A lousy husband but a great dad

In one of the cycles of couples counseling my ex and I went through (we tried it three times), the counselor urged us to think back to why we chose to marry each other. What were the qualities we saw in each other? What was it that we enjoyed about each other’s company? She suggested that identifying these would be the clue to us once again finding common ground and getting close.

When I was interviewing Carolyn, the conversation drifted to why she married her ex. This is what she said.


One of the reasons I married my husband was because I thought he would be a really, really great dad and despite all my complaints about him, he is. But, I didn’t pay as close attention to what kind of husband he might be.

My mom was a single parent and I don’t think I ever really knew what made a man a good husband. I had never seen one. So I spent a lot of time trying to find someone I thought I could make a happy family with.

I always had this void in my life for this happy nuclear family and I really wanted one. My ex is a pretty darn good father but he was a lousy husband. It was really difficult for me to leave and be a single parent because I had a rough childhood in large part because my father was not around. We were poor. My father wasn’t even the every-other-weekend kind of dad – he wasn’t there at all. He was just gone.

I didn’t want that for my children. I was so freaked out by that possibility and that is why I stayed so long knowing my husband was having an affair with my best friend.

When I first left, I felt guilty that I was putting my interests before my children. Now I don’t feel that way. I feel it would have been complete insanity for my children for us to have carried on living that way. It would have been very bizarre.

It was scary because I didn’t want my children to end up having the kind of childhood I had and I didn’t want the life I saw my mom have as a single parent. She was always lonely and didn’t even date. She was in a second marriage briefly and just gave up on men after that. I remember she used to say, You can’t depend on a man for anything.”

I always thought she was incredibly bitter but I think she was trying to give me good advice. It’s a little depressing but I think she’s right. I would broaden it to say, “You can’t depend on anyone else for anything.” Ultimately, you have to depend on yourself because you’re the only one you can really, really trust.

I don’t think that means you shouldn’t trust people. It means that you have to put yourself in a position where you’ll be able to take care of yourself. Other people are always going to be a variable that you can’t guarantee. It’s difficult. I don’t know what kind of advice I’m going to give my own daughter – I hope I don’t sound as bitter as my mother, though.


A slight variation on this … my mother used to tell me how important it was for me to go to university because I should never be dependent on a man to support me.

I think what Carolyn is saying is hard to express – not being dependent on someone doesn’t mean you can’t be in a relationship but I do think it means the relationship should be a partnership, with an even balance of power. And BTW, Carolyn is now in a loving, steady relationship so she hasn’t become her mother.

I wonder if choosing your husband based on perceived qualities as a father is a common mistake? I certainly considered that when I got married – he’s a school teacher and I thought that meant he’d relate to children and be a great dad. What about you? What qualities made you marry your husband?

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  • http://littleskoolgirl.blogspot.com/ StudentMama

    I married my husband for stability. My father died early, and he was abusive. So, I was really glad that my ex wasn't like that! Unfortunately, he was abusive in other ways (workaholic, and infidelity were two). I see now, that I was looking for safety. I didn't have a father and the ex sort of took over that role for me. We tried to work through that in counseling also but it was tough to break the cycle.

    I was similar to Carolyn – my mom was a single mom who didn't date much and had poor boundaries. I'm just beginning to learn about boundaries (something I didn't assert because I was too afraid) – now I realize just how important they are as I began dating and ran into some of the same problems I had with my ex. It's interesting how much work we must do on ourselves before we can truely be ready for anyone else.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SinceMyDivorce SinceMyDivorce

      Hi Student Mama – good to hear from you again. It is amazing how much we learn about ourselves when we reflect back and I completely agree with your last sentence.

  • Lisa

    I had to leave the abuse even though others told me to stay for the kids. They are old enough and I can't take it anymore.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SinceMyDivorce SinceMyDivorce

      While it's definitely helpful to hear the input of others, the decision to stay or leave a marriage is yours. Only you know what your marriage is really like. I hope you're happier now.

  • Maria

    This was true for me. I am a big time planner and was encouraged to be independent by my mother who wanted me to have more options than she did. Unfortunately, I treated the “finding my mate” like choosing a career vs. choosing for love. I was young and very naive and also very insecure. Once I found someone who I thought would be a good father and who was sweet to me (he is a big brother and liked to play with kids and is 2 years younger than me), I thought he was “the one,” and dated him until we were old enough to marry. Now he is a teacher who has no desire to further his career to provide for his family, and I’m a health professional who is the main breadwinner. I’m burned out in my job and he knows it and doesn’t care. I always thought my job would be extra income and he knew from the beginning I wanted to work very part time to be involved with my kids. But I have to work full time and if I didn’t, we would just go in to debt. I’ve already tried that. He does play with the kids and is a good father but not a good husband. He does not seem to care about my needs and I’m exhausted. I don’t think either of us really love each other. I could use some advise and I appreciate knowing I’m not alone!

    • http://sincemydivorce.com Mandy Walker

      Hi Maria – I can tell from your comment how exhausted you are. My advice would be to work on yourself – reconnect with who you are, know your values, know what makes you happy, what makes you laugh. When you know all this, then you’ll be in a position to decide whether you and your husband have enough to work together reconciliation. Don’t jump into thinking if divorce is right for you yet – do the self-work first. I’d be happy to talk to you more about this and have some activities that may help you. Please contact me if you’re interested in a complimentary consult – http://www.sincemydivorce.com/contact/