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I Can't Live With My Lazy Husband—What Should I Do?

Newsweek 11/27/2022 Lucy Notarantonio
A woman has written to Newsweek to talk about her husband who is a heavy drinker. Stock image of silhouette of a drinking man and a sad woman at the night window. © Andrey Zhuravlev/iStock/Getty Images Plus A woman has written to Newsweek to talk about her husband who is a heavy drinker. Stock image of silhouette of a drinking man and a sad woman at the night window.

Dear Newsweek, I have a husband that is a heavy drinker and has been that way for many years. The problem is I have always taken on most of the responsibilities in our life. I cooked the meals, cleaned the house, did the laundry, made appointments, got the mail, did the bills, cleaned up after the cat, etc. He basically went to work and then came home to drink and watch TV. I also work full-time.

During the pandemic, he stayed home while I continued to go into the office. He slept in late and started drinking early most days and did nothing around the house. He would call and text me throughout the day asking me to pick things up for him or what he was wanting for dinner. The whole time he never did anything other than lay around, watch tv and wait for me to get home. He did not offer to do any chores or anything. As one can imagine, I became pretty upset at the imbalance in the relationship and tried to discuss my feelings with him.

He did nothing to change his behaviors and merely insists that he's always been the way he is and why am I complaining now. I became so unhappy that I went and rented my own apartment. I no longer live in the house but still go to see him a couple of days a week. The problem now is that he still does nothing around the house and it is getting really disgusting. He won't even take out the garbage or even get the mail. He orders items and doesn't bother to open up the packages. They just accumulate on the front porch until I bring them in. Lately, he has even been calling out from work on a weekly basis. I am afraid he will lose his job at this point. He says he will shape up if I move back home and I keep telling him I will move home if he can shape up. Who is right?

Sharon, Unknown

Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

The Best Way to Move Forward Is to Let Go

Newsweek spoke to Sally Baker, an award-winning senior therapist and author of "The Getting of Resilience from the Inside Out."

The lack of real-life distractions during the pandemic caused the wheels to come off some of the most stable, functional relationships. Unfortunately, your relationship was functional only when you were willing to shoulder the responsibility for all the household chores. In some ways, your husband is right to ask you why you would complain about his behavior now as he has been consistent in his selfish habits throughout your marriage. However, alarmingly it does seem that recently he has increasingly been sliding into alcoholism and increased lethargy. You are also right to be concerned that his employer might well call time on his job too as he is regularly not showing up.

You have already courageously made your bid for autonomy by getting a place to live. Looking in from the outside, I think you are at a crossroads; One route for you is towards greater independence. With this in mind, it would be helpful for you to have less contact with your husband. Could you reduce or perhaps stop your visits to the marital home? This path might lead you, in your own time, to seek a formal separation and all that it entails. The other route is to return to your marital home and accept how he is and that he has to date not managed to change his ways. This would be the life of servitude that you already know so well. However, bear in mind the impact of his potential unemployment and the mental health repercussions of his excessive drinking. Do you want to dedicate your time and energy to help him? This is a tough decision for you when he has never shown any real commitment to changing his behavior. I think a part of you already accepts that even if you were to live together again you do not believe that his behavior would improve. He is far from being the husband you want him to be.

Currently, though you are physically absent from your marital home you retain an emotional connection to him. I urge you to take the time to decide what you want for yourself. Whilst you continue to visit and help him, he refuses to take responsibility for his own life. The time may have come for you to give tough love a chance and to consider that permanently walking away from him might be your best chance to have the quality of life you deserve.

Codependency Is Unhealthy, Set Boundaries and Realistic Expectations

Chase Cassine, a behavioral health specialist at DePaul Community Health Centers in New Orleans.

As an alternative to pointing the finger, let's discuss the underlying issues in this situation: one-sided relationship, codependency, and enabling. All of these toxic traits are common in relationships with addictive partners. When looking at addiction as a familial disease, it negatively impacts all interpersonal relationships because the addiction breeds emotional confusion, and unstable and unpredictable behaviors create chronic worry, anxiety, and fear within families. More often than not, family members attempt to control the situation (whether consciously or unconsciously) blame themselves, and feel angry over the situation.

In order for a relationship to be healthy and mutually beneficial, it takes reciprocity and effort from both partners. Sometimes, one partner may have to carry the relationship for a period of time, such as when a partner becomes ill or unemployed. However, if one partner is carrying the burden over an extended period, this only creates a one-sided relationship. This relationship dynamic is imbalanced because one partner is putting in more effort in terms of emotional investment, finances, and time than the other partner who gives little to nothing in return. As a result, the person who is giving more in the relationship is resentful of the other partner.

Codependency is an unhealthy and excessive need to take care of another person. Quite commonly, people with codependent behavior enter into psychologically damaging and one-sided relationships with a partner affected by a substance use disorder. People struggling with codependency have a hard time establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries, communicating their own needs, and taking on responsibility for their addictive partner. If the codependent partner can't recognize these signs or simply chooses to ignore them, they are only allowing the problematic and self-destructive pattern of behavior called enabling.

When a codependent partner enables the addict, usually without conscious intentions, it only makes it possible for the other to continue using substances without having to face the consequences of their behavior. Examples of enabling include: allowing your partner to neglect their responsibility, rescuing them from natural consequences, making excuses to cover for them, and neglecting your own personal needs for them. And most importantly, boundaries are essential when you are in a relationship with an addictive person.

First, learn to identify what your boundaries are to inform your significant other of those boundaries and set realistic expectations, and plan if the boundaries are not respected. Therefore, if you are in a space where you find yourself exhausted and upset from making excuses, lying, and creating explanations for an addictive partner that allows them a pass to remain in denial, you are enabling rather than empowering them. It's important to remember you are not responsible for another person's actions and you have no control over their behaviors.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, you can reach out for free help and advice by calling American Addiction Centers (866) 959-3176

Drug & Alcohol addiction hotlines are a valuable resource for those suffering from addiction. Conversations are confidential and treatment advisers are on the line 24/7 to walk you through the process of recovery.

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