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Ask Damon: My husband blames his bad hygiene and weight gain on me

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; iStock)

Hi Damon: My husband has given up, and he blames me. We both gained a lot of weight after getting married and having a baby, but I have done things to make myself feel better and still look my best. We also live very fortunate lives: nice cars, nice place, good jobs, healthy baby. I am happy minus wishing I was thinner. He, on the other hand, has stopped taking care of himself. He won’t shower, won’t brush his teeth, eats until he throws up, and he blames me for not being able to work out. He says he can’t do it if I am at home, but he gets mad if I leave home without him. I have had countless conversations with him about my concern for his health and concern for how this is affecting our family. He just blames me for all of it. I should encourage him to eat better. I should encourage him to work out. But when I do these things, he gets angry and tells me all the flaws I have. He also throws in my face all the things he does to take care of our child, as if being a present father is supposed to earn extra favor.

At what point does enough become enough? I have tried to be the good, supportive wife for so long, and now I am angry and I want better for myself. But how am I supposed to help someone who won’t help themselves but expects me to just make everything magically better?

— The Good Wife?

The Good Wife?: So there’s an obvious answer here: If you’re extremely unhappy with your husband’s behavior, attitude and hygiene, and it’s been an ongoing pattern, and you’ve already tried, repeatedly, to help him, and he refuses (and criticizes) you, then you should leave. If you’re making an effort, it hasn’t been reciprocated and you’re exhausted, there’s no reason to stay.

Some people might encourage you to stay for the sake of the baby. I am not one of those people. In fact, I think you should leave for the sake of the baby. An “intact” family doesn’t matter if the house is infested with resentment and disdain.

That said, I’m curious about the concept of responsibility. When a loved one is clearly experiencing some mental or emotional distress, do we have an obligation to stick with them through it? Better yet, how long does that obligation last? You were unclear in your letter about how long you’ve been married. Which matters because there’s a difference between a year of this behavior and 10.

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I am (obviously) not a doctor, so I can’t diagnose him, but your husband seems to be exhibiting signs of a deep depression. The lack of hygiene and the binge eating are the most telling. You mentioned that you both have good jobs and make good money, so I’m assuming he works from home. (I can’t picture someone in a high-paying office job going days or weeks without brushing their teeth and keeping that job.) It’s possible that the sedentary nature of his workday, plus the existential shift that having a child induces, plus, you know, the raging pandemic we’re still in may have contributed to his malaise, his weight gain, his apparent lack of self-esteem and his rage.

But you have tried to engage him. Tried to encourage him. I was tempted to ask if he’s considered therapy. You might just be ill-equipped to help him, and it seems like he’s at a point where a mental health professional is the best (and only) option. But you can’t force him to do that, and I’m not confident that a man who refuses to heed your request that he shower regularly, and also tries to insult you when you offer him help, is going to listen to your urge that he see a therapist.

I am usually not a fan of ultimatums, but if you wish to give him more time, tell him this: “If you don’t find a therapist by February (or some other set time) — or even just allow me to help you find one — I’m leaving.” I think you’ve fulfilled your obligation, though. If you wish to leave now, you should.

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