Tell Me About It

My husband built a den for himself while self-isolating, and now won’t leave it

 Tell Me About It: He spends most evenings out there and when I enter I feel unwelcome

PROBLEM: We have a building at the rear of our house, which is converted into a one-bedroom rental. We do not have any children, and both have good jobs, but the revenue this brings in supplements the mortgage and essentially allows us to live in the type of house and part of town that we otherwise could not afford.

At the beginning of lockdown, our renter lost his job and returned to his family home. It was an opportune time as my husband tested positive for coronavirus and I tested negative. He moved out into the apartment for the purpose of quarantining. I was homeworking so would leave him supplies and talk to him through the window a couple of times each day.

After a while he began to text each day, to let me know that he would be getting takeaways. Once the 14-day period was up, he said he was still feeling ropey and remained in isolation for an extended period. I noticed he was getting deliveries through the side gate, but all he would say was that there would be a surprise in store for me.

When he eventually left the building, I entered it and seen that he had spent his time painting, decorating, and had installed new furniture and very expensive TV and games equipment. It is more to his taste than mine, but still looks amazing. My only concern is that the finished product is a bit too high spec for the rental return we could get. But he assured me not to worry. It only dawned on me a few weeks ago that he was not improving a rental property, he was creating a den for himself. He has since spent most evenings on his own out there, and, when I enter, I feel unwelcome.

On a number of occasions, he has fallen asleep out there and spent the night. I must say we do generally have a good relationship and our time together is precious and I thought he felt the same. But I look out the window now at him and as the saying goes, he is as “happy as Larry” whizzing away for hours on his games. He is still loving and affectionate, but he says he has never felt so relaxed as he does now.

The problem is that this new venture may not only cost us a lot of time spent apart it will also cost us in lost income. He keeps telling me not to worry but how can I not worry?

ADVICE: It sounds as though your husband has found the perfect life: a den where he can have his bolthole and also a family life close by. However, being in a long-term relationship requires giving up some of our own desires and one of its benefits is learning generosity and selflessness. In this situation, perhaps both of you will need to do some of this: he to hear your sense of isolation and you to acknowledge his delight at his new-found den.

There is something boyish about what your husband is doing, and it may be that he has now found enough security and confidence to let go the trials of adult struggle

You may be feeling many of the emotions associated with a partner having an affair: a sense of rejection, of betrayal that your partner no longer puts you at the centre of his life. Yet, he is not having an affair, but he has discovered pleasure and satisfaction in something he does not want to share with you, and this will, of course, have an effect. You may feel like demanding that this be stopped but it is worth taking time to look at your relationship and recalibrate what it is that both of you want from life and how the relationship can support each of you in your hopes.

There is something boyish about what your husband is doing, and it may be that he has now found enough security and confidence to let go the trials of adult struggle in order to indulge in this dream. But it seems that you do not feel that you are able to financially or emotionally go this route and therefore a conversation needs to be had about this new arrangement.

You have faith in his love and affection, and this is a great foundation, but relationships require more than this and now is your opportunity to bring forth this discussion. Couples can cope with all kinds of relationships – from one person living and working in another country to one part living with a parent in need for four nights a week – but this is usually underpinned with agreement and acknowledgment. You do not have this and so feel, rightly, that you are arriving at this new arrangement without any consultation.

Can you set the seeds of the conversation by telling your husband that a) you trust that your relationship is solid and b) that his desire for a den may form part of your future? If you do this, he might then be more open to real discussion and be able to hear what your concerns are without defensiveness.

You too, may need to consider what your worries are and why this hits you so intensely as it is only when you are very self-aware that you will be able to articulate fully why this matters so much. As always, a crisis offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at what the patterns and habits of your relationship are and it creates the possibility of reinvigoration.