Vail Relationships column: How do I handle an unequal contribution from my husband?
December 10, 2016
Dear Neil: I need help. I find myself being frustrated and resentful toward my husband. I have been taking care of and providing for our family all of our married life (15 years), while he hops from one job to another or doesn't work at all. I am currently in debt, and I can't just stop paying for our livelihood because my income is essential for our survival as a family. My children are also frustrated with him because they have to go without my time and attention when I work. Can you offer any advice?
Resentful in South Africa
Dear Resentful: I am unclear if your husband's lack of full-time employment is because he isn't motivated to work more or if he hasn't been successful in finding work. The difference is important because a lack of motivation speaks to him not taking his employment (and your family's financial situation) seriously, whereas not being able to find steady employment is frustrating and deflating and could cause him to feel that getting a steady job is hopeless.
That being said, it sounds as if you wish to impress upon him that a greater contribution from him is needed so that you don't feel overburdened and taken advantage of. This is a problem many families encounter, except traditional gender roles are flipped for you and your husband. It used to be that it was more common for the man to work and for the woman to be in the supportive role. But in your case, if you have the burden of largely (or entirely) supporting the family, what can your husband do in order to contribute in other extremely valuable ways?
In addition to possibly getting more serious about working, you could discuss with your husband how he could be a better supporting spouse and parent. Perhaps more household duties (shopping, cleaning, dishes, cooking, driving the kids around and helping them with homework, etc.) need to fall to him — freeing you up to come home with way fewer domestic obligations and responsibilities.
If your husband is simply unmotivated to work or unwilling to carry a larger part of the tasks or household chores, that would indicate he expects to be taken care of by you and does not assume that he will have to offer an equal contribution back. You could simply raise this discussion with him, explain how you're feeling and what you would like him to do differently and see if he is willing to rise to the occasion. If he is unwilling, then you have to decide exactly what you're willing to live with and what's in the best interests of your family.
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Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book "Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship." Contact him at 303-758-8777, or visit neilrosenthal.com.
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