Your shows are so impacting. They help me to adjust my thinking, but I am having some challenges letting my new thought pattern influence and change my situation.
In short, I am employed and my husband is not. He lost his job because he did not meet the company’s new requirements and qualifications. While at home, he sleeps for several hours and watches TV. I am still left to care for the children and the house after a 10-hour day.
When we talk about work, he says that he is entitled to rest from work because he has worked for many years. He goes on to say that there was a time when I was at home (with the kids) and he brought in all the money (which was not much).
This is exhausting. I feel like a single parent with a lazy bear in my house. It’s ok that I taught myself not to depend on him for anything, but it would be good to have some support. What should I do?
As we repeat from time to time, we are not offering personal and comprehensive advice since we only know you through your short letter. We will try to raise questions and make points that we hope may be applicable to your unique situation.
Having said that, our hearts really do go out to you. Loneliness within a marriage is a cruel form of misery. While your husband’s being out of work sounds unrelated to COVID-19, many couples today are grappling with unemployment. The emotional and intimate aspects are often more severe than the economic, though of course they are related.
Our impression, Rheon, is that your marital problems go way back further than your husband losing his job. Mutual disrespect leaps out from your words. You minimize the income he brought in when he was working and his words, which you quote, disparage your contribution in running a home and raising a family. Disrespect, whether through hostile words, sarcasm, “humor”, or facial expression is a machete that hacks away at a marriage. It is incredibly hard to change the way spouses talk to and about each other, but it is vital to do so for a marriage to succeed.
Your last paragraph is right on point. You feel like a single mom with an underperforming son. And, unfortunately, you can be quite sure, that to your husband, you are sounding like a mother. The problem is that he needs a wife and you need a real husband, not a ‘lazy bear’. What is more, you are the one person in the whole world who cannot talk him into shape. He definitely needs assistance in getting out of the bad place he currently occupies but you can’t provide that assistance.
Which raises the question of who can?
First, we must suggest a medical check-up. He may possibly be suffering from illness or depression and if so, professional guidance is needed.
If that can be ruled out, your job might be to find someone, preferably male, whom your husband trusts and who is a wise, compassionate and successful person. Even if that person cannot speak to your husband, perhaps he can approach someone for you. This might be a pastor from your church; a business professional your husband has worked with or for; even a relative. These are some of the first tier of people for you to consider. Your approaching them must come from a place of love and concern, not anger or, God forbid, a desire to see your husband reprimanded and “taken down a notch.”
We know a woman who used to be in a very similar situation to yours. She carefully made a full list of all her friends and their husbands. She homed in on a lady who played tennis with her occasionally, and whose husband owned one of the car dealerships in town. Now here it gets very complicated because a husband can easily resent his wife talking about him to anyone else. But this woman judged her marriage to be in such a crisis that she decided to take the risk. With her friend’s permission, she approached her friend’s husband and told him a little about the situation. He turned out to be a very fine gentleman and immediately offered to help. He and his wife invited our acquaintance and her husband as their guests to a social event. From there, one thing led to another and not only did the two men become friends, but the car dealer successfully inspired our acquaintance’s husband to return to being a happy warrior. What is more, the two men later became business associates as well. Note, simply having a friendship with another male played a valuable role. This new acquaintance did not lecture or preach.
We mention this incident to encourage you. Although you can’t change your husband directly, that doesn’t mean there is nothing for you to do. In the final analysis, you can control only your own behavior, not his. Let’s start with how overworked you feel. Can you examine your schedule and cut out anything extraneous? Perhaps your meals need to become simpler and house cleaning less rigorous? Can your children do more than you currently expect from them? Giving yourself some private time each day (even if it is minimal) to drink a cup of tea, take a bath, or go for a walk should be high on the list of essentials.
While you are extremely disappointed with your husband, we would like to encourage you to do two things. First, accustom yourself to see your husband as a man who has sustained a serious injury. Second, search for and find something positive about him even now in his ‘injured’ condition. You write that you taught yourself not to depend on your husband which we totally understand. We recognize that you did that out of desperation as a coping mechanism. However, at the same time, that increased your husband’s feelings of being useless and effectively castrated him. His workplace likewise proved to him that he was unnecessary. His wounds (like yours) go deep.
Does your husband speak kindly to the children, read them a story, put his clothing in the hamper instead of on the floor, thank you for a meal? Does he say, “Good morning.” to you? Tell him that smile in the morning helps you start your day. Dig down to find the slightest things that he is doing well. Start with thanking him for those actions and letting him know how valuable and helpful they are. Graciously ask him for specific and limited help.
“Can you please set the table with the children so I can finish the salad?”
We know that you might prefer to grit your teeth and scream, “Why should I speak so nicely to him? How dare he not help me!” Our suggestion will yield better results. You might be shocked to find out how many men have no idea how to go about helping in the home. (And, please, don’t criticize or correct the placement if the knife goes on the wrong side of the plate.)
What traits can you discover of the man you chose to marry? Cling even to the remnants of those traits. Let him hear you speak respectfully and kindly to your children about him.
Rheon, our impression is that the foundation of your marriage was built with cracks in it. Stressful times put pressure on those cracks. Reconstruction is slow (very, very slow) work, but we hope that you commit to it. Even if things do not improve, you will at least be providing a better model of how a married person should speak and act for your children. A house where spouses disrespect each other provides a poisonous atmosphere for children.
We pray that you soon see the slight reflection of rays of light.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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