I have two young children with my partner. He is a good person but I feel disconnected to him and there is little laughter, more just talk with one another about logistics and the running of the home. He seems to have no curiosity about me as a person and I feel I always have to instigate everything. He also tends to underplay everything so he disapproves about getting excited about stuff. I'm naturally happy but the lack of enthusiasm for even the simplest things sucks the joy out of everything for me. I have tried talking to him but he says that's just who he is. What can I do?
Let’s imagine something for a moment. It’s five, 10 years from now. In one scenario, you are still with a man who doesn’t have any curiosity about you as a person; you don’t feel happy in your relationship and feel your happiness and enthusiasm for things outside of your relationship is disapproved of; and your children have grown up observing this joy-curtailing attitude from their father and seeing their mother shrink her appetite for life around him.
In another scenario, you are no longer with your partner, but continue to talk about the logistics of co-parenting and scheduling with him when necessary. Life is more complicated, but you feel free to be enthusiastic and joyful. You find a partner who is curious about you and also curious about life. And your children grow up with parents who are separated, but get to see them communicating respectfully while also seeing their mother embracing all the joy she can.
If things stayed exactly how are they are, how much longer could you stay? And if you know it’s not forever, what’s the benefit of postponing leaving?
Most people get married and have children in the hopes of staying together as a couple and as a family. But from your description, you have an emotionally distant co-parent, not a romantic partner, and this isn’t what you want.
This doesn’t mean you need to immediately break up or file for divorce, but it does mean you need to start taking your needs, your desires and your personal sense of dissatisfaction seriously.
People with children divorce every day, and they make it work, so you do have very real options. When you start taking these options seriously, you can talk to your partner about this, seriously.
This is your one and only life. Fight for it to have as much joy as possible – for you and your children
You can say how you are currently living does not work for you; you feel unappreciated and your joy is disapproved of (you should acknowledge how utterly heart-wrenching that sentence is). Tell him that this relationship can either change, or end. People often speak of ultimatums like they are only manipulation tactics, but ultimatums can be setting a boundary, or giving someone a choice: to work and transform and stay together, or to work and transform in order to split in the best way possible.
Maybe he is willing to work and fight for this relationship. Maybe couples counselling will be transformative. Maybe he is unaware of how dampening the joy of those around him has damaged your marriage and has the potential to damage his relationship with this children, and is willing to work on it. Or maybe he’s not, and instead will become an excellent, logistical co-parent with you as you separate.
You won’t know until you ask. So ask. This is your one and only life. Fight for it to have as much joy as possible – for you and your children.
Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford
If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe