QUESTION: Hi, fellas. My issue relates to finances in my marriage. I've been married for 13 years. For the past 10 years, I've made significantly more money than my husband and have contributed more money to the household bills. At first, this didn't really bother me, because I feel that's what married couples, or anyone in a committed relationship, should do to support each other. Now, however, I'm having a problem with continuing to pay more of the bills.
My issue surrounds what I see as my husband's lack of ambition. I've been driven to continue increasing my earning potential, while my husband has been fine with staying in the same job for the last nine years because he's happy there, though it doesn't have a lot of potential for him to earn more money or get promoted. He gets an occasional raise here and there, but it's never enough to allow him to pay half of all of the household bills without being flat broke afterwards.
I've tried to talk to my husband, and even nagged him, about finding another job that pays better and has higher promotion potential, but he just shrugs off the idea and states that he's happy where he is and doesn't want to leave. He likes his boss, he can come and go as he pleases, can work from home when needed, and the job is low stress. Now, don't get me wrong, I can see why he stays; I wish I had his working situation. But, it angers me that he seems to be being somewhat selfish. What I mean, is that he's not thinking about the fact that his "happiness" means that I have to cut my funds short and keep kickin' out part of his share of the bills, which is making me unhappy.
You may be wondering why I'm upset about this now since I've allowed the situation to go on for 10 years. One, I love my husband and don't want to see him broke by forcing him to pay half of the bills. Two, I do realize the value of having the type of job he has since my job is highly stressful, requires occasional travel, and not as flexible. His job has been great for us when it comes to certain things with our kids. Three, before last year, I could easily afford to pay the extra money. My investments were doing great (my husband and I have both joint and individual accounts), and I had a lot of money saved. However, last year, I suffered a serious medical issue that required me to use a large part of my savings, and I now have medical bills that weren't covered by insurance. I had to liquidate all of my investments, which took signficant losses due to the stock market crash, to pay off some of those bills, and continue paying my part of the household bills. But I still have about $20,000 in medical expenses that need to be paid. (Note to everyone reading this: Get disability insurance, no matter what age you are.) I normally pay cash for everything and don't live above my means, so having this debt hanging over my head is driving me nuts. I'd like to contribute the extra money I put in for my husband to my medical debt.
How do I get my husband to see that his complacency is having a negative effect on me? I've told him that I need to pay off some bills and could really use the money I put towards his share, but I haven't seen any signs of him trying to move up the ladder. Except for this area, we have no problems. In fact, I don't know what I would have done last year without his love an support in taking care of me, but I still have trouble getting past this issue now.
My mother comes from the "old school" of thinking where a man is supposed to be a man and take care of the house financially. In her day, it was unheard of for a woman to pay more into the house than the man, so she thinks my husband is a bum for letting me pay more of the bills. She's never said that directly, but I've inferred it from a few conversations we've had. I'm more realistic and know that we live in different times where both partners have to be willing to pitch in. However, if I'm honest, I do sometimes have the thought that my husband is being "less than a man" in continuing to allow me to pick up a portion of his share of the bills, especially knowing the situation with my medical bills.
I haven't discussed this topic with my husband in awhile, because I'm trying to avoid an argument. But, this is an issue that's been simmering in me for awhile now and needs to be addressed. I don't want it to come down to me insisting that my husband pick up his full share of the bills and just decreasing the amount I contribute, but I think he needs a serious wake-up call. What are your thoughts? Am I being unreasonable in trying to change the playbook this late in the game, or is my husband being selfish in only thinking of his happiness? Or is it a little of both? Sometimes I think I'm the unreasonable one since, in one sense, I want the benefits of my husband's great work schedule and flexibility, but on the other hand I want to complain about the downside--lower earning potential. Please help me sort this mess out with an objective opinion. Thanks
GARLAND: This is such a great question and I thank you for sharing so candidly.
Let me start by saying a few things up front - No, I don't think that 10 years is too long to reach the point where you are now. Asking for changes / improvements in your husbands earnings is not a bad thing at this point or at any point in your marriage. I'm a little old school in my thinking too as far as men pulling all if not most of the financial weight in a household, but I understand the job markets and I see intelligent, talented and capable women climbing well higher than a lot of men in the current professional scene so it isn't unusual to see women with the fatter paychecks. I salute you!
But, let me speak about your husbands situation / position... as a man, I'm a bit disappointed that he is content to hover on the job ladder, especially knowing that you all have encountered some significant financial expenses in the last few years. Now, I can certainly appreciate a steady and easy job, who wouldn't like that - but in the REAL WORLD, folks have bills, and I believe that a man has to step up especially when times get tough! And you are NOT even saying "My husband needs to make MORE than me." You are saying that you just want him to earn MORE than he is now. You are commendably patient.
To me, a man is supposed to step up. Sure, sometimes that may not be easy, it may mean stepping way out of ones comfort zone, but that is something that a man should be willing to do! Folks don't say "Man Up!" for their health. Your husband needs to MAN UP and he shouldn't have to be prodded! He should be ready and willing... that is just what a man should do - in my book.
I hope you have a reasonable man, one that is just missing some social ques, if he is reasonable if you sit him down and really explain to him that Your Household needs extra money and you are pulling far more than your share and the time has come for him to step up. Maybe he'll respond. But it sounds like you've tried this and Old Boy still won't budge.
I hope he's not one of these MAN-CHILD kind of men... the kind of guy that takes a deep pleasure in being taken care of by a woman... the kind of guy that boasts to his Boyz , "Yeah, my wifey knew I worked in a warehouse when she met me. I'm just keepin' it real. If she wanted one of those Fortune 500 dudes, then she should have married one!" Of course all of his Boyz will give him dap and tell him how right he is. Honestly - he is partly right as much as I hate to admit it. If he was doing mid-level work and making mid-level money and NEVER told you that his ambitions went beyond that, then you may have got what you paid for. I really hate to admit that, because I feel your pain.
BUT - WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS? Let's see, if the sitdown and talk doesn't work. My next best suggestion would be - make it uncomfortable for him. Just take away the comforts you are bringing to him. If you are handling the bulk of the bills, then you are setting the lifestyle. Stop paying the cable bill for one, that will get ANY man's attention! Take away his NFL or NBA season pass on your cable provider too! Get a credit for it! If you are paying his car note and he's pushing a Lexus or a Beamer or whatever - tell his butt that YOU cannot afford to have him looking fly on his way to his $7 an hour gig. Okay, okay DON'T say that - but let him know that YOU can't afford his note anymore... be sure to keep your Beamer though. What else - if he gets a spending allowance - tie it up before he gets to it - no more new Jordans or oversized throwback jerseys anymore. And that weekly dinner to the nice steak house down the street - NA-DA cut it.
Yes, you will suffer a little too, but this dude has to be shown just how much money YOU are kicking into HIS lifestyle - his eyes have to be opened! And if after talking, and pleading and cutting off his luxuries if he still wants to keep the same job he's had since high school, then you may have to talk to him about the real value of your family to him. You both may have to face some harsh realities if he is doing nothing to try to better and or secure your family's financial future.
Best of luck. My fingers are crossed that he steps up.
CHUCK: Thanks for the question. Your question brings up what I feel to be a double standard that some women have, and I think you acknowledge it. Women feel that they should be financially capable, savvy in their jobs, climb the ladder, all of that. But they are still conditioned socially to expect a man to be the provider. These women go back and forth in their expectations, and for some men, this contributes to some confusion. Maybe that's the case here.
We all view our jobs different ways. Some of us have careers that we can pour our hearts and souls and ambitions into. Some of us have time-killing, soul-draining jobs that we keep just to pay bills. Speaking just for myself, more often than not, my day job is the latter. And in this economy, we are left feeling we should be thankful even for a bad job. Your husband may feel that way.
Do you think your husband is a bum? Do you truly feel that he's not carrying his weight in your household? Either way, you seem to be nursing a resentment for your husband that needs to be addressed, and so it should be. As it seems that the two of you maintain separate finances, he may not be completely aware of how serious things have gotten for you. Or he may think you've got a handle on it. Or he may not care. Who knows? You need to find out.
Talk to him, and more importantly, listen to him about what his feelings are about his job and why he hasn't been seeking advancement. Maybe you can provide some assistance in getting a better job, if he's willing to do so. They say marriage is a partnership, so two obviously need to work together better to obtain your objectives.