Ask Dr. Susan vs. Ask Dr. Laura: If your husband won’t help you around the house, too bad! At least he’s a man.

Once again, I’m going to be tackling some advice that Dr. Laura has given (taken from transcripts on her website), and look at it from a different, less awful perspective.

If you would like some similar not-awful advice, ask me! I am all-knowing. Except when I’m not. But mostly-knowing.

The question: “I’m beginning to feel hopeless about not being a good mother. I was always a pushy mom, trying to teach my kids to be independent, while their father was and is a couch potato. Now that they are teenagers, I resent that my husband never provided me any support. I feel that we would be better off separated. How can I put a stop to this feeling of resentment?”

Apparently, this is the poor woman's husband. Of course, Dr. Laura thinks she should be grateful he's not beating her.

Dr. Laura’s answer: “You have to change it into something else. I don’t know that you haven’t been a good mother; I know you’re frustrated that you’ve sort of being doing everything by yourself. And when kids get to a certain age they tend to play parents against each other and yours isn’t helping you out much…your husband isn’t helping you out much, being their parent.

The fact that your husband is a couch potato…sorry. But I guess when you were off picking guys you just wanted somebody laid back who wasn’t going to give you a lot of guff, and this is what happens when you choose one of those. You go down the left road, you’re not going to get anything that’s on the right road. On the other hand, he’s not beating anybody, he’s not sitting there drunk and he’s not out screwing around. 

Your kids are better off having a couch potato dad than no dad at home at all, and that’s the reality. And he may not be a very invested member of the family, but he’s there and he’s taken care of all of you. So, I think it’s one of those times where you go, “It’s not exactly what I would’ve wished for, but it is what I chose and there are good things to it.”

The best way to get out of resentment that I know, is to try to think of the parts that you would miss. Try to think of the gentle moments and the fact that you can really count on him. So it’s those things that take you out of resentment. It’s not everything you wanted, but don’t assume you’re not being a good mother…yeah, maybe a little naggy, pushy, trying to make sure, you know, the kids make something of themselves but don’t make that an overreaction to your husband. Something in between you and him is probably the perfect person.

So make sure that if you’re nagging your kids a lot, they’re getting more than an equal amount of love and kisses, and being told how wonderful they are and how proud you are of them, and find things to compliment them. That’s going to be very important to counter-balance anything else and do not say, “Do not come to be like your dad”, because they love their dad and it’s good to be able to be a couch potato, I don’t know, 45 minutes a day…can’t just don’t do it in overdrive. “

My answer: I almost didn’t even look at this, because I couldn’t imagine that Dr. Laura would have something offensive to say to it. How can you turn “my husband isn’t helping around the house” into “women are stupid”? Dr. Laura managed to slather the caller with woman-hate and assholery, though, so I tip my hat to her. It must be hard to find such creative ways to shame women for being women.

There is nothing wrong with choosing a mate that has faults. The fact of the matter is that no person is perfect; most people, when they decide to be a part of a relationship, make compromises. You are a jerk in the morning, your partner never picks up their underwear from the bathroom floor. Your partner hates dogs, you hate doing yardwork. When you decide to be in a relationship, you accept certain aspects that aren’t perfect, and understand that your partner will do the same.

Having kids throws a kink into that. Instead of having to worry about your partner’s underwear on the bathroom floor, you have to worry about what kind of effect the underwear on the bathroom floor has on the kids’ development. What used to be a minor detail (When he gets drunk he pees all over the floor! She hates vegetables!) can loom large. Similarly, the breakdown of work (housework, economic support, discipline, etc.) is amplified with kids. What once was one person carrying the weight of two becomes one person carrying the weight of four (or 21, if you are the Duggars).

It is not surprising that your feelings of resentment have intensified. So what do you do from here?

The question you have to ask yourself is if these behaviors of your husband’s are deal-breakers for you. Unlike twenty years ago, the consequences of breaking up affect more than just you and him: your children will be affected, you have years of partnership that will be difficult to untangle, and both of you will face economic instability. There are also consequences of staying together without change: living in a situation which you increasingly resent, loss of respect for your partner, effects on your children because of the resentment and lack of respect, potential heartbreak for everybody.

So there are three choices: accept it as you always have, convince your husband to change his behavior, or leave. If you decide to accept it as you always have, one way to mitigate the resentment is to understand that you are making a conscious decision to stay in the less-than-perfect relationship. Realizing that your life with him as a couch potato is something you prefer to your life without him will go a long way towards reducing ill will. When you start to resent him, remind yourself that this is your choice, and it is a choice that you can change at any time.

The second option is to require change. This starts with a conversation, and making it clear that the status quo is not okay. That might solve the problem. It might not. The next step is couples’ therapy, where you can talk about the problems with an unbiased third party. That might solve the problem. It might not.

Which leads to the third option, which is to leave. If your husband cannot change his behaviors, and you cannot accept them, leaving is the best option. It will affect the children, but so will living in a house with somebody that you increasingly resent and hate.

The crap that Dr. Laura is spewing is just that: crap. “On the other hand, he’s not beating anybody, he’s not sitting there drunk and he’s not out screwing around.” Right. He’s also not a murderer, he’s not a corpse, he’s not sitting in jail. That has nothing to do with the fact that you are unhappy. Nothing.

The stakes are higher when you have kids, it is true. Most people with kids are willing to put up with more, because the consequences of a split are worse, and for more people. But pretending like this is your fault for not making the “right” choice years and years ago is absurd. If his actions are beyond those of which you are willing to accept, you have every right to ask for change. And that doesn’t make you “naggy.” The first step toward having the life that you want to have is respecting yourself, and understanding that you have every right to ask for your partner to help you achieve that life. Relationships are about compromise and communication; work towards accomplishing both with your partner, and your situation can become more equitable.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

11 replies on “Ask Dr. Susan vs. Ask Dr. Laura: If your husband won’t help you around the house, too bad! At least he’s a man.”

Your kids are better off having a couch potato dad than no dad at home at all

I have friends who disagree, especially when ‘couch potato dad’ doesn’t mean a father who likes to eat nachos in front of the TV, but a man who is uninterested in his children and his wife, doesn’t contribute to the domestic work, and expects the house to revolve around him.

Also, it’s amazing to read something like this from Dr. Laura, and yet she thinks it’s the feminists that belittle men. Yikes.

Your advice trumps Dr. Laura’s any day, Dr. Susan!

I don’t care what anyone says.  A husband who continually makes messes and doesn’t clean up after himself but who expects his wife to do it or doesn’t help out with the kids is not a good husband.  As a matter of fact, that is a form of abuse.  And it sucks that Dr. Laura didn’t call that behavior out and recommend counseling so the couple could renegotiate terms and learn new boundaries and behaviors.

another great piece, Susan.

In a former life, I was a substance abuse counselor and I can say from that perspective the “at least I’m not . . .” or in this case the “at least he’s not . . . ” trap is one of the most dangerous traps a person can set for themselves.  once you start down that road, you can justify or excuse anything.  “Well, he’s not helping with the children, but at least he’s not beating me,” soon becomes, “Well, he’s beating me, but at least he’s not beating the kids,” in the blink of an eye.  (Understand I’m in no way correlating laziness with a penchant for spousal abuse, I’m just cranky and making an overly-dramatic point)

Which brings me to my second point.  I wonder sometimes if I like being cranky.  It certainly gives me a feeling of superiority to be cranky at, and therefore in my mind, smarter than people I disagree with.  Just something that’s been on my mind lately.

Leave a Reply