a fabulous line about this, in “Good Omens,” in which Pepper’s mother is described as taking about six months of commune life to discover, in precise and gross detail, exactly why so much of human history has been about getting as far away from nature as humanly possible.
I WAS JUST THINKING ABOUT THAT GOOD OMENS BIT! (squee!)
There’s a terrific book out there called The Good Old Days–They Were Terrible! that talks about the absolutely brutal, endless, witless round of drudgery and toil that was nineteenth century farm work, and one quote always stayed with me; a country girl who said she would never go back to the farm, and she would far sooner starve to death in The Town.
I’m an environmentalist. My thing is native plants. I live in an overgrown jungle of pollinator-friendly species. My husband is supportive of some slightly weird things–“So, we’re gonna burn this stretch with a flamethrower instead of mowing. Here’s your fire.” And I get grandiose schemes occasionally, to which he listens politely, and then injects the occasional necessary cold water–“We are not keeping chickens. I will name them all and cry when the coyotes eat them and I can’t handle that.”
Here’s the thing. Even though he rolls his eyes when I come back loaded down with obscure plants, even though he can’t tell autumn olive from autumn crocus, he is on Team Me. He brags about my projects. He tells the UPS guy about my prairie-plantings. He tells his parents. He tells his coworkers. We go to the hardware store and somebody tries to sell him a mower, he tells them that I tore out the lawn and put in gardens and he hasn’t mowed in years and isn’t that THE BEST THING?! He takes selfies with the flamethrower for burning and posts to the internet. (I mean, who wouldn’t?)
Because we’re, y’know, partners. If I need a hole dug, he grabs a shovel.
What your husband is doing is not active environmentalism, it’s just finding sticks to poke you with. You deserve someone who will grab a shovel for you, not one who will tell you it’s the wrong shovel and you’re holding it wrong and probably making the planet sad and if you REALLY were a good person, you’d dig the hole with your teeth. Screw that guy. Mulch him (metaphorically) and go make a garden of your own where you can save your little chunk of world and drink a damn cocktail at the end of the day.
I don’t know if I believe in the Gaia hypothesis, I’m not entirely sure if the earth has a soul, but I’m damn sure that if it does, it doesn’t get any benefit out of you making yourself miserable.
This, this, this!
I love this site for reminding me when the things I long for should be basic rights, when I’m being unreasonable and when things are a symptom of something deeper. Phrases like “You must be this awesome to ride” and telling me that it’s OK to have an eye on the long-term and that it’s OK to maintain things until I’m ready to change them. People who understand the intensity of that longing for a room of your own where no-one is critiquing or observing and your shoulders can come down from around your ears.
Probably my favourite things of all time though are the Green Flags for relationships, and RedWombat’s post here is so covered in them it looks like a festive emerald hedgehog.
When I was going away for work for a week and my partner bugged me for that watering lesson so he could look after my new garden for me properly, that’s one. When my other partner saw me in an unanchored, anxious mode and had learned that comforting wouldn’t work, but encouraged me to rearrange the furniture because he knows controlling and improving my environment helps me, that’s another. Even when they’re baffled by my motivations (and I theirs!) that thread of support, encouragement, and gentle sanity injection is what a good relationship can be. I don’t hear any green flags in your letter and my heart aches for you.
LW, I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said beautifully already, but you count! By every small green shoot on this enormous dirtball you count! Believe him, believe his behaviour, and believe that you deserve to be happy.
This is so true – and also sounds super interesting.
Do you want to be that degree of environmentally conscience? From your letter I get he wanted to live off the land, he wants to reduce his footprint, he wants to conserve to the highest extent possible. What do you want? Do you want to make your own clothes? Do you want to grow your own food? Stop thinking about his needs and wants and start thinking of your own. If he has been your top priority for a while that could be hard to do, but you have to take care of yourself and do what you need to be happy.
and watch out for the “but I *should* want to save the environment” thoughts, that’s the bees talking. 😉
I’m not sure he even wants to reduce his own footprint, it sounds as if LW is doing most of the work to manage this guy’s idealism for him. It’s not that he wants to do his bit to save the planet, as he wants the planet to be saved around him – and he’s delegated that sense of responsibility to his spouse.
I wonder how much of this Green stuff is just to give him and his anxiety a non-mental-health reason why he Can’t Do Things. I know I, in the past, put off things that scared me, like learning to drive, by insisting that it would be too environmentally harmful to run a car anyway. High achievers often flounder and fail to find a direction after school, so they can end up in a knot with themselves, where it’s safer to do nothing than to invest in a “wrong” career path. (source: Esther Greenwood describing her future as a fig tree in The Bell Jar, which I empathise with on a personal level). And logically, the only way to be totally carbon-neutral is to do literally nothing (except die and turn into compost).
The only solution to this is self-awareness and, in my case, a huge kick up the bum in the form of my circumstances changing and forcing me to fend for myself. I’m doing pretty well, and so is the partner who chose not to put up with my brain-weasels.
If he finds WOOFing “too hard”, he is not going to find it any easier to run his own homestead, and it’s 100% unrealistic for him to aspire to this level of Green living without a huge increase in effort on his part.
I know firsthand how draining depression and anxiety can be, but without the will to get better, there comes a point where it’s indistinguishable from bone-idleness.
LW, you remind me of the Little Red Hen who makes her own bread. It’s not unreasonable that you should be willing to share the fruits of your labours only with someone who helped you do the work.
If you want to live that life, then I wish you all the best in finding a partner who will give their best effort towards your shared goals, and who will enjoy the challenge of homesteading together. (But it is 100% ok to decide not to live your life on Hard Mode!)
Unless Husband can be persuaded to change a lot of his parameters for “success” in life, I don’t see much chance of saving this relationship, and since that’s the job of the therapist he refuses to see, there’s not really anything you can do. I’m sorry, LW – you’ve done your best.
Interesting thought on using Green stuff as reason why he Can’t Do Things. I sometimes wonder if I make certain choices to limit options and reduce anxiety around decision-making…mainly becoming a vegetarian. My menu choices are super limited and I rarely have to suffer the anxiety around which thing to get re:cost because the vegetarian option is never the priciest.
There were other reasons for it but this one is really interesting.
‘It’s not that he wants to do his bit to save the planet, as he wants the planet to be saved around him – and he’s delegated that sense of responsibility to his spouse.’
YES. All the this. This sums it up beautifully in one sentence.
Dear Can’t get any greener;
First of all: sorry if my English sounds old fashioned and quirky. It is not my native language, but I simply felt I _had_ to answer, to send hugs and greetings from the far, far north where the vikings once lived.
Like The Captain said, you do sound tired, but no wonder: you have clearly done so very, very much. When reading your text I got a feeling that I have experienced something similar in a relationship: a spouse’s constant worry about climate change and human rights – but he was not ready to do anything about it; instead he blamed me. I cannot know exactly what you have gone through, probably no-one can, but you are not alone in your situation.
You are clearly a wonderwul, capable and caring human being – but to me it sounds like you need care and kindness now. I wish I lived somewhere close to you (sadly, I do not): I would love to invite you over for tea and talk about plants and agriculture and whatever you are interested about. I believe I am not alone with this feeling: there must be people who feel like this closer to you. In your text you did not tell much about friends so I was wondering how are you faring on that departement. I wonder if there could be some friends with whom you could feel loved and happy, if even just for a moment. Having someone like you as a friend would be a dream come true to many people.
I am sad to say, that you are not the only one with anxiety issues and panic disorder, I have those, too – and so do many, many others. I have received lots of help from therapy – and from friends in the same situation and family members. I wonder if you could find a support group and give it a try.
You deserve to be loved, taken care of and appreciated for the fine human being you are. Take this from a person specialized in organic agricultural biology and nature conservation: what you do is enough. You are enough – or in fact more than enough. You are great.
Your husband is an adult humang being responsible for his own feelings and his own actions and it is clear he is not treating you with the respect you deserve. Divorcing him will probably not be easy; there are tons of feelings involved and it takes time to get through it. For me, though, it was a great thing, although initially it felt like hell. Therapy and a support group helped me a lot and I got through it and got lucky. I met a biologist and we share a huge deal of common interests. For years now he has treated me with utmost respect and love. When I look back at my life now I am happy for my divorce.
One more thing: finding one’s true passion can often be overrated. In my experience just getting to know new things and studying and putting one’s energy creates the interest, not the other way around. Of course getting positive feedback from others and being appreciated means a huge deal. Whatever happens to your husband is in his hands; he is responsible for himself.
Do you have any activities that give you satisfaction and happiness, ones that you can do almost everywhere? For me it was crocheting and knitting, but it can be anything: singing, dancing… Having an own activity which brings happiness to the bleak moments helps.
Take care (especially of yourself).
“I wonder if there could be some friends with whom you could feel loved and happy, if even just for a moment. Having someone like you as a friend would be a dream come true to many people.”
^^^ This for sure, this times one thousand. You are clearly a kind person, LW, and there are many people who would value your friendship. Please try to find them!
(I’m thinking the Friends of Captain Awkward forums might be a place to start.)
Nothing to add, but this is such a fantastically wise and compassionate comment.
1. This is a good comment and you should feel good
2. Your writing style is quite beautiful and you have no need to apologise.
Thank you so much for your kind words! It was my first comment, but I have been following the Captain for years now and I just wanted to begin giving something back since I have so often found solace in the answers found here. Also the LW’s situation so closely reminded me of my own situation some years ago.
After I wrote my comment I began thinking about the dream of a farm the LW described. Since agriculture, especially plant production is my field of expertise I have also had this constant dream of a farm. I especially dream of sheep (the non-electric type)… But back to LW’s farm dream: having a farm is often very hard work and considering the descrioption of her husband I fear all the work would fall on her. To me the dream of having a farm is a good and healthy one, but is this the right person to have a farm with? Could there be someone who perhaps already has a farm?
I live way up north on the area where farming is getting very hard because of the long cold winters but even here there are many people interested in agriculture and environment – and especially in the field of insect study they are mostly male. There are plenty of nature oriented friendly human shaped fish in the sea… land… Uh, I hope you know what I mean. It might take a bit time to find a nice one, but is there any rush? Besides, as long as one’s needs are fulfilled, living alone is also a good choise. There are so many good options for a capable person like LW. Life takes peculiar twists and turns and sometimes one does not get to choose – and sometimes there are a huge amount of options. To me it looks very promising that LW decided to write her letter to the Captain, to seek help and advice. I hope she feels how much she is appreciated here and cared for. Dear LW, I believe that here you already have people who are willing to stand by you. I believe that whatever you decide there will people around you, people who see what a great human being you are.
One other thing, too: it is clearly in your nature that you flourish when taking care of someone else. I understand that very well, too; I was not really raised to that, but it forms a big chunk of who I am. So far you have been taking care of your husband, but it seems clear that he is only dragging you down. The need ot take care of something or someone does not simply go away, so maybe that is one thing you need to think about. Could you fullfill that need with someone or something else? For me it was volunteering in an organization which helps rescue animals; nowadays we foster homeless kittens but it can be anything, really. Give yourself time to find something which makes you feel good, too.
Warm virtual hugs from the far north.
Convallaria Majalis, oh my, what a beautiful response – so wise and supportive! Your English is excellent, please don’t feel you need to apologise for anything.
Among the many great observations you made, this one especially stood out to me:
“finding one’s true passion can often be overrated. In my experience just getting to know new things and studying and putting one’s energy creates the interest, not the other way around.”
This is so very true, in my experience also, but I have never before realised it until you said it so well. Thank you for sharing your valuable insight, that will stay with me!
Oh, thank you, BetterInGreen! I have had to experience that the hard way: I had to give up my long time professional dream because of health issues which were completely out of my control. It truly sucks – but after being at loss of what I wanted to do with my life I ended up on my current speciality and I love it.
I have known so many people who have had to give up their dreams for different reasons and everyone of them have found a passion for something else.
Of course if one does have a burning passion and possibilities to pursue that passion it is often a good choice to do so, but so many people do not. Besides how many teenagers even really know what kind of work there will be in 5 or 10 years?
Oh LW, I was you once. And I know it’s so hard to move on, especially because you’ve been through so many career pivots and life pivots and pivot-pivot-pivots with your husband. It’s hard to realize deep within yourself that The One True Pivot of Happiness is never getting closer.
I have depression myself, and though I hate when people are like “just do some yoga!”, it’s true that I have to want to be better. I have to want to be better by taking my medication regularly and doing healthy things for myself like exercise, eating regularly + as healthily I can manage at the time, going to bed at a reasonable hour etc. These are all part of my personal happiness quotient. If I do all these things to the best of my ability and I am still depressed? That is not a failure. If I find it really hard to do some/all of the things sometimes? That’s not a failure. But if I do nothing at all and don’t even try, and make it a defining characteristic in my life that I never even try, well. Let’s just say it’s not a symptom of depression to totally abdicate responsibility for your own life.
LW, your husband is not JUST depressed. He has made you responsible for his happiness. That’s an untenable relationship situation.
My now-ex husband was exactly the same, down to the patterns of “I can’t take it I’m leaving”/”Wait I can be just a smidge better for like one second then stop” cycle.
You will never:
– Find a “passion” for him. He wants a job that fills the hole in his soul, for want of a better metaphor. No such thing exists.
– Convince him to take care of himself in the ways he needs to (and you need him to, for your own mental health). That has to come from within, and I feel confident that you’ve invested enough years in this that your experiment in “can he change?” is over now.
– Fix his Micromanager of Earth Caring status. He straight up told you he would always be like this. Believe him.
The reason you cannot do any of these things is because you can’t be his happiness or orchestrate it without his involvement. And he has proven to you, over and over, that does not want to be involved. He wants you to be the Architect of My Latest Harebrained Scheme and the Perfect Enforcer of All My Spoken and Unspoken Desires and NO. NO. Fuck that shit. Fuck it.
You deserve more. You ARE more. What do YOU want? Go get it. And leave this guy behind.
This is uncanny to read because apart from literally three of the specific details, it’s my ex. I wrote this after reading the Captain’s reply (the bit about not being begrudged water made me tear up), and now I’m flabbergasted after reading down through the comments and seeing so many similar situations. I thought it was his very, very own special weirdness. Anyway, here’s another data point for the pile of wrong.
My ex also claimed to have lofty environmental convictions, but the one and only way they manifested was as a stick to beat me with. He did nothing himself, just criticised things I did on the basis that they were either not helping right or enough (eg buying green products, going to protests) or environmentally unfriendly (and here there were endless opportunities for household behaviour-policing). For instance, every day on his lunch break he would buy a newspaper and a sandwich in a plastic bag, eat most but crucially not all of the sandwich, bring the bag home and drop it on our bedroom floor, where it would get lost in a morass of stuff (some of which was mine, I admit, but it was mostly his). When I would try to unearth and throw out all the plastic bags, he would tell me they were perfectly good plastic bags and I was destroying the planet. This was obviously the most egregious nonsense, but he was such a grand master at guilt-tripping me by then that it did sting when he said it (alongside the impotent rage). He also once stuck me with his share of an enormous gas bill, which I had to go into expensive debt to pay, because he objected ‘on principle’ to our housemate drying her laundry on the radiators.
The point of all this is that in retrospect his environmental guilt-tripping clearly had zero to do with principles or ethics, and everything to do with feeling that at least he could control one little bit of his world because he couldn’t or wouldn’t control anything else. It was part of a more general pattern of control where he had me doing all the housework, cooking and laundry and paying half his rent, and he would do stuff like waking me up early in the morning to find his shoes (which were invariably sitting in full view in the hall or the living-room).
When I finally left him I felt like someone had turned gravity way down, and then I felt like I’d miraculously escaped a death sentence for several solid years after that. I would burst out laughing in the street with delight that I wasn’t there any more. I hope you do the same, and feel the same way (it’s awesome, I highly recommend it). I send love.
And THANK YOU for ‘load-bearing depression repository’, which is going straight into the bag of useful head-kit. ❤
I am in awe at partially-eaten-sandwich-on-floor-somehow-it’s-your-fault Guy. Just, awe. If there were a March Madness Bracket of Captain Awkward That Fucking Guys, he would be a contender in it. So glad you’re free.
*blushes* Thank you. (It was like the anti-Sandwich of Love, now I think about it.)
I didn’t know I wanted this until I saw it written. But like, is there even any point, because we all know the winner is “makes my girlfriend pee in the kitchen sink” guy.
But what about “picking up broken glass makes you sheeple” guy?
Broken Glass Guy?
Plus sandwich guy, sink-pee guy… surely there’s a fourth and we’re good to go!
Links! I need links! These are clearly the spiritual kin of Tomato Nation’s I Stole A Can Of Tomatoes!
It’s Cute When I Don’t Let You Sleep guy?
Somewhere in the comments in one of the questions about this specific breed of man, there was a guy who only had one bath towel, so whenever his girlfriend stayed over she had to dry herself with this one damp dirty towel, and when she brought over her OWN TOWEL to alleviate this problem, he just absorbed it into the mess of filthy towels in his workshop. He’s not on the same level of Broken Glass Guy and Toilet Hogging Guy, but I think about him often and feel happy that the commenter in question escaped that relationship.
I dunno, “I’m so opposed to social norms that I won’t clean up broken glass” guy is also a strong contender, and for some reason I’ve never been able to forget “I only date women with perfect asses” dude.
I’d like to see a deathmatch between him and Too Much of a Rationalist to Sweep Up Broken Glass Guy, though.
What if they were somehow the same guy? Doesn’t bear thinking about.
Sink pee guy?!?!?! OHHHH HELLL NOOOO
Scroll all the way down this thread to The Goldfish’s comment and you will find a Teaspoons Guy who made the hair on my arms stand on end with pure rage.
There was a reality show called “Tool Academy” a while back and its one flaw was that the dude’s partners were not given assistance in breaking up with these dudes while they were all stuck in the same house with each other.
Oh my God, can we make it a Death Match? And the victor gets a piano dropped on them?
Eight men enter. No one leaves. We all win.
That should be the season finale of this “Tool Academy” show of which the Captain speaks!
“I felt like someone had turned gravity way down”
I love this. Love love love. I hope to get to this point someday 😦
I’m sorry, I know this is a minor point, but I cannot get over dude buying wasteful paper and plastic products on the regular and making someone else the wasteful one. Like, there are a half dozen other things wrong with the sandwich bag scenario, but it’s ridiculous before the trash even crosses the threshold.
God, these guys have so many projection issues they should work in a movie theater.
Oh god, exactly. I tried to persuade him to get a reusable bag, but he dug his heels in for ages (because it might look like a HANDBAG! Fuck the planet, performative masculinity trumps everything), finally gave in and got one, and within about a week contrived to break the zip so badly it was unusable and he was back to plastic bags the next day.
+1 to this! It really sounds like the LW’s husband deals with his anxiety about not being in control of his life, by controlling his wife. And keeps finding new passion projects in order to avoid addressing his real problems. “What I REALLY want to do is live off the land!” is a much more comfortable story than “Everything I try to do fails because I mostly haven’t addressed my mental health issues which I can’t bear to think about because it would disturb my image of myself as a confident upstanding individual.”
He isn’t being evil on purpose, but the Captain is right to focus on how his abusive and controlling behaviour affects the LW, and on the fact that if it hasn’t changed by now, it probably never will.
I don’t think my ex was half the blob your husband is, but carrying his baggage drove me to a complete breakdown. Breakdowns are not fun. They’re not the “rise from the ashes better and stronger” inspiration porn we see in pop culture. They are heart-breaking, soul-destroying experiences that take years – Decades – to recover from.
Please don’t stay. Please leave this man-blob. Please don’t drive yourself to a complete breakdown. Save yourself that time and energy to start fresh and free somewhere else. Blobless.
“Breakdowns are not fun. They’re not the “rise from the ashes better and stronger” inspiration porn we see in pop culture. They are heart-breaking, soul-destroying experiences that take years – Decades – to recover from.”
Thank you for this.
Three years out of my abusive, decades long marriage and I am still going to therapy/ recover for four hours every week. Sometimes I feel like I am so broken, I will never recover. Sometimes I feel like I am making a big deal out of nothing and I beat myself with the “What are you so upset about? Other people have had it much worse” stick.
Thank you for the reminder that I am not alone on my looong journey of recovery.
Pop culture has a lot to answer for.
*fistbump of solidarity*
You deserve better than him. Even if you are single for the rest of your life, you deserve you being better.
Once a human being is an adult, whatever happened in their childhood is something for them to deal with, solve, get therapy for etc.
Expecting you to be the 100% adult for 2 people, while he is choosing (yes, he obviously is now making the choice to be this dysfunctional), to be a 40% adult (or less).
Walk away, run away, leave him before you lose yourself entirely.
You deserve better than him.
Fill the kettle! Have a 20 minute shower! Go crazy.
Another question to ask yourself:
If you asked the pre-marriage, pre-relationship you if they wanted to sign up for the current relationship deal you have now, would that person take it?
Wow. Just, wow. I was just going to comment on the whole career jumping thing, it reminded me of my bouts of teenage depression where I tried moving and fixing things around the house and I was never satisfied with anything. I haven’t done that in years considering that a) I have more energy and emotional bandwidth and b) activities to fill me up; but I wouldn’t have ever reached this point if I and others around me hadn’t noticed what a drag I was becoming and getting my butt into therapy.
LW, I want to stand up and cheer for you, I really do. Because despite the love you obviously have for this man, despite the fact that environmental responsibility is clearly your shared passion, despite the fact that your parents conditioned you to be an caretaker/enabler, you _see_ how obviously bad this situation is. You haven’t let the Lorax gaslight you into groveling over half cups of teapot water and erasing yourself little by little to appease his depression and anxiety.
You obviously love this man. but you love you more. And that’s awesome.
I’m sure that your husband’s behavior does stem from depression and anxiety and a horrible childhood. That doesn’t mean that he’s not using it to abuse and control you. No matter what happens, the environment will never be fixed to a degree that he will ever stop measuring your water use or counting your toilet paper usage by the square. Because the point isn’t the environment, the point is the control. And he does not get to wear wonderful, awesome you down to a nub in the service of being his anxiety pacifier.
I’ve noticed that there’s a certain type of person who gloms onto wonderful, important causes like climate change, or immigration reform, or LGTBQ rights, not because of the value of the cause itself, but as a way to boost their ego while simultaneously manipulating the people around them by being the most passive-aggressively passionate activist-martyr EVER. This may or may not be who your husband is, but he’s certainly unlocked a few achievements in this area.
I’m sending you good thoughts across the internet, LW, and hoping that sooner, rather than later, when the Lorax tells you he speaks for the trees and you’re using too much water, you’ll tell him that the trees told him not to let the door hit him in the ass on the way out.
You obviously love this man. but you love you more. And that’s awesome.
SO MUCH THIS. Love yourself enough to GTFO.
❤ ❤ ❤
Dear LW, there is nothing you can do which will get your husband to give up his obsessions. Even leaving him may not do that. Let me tell you the infamous Story Of The Bread.
My ex-husband used to insist that all of our bread – whether it was $1 a loaf supermarket rubbish or freshly baked artisanal loaves – be kept in the freezer so it wouldn’t go stale and end up being thrown out, and we were expected to take it out slice by slice as needed. Not even our marriage counsellor’s suggestion that maybe he could consider letting me keep my own bread in the cupboard and be responsible for it myself, and that even if some of it went stale it wasn’t the end of the world, could persuade him to relax his iron grip on the idea of The Right Way To Store Bread.
Fast forward 10 years. We are long since divorced. My 20 year old daughter is back temporarily living with him. She told me that she keeps a secret stash of bread in her bedroom.
The fact that we were both on 6-figure incomes while this was going on was a bit of a giveaway that this was never about wasting money, or bread going stale, or food being thrown out. It was about control, pure and simple.
I second the advice to get expert help for yourself by way of a supportive group of friends, and therapy. It took me several years of intensive therapy and a suicide attempt before I worked out that things were never going to change and I should just leave, so I really do understand how difficult it can be to come to that decision, but please – look after yourself. Leave him and build your own free and wonderful life. Boil a kettle full to the brim with water and toast your freedom in freshly brewed tea. Put your cup in your dishwasher afterward. Hell, run the dishwasher with just that one cup in it every now and again just because you can.
Thank you for the Story of the Bread. I’m glad you’re free and that your daughter has figured out to just go around him to get what she needs.
That is all.
Bread In The Freezer Guy and Leftover Sandwiches On The Floor Guy should try living together.
As a third roommate, maybe Pees In Glasses And Leaves Them Next To The Sofa Guy.
We could tell perfect asses guy we found a house with three of them living together and it wouldn’t be complete without him…
I came from a family that groomed me for caretaking. I grew up with a constant background roar of anxiety – which I assumed was normal but I now see is the natural result of being made responsible for other people in ways I could never fulfil.
Right now, I am practicing noticing when anxiety arrives. Instead of trying to battle it/overcome it/reason with it, I just mentally say hello to it. I tune into my body and where my body feels tense. It helps me take my emotional temperature and tune into what I need. Sometimes it turns out I am hungry, lonely, tired, sad, angry and I didn’t know because I was too busy fending off anxiety.
A therapist once told me that the painful thing about leaving abusive relationships is that you reach a still silent point where you know it’s untenable. And you can’t go back to pretending you don’t know it’s untenable. That realisation hurts. It provokes anxiety. I have found that knowing also contains this kernel of incredible strength. It is the spark of a new life. But it aches in the beginning. I wanted to send you a hug and say, if you’re hurting and anxious, that’s ok. Be gentle toward your hurting self if you can. If you can’t, find someone you trust who can nurture you.
I’m rooting for you.
YES to everything here. Thank you, A safer tree.
Let me tell you something. I’ve been sewing all my life. My mother sewed, my sisters sewed, my aunt sewed, my grandmother sewed. I know from sewing. You come in here and tell me not to pre-shrink the fabric before sewing on it and I will preshrink that shit on your head.
It might seem like a tiny thing but it encompasses everything else. He thinks he knows better than you. You’ll never be perfect. And you really won’t be perfect when the clothes shrink after you make them. There’s a famous efficiency expert from the 1950s who developed algorithms to test when you’ve reach maximum efficiency. It’s not when there’s no waste. It’s when further attempts to reduce waste will certainly fail, thereby creating other types of waste. You’ve reached that.
Now go enjoy your life and let this guy do whatever he’s gonna do. Otherwise you’ll be punished and nickeled and dimed and critiqued to within an inch of your life until nothing feels fun anymore and you start to believe you’re a loser. Don’t you fall for it, my fellow fabric preshrinker! You’re doing it right. Now get the hell out of there and carry on doing things right.
And what if you use two different pieces of fabric in the same garment, and they shrink differently?
Sewing hackles raised.
LW, I felt terrible for you reading your letter. Sounds like he’s just making your life harder with little plus sides. And he doesn’t seem to care too much.
Mechanical engineers are in a perfect position to help save the earth. Sounds like he just cbf.
Btw, energy to boil two cups of water is about 380 W, depending on your kettle efficiency and how cold your water is. That’s about 0.0001 kilowatt hours. Depending where you live, that’s $2.50 per year, approximately.
If we’re being really really generous, putting an extra half cup in the kettle costs about 50 cents a year. I cannot be fucked tracking back to figure out the carbon footprint of that extra half cup, but I doubt it’s terribly big.
He’s an engineer. Tell him to prove the washer is less efficient. Make. Him. Prove it.
If he wants to cut down carbon footprints, tell him to get off his arse and preshrink your fabric himself.
This is funny to think about, Mechanical Engineer, but IRL he would: multiply 1/2 cup by all the teakettles in the world to show total savings if everyone did it; eventually agree about the dishwasher, but then configure the most efficient way to load it, which would involve every dish in the house; and mutter that pre-shrunken fabric is a mere worldly vanity while figuring a way to shrink it somewhat, but not quite enough.
Fun fact: Britain has back up power sources in France, and every evening, they have to fall back on them to power the kettles that go on during tv ad breaks, for a mid soap-opera cuppa.
The power to completely devastate England lies in the hands of the French.
Anyway, yes, that shows that if everyone reduced it would help. But you cannot police people and make them do it. And of course, it’s not about a cup of tea, it’s big picture, which this guy clearly doesn’t really care about.
I was gonna suggest he do an energy audit as a project to give him something to do and to cut down arguments, but I realize that would jusy lead to him nitpicking about everything, while still doing nothing.
‘You didn’t turn X appliance, that only you use because I’m a lazy shit, off at the wall! Stop turning the lights on at night, you can use the bathroom in the dark! Stop flushing! Cold showers only! This doesn’t affect me because I pee in a bottle and don’t shower.’
You don’t mention friends or a Team You. I’ve been trying to fight climate change for over 10 years now and I would co-sign what hummingbear says above about how despair and anxiety are an occupational hazard – the problem is just so overwhelming and unfixable that it’s easy to go into a despair spiral or fixate on the unimportant things. Your friends and the other people in your life can make this either better or worse. Someone who’s environmentally aware and “gets” climate change and is also a well-adjusted person can help you get perspective on the stuff that might otherwise be crazy-making. A small example: when my green-minded friend’s boiler broke during a cold autumn and she complained about having no heating or hot water, a surprising number of people were sneery about it: if you care so much about reducing fuel bills surely you’ll be happy to live in an unheated home and wash in cold water, right? The sneering was actually coming from our non-green friends and I think it was about guilt at their own resource-intensive lives – they wanted to frame her choices as impossible so they could justify doing nothing themselves – but the treatment was the same as you’re getting from your partner: she was basically being gaslighted into thinking she didn’t deserve basic human comforts. She got perspective by talking to me and others who “get” the climate change thing. We all reassured her that yes, you can have a reasonable carbon footprint and still get to wash and be warm! I agree with the Captain that your husband’s behaviour is 99% not really about the environment, but could you seek out more friends who live environmentally sustainable lifestyles and use them as a reality check? I think you need some bona fide “green” people on Team You. Maybe nothing will make any difference to your husband, but it would give you reassurance that his behaviour is unreasonable, unacceptable and not really about the environment.
Well said, gryphon!
I do not really know whether I get climate change or not – it is a hugely complex thing and affects different areas of the earth in unexpected ways, but what gryphon said is very true – and to me it sounds like the LW could really use a friend or friends like gryphon.
The LW is already a vegan and she recycles etc. There is only so much a single human being can do and the LW seems to already be doing so much. Forcing oneself to truly suffer from living without heating (where I live in that would mean death) is unnecessary and cruel. I wish everyone using their worry for the climate change as a weapong of psychological violence would have someone like gryphon; maybe a miniature gryphon sitting on their shoulder and assuring them calmly.
The sheer amount of problems in the world is too much for any one person – and it is doubly wrong to add up that pile by using all that glum worry to control someone else, someone who cares and is already doing everything they can.
You (plural) are awesome. You are enough.
Thank you! I wish I had the power to transform into a miniature gryphon so I could sit on people’s shoulders and flap away their head-weasels.
“You’re worried that he won’t make it without you, but he will.”
So I’m not sure what the point of this advice is? For one, it’s not true, in that a nonzero number of people do not “make it” after their SOs ditch them; and for two, whether or not the husband survives the death of the relationship was never the LW’s responsibility in the first place.
I think it’s that our society produces a lot of apparently helpless dudes who, as soon as they don’t have a significant other to outsource all their responsibilities to, almost magically develop e.g. the required housework skills needed to function on their own. Of course a few crash rather dramatically at first, but in general they sort themselves out enough to function day-to-day. Some learn their lesson and shape up long term, but for others it’s just until they find another girlfriend and what do you know, they suddenly can’t handle even the mildest of responsibilities again.
Like, LW’s husband was presumably able to cope day-to-day before she met him. It sounds like he’s capable of managing himself, he just doesn’t want to while she’s there to do it for him. And if he’s not capable, then he needs help that LW cannot provide.
It’s definitely not the LW’s responsibility but I’m guessing that the LW has so internalized the idea that it is her responsibility that she needs to hear this loudly, over and over. Even after it sinks through. And maybe I’m projecting but I doubt the LW’s Captain Planet WannaBe will be one of the nonzero people who don’t make it after their SO finally says “enough.” I’d bet my watch, my car, my phone, and my laptop that Mr. Dawn Schaefer In An AU will definitely find another person to hoodwink into his drama.
Now I’m going to turn on all the lights in the house and run a hot bath while imagining that it’s making Tomato Sauce Jack’s Asshole Brother* apoplectic with rage because that is the type of petty, vindictive bitca I am. LW, I am more than happy to kick your husband out of your life for you, for free.
*I’m telling you, LW’s husband is definitely the environmentally-conscious version of the guy in the 2nd letter here: http://tomatonation.com/vine/the-vine-september-19-2001/
Tomato Sauce Jack: #neverforget
He and the LW’s husband can go live off the land together, with their stolen tomatoes and tea kettle metrics!
“And excuse me for just a moment here, but — ‘striking a blow for human rights’? ‘STRIKING A BLOW FOR HUMAN RIGHTS’? Oh, but of course! Let’s hoist Jack up on our shoulders for stealing a can of fucking tomatoes, shall we? Jack, a hero for our times!”
I’m laughing so hard that I had to go close my office door. Thank you for this glorious gift.
If you think Tomato Sauce Jack is awesome, go to the “search” function on Tomato Nation and type in “ren faire douchebag”. When you get the link, it’s third letter down.
He sounds charming!
Oh, and “accidentally raised a bobcat!”
Oh lordy…I don’t know if I love you all or hate you all for introducing me to yet another advice column, but Jack and the Ren Faire Douchebag have me sobbing with laughter.
There he is! The Infamous Jack!
So fucking funny!
Whether or not it is actually her responsibility, the LW may well *feel* responsible. I’ve been in that situation in a relationship, where I genuinely believed at the time that my now-Ex wouldn’t have anywhere to live if we didn’t live together.
Especially since the LW describes herself as being socialized to be extremely caretaking, in the short term it is likely easier for her to accept that things will work out for her now-husband than it would be to accept that she was never responsible for him in the first place.
LW, I feel for you, as a lot of what you say about your ex feels familiar (complaining and having goals but doing nothing about either, passive-aggressively dumping the housework on you) and I also have been on the overzealous environmentalist path your future ex is on and it felt painful to see myself there.
First, for you: I promise that as difficult and painful as it might be, if you leave, two years from now you will be, like me, glad for how immeasurably better your life is. You think it’s bad now, and it is, but it will look so much worse in the rear-view mirror. When you find better situations in life, everything you view in your relationship now as ok you might see as not ok, what you think now is kinda bad turns to very bad, what you see as very bad turns to super shitty, etc.
Second, for anyone reading about that guy and wondering if they could turn into him. What helped me not micromanage my now-former partner and treat people better in the present was a combination of:
— therapy and meds improving my overall outlook and helping me learn compassion and self-forgiveness
— adjusting my perspective to the bigger picture. You could take 15 minutes to recycle or 15 minutes to call your elected officials: the second one has the potential to be more effective than the first.
— realizing that I had not escaped being micromanaging like my mother: I’d just moved it to a realm that mattered to me
— realizing that all of this micro-household level behavior was both a) a product of cultural influences in our society that tell us our individual consumer actions are the most important to avoid disrupting capitalism and b) a product of me channeling my anxiety over an unfulfilled career dream to do something that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As I started moving myself towards that career and as I started thinking about collective action and talking about collective action with others, my micro-household level behavior and anxiety eased.
— LW sounds like they do a good job of not being dismissive or condescending or contemptful of his beliefs, just his behavior. But in my case, no longer being with someone who was all of those things to me eased everything. Nothing like being condescended to to make a person more anxious and double-down on their behavior.
[I say “for anyone fearing they could be that guy” because LW doesn’t need to do anything more for him, and he’s not going to read this. But other people like me are probably reading this letter and seeing a twinge of self-identification.]
*I wish the divorce were final because then I’d use the commenting handle that matches my Twitter handle instead of my LW handle.
I can’t wait for your update about how much happier you are, LW700, once the divorce is final! 🙂
A few people have touched on this, but I wanted to say it more plainly (and Captain, please feel free to delete if you think it’s uncool in any way.)
Your husband is actively using his environmental concerns as a blind to control YOU. Only you. He is not actively working to minimise his own overall footprint on the world; he is not actively trying to address any specific issue he could reasonably have an impact on; he is not actively taking steps to improve his health even though you have directly stated on many occasions that it has an effect on you.
I repeated the word ‘actively’ there for a reason: his actions are letting you know what his priorities are. I understand that he has mental health issues, and that mental health generally and depression specifically can have a massive impact on one’s ability to Be Places and Do Things. (Please believe me… I do understand.) But it’s interesting that he never seems to run out of the energy that allows him to police you and criticize you and do *just* enough *just* often enough to convince you to give him another chance. And it’s interesting that for all that he demands and requires (not asks, demands and requires) that you accommodate his mental health issues, he never seems to have room to accommodate yours.
From everything you have said, it reads to me like he has created a situation wherein you can’t reject his controlling, demanding actions because THE ENVIIIIIIIRONMENNNNNNNT!!!!!!1!!!1!!. He has managed to design the most perfect defense: I can’t possibly be mistreating you because all of these things I’m controlling/policing/demanding/requiring are in service of a cause greater than all of us… and BTW, it’s a cause SO huge and SO broad and SO fundamentally out of any one person’s control that you are never, ever, ever going to be good enough because you can’t fix a problem that’s been in place since at least the Industrial Revolution and has stumped generations of even the best-intentioned and best-resourced humans so far.
I say this not to make you or anyone else reading it feel overwhelmed. I say this because your husband seems to think that he CAN fix it… by demanding that you justify how many cups of tea you make in a given day.
He has told you that he doesn’t ever see himself changing. And why should he? His mistreatment of you – and that it is what it looks like to me – has the perfect cover. He never has to admit it to you, or to himself, or to anyone else. He’s just trying to save the planet and this is how he has chosen to set about doing it. If you disagree, you are a Bad Person who is selfish and materialistic and doesn’t Get It. That may be his mental illness talking, but that doesn’t make it ok either – you don’t have to stay in a relationship with someone who is too sick to treat you well, especially if he is continuing to make choices that don’t support his own mental health.
You have worked hard, LW. Too hard. You deserve a safer, healthier life than this.
at the behest of one of my mental health providers, I did a bunch of reading on narcissism. One of the formats of narcissism is to use a cause is for the narcissist to obtain their narcissistic supply seemingly in service of a CAUSE, and then, when the other individuals in their family/friendgroup/other relationships try to draw boundaries, the narcissist can use the CAUSE to browbeat the family/friends/others back in line. Not saying LW’s husband is necessarily a narcissist per se, just that hiding behind a cause is a known tactic of emotional manipulation
Ooooooooooh, yeaaaaaaah… I lived with that narcissist for a while. He had been through a few different causes prior to my meeting him, but from his history, it seems that he’d take up a new cause or put extra focus on a cause whenever other aspects of his life required a commitment to follow through on something: finishing college, holding down a job, completing a project, keeping a promise, etc. When I met him, he was into the environmentalism and climate change thing, too, just like LW’s husband. But being a narcissist, his devotion to The Cause was a way to see himself as superior to other people and ignore that fact that he never really accomplished anything and never would. And it was a handy excuse to find something wrong with everyone and everything — that man was never happy about anything, and after a while, I realized her never would be.
Thanks for pointing out this link between causes and narcissism, Bobbin. As you said, The Cause is a useful way to manipulate family and friends, plus the way my ex did it and the way the LW’s husband is doing it, it also isolates their partners from people who could help them get out of the mentally and emotionally abusive situation the narcissist has put them in. It’s all about control.
I had thought my ex was a rather rare kind of abusive person, but after reading the letter and the comments, apparently he was not. So I won’t go into any more detail about him. The narc doesn’t deserve any more attention!
LW, if you are still reading all of these comments, I will just add to the chorus advising you to leave. I’m sorry, I know he’s your husband, and you love him, and I really don’t want to advise you to leave him, but I have to… for YOUR sake, I have to recommend that you leave him. Leave sooner rather than later, if you can. It’s terrible that so many of us in these comments have had similar experiences, and you have already had more than enough. You may not be ready to leave just yet, but I truly hope you can put your faith in your own ability to change your life, and let go of trying to change your husband or waiting for him to change. Best wishes to you.
Whatever you do, LW, please DO NOT go find a farm in the back end of nowhere with this guy unless you fancy being isolated, controlled, over-worked (since he can’t be bothered most days, apparently) and criticized / nitpicked to bits for the rest of your life. No amount of sacrifice you make “for the Earth” is going to be sacrificial enough. If you wind up on a farm when he already complains that farm work is hard, guess who will be running that farm at least 99% of the time?
I worry for you.
YES to all of this. It’s also a lot harder to get out of that sort of situation if you’ve sunk all your capital into the farm that is depreciating in value because you’re attempting to run it single-handed, and also if you own it jointly despite the fact that I bet he isn’t putting money into it.*
*Speaking of which, I’m interested to note that Husband isn’t mooching off his parents who must have a good deal of money to have been able to send him to his school. It’s just his wife he expects to produce the funds he wants.
Oh, if LW leaves him I guarantee he will be back mooching off Mammy and Daddy.
So much great advice. Once more: if you leave and their are furry 4 legged creatures who live with you, take them with you or rehome them. He can’t even take care of his own basic needs at more than a crisis level, then he should not be in charge of any living creature that is dependent upon humans for survival.
LW, two things stuck out to me in your letter:
You then go on to talk about his passion for environmental responsibility. My question to you is what about your passions? What would happen if you demanded the same treatment he’s been enjoying? Going back to school several times, starting and then leaving jobs because you don’t feel “passionate” about them? Forcing him to live his life in service of a pet cause of yours? Would he be supportive? Or would this be incredibly damaging to your stability (financially and as a couple)?
The truth is that most people are not passionate about their jobs, and that’s okay. Even the lucky few who do what they love, don’t love everything about their jobs 100% of the time. It’s fine (and even advisable) to quit a job you hate if you can afford to do so, but leaving a job after a couple of month because you “don’t feel passionate” about it is indicative of unrealistic expectations of how one should feel about work.
There was also this:
Prestigious boarding schools are also notorious for churning out people with a sense of entitlement and who never learn to do basic tasks for themselves.* In your letter, you say that you were working 200 km from the farm he was interning at so that the two of you could afford to buy a farm. So basically, he expected you to do a job (that you may or may not be passionate about) so that he could afford to follow his new-found passion instead of working as an engineer (a job he wasn’t passionate about but could presumably do) in order to help build up savings so that you could buy a farm. And then you also say this: “He was a kind of non-actor for much of his life and the entirety of our relationship. All responsibilities of a couple fell to me; money, friends, planning for the future,” and this: “See, he didn’t understand that he was barely functional as an adult. He didn’t clean up after himself, didn’t cook for himself, didn’t manage his appointments or health. Again, that was all left to me to do for him.”
I have no doubt that his depression is a major factor in all of this. But I’m also seeing a major sense of entitlement in the way he treats you. He decides he wants to live self-sufficiently, so obviously you two have to buy a farm (but you’ll be the one actually toiling away for wages to pay for it). He decides he cares about the environment, but doesn’t do any research (you are correct that modern dishwashers, especially the ones specifically designed to be efficient, are several times less wasteful than doing dishes by hand) or participate in any kind of activism without your prodding. In essence, he wants you to perform his idea of what being environmentally conscious looks like, even when it means being more wasteful of resources.
In addition to the Captain’s awesome advice, I think you should also take a hard look at what you really want in life. Consider what you would be doing if your husband didn’t exist (or were a different person who didn’t make all these demands on you). Would you be living where you do? Working where you do? Following your own passions? It seems to me that you and your husband have agreed that he will be the one to set your priorities and I think it’s time to revisit that.
*I am aware that not everyone who attended such schools has entitlement issues and that perfectly lovely, down-to-earth people graduate from these schools all the time.
“He decides he wants to live self-sufficiently,”
For whatever reason your comment really brought home to the irony of this. He wants to live self-sufficiently, but he isn’t even doing that now to the extent that it’s possible. Charity starts at home, physician heal thyself, etc etc.
Yes! My exact thought after reading this comment: “You want to live self-sufficiently? Go right head, do exactly that. SELF-sufficiently. Not me-sufficing-for-us-both-ly.”
I know very few people who are passionate about their jobs, actually. Some start off passionate and then real life rudely intrudes and points out that their passion-job actually is only about 5% passion and 95% regular old job drudgery that you’d find almost everywhere. Also note that so-called “fun” jobs (like the arts) typically pay poorly AND burn you out, because there is some cachet in working “in your chosen field” if you can, and people will hold on to the promise that they can make their love of [creative thing] pay off as a full-time job and endure a lot of abuse to pursue that hope.
Most folks are content with their jobs, and that’s pretty darn good–not actively hating something about your current vocation (e.g., no-win situation assignments, long commute, a particularly awful co-worker or group of horrible co-workers, or a toxic workplace) is fantastic*.The average person finds that jobs provide them with resources to pay bills AND pursue things they ARE passionate about on the side.
He may have unrealistic expectations that there is a job out there that will magically cure his depression by providing depression-busting passion to his life. As a lifelong depressive myself, no such job exists. Rather, you get your depression under control with meds and therapy, and your job-life typically improves greatly even if you still don’t get passionate about it! You’re also ABLE to feel passion for your avocations and hobbies and such when your depression is controlled, IMHO.
* Side note: If ALL of your jobs in a particular field are bad, it’s a good bet that the problem is either the field you chose or it’s you. Like the old adage, if you meet one asshole, that asshole is an asshole, but if everyone you meet is an asshole, then you are the asshole. When I started working as a teen, the jobs I had were a combo platter: miserable minimum wage jobs AND an unfortunate amount of immaturity combined with lack of real world / work experience and untreated depression on my part. I (hope I) grew out of that.
Agreed – outside of commencement speech rhetoric, most people are not doing jobs that ignite all their passions and make their lives worth living. A much more realistic goal is a job that provides you with enough money to support your real passions, while still allowing you the time/emotional energy to actually enjoy them. And it’s OK if your real passion is like, your family, or rescuing pets, or being able to afford cable.
A thousand amens! I have been working “real” (aka, taxes get taken out of my paycheck) jobs since I was 16. But really, I’ve been working since I was about 12 when I first started babysitting. I always wanted to be a writer as a child and my resume includes freelance journalism, staff journalism positions, and technical writing. Guess what my biggest passion is now as a 33 year old?
Someday making enough money to not only pay off my student loan and credit card debts AND build up a 6-12 month emergency cushion, but also move out of my parents’ house again. Maybe someday….
Seconding all of this! I couldn’t figure out a good way to articulate these concerns, so thank you for that. Being able to bounce between school and jobs indiscriminately in search of ~passion is only doable if someone is providing you housing and food and other support while you do that. And LW has been taking on the drudgery required to support him for what sounds like a very, very long time. He is not entitled to a lifetime of searching for his bliss, and she is not obligated to make it possible for him to do so. I think you’re right – it’s time to consciously evaluate priorities and how this partnership is working for them both.
You’ve articulated everything I came here to say, and much better than I could.
LW, I live with depression and other debilitating conditions. I have had to learn three hard lessons in my life:
1. Dumbo’s feather does not exist. There is no magical pass to instant awesomeness at life. I have to slog through the bog of my assorted conditions, day after day. I have gotten better at things and I will get better at other things, but most of what ails me is incurable. It’s possible to live with grace within my limits–but I have to stop wasting my time looking for Dumbo’s feather.
2. Big plans are seductive, hopeful–and useless. I can sit down and plan my year and then one or another of my chronic Things says, “Ha ha, backsies!” and there goes my big plan. I plan for the short term, and I always have plans B, C, and D handy in case plan A is torpedoed by a flareup of something. The key is that I plan for things that I do. Which leads me to my third lesson:
3. Mommy isn’t here. Yes, I feel like crap, yes, I want to give up, yes, I just want the world to go away and leave me alone and for somebody else to make dinner and wash my socks. But the blunt truth is that while children are supposed to get a pass from all that, as an adult, I am dependent on the exhaustible goodwill of other adults. Anything I can do for myself, I have to do for myself, so that people won’t be sick of me when the things that I can’t do for myself inevitably crop up.
You’ve been an incredibly giving, self-sacrificing person through all of the contortions your husband has put you through, LW. But it’s time for him to learn, by experience, that Dumbo’s feather does not exist, big plans are not his forte, and you are not his emotional mother. He’s got to, on his own, look back at his life and realize that the one common factor in all his many frustrations and setbacks is him.
And you need a long, long vacation from all of this. Say, the rest of his natural life.
PS: Please also talk to your therapist about not falling into this trap of being The Incredible Fix-It in your next relationship.
Replying because I can’t edit: So I went on to say stuff anyway. Heh.
I am one of the lucky ones who actually is passionate about my job. I have Found My Passion. I love my job so much that on top of my paid work, I sometimes volunteer my time doing it for free as a hobby, because my Passion for the work is just that deep.
But you know what? Some days I go into work and it’s dead boring anyway, because every Passion has other attendant work that needs to be done but just isn’t as fun. Maybe you have to file reams of paperwork before you can even begin the Passion Project. Maybe you have to do repetitive drudgework to Level Up Your Passion Skills. Maybe your client decides your Passion would be best put to use on helping them perfect their annoying pop-up advertisements and you just gotta do it so they’ll keep giving you the other work that you ARE Passionate about.* No job, no matter how wonderful, is ever All Passion, All The Time. People who imagine that once they Find Their Passion they’ll never be bored or frustrated or overwhelmed or [insert negative emotion here] again are chasing a fairytale.
*Totally not based on my actual experiences, what are you talking about? 😉
Even a dream job is 40% admin. Or _something_. If you’re passionate about animals, you will be shovelling shit. If you’re passionate about anything creative, you will be billing clients and filing taxes. And sometimes you can make so much money that you can push off some of the horrible tasks onto someone else.
But frequently ‘I’ll never have to do any of the horrible work’ is an unrealistic and unhealthy dream, because cherry-picking *only* the best bits is unsatisfying, too. The cherries are the reward for the hard work, not an end in itself. If you like writing fight scenes or drawing faces or walking your dog in the park, that’s great. If you had to spend all day writing fight scenes, drawing faces, or walking around the park with your dog – and someone else would do all the other bits, like play with your dog at home and deliver it to the park and then pick it up again at the park exit – well, I cannot imagine how incredibly boring and repetitive and frustrating that would be.
Honestly, this whole thing sort of reminds me of Fruitlands. Fruitlands was this failed utopian colony run by some Transcendentalists (including, most notably, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s dad) who decided to try and live according to Transcendentalist principles. They were vegan and used no animal labor, they refused to participate in any trade, they all lived most strictly to their highest principles… and they failed after seven months because they didn’t have any food for the winter.
Why didn’t they? Well, most of the people in the colony were men, and they spent more time talking about how wonderful their colony was than actually doing the farm work, relying on the women (there were two to the men’s seven) to do almost all of the labor. Not to mention that Alcott and Lane were apparently very controlling, to the point that they banished one of the two women for daring to eat fish (keeping in mind that they were eating nothing but fruit, bread, and water, and the poor woman was probably starving for protein), leaving all the work to Bronson’s wife, Abby May Alcott. Near the end of the experiment, she wrote, “Circumstances most cruelly drive me from my enjoyment of domestic life. I am prone to indulge in an occasional hilarity. But I seem frowned down into still quiet and peace-less order. I am almost suffocated in this atmosphere of restriction and form.”
I’m bringing it up because this whole “I’m going to live out my ideals… by making my wife do all the work for me!” is a classic Entitled Dude thing. LW’s husband is undoubtably suffering from depression (and maybe OCD or other executive function-impairing thing, I don’t know). But he’s still choosing to go off his meds, even though he knows what happens every time he does, trusting that she will be there to help him when he inevitably gets “helpless” again. He’s choosing to police everything LW does instead of making his own damn clothes and his own damn tea, because he knows she’ll do it for him. Like Bronson Alcott, he wants all the happy feels of “living his passion” without any of the boring feels from “doing the work,” so he shunts all the work to his wife and keeps all the passion for himself.
Oh LW imagine one day you decide to make some clothes and you put the fabric in the washing machine and set it off and *no one cares* it’s just a boring trivial task with no emotional content at all. Imagine making a cup of tea just being a nice thing you do. You deserve those experiences, and you will feel so free. Guys like this put dread on so many small tasks, you’re always wondering what will set them off next.
You know what else is freeing? Only cleaning up after *yourself*. Also, only spending money on yourself. Making decisions for where you’ll live and what you’ll do all for yourself. Making a meal and not watching someone who never lifts a finger eat half of it. If you had an abusive upbringing deep down you probably think you don’t deserve it, but trust me, you do deserve some god damned peace and quiet and the ability to make a *cup of tea* without a weird fight.
Leave. Please. For yourself. You’ll be amazed at how nice it feels just to not have to fight and resent and dread all the time.
I still get a moment of glee every time I step out of the shower onto the bathmat, and THEN dry off. While dripping on the bathmat! Because that is what it’s there for!
It has been 8 years since I broke up with the guy who insisted that bathmats must not be dripped upon. No regrets 😀
I am reiterating what others have said, but in case it’s useful. My ex was rather like this, but he had multiple excuses, rather than one big one (like the environment). So, for example, the reason I could only use the minimum amount of water in the kettle and had to turn it off before it turned itself off (it did, after all, boil for a few seconds before switching off) was because the house had a damp problem and any excess steam was going to make it worse. I made all the tea – he would interrupt my work and phonecalls to ask for a cup of tea (I really have no idea why I put up with that one). So I was the one who rather than just switching the kettle on amid other tasks, had to wait by the kettle in order to turn it off at the precise moment it began to boil, several times a day.
There was a whole load of stuff like this which related to things which might generate work or expense, which seemed to cause him genuine distress. It would be tedious to explain them all but for example, there were ten teaspoons in the house but he hid eight of them so I could only use two between washing up. I was not allowed to walk around the house without wearing slippers. I was not allowed to sit up in bed. All these rules in a house with no toilet seat for two years because the job of fitting the new toilet seat had become impossibly complex and stressful.
A lot of this stuff sounded silly at the time, he was in distress and argument wasn’t going to help. Perhaps because this stuff was not all centred on one area of angst, it is a bit easier to see it for what it was (although it wasn’t at the time). Meanwhile, there were other more obvious characteristics of abuse going on (including violence, but of course there was the on-going pretense that last time was the very last time and so it was never a current problem). But this nonsense was part of the abuse. My ex did experience depression, but he also experienced a profound desire to control and criticise me, to use up my time and energy and to create traps for me so I could carry some of the blame for his unhappiness.
Very best of luck with all this.
You weren’t allowed to sit up in bed?
I don’t….how…..how did that even work? How did you get in/out of bed without sitting up?
To the extremely small extent that it mitigates it, I think The Goldfish means they “weren’t allowed” to, for example, read in bed or watch TV. That’s still not a reasonable request, IMHO, but at least it takes it out of the category of “things human beings aren’t physically capable of”.
Oh oh, right – “sit up” as in the way my British friends use it, not like…physically sitting up. That makes so much more sense. I was imagining someone trying to like, log-roll into bed so they remain horizontal the entire time.
Still, that sounds like a ding-dang nightmare and I’m so glad you’re out of there. I personally hate the whole “you have to wear slippers!” thing because my grandmother does it to me and I hate wearing slippers, if I can’t wear shoes in the house I’ll just be barefoot.
I dunno, I can see this as “the mattress will wear differently in, this one spot if you sit up to leave the bed.” PROBABLY Whingedrinking nailed it, as in, “I read an article once that says you should use the bed for sleep and sex and nothing else, ever, and that stuck with me!”, but never underestimate the amount of contortion having a Thee Who Must Be Obeyed can bring into your life. So glad you’re free, the Goldfish!
Holy carp, you deserve an award for not throwing the two remaining spoons at his controlling face and walking out of there while leaving a kettle sitting up in bed
I mean wow.
So glad he’s your EX
I am personally stuck on the “no toilet seat for two years”… And hiding the teaspoons!!! I want to HULK FLUSH this guy, so hard.
OMG, Hulk Flush. I am laughing so hard. That HAS to be used, maybe as the title of a section of practical tips on getting That Fucking Guy out of your life.
He definitely belongs with Tomato Jack and the other delightful guys on this thread on a reality show called “We’ve Abandoned Your Sorry Asses On This Deserted Island Surrounded By Grumpy Sharks.”
I’m feeling relief right now. Why? Because I thought I was alone and some kind of a freak.
My husband and I have been together nearly 3 decades. He’s always had issues with anxiety and depression, but I’ve seen some new aspects of them emerge in the past 4-5 years. Several years ago, he became convinced that we had some kind of insects in our clothing and in our house. For a year or two, we had to wash every single item made of fabric in very hot water (sometimes daily) and then bag the items in sealed Ziploc bags. I finally got to a point where I told him I was not going to bag my clothing any longer. Oddly, he gave up without a fight (and stopped bagging his own clothes).
He’s always had hoarding tendencies, but now they are taking the form of environmentalism. We have boxes and boxes of empty soda cans that he’s “going to” drive to the metal recycling center–for the past 3 or 4 years. The cellar is full of cardboard boxes he’s “going to” recycle–even though every week he “forgets to” cut up the boxes for the trash guys. When I mention putting out a little at a time, he says it is “better” to put out a huge, 50-lb. load of recycled cardboard than a little. We have stacks of empty egg carts in the kitchen, because it “seems a shame to just throw them out and let them sit in the landfill; there must be someone who can use them for something.”
I have resorted to sneaking things out of the house and dumping them in the recycling bins at my job, but as you know, stuff just keeps coming–it’s everywhere, and yes, I do think it stinks that big companies make trash for us to deal with. But other than buying a box cutter and just going at those boxes, I’m not sure what to do.
Yes, I’ve thought about leaving, but I’m not ready–and not sure I ever will be. In many ways, he is loving, supportive of my goals, takes care of many household things and “nitty gritty” things (like dealing with health insurance, doctor’s offices, etc.). Therapy and meds do not seem to help him. There are people for whom anti-depressants just do not work, I believe. I’ve decided to focus on the good parts, of which there are many.
I wish I had an answer for LW.
Just know that you–like I–are not alone.
I only mentioned this since you specifically namechecked anti-depressants, but was he specifically getting treatment for anxiety or depression? Hoarding is generally an outgrowth anxiety and typically requires different methods and/or drugs for effective treatments. Some anti-depressants can indeed make anxiety worse.
That said, one way or another are you willing to talk to someone? It sounds like you are in a very hard situation and a therapist for you would be a safe place to process your feelings and decide what you’re going to do and how.
He was getting treatment for both, with meds for both.
I was going to therapy but I can’t afford to keep going, at $90 a visit. My health insurance will not pay for it, and my employer only allows 3 visits per year. I don’t think she was being very helpful, either. She kept asking me to bring him in with me, and most of the time, she just kind of shook her head and said, “Oh, Stranger…” in a mournful voice.
I’ve had better therapists, but this is the only one my employer will pay for.
Yeah, that sounds super annoying and not remotely helpful.
Maybe a peer support group? I have no personal experience with them but I’ve heard that NAMI is a good resource for loved ones of people struggling with mental health stuff.
Except for the fact that you are still working, I would think you were my parent-in-laws. You are not alone.
Do make sure someone has checked thyroid and vitamin D for both of you. Men’s thyroid is somewhat under-diagnosed, and anxiety is one of the symptoms.
Not that this will help with everything, but re: egg cartons, check your local library with a children’s department. They tend to use them for everything, and they’re hard to find. I know getting one thing gone will not make it all better, but getting part of it gone may at least give you your kitchen back, in the short term. (Actually, same re: cardboard boxes, and sometimes soda cans, but one call can at least give you a yes or no if they DO want these things, and in that case it really is as simple as ‘drop them off at the library with someone’s name on the box’.)
Here in Quebec, there’s a five sent deposit for cans, so when you bring them back you get a few cents back.
Which means that a huge bag can be worth a few bucks, and there’s usually someone doing a fundraising drive of some description willing to pick them up for the cash value. Is that a thing where you are?
Similarly, for boxes: freecycle, listed as “boxes for moving”, if they’re still in one piece.
The captain’s advice is very good. When and if you go to therapy, a key thing to look at is the question you closed with:
“How can I help him see and give up his obsessions, which are ruining both of our lives?”
1) Why is it your job to help him see anything at all? Isn’t that just more rescuing behavior?
2) Why do you say HE is ruining your life? That is, why does your agency disappear? Aren’t you putting up with it, aren’t you agreeing to it?
You need to start seeing the choices you are making. You are not, in fact, trapped in this situation. Your letter is from someone with a lot of emotional awareness. That’s a big asset. Use it, grow it as big as you can. But you need to make it a priority to work on yourself. Stop working on him. Stop that COMPLETELY. Focus on you. You will make a lot of progress if you do that. And work on bringing to awareness all the beliefs and habits that say you’re not “supposed” to do that. Challenge them consciously. You’ve let his needs, obsessions, perhaps even addictions, control you and constantly interrupt your own development. You deserve better than that.
My sense is this marriage is very much already dead, however, if it were to have any hope, I would suggest a complete renunciation of all rescuing, care giving, helping, etc. Live your life. Let him have his. Remember, he has a right to be wrong. Stop all efforts to fix, ameliorate, cushion, protect him from his choices. You are not the airbag between him and life (and, to address in therapy, why do you think that’s the only thing that gives you, your choices, your feelings, your ambitions, value? As his reality buffer?) This will be very hard and a long struggle-not for him, but within yourself. Start with little nos. They will probably make you very anxious. Always remember, you have a right to say no, and you have a right to say no WITH NO EXPLANATION. Part of renouncing all rescuing will be renouncing the need to explain, or to be understood. Notice the relief and even happiness you feel after you say no, after all the anxiety. Stay with that. Related, you don’t need to understand him. It may be interesting or even somewhat helpful to have a greater understanding of “why he acts that way,” but that’s a dangerous temptation to follow. It doesn’t ultimately matter to you.
But you’ve got to start getting used to bigger and bigger nos. And there is some possibility that doing so will actually help him. First of all, setting limits will be more real, and more honest, and ultimately more loving. And it will mean you stop treating him as helpless. ASSUME he can take care of himself. He’s the only one that truly can. In case it’s not clear, a marriage, whatever it is, cannot be based on one person emotionally “rescuing” the other. But whether or not it helps him is not the big deal. The big deal is that you have an absolute right and responsibility to take care of yourself FIRST. Wrap you head around that.
If will be extremely hard for you to let go of feeling responsible for his well being. There’s a hurt and abandoned part of you that doesn’t want to face the cold, hard, but also liberating truth that you are not responsible for any other adult that way, and no one is responsible for you that way. That you can’t rescue him that way, or anyone else. But you own you. You can take care of you, including that hurt and abandoned part of you. He owns himself, whether he knows it or not. Practice being aware of this fact, day after day. Live with it, live in it. Love yourself. You know in your beautiful and powerful mind that you cannot make or even help him see anything. Practice accepting that, letting go of your own need to control. Focus on what you can control, which is what is inside of you.
Incredibly well-said. I agree SO HARD with all of this.
I am a caretaker and a rescuer, and in small doses, it means that I’ve been able to help a lot of people over the years.
I recognize that get something out of this role — it’s emotionally satisfying. I was also an abused kid with a narcissistic parent, and I didn’t have anyone to fall back on to take care of child-me or teenage-me . . . so, adult-me wants to help and rescue and take care of people who need it.
BUT — there’s a huge caveat. I can help friends who find themselves in a tough situation, or help strangers online get information about the rare disease that we share (I basically created an “info packet” for people new to the diagnosis), and I can help signal-boost for cats needing homes or people needing a safe place to go . . .
. . . but I cannot set myself up as a full-time caretaker and rescuer for a partner. It’s incredibly unhealthy, and it screws up the relationship dynamic for *both* of us. Treating another adult as someone who needs this kind of full-time care actually reduces their agency and their ability to handle things on their own.
Even when done out of love (and I’m speaking from experience, trust me), this is a nightmare scenario. Nobody walks away unscathed.
You need to love, cherish, help, rescue, and take care of *yourself* in this situation, LW. You have gotten so buried under your husband’s endless needs and demands that you’ve lost perspective on what is normal.
I think you know this, because you’re writing this letter . . . and you have a fantastic level of emotional awareness and kindness that you’re displaying, just in this collection of words you’ve shared.
You have done everything humanly possible to love your husband and to make him happy . . . but, as someone above said, you can’t “love him well.” The responsibility for dealing with his mental-health issues is on *him*, not on you. He is *choosing* to be noncompliant with treatment, and you’re living with the results . . . along with extreme controlling behavior and learned helplessness on his part.
None of this is meant to be accusatory — I genuinely understand where you’re coming from, and how all the little pieces added up to create this situation . . . but it’s time for you to take care of yourself first, to prioritize your emotional and physical needs, and to give yourself the chance to live in a state of freedom, where no one is policing your teakettle or your dishwasher, and your only financial and emotional responsibilities involve taking care of your own needs and wants.
You deserve that freedom, and I hope that you take it — and I very much hope that you write back at some point in the future, from a better place, to let us know how you’re doing.
Much love, LW, and I’m sending strength and Jedi-hugs your way.
LW, if it were possible to fix this guy, or any other person, you would have done it by now. The pyramids could be built with the effort you’ve put into trying to help your husband. I know you probably don’t want to read a whole thread of “DTMFA” and I’m sorry, because you love this guy and breakups suck and it’s excruciatingly frustrating to have a situation of “everything would be perfect if they could just get over $_THING,” . . . but please leave your husband. You can’t save him from himself. You deserve to be happy and live in a house where your water use isn’t being rationed by someone who is supposed to be your equal.
Also, LW, I’m sorry – I don’t think you can? I kind of completely overlooked that your actual question was how you can get him to give up his obsessions and see the damage they’re causing in your relationship. I really don’t think you can! He’s got to come to that realization and want to take action himself and he very well may never do that.
Cut your losses. I’m sorry, but it isn’t up to you to fix him.
As for his obsession with water use, unless you’re getting your water from an underground aquifer that’s been severely depleted by agriculture, it isn’t possible to “waste” it. Almost all Canadian water comes from lakes and man-made reservoirs fed by rainwater. You use it, it goes down the drain to the treatment plant, it goes back up into the clouds from the evaporation ponds. How do I know this? I’ve worked in engineering offices all my life (doing drafting and piping layout/design). I’ve worked on water treatment projects. I’m really surprised that your mechanical engineer husband doesn’t know this.
I got the impression it was about the energy used to heat the water rather than the water itself. Even so, we aren’t going to save the planet by reducing our kettles half a cup at a time.
FWIW, I think so. I further think that the “logical” next steps will be to force LW to cold-brew her tea and drink it cold, then switch her to tisanes, then limit her things she’s harvested herself, then then to harmful or invasive species, and her enjoying her nice hot cuppa with a side of nasty criticism will become choking down a mash of garlic scrapes which will somehow be Wrong…did a variant of this to myself for a while. Wasn’t fun.
I’d like to see LW get some space, if not out the door, but if that’s not what she’s up for now, maybe he could “pay a toll” of harassing major corporations or contacting politicians (or even look for work!) before he jumps upon her?
With regard to the whole anxiety over climate change thing, we’ve identified that that’s his LBDR, and he can’t be reasoned out of it. But I still feel like it’s important to say this:
The climate will change. Yes, humanity and its excesses are the some of the reason for it, but there is no reason to believe that it would always stay the same, i.e., good for human beings. We are not killing the earth; the earth is going to exist for millennia after we’re gone (along with all of the other species we’ll take with us). The earth will go on, with different atmospheres, different types of life.
This is not to justify defeatism. Defeatism is childish bunk. I will not stop recycling, I will not stop using energy-efficient appliances, I will not stop voting, I will not stop letter-writing. What I know is it’s entirely possible to act in humanity’s best interest while recognizing how unbelievably arrogant we are to assume that we are The Most Important Creature Ever of earth’s history.
Anyway, OP, I guess I’m saying this to give you a possible way to frame your beliefs and actions when your husband isn’t there to define them for you. I mean, you’re clearly really intelligent, and you fell in love with him for a reason. From here it looks like you shared a lot of the same values with high and mighty ideals (no sarcasm). The fact that he’s not good for you doesn’t make you stupid. Once you’re away from him, though, I can imagine the brain weasels saying, “but you SHOULD do this because High and Mighty Ideals!” #massiveguilttrip. When that happens to me, I remind myself of the above. Whatever, it’s meant to help. Jedi hugs to a deserving woman.
Your reply reminds me of the late great George Carlin. He once said, “What’s all this about saving the earth? The earth is gonna be here. It’s us that’s probably not!” 🙂
The Captain’s response was poetic in its beauty. I have nothing to add. But LW, I can’t help but think that the song, “Let Him Fly” was written for this situation. https://play.google.com/music/preview/T45mz2s3em5jn7lvbk6pn2frizq?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-songlyrics
Something I haven’t seen mentioned is that whether or not you leave ( and I’m definitely on Team Leave), I’d suggest talking to someone about your legal position – who is likely to get what, is he likely to get alimony (not always impossible if he convinces the court he can’t work due to illness). I have absolutely no idea what divorce laws are like where you live (I’m a lawyer but not a divorce lawyer and I therefore wouldn’t even try and advise in my location) but I think YOU need to know.
You don’t have to leave him but knowing your options can’t hurt.
Also, I work in an area of law that pays comparatively badly because I enjoy the subject and I really think I’m helping people but my last move was to a job I enjoy slightly less because I get paid substantially more (comparatively speaking for the field) and work set hours with no overtime (and that doesn’t mean they expect us to work off the clock). If there are genuinely people out there who are passionate about every moment of their job, I suspect those people burn out fairly rapidly. Everyone else tries to find a job they like well enough. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is completely unreasonable for your husband to drift around looking for his ‘passion’ while expecting you to financially support him.
You may have given him an “ultimatum,” but he is making equally non-negotiable demands, in saying that he absolutely will keep obsessing about your use of energy, and that he will keep dumping that stress on you, and you’re supposed to just take it. He won’t even think about doing anything to stop obsessing, and he won’t stop taking it out on you.
“Ultimatums” have a bad name in part because if you get to that point, things are already bad. When you have reached the point of saying “stop taking your obsession out on me at the cost of my own mental health or I’m leaving,” that’s not an unreasonable demand. But if it was an unreasonable demand, his decent answer would be “I’m sorry, I can’t, let’s figure out how to divide our stuff” rather than “No, I won’t, and how dare you ask me to, that’s an ultimatum and hence evil” whereas all his individual demands about how much water you boil or pre-shrinking your clothes don’t get called that.
Agreed. “Either suck up my excessive critisism or leave me” is also an ultimatum, just less explicitly stated. Isn’t it interesting how, as long as you don’t make option B explicit, you get to claim the moral high ground?
Nothing wrong with an Ultimatum. It is a form of honesty.
I have experienced severe depression and feel very passionately that it is not OK for someone to use their mental health issues as a ‘get out of jail free’ card for mistreating people who love them. My family and friends have had to care for me and have undergone a lot of emotional/practical stress in order to support me but I have always valued and appreciated this and not taken it for granted or felt entitled to expect more and more from others. In fact quite the opposite, I was motivated to seek professional help and try to get better because I saw how hard it was for my loved ones to support me when I was too ill to care for myself.
Being depressed often leads a person to be unkind to themselves, but it sounds like he is being extremely generous towards himself (for example prioritising his desire to find his passion) while being extremely unkind to you. This behaviour is not part of depression, it is the behaviour of a man with a loving, caring, wise and perceptive partner (as you clearly are from your letter) who has no idea how lucky he is and who claims to believe in recycling and yet is throwing away the love and care that you are nurturing him with every day.
Would he be there for you if you had a breakdown? Would he support you emotionally, financially, practically to enable you to pursue your passions? Would he do for you even one tenth of what you have done for him?
You are so clearly someone who knows how to love. I hope that someday you will have the chance to experience what it feels like to really be loved.
Perhaps this will help. Right now it feels like going against what your depressed husband (thinks he) wants is hurting him. It’s like he’s in pain and your supporting him financially, going along with his extreme no-footprint policies, being patient with his schooling and passion-finding, and not throwing tea kettles at him when he complains about water use is the least you can do in an effort to make him happy. You feel guilty for not trying harder, feel inadequate for not succeeding. But what if none of that was true? What if it was really the opposite. Imagine this scenario: You stop feeling guilty. You make choices that are good for you. You tell him that treatment for his depression is up to him now. So is contributing the upkeep of your living space, paying his fair share, planning for the future. And what if your putting your foot down turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him? What if by laying down your (very reasonable) expectations and demands, a new life opened up for him? You’d be able to shed the guilt knowing that the choices that are good for you turn out to be good for him too.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t get a picture of Husband’s extreme efforts at recycling and not wasting energy as coming from the anxiety at never being able to be good enough to the earth. I thought of it as coming from a place of his depression convincing him that he never deserves nice things, doesn’t deserve hot water or clean clothes or enough to eat or the joy in life that comes from taking a ride, seeing a movie, enjoying heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. I agree that it’s not up to the LW to act as therapist or diagnostician so my thoughts as to where his irrationality is coming from isn’t that important. This is just a thought.
I felt a strong vibe of “I don’t need rescuing! The EARTH needs rescuing! I’m not out of control with my joblessness and helplessness! My depression is not a problem! You and your profligate water-boiling ways are the PROBLEM!” But who knows?
This is a great point. This comment thread is full of people with anxiety who explain how soothing the Load-Bearing Depression Repository only leads to more anxiety and more depression (and LW, I want to hug you for that expression, I really needed to have that in my vocabulary).
I’ve also seen that with my ex. He knew what his passion was. He wanted to pursue it. But it was hard, and it was a path of much rejection, and after the first rejection he kinda… folded. He spent his days playing computer games and slowly depleting his saving until I took pity on him and started supporting him (on a pay that’s barely enough for one person – fun times!). He played more computer games. He did not make friends and did not want to know mine. He promised many things, like cleaning our home or occasionally cooking dinner, but it was always too hard when the time came and I had to take over the task, at which point he would show up to tell me I was doing it wrong. It was too hard, in part, because he was so sad and a total failure and I was the only good thing in his life. I knew he came from an abusive household that he was only just extricating himself from with my help. I knew he was fat and that he felt completely undesirable and needed constant reassurance. I knew it wasn’t his fault and that I couldn’t expect too much too soon. Of course I couldn’t expect him to be happy until he was doing his passion, which he could only do if he was accepted into the right school. Opening a book on his own was simply too hard. But he was just so sad, and I mean, he had experienced so much rejection, and he hated himself so I needed to love him twice as hard, and he really wanted to follow his passion even though he never worked towards it, so shouldn’t I be patient? I mean, I had it easy what with my (hard-earned) good grades and my being in a school I wasn’t passionate about but it was good enough for now. I tried bargaining, I tried pleading, I tried encouraging him, making things easy for him, I tried threatening to end the relationship once (like textbook, he shaped up for two months and actually applied for a few jobs before backsliding)
You know the one thing I did that ever worked?
I dumped him.
Seriously. It was INFURIATING how, mere weeks after he became single, he started taking care of himself and making friends and working on his passion and basically everything I had desperately wanted him to during our years together.
In hindsight, he was suffering a major depression and I was too young and too ignorant to name it. In hindsight, the school was his Load-Bearing Depression Repository, his excuse never to be happy. Would it have helped knowing these things? Probably not. If “I am going crazy and I need-need-NEED you to PLEASE do something, ANYTHING!” was not enough, I doubt that “Here’s a neat theory about how your brain works” would have been any more motivating.
In hindsight, all I did was make it easier for his depression to burrow its claws into his brain.
LW, your husband will be fine if you leave him. He will either shape up or glom onto another poor caretaker who is willing to abdicate her life in service of his All-Encompassing Excuse to Stay Depressed. Maybe he’ll even (like my ex) become the kind of person you always knew he could be, and you will be angry and sad and wonder why you weren’t enough, why he didn’t love you enough to do it for you, since he’s obviously able. I hope for him that’s the outcome. But for you, that doesn’t matter, because if he needs you to leave him for that to happen, you need to leave him anyway.
You need to leave. Maybe not now. Maybe you need to try a few last things, maybe you need to abdicate responsibility and leave him in all but name and see what happens. Maybe it’ll be magical. Definitely it will be enlightening. Either way, I hope you manage to carve out a space for yourself where you can live and breathe and love without suffocating. You deserve it. You deserve so much more.
“Seriously. It was INFURIATING how, mere weeks after he became single, he started taking care of himself and making friends and working on his passion and basically everything I had desperately wanted him to during our years together.”
Thank you! I was trying to find a way to describe this possibility. It might happen if the LW leaves her husband. But her leaving will likely be the _cause_ of his life shift. It will definitely not be a case of ‘If I had only stayed x many more months (years) I could be married to this functional, happy version of him that I always knew was lurking inside him’
OP, I’m sorry you are going through this. I just want to encourage you to reclaim your agency in the situation. I think you’ve been manipulated by the environmentalism ruse to believe that objecting to your husband’s behavior means you DON’T SUPPORT THE CAUSE MAAAAN. But that’s not how it works. As someone who is themselves a sometimes difficult person, married to another difficult person, sometimes we just have to be willing to call each other on our BS. In my experience once you lose that, the relationship succumbs to whatever flavor of irrational you both stopped fighting, and it’s hard if not impossible to walk the situation back from “nuclear disaster” to “dumpster fire” to “relationship both people benefit from.”
I’ll tell you what it looks like in a (hard won) healthier dynamic: For my husband his irrational thing is kitchen micromanaging/mansplaining, for me it’s freaking out about his driving habits and his messiness. They all start as valid concerns but we both tend to not express that concern in a productive way. Relationships are a bubble and you can lose your sense of what’s normal. Recently we traveled with friends and when husband tried to micromanage one of them in the kitchen, she unceremoniously told him to fuck right off and he was a bit stunned, but acquiesced. Only since then does he truly believe me that no one likes being micromanaged in the kitchen despite us having dozens of previous conversations about it. Couples therapy works similarly – the therapist would make a point I’d tried to make 23908430 times but he’d magically believe her, the outsider, instead of me. So consider the commentariat here your friends telling your husband he can fuck right off with his “environmentalism” and go live in squalor in the woods if he really thinks it will make him happy, but you need to worry about your happiness and your needs.
This is a great comment and you should feel great.
I was trying to say something more specific, but really, all of it.
LW, I’m very concerned that your husband has succeeded in isolating you and that his depression and passivity is a way of controlling you. It has really got my shoulders up as I read this. You worked so he could fulfill his wish to have a farm. Did you even want to participate or did you do it for him? Is it your choice or his to be vegan? This doesn’t sound like a partnership. Do I hear bees?
And I will link to a story: “A Spell to Retrieve Your Lover from the Bottom of the Sea” by Ada Hoffmann. The conclusions it draws are the same ones everyone here has been saying…
There is also this, Siren Song by Margaret Atwood … “alas it is a boring song, but it works every time.” https://poemelf.com/category/poems/siren-song/
Oh dear LW. Dear LW. I am so sorry. There are a lot of people who came in and said things like this before me and who’ve said smart and compelling things, but I also want to attest to the difference between being married to a depressed person and what you’re experiencing. That is to say, like yours, my husband has very serious depression and has had it ever since we started dating 15 years ago. We’re coming up on 10 married this summer. Reading the opener, I felt some sad kinship.
In my experience, being married to a person with major depression comes down to whether they’re willing to address that fact and how they treat you. I can’t really say more than the Captain has about how he treats you and why that’s not ok. But I can say from my experience that this is not a necessary part of being a partner to a person with major depression. There are things which are necessary–coming to terms with the fact they may kill themselves, nudging them toward actions they need to take (not badgering but being aware of a particular worsening of the depressive cycle), partnering with them in things which help them cope with it better, understanding that this isn’t something which will ever be “cured” or fixed even though it may be alleviated with therapy and/or meds.
Being the subject of his obsessions and not being given the dignity of making your own best judgments or choices are NOT a part of the package. You’re a human being trying to do her best, to be responsible, to find joy, and I really wish you could do that and have whatever virtues and the shared joys you do or did find in your partner too. But ultimately you deserve the right of making such basic judgment calls as how to use water and such small “imperfections” as not having psychic knowledge of the right amount of water to boil while not losing too much to steam. And you deserve a partner who respects you enough to know that even if his mental health is causing him distress, he should not inflict that distress on you and should address it as a long-term condition vs. a fix. What you are experiencing is not necessary, nor something that’s just part of the package loving someone with depression. I tweeted about this too, more to share my own experience and I’ll conclude here how I did there:
You do not owe your life on the altar of your partner’s depression, particularly not when it leads to abuse.
LW, beyond the facts like veganism is not actually particularly ecologically friendly–
What do you get out of your relationship with your husband? How does your marriage support, fulfill, and uplift you? Does he earn the right to be your husband? Does he love you and put you first? Does he treat you like you deserve to be treated?
Does being around your husband make you happy? Does it make you excited? Do you like him as a person anymore?
Is being married to him good for you or bad for you?
Sometimes giving people ultimatums feels very mean and hostile and like you are crazy and unreasonable. And some people’s ultimatums are deeply mean and unreasonable (“either stop watching porn of any kind or break up with me!!”). But many are not.
“Stop letting your depression eat me too or I leave” is not an unreasonable ultimatum. It is in fact a very reasonable one.
Can you imagine if his depression and anxiety was some sort of super-mountain-lion and he was *still* letting it eat you? Would the choice to leave if he did not even try to protect you from it seem difficult?
(This is not meant to make you feel bad about yourself, but to give you my perspective on what the situation seems to be like.)
@Tennia: As an aside, have you got any useful links about veganism not being particularly ecologically friendly? I’m interested to find out more about that, but don’t want to derail.
There’s a bunch of different articles on the same study, here’s one here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/earth/going-vegan-isnt-actually-th/
tl;dr veganism does not use land anywhere near efficiently enough to be ecologically friendly, nor is it sustainable in many environmental ways. There are huge swaths of land which would need to be deforested and/or forcibly converted to growing vegan crops if the majority of humans became sole vegans, and more areas of land would be useless, as they only actually work for raising livestock and humans who eat them.
Thanks! That was really interesting.
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