Each week our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe helps a reader with a problem. This week: I think my wife hates me, and I don't know how to respond without making her angry.
I’ve been married to my wife for about ten years. She’s Irish and I am not. We have three children together and money is an issue. She’s a mum full?time and I think she might be depressed, though when I’ve suggested that, she has screamed at me and said that she is not depressed; she just hates her life.
She’s always angry and makes me feel like nothing I do is right. She shouts at the kids and spends most of her time staring at her phone. We haven’t had sex in over two years and are now sleeping in separate rooms. I’ve asked her to go and see a counselor with me but she’s not interested; she says she is too stressed to think about it and that just looking at me stresses her out. She said all I do is make her feel bad about herself but we don’t even talk. I think so carefully before I say anything because I don’t want her to react badly.
If she was able to go back to work part?time, it would take some of the pressure off us both but she won’t talk about that either and wants to be there for the children. I dread going home every night and don’t feel welcome in my own home. If I could afford to, I would suggest a separation but this is not an option for us financially as I can barely maintain one home. Recently, I started a sexual relationship with one of my colleagues at work and she suggested I write to you. She is also married and has no interest in being with me permanently. It’s a good arrangement and tells me that another life is possible. What can I do?
Living with a partner who struggles with their mental health is one of the most challenging situations a spouse might ever face. Your letter suggests that your wife almost definitely suffers with depression or an anxiety-related issue and needs support. I can completely understand, however, why you feel as hopeless as you do and why you are desperately looking for a way out.
The first thing to remember is, depression – or whatever your wife may be dealing with – is the antagonist here, not your wife. When you are the one being rejected, derided or ignored, and are wrangling with your own existential crises as a result, it’s almost impossible to separate the illness from the person.
The second factor to note is, that couples can and do navigate through these issues and emerge stronger than ever. It’s not the first big problem a relationship might endure and it won’t be the last. Financial crises and a death in the family are similar, seemingly insurmountable stressors that can be overcome. But only if you’re communicating and working towards the same desired outcome.
What to do next
The fact that your current interactions with your wife are either openly hostile or seething with resentment implies that all lines of communication have been severed or at the very least contaminated. As you suggested, the ideal would be that you go to therapy together, where you’d both be able to share your sadness and frustrations in a supportive environment.
Rather than proposing counselling to your wife and citing all mitigating factors – namely her behaviour towards you – be as supportive as you can be when you mention it again. Tell her that you love her, that you are committed to your marriage and your family and truly want to find a way for both of you to move forward. Although this might not reflect how you feel right now, and you may think that you have moved past this point, your sensitivity and reassurance will lay the foundation for healing.
To put your all into this, to really focus on helping your wife and trying to salvage your marriage, ending the fling with your work colleague is a must, at least for now. Anyone reading your letter would understand how you must crave intimacy and emotional connection, the dotted line is so easily traced and there’s certainly no judgment here. However, if you are up for embracing the likely long and hard road of nurturing your wife back to good health and reclaiming your marriage, then a clear head is essential.
If your wife is still resistant to therapy and your continued efforts to support her, it would definitely be a good idea for you to go alone. I’m not sure where in the country you are but The Dublin Counselling & Therapy Centre offers low-cost therapy sessions for those who are under significant financial pressure. You are dealing with a huge amount and they will be able to advise you on how you can look after yourself, what resources you might have access to and how to move forward.
Getting your wife back on track
Meanwhile, there are lots of reasons – including and impacted by her general level of mental health - why your wife may not want to return to work. One is that she may have lost her confidence having given up her career to look after your children. Returning to work after a six or 12 month maternity leave can be traumatic enough for women; returning after a 10 year hiatus, when the industry you left is unrecognisable is intimidating and overwhelming. Springboard is an Irish company offering over 8,000 free undergrad and postgrad training courses, catering to the needs of growing enterprises, is a great directive. They have an entire ‘Returners’ scheme, tailored to previous homemakers returning to the workforce. This might be a good first step for your wife, once she is in a better place mentally and emotionally.
Ultimately, all you can do is give your marriage, and your wife, one last chance. Not a 24-hour deadline but a sustained period of proactively trying to lead change. If you’re not successful, then at least you know you have given it your all and can walk away. Again, this will not be an easy or clear-cut route for you, but exploring your options with a solicitor and considering a collaborative law process – where the child’s well-being is prioritised and division of assets is fair and honest – rather than a toxic court battle would be an idea.
Collaborative law relies on both separating parties working towards the same endgame, minimal destruction and optimum peace of mind. Let’s hope you can at least agree on something.