My partner isn’t pulling his weight and I am going crazy

Chores, childcare and financial management of any household have to be negotiated consistently over a lifetime together

PROBLEM: I feel exhausted all the time and know that I am going to snap soon. I am not sure if it is fair to blame my partner for everything but he really needs to shoulder a lot of the problem. We have been together for 17 years and have two children, aged 10 and 12. We both work full time but he does shift work, so there are weeks where we hardly meet at all. It feels to me as if I have three children as my partner just won’t take any responsibility and won’t even have a conversation about it.

I do all the housework: the shopping, cooking, cleaning… everything. I also organise the bills and the finances, not to mention the kids and their activities and school runs and play dates.

Because he works shift work, he often gets off work at weird times and he says that to relax he needs to smoke dope. He argues that it is harming no one and it is better than him being in a pub or going off with other women. But honestly, I feel like I am dealing with a teenager.

Any romance we had is dead and I cannot imagine feeling that way about him again. I feel like I am looking at a future of drudgery with no up-sides but I don’t want my kids to go through a separation and all that would bring for them. I’m trapped and furious and know that I am becoming a crazy person.

ADVICE: For any relationship to flourish there is a need for some principles to be adhered to: fairness, loyalty and decency are essential. Then for a romantic relationship there is a need for love and attraction. It sounds as though all these principles need attention in your relationship. There are two aspects to the change: your own attitude and behaviour and your partner’s participation as an adult in the relationship.

Then there are the hard facts: chores, childcare and financial management of any household that have to be done and negotiated consistently over a lifetime together. The one thing we have full control over is ourselves and it is worth asking yourself if you are going about getting what you want in a successful way? Is it possible that there is a sense of martyrdom and resentment building up in you and this might cause you to become the type of person you do not want to be?

The chances of you being angry and frustrated at your children are high, is it likely you are becoming someone who moans constantly and is constantly sniping and bitter?

You, perhaps do not want to become this person, yet you feel that you are being forced into these characteristics out of a sense of love and duty to your children. Do you have leeway to change any of this so that you do not find that you are an unrecognisable person to yourself in a few years’ time?

Can you begin by treating your partner as a participating adult? For example, if you ask him to be in charge of the dishwasher, he might need encouragement and praise while you feel that this should be taken for granted and so offer him criticism and disappointment instead.

Is it possible for you to treat him as a person you might again love and find attractive? Even a discussion about this might offer him hope and the motivation to become the kind of man he has the possibility of being. The danger here is that you link romance to his success at housework and this can put you in the position of rewarding him for being good thus sets you up in a role of mother/teacher instead of partner. He may react as a pupil or teenager would and bang the door or leave. Can you find it in yourself to love him and then challenge him?

You have legitimate issues to tackle: the isolation of parenting and house-maintenance on your own, the dope is also not something you share and the sense that you are trapped in a loveless relationship. Yet your partner supplies financial support and has not left the house to find solace elsewhere so there is some basis to build on. What might entice him to participate more in the family? Can you have some discussion as to what steps he might see as a path to a better life? If you are seen as a parent to him how might he see the hurt and vulnerability in you so that he can act as protector and not the creator of misery? Couples counselling might be something to consider if these conversations end in arguments and recrimination.

While you still feel that staying together is the best option for the family, it is worth implementing changes that are fully within your power.