Ask Dr. Merry: Wife Fed-Up With Husband’s Poor Choices

» Posted in Ask Dr. Lin, Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments


Like the woman whose husband committed suicide on Friday’s post, my husband struggles with pornography, depression, and possible bipolar as well. I find that I am very frustrated because he is on medication that works but not great, he recently changed the dose that he takes and has been “off” alot of days. I understand that it takes a while for your system to adjust to the new medication. What I am frustrated with is that he is overweight, he drinks 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day with too much sugar and cream, eats way too much carb, is always tired and unmotivated. We bought a treadmill so that he would exercise and he is not doing much of that. I have been on him to eat better and exercise.  As well, I do most of the stuff around the house, I am getting tired of nagging at him. My question is:  I have decided to take a different approach, but I am not sure that it is a good one. I have decided that I will ask him to do something around the house once and then remind him a couple of days later. If it doesn’t get done then I will do it and not be bitter. I am not going to get mad at him, I will just remain silent. I keep praying to God to deal with the situation because it is in his hands not mine. I guess I am going to deal with the house and shopping like I am a single mom. Then if he helps out great, if not then I have not placed any expectations on him that will get me angry. I am done helping him with his diet and exercise, he will not listen to me on the importance that diet and exercise has on mental illness. Do you think that I am doing the right thing?

I can hear your desire to do the right thing – to love and support your husband while choosing to break free from the trap of trying to control or change him.  Good for you — for all the hard work it took for you to let go of rescuing him and taking responsibility for his life!  Not only are you doing the right thing for your husband, but you are also doing the right thing for yourself – this will be so freeing for you so that you can choose to have a satisfying and happy life, regardless of the choices your spouse makes.  You’ve taken some really healthy steps forward to break free from a dysfunctional pattern of relating to your spouse – one that could have kept both of you trapped in a cycle that is ultimately destructive.

Here’s a good question to ask yourself if you ever find yourself in a similar situation:  Am I working harder than my spouse (or child, or friend) in trying to fix their problem?  If the answer is yes, then you know it’s a sign for you to step back from all the efforts YOU are making to try to help them change.  Not only do you ultimately have little control over their choices, but trying to micro-manage them only leads to resentment on your part, as well as his.  It also places you in the place of having to police him – making you his parent rather than his wife!  Not good for you, and certainly not good for him, as he never has the space to grow up and take responsibility for his own life.

He needs to choose to do the healthy things for himself – he needs to have the internal motivation to change and then the willingness to do the hard work of making those changes.  This includes his choice to get the supports and help he needs if he doesn’t yet have the internal structure within himself to overcome his problems.  (Do you know how many people call  our offices to make counselling appointments for their resistant spouses, who then end up coming in because they feel forced to, not because they really want to work on changing?  This doesn’t work!)  You can’t do any of these things for him and if you try, you can actually interfere with his process of changing and growing (which may not happen until he finally hits rock bottom or experiences enough pain to make the required changes).  Even if he chooses to shorten his life span because of his poor choices, there is nothing you can do about this other than continue to pray and give him into God’s hands.

Continuing to step in to “help” your spouse is a classic pattern of codependency – which many of us can tend to fall into; this is when one partner has some troubling habits or behaviours and the other person works all-out to try to “fix” the problems.  Codependency can also arise when a partner is self-absorbed or uninterested, where only one of you is ever asking to spend time together or making moves to approach the other one.  I work with many people who invest far too much energy agonizing, getting angry with, and fretting over the choices of others – to the detriment of their own health and well-being.  They come to session after session bemoaning the poor choices of their loved ones and plotting ways to try to stop them or fix them or change them – and meanwhile, they’ve lost their own sense of identity, their own experiences of joy, and a sense of control over their OWN lives.

I’m so glad to hear that you’re stepping back from trying to manage your husband’s behaviour.  It’s hard to watch our loved ones chose destructive paths and to feel helpless as we see them live out the consequences of their choices.  And even worse, it’s really hard when you, yourself, have to bear the consequences of those choices (for example, having to care for him when he is sick because he doesn’t take care of himself).  But aside from all of this, there is an important question I’d like to ask you to consider:  What are you choosing to do for YOURSELF?

This is something we caregivers often forget to consider.  We take steps to STOP doing things for our loved ones that we shouldn’t be doing, but we forget to START doing things that are great for ourselves.  So consider:  What intentional things are you doing to ensure that you’re caring for yourself, physically, emotionally and spiritually?  What boundaries are you setting up to protect your own health and well-being?  And what things are you pursuing for yourself that give you a sense of joy and satisfaction?

Live your life as a gift that God has given you – as something to be treasured, enjoyed, and mined for his gifts and adventures.  Regardless of what your husband choses to do or not do, you can choose to focus on your own dreams, hopes and passions, on deepening your relationship with God, and on squeezing every bit of joy you can out of your life.  Move past the neutrality of no longer allowing your husband’s actions to anger or hurt you to a positive pursuit of the gifts that God has intended for your life.

By the way, for those readers who are wondering if they’re in a co-dependent relationship, here are some questions to ask yourself:  Is this relationship more important to me than I am?   Am I destroying myself in “loving” my partner?  What price am I paying for being with this person?  Am I the only one who is putting energy into this relationship?  Have I lost sight of myself and my hopes, dreams and passions?

If you have a question, click on the “Ask Dr. Lin” tab on the right bar of the website and then complete the form.  And be sure to check out the “Ask Dr. Lin” blog every Friday!


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