Husband Dependent Upon Wife

Reader’s Question

I am at a loss and not sure where to find answers online so I figured I could start here: I am in a marriage that is beyond repair and we are considering divorce. Therapy, etc. has been tried and failed; we are past that at this point. We agreed as a couple to focus on raising our 4 yr old son together until we can work out the details to move forward with our lives separately.

My husband has been in therapy to address some issues in his past, he no longer is. But one of the breakdowns of our marriage has been due to the fact that he was entirely dependent on me for any kind of social stimulation. He has no life basically, no friends he engages with on a social level; even a call to his own family has to come at my suggestion. He basically works and comes home and does nothing outside of play with our son until he goes to bed. My observation of this is that he is being “overly clingy to our son” for his own benefit due to a lack of any social/outside activities of his own. A lot of pressure for a child to handle.

My main concern lately is the effect or pressure that this is having on our child. My son is starting to not want his father to do certain things with him. I can read this as him asserting his own independence or I might be wrong.

But he gets upset if his father comes into his room when he wants his own time; now he wants Mommy to pick him up from daycare even though his father has been doing this from his infant days.

I am not sure how to approach that this is a blossoming problem without trying to appear as though I am limiting his time with his son, but at the same time I need to stop this becoming a larger problem.

Desperate for answers. Help.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your husband may have a type of dependent personality. People with dependency concerns often put all their eggs in one basket — depending on a marital or parental relationship to satisfy all their needs for socialization, recreation, and affection. They often depend on others to create and maintain their life for them. Additional problems surface under stress — as in your current situation. Stress amplifies our normal personality characteristics — good or bad. Under the marital stress, he may now become more clingy and dependent, to such an extent that a four-year-old is overwhelmed by it.

While he may be dependent and socially unskilled, he is not unworkable. He is able to agree to focus on practical issues regarding the relationship and parenting of the child. I would focus on doing what’s best for the child at his current stage of development. Remind your husband that children need to develop independent play. They need time alone as well as with adults. Also remind him that children cannot be responsible for entertaining their parents. I would imagine that when Dad picks him up from school, Dad is full of questions, comments and socializing to the point that the child would rather be picked up by a quiet adult.

As a dependent and shy individual, your husband may not be able to correctly “read” social cues, even from the child. You may need to provide some education for him regarding the signs and behaviors that his son wants to be left alone. He may fail to realize that when he feels dependent and clingy, people on the receiving end of his behavior feel smothered. Emphasize giving the child “space”, also suggesting that he diversify his social resources and call relatives, go to the mall, etc. Dependent folks are typically not self-starters and actually have difficulty entertaining themselves or discovering ways to keep themselves busy.

When we look at models to go by…it might be helpful to think of Dad/Husband as leaving the nest. Issues that smothered the marriage will continue through future visitation and child custody. Using the “leaving the nest” model, we could encourage your husband to become more independent, learn social skills to use in the community, and address concerns that would make his own independent living more difficult. In this situation, you may need to provide some guidance and monitoring for his relationship with his son — a monitoring that improves the Father-Son relationship but protects your son as well.

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