Dear Marriage Maven,
My formerly athletic, attractive, attentive, happy husband has turned into a slovenly, grouchy, old man.
All he does is complain about his job, politics and his infinite number of bodily dis-functions.
What the heck happened? Did I do this to him?? What can I do?
A girlfriend friend of mine, who is about 20 years my senior, she said it only gets worse. Honestly, I don’t know if I can take another 20 years of this.
Fed up in Fort Worth
Dear Fed Up,
First of all, no, you did not do this to him. Look around. Do you notice lots of happy older men running around who do not complain about politics, tell the same stories over and over, and give a running account of their aches and pains? Surely you cannot be responsible for them, too. So, please, understand that your husband’s behavior is not your responsibility.
What can you do? You can make your own “executive” decisions about how you want to live the rest of your life, and I am not suggesting that you get a divorce. That is usually not necessary. Your husband is probably telling you all about his problems because he has come to see you as the person who dispenses emotional support, and physical care. And in many cases, the wife has done just that for the family for many, many years. At a certain point, though, she wants a little bit of her own life back. She does not want to care for a grouchy old man until he dies, even if it’s her husband and she loves him. Loving someone does not make you responsible for his/her suffering. In fact, even if you did want to spend your whole life and all your energy trying to alleviate your husband’s suffering, the fact is that you can only do so much, and that is actually very little. You can say, “I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sorry you feel bad. You’re right…all of these politicians should be strung up by their toenails, dear.” If you drove him to doctor after doctor, and cooked organic healthy meal after organic healthy meal, would that really solve the problem? No. He is going through a process. He may or may not decide to be nice. But just like we learned in elementary school, if you are not nice, no one will play with you. It is not up to you to fix him, or heal him, or make it all better. You can’t make it all better. Life is difficult, and that’s just the way it is. Put down the burden of trying to make him or even yourself happy, and live your life the best way you know how. You are allowed to do some things you may not have done before. Perhaps you would like to go on retreat. Perhaps you would like to take a class. Do what you would like to do sometimes.
If he is really “in your face” horrible, you can either ignore him, or you can explain to him that if he hopes not to die alone in the nursing home, he had better change his tune and start acting nicer, because absolutely no one but you will be there for him. And you mean that in the nicest possible way.