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Dependent Husband


Although I have plenty of my own mental health issues, in this case I’d like to ask how to deal with my husband’s issues. He is a very bright, energetic, college-educated adult who, at 30, still can’t cope with balancing the checkbook or sitting down to find a job he would actually be suited for. He has held a series of low-paying clerical jobs that he mostly hated. He is on medication for panic disorder, and in long-term therapy to deal with life issues. Based on my very unscientific reading, the diagnosis of dependent personality disorder fits him very well. The question is, how do I avoid making all the significant life choices and controlling things like household finances in this family, without having to really push him to do things himself? When I try pushing, it feels to him like just another way that I take charge of things too much – he wants to be left alone. We’ve been in couples therapy, and it helped, but we really can’t afford any more therapists at this point. Thanks for your time.

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If you think about it, a dependent personality is not possible in a vacuum. Rather, dependency is only meaningful in the context of a relationship on which the dependent person can be dependent. So – rather than viewing this problem exclusively in terms of it being “my husband’s problem” consider that it might be easier to work on if it is “a problem in our relationship that belongs to both of us”. More to the point – think about changing how you interact with your husband.


p>You already know what happens when you push him to do things (e.g., he perceives you as trying to “take charge” of him and he resists this control passively by wanting to be left alone. Work on not doing that anymore – it doesn’t help.


p>Here is a possible alternative way to handle the situation. First, have the two of you sit down and with both of your participation, agree on who has responsibility for getting different things done. This may be hard – but it is important that you do this mutually and without force so that both of you agree on specific things that are yours to get done and specific things that are his to get done. Then – you handle what is yours to handle and leave him alone. DO NOT step in to relieve him of his responsibilities even if he abandons them, severely procrastinates, etc. DO NOT nag at him or remind him more than one time about what he needs to do. Doing so involves treating him like an child – which he is not no matter how he might try to approximate such a state. Respect him by refusing to do things for him that he is capable of doing if he is so motivated.


p>My guess is that he “out-passives” you; that you typically get frustrated with his procrastination or outright refusal to take on responsibility, that you take on his responsibilities, and that you express your frustration about this situation to him in a way he interprets as an attack. Of course, feeling attacked, he would tend to either fight you or withdraw and get more passive and procrastinating. This type of relationship dynamic can go on and on in a vicious circle.


p>By refusing to do things for him, you will be showing him that he cannot manipulate you into taking responsibility for his own life. By refusing to be manipulated, you will hopefully arrive at an emotional place where it is easier for you to not get mad at him when he (probably unconsciously) tries to manipulate you in this way. If you are less mad at him, he has less cause to react to your anger and less cause to make you the reason why he can’t get things done. The more you can remain calm, and politely and respectfully send him the message that he needs to take responsibility for what is his to get done (if he wants it to get done), the better chance you will have over time of helping him to act responsibly, both towards you and for his own life.

More "Ask Dr. Dombeck" View Columnists

  • Anonymous-1

    My husband and I have been married for 25+ years. He level of accepting responsibility is no higher than that of a two year old. He acts like he moved a mountain because he takes the garbage out. He complains to everyone that I have nothing to do now that he does the laundry for the two of us. I work full time and handle all household chores, including paying bills, handling maintenance, cleaning, cooking etc. He can't even make a sandwhich if I'm not home to feed him. He is very impatient and moans and groans about how tired he is. I think he is plain lazy. He was never a self started but his lack of motivation seems to have increased. He never wants to go out, hasn't touched me in years. Dialogue between the two of us is reduced to none. Anytime he has something to say, it is in question form. He asks questions to obvious answers...some which are repetitive. I'm begining to think that he has a mental problem. I am going crazy. I feel trapped. He will be 60 yrs old this year. We have two married children who live close by and they have noticed my frustation. If I try to talk to him about it he doesn't get it and acts victimized. I cant get anywhere with him. I am very sad and don't know what to do.

  • kate

    Dependent husband has been like a trap in my life too. We have been married for 13 yrs. We do not have children & I am glad we dont because I dont think I could handle both. He is like child. He ask lot of SILLY questions. I cant make an adult conversation with him & it makes me frustrated. He does not have any friends & has no contact with his or my family. He is a LONER. I sometimes wish he went out with his friends & socialise. My salary is 4x more than his salary & I do most chores around house (including laundry, ironing, cooking, cleaning). He doesnot do any errands (like posting letter, paying bills, banking). I feel trapped & I feel like his mother more than a wife. Why did I marry him - because 13 yrs ago I slept with him & I was bought up in relegious family & was taught to be a decent girl. Since I had slept with him, I thought I have to marry him (I was 20 yrs old & he was 30 yrs old back then). Big mistake. Currently I feel no connection physically with him & our sex life is almost 0. I dont want to sleep with him cause I dont think he is attractive. I am with him simply cause I cant divorce. Life is

  • Anonymous-2

    This article pretty well describes my situation. However, we don't have any children, and I would like to just leave my husband. I don't see any point in continuing to struggle with this.

    However, i'm having a hard time dealing with the guilt associated with leaving him. He's extremely passive, and has threatened suicide in the past when I talked about leaving him (years ago) -- not that that's passive behavior.

    Even though I do still feel love for him, I don't see anyway to improve the situation. I just want out.

  • Lily

    I am in this exact situation and I finally did what the doctor suggests above. I ask myself in each and every instance if it really is my problem and it almost never is. This enabled me to let him sink or swim on his own. I take care of the house, finances and major decisions so he doesn't ruin our lives but otherwise I let him go his own way. This passive/aggressive nonsense ruined our marriage so I built up my own life--friends, activities, hobbies, etc. I reclaimed MY happiness. You can't change him and the process of trying to do so only makes it much worse. I had to navigate around him or leave him.


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