Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hello, Carolyn: I’m not doing well at hiding adult problems from my child. I work a full-time, stressful job with long hours while my husband is a stay-at-home dad — which I never agreed to. I thought he was going back to work 4 1/2 years ago. I have tried to hide my resentment from my tween daughter, but tonight I was exhausted and frustrated after I worked 14 hours, ate cereal for dinner, did a load of laundry, helped her with her homework and cleaned the litter box while my husband sat on the couch with his phone.
When I said goodnight to my daughter, I told her I hoped she found a hard-working spouse someday that would allow her to have a stress-free life and spend time with her children.
I truly meant it and I have thought it many, many times, but I so regret saying it to her and now I don’t know how to unburden her of my adult problems that I never should have told her. I feel awful. Ugh.
Dear Not Hiding: The way to unburden her of your adult problems is for you to unburden yourself of your adult problems.
You made the snide comment because you’re just slogging through an emotionally untenable situation, step by grudging step, without pursuing some clear way to fix it. The fuel keeping your guard up around your daughter was finally depleted.
Will it be easy to fix? No, of course not. Even if you choose divorce, it will get the inert spouse out of your living room only at a high emotional cost (disrupted home, less time with your child, possible loss of custody) and high actual cost (two households vs. one, alimony, child support). Still, all but the worst case is better than impotent rage as you alone work, cook, clean, parent, repeat, from alarm to bedtime daily.
Plus, there are other avenues that might make that drastic a step unnecessary. Is your husband depressed? Or otherwise limited by a condition that has gone undiagnosed? Would he agree to consider he’s addicted to his phone? Is his behavior passive aggression that, while unacceptable, stems from a grievance with you that’s as legitimate as your current grievance with him? Have you gotten couples’ counseling or family therapy of any kind?
This remark to your daughter is your dead canary — telling you the marital environment is too poisonous for you all to survive it. Take emergency measures, please, and soon.
Re: Adult Problems: Be careful, too: You’ve demonstrated that if your partner isn’t “partnering” as you need him/her to, then you shouldn’t work through it with the other person directly — you should grow resentful and snippy. Part of having a great partner is being a great partner.
Dear Anonymous: That’s fair, thanks. Or: If a partner is genuinely not being enough of one to make any kind of partnership possible, then the other needs to be a great advocate for what’s right, in whatever form that must take.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at noon ET each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.