Finding Balance in an Off-Kilter World

Sell the house. Pack everything up. Take the $500k of home equity after realtor fees, consisting of $325k downpayment and $175k in gains, give or take, and move to most anywhere else in the country where one can buy a nice house for $500k or a few hundred k over that, get a part-time or otherwise flexible remote job w/ a tech company in my field, make less money but ultimately still refrain form dipping much into our $1.25M in taxable stocks and $750k in retirement savings. Spend a lot of time with family. Have a big private backyard with grass that is green because it actually rains. Maybe make some new friends. Spend the next 20 years of my life taking it easy, slow aging to 57. Not doing anything revolutionary at work, but it’s not like I’m revolutionizing anything now in my current field.

If I stay I can probably save a bit more. Maybe a lot more. But does that really matter?

It’s all a dream though because my husband will never leave. Despite refusing to earn more he won’t budge. Well, he’s offered moving to Seattle but $500k won’t get you much there either and I’ll fall into depression with the frequent grey skies. It’s a no-go for me.

But I definitely feel like I’m ready for a change. The things that matter to me today are different than they were years ago.

I still want another kid. That kid will likely require IVF. In my mind I’m committed to the Bay Area through that experience. I’ve written a bit about this before, but timeline wise… I start IVF when I’m 39. Hopefully get pregnant before I’m 40. Have the kid at 40. Hopefully have good maternity leave in whatever job I take next. And strong stock that gains (well, nice to have.) We stay in this home for at least 3 more years. Maybe it keeps going up in value. Maybe it comes down in value. It seems like Bay Area housing just goes up and up but it also still seems impossible for this place to be worth much more without work on it. I’m hesitant to put work into the house as I’d rather just leave. I hate having people work on the house when we live here. And each relatively minor project thus far has been a PITA.

I don’t know where we’d go. I don’t think my husband will leave. He won’t even move to Sacramento where we could spend less on housing because it’s too hot there. I have a very limited, very expensive radius where he would be open to moving. So I’m trapped.

I recently watched the series MAID on Netflix. It shared the story of a young single mom with nothing who was emotionally abused by her partner and who tried to start a life of her own but, without the help of others, couldn’t make it work with government support alone which had too much red tape. Anyway, it got me thinking a bit about abuse. Not that I’m being abused by my husband (or that I am any more than I emotionally abuse him) but it’s interesting to think of such dynamics in relationships…

I grew up in a domestic abuse situation. My father emotionally and physically abused my mother. He didn’t drink (thank god) but he constantly yelled and told my mother horrible things and gaslit her. I have a lot of trauma from this and so it’s hard for me to communicate properly in a relationship or be in a healthy relationship. Odds were for me to end up in an abusive relationship and I’m proud to report I’m not in one. Or am I?

Well. If I am I’m abusive too. My abuse is in deciding one thing then changing my mind. Because I feel incapable of making decisions and am used to having decisions made for me. I’ve told my husband that his father can live with us until his mother buys a house (which is dependent on her mother dying as she will then have no where to live as she lives in her house), and that he can work his part-time freelance job and stay home with the kids and I’ll keep working. Since I manage the household finances I know I need to provide for my family and make things work. The setup isn’t bad financially right now. His father pays $2k a month, which brings our $7k a month mortgage down to $5k. I figure that half of that is going to principal so in some sense we’re paying the same for the house as we were for a one bedroom rental. Maybe my math is off but it’s close. The real money suck is the cost of ownership and the lost gains on the downpayment that sat for a while, but that’s long gone. The house happened to appreciate a lot this year so maybe we’re close to break even.

My husband is pretty simple. He’s happy here. I mean he doesn’t love the area we moved to but he doesn’t hate it and he acknowledges with our financial situation we can’t afford to live in the are we both would prefer to live (never mind if he got a full time job we could.) He has a lot of anxiety (can’t say more or less than mine but different) and seems incapable of holding down a full time job. And we both agree that it’s better for him to be home with the kids vs send them to daycare.

I complain a lot. About stupid things. About not-so-stupid things. I look at our bank statements and think wow — I can’t say I deserve the $ I have now but our lives could be so much… better. I shouldn’t have to feel trapped in a job with leaders who are sociopathic and bosses who tell me I have a horrible personality for leadership. Perhaps I do but that’s besides the point. I’m tired. Exhausted. I’m trying my darnedest to just push through because the more I complain the less chance my husband will agree to the third kid. Which I know sounds manipulative on my end too. He wants to have a kid of the opposite sex as the two we have now, so he is agreeing to the plan for a third kid but I can tell he’s not sold.  That said he wasn’t sold on the second kid and he loves the kid more than anything. I think the one thing we’re really good at is being parents and loving our kids. I’m scared of a third but at this point my life is my kid’s life anyway what’s one more?

Where the abusive behavior comes in is in his inability to accept that I’m allowed to change my mind. Maybe I’m not. Maybe because I do it all the time about important things and drive him crazy I am at fault here. But some things you don’t know until you know. I thought I’d be fine working and seeing my kids only a few hours a day. I didn’t understand how tired I’d be. I didn’t realize how four years later I’d still feel the same way about my career and see it as a dead end of stress and exhaustion. I don’t know if it’s wrong to think that in a marriage one’s partner should care about them and they’re well being and lean into what would make them happy and/or helping them find it. I’m not the best at that either. But I bought this house because it (sort of ) worked for his father to live with us (and gave up the master bedroom suite for this to work) and I ordered him a fancy treadmill because he wanted to be able to work out at home since he can no longer go to the high school track at 2am now that we’ve moved away from the safer area (even though I always though that was a bad idea!)

It’s interesting too because I’m watching now my friends going through what is a variety of situations with their lives. Those who are still with their partners from their 20s and early 30s seem less than happy. Those who have started over seem to have shifted what they wanted in a partner and are happy now albeit also in interesting setups that are maybe not the best long term.

One friend, still married, has a hard-working husband who is never home. He owns his own business. She shares that he’s never around to spend time with the kids outside of holidays and other major events. She got her nice house and attractive husband but I think she’s quite lonely. She also doesn’t think he runs his business well to make the most income but last I’ve heard he doesn’t want her meddling in his professional life. She works in a low-paid job so is stuck. She seems happy with her kids and friends but I’m not sure life is what she wanted.

Another friend got married quickly to a man who didn’t seem like a fit in order to start her family. She had big dreams of becoming a SAHM and having a husband who earned enough for a nice house and to support her family. Well her husband was depressed for a number of reasons. She put up with him not asking for raises or seeking to get ahead for her family. But then she found out he was cheating on her. And he left her for the other woman. She actually met up with the husband of the other woman and fell in love with him and a short time later they got married and had another child! Now they live in a large house with five children and are trying for one more. Luckily the guy made good money so he could afford it even with the crazy alimony he pays to his ex wife. She was able to quit her low-paid job and become a full-time stay at home mom. She seems exhausted but also it’s the life she wants.

And yet another friend who ended up a single mom due to her boyfriend being batshit has been struggling to get by despite having a reasonably well-paid career. Lately her hours were cut and she didn’t know what to do. But a boyfriend from the past reappeared. He seems to be wealthy — owns his own business and maybe has millions of dollars. He’s throwing money at her to help her pay her bills. She feels bad about taking it but also needs the support to afford her mortgage and daycare. She seems to really like the guy, despite that he has an aversion to telling her that he loves her. She thinks they might get married and have more kids. I haven’t met the guy but she’s known him for years and I think in some way having an old bf come back into your life can be a good thing because you’re not blinded by the novelty of a relationship but really valuing the good parts of the relationship. So she seems like she might be on her way to a happy, stable life.

And another friend still with her (first) husband tells me that her husband says mean things to her and while she earns more he doesn’t do anything to help around the house. She’s at her wits end though they’re still together so maybe she’ll put up with it.

I mean, relationships are complicated. And being a woman is a strange thing in modern society. It’s still acceptable to quit your job and become a SAHM and have a husband who earns enough to pay for the entire family (though not always possible.) And it seems in most cases where I see friends being happy it’s this setup. Even my Bay Area friends have this setup. Some were the wife quit others were wife works a passion project but it definitely isn’t about earning income (and some years actually looses money.) I’m sure every couple has their ups and downs but this seems to work.

So I try to put myself in the mindset that I play that traditionally male role in the household. And if I do I really can’t complain about anything. My job is to pay for my family. Men usually don’t talk about how much they hate their jobs with their wives. They just deal with it or get another job. They don’t talk about moving because they try to make their wives happy. They feel like this is their responsibility. Maybe they like being in this role and having that responsibility. Maybe I like it a bit as well. It makes me feel like I have some value in this world.

I guess I still feel like I’m in a mildly abusive relationship. But maybe every relationship is mildly abusive. Because there’s a tension that comes from being stuck with someone who doesn’t share everything you want in life, feeling like you have to make them happy but also try to find your own happiness when the world tells you as a parent (esp as a mom) your happiness comes second or third. And maybe you don’t know what makes you happy anymore. Because before the world was your oyster. You had hopes and dreams. Everything was set up for you to be something and do something big. And now it’s clear that’s not what life is about. The time for when you could be something or do something is behind you, statistically speaking. So your life now is just about trying to stay healthy for as long as possible and teaching your children how to be good people and how to go after their hopes and dreams before it’s too late for them too.

If I had a clear picture of what I wanted that would help as well. It sure sounds like moving to a lower cost of living area would help the stress levels but a huge part of me doesn’t want to give up the opportunity that exists here. I don’t even know what kind of opportunity there is since I don’t want to pursue work at a startup or being VP even if recruiters are reaching out to me to interview for these roles. I would NEVER see my kids. I don’t want a job that requires a lot of (or any) travel. I’m torn between staying in my current role where I am miserable precisely because there is no opportunity for growth (or to earn more) and not wanting to grow and seeing other roles at the same level of work paid even lower without moving up. What makes me sad is the feeling of being trapped. I’m not actually trapped. But I can’t rationally change anything because things aren’t that bad right now. Even earning $250k next year after my stock drops off is pretty darn good. If you would have asked me 5 years ago if I would jump at a job making $250k I would, of course say yes!

I don’t really want to be a SAHM mom either. It’s Sunday morning and I’m hiding from my kids (who are with my husband and now with my FIL) writing a long blog post. I took them out all day yesterday for a hike and lunch and drive and I’m super exhausted now. I couldn’t do that every day of my life. Working is a lot easier!

But what I’d like is for my husband to not make me feel bad about the fact that all these things are grey. For him to support me in that I agreed to his father living with us before I experienced him being here. Before I experienced our bed in our family room with no privacy for a year. Before I found out that it wouldn’t work like it did when his father came over on the weekdays to help out but instead his father would come out of his in-law every morning even on the weekends when I just wanted to have my family in the house. How this lack of boundaries makes me incredibly anxious and how it is important to me that my husband watches the kids on Sunday mornings while I have some alone time in the office. That we need to treat our areas of the house as separate units. That even if he comes out for a short while it makes me feel uncomfortable in my own space. That I would never just go into his in law without knocking or assume that I can do that. I failed to understand how the boundaries would be set. And it all went to hell last year anyway when I had a newborn and I was grateful for the help. But now, I just want a bit more privacy. I want to be able to walk around my house in a robe and feel ok about it.

This all impacts my marriage a lot. I feel like my husband doesn’t actually care about me. He would likely say the same in reverse. So that’s not good. I am trying to get my things in the house cleaned because that’s a huge issue and I know I need to keep my stuff organized (with my ADHD it can get quite bad.) And it seems like he’s unwilling to care about me in the least until I can do that. I accept that as it has been an ongoing issue. Never mind that my income makes it possible for us to live here at all. Or that I’m still breastfeeding our youngest child and can’t be on my own for more than three hours at a time. But I agree my mess needs to be cleaned up. So I’ll do that. But I don’t get the sense that he’ll change at all for me. He doesn’t care to. Because he’s convinced he is always in the right. Maybe he is. He always makes me think because I came from such a messed up family that I don’t know how things should be. I question myself whether I do. And sometimes when I complain too much and it has been a particularly rough night he flips out and while he’d never harm me he starts hitting himself in the head and shaking in frustration and it’s really scary. I realize that I am harming him and I need to stop. I need to stop complaining. I need to stop telling him one thing and changing my mind.

Mostly he’s a mellow, calm guy. But when he’s tired and frustrated he can crack. It scares me. It has happened a few times. Once over a stupid thing where he was putting together a kitchen set for my son and put the wrong screws in and I asked him to fix it and he freaked out. I don’t remember what the last fight was about. I think because I ask him to do things and then he doesn’t do them well and then I make comments about that and he gets really mad. And always if I chew with my mouth slightly open he treats me like I’m a 2 year old. Should I chew with my mouth open? No. It’s a bad habit and it’s disgusting and I shouldn’t do it. But the way he treats me really upsets me. I mostly try to not eat around him. He just gives me this look and puts his fingers to his mouth and it makes me feel like I’m shoved into the ground, like I’m a little girl being scolded. You know, little me earning $250k+ a year and supporting the family. Being treated like shit because sometimes I chew and make noises with my mouth. Is that acceptable?  I don’t know. I guess I make him feel bad about a lot of things too. How does a relationship survive this kind of constant subtle cruelty to each other? Is any of it justified? If I make an effort to change, will he? He doesn’t see anything wrong with his behavior. I think that’s the difference. I’m aware that I need to change. He’d doesn’t think he needs to at all.

I am just frustrated I can’t delegate things. Like getting the refrigerator ice machine fixed with the home warranty that was running out. Well the ice machine was fixed but the water has a leak coming out of it when you use it and I makes a mess on the floor. I want him to be able to think that he should check that the whole thing works properly when the guy is here so that way it can actually be fixed since we paid $75 for the warranty to send the repairman out and now we don’t have a warranty anymore. I want him to be able to think in a more detailed way but he doesn’t know how to do this. So I know I should just not delegate these tasks. Or I should stop caring about the flood of water on my kitchen floor every time I get water from the fridge.

When he gets into these moods they last a minute or so and it’s terrifying. I realize that he is not well mentally and he could seriously harm himself because of my nagging. So I shut up. And shut down. I know nagging is not the way to get what I want anyway. I can’t change him. And he can’t change me even though I’m trying to be better at being a housemate. I don’t know. I just feel sad and tired. And like no amount of money can fix me or my life.

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3 thoughts on “Finding Balance in an Off-Kilter World”

  1. ‘But maybe every relationship is mildly abusive’ – no, this is not true. Relationships are hard to maintain, but they should never be abusive. Find some counselling for your husband and some support for you – he needs to mature and understand the pain he’s causing you.

  2. “And sometimes when I complain too much and it has been a particularly rough night he flips out and while he’d never harm me he starts hitting himself in the head and shaking in frustration and it’s really scary. I realize that I am harming him and I need to stop. I need to stop complaining. I need to stop telling him one thing and changing my mind.”

    You have no ability to communicate openly and honestly with your partner and you are worried they will hurt themself if you do so. That is not okay and not something you should muddle through. Your kids are also going to start picking up on this dynamic sooner or later, and that is also not okay.

    Are you and your husband in counseling (individually and together)? This seems like the kind of toxic dynamic you both might need help breaking out of.
    Yet Another PF Blog recently posted..Financial Update – September 2021

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