My partner delights in being a dad, but is awful to me. What can I do?

My partner and I have been together for five years; we have a son. My partner wasn’t supportive during my pregnancy and showed no interest in antenatal appointments or scans. However, as our son has got older, my partner has delighted in being a dad. The problem is, he isn’t very nice to me; he doesn’t care for or respect me.

We live in his house; I pay for everything for our son and food bills; my partner pays his mortgage and house bills. He won’t have a joint account.

Things got very bad two years ago when he told me that I’d brought nothing but misery to his life and he wanted me to leave. We made up the next day. A few months later, things deteriorated again; it coincided with a visit from the health visitor, who told me my partner was emotionally abusive and gave me numbers of organisations that could help. I went to visit my family abroad for a few weeks and on our return things improved.

We went away for a weekend before the pandemic, just the two of us. We had a good time, had sex and enjoyed it. I felt as if we had turned a corner. But then lockdown happened. I felt as if I’d stepped back into the 1950s – doing the childcare, cooking, housework, and having sex when my partner wanted it. I’m at a point where the thought of any physical relationship does not appeal.

My partner has moved into the spare bedroom. In many arguments, he says he wants a relationship – what he means is just the physical parts.

Do I try counselling, even if it’s just me? Can a relationship this dysfunctional be salvaged?

It can, but it’s really hard, especially if only one person is prepared to work on it. First, I cannot state strongly enough that you don’t have to have sex with anyone you don’t want to – and that includes the father of your child.

You say your partner has “delighted in being a dad”, but gave me no evidence of him being good at it. Because part of being a good dad is supporting the child’s mother – you. Imagine your son, grown up, and being treated by a partner in this way. What would you say? Sometimes we can’t see what is right in front of us. I think you know that this relationship is substandard, but doubt yourself.

I showed your letter to psychotherapist Chris Mills. It was long – which is fine – but it was as if, as Mills pointed out, “you were trying to give evidence”. We do this “laying out of evidence” when we lack the courage of our own convictions, because we want others to tell us what to do. Of course relationships go through rough patches and need work, but I wonder what there is to work with here?

“Nowhere,” Mills said, “do you really open up and give an opinion on your partner. Most of it is framed around wondering what he thinks of you and why he’s treating you so badly. You talk of not liking what he does, but haven’t been able to frame that as, ‘I don’t deserve this.’” You don’t want your child to grow up and see women treated that way. “But you also don’t want him to grow up and see a woman who puts up with it and doesn’t do anything about it [if they can do so safely],” Mills said.

You mentioned your health visitor telling you that you were in an emotionally abusive relationship, and you certainly seem to be, from what you’ve said. You gave me no indication that you were at risk, but I need to point out that sometimes women in abusive relationships are most at risk when they try to leave. So do please keep you and your child safe and refer to the links below. I’ve also included one to help you find out more about your rights if you do decide to separate.

I think you know in your heart that this relationship isn’t likely to improve – imagine a year; 10 years from now? It’s time to ask yourself some tough questions: what do you get out of this relationship? What do you want? And how closely do the two match? Is this what you envisaged for yourself when you were younger? I ask because sometimes calling our younger selves as witnesses to our present can be a wake-up call.

Therapy on your own would be beneficial, for you to “hear yourself back” and to give you confidence to decide what to do next.