Dear Thelma: My marriage is really killing me

The Straits Times

"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.

Dear Thelma,

I am a married working professional with two young children. I've been married for three years now, and it's taking a toll on me.

I have a regular 8-5 job, after which I rush home (a good 30km away) to fetch my kids from the babysitter's.

I prepare and cook their dinner, feed them and bathe them, clean up the house, and then I have my own dinner.

By the time I get to bed, it's usually midnight, if not later. The next morning I wake up at 5am, and the whole routine repeats itself.

My husband works outstation, and he only comes home during weekends. He spends two days at home, playing with the kids, and off he goes.

I'm not saying that he doesn't help around the house, but him helping only means that I have to clean up after him as well.

If we have any issues that need to be discussed, I am unable to do so with him because he is always away from home.

If I want to discuss things with him when he's home, he will feel burdened because he only comes home once a week, and he does not want to be troubled by all the mundane problems.

It's as if I should only work to keep him happy for the two days that he is home, and send him off happily.

If that's the case, when do I ever get to talk to him about pressing matters?

He does not communicate with me and I am left to figure things out for myself. And when I do that, THAT becomes an issue as I have planned things without consulting him. How do I go about this?

Another issue that bothers me is that he is not contributing much financially. With our mounting debts and loans, it is beginning to get on my nerves. I can't discuss finances with him, because when I ask about his work and salary (which is not much), he gets upset.

His job requires him to be out of town. He's just hanging around his boss, staying with his boss's family, and doing odd jobs for them. He is earning an amount that is not helping the family.

When I asked him about his plans for the future, he doesn't have any.

I feel like I have to do all the hard work, in and out of the house to get this family going. And I'm getting very tired physically and mentally.

Am I wrong to think that I need my husband to have a regular job that pays him well, and allows him to come home everyday and spend time with the family? - Overworked wife


Dear Overworked wife,

No, you are not wrong to expect your husband to contribute more to the family. This is very normal, and it seems like a fair request. Yet, it is very difficult. In your case, it is compounded by other factors.

Studies from around the world show that women do more housework than their male partners. It seems that while women are making strides towards equality in the public sphere, the private sphere remains a challenge. Yours is a common dilemma. However, in your case, you are dealing with everything on your own.

This kind of physical and mental exhaustion can compromise your immune system and leave you vulnerable to illnesses. If left unchecked, this can result in irreversible problems in the marriage. The situation requires urgent attention for the good of the family and yourself.

You cannot do this alone. You need your husband to co-operate. He will need to start pulling his weight around the house. In terms of commitment to the family, he needs to see his role as more than just the weekend dad.

He needs to understand that he is an equal partner in this marriage. For this to happen, you need to thrash things out with him. He needs to be able to acknowledge that there is a problem and sit down and talk about it.

You have tried talking to him, but he avoids it. Could you change tactics? While he is away, could you prompt him that you would like to make some time to talk? You can do this via text messages or WhatsApp. Let him know that you would like to make time with him to talk about the issues that you have described here. Tell him that you understand that he would like to spend time with the children. As such, you are leaving it up to him to decide on the time for the two of you to discuss these things alone.

Be sure to stress the fact that you have to talk. A good relationship is grounded in communication. It cannot be avoided just because he in uncomfortable, and you don't want him to feel bad.

When you are having this discussion with him, don't turn it into a complaints fest. Acknowledge what he is doing right. Don't focus on what he is doing wrong, but what you need help with.

Make it clear to him what you would like him to help you with. Be constructive with your comments. Don't just name the problem.

It may help if the two of you have this discussion alone without the children around to distract you. Perhaps you could send the children to spend the weekend at their grandparents' home? If that is not possible, then make sure you have this conversation when the children are in bed.

Bear in mind that this problem cannot be addressed in just one conversation. It will have to happen over a few conversations. The key is to keep the door to communication open.

All this will only work if your husband is open to discussion. If he does not want to talk about this even after you have let him decide on the time and place, then you will have to bring in a mediator. The mediator can be a trusted family member or friend. Or, it could be a marriage counsellor.

There are financial issues that complicate matters. Even here, you seem to be the main provider. For you, it is not so much of a gender issue. You do not expect your husband to earn more because he is a man. Instead, you would like a more equal contribution so that you don't feel the pressure. This is something he needs to understand. You have to communicate this to him in a constructive manner, not in an accusatory tone.

List out all your financial issues - loans, debts, household expenses - and tell him you would like to work out a way to handle it better. You may want to seek the advice of a financial planner to help you do this. Your husband may not feel like he is being criticised if this is done by a neutral party.

Finally, you need to look after yourself. You deserve a break. You need to be able to do that without feeling guilty. Work this out with him. He will have to look after the children while you spend some time resting and enjoying yourself. This is self-care; you don't want to collapse from exhaustion. - Thelma