Carolyn: My husband simply doesn’t support me. He is the star of the movie, and I am the endlessly supportive love interest. For instance, he seems to think the kids are entirely my responsibility, and anything he does with them/for them is a magnanimous favor to me. I’m currently on a tough deadline, and while he is now taking the kids out of the house once every weekend so I can get work done uninterrupted, I had to get to the point where the project was in danger of being canceled before he offered this support. He consistently talks about wanting some time in return so he can relax – ignoring the fact that I am working all the time.
When I point this out to him, he can’t see it. He is repeating a dynamic from his upbringing (his father did whatever he wanted while his mother was responsible for kids/bills/household maintenance/etc.). He’s infinitely better than his dad but still not truly supportive.
Is there a way to open someone’s eyes to an unhealthy dynamic from which he benefits? This feels like discussions of white privilege: You have to want to see it to recognize it’s actually there. And that makes me depressed about the potential future of our marriage. – Unsupported
Unsupported: Right – the fact that he doesn’t want to take care of your needs.
Usually I can offer a try-this-at-home suggestion before I advise counseling, but your predicament suggests starting with a professional, since part of the problem is that he apparently discounts what you say. A third party might be a more effective spokesman for true sharing.
Carolyn: What if he is unwilling to go to counseling with me? We have been before – years ago prior to having kids – and it helped. But when I ask him to go again now, he tells me he felt ganged up on the last time. We’ve also moved, so we’d have to start over with a new counselor.
A: You go without him. And you realize his refusal to go, and his feeling ganged up on, is of a piece with a self-centered worldview. He sees things given to you as things taken away from him – very telling.
I hope counseling helps you find language and strategies to deal with that, but – how do I say this – I think you need to be fiercely pragmatic here, all options considered: “How can I make my life workable with the set of facts I have in hand?” I like your chances with that as a goal, as opposed to “How can I get through to him?”
Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org.