Dear Carolyn: I married an aimless man. He is six years my junior and I love him more than anything in life; he is, in many ways, the man of my dreams. We married in the summer of 2015 so we’re still figuring things out and I’m hoping this is just a bump.
I work full-time in a field that I love and am successful in, and I am also the primary breadwinner and money-manager in our household. We have no kids so our money goes to bills, living and fun, which is a nice place to be.
My husband, however, is in his mid-30s and is still struggling to find something he enjoys, is fulfilled by, and that helps contribute to our home. He went through IT training and landed a job but came to hate it and quit about six months in (for good reason). He now works an hourly job part-time that he knows isn’t enough.
However, every new career or interest gets the same amount of excitement (knife-sharpening, leather work, IT, web development), then his attention fizzles after a while and it’s onto the next thing, and repeat.
It’s frustrating to always worry about what would happen if I suddenly couldn’t work or cover us with my company’s insurance, and hard always being the realistic heavy. He doesn’t seem to share my worries. He had a traumatic childhood and it’s my understanding that this can create a certain amount of failure to launch in adulthood. I encourage him to seek therapy to help work through it, but so far he hasn’t shown interest.
I don’t know how to help him find his path or help him understand that in order for us to eventually live our dream of travel and a beach life, we have to put in a lot of work first. He thinks of me as an occasional dream-crusher when I bring him back down to earth and I don’t want to be that, but there has to be a contribution to our home that is worthwhile and consistent to get us where we want to eventually be.
Does there, though?
Meaning, are you sure he shares your ambitions? I could be wrong, but I see a gap between the life you say “we” want and the one he intends to live.
Take “travel and a beach life,” for example: Maybe you envision retiring to it in comfort, and he’d be fine tending bar for tourists. If he just nodded agreeably to the dreams of the person he loves, then he wouldn’t be the first.
And that isn’t the only potential difference worth scrutinizing. The proper roles in your marriage are worth a look, too (or healthiest roles, most functional, most realistic: discuss). You seem to operate on the expectation that you’d both have career-oriented jobs and both share the financial weight. But plenty of marriages involve – on purpose or out of necessity – one spouse as primary breadwinner and one in a different role, anything from homemaker to freelancer to volunteer to primary caregiver for children.
Did you discuss this before marriage, or did you both act on a set of assumptions? If you discussed it, has he changed his mind since then? If he hasn’t changed his mind, have circumstances changed enough to warrant a mutual rethinking of roles anyway?
You could also take a closer look at what’s going on with him. Maybe he’s traumatized, as you say (in which case an appointment for you with a good therapist could be eye-opening). Or maybe there’s undiagnosed ADHD at work in his serial career enthusiasms; it’s certainly one of the signs. Or maybe what you’re witnessing is the passive aggression of someone who doesn’t want to stick with a career path (or anyone’s expectations thereof) and also doesn’t want the consequences of admitting this out loud.
So before you get into the issue of a spouse who is underemployed, I urge you to look into the various components that are, to my eye at least, underexamined: who you married, what you both want, what will actually work.
This is not to say you have to sign on enthusiastically to whatever you find. That your beloved-above-all-else blames you for your “dream-crusher” skepticism, for example – instead of blaming his own inconsistency – says you’ll be getting plenty of chances to draw firm and compassionate lines.
But you do need to (BEG ITAL)accept(END ITAL) what you find regardless – and proceed accordingly in whatever direction you choose from there – instead of continuing to hold out for a version of him that keeps doggedly not coming true. Such holdouts are prime conditions for stress and embitterment. At a minimum, I urge you to start living like a sole breadwinner and sock much of that money away.
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