Tell Me About It

I’m trapped in a dull environment with my husband and it’s making me feel restless

Tell Me About It: ‘He relies on me to fill all the social aspects of his day’

PROBLEM: I would love some advice on issues that are arising for me during this Covid-19 lockdown. Like most families we know we are confined to our home most of the day and although my husband and myself have busy careers, since lockdown we are managing some semblance of work from our new arrangement working from home, and our teens are coping remarkably well.

I, though, have started to feel more and more that there are some big issues in my relationship that I have to consider as this situation has shown them in a new light. I had been looking forward to our retirement which I would have anticipated in about 12 years from now, but that is starting to feel somewhat different to what I had anticipated, now that we are both at home full-time, and with much less demand on our down time and diminished social contact especially with work circles. I have noticed that my husband relies on me to fill all the social aspects of his day, and that his drive to create these for himself is simply not there.

This makes me feel like I’m trapped in a rather dull environment and it has started to make me feel restless in a way I could not have anticipated. And I can’t help now but project this image forward to our future retirement together, and I’m feeling very strongly this isn’t the way I want going forward.

It’s hard to put all of this in a short letter, maybe I’m just feeling panicked in all of this.

ADVICE: First, this is not like normal retirement. It is a highly anxious and stressful lockdown and this needs to be taken into account when assessing your relationship. Second, this has highlighted some aspects of your relationship that need attention and perhaps this is an opportunity to address these before your anticipated retirement.

It seems that your husband over relies on you and this suggests a level of fear or lack of confidence in himself

We all have different responses to stress and some of us take action and engage with the situation and others find that withdrawal and regression are part of their habitual reaction. The danger is that you are judging your husband to be dull and needy and this is leading to you being critical and righteous and an opportunity for compassion and growth is being missed. This situation may have surfaced your husband’s lack of social engagement, but this is not an unusual story for men as the usual methods of connection are lost in these restrictive times. There are no sports events, no visits to the pub or casual get-togethers and men often do not have the kind of friendships where they call up and talk about their fears or concerns. This does not mean they do not have deep inner lives, but the training has been to be silent about these and un-expressive to those who might share and understand their situation. Men can offer support to each other by simply being there, signifying understanding through few words and this support can happen in myriad ways. But these are all denied now when there are no possibilities of non-intensive get-togethers.

Listen carefully to what he says and be very wary of any criticism in your response, as this will only lead to him shutting down

That leaves your husband with only you to relate to in a meaningful way and it seems that this has not been as strong a part of your relationship as it could be and it is a gap that you are now feeling intensely. As you are the person who appears to be able to see the issue more clearly, it is perhaps up to you to start a discussion about the state of your marriage. It seems that your husband over relies on you and this suggests a level of fear or lack of confidence in himself. However, your judgment and disappointment is also a big contributing factor as I imagine he withdraws even more when in receipt of your reaction.

While you might think that your husband should create real and lasting social connections for himself (and he should), there is at the heart of this a relationship issue that is calling for urgent attention. Ask your husband for a private talk and tell him it is important; then ask him what he thinks are the issues facing your relationship. Listen carefully to what he says and be very wary of any criticism in your response, as this will only lead to him shutting down. Ask him what he thinks your relationship needs both now and in preparation for retirement and be patient with him as it is likely he will need some time to consider these questions. Your disappointment needs to be expressed but it is possible to do this in a way that shows your hope of what your relationship could be like and then you both can work (slowly) on the steps needed to make this happen.

The danger is that you monitor his progress, and this in itself can have a very detrimental effect so be conscious of supporting him during this time of restriction and be aware that we are not operating in normal times.