Is there anything I can do about a husband who simply refuses to get a job and work? We've been married for twelve years, and for the last ten he's stayed home and done nothing all day while I've gone off to work. He contributes nothing to our home and family. It's all "take" and no "give" with him. One of our kids was recently diagnosed with a medical condition that will be costly to treat and my job will no longer cover our expenses. Yet he still plans to maintain the status quo. Do you have any advice for me?
Yes. We'd suggest that your husband is in desperate need of motivation. After ten years of this kind of thing it seems pretty clear that something has to change, but it won't as long as you allow the status quo to continue. At this point he could probably make a pretty convincing case for the contention that you've been a willing accomplice to his shirking of his responsibilities. It's time for that to stop.
The first thing you need to do is find out exactly what's going on inside his head. Why is he refusing to get a job and work? Did something happen at his last place of employment to crush his self-esteem and rob him of his confidence? Is he struggling with clinical depression? Are there deep problems in your marriage that have skewed his attitude towards you and his relationship with you? Is something making him unwilling to participate in the process of supplying the needs of the household? Or is he just lazy, narcissistic, and self-centered?
The point of all this is simple: We think there may be something more fundamental at stake here. Something is happening that's much bigger, more complicated, and more all-inclusive than your husband's unwillingness to get a job. The core issue, as we see it, is the strength and quality of your relationship. And at the heart of that relationship is your ability to communicate.
How does your husband understand his role in the relationship? How do you understand your role as a wife? What are your expectations of one another? Are they the same expectations with which you entered the marriage? You need to find a way to sit down and talk to one another about these issues. If you can't discover where the real problems lie, you won't be able to get the help you need. We highly recommend that you conduct these discussions with the assistance of a pastor, a trusted mentor, or, best of all, a trained and qualified Christian marriage counselor. It might even be a good idea to attend a four-day marriage intensive. Hope Restored: A Marriage Intensive Experience conducts such intensives on a regular basis.
If your husband is unwilling to cooperate – if he still refuses to help around the house or find a job in spite of your best efforts to come to a meeting of the minds – it's time to move to the next level. This is the point at which you need to implement tough love. We recommend that you create a crisis by giving your spouse an ultimatum. Say something like, "Either you start looking for work and we get counseling together, or you will have to look for other living accommodations until you're ready to help resolve the problem." Let him find out in the school of hard knocks what it's like to do his own cooking and laundry and to provide for his own needs. A temporary, therapeutic separation may be what it takes to open his eyes to the seriousness of the situation and to stimulate some badly needed self-examination. Just remember: Divorce is not the goal. The whole idea is to give him a dose of reality and jump-start the job search. Keep in mind that a significant step of this kind is best taken under the wise guidance of a Christian counselor or pastor.
If separation becomes necessary, it's best if you can convince your wayward mate to move out. That way there's no need to disrupt your routine or upset your children any more than is absolutely necessary. If he won't go along with this, you may have no choice but to pack up and leave, but you'll want to make sure that your support system is in place, that people are praying for you, and that you actually have a place to stay – the home of a friend, family member, or neighbor. Lay out your plans, line up your resources, and make your arrangements prior to packing your bags and walking out the door. Then put the entire matter in God's hands and trust Him to work things out according to His sovereign plan. Let your spouse know where you can be contacted and make it clear that you will be ready to resume negotiations as soon as he is willing to reciprocate.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss your situation at greater length, we'd like to invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
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