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Is it normal to fantasize about leaving your husband and two kids?

Carolyn Hax
| Thursday, December 13, 2018 7:18 a.m
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Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I am a married woman with two elementary-age sons. I’ve often felt I do way more to help the three of them than they do to help me — which is understandable with kids, frustrating with a husband — but lately it’s gotten much worse. I’ve been feeling as though my life would be so much better if I wasn’t around them.

I feel horrible feeling like this — what kind of a mother longs for a life without her kids? I should feel lucky; there are so many people who dream for this life. But it dawned on me yesterday, maybe this is just a midlife crisis, which is normal and which people get through.

Is this a normal phase or something else? How do people get through this without leaving their family, which I wouldn’t do?

— Midlife Crisis?

Translation: “I’m tired of being dumped on and taken for granted. What’s wrong with me?”

How about: Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you.

Your life is out of balance. That’s not about midlife or bad mothering or excessive good luck or whatever else you’re reaching for. It’s just about your life taking more out of you than it gives back. That’s normal and fixable and best fixed soon before it causes bigger problems, like wanting out of your family entirely because anger is the only feeling you have left and because you finally grasp that’s not sustainable.

So, while you still recognize yourself, figure out how to make that self whole. Small changes at first, because you can make them right away and see if they offer relief. They’re also less disruptive; you can work your way up to making bigger changes only after it’s clear you need to make them.

Also, organize your life into two columns: things that restore you and things that deplete. For anything on the “deplete” side, think of remedies. Like chores: What is a fair division of labor? Can you discuss that with your husband? Can you each take responsibility for things you’re better at, to make the load feel lighter?

People who step in for an under-invested partner get depleted faster, so his list should include the chores you can afford to drop completely — if he doesn’t do them, then no one does. He does his own laundry, for example, because not having clean clothes will force his hand but not affect you.

Also train your kids to pick up chores from the “deplete” side. It takes more work upfront — and patience — to teach the necessary skills, but kids can and should contribute proportionately to the running of a household. It’s healthy for them.

Items on the “restore” side go on your calendar in regular time slots. Treat them as sacred. Tuesday evenings, you see friends. Sundays, you sleep in. Etc.

If you get pushback — oh my goodness I hope not — then make it clear you are in serious burnout territory and addressing the problem is not optional.

Please also find yourself a skilled therapist, if you have the means and access. Depression is sneaky, and you could easily have it or be on your way there. Regardless, solo counseling could yield ideas for your marriage. On the “restore” side, either way.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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