My Unemployed Husband is No Help to Me

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?


Dear Rheon,

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.

Have strength,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

24 thoughts on “My Unemployed Husband is No Help to Me”

  1. What a horrible letter. Can you blame a woman for her husband’s shortcomings any MORE? She may as well kneel down and start kissing his feet, based on this antiquated and seriously out of touch advice.

  2. My mouth dropped when I read this question. Initially I thought I had written the question myself! Your teaching “Madam I’m Adam” is excellent and relevant to this subject – I have listened to it no less than 5-6 times! It’s true I started our marriage respecting my husband and I REALLY wanted and tried to respect him but he “blew it”. I have never felt cherished and much less appreciated, adored or admired (Love Her, Hate Her -Thought Tools June 24/19). Now very sadly, after 40+ years of trying all the advice you gave above, reading numerous books and attending hours and hours of counseling (both couple and individual) I have lost all respect for my husband. The counseling was initiated by my husband but he gave up on this saying “you are the one with the problem – not me!” The counsellor told me my husband has NPD I can honestly say I have endeavored to follow all of the advice above but when you add NPD to a challenging relationships it adds another level of complexity that is not easy to live with. Please don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate all the advice and teaching the two of you freely give us all. I just want to encourage those who can honestly say they have tried everything available to them to love and respect their husbands and think they have failed – they have not!

    1. Brea, you are right that not all relationships can be fixed and we are very sorry that yours seems to be one of those. Sometimes, one person can do everything in their power and all that is left is remaining dignified and still behaving properly, whether divorce is or isn’t part of the picture. We wish you happiness from other areas of your life.

      1. What beautiful words of encouragement. That is exactly where I’m at, dignified, acting properly – love those words. We do not need to act poorly in the face of a bad relationship. God has blessed me beyond measure with supportive friends and family. May you and Rabbi Daniel be blessed beyond measure as well. Thank you.

    1. We always appreciate hearing that the topic we chose was of interest, Tom. Thanks for writing.

  3. I love your podcast. As a divorced man, I appreciate two things: 1. You as my rabbi 2. Seeing a woman who hasn’t totally given up as reaching out for help.

    I live a happy and single life and co-parent with my ex. I seek to be a happy warrior every day. I no longer float down the gutter of life, and happily battle the evil that pervades this society. I’m thankful for the weekly podcast and these thought tools. May you and your family be blessed.

  4. Rabbi: Your advice was so appropriate for the letter. I too after so many years of marriage had the epiphany of loving your husband even tho he is sometimes unlovable. After 41 plus years of marriage my retired husband and I are enjoying our time together. Your suggestion about asking for help in a kind way was great. I had to do that with my husband and my children and it has worked many times. Yes give yourself time to refresh yourself in a small way. Its amazing how much better you will feel. Thank you for your Jewish Wisdom. love your books.

  5. This is an excellent post; I know that more than a few struggle with this. Thank you for your invaluable advise..

  6. Virginia Turner

    In retrospect I see where I was 51 years ago. Wish I had a Rabbi like you then, but was a Catholic and didn’t look beyond the teachings and confines of Catholicism. I’m saving this letter and your response, to remind me that even now, those principles you suggest can be used in all relationships. Thank you both. I’m never too old to learn, and learning from you is delightful.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Virginia–
      I’m glad you wrote “a rabbi like you then..” because I myself wouldn’t have been much use to you 51 years ago. You know why? Not just on account of my youth, but mainly because I was by myself. Susan Lapin and I work together. We vote together, boat together, and toil together. In fact, these answers you read are as much a fruit of our collaboration as are our children.

  7. Depression indeed! Been there and done that. Spot on, Rabbi. A book that worked miracles for my brain was “Feeling Good- The New Mood Therapy” by Dr. David D. Burns. As his mentor, Aaron T. Beck, M.D. wrote, “Feeling Good” should prove to be an immensely useful step-by-step guide for people who wish to help themselves.”
    Well done, Rabbi!


  8. Spot On love your reply. The enemy came after Eve and the first thing he did to get an opening into her life was to get her looking at the one thing she could not have. Dissatisfaction with her life soon ensued and she began to take the bait. Instead of harping on a husband who doesn’t measure up to your standards how about giving thanks for him even being there. There are a lot of people in similar situations and lasting change begins with Forgiveness for others and looking at your own self. Dissatisfaction is a destroyer.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Joy–
      Thanks for writing. Decayed western culture is as harsh on men as it is on women which is why we spoke of husbands in this situation being injured. Living with a severely injured spouse is never a picnic but by taking the right steps and with God’s help, repair is possible.

  9. I’m single, yet wowed by your advice to this woman. The first poster said it better than I.
    I doubt he will agree to any medical assessment. but pray that he does.
    Your suggestions were excellent.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Janet–
      Thank you for your encouraging words. We hope you’re doing fine during these unusual times.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Senor Gonzalez Lopez
      Thanks for your note, and thank you for listening.

  10. You two can pull more meat off the bare bones of a written letter than many a “skilled” therapist can get from a series of in-person sessions. Not all of your extrapolations can be spot-on, But each one is clearly comes from the text somewhere, and is confidently goosed by your experience and intuition.
    Makes me feel somewhat obtuse.
    Good work, Sherlocks.

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