Dear Carolyn: I know I can’t control my spouse, but how do I not get left holding the bag?
It used to drive me crazy that he’d eat an entire fast-food party pack for dinner regularly, but I’ve worked hard to make it not my business.
But what does that mean for our future? It feels as if he gets to live his life how he wants now, but I’m going to be the one stuck caring for someone in my retirement instead of being off on the adventures we had planned. I could be a jerk and just leave him home while I go adventuring, but that doesn’t seem fair.
And I know anything could happen, but given current habits, the odds are high that I’ll be physically active in our retirement years and he will not.
I know I can’t change him, but it feels as if he’s getting to unilaterally write my future and rob us both of so much fun.
— I Could Be a Jerk
I Could Be a Jerk: Be a jerk. Absolutely.
But stop calling it that and seeing it as that. If your intervening to help him with his self-care was ever going to work, then it would have worked. You’ve done a difficult, admirable thing in letting go of his eating habits as your business.
So don’t backpedal now by making it his business that you don’t have your adventures. Don’t make it his fault that only he’s immobile but you’re both staying home.
Go. Wander. Enjoy. And if he can go with you, then great. If he can’t, then not so great. But he will be keeping himself home, not you — and releasing him of blame for limiting you is a gift just as your releasing yourself of his fast-food responsibility was a gift.
You will, of course, feel some degree of rotten when you board your flight. This isn’t magic, and “gift” sounds like a perverse choice of words. But although the partnership ideal is clearly for the two of you to care for yourselves and each other freely according to a mutually agreeable plan, that’s not always how it turns out.
And that’s when the two individuals in a couple have a choice: to resist their stark differences day in, day out, suffering the attrition of baseless hope, or to accept them and factor them in. Embrace the individual you love as-is, even if it means your long-term goals and short-term plans sometimes send you in different directions.
Or keep you home — but only because you choose that, not because he left you no other choice.
The key to this is choosing it transparently, and planning and saving up for it like anything else. So you and he need to talk openly, bravely, about the many possibilities ahead of you.
If you, for example, intend to adventure solo in the event that his health grounds him, then say so — urging him to do the same if you’re the less mobile one. (Anything can happen.) This can apply to all the “shoulds” of marriage that don’t seem to fit the marriage you have. The choice you make to stay married, every day, is the container; you two decide what goes in.
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