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When Love Feels Like a Cage


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Hi, everyone. I haven't posted here in a long time, but I'm at my wit's end and I don't know who to turn to. Please don't attack me, I feel so sad and vulnerable and I just desperately need some advice.

I have been together with my husband for 12 years, we don't have any kids. We met as teens, so I literally don't know what adult life is like without him. And that's part of the problem. Because now I think I want out, but I have no idea what life would be like for me.

There are so many things to say. This post will be long, please bear with me. How can I sum up the happiness and misery of such a long time without writing a novel? I can't possibly cover everything. If you want clarification on anything, please ask.

I really hate to say this, but the main problem I have is his income. I'm not a gold digger, I want to make that very clear. I've always been independent and self-sufficient by nature; I'm not expecting a man to take care of me and provide for me.

When we were first together, he was going to school. His occupation can take several years to build up a steady clientele, which I readily accepted. But he has been in his occupation for over 10 years now, and he still makes the income of a college student. He has some good months, where he makes around the same monthly income as me, and those months are what give me hope and keep me in this marriage. But so much of the time he is making paychecks in the $300-500 range. Sometimes he isn't earning anything.

The worst part about it all is that most of it isn't really his fault. He gets sick or he gets injured or his bipolar (which he is on meds for and takes them consistently, but meds aren't a miracle cure) causes him to miss work. But it feels like there is ALWAYS something. Always. I feel like I can't be resentful because he didn't choose to have any of those things happen to him, but inside I'm screaming. I knew he was bipolar when we got married, and I accepted it. I've been very supportive of his mental health over the years. But all of his other issues started after we got married.

I'm so beyond frustrated and I'm so, so tired of being scared and broke and stressed out. I'm sick of working so hard for so many years and feeling like I'm just stuck in the mud, spinning my wheels, because my income allows us to pay our bills but we can't buy a house, we're about to be priced out of the rental market here (we live in a state which is growing more and more expensive, and he doesn't want to leave it) unless we live in a ***ty apartment in a bad part of town, and we never have money to travel, which is something that I've wanted to do for my whole life. 

He knows his income is a problem, we've talked about it. He gets depressed about it, which helps nothing. I wish he was the kind of man who could figure out a way around the problem, instead of just wallowing in misery, but he isn't. He doesn't have the entrepreneurial spirit to go out and really grow his business. He was never good at school, so going back to college isn't an option for him. He literally throws up if he wakes up early in the morning, and he can't handle stress, so 99% of normal adult jobs aren't possible for him to do.

I've been the primary breadwinner in our relationship for the entire time we've been together. I've been the one to make sure I work a steady job that provides health insurance and benefits. I'm currently working full time and going to school full time to learn the skills for a job that I could do as my full time job or as a side hustle. If he consistently made 2/3 of what I make, I'd be content. It's not an unreasonable thing to ask for, I feel, because I only make a little over $50K per year.

If I stay, I foresee my life with him being full of struggle and hardship. I foresee myself getting to retirement age and feeling bitter because he never saved for retirement and his body being too worn out for him to work anymore, so it would fall on me to keep us afloat in addition to being his literal caretaker.

I want to do more with my life. It just feels like I've been waiting around for my life to start, saying "things will get better" like a mantra. And they don't get better. 

In addition to income, he doesn't cook unless I ask him to. He generally doesn't book appointments or do other adulting without being asked. He does bare minimum housework. He doesn't shop for groceries unless I ask him to, even though we have a shared grocery list so he can always see what we need. He has no sense of managing finances, I've tried multiple times to explain budgets to him and to put him in charge of our finances because he wants to help, and he doesn't keep track of it or transfer money to pay our bills on time.

Life often feels superficial with him, I'll admit. He isn't a deep thinker, he doesn't like to watch any serious movies or have philosophical conversations, he'd rather watch comedies, smoke pot, and play video games. But I can find those other qualities in my friends.

You're probably saying now, "why would you stay?" But I truly love him. He is kind, and supportive, and funny. I know, beyond a doubt, that he's always got my back. He may forget to scedule an oil change, but if my car breaks down he will drop everything to come and help me. He may suffer from bipolar, but when he's dealing with his own issues he is always there for me emotionally. We have common interests that we enjoy doing together, although I'll admit that I'd like a lot more time to myself than I get, even before I started back at school.

I don't know if I'd find someone else who would be better, but I do feel like I might be happier even if I was alone. It would be nice to just handle my own life again, for my time and decisions to be mine alone. 

I'm heartbroken. I don't know what to do, because I love him very much but I've been miserable for years. I feel like I should leave, but what if I leave him and then I deeply regret it? What if the grass really isn't greener on the other side? Also, with his bipolar I truly fear that he will kill himself if I leave. Please, please help me.

Edited by WhiteLotus
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First, you are completely justified in being miserable.  It sounds like you don't really have a life partner; this relationship is more similar to a parent-child relationship.  Or, he is like a beautiful, exotic pet.

That doesn't mean it's a worthless relationship or that it isn't love, but it is not a partnership. Or at least, it's not anything close to an equal partnership.

I hope I'm reassuring you when I say that kindness is a big one.  So is someone who will help you when you're in big trouble. Those two things....well, the truth is that worldwide....women are expected to be the true leaders of a house.  In most marriages, it's the woman who handles 90% of the household's modern survival.  We get none of the credit, just most of the work.  If you separated and found someone else....there's a large chance you'd end up doing it all over again.  Also, a lot of husbands are cold and won't come running when you're sick, stuck, or need them.  It's just too inconvenient for them.  That's the reality of the dating pool, I'm afraid.

It's true that you can't make him remember to help with the household or invest in his career.  And it's hard because if you don't save him, you'll both end up eating beans and rice with the power turned off.

That sounds crazy, but you can let that happen.  Natural consequences are the best teachers, and often our only hope.

Tell him about your fears of the future.  I'm watching my disabled mom in the last years of her life because she wasn't prepared for old age.  It is bad.  You can't make him earn more, but you can always save.  Extreme saving is a way of life for many rednecks (myself included), and it's the only way I survived my 20s with paychecks as small as your husband's.

But you are going to be saving for two people.  So spend your cash on beans, rice, eggs, milk, sweet potatoes, and toilet paper. Put the rest in savings.  Give him a list of easy tasks (pay the electric bill, take out the trash, wash the dishes).  If he doesn't do it, the lights go off. No sports games, no video games.  If he doesn't take out the trash, he can suffer the smell.  That might be a good time for you to go to the garden store to buy tomato/herb seeds (<-this isn't sarcasm, I'm serious.)  If he doesn't wash the dishes, he can stare at the mess and eat off his hands.

When his quality of life drops, he might think about ways of changing. It would be nice if he would do it for you, but to him, you seem like Superwoman.  He can't imagine someone suffering so much AND achieving that much.  He probably thinks that if you were suffering that much, you couldn't do it.

But this can't go on forever, especially if you need to start working for the future (trust me), you do.

Letting him fail, mess things up, and facing the consequences of his mistakes alongside him won't be fun.  But a week of Hamburger Helper and a few days without internet couldn't be worse than the anguish you're in now.  You can suffer alone without hopes of things getting better. Or, you can suffer together with hope of him learning.

If he gets mad at you for "dropping the ball"--tell the truth. Tell him you're investing more in the future, burnt out over 12 years of fighting alone, and would rather eat peanut butter and jelly (while still loving him), then do all the work and resent him for another day. 

You can tell him it seems crazy on the outside, but it isn't as miserable and crazy as you've been on the inside.  And encourage him to daydream about what you could achieve if he meets you halfway.

Besides, you're the one with the cash. You can afford to hide a flashlight and  Italian takeout while he's searching in the dark for the Instant Ramen😅 It sounds harsh, but I'm telling you this for his sake and yours! I'd hate to see him broke and divorced. And I'd hate to see you waste your youth only to end up like my mom.  Truly.  I've scrounged for beans myself. Poverty taught me. It won't kill him.

 

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2 hours ago, WhiteLotus said:

I'm heartbroken. I don't know what to do, because I love him very much but I've been miserable for years. I feel like I should leave, but what if I leave him and then I deeply regret it? What if the grass really isn't greener on the other side? Also, with his bipolar I truly fear that he will kill himself if I leave. Please, please help me.

You’ll have to decide the kind of life you want to live. I’m sorry to say that. It’s not very complicated although it is painful. 

He has mental health and addictions/substance abuse issues. You’re barking up the wrong tree here if you’re looking for an equal or mutual partnership. 

My suggestion is to speak with a counsellor in private. You will need to figure out why you’re drawn to relationships like this and feeling afraid to seek more. 

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7 hours ago, WhiteLotus said:

 so 99% of normal adult jobs aren't possible for him to do.

I've been the primary breadwinner in our relationship for the entire time we've been together. 

Sorry this is happening. You seem to underestimate how severe bipolar disorder is. 

He's not your child or your patient. You'll never have a future or a happy life as long as you are with him.

Sadly, that's the truth.

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Why are you saying that you have no children? You have one-your "man".

How come he cannot wake up early in the morning to go to work, but he is perfectly capable to wake up to smoke pot and play video games?

Part of the problem is your enabling behaviour. If you continue to support him and do all the work, why would he change? 

Talking and complaining to him will not work. You need to dump his lazy a§§ and I can reassure you that life without him as a single woman, would be much better for you, because you know how to take care of yourself. You will also do him a favour, because he will be pushed to grow up and take responsibiilty for his life. While you are around to be his mommy, he will never quit suckling his thumb :-). 

You worry that if you car breaks up on the road, nobody will come to your aid if you leave your husband? So, this is why you need to stick with him? I have never heard more stupid excuse to stay with a loser. If your car breaks up, there are car insurances for that, lady. The professional service comes and fixes your car, or tows it to a garage and gets you a replacement vehicle. At least this is what my full car insurance does. And anyway if your husband comes, he wouldn't be able to fix anything, from what you are telling us. So, he is useless anyway.

I would vote for dumping him, you will do a favor to both of you. 

And I do not think you love him, because how can you love a man that you have so much resentment to (and righfully so)? It is your fear of the unknown and that you got stuck with him from your teenage years, that is blocking you from doing what is best for you (and for him).

Edited by East4
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My father was biploar for most of his life -and it was a new diagnosis back then. Working was so so hard for him at times!  He did choose jobs that he could handle -meaning he didn't do the highest possible income because the pressure would just not have worked.  But my father - he was depressed as a teen.  My parents married in their early 20s.  In the 1950s. 

My father was in the medical field and he went to school for many years, then married my mom and oh my goodness he went to therapy, he took meds and he had a number of hospitalizations over the years -of course he could not work then.  And it was totally stigmatized for most of his life. 

His profession required one to one interactions with patients. He worked 6 days a week for years.  My mom raised us full time and returned to work part time once I was in school but it was his income that was the main income of course.  We lived in a small apartment they owned.  Not a great neighborhood (but now it is!). 

My father also did his part around the house and he took us so many places despite limited funds at times.  We were not close to him -his illness -you know -made that so so hard for us kids - but he never gave up trying to be a good dad, a good spouse, working through his horrible mental illness obstacles.  I forgave him in my 30s.  I loved and respected him.  My mom was his cheerleader, his hero -made sure he stayed on meds, went to therapy, went to the hospital when it was all too much.  But he did his part too -he let my mom convince him when he needed that push.  He had an amazing work ethic.

So you know what -I'm no mental health professional but my goodness if he could work for the 50 years he did until he retired in his 70s (earlier than planned -he collapsed and was hospitalized yet again) - I mean if he could do that when it was so stigmatized and he had to be the main breadwinner,

I'm sorry - I don't think your husband is doing enough, pulling his weight enough.  Slack for his mental illness. Yes.  This much slack. Nope. You do deserve to live a fulfilling and comfortable life -you've worked hard for it and he's not stepping up to the plate, for years now. I'm so sorry.

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Here's my opinion, if you're planning on staying in your marriage:

Your husband has to pick up the lion's share of the housework. If he's making less than $30K working full time, he should find a part time job and spend the remaining time supporting your efforts to finance the household.

It's not ok for him to while away his free time smoking pot, playing video games, and watching TV while you're stuck doing everything.

Edited by Jibralta
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Anyone who reads my posts here knows that I say this all the time- 

You can like someone, you can LOVE someone, it STILL does not mean you are Compatible. People don't always break up because they don't love each other anymore.  Quite the contrary, often they just realize that all the love in the WORLD can't make up for extreme incompatibility. 

Loving someone doesn't always mean you can live with and having a long term successful partnership with.  You are NOT in partnership.  You are in an enablement situation.  You are more like his mother than his wife.  This is the problem with staying in a long term relationship with someone you met so young, you become co-dependent on each other.  Yours has gotten to the point of you being unsure if you or he can even SURVIVE without each other and I know you know that that isn't healthy at ALL- for either of you. 

You cannot save him or transform him into someone he's not.  There's nothing wrong with wanting more for yourself. But please understand, that is not going to happen while you are married to this man.  Caring for someone with a mental illness is challenging and it's not for everyone.  But it is HIS job to manage himself and care for himself and it is NOT an excuse for him not to contribute to his own household.  It is not your job to his doctor, his psychiatrist, his mother or his life manager.  

You have two distinct choices- Stay with him and understand that by doing so, you will likely be giving up other things you've dreamed of, like travel-etc. You've been with him a long time, I don't really see him changing at this point.  He's gotten very used to you taking care of him.  

Or you really want those things and want to feel free to live your life as you see fit- without him. 

But you do have to choose. You can't have both with this man.  Everything in life has a price. Rough as is sounds, sometimes choices in life are mutually exclusive and you have to decide what is more important to you- Living your life as you pictured or staying with this man because you love him knowing that may mean sacrificing the other things.  

You mention not knowing what's going to happen.  That's normal.  Often in life we DONT know which decision is best.  Many times we don't know this until AFTER we've made the best decision we felt in the moment and then see how it played out.  But please understand that just because a decision is painful, doesn't mean it wasn't the RIGHT decision.   I am divorced and remarried.  Getting divorced was one of the hardest and best decisions I ever made.  But like you, I was with him from a very young age and it was hard to see my life without him.  Even though it was the right choice for us both, it was still sad and scary and I didn't know how my life would look without him or his without me. We are both now remarried and happier with our current spouses that we are more compatible with. 

It isn't easy when you love someone.  But here's the thing- You shouldn't sacrifice your own happiness for someone else's comfort.  It will just leave you feeling resentful and ultimately, it's not really helping him either.  

You need to think about what is more important to your future happiness- your marriage or what you envisioned for yourself.  You already know that you will not have both while you are married to this man.  

 

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I have been on this forum a long time now and when I read posts like this my first thought is a question.

The question pops into my head because sometimes towards the end of the post or sometimes it comes out later but a great many times there is an outside factor bringing the feelings to a head.

  Is there someone showing interest in you?  I am not judging you but to help we need all of the facts and brutal honesty.

 To be sure your situation is bleak either way at the moment.

Lost

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On 1/15/2022 at 9:30 PM, WhiteLotus said:

I don't know if I'd find someone else who would be better, but I do feel like I might be happier even if I was alone. It would be nice to just handle my own life again, for my time and decisions to be mine alone

I think you're right about being better on your own.  It's not about finding better.  A plan to improve your life should not include finding someone to rescue you. 

Thinking things will get better is good to keep yourself going, but you have to make moves to change things.  They don't change on their own, at least not on a timely manner. Sometimes we have to endure things to get to that next phase but what you described is not that.

You have to acknowledge that your life is now.

You married someone that you did have some knowledge of how he was (bi-polar) but you were young and you can't blame yourself. That's not helpful.  You see you are growing as a person, wanting more and that is a reason to re-evaluate the relationship. And it's not your responsibility to make up for what he lacks.  He's a grown man.  He's not figured life out and that's not your fault. Of course you want a true partner.  

What does he do to manage his mental health? is he in therapy?

 

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Thank you so much, everyone. I'm truly grateful for your advice, you helped me to get a lot of clarity.

He and I have agreed that, in a few months, we will live separately from each other for 6 months. I feel like this will be helpful in two different ways. First, living on his own might help him to grow up some, when I'm not there to help him out. Second, it will give me the chance to see what life on my own would be like and the space to really think and decide if I want to stay in this marriage. He knows how close we are to the end, time will tell if he gets his act together. But right now, I am leaning toward not staying married.

Edited by WhiteLotus
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4 hours ago, WhiteLotus said:

, we will live separately from each other for 6 months.

Get legally separated. If you are married you are a legal entity responsible for finances.

You need to consult an attorney. This is not a teen breakup. 

All he will do with this is date and have sex with others. This experiment will not make him grow up.

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7 hours ago, WhiteLotus said:

Thank you so much, everyone. I'm truly grateful for your advice, you helped me to get a lot of clarity.

He and I have agreed that, in a few months, we will live separately from each other for 6 months. I feel like this will be helpful in two different ways. First, living on his own might help him to grow up some, when I'm not there to help him out. Second, it will give me the chance to see what life on my own would be like and the space to really think and decide if I want to stay in this marriage. He knows how close we are to the end, time will tell if he gets his act together. But right now, I am leaning toward not staying married.

But he'll know there is an end date and you will be financially supporting him,yes?  It's like going on a long vacation.  You're married so you won't be on your own in the ways that count -you will get physical space from him.  Do you have joint bank accounts?

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 1/19/2022 at 10:06 PM, WhiteLotus said:

 

we will live separately from each other for 6 months. I feel like this will be helpful in two different ways. First, living on his own might help him to grow up some, when I'm not there to help him out. Second, it will give me the chance to see what life on my own would be like and the space to really think and decide if I want to stay in this marriage. He knows how close we are to the end, time will tell if he gets his act together. But right now, I am leaning toward not staying married.

First of all, good for you!  I think living on your own is best right now.  Enough time has been spent sacrificing what you want for him. Make this time about YOU. 

But as others have also suggested, PLEASE protect yourself.  What this means- get legally separated. This will save you a ton of heartache.   Don't expect him to become someone new. Don't worry or focus on him for a while. 

Don't let codependency or empathy for him cloud your OWN judgment for what YOU want or "reel you back in".  Take it from someone who has been there, I did that and it was the WORST decision I ever made in my life.  

This really needs to be about YOU.   When you are apart, really think about how YOU are feeling.  Are you happier?  Less stressed?  Calmer?  More excited about life? These will be key indicators.  Only go back to him if you really want to when this is over because you can't envision a happy life for YOURSELF without him (not to mention get tested for STD's)- NOT out of pity or worry for him.  He's a grown man, and it's HIS job to take care of himself- not yours. 

The future is yours. Do what is best for YOU. 

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 1/15/2022 at 9:30 PM, WhiteLotus said:

I truly love him.

What do you love about him other than he's supportive of you because it pays for him to stay a giant child, while you bust your a$$?

  • He can't consistently work
  • He's not bright
  • He's has medical issues that interfere with his life
  • You never have room for your own issues
  • He isn't a partner in any aspect
  • You have to tell him what to do

Just because you married your childhood sweetheart, it does not mean you owe him the rest of your life.  All he does it take and take, while you have no room for you to be you.

And yes, a good relationship is a good partnership, that yours isn't one.  Plenty of amazing fish in the sea.  He was who you were 12 years ago, and while you grew, emotionally and physically, he remains a stunted boy.  He's not the one for you.  Divorce isn't always filled with malice.  You need a partner, not a broken bird.

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