Reader Question of the Week: My Husband Refuses to Work

Reader Question of the WeekEvery weekend I like to throw up a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. Here’s a difficult one, and I’d like to write a major post series on women walking through problems like this one. But before I do, I want to see what you think, because I’m sure some of you have some great insights I haven’t thought of yet!

My husband had to quit work a while back because of a health issue. That issue is now resolved, but he doesn’t seem to have any motivation to try to find work again. He’s perfectly happy sitting around all day. My sons, who are in their twenties, are also still living with us and don’t have motivation to do anything, either. I work part-time and I’m desperately trying to keep us afloat, but I can’t keep this up, and I don’t know what we’ll do for retirement. How do I get my husband to start being a man again?

Tough question! Do any of you have any encouragement or advice for this woman?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!

And I wrote a follow-up post on this, too, detailing what to do if your husband is lazy and won’t get a job. You can check out some of my thoughts there.

And don’t forget: The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex makes a great gift for any woman about to get married. So if you’re going to a bridal shower this spring, bring it along! :).


  1. I just finished reading “Bringing up boys” by Dobson, and he talks about this issue in relation to sons once or twice. I’m not sure of specifics, you’ll have to consider your situation, but those boys need to be out on their own. They are plenty old. Now, if they are still full time students, well, I lived at home all through college, but at the least, they should be paying some rent. I can’t imagine making my child move out into his car because I wouldn’t let him live at home, but there has to be some motivation. Perhaps set a move out date a month or two in advance, or set a date that rent will be due. Any other landlord would kick them out; luckily, you can respond with some grace that another random landlord won’t have.

    As for hubby, I just don’t know. This is a hard one. You aren’t his mother. Perhaps the conversation you have with him about the sons will help him see what’s going on. Perhaps after that, you can start talking to him about it. Or perhaps you need to talk to Hubby first? I really hope that someone else has good advice, ’cause this is a hard one!
    Rachael recently posted…A Day in the Life, the One Year EditionMy Profile

    • Jennifer says:

      I agree with Rachel about your sons (I won’t call them boys since they are both old enough to be married with families of their own, even if they are in their early 20’s), my parents allowed me to live at home rent free as long as I was in college, but the agreement was that if I finished college and was still living at home, I would be required to work and pay room and board (I got married a semester before I graduate, so I never actually had to pay my parents rent). And even in high school, when I wanted my car, I had to buy it with my own money and I was required to have a job to pay for gas and insurance. I did work during college to continue paying for my gas, car insurance, health insurance, clothing, discretionary money (spending cash, establishing credit), dr appts, etc. My parents just didn’t charge me room and board at that time.

      My hubby was out of work for 3 months, almost 4, a few years ago and it was very hard, especially because it happened right after our son was born and we decided that I would stay home with him. He dealt with a lot of stress and anxiety during that time. It was hard for him to be without work because he felt like he wasn’t supporting his family, but it was hard for him to find motivation to look for work because of the emotional problems made worse by not having a job. A bit of a vicious cycle. But once he found a job, he began to work on the anxiety. I guess this is more of an anecdote than advice, but maybe it will help you understand your husband’s frame of mind.

    • I read all these emails and wonder: how come all you ladies can go out and get jobs and not whine and get depressed and poor hubby comes up with all the excuses in the world why he can’t? Women: you work, you lose a job, you get a new one. Apply that logic to your man and you will stop feeling so sorry for him.

  2. Wow. That’s a hard situation.

    I agree with the previous comment, the sons need to go. I think you should set a date. Tell them they have until July 1st (or whatever) to find a new place to live. Do you charge them rent? They are probably way too comfortable living with you! :) Make it uncomfortable. Don’t cook for them. Don’t do their laundry. Charge them rent, require that they do every single chore in that house if they can’t pay rent.

    And the husband? Sounds like he might be depressed…..maybe you should tell him you are concerned and he needs to see a therapist (i know quite a few men who would rather find a job than go to a therapist).

    I wish i had better advice for you….hopefully someone will comment with great advice! the one thing i would focus on is NOT being an enabler, especially for your sons. They are adults, it’s time to start acting like it. In 5 yrs, do you want them to be still in your house, still sitting on the couch doing nothing? If the answer is NO, do something now to change it.
    Jill recently posted…The VillageMy Profile

  3. Bethany says:

    Oh man, that’s a tough situation. Two things come to mind. One is Emerson Eggerichs’s teaching on love and respect says that unconditional respect motivates a man better than nagging, criticism, or even unconditional love (affection). And I know he doesn’t deserve respect right now, but withholding it at this point is probably counter-productive. I don’t know how you’re treating him, but I can imagine that it is incredibly hard to respect him right now.

    The other thing that comes to mind is you can’t show him how to be a man, only men can do that. Find some men in your church who fear God and care about your husband to see if they could invest in his life. A fresh perspective and some accountability would probably do him good.

  4. When our son moved back from college, he moved in with us until he found a job and housing. I noticed the search didn’t have real focus or a time line, so I gave him one. 6 months and then he’s out. At three months I emphasized the timeline and noted that the had found the job and now I was charging him rent and not cheap rent at that. He got the hint, found a house, that was a little painstaking considering his decision process and he moved on. I did have my wife’s backing on this so we were not divided when talking with him.
    Sometimes the nest needs to get a little prickly. If your the breadwinner and you have a limited income, all the luxuries go out the window. No cable or Internet. If your paying extra for it and it isn’t needed to live on, out it goes. You do not need the internet to find a job. Give the boys a deadline and do not deviate! Tough love!!
    As for the husband, if he’s a Christian, pray with him and for him. Tell him of the insecurity and pain his inaction is causing you. Be honest, loving and (difficult as it may be) respectful. Ephesians 5:25-33 tells the husband to lay down his life for his wife as Christ did for his bride, the church. It doesn’t tell us to just lay down.

    • I disagree with the internet/job bit – if you’re looking for anything that pays more than minimum wage, companies typically require you to apply online before they’ll even talk to you. Many companies use recruiting agencies that require you to apply online, sometimes even recruiting agencies that have headquarters out of state, and won’t talk to you until the recruiting company recommends you and emails them your resume. Paperwork for new jobs are often sent via email, and you fill it out, sign it, and email it back – especially if you’re dealing with a recruiting/contract company. Not to mention that internet job sites bring opportunities right to your front door. In today’s world, internet is pretty crucial for a job search.
      Jen recently posted…sewing projects – two finished, two pendingMy Profile

      • While I do not deny the need for the Internet, I just don’t think it has to be in the home. You see, I was that guy many years ago. My job site was terminated and over a period of time, we almost lost everything and I was in depression just laying around the house. Finally, after much prayer by my wife, I got up and started looking. Found a career that has given me a great retirement.
        Not having the Internet in the house forces him to get up and go to the library, I don’t recommend the Internet cafes because of distractions, and start searching. Libraries have computers, printers and paper paid for by our taxes and they are linked witht the Internet. Using a memory stick keeps your resume and personal information at the ready. I don’t believe job searching in your pajamas shows serious pursuit. There has to be change and just getting up, dressing for a job interview and going out to look or search is a positive change.
        The other thing about the Internet in the home, guys with self worth issues often look in on pornography to help them feel better about themselves. Which starts that vicious circle involving lies, distrust, anger, depression, more pornography, etc.

        • Securely Desired says:

          love that perspective Ryck. Get out and work to get a job. I have always been under the impression that looking for work should be a full time job until you GET a job.

      • learning is fun! says:

        Sorry to ‘butt in’ here, but I have a feeling the emphasis wasn’t on the usefulness of the internet to find employment, but rather, the emphasis was that *this household* didn’t need to have cable / internet. It’s available at the local library or community employment centre.

        I would also agree that the sons have it a bit too easy here (based on the information provided). It’s time for them to learn that they’re adults now, and should be responsible for themselves. At the very least, they should be helping out with household chores, and if they’re not students, paying rent. If you happen to be in a situation where their financial contribution isn’t ‘necessary,’ you can choose to invest it and give it to them as a wedding gift or someting when that day comes. They do need to know that it’s not a free ride, and they might as well learn that starting today.

        I had a similar arrangement with my parents, in that, as long as I was a full-time student, I was not expected to pay rent / board. I was, however, expected to help out around the house. I did my own laundry, washed the dishes, kept my parents cars clean, mowed the lawn, took out the garbage, etc. When I began working full-time, we agreed that I would pay a ‘token’ amount for rent, but after a while, I advised them that I would be increasing it, as the amount they were asking for really wasn’t enough, in my opinion, to cover my own costs (I probably ate more than I was contributing!), but also because I didn’t feel it was enough to REALLY teach me what it was like to plan for that expense each month. When the time came for me to move out (which was my decision – I wasn’t pushed out), it wasn’t a terribly large adjustment, financially speaking.

        As for the husband in this relationship, perhaps removing some of the things he’s sitting around doing – like watching tv, or surfing the net – will be a foot in his rear. Maybe you need to sit down with him, and GET him involved in the family’s finances, as it sounds like you’re doing it all. Even if one of you is better at it than the other, you both need to KNOW your financial position. If he sees it in black and white, including the large ‘ZERO’ beside his name for ‘income,’ he’ll realize that you can’t keep going on the current track. If he feels like the world has passed him by while he was off work, there are government sponsored programs that will teach you how to look for work, conduct yourself in an interview, and if necessary, they will even pay for you to be trained for a career change. The hardest part, though, is not just getting started, but finding out WHERE to start. Definitely direct him to a career counselor.

      • You can, however, get to those job sites and such from the library. They usually have computers with internet access available. I do agree that internet isn’t “necessary” at home, especially if money is tight.
        Rachael recently posted…Gardening Spring 2012My Profile

  5. Uhh yeah, been there, way too long/too often. I agree things need to be a little less comfortable but at least for my hubby, it was mostly a self-confidence issue. The longer he was unemployed, the worse he felt about himself and the scarier it was to search for a job. Pray for him to be motivated, maybe check into counseling, perhaps a good talk about how much you need his financial support. Maybe he needs to know that you need him to step up – that you can’t do this all alone.
    Cherish recently posted…Happy Mother’s Day!My Profile

  6. Growing People says:

    My first concern is, what exactly does sitting around all day mean? For some guys, it is just that: sitting around, playing games, and so on. On the other hand, is it possible he’s been doing more chores than he used to, or working on household projects?

    For most guys, having to be out of work for a while, for any reason, can take a toll on his confidence. Being in a position where his wife has to “take care of him” can also be pretty rough on his confidence. So it may be that he now needs reassurance and respect that you weren’t “taking over” as breadwinner, but just doing what was necessary, and you still see and respect him as the professional provider. He may know these things in his head, but that often isn’t enough to change how we feel, and guys in particular are socialized to hide their feelings, not deal with them.

    Alternatively, if, as I said before, he may be doing more chores or household work, is it possible he wants to be a “stay at home dad”? As the workforce changes, and there are more and more professional women, and men are having a harder time finding a job, there are certainly at least some couples/families where the woman works, and the man does what we would say a “housewife” would normally do – cook, some cleaning, yardwork, etc.

    One way or another, you clearly need to have a non-confrontational talk, and ask where he really stands. If you don’t see any evidence that he wants to be a stay at home dad, then reiterate your support for him and need for him to be the wonderful provider you know he is.

  7. Anonymous says:

    My parents have an unwritten rule that no one is allowed to just “be” in our house from M-F 8am-4pm. Those are working hours, and you should either be at work, at school, or looking for work.

  8. Jessica says:

    Ok,admittedly I’ve never found myself in such a situation but to me this seems really simple. Stop providing for the family. You don’t have to quit your job but you need to stop doing your husband “job”. Take him all the bills and sweetly say, “Here ya go, Hun. I don’t know what is up with all of these. I’ve been trying to make them all but I can’t anymore.” and then walk away. Don’t follow-up or ask him if he has a plan. Put the money you make into putting food on the table, buying soap, laundry detergent, and other cleaning stuff. Run the house if you can but leave him with the bills. Unless he is seriously clinically depressed I would be he will start getting moving soon. If not the house will be mighty hot this summer!! 😉

    • I would not advise handing all of your bills to your husband and then ignoring them, unless you are prepared for the consequences if your husband doesn’t pay the bills.

      I would suggest having a family meeting with your husband and sons, and discussing all of the finances, with them, showing them where the money is going, how much you are making, and how much you are spending, and asking them where they think you should cut back, and how they think the family can make more money.

      I’d also make sure that they have enough time to find work – I know some people get caught up in working on extra projects around the house, instead of searching for jobs. A job search takes a long time, it’s hard work, and people are looking for any reason possible not to hire you. If you’ve been out of work, you already have a few strikes against you, especially if you work in a specialized field, or if you are changing careers.

      Discuss with your family what types of jobs they are looking for, where they’ve looked already (and how long it’s been), whether or not they have been interviewed, or had any follow up contact, and whether or not they’ve followed up with any of the companies they’ve contacted, and what they think they could do to get a better outcome. Are they dressing professionally for interviews? Using professional email addresses? Also let them know that it’s ok to apply for a job even if you don’t meet all of the requirements, as long as you are close enough, and discuss your expectations for their job search.

    • ButterflyWings says:

      I would not suggest this approach either. In my case, with my first husband, it came down to if I didn’t pay a bill, it wasn’t paid. Basic necessities like rent and electricity were never paid – even handing the money to my husband and asking him to go to the post office (where bills and rent at the time were paid through) ended with him spending the money on drugs and the bills going unpaid. The worst part being is he’d claim he’d paid the bills and to stop “spying” on him if I asked him if he’d done it, and then weeks later we’d get eviction notices from the landlord and final warnings from the electricity provider etc.

      He just flat out wouldn’t get a job, and would not take care of the bills. He knew if the electricity was cut off, he’d go stay (alone) with his sister, and leave my daughter and I alone in the dark and cold. If the rent wasn’t paid, we’d be evicted, and he’d go stay with his sister and leave our daughter and I homeless with nowhere to go (shelters here don’t take people simply because they got evicted for not paying rent).

      Some men won’t take responsibility no matter what you do – they will let their kids live on the streets rather than get off their lazy bottoms and do something.

  9. I agree with the comments above regarding the sons unless there are solid reasons why they can’t work (Which there doesn’t seem to be.)

    As for an unmotivated husband, it’s much trickier. I agree that the respect for your husband is paramount during this time. But I also know from experience that when a husband doesn’t have a job it is a massive injury to his identity.

    Don’t be discouraged or afraid to discuss with him the costs and benefits of even helping around the house. If you can work more hours to pay all the bills, and if he is willing to do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry and yard work it may be a good change for a season.

    One thing that happened in our family was that my working discouraged my husband from working. He felt worse that I ‘had’ to work and it kept him unmotivated and that spiralled. I finally quit working and my husband was suddenly thrust into emergency mode and found work! I wouldn’t recommend that across the board unless you are led by God to do so!

    Now… my husband has also been in the situation where no work was to be found. And in that situation, because it gets more depressing the longer that continues, I highly recommend that he gets involved with a men’s group at church (if he isn’t already). There he will meet other guys in the work-force that may be able to encourage him and even give him tips when job opps come up.
    Carla Anne recently posted…Should Christians Wear Bikinis?My Profile

  10. (NOTE: I’m not the Rachael who posted above)

    I wholeheartedly agree with giving your sons a timeline on moving out, getting a job, and charging them rent.

    The lack of job motivation could have many underlying factors. I have a husband who can’t seem to hold down a FT job because of learning disabilities and ADHD. So fear plays a large factor in him even wanting to apply for jobs. So we’ve settled on what he feels comfortable with right now. He works from home as a booking agent for an author, washes windows on the side, and works PT at a fast food restaurant for minimum wage. Me, on the other hand, I’ve been working from home in transcription for the past three years. I’ve had no difficulty keeping jobs, and great jobs at that, for a long period of time. So the compromise is that I’m going back to work PT and that way we don’t pay for daycare. I’m the breadwinner, but with a little work on his part, he does his best to speak my love language (acts of service) and helps with the kids and housework. He still feels respected because I support him, and I feel loved because he is trying.

    But so many times, a man’s identity is tied up in his job. It certainly sounds like to me, a good conversation is in order. Try the speaker/listener technique. It may seem awkward at first, but I tell you that it’s become second nature for my husband and I, and it’s great because both sides feel heard. I know what it’s like to bust my butt for my family and feel that exhaustion, but he may not realize that he needs to work because he is the head of your home and God provides through him and that it likely beats down at your feeling of security. My prayers are for you and your husband. I know I don’t always get it right, but your words definitely have power to lift up your husband and bring him life.

  11. It might not be just a motivation issue; it might be a self-confidence issue. I have been self-employed for about 15 years, but for a couple years, I scaled way back on work to take care of my aging parents. Once that season was over, though, I’ve found it very difficult to get back to the same level of productivity that I had before. Some of it IS (honestly) just that it’s less stressful to not work so much, but some of it is also feeling like I’ve lost ground keeping up in my field, and lost brain cells to the stress, which make me feel far less competent and confident about “selling myself.” (Which both the self-employed and the job seeker have in common.) I don’t know how long your husband was off, but if it was several months or more, consider the possibility that this may be part of what’s keeping him at home. And maybe that can help you have more grace for him.

    Re: the sons… Gotta make staying at home more unpleasant than looking for a job and getting out! :) Tell ’em: Either pay rent, or do the housework!

  12. Amythest says:

    Well, unfortunately, I’d just quit paying the bills. I’d give him all the bills that have his name on them and forget them. He can pay them. You pay your own way. AFA your sons, they’re plenty old enough to have jobs and pay rent. My dad was on us before we were 18 to have at least a part time job and it better be fulltime by the time we were 18 or we were out. If we had a job and could pay for our gas, car insurance, food, phone, and give him something to help with the housing then we could stay, otherwise we could move out. Worked for all 9 of us. lol Here, my husband pays the bills. I rarely know what he’s doing which isn’t always a good thing! But if he wasn’t working and does what he does now when he’s off work which is playing computer games all day, I’d just let the bills pile up.

    • I understand the frustration that would lead to the point of quitting to pay the bills, and I agree that everyone needs to learn personal responsibility. I just think that in marriage, personal responsibility becomes joint responsibility no matter whose name happens to be on the bill or who ends up looking after the logistics of getting things paid. So, I’m with Sarah who posted earlier about having a family meeting instead. I would be inclined to do it with just husband & wife but I can also see the value of including the sons.

      The discussion could go something like: “I’m concerned about our finances… here is what we have coming in… here is what we have going out. We’re short $X. Could we come up with some options for how we can fix this? I’m worried that if we don’t, we’ll end up… (losing our house, not having enough money for retirement, etc etc)” Using the numbers as a springboard is less personal and is less likely to put a husband on the defensive.
      Leanne recently posted…Is higher level education really worth the money?My Profile

  13. I’m a bit late to the party…but I think something vital was overlooked.

    Does he call himself a Christian?

    If he does, lovingly say you are concerned for him because of what 1 Timothy 5:8 says. His soul is in danger.

  14. I am going through the same circumstance with my husband. He was layed off April 2011 had another opportunity in September but couldn’t pass the drug test. He continued to drink and I would see him in the garage drinking everytime I came home from work and it ate me up a little inside each time. He kept coming home drunk I sought counseling with my Mom’s Pastor whom my husband wouldn’t see with me and he told me there has to be boundaries in life. So I told my husband next time he came home drunk he had to leave. He came home drunk again in October and I snapped emotionally. I told him ti leave he said he wouldnt. I Called my mom huddled in the fetal position on the bathroom floor and she had my cousin his best friend to tell him to leave. He left and has lived with his mom since October of 2011. I told him if stop drinking and get a job any job he can come home. He has not. He was saved by grace 3 weeks ago after attending counseling with my Pastor. But he still cones up with execuses why he can’t make it to interviews and he still gets unemployment which is a crutch for him. I was approached last night by my Aunt who said my other cousin set him up with an interview that he didn’t go to Sat and today is the final day for him to go. I talk to him about it last night and he basically said he wasnt sure if was going because the job wasn’t paying that much. I told him it’s not even about the money in more. I can’t look at like a man anymore and my soul is tired! He said do what you have to do but make sure he is able to see our 6yr old son. I know God can change him He changed me. I keep hearing Proverbs 3 5-6. I need a break through. I don’t want to give up on my marriage.

    • I am going through the same thing right now. My husband has been out the Army for almost 6 months now. Before he got out of the Army, he jokingly stated that he was going to stay home and I work. The Army provided employment workshops and my husband was leaving them early to go home and was not looking for a job.

      He decided to leave and stay with his mom after we got into a nasty fight. Now he is back and only wants to go to school full time (which is not enough money) or be a cop, and right now he has arthritis in his knees, shoulder, and has back pain. He has a job offer now in information systems and will not contact the boss. He missed the interview and they still want him to come and work for them. I ask him about the job and he tells me that he can make his own decisions and do what he wants. I am in the Army and I work so many hours with a little bit of money. Right now I am working on paying the rest of my bills and saving money to move to California after I am out. He does not want me to save any money or pay extra on my bills. It’s frustrating! Right now he wants me to use my whole check for bills and the money he gets from unemployment and Army school money he keeps in a bank account and I cannot get a dime from him. Also, his unemployement runs out in 2 months and he does not really care about looking for a job. It’s very frustrating. I think about divorce but I am a Christian (so is he) and I know that God can make our marriage better. It hurts me more than anything that I will bend backwards but he will not do what it takes to take care of this family. Thank God we only have 2 dogs and no children yet. I would of been left. My kids would not go through this kind of hell!

  15. I will offer a different perspective…I am a stay at home wife who has been unable to find work for a very long time. I want to work but due to some very unique circumstances in my life, I can’t seem to find a job anywhere. My husband is the one with a full-time job that he’s had for about 17 years. We have no children. Living on one income puts a strain on our marriage for many reasons…our sex life is nonexistent, we don’t travel and he resents me although he tries not to show it. But I can tell that he does.

    In today’s world it seems that women who are housewives are judged just as harshly as stay at home dads, or men who are unemployed. Sometimes the problem isn’t simply about laziness…the unemployed spouse might be suffering from crippling depression or some other issue. They might be reluctant to seek help or treatment. In the case of an unemployed husband, I’m sure it might be difficult because people tend to view a “real man” as one with a job/career, who can provide for his family. There is a lot of social pressure. Lord knows I feel it many times and I’m a woman! People look down on me…they think I just sit around doing nothing worthwhile. I’m expected to be some high-achieving career person.

    I sympathize with the ladies who say that their unemployed husbands are putting strain on their marriages. I’m sure it must be hard to pay all the bills and feel like you are the only one contributing. I won’t give any advice because I am in the same boat as your husbands, but I will say this…maybe counseling would help you. If your husbands don’t want to seek help, then maybe you should for your own sanity. It might help to talk with a professional who will listen and offer some helpful advice without taking sides.

    Last year my husband implied that I was a “moocher” because I don’t have a job…that broke my heart. I don’t use people or take advantage of anyone. I’ve struggled all my life in ways that many people will never understand. So it hurt me when he said that after we argued about me not working. I feel guilty enough as it is. He knows my situation and yet, out of resentment and frustration, he threw it in my face. Some of his friends were also judging me, one of them is a stay at home mom married to a millionaire. She spends all of her husband’s money without a care in the world but had the nerve to look down on me because I can’t find a job.
    I feel bad for you ladies…I don’t know what else to say. Hopefully you can work things out with your husbands. It sounds like most of you are doing the very best you can.

  16. I feel the same way. My husband and I married about four years ago & I had a 3 yr old daughter. He was working when we dated and soon after we married got in an auto accident and hurt his back. I suggested that he take the time to go to school, since he wouldn’t be able to do much labor. So he or should I say I went to school for him (online classes). When times really started getting hard, going to food banks and picking which bills to pay, I thought he would go find a job but no he didn’t. Then we had to relocate because of my job and he still wasn’t looking even though we had a baby on the way. Well I got laid off a month before he was born, and knew that there was no way anyone would hire me as I was. Thank goodness I was able to collec unemployment. After a few grocery store jobs and aflac I started applying for better jobs for him. I got him an interview with the city for a job spraying mostiquetos and he worked there for about a month. The cable got cut off on a Sunday and he decided on Monday to go talk to his boss about getting more hours, come to find out he feed me this big story about how they fired him and I called his boss the following day when we were packing and moving in with his parents and found out that he just walked in a resigned. I am at wits end. I am a Christian also and don’t want my kids to have to go through us divoricing, but I don’t know what to do anymore. O yeah, hes currently applying for disability.

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  1. […] a crisis in passivity for men. A while back a woman sent in a Reader Question of the Week: what do I do when my husband refuses to work, and wants to just do nothing? The passive male is becoming far more common, and is one of the […]

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