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BEL MOONEY: Is it time I left my jobless, layabout husband?

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Dear Bel,

I grew up in a rough area of Liverpool (I know you know it, because I read you once lived near there) before they bulldozed it. My dad always said if you can survive that area, everything else is easy.

Thought of the day 

For your Self is the master of yourself, and your Self is your refuge.

Therefore train yourself well, even as a merchant trains a fine horse.

From the Dhammapada, sayings of Buddha (third century BC)  

We then moved to Warrington, but I hated the place and when I was 20 packed up and moved to Holland. After four years I moved to Bristol and after a while met someone and got married.

Fast-forward 16 years . . . we own our own house (with a mortgage) and have always worked hard. I’m now in my early 40s and my husband just turned 50. Since Covid struck last March, he hasn’t had a real job. He’s been doing bits and pieces for cash but not really making a great deal of effort.

I’m lucky enough to have been able to work from home throughout this. But my patience is coming to an end. I’m paying for everything while he sits around doing nothing.

I’m working seven days a week to keep on top of my job, then he expects me to cook and clean the damn house. He complains he has no clean clothes and feels hungry. Sometimes I could kill him. I feel like I’m losing myself, my history, my carefree attitude.

I can’t talk to my family for various reasons. I don’t want to open up to my friends in case they turn on him, but I can’t carry on.

I have tried helping him to find work and he just comes up with reasons why he can’t do it and then doesn’t do anything about anything else. I’m at the point now where I want to sell the house, get divorced and move back to Liverpool.

Do you have any suggestions for me?

JANET

This week Bel advises a reader who questions whether she should leave her jobless, layabout husband.

Sorry to state the obvious, but it’s a sad fact that we’re all living in very testing times, when minor irritants loom so large they threaten to overwhelm us.

Your email comes as yet another reminder of stress — and I notice them more and more, as people’s responses are scratchy or otherwise over-the-top.

It seems to me to be sensible if the first thing you do is not to assume that divorce and moving would make you happier, but to ask yourself what your relationship with your husband was like before last March.

It’s vital to be honest and not rewrite history. Was he lazy and unmotivated before losing work because of lockdown? Or are this general malaise and his selfish demands a result of being demoralised by the situation, both personal and national?

Many people are finding they have lost all their energy and, as a result, their self-esteem. Might this be true of your husband?

Asking that question is not to make excuses for the fact that he expects you ‘to cook and clean the damn house’. I would find that pretty intolerable, too. Homes are shared and work should be, too.

But it must have occurred to you that he might be feeling really low —made worse by a feeling of helplessness because you are now the chief breadwinner.

Obviously this needs to be talked through. Your tough upbringing turned you into a survivor who values independence — but you might find it a struggle in real life.

You dream of returning to Liverpool, even though you haven’t lived there since childhood. But places change (Liverpool certainly has) and your fantasy of a new life might prove very lonely indeed. You don’t mention children, but surely the way forward for now would be to try to glue the cracks in your marriage — at least until the time when we can all leave our homes, enjoy a social life and feel that there is some sort of a future.

Only then will you be in a position to make a rational decision about life with your husband. In the meantime, think about seeking professional support (relate.org.uk) and make your mind up to have a proper, serious conversation with him about what’s wrong.

Please avoid accusations — no matter how much you want to berate him for faults. Instead, explain that you are tired, unhappy and frustrated, and really need his help. A cleaning and cooking rota — drawn up properly — will be a start.

Using a calm, measured tone is vital — because that brooks no opposition. I suspect he is feeling inferior and so needs to know that you have weaknesses, too. Covid has ruined so much, but as a strong woman you should ask if it can destroy the life you have built.

You are still young and ultimately may choose to make a new start on your own — but something tells me now is not the time.

My friend brings out the worst in me  

Dear Bel,

I have been friends with Anne for over 50 years. We met at work. We made a happy foursome with our husbands, meeting several times a year (we lived some way apart) until my husband died 16 years ago.

Anne and her husband were very good to me. When Anne’s husband died some years ago, I stepped up the friendship as she seemed to need extra support. But things have started to go downhill.

I think we’ve both reverted to the people we used to be before marriage. I have always been quite laid back, never worried about anything and always seek the quiet life.

Anne is always on her soapbox, very competitive, throwing her weight around and generally treating me as if I was of inferior intelligence (I might be but I don’t like to know it!). She and I have nothing in common at all. She is very sociable and I know she is very lonely.

She has lots of friends where she lives, but I am the only one who stays overnight.

We have been on several holidays, which I’ve hated because my hackles rise in self-defence whenever I’m with her. I’ve told her that at 75 I want to live my life on my terms. It doesn’t seem to have sunk in.

She’s in hospital now and I’ve rung her on several occasions — and she says she has others she has to speak to and could I ring at a more convenient time?

This makes my blood boil — and I now feel it is time to end the friendship. When she’s back home, she’ll be on the phone again wanting me to visit — and I don’t want to. The problem is, although she is kind, she brings out the worst in me. What to do?

HELENA  

When I look at the photographs of my second wedding, a happy day in September 2007, I can’t help noticing that of that small group of friends in the church quite a few are no longer a part of our lives.

Two have sadly died, but there are others whose friendship just . . . ended. It happens.

At the time, those people mattered very much. But gradually life takes a new course because events and people change, causing friendships to evolve too. And sometimes fizzle out.

Maybe we all worry too much about this perfectly normal process: after all, if you kept in touch with everybody from the past, there would be no space for new friends.

In your case, the friendship-foursome was the key, wasn’t it? That dynamic gave you many good times — and please celebrate the fact that it leaves you with good memories.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

So when you say that you and Anne ‘have nothing in common at all,’ it’s not strictly true. You have a shared history in common, and surely it’s important not to forget that.

Yet with the passage of time, your differences in personality have become more pronounced. Anne annoys you because (I suspect) she has locked you into an image she formed of you years ago — one which is no longer true. Yet in truth, you view her in the same way, too — that is, as over-confident and opinionated. And it drives you mad!

But there’s an interesting contradiction here, because you know Anne is lonely and needs people more than you do. So much for her self-confidence.

One minute she is putting you in a queue for conversation, next moment she’s making demands — and to me that reinforces a sense of her vulnerability. It sounds as if you are probably the stronger of the two.

So what to do? She has friends and so do you. And since you live at a distance, why can’t you proceed with a civilised lessening of contact, without ditching the whole friendship?

During lockdown you can’t go to stay with her anyway, nor go on holiday — and so when at last life returns to normal, the old habits will have been broken.

I know exactly what you mean about an irritating old friend; I have a couple like that (I expect I annoy them, too!). Yet because of our long history, I’d be sorry if they disappeared from my life.

It can be a good gauge of one’s feelings to ask: ‘How would I feel if I got a phone to tell me she had died?’

If the answer is an honest ‘sad’, that’s a good sign that the old friendship can be parked on a shelf in your heart, allowed to rest there peacefully with a little dust-off every so often.

And finally…Be grateful for spring — and the jab 

When you read this column (probably on Saturday morning, I’m guessing), I shall be heading off for my Covid vaccine at a local church hall — and very pleased I shall be.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

I simply cannot understand why anybody would refuse to be inoculated — anything that assists slow steps towards recovery is more than welcome to me. I was thrilled when my 96-year-old Mum had hers a couple of weeks ago.

When I was a child in the Fifties you sometimes saw children supported by heavy irons on their legs because they had contracted polio. So it seemed such a privilege to be offered inoculation in our primary schools.

Perhaps it’s because of that background that I tend towards gratitude, rather than seeing things as my ‘right’.

The NHS is, after all, exactly the same age as I am and must have seemed such a gift to my parents’ generation. When my father (now 99) attends hospital for routine procedures he unfailingly says, ‘Thank you’ — more than once — to medical staff.

So (not taking anything for granted) I was absurdly pleased to receive my vaccine summons. And while it obviously won’t free me from lockdown, it feels like a step forward.

So I shall take that positive step out into our rainy garden, where the snowdrops lie in swathes of white and green beneath the trees, and there are clumps of primroses, too.

The spikes of daffodils and narcissi are already pushing up, and soon there will be golden crocuses and grape hyacinths. Then will come the sweet purple and white violets in hidden corners, only found if you kneel.

Kneeling seems to me to be the right attitude — even if (with creaky joints!) you simply bow down within your head. Because the glorious, fresh green force in parks and gardens may seem unstoppable, but still can’t be taken for granted. It demands wonder and gratitude — like the vaccine programme which is going so well and in which we have to place our hope.

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