I’m a failure and in debt. And now my partner is pregnant

The question My problems are my lack of success in my own life. I’m a 35-year-old man and I’ve been with my partner for 12 years. I fell into waiting tables after school and stayed there and now find myself on a low wage in a directionless job. A couple of years ago, I had an affair. My partner and I separated for a while, but are now back together.

I have real feelings of failure and resentment about my partner’s successful career. I have a “what the hell” approach to life, maybe because I got what seemed like a large inheritance, which meant we could buy a house, but now I have got myself into terrible debt. My partner is unaware I am unable to cover my outgoings and I find myself slipping further and further into debt, relying on credit cards to cover monthly repayments. I am on a constant search for new work with a higher salary, but I’m failing on all accounts. My problems can only get worse with my partner recently becoming pregnant.

I have a chequered job history and fear recruiters see me as a risk and are unwilling to interview me or entertain my applications. Despite being in the hospitality sector my entire life, it doesn’t add up to solid experience. With our lives about to change, my descent into debt and career stagnation makes me hate myself. I don’t know where to turn.

Philippa’s answer Where you can turn is towards yourself and towards others. You have more resources than you think. We all make mistakes; this doesn’t mean we are our mistakes. If you hate yourself, you won’t know your worth and won’t act as though you have worth. This sounds like it could be depression. You can get this under control by seeing your GP, who will either get you some counselling, or antidepressants, or both.

You have been reckless, with money and with your relationship, but this doesn’t mean you have to continue to be so. Come clean with your partner about how you are getting deeper into debt by borrowing more every month to pay off loans. Work out together how to pay this back, maybe by consolidating it on to your mortgage. Together, make a financial plan and stick to it. This will be a great relief. Don’t continue making the situation worse by keeping it a secret. You and your partner are a team: work as a team.

I think your work situation could be improved if, again, you could see yourself more as a team player. Make yourself indispensable, motivate yourself and the people you work with to function as a team. When you switch from seeing yourself as alone to instead seeing yourself as part of something bigger, you’ll feel better because you’ll belong rather than being an uncommitted outsider. You may not be in the job you want to be in for the rest of your life, but while you are in it, throw yourself into it; be the best waiter you can be. A lot of people are great people and happen to be waiters. In France that’s seen as a profession rather than a job. Be more French – take pride in what you do. Such a switch in attitude will help you regain your dignity. You do a job, but you are not your job. Feel good about yourself because of the way you go about doing that job.

There may be some outdated stereotypes of what a man is supposed to be that are polluting your psyche, such as always being strong, in control, able to manage without help and being the main provider. Reading The Descent of Man by my husband, Grayson Perry, will help you shed some unhelpful cultural expectations of what a man is “supposed” to be. When you are more aware of these, it will be easier to see your partner and yourself as more of a cooperative team, rather than regarding her as someone to unfavourably compare yourself to.

You could perhaps take on the role of house-husband if she wants to return to work after the baby. Investing your energies into your child is never an investment you’ll regret. You’ll be indispensable, not because you are changing nappies, but because you will have such a precious relationship with your child, which will help them become the person they can be – and they can help you mature, too. A great thing about having a baby is that you get to grow up again because you’ll see the world through their eyes – they’ll teach you about what they see, feel and experience, giving you a chance to experience the world anew. I’m not saying it won’t be hard or feel long at times, but stand back and look at the bigger picture.

I notice a pattern of recklessness in your tale… the spending, the affair. Next time you are tempted by the thought of a short-term thrill, keep the fantasy going past the orgasm or metaphorical orgasm. You know how it feels when such behaviour comes to roost: it feels horrible, it makes you hate yourself. Best cure, don’t do it, talk about it instead. Remember, whether at work or at home, be part of a team.

Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to askphilippa@guardian.co.uk. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions

The Guardian

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