Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it. Here’s one that I often get variations of: “My husband won’t get a job”!
My husband, whom I love very much, recently quit his job to study to get his G.E.D. (high school equivalency diploma). I have been very supportive and gently reminding him that he needs to study. If he doesn’t study, he turns around and blames me, saying that it’s my responsibility to get him to study. He has no handicaps or learning disabilities. I’m really busy caring for children and aging relatives, and I’m finding this very stressful. If I bring it up he gets defensive. What do I do?
It’s similar to this email that I received:
Two years ago my husband was laid off. For the first two months he tried to find another job, but he’s since given up. He sits around and plays video games all day. We lost our house and we’re living in a friend’s basement right now with our three little kids. I can’t go to work because I’m nursing a baby, but he has no motivation to get up and find a job. He just says there aren’t any out there, but if I tell him about places that are hiring he huffs off and leaves the room.
This is a tough one, because we can’t force someone to do what we want them to do, but at the same time it sounds as if these men are not fulfilling a basic role that is agreed upon when you get married: I will work to make a life together.
So let me offer a few thoughts today for those of you who feel that your husband is lazy and refuses to work.
Perhaps we don’t vow it in the same that we vow “forsaking all others”, but it’s implicitly understood in the marriage contract that we are a team that will now be independent and care for ourselves. This doesn’t mean that both of you will work outside the home; but it does mean that both of you will WORK: One of you may work a paid job, and the other may be home caring for children and the home, but in general, both of you are contributing to the family.
I really don’t think that anyone would disagree with that, unless they think that the government should be paying their way. We know that we each have responsibilities in marriage.
I imagine that if you talked to these two men they would likely agree in principle, too. They would simply tell you why for them that won’t work: there are no jobs out there for my skill level; I’m not a “school” kind of person so I can’t study; etc. etc. They know that in general people should work; they just can tell you a million reasons why for them that isn’t true. Is your husband just lazy? Maybe. But perhaps it’s also that they’re just depressed, or scared, or nervous, and they can’t deal with that so they do nothing at all.
Does Your Husband Need Help and Encouragement to Get a Job?
Have you ever had to do something and the thought just scared you so much you ran away from it? It just seemed like too big a task and you didn’t even know where to begin. I know I’m like that with some areas of my house. Right now my storage room is such a mess that the thought of even beginning to clean it is overwhelming.
I think some guys are like that when it comes to studying/getting a job, too. Where do you start? The resume? Trying to find interviews? Trying to find openings? It’s staggering. And how long will it take to get a job?
And because it’s all tied up in their idea of manhood, too, it’s really scary to think about. If they try and fail it’s almost worse than not trying at all.
Perhaps you can help by talking to him and breaking it down into bite sized pieces for him. For studying for the GED, for instance, maybe you could make a schedule about what to study when. Perhaps he doesn’t even know how to begin. What I do when I’m helping my girls study is take an endpoint and then work backwards. So pick a date when he’ll write the exam, and then figure out what he has to do between now and that date, and divide it up into tiny, bite sized chunks. So today he’ll study pages 20-30 out of the GED review book for math. And then figure out a reward: once you’re done studying, we’ll all go to the park, or I’ll make cookies, or something.
With jobs it could be the same thing. Maybe he feels his resume isn’t good enough but he doesn’t know where to start. Maybe he doesn’t even know what kind of job he’s looking for. Again, break it down into small chunks, and ask yourself: which of these chunks can I do for him? Perhaps you could say to him: you call these five people that we know who may know of job openings and arrange to meet them for coffee this week, and I’ll research how to write resumes and I’ll make you a top-notch one, and ask Mr. X from church, who runs human resources for a big company, to look at it and tell us if it’s a good resume or not.
So instead of nagging him, you’re coming alongside him and cheering him on and helping him–kind of like you’re in NASCAR and he’s the race car driver, but you’re the guys who work in the pits. So you’re the one making sure everything is well oiled and he has everything he needs. You could even talk to him like this and see if it helps.
Set Deadlines and Goals for Him Looking for a Job
If you’ve done this, and he still isn’t motivated to do anything, then speak to him about having a deadline which, if things don’t change, you will start changing them. For instance, you could say, “If you don’t have a job by December, then in January I’m going back to work and you’ll have to look after the kids.” You can’t live on people’s charity forever. It’s just not right. You can’t live in a friend’s basement; it’s not good to live in a parent’s house forever.
Now, there would be a caveat: if he genuinely is trying, and there just simply aren’t jobs in his field right now, but there are likely to be soon, then perhaps staying in a family home for a time really is the only thing you can do. In that case, it’s not that he isn’t engaged in trying to find a job; it’s that he genuinely can’t (and that very well may be true). In the above emails, though, the problem was more that the husband was refusing to work or doing nothing to move towards that goal, and that’s a problem.
If you are going to be the one going to work, then he needs to understand what it is that he will be expected to do with the kids. Lay out a daily schedule of what needs to be done so that he sees it in black and white.
Accept the Possibility That He May Be a Stay At Home Dad
Perhaps it could be that you need to go out and work, and he needs to stay and care for the kids. That may not be ideal, and it may not be what you wanted. Maybe you did always want to be a stay at home mom. But if you have skills right now where it’s easier for you to get a job than it is for him to get a job, or if he can only find a part-time job, so you need your income to supplement, then that may be what you need to do. You are a team, and you have to figure out a way to bring in some money.
If Your Husband Won’t Get a Job, He Still Has to Work
If you follow this route, though, it needs to be understood that you will not be carrying two loads. Your husband can’t refuse to work altogether. I have known women who have gone to work who have also had to put their kids in day care because the husband wouldn’t/couldn’t look after them during the day. He found it too hard. You both need to work; one (or both) bring in money, and one (or both) care for the kids. If your husband won’t work, let him know that’s not an option.
I have also known men who have carried two loads. They work full-time, and then they get home and she has done very little during the day except for making sure the kids were safe. The house is a mess. There is no dinner on. And that’s not fair, either. I’ve found that thinking of motherhood as a job description helps me tremendously. If he’s working, I should be, too, and vice versa. A husband shouldn’t be lazy, but neither should a wife. Staying at home with the kids is not an excuse to do nothing.
If He Doesn’t Agree to Get a Job, Get Outside Help
Finally, if he just doesn’t agree, or you can’t get him to put the video games down and work at something, I’d talk to a mentor couple, a pastor, or a counselor. As I wrote before, you are a spouse, you are not an enabler. If a man is refusing to do any work at all, and is acting like an adolescent, this isn’t something you can tolerate. It endangers the family; it endangers your relationship; but it also seriously endangers his own walk with God. He needs someone to come alongside him and tell him to “put up or shut up”. So read that post about how to get help if he just won’t do it.
Living with someone who doesn’t have a job is tough, and so many of us are going through it. A lot of guys are really depressed in this economy, and they are feeling like they’re not worth much of anything, which can get them on a downward spiral of trying even less. It’s so hard to watch, but it’s also really hard when you’re bearing the brunt of it. As much as possible, keep working on your friendship so that you can talk about it. Express your faith in him (without babying him). But do make plans, and do set goals, and be on his team so he that he can see his way forward. Maybe he just needs someone cheering him on!
I hope that helps, and if anyone else has ever had a husband who refused to work at a job or at school, please leave a comment and tell us how it ended up for you!