Writer and broadcaster

My husband often goes on holiday and leaves me with our child. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

My husband and I live abroad without our families with our two-year-old child. Our marriage has not been on solid ground for a while because of his love of alcohol, though things have improved a bit on that front.

During our child’s first year, my husband travelled a lot for work and also had mini-breaks such as going shooting with friends. Our child was not able to get a passport during this time, so I felt very stuck, while he went off everywhere.

For the past two years, I have not been on holiday on my own, understanding that we don’t have family help so I have to choose my battles carefully. This doesn’t stop my husband going back to the UK for shooting trips, even though he knows that I am not at all pleased. Now he is going away on a friend’s five-day stag trip.

I don’t think he has his priorities in order. I am trying to make him understand that having a young child means that he can’t go on any trips he wants – that he needs to choose his battles, like I do.

The last shoot he went on he had to cut short and come back because our child was ill and I was getting ill myself. But he said that we looked like a picture of calm when he got back, after spending money changing flights, etc.

My husband seems to think that I am unreasonable and crazy, and I think that he is being terribly selfish and a bully. He even invited his mother to stay with us (she needs a lot of attention) when our baby was only a few months old – and then he went back to the UK, leaving me to look after a very young baby and his mother. He said it was for work, but I found out later that he was on a shoot.

I blew up of course. However, he accused me of making his mother feel unwelcome and said that I was pathetic and unreasonable for not being able to cope on my own. I should have left him then.

Yet now he wants a second child; I don’t, if this persists. I feel like telling him that if this happens again, we won’t be here when he gets back.

He is very good at making me feel like it is all in my head, and that mothers all over the world cope better than I do. He is taking me for granted. Am I being unreasonable?

I can’t tell you to stay or leave. I can say that bringing another child into this sort of environment is perhaps not the greatest idea right now, and your instincts seem to support this.

You’re not being unreasonable. When children are born it can really trap mothers, but I do think you need to look at how you may be trapping yourself. This is in no way to blame you for his behaviour; he has to take responsibility for that. But you have to own your behaviour, too.

Why don’t you go away a bit too, on your own, with friends? If you don’t want to leave your child for too long, I understand that, but a day or two can be amazingly restorative. This is, of course, unless you don’t trust him with your child (nothing in your longer letter suggested you didn’t) – and if that’s the case, you may have to question why you’re with him at all.

I contacted Anjula Mutanda (bacp.co.uk), a psychologist specialising in relationships, whose first thought on your letter was that “without realising it, you’ve organised your life around a very selfish man. It’s a double bind – you hate what’s happening, but feel you have no choice but to put up with it. This enables him to continue his emotionally controlling behaviour.”

Mutanda explains that, “all the focus was towards him – he needs this, he does that. There was very little ‘I’ in your letter. Your coping mechanism seems to be to support him. If all your focus is on another person, there’s very little space to look after yourself.”

She feels that you might be masking a lot of how you feel – presenting a calm, coping mechanism in front of him most of the time. She notes you said that when he came back you were a “picture of calm”.

What to do? Mutanda feels you “aren’t going to change his behaviour, so start by being more selfish. Build your own life – do you have other friends and family? If you’re isolated, could you try to build your own support network?”

You mentioned alcohol in passing. I’ve put a (UK) link at the bottom for you, as I wasn’t sure how much of a problem this was. I know that you don’t live in the UK, but you didn’t say where you are; I hope you will consider talking to your GP. “You may find,” says Mutanda, “talking to a GP quite useful. It’s important to take care of yourself.”

I wanted to leave you with some advice from Mutanda that crystalises what you need to do: “Your husband won’t notice what you say as much as what you do. Get out [of the house] and invest in yourself.”

What wasn’t clear, even from your longer letter, was if this relationship was abusive, or “just” one half behaving very selfishly and thoughtlessly. Nothing in your letter made me feel you were afraid or felt controlled; nevertheless, you may find it useful to read this column: tinyurl.com/gm6duuz.


This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 6 January 2017.