My husband intentionally exposed my family to COVID-19

In this week's Pandemic Problems column, a wife frets when her husband deliberately brings home COVID

By Nicole Karlis

Published December 15, 2021 3:00PM (EST)

Children staying at home during COVIG-19 pandemic (Getty Images/Imgorthand)
Children staying at home during COVIG-19 pandemic (Getty Images/Imgorthand)

Dear Pandemic Problems,

My husband (unvaccinated and conspiracy-theory minded with anger against authority issues) deliberately exposed himself to COVID over this last weekend and brought it home to me (double vaccinated) and my two children (7 years old, and 15 month old baby, neither of whom have yet been authorized to receive the vaccine in the country where we live.)

Last Friday he found out that a friend's wife tested positive. On Saturday, he decided to drive two hours to spend the weekend overnight at their place.

He insists he wasn't "planning" to catch COVID, he just "refuses to live his life in fear" … but when he returned on Monday, he already had symptoms coming on, and on Tuesday I insisted he get tested. He tested positive for delta.

I kept both my children home from school and childcare since I knew he had been exposed, so as of right now I'm not immediately concerned about them having exposed anyone outside our household. We will go to get tested tomorrow ourselves, and the kids will be in quarantine for 17 days (when they will be tested again). I'll have to do home-schooling and cope with the fallout from his decision entirely on my own, including missing work.

I feel devastated, betrayed, and furious. I feel like he absolutely knew what he was doing, understood potential consequences — not just for his own health but for his family — and decided that neither me or my kids had any right or say in his choice to do this. He told me that he hadn't "planned" to catch Covid, but I don't see many other ways of interpreting this, outside of sheer stupid recklessness and the belief that consequences apply to everyone except him.

I haven't blown up or said anything in anger beyond expressing — sadly and with a huge amount of fatigue — that I didn't understand how he could do this. I made soup for him, went to the pharmacy to stock up on painkillers and fever medication, masks … I'm letting him rest and trying to manage the rest because I simply don't know what to do. I'm numb. 

Now he wants to go spend a week over Christmas with the very same couple that infected him in the first place.

He says if I refuse to go, he will take both kids and go anyway.

I don't trust him. I feel helpless and I don't know how to approach any of this.

I have no family in the country and I would not want to potentially expose them or anyone else, even if I did.

Sincerely,

Numb on my Next Move

Dear Numb on my Next Move,

To be honest, my fingers are feeling a bit numb on what to type here. In part, because you are yet another writer whose spouse does not believe that COVID-19 is a big deal. But mostly because your husband intentionally exposed himself, you and your children to COVID-19.

So, yeah, I'm a bit speechless, too. 

Regardless if your husband's intention was to "catch" COVID or not, his behavior was, indeed, selfish and reckless. Point blank. And this type of selfish behavior doesn't bode well in a marriage with kids in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

I have a lot more to say, but before I do, I reached out to clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly — and author of "Joy from Fear" and "Date Smart" — to help.


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"Partners who are emotionally intelligent tend to, by default, mindfully factor in their partner's needs and well-being . . . and when children are in the picture, their needs and safety are also paramount for the emotionally healthy partner," Manly said. "When a partner fails to consider the needs, rights, and safety of the other partner or children, this type of overtly selfish behavior can create mental and physical health issues in the long term."

Manly added that while your husband can certainly decline to get vaccinated, that is a minor harm compared to deliberately exposing you and your children to COVID-19. 

"This type of behavior not only exposes his wife and children to harm but also impacts their ability to engage in normal social and school/childcare interactions," Manly said. "The selfish and thoughtless nature of husband's behavior may be indicative of underlying narcissistic tendencies that will make the relationship difficult to bear in the long term."

You are "absolutely entitled to feel devastated, betrayed, and furious" Manly said. In addition to feeling your feelings, and exploring your options, Manly said "a bit of boundary work is in order." In other words, no more rewarding any behavior from him that clearly crosses your boundaries.

"The wife may want to create clear boundaries that help the husband understand the personal consequences of his reckless, inconsiderate behavior," Manly said. "For example, perhaps this is a good opportunity to allow the husband to make his own soup and obtain his own medicine. It is only through exercising natural consequences of reckless behavior that he might learn to consider the impact of his actions"

As for Christmas, Manly said, "if he threatens to take the children to an unsafe situation, a call to the police may be in order."

 I'm so sorry you're going through this. You and your children deserve better.

Sincerely,

Pandemic Problems

"Pandemic Problems" is an advice column that answers readers' pandemic questions — often with help from epidemiologists, philosophers and psychologists — who weigh in on how to "do the right thing." Do you have a pandemic problem? Email Nicole Karlis at nkarlis@salon.com. Peace of mind and collective commiseration awaits.

Read more from Pandemic Problems:


Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a staff writer at Salon. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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Advice Narcissism Pandemic Pandemic Problems Parenting Psychology Relationships