My husband formed a blues band and I haven't seen him since

He's wonderful and talented, but I feel I've lost him.

Published November 3, 2005 11:30AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am married to a wonderful man who is hugely talented -- a painter, a musician, a woodworker, a published writer, an athlete ... he is good at everything he does. He is intelligent, loyal, devoted, and is so patient and loving with our kids. We have been together for 12 years (we are both 43 now) and have three amazing children under the age of 8. We have been very happy, up until about five years ago.

About six years ago, at the age of 36, my husband decided to form a blues band. He lives for live music -- particularly blues and jazz. We met at a blues bar, so I'm into the music, too. So he picks up a bass guitar for the first time in his life and teaches himself how to play. He networks and meets some buddies and forms a band. It's all fine for a while, until it becomes the most important thing in his life. Suddenly, our lives are dictated by practices and gigs and the promotion of the band, updating his band Web site, posting his blues blog, collecting blues music for conventions. He devotes all his time and energy to the band, and his bandmates and their availability and schedules always come before ours. I go to all his performances, no matter how lame. And let me tell you, most of them are lame. Playing to 40 people is a huge crowd. Even our close friends don't come to see them play anymore.

Now here's the deal: I make more than double what my husband does. I work longer hours than he does. I have never played that card with him, and I never would, but I'm beginning to get real bitter about this situation. I knew from the get-go that he would never be a big earner, but that was fine with me. I'm not an extravagant person myself, and there are much more important things than money, right? Well, we bought a house about four years ago and are quickly going into credit card debt. We juggle our monthly bills by signing up for no-fee cards -- nightmare. We bought our house by borrowing $100,000 from his parents' retirement fund and have not paid back a dime -- another nightmare. We bought our house knowing that it would be tight for the first four or five years but promised to do everything we could to make money. I have. He has not. And he is the one who has the potential to be the big earner. He just doesn't want to be.

In addition to this, he is one of those guys that will not pick up a wet towel off the ground unless asked, so I do all of the housework. I also do all of the cooking, homework-time, packing lunches, laundry, keeping track of doctor and dentist appointments, buying clothes and shoes, organizing play dates, house maintenance ... on and on. My days are exhausting, to say the least. And, this is not the first artistic endeavor I have seen him obsess over, or been inconvenienced by -- it's just the longest lasting.

We were in therapy for six months about this. It has done nothing -- my husband is very anti-therapy and he didn't appreciate our therapist basically telling him to grow up and put his family first. When our therapist suggested putting a cap on time spent on the band, I was accused of not wanting him to grow as a musician, not letting him have fun, being the ball and chain, etc.

I just don't know what to do anymore. Recently he started playing out-of-town gigs. He talks about going to Europe with his band. He misses sporting events and parent-teacher conferences. I've told him that maybe he should pursue this dream, and that he can't expect me to live my life to help him with it --we're either partners or we're not.

I'm not asking for an analysis of WHY he is this way. I want to know what should I do. What if I give him an ultimatum? What if he then turns into the biggest deadbeat and runs away to Europe with this lame band, leaving me with the kids in a house I'd have to sell and have nowhere to go?

I just want my husband back. The one that wanted to have kids and raise them in a home. The one that would never think of being out of town to play music on their birthdays. The one who used to think that we were the most important thing in his life. The one that appreciated me and the things I do for him, not the one who now just expects everything from me...

Wits' End

Dear Wits' End,

You have to do something.

You obviously have to do something.

Yet before doing something, deeply and intensely first do nothing.

How can you do nothing? Something has to be done. But what? How can you know what must be done if you dive right in and do something? Doing nothing can be a way of knowing something. Doing something can be a way of knowing nothing.

So what is there to know? Maybe knowing what you fear. What do you fear? That he might abandon you?

What if he abandons you? Yikes. Could he do that? If he could do that, what kind of man is he?

That is the question. In doing nothing you arrive at a deeper truth: The reason you are in the spot you're in is because you fear him. You fear that he could walk out. You fear that he could leave. And so you do everything to keep him. And in turn he keeps you hostage.

This is something worth pondering. I could of course be wrong. But he seems to hold something over your head: That he cannot be depended upon, that he might indeed walk out. And that is a terrible thing to live with, that you are always pulling him back.

While the fear that he would leave is great, the temptation to release the rope must also be great. You must be very tired. Your hands must be raw. Your arms must ache. It must be a lot of work holding him, feeding him, caring for him, carrying him. You must dream how good it would feel to let go of the rope.

There is a kind of man who will do anything, and he is to be feared -- not because he is violent but because he doesn't feel the shame of failure. This kind of man might be an artist. He might be a genius. He might be a dictator. He might be a criminal. He might be simply a man in search of freedom -- a wanderer, a traveler, a man in search of himself. He might be the kind of man of whom people say, "He's never grown up -- he's a Peter Pan." This kind of man finds it hard to settle down, and when he does settle down he's still out there at night staring up at the stars. He forgets to come in and sleep. He forgets to eat. Those around him take care of him and of themselves.

This kind of man risks banishment if he takes it too far -- if he goes too far in debt, if he neglects too many appointments. If he is an artist, banishment might be part of the price he is willing to pay. If he is a wanderer, or a man in search of freedom, perhaps banishment is something he secretly thirsts for: He is waiting to be banished so he can continue his travels. He is in fact begging you to banish him. And if you banish him, he need not say, "I left." He can always say, "She threw me out, so here I am, wandering again."

Those are the things I would ponder, while doing nothing, before you do something. I would ponder these things until slowly an answer will come to you and you will know what you have to do. Once the answer appears, it will not go away. It might frighten you at first. It might seem wrong. But it will keep coming to you. Eventually you will accept the fact that it's true, it's what you have to do.

I don't know what that is yet. That's why I say first do nothing. When the answer comes, you will not be able to ignore it. You will no longer be guessing. You will no longer be acting in fear. You will know what to do. You will have to act. What you do then will be what you have to do.

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