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Ask Ammanda: I'm really unhappy in my relationship

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

I'm at a complete loss. Most of the time I am really unhappy in my twelve-year marriage. My husband can easily switch from being the nicest person in the world to the nastiest. But it wasn't always like this.

Up until recently I have been the breadwinner. I mention this because don't feel I haven't had much choice as he has always pushed me to earn more money, yet had no desire to progress himself. I have worked my way up and was in a well-paid job with company car and all the benefits. I'd have preferred to stay at home with my daughter, but he lost his job so he stayed at home instead. Anyway, recently I decided to have a career break as it was all getting too much. I felt like my daughter needed me so I made sure we were financially sorted enough for me to take a month out. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking my daughter to school and picking her up and she has definitely benefited from this too. I'm now in a temp job until I decide what to do next.

However, my husband and I have been having some bad arguments. He has not been happy with my decisions, it's not unusual for him to name call, but recently it got out of control. He started shouting at my eighteen year-old son about doing more around the house, called him a c*** and threatened him. I'm totally in shock and don't know what to do. I know he wouldn't actually do anything but he's crossed the line. I want him to leave, but he won't go and has said I have to buy him out. He knows I can't afford to do this. I can't go and rent somewhere either as I've just started temp work and my income is now low too. Legally, I can't make him leave.

I feel everything is falling apart. My marriage has failed, I have failed my daughter and even my dog is showing signs of aggression. My mental health is suffering and I can't see a way out of this which is suffocating me. Some days I think the only option is to end my life, but then I think of my children. I don't know what to do.

Ammanda says ...

Let's try and look at this from a different perspective - you have absolutely not failed.

You've kept the show on the road in spite of some really difficult events. Now that he’s upped the ante, it's very understandable you’re finding it difficult to deal with - anyone would do. I can understand the despair you feel and want to strongly recommend that you reach out for some professional support to help you through this really difficult time in your life. Getting help is absolutely not a sign of failure nor weakness. Far from it - it’s what emotionally intelligent people do when they need support to navigate really tricky issues – as you do now.

The first thing I'd like to suggest is seeing your GP: tell them how badly all of this is affecting you. Please try not to feel embarassed and don’t hang back from describing your situation, as your GP will be able to offer you support and look at the options for managing your (understandably) low mood. This is really important because when anyone contemplates ending their life, it’s a warning sign to get the right sort of help. Please do this - you owe it to yourself and to your children.

The second thing you might want to consider is who else can help you decide what to do. You seem pretty clear that there are restrictions on what you can do legally, but I do wonder if you’ve just assumed this or if you've actually seen someone like Citizens Advice or a fixed-fee solicitor who can advise you on your options? I also sense that you feel very alone with all of this and I wonder who else is around and who you could connect with – if only to tell them how you feel. What about friends and family? I can imagine that with everything you’ve had to deal with – working full-time up until recently and generally just getting on with life - it might have been really difficult to find any time at all to link up with people who care about you and might really want to be helpful and supportive.

Sometimes when things get really bad, it can feel like staring down a deep hole that gets more and more narrow. That can often lead to feeling really isolated, and then it gets more and more difficult to reach out to others and ask for help. I think you should really try to connect with maybe just one person for now. Even that might feel daunting if you’ve got out of the habit, but please do try this. You may be surprised at how supportive other people can be if you just give them a chance. I suggest, too, that you seek out some telephone counselling to help process how you’re feeling. Your GP should be able to provide you with details about this. Nowadays, many employers have schemes whereby employees can access all kinds of different support, so check with your workplace.

You’re clearly achieving so much with your youngest child too. I’m sure he will have enjoyed having his mum take her to school and it sounds like your decision to change tack work wise to enable you to do this was a very wise choice. It’s really very unfortunate that your husband seems to think differently about this and certainly his behaviour towards you and your eldest son is completely unacceptable. I’m sure he would probably say he has his reasons, but whatever they are, there is not the slightest excuse for the carping criticism and name calling. Your husband needs to get his act together here as he is entirely responsible for his behaviour.

You don’t tell me what sort of work you were doing before, but from what you describe it enabled you to provide for your family. Clearly then, it might be an option to resume this level of work (and presumably pay) at a time that feels right for you. I mention this only to encourage you to see that your all capabilities are still there – you're just feeling completely crushed at the moment. At some point you might be able to consider a different life away from your husband if he continues to ignore his contribution to the problems you face as a couple.

But first things first. The most important thing for you right now is to get some professional support. Often it can all feel a bit chicken and egg – you know the sort of thing I’m sure – one thing can only change if something else does and vice versa. It can be difficult to focus on what the most immediate concern might be, but I can assure you that from what you describe, the most pressing concern is your mental health and general wellbeing. Please do take up my suggestions. Once you feel more supported (and please don’t wait for your husband to provide this) you may find that other decisions and ways forward become apparent. Feeling crushed by the behaviour of others and the circumstances in general can usually make anyone feel overwhelmed, unheard and useless. It’s an entirely normal reaction so your assertion that you’ve failed is just not right at all.

As for your dog, as a dog owner myself I understand their moods and how they can so often pick up and almost express how we feel. Despite feeling so crushed, I wonder if you also have an understandably raging anger about what’s happened and how your husband’s behaviour has ultimately impacted on your relationship and general family life. In a curious way, I think you need some help to get in touch with those angry feelings, process them and use them as a guiding light to help you to decide on what’s best for you and your children. You’ve done so much already – you just need some help now to take some next steps. Please do reach out for it.

Ammanda Major is a Relationship Counsellor and Sex Therapist and Head of Clinical Practice at Relate.

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