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Advice | Carolyn Hax: After a scary ‘incident,’ spouse wants husband out for good

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I’ve just asked my husband to move out. I said it was for at least a week, but honestly, it is such a relief not to have to deal daily with the low-level rage that seemed to be just below the surface. It has bubbled out with increasing frequency at one of our (elementary-age) kids, the one who gets under his skin. There was an incident the day I asked him to leave; nobody was injured, but I felt that safety was an issue.

We still speak regularly about house admin. But I’m lying by omission. I told him he needed to take parenting classes and work through his rage before coming back. I have no idea how long that might take. But what I haven’t said is that I don’t know if I ever want him to come back. The years of nastiness and rage that seem to go with his chronic depression, and his frequent, not-well-concealed misery at the prospect of dealing with his family, now well outweigh the good years that went before.

He’s on his third or fourth type of treatment, and has had a couple of trips to a psychiatric clinic. Otherwise, though, he’s not trying to do any emotional work. Fundamentally, I don’t know if I want to live with someone who needs lessons to be able to do something as basic as enjoy his family. I don’t see us as a trial to be endured.

But I still wish him well. I’m also afraid that, given his fragile mental health, if I were honest about not wanting him back, it could prompt him to try to harm himself. If relevant, we have enough surplus income that it might cover rental of a very small second place.

Please tell me what might come next; I have no frame of reference.

Now What?: This sounds fiercely difficult, I’m sorry. Good for you for taking a decisive step to protect all involved. Your writing is opaque on the “incident,” but I’m reading a violent response between the lines. Even if you believe the danger has passed, please consult thehotline.org. When couples separate is when the risk of violence is the highest, and he may be unstable.

Given that, I don’t doubt you on the risk of telling him the marriage is over. But I also think your separation, besides being necessary for your and your kids’ safety, is also an opportunity for him to work on his health, if he has the presence of mind to take it.

Living with young kids while navigating a serious mental health issue was apparently too much for him. Trying to do both could be why treatments haven’t stuck. So to the extent you can, encourage him to use the separation not just for parenting lessons, but also toward his care.

As for “next”: Everything is still new, and it’s okay not to know. The kids’ health and safety is the address in your GPS till you sort the rest out.

Deliberately or not, you set yourself up well: With “work through his rage” as the bar, your husband as you know him can never move back in. Only a demonstrably healthy version — proved over years, not weeks — is welcome to discuss his return.

The hotline staff can refer you to counseling locally so you have ongoing support. It’s hard for anyone to go through a separation, harder still with kids involved, and downright risky where there is mental instability. Get professional eyes on the problem, stat, and take care.

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