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Carolyn Hax: Spouse is not okay with husband’s disregard for risk

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I don’t accept my spouse’s risky behavior. He puts himself — and by extension, me and our marriage — in positions where terrible harm could occur. Wouldn’t get vaccinated against the coronavirus, wouldn’t wear a mask. Now he’s had major surgery, and he’s not supposed to drive. They actually told him not to ride in vehicles either, if it can be avoided. His body is basically glued together at this point, so getting in an accident could have a potentially devastating outcome.

But he’s bored and tired of staying home — it’s been 10 days — so he’s decided that he needs to go to the post office, library, liquor store, etc., and today he plans to go downtown to take care of some paperwork. I cannot stop him. He won’t let me drive him.

How do I stop letting his behavior hurt and threaten me?

— Just Hide the Keys?

Just Hide the Keys?: Hiding the keys just treats a symptom, fleetingly at that. Your differing respect levels and tolerances for risk are the problem.

Let’s say his disregard for his postoperative health doesn’t come back to bite him, and he recovers successfully — and if disregard for covid-19 didn’t/doesn’t backfire on him — then it will be something else, right? Reckless disregard is his way of operating. You can’t chain him home. His choices will always involve more risk to health, stability and lives than you want to accept.

That means any actions you take will be largely for your benefit, to help you manage your anxiety — though I also suggest some systemic changes for your protection.

And that means you need to get serious about the level of risk he poses. Both examples you give are … well, okay: The post-op example is basic pigheadedness that mostly puts his own body at risk, but although 10 days is a pretty well-behaved convalescence for someone who doesn’t like rules, I do get that he’s thinking of himself and not his would-be caregiver.

His recklessness in dealing with a pandemic was much more significant in its potentially harmful reach, but depending on your social environment, it could say more that you married a stubborn, self-absorbed, misinformed fool than a bomb-thrower.

Still: Selfishness and stubborn, self-absorbed foolishness are as good a basis as any for leaving someone when it persistently compromises your peace of mind and quality of life.

If leaving seems extreme, then please scroll back to the opening words of your letter: “I don’t accept.” If he doesn’t change, then that’s what not accepting means.

Plus, if you stay with him, and if reckless disregard for himself and others is indeed a lifestyle for him, then you need to think about protecting more than your peace of mind. That means long-term care insurance, umbrella liability insurance and steps to protect your assets independently of his. And a therapist, whom I expect you’ll be seeing without him, to help you detach emotionally from the risks he assumes.

It’s really hard to do this. But it’s still not as hard as living and dying with him every time he goes out to return a book.