I’m the Breadwinner

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

You mentioned in your recent podcast that it is detrimental to a marriage when the woman is the primary breadwinner. What advice do you have for a wife who is the primary breadwinner when her husband is physically healthy but has chosen to be a househusband and won’t look for work? It has caused me to become resentful. I don’t want to be resentful over this situation, but I am not sure what to do.

Katie

Dear Katie,

Firstly, we want to reassure you that it is entirely normal and entirely natural for a woman to find feelings of resentment welling up when she is with a man who is not pulling…. not “his weight,” but not pulling the weight of the marriage. Especially financially. That said, of course you are spot on when you acknowledge that resentment doesn’t help you, your husband, or your marriage. As usual, we possess only the information that you presented in your question, but what you said leaves us with a few questions of our own. Here are four important ones that serve as the basis of our analysis of your question to us.

  1. How long have you been married?
  2. What is the state of your union, intimately speaking?
  3. Did the two of you agree to this arrangement and now you want to change it, or was this a unilateral decision on your husband’s part?
  4. Do you have children? Did you agree before you married not to have children? Have either of your views on having or raising children changed?

As you can imagine, the answers to these questions matter a great deal.

If you are newly married, we’d ask what he was doing workwise when you met and when and why he stopped doing it.

If the physical part of your marriage is not good, is there any correlation, timewise, between that and his loss of financial ambition?

Let’s say that you have been married, with no children, for about five years. Before getting married, you discussed how both of your careers are important and give you both personal fulfillment and that you would both be the breadwinners in your marriage. If one of you had the opportunity for advancement in both prestige and money that necessitated moving to another state, you would think about this decision exactly the same way whether it was you or your husband. As we discuss in our book The Holistic You: Integrating Your Family, Finances, Faith, Friendship and Fitness, many psychologists and professors recommend that women get such a commitment before marriage. As good 21st-century modern citizens, you saw no difference between men and women when it comes to earning money. Maybe you even made clear that if there were children, you would not want to be home with them.

Now, your husband has decided that his fulfillment comes from maintaining a home – which is a time and energy-consuming job, though one without a salary. (It does save you money on restaurant meals, cleaning help, and other items that you were paying for.) You are discovering that you are not o.k. with that. In this case, you are the primary party who is changing her mind. There is the reality of less money coming in, but that isn’t where your resentment is focused. It is a lack of masculine ambition that has you looking askance at your husband.

On the other hand, perhaps your husband unilaterally quit his job. Is he calling himself a househusband but just sitting around all day? Is this a change that represents some kind of psychological breakdown?


There are multiple other scenarios that might be closer to the truth. We recommend that before you talk to your husband, you talk to yourself. What are your views on masculinity and femininity when it comes to paid work? (We strongly suggest reading our book for a discussion of this topic.) Have your views changed over the years? How does communication in general work in your marriage? Have you been two people fully sharing a life, or two people sharing a socio-economic arrangement?

Were you earning more than your husband at the time you got married? If so, was it discussed? Changing the rules of the marriage once you are already on the journey is fraught with peril. One of the areas in which we have seen examples of this is when, well into the marriage, one partner decides to become religious–or alternatively, one person decides to abandon the faith that was originally part of the cement of the union.

Is it possible that, to some perhaps small extent, you have enabled your husband’s passivity? If so, you could analyze what it was and talk to him about withdrawing that enabling conduct. Sit down for a quiet, private, undisturbed time of introspection to think about this. Also, carefully inventory everyone you know to find a wise, older man to whom your husband might listen. If you are lucky enough to have someone like this among your acquaintances, tell your husband that you would like the two of you to seek counsel from this man. (As you can see, we are being quite clear that it does need to be a man.)

Meanwhile, write down and then read each day a list of your husband’s good qualities and why you married him. Explore what made him decide to stay home. Take as your mantra the phrase, “Be curious, not furious.” Stay away from people and advice that tells you that you ‘deserve’ better.

Your marriage is facing a crisis. Commit to resolving this crisis. The first step is understanding what is going on, something that is not altogether clear to us from what you wrote. You are aware that resentment is a dead end unless it serves as a stimulus to start repair. And that would be a good start.

A marriage is worth fighting for,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

This Musing is dedicated in memory of Dr. Lilia Gurevich, age 38. The director of a molecular biology department, Dr. Gurevich leaves behind six-year-old twins as well as her parents and siblings and was murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023.

And with prayers for the safe return of all the hostages who remain alive (and the bodies of those who were murdered) and among them, Guy Gilboa-Dalal, who was attending his first Rave on October 7, 2023. As the world’s “humanitarian organizations” ignore the hostages, Guy’s family saw Hamas video footage of him tied up in a Hamas tunnel.


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