Q: I've recently joined my husband after a six-month separation. The children and I were left behind to sell our beautiful home. Now we've moved into a filthy old house and I am not overjoyed.
My husband had single housemates while he was here alone and he went to a sports event with one of them while I was still moving in.
Since being here I've been told he has had dinners with women. He said he did. He says it's only me he loves and that he doesn't cheat, but he's good at lying.
My husband is a professional man. I had hoped all problems of his drinking and abusive behavior were behind us but now he says I'm paranoid and lazy and fat. I'm definitely not lazy to move every 2 1/2 to 3 years. I'm 5 foot 2 and weigh 108 pounds so I'm not fat, but am I paranoid? I don't want to lose my husband but he's wearing me down.
Go ahead, make my day. We've been here three weeks. Should I repack?
A: Why repack? The move didn't create your problems; you've just carried them with you, six months later.
Although this latest move contributed, you probably would have come to the same sense of crisis if your husband hadn't changed jobs. It just would have taken longer. Moving from a beloved home, neighborhood or relatives is enormously stressful -- much more so than it's credited to be -- and when the marriage is troubled, the stress is that much greater. You owe it to yourself, your marriage, your children -- and your husband -- to do everything possible to straighten out the situation before it gets any worse.
What you need now is a thoughtful analysis, rather than another move.
It's never a good idea to make such a decision precipitously. This assumes that you don't think either you or your children are in physical danger. If you do, call a home for battered women and stay there with your children until you can collect your wits. If you feel safe, however, you want to do everything you can to put the situation in its best light.
In any case, you need some immediate outside support. You've been drawing on your own inner resources for far too long.
Since drinking has been -- and apparently continues to be -- a problem, begin by going to Al-Anon, where you can be with others who have to deal with family drinkers. Just to hear what other wives have been called will help you realize that your husband's angry attacks on you aren't realistic, probably not even in his own mind. People with drinking problems spend their days damning others because they feel so bad about themselves. In fact, it's human nature to accuse other people of the failings we see in ourselves. A husband who goes to a sports event in the midst of moving throes, for example, may feel as if he's shirking his duties and feel so guilty about it he has to lash out at you. Ignore these attacks as best you can.
Obviously, you're not lazy and you're not fat. And as for being paranoid about his womanizing, a certain amount of suspicion is natural. Maybe he's telling the truth, or maybe you're writing scenarios in your head. Certainly a man may have dinner with a woman or live in a coed group home without breaking his marriage vows. But the point is this: the communication is so bad between you that you can't believe him, because you don't trust each other enough to confide. If this continues, it will chisel away the love between you and unsettle your children.
You and your husband need marital counseling, and if he won't go, then you'll have to get therapy for yourself. A professional will be distant enough to help you sort your problems, so you can think straight and give your children the household harmony they need.
You even may need mediation -- regular refereed meetings where issues can be thrashed out one by one. You'll either learn to live together in relative peace or to divorce with a maximum of grace and a minimum of expense.
In the meantime, expand your horizons.
You've moved to an area with fantastic sightseeing. Take the kids and get going. There are also good, state-supported colleges nearby. Fall courses, preferably in a new interest, will help you remember that you are more than a wife and mother. This will do good things for your self-esteem.
And as for that old house -- look at it with new eyes. Hire a one-shot housecleaning team -- other people's dirt can be too depressing to handle -- and then paint and fix up one room well enough to enjoy it while you work on the others. The strong restoration movement in your new area should inspire you. House and garden tours and visits to the Preservation Trust houses in the area also are recommended. Some of the ideas you'll see will be both applicable and affordable. There's also The American Historical Supply Catalogue (a 19th-century sourcebook) by Alan Weillikoff (Schocken, $16.95).
Old houses can be revived and so can old marriages. Both take a lot of work -- and both are usually worth it.