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My husband won’t lift a finger to help me. Should I stay or go? | Relationships

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The dilemma I’m 47, have two children in primary school and a slowly declining marriage. From our initial premarital ideals of a sort of shared Scandinavian approach to parenthood and marriage, it became clear that in fact our underlying approach was that of his parents. The expectation is that I do everything. Nothing is done in an abusive way, but there is a passive detachment that I see in him that reflects his father. On his side of the family, the women run around and do everything while the men watch TV and discuss the news. I’ve brought this up many times, both in frustration and anger and in calmer, sadder moments. My husband will recognize this when I’m calmer and try to be more of an equal partner, but after a short time everything goes back to how it was.

I often think of being single. I’m not interested in being with another man, but sometimes I wonder if I would have a more equal relationship with a woman. I don’t want to break up because of our children. I talked with him about breaking up, but he just laughs. Do I stay married? Or should I go out?

Philippa’s response For the richest, for the poorest, in sickness and in health…and we should add another wish in the sense of having to stay together when, despite our best intentions, we end up looking like our parents. My husband, after 30 years of marriage, kindly points out to me each time I become my mother and I remind him, with all the goodwill I can muster, when he reverts to the pattern of a Victorian patriarch. Even if we don’t want to, without the gentle challenge of a loved one, we will return to imitating our ancestors.

Right now you are furious. I don’t blame you, your husband, without realizing it, keeps going back to typing, leaving your headspace busy reminding you to get milk and toilet rolls, while he can chat nobler ideas with other men. You cook dinner and listen to the kids reading to you at the same time, while he watches the news and when you tell him that you’ve reached the end of your nerves and have fantasies of not having it at all, he don’t take you seriously. It looks very tempting from a point of view I told you to leave, I can see that. He breaks his promise on the Scandinavian model on a daily basis and it hurts you.

It seems that when you scream, he can’t hear your words, but is just trying to defend himself against the screams. Very difficult when trying to teach your children about life to have to repeat yourself to a grown man as well. But when you push it without yelling, it responds – maybe you need an abbreviated word, so you don’t have to go through long explanations every time. Maybe start calling him by his father’s name?

You can have another long sweet talk, the kind he notices, and then stay with a friend for a week or two. It can make him realize how much there is to think and do that should be shared. Remind her that the children lost all their clothes and shoes on the way out. Watch this clip of comedian Simon Brodkin on YouTube (bit.ly/SBrodkin) — share it with him, too.

When you fantasize about it, divorce might seem like a nice quick fix, but it rarely is. It can take a long time to rebuild afterwards. There are complications with splitting finances, with both parties usually ending up with less. No divorce with kids is a clean break because you have to continue co-parenting and the things that bothered you when you were together continue, but with less good will to get over them. Children suffer and act. If you have a new homosexual relationship, it will have its own problems and difficulties to solve. Men tend to get back together faster than women when there are children involved, and resentments tend to grow rather than recede.

At age 47, your estrogen levels may drop. Early in my perimenopause I felt murderous until I got HRT. It’s like nature didn’t realize we were still raising kids in our middle ages and thought we’d do fine with less patience and more rage now, but we have kids later on and need our patience a little longer, so it may be a good idea to get tested to see if you’re in perimenopause. And if you’re on HRT and find yourself more tolerant as a result, I’m not suggesting you let your husband off the hook by not sharing the physical and emotional work of the house, but it may give you more patience. when you remind him to think about what to do and not leave everything up to you.

Relationships go through good and bad times, which is why we must take vows at the beginning of the engagement. If relationships were simple, there would be no marriage to keep us together when things get stormy. I don’t envy your position right now in the midst of your storm, but I think it can be overcome.

If you have a question, email askphilippa@observer.co.uk
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