Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I know how you feel about ultimatums, and agree with you. But what’s the alternative when one partner proposes something to which the other is strongly opposed?
My husband is proposing that he go on vacation solo — not with friends, just alone for the hell of it — for two weeks this summer. I think it’s an incredibly selfish idea: We have zero dollars in the bank, so he would be charging it to our credit card and thus making our precarious financial position even more so; and he would be leaving me alone with our baby and toddler for the third time in 12 months (the other trips were semi-business, semi-pleasure).
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He feels entitled to the vacation because I wanted children more than he did and because he is the sole breadwinner. For the record, he is a loving and attentive father, albeit one who hardly ever changes a diaper.
How do I convey to him what a complete (glass bowl) this idea makes him without actually threatening to leave him?
— Ultimatum Alternative
DEAR ULTIMATUM ALTERNATIVE: Whatever he decides to do about the two weeks, it won’t change the fact that he’s willing to consider it. He’s out for himself, not you or the kids or the marriage; reckless about money; blind to the hard work it takes to be around young children … I could go on but surely you get the point.
Plus, I reject the idea outright that people who think they’re too good for grunt work can be good parents. Parents who are only superficially involved usually turn out to be only superficially invested.
This is a seriously precarious position for you to be in, with two little ones and no income.
So my primary advice is for you to look past the vacation for a moment, and start thinking of how you can get yourself on more independent footing.
Do you have a career you can restart, a skill you can trade for wages, a trustworthy source of child care?
Making sure you can support yourself is important for everyone, male/female/parent/nonparent, but given your Plan A — zero savings, entitled spouse — means you need a Plan B, today.
As for dealing with his vacation, that depends on your limits. If he goes, will you end the marriage? If he stays home only because you threaten divorce, will that suffice? Has the marriage-ending behavior already occurred with “He feels entitled”? Base your decisions and your words on these answers.
Put these on your list no matter what: Prepare for the worst (steps toward independence; lawyer) before you declare anything, then explain to your husband that you find this vacation entitled, financially reckless and dismissive of the hard work of child-rearing.
If he ignores your objections and goes, then have your consequence ready, be it to initiate a separation, insist on marriage counseling, or start taking equivalent time for you: “OK, I need breathers, too — I’m thinking half-days every Sunday and on Thursday evenings.”
The last one isn’t as mild as it sounds. You’ll get needed breaks that still add up to less than he lavishes on himself, plus he’ll do some needed diaper duty — or he’ll refuse both, making that trip to the lawyer seem like a prescient move.