“I think that’s the phone,” my husband said and walked away to answer it. No huge surprise there.
Mr. Disappearing Man
I watched his back for a moment, and then turned back to the conversation with our son. “Don’t worry about your co-op position falling through, sweetheart. Get some good sleep and tomorrow we’ll figure out other ways to fund next semester’s tuition.”
Later, as I was lying on the bed, thinking of possible solutions to our son’s problem, my husband joined me. He started rubbing and stroking, pushing aside clothing, kissing the back of my neck. Deep in thought, I didn’t respond.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Are you tired?”
I was quiet for a minute, torn between simply agreeing that I was tired or actually telling him the truth.
There’s always a risk to sharing an unpleasant truth with a ‘nice guy’. Sometimes my husband could listen and respond productively, but sometimes he would get incredibly defensive and snarky. Or shut down altogether and completely lose his mojo for a few days. It was tough to know how to tell the truth with love in a way that was constructive and didn’t tear him down.
“I’m thinking about the conversation we just had with Tyler. He’s really worried about his co-op position getting canceled and losing a large portion of his college funding.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’ll all work out,” my husband replied casually, never pausing in what he was doing.
I sat up, struggling with a rising sense of anger. My husband had this secret door through which he disappeared when problems arose. I wished that I could find that door and be the one who got to disappear while someone else did the work of figuring out solutions.
“No,” I said carefully, “it won’t all work out. Eight thousand dollars won’t magically appear out of thin air.”
“Well, what is it you want me to do about it? I don’t have any magic solutions. You worry too much,” he responded irritably.
Losing respect for a man is a funny thing. There’s an almost physical sensation as your stomach gets heavy and a weight feels like it presses against your shoulders. It’s not that I was surprised by his reaction. My husband hated conflict and he hated problems. He preferred to ignore an unpleasant situation and just wait it out, hoping for the best. ‘Being an optimist’ is how he referred to it.
I stopped to consider how to respond. Was there even a way to help him understand how I was feeling without being accusatory and negative and making the situation worse?
“I want you to not disappear on me. I know you don’t have any solutions, but neither do I. I want you to tell me, ‘Hey, hon, we’ll sit down tomorrow and help our son figure this thing out.’ I want to feel like I’m not in this all alone.
During the years you had low testosterone and were struggling to function, it fell to me to solve the problems and figure out solutions. You were basically checked out for a long time. With five kids, it’s too much for one person. It’s just too much. Especially now with both of us working. I’m really tired.”
It was his turn to fall silent.
He finally said, “I know I’ve left you holding the bag a lot. The truth is that if I don’t know how to fix a problem, I ignore it because it makes me feel like a loser to not be able to fix something. In this case, I didn’t know what to do to fix Tyler’s co-op situation, so I just walked away.
You’ve always managed to get everything worked out with the kids, so it was easier to let you do it. We just got into this pattern where you would be the one to fix things. Half the time, I don’t even know what’s going on with the kids. Sometimes I feel like I’m just here to pay the bills.”
I considered what he had said. There was some truth there. He worked long hours, and he was usually gone when most problems came up. During the years when he had been exhausted from low testosterone, I had learned not to rely on him because by the time he got home from work, he was dog-tired and incapable of handling more problems.
Now that his low testosterone issues were fixed, it was time to change our dysfunctional pattern of coping with problems, but how?