Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where mothers, brothers, and smotherers alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about what to do when your partner lets you down.
I’m a dad with three kids, married to the most amazing man, but I’ve been struggling lately and need some advice.
My husband and I recently went on vacation as a family, but on the same day, we both ended up having to work due to crises back home. Though we’re lucky enough to be able to work remotely, all the kids (two toddlers and a baby) were crazy all day, and even after my husband and I were off the clock, keeping up with them was an exercise in every sense of the word.
In the afternoon, my husband proposed that he watch the kids while I grabbed groceries for the rest of the week, and then we could trade off so he could go pick up some necessities we’d left at home. I agreed, and when I came back, he left. I resumed the day-long battle of wills with our opinionated little people.
Eventually, I realized that quite some time had passed, and my husband wasn’t home. I called him, only to discover that he had gone to a bookshop in town after his shopping and was he was grabbing a bite at a restaurant before coming home. He hadn’t called or texted to let me know. I have to admit that I lost my temper; I yelled at him, asking why he hadn’t invited his family along, or even just let me know where he was going. But he just argued back, asking me why I was so angry, and what part of what he did was wrong.
We’ve since made up, but I’m so frustrated. I’m frustrated because he said he was doing one thing and did another. I’m frustrated because he didn’t think he needed to tell me he’d be gone for hours when I was alone with the kids. And I’m frustrated that he doesn’t seem to realize that I’m his teammate and I need to know when he changes the play.
Am I crazy? Was I wrong to expect more?
Alone in Left Field
Listen: I’m sure being a parent is great and amazing and so fulfilling, but also, this sounds really, really hard, and really, really thankless, and I want you to know that you’re seen and appreciated even if it doesn’t feel that way.
I have never had a toddler, myself, let alone two toddlers and an infant, and I would think you and your husband both are, like, this far from going NUTS. I go mildly nuts when I have to work while I’m on vacation already, and the only people who depend on me are a pair of demanding cats.
The real issue here is that it sounds like you and your husband both needed something at the same time. You needed help, and to feel like someone in the world cared about what you need (kids, bless them, don’t). And I’m sure his relief at getting some alone time after most of a day off wasted working was palpable.
The problem is that he took what he needed without taking your needs into account at all, even to the extent of sending you a text, and that is a problem.
You’re right: your reaction was inflammatory, and being yelled at in front of one’s friends rarely leads one to the most conciliatory response. But under the circumstances? It’s not even a little crazy. Unfortunately, neither of you has a life where you can do just about anything without notice anymore, including but not limited to using the toilet. And this is especially true on a hard day when you both need to be working as a seamless team for anything to go as it should.
I think your husband fully understands that he made a mistake; his response of trying to pin you down and make you articulate the precise issue rather than engage with your hurt and anger shows that he’s justifying what he did with logic: if he was logically within his rights, he doesn’t have to feel guilty for being selfish. But he was selfish, and pretending that he wasn’t isn’t fair.
You need to be acknowledged and respected and noticed. That’s it.
Going forward, the only advice I can give you is to be clear about what you expect and need from your husband. He’s your teammate, but even when he should be able to tell what the next play will be, don’t assume he does. If you expect that he’ll be gone for half an hour, confirm that and ask when he’ll be coming back. If you expect that you be invited when he goes out, ask for that. It can be frustrating to feel like you need to teach someone you love how to be fair, but if you’re very clear and vocal about your needs, you may find that he’s much better about making sure he’s fulfilling them.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.