Economic Inequities?

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.


elizabeth said...

I was all poised to be pissed off at the G & C's responses. Then I read G - and was impressed with his balanced, realistic take on the situation. Great I thought..that is until I read Chucks. Thanks a lot Chuck, once again you manage to turn real problems into the womans problems, in other words, it's somehow her fault. Sure BW are raised to be independent, successful and self-reliant, what the heck are they supposed to have been raised to be instead? Dependent and useless? Gold-diggers? You are confusing the issue, this woman has made it clear over and over that she is (and has been) prepared to meet her obligations, contribute to the partnership of marriage. She has never stated that her OH be a millionaire only that he contribute HIS fair share and not depend on her to carry the financial burden of the relationship. And sister has been so exemplary in actions and thoughts - she accepted his lack of ambition because she loved him and felt that in many other ways he more than made up for the inequalities. Now however things have CHANGED. Sister is going through a financial crisies, now is the time when action, grit and getting off your behind is called for, to show that he is a quality man who truly loves and wants to take care of his family, to show that all her years of allowing him to languish in a dead-end job he loved while she made most of the sacrifices was not in vain. Reciprocity, Chuck is all she wants. That and seeing her man step up and show he cares. And you dare to call her resentful, this honorable woman who has done so much for a possibly undeserving man. And what does he do in the midst of this crisis? Nada. He still expects her to continue to carry the cross! He is a child, worse - a craven user who unless he changes, will have betrayed her gravely. I totally agree with Garlands tough love aprproach in the first instance - take his comforts away. And if that does not lead to meaningful and sustained change, hard as it may be - kick his sorry ass to the curb. You are going through a difficult period and he sits back and does not give a shit, no way, no how. A quality man who loves you does not sit back while you suffer and sweat when he has it in his power to help and support you. It is not your fault you married what turned out to be (maybe ) a loser. We all go into marriage with hopes and dreams which may/may not be realised. Take heart sister, God bless.

TJ said...

I read the advice. Then I read the above comment and read the advice again, because I thought I missed something, but I didn't. I just see it differently.
I think that Chuck and Garland brought out different things that are very important in this situation. The need of a man to do what he can when times get rough (Garland) and the need to be mindful of the big picture (Chuck). I think both are great advice, especially when the letter writer stated that her husband's job offers benefits like flexibility to have time with the kids.
The only things I would add-
Don't give up on trying to talk to him. Try harder to talk to him in a calm tone and let him know how this situation is affecting you.
Moms mean well, but this problem is between you and your husband. Address it with him and leave her out of it to the extent that you can.

Chuck and Garland said...

What did I set off here? When have I made real problems women's proms, Elizabeth? Please tell me when. Doing this blog, I feel I almost always take the women's side in these issues. But I also try to bring up the part that women sometimes play in making their lives more difficult (i.e., by spending four years obsessing over disintertested men).

Elizabeth, since you were "all poised to be pissed off" at our answers, I guess I should be glad I didn't disappoint you. When I wrote my answer, I thought I was being clear. But now, I think there are a couple more points I should address.

How you fall on this question, I think, depends on how you read it, and the personal issues you bring to it. The writer herself goes back and forth: he's paying his share of the bills, but he should do more, he's there for the kids, but he should bring more money to the table, and so on. It was my contention that these contradictions could lead to some confusion on the part of the husband.

Additionally, I think Garland's suggestion that she punish this guy by taking things away from him could prove counter-productive. If this is a man who goes to work every day and thinks, even mistakenly, that he is making a decent contribution, taking action like that without a conversation is liable to make matters worse.

I stand by my advice that she address these issues with her husband directly. Because his response should determine definitively whether he is a loser or not.

Anonymous said...

G you are right on the money on this one. C - moving right along - balanced points but asking her to do more and 'help' him is no real solution. The time for all talk is gone. Talk without actions behind it does no good. He may love her all he wants and be emotionally supportive but the time to act is now!

She is in a partnership which is why she was willing to pay more and do more to keep things going for the good of all for 10 years. She believed that it was all good and that when it was needed he would Man Up, because they were partners and what was good for one was good for the other. That is what team work is about. It is not about a 50/50 reciprocity - it is about doing what needs to be done to maintain a healthy balance. Roles shift, needs change, it's all part of a balancing act. She has been juggling it all and now the balance has shifted. GF is tired and has reached the point where enough is enough. She expects him to have her back and let her lay her burdens down. A partnership is where each can count on and alternately lean on the the other. He has had his day in the sun - so suck it up and make the hard call and take additional job or change jobs. It is about reciprocity! Clearly for her it is not about the money it's about her feeling that his comfort and happiness is more important to him than her.

GF needs to do what she needs for her own good. She controls the funds so make the call - clearly he is not going to take care of her so it falls on her to do that. Actions speak louder than words. She should pay the bills she needs to pay to give her the security and peace of mind she seeks. You can't give to others if you are depleted - that is why they say pay yourself first so you will have the resources needed when the need arises. The kids will not starve - she will not let them. G is right! Make it uncomfortable. He will not starve if he has to kick in his fair share and if he is a grown able bodied man and starves for lack of ambition then he deserves to starve.

She has taken his bigger picture into account and it still does not solve the immediate problem. GF is tired, and sick and tired of being tired, sick and getting no relief - being wife, mother and superwoman 24/7/365 for 10+ years. Decide what she needs to make things better, in specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound terms. Armed with this information - sit down talk to hubby. State the problem as she sees it. Ask for his take on it. Hear him out. State her position i.e. I feel etc. I need etc. - how can we problem solve. If he is not willing to be a partner and step up, she needs to be prepared to take care of herself before she falls apart. She needs to act in her own best interest and he will have to adapt - clearly she is the leader in this situation. They will both be uncomfortable for a short while, but life is not all sunshine and happy dreams - without hard work. Solve the immediate solution before it crushes her and the marriage. Once the situation improves and she is back in a position of health and strength because her anger has been released and needs have been met - she can decide . Her anger will not go away if she allows this to continue it will grown and eventually boil over.


SMH said...

Chuck you said "The writer herself goes back and forth: he's paying his share of the bills..."

However in her post she states "but it's never enough to allow him to pay half of all of the household bills without being flat broke afterwards." He is not paying his full share of the bills "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."

In short she is picking up the short fall because he does not pay his full share of the bills. She wisely wants re-allocate the money she is kicking in for him so he 'does not walk around 'flat broke'with empty pockets' to reduce her medical bills, which are undoubtedly carrying a high rate of interest which increases the debt the longer it lingers. The longer she takes to pay the more she ends up paying. In other words he will still be doing less than his share but she will be paying more to her bills which will enable her to get out from under. The stress of having that lingering bill is not helping her health or peace of mind. Health, and a sense of well being in the big picture is more about a persons state of mind. If the partnership matters to him - and he does not want to walk around 'flat broke' after he handles his business he needs to step up! Keep the job he loves but get another job so his partner can get a break. It's about choices - no one rides for free forever it is time he paid up and if need be go above and beyond. Grow up! Adulthood is about being responsible and making hard choices. Only leeches or parasites do only what is easiest and best for themselves regardless of the harm to others. Think of the message it is sending the kids that it is okay to let others take care of you just so long as you are 'happy'. Yes his 'feelings' matter but people matter more or should and he is being selfish, irresponsible and immature.

elizabeth said...

I'll bet my last dollar that TJ is male.
I agree we all bring our "issues to the table" when listening to other peoples' problems. But those issues" are not neccessarily wrong or bad. This is not about being bitter or man-hating, it's about fairness!! I have been married for 8 years so I understand and accept the compromises and sacrifices involved in maintaining a stable, equal and respectful partnership. There are times when I have to bring in more, others, my husband has to. We KNOW and ACCEPT this. Neither of us has to be persuaded, cajoled or blackmailed into doing what is right for us BOTH at any given time. It's a no-brainer. If ny husband knows I am going through a lean time financially he takes up the reins and vice versa. I thought it was unfair and way off the mark to call the lady resentful of his lack of a fair contribution to the partnership. What the heck is she, Mother Teresa? This is why I took issue with your points Chuck. It seemed like, no matter the situation you just had to figure out a way to reflect some of the blame on her. And as far as I could see, she did not deserve that.

TJ said...

Hey Elizabeth!

You can send your certified money order to.... LOLOLOL... Hope all had a Happy thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Chuck, but I have to agree with Garland on this one. I don't think the writer is sending mixed signals. She acknowledges that there are perks to her husband's job, but she seems to be saying that right now, she needs him to pull up to the big boys' table and carry his FULL half of the financial pie. My question is why doesn't her husband attempt to find another job that will give him some or all of his current perks but also bring in more money. I know it may be hard or impossible to find a job that matches his current situation, but hell, how many of us can truly say we have the financial luxury of sticking with a job just because we like it and not take pay into consideration.

Unlike her mother, it doesn't sound like her husband is a bum (though he could be). One thing I will agree with Chuck on is that she needs to talk to him once more. Don't sugar coat anything and don't beat around the bush. Just tell him, "I have $20,000 in medical bills and can no longer afford to subsidize your portion of the bills. So, you have two choices here. Find another or second job, or we have to start cutting out household luxuries." (I do like that advice Garland). She may even want to give him two or three months to take action. After that, if he continues down the same path, then it's time to force his hand and follow Garland's advice or just drop the amount she contributes. If he gets shitty and won't get off his ass to help out, then it's time to consider whether you truly have someone who there's "for better or worse" or just when things are better for him.

Since you have kids, I'm not advocating divorce, but I'm not advocating letting your husband continue sitting on his ass and not paying half of the bills.

One final comment to Chuck, what's up with the anger I sense in your response to Elizabeth? You came off a little bit like a member of the "Women Hater's Club." I don't agree with Elizabeth's comment about you turning it around to be the woman's fault all the time, because I generally like your advice. But here, you missed the mark. Understanding that there are always two sides to every story, and we're only getting one side here, if what the writer says is true, she's gone above and beyond the call of duty to help her man out. Most women (and I hate to say it, my sisters, but especially a lot of black women) would've kicked their husbands ass to the curb a long time ago if he wasn't on the same economic level as her. The writer, if her version is true, has financially supported her husband for a decade. Has her husband's job benefited her in allowing her to move up the ladder while he had the flexibility to take care of the kids, absolutely. But, as a reader stated earlier, times change. The writer has acknowledged her husband's contribution in that manner, and seems to feel somewhat remorseful and selfish for even complaining about his lack of earning potential since there was an indirect benefit to her. But, homeboy has to "man up" as Garland said and step up to the plate now that his wife needs him to pull his half.

Good luck to the writer. I hope you and your husband can work it out, for your kids sake if nothing else.

Anonymous said...


I didn't know my question to you guys would set off this firestorm.

I just wanted to write in to answer some of the questions and correct some of the assumptions that have been made. To Chuck, I have talked to my husband repeatedly about this topic. That's why I said I haven't talked to him in awhile to avoid an argument. Every time we've had this discussion in the past, it always led to an argument, so I've been trying to keep the peace. Also, I feel the need to correct you about me wanting to have it both ways--be a feminist but have my husband be the provider. Though I acknowledge having a little bit of the old stereotype of a man shouldering his fair share of the weight, I think you're being unfair to characterize me as someone who is looking for a provider. If I were looking for a provider, I wouldn't have paid more of the bills for the last ten years without complaint; I would've dumped my husband once he could no longer comfortably shoulder his half. If I were looking for a provider, I would've been home with the kids the whole time being a housewife. If I were looking for a provider, I would have been complaining all along about my husband's job. I only started complaining this year when my economic circumstances changed, and I needed him to bring more money to the table. One more point, Chuck, yes, I did say that I sometimes think my husband is being "less than a man" by continuing to allow me to pay more of the bills, but I have NEVER said that to him, either through words or deeds, because I don't want to hurt his feelings or make him feel like less than a man, so I've kept those thoughts deeply buried. Chuck, I also acknowledge my husband's contribution to my success. While I've been traveling for work and having to sometimes work late, his job that I'm complaining about has allowed him to pick up my slack with the kids. I don't take my husband's contribution lightly, but I'm also not a fool and realize that my husband has benefitted from the situation as well. He's benefitted by being allowed to continue in a job the he loves without having to worry about making more money, because I was making more money. So, let's be clear here, BOTH of us benefitted from the situation. However, as a few of the commenters said, times change. Our kids are older now, and I've recently switched jobs so that I don't have to travel and can spend more time with them.

To those who think my husband is a bum, he isn't. He works hard and is a wonderful father and good husband, which is why I love him. Trust me, if you all knew me, you'd know I wouldn't stay with a bum. In our entire marriage, we've gotten along pretty well and not had any major issues. In this situation, I happen to be way more educated than my husband and work in the corporate world, which is why I make a lot more than him. My husband actually makes a great salary compared to the average American worker, but it's just not enough to pay half of everything without hurting him financially.

Garland, I like some of your advice and, Chuck (despite disagreeing with your assessment of my character as sending mixed signals), I like some of yours. I do believe I need to sit down in a calm manner to talk to my husband about the seriousness of him stepping up financially. However, I've already come to a decision about how to handle this matter.

I realize that I can't keep paying more than half of everything as long as my medical debt is hanging over my head. Therefore, if my husband wants to continue in his current position, that's fine. But, he'll be continuing in that position in a poorer state than before. If he won't seek better-paying employment, then I'm just going to reduce the amound I contribute and let the chips fall where they may. If he truly loves me, he'll step up to the plate and handle his business. If not, well, we'll end up another divorce statistic and have to share parental responsibility.

I'm hoping and praying that my husband will step up to the plate. But, my first duty is to look out for myself and my children, so if he doesn't, I'll just have to cross that bridge when I get to it.

Thanks to everyone for their advice. Even you, Chuck :-)

elizabeth said...

To the lady who wrote the letter..

I apologize if any of my comments offended you - it is easier to be an "armchair critic" as my Mother would say than to be the one going through a difficult situation involving tough choices. (I know I made some strong statements about your husband, but I can only add that in blogosphere hopefully we can be as honest or direct as the issue warrants.)
Ultimately none of us here knows the full story except you and your husband and though we have voiced our "heated" opinions, the final decisions lie with you and him.
I hope for yours and the kids' sake you will all arrive at a conclusion which benefits you all.
Good luck and God bless.


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, no offense was taken. I liked the passion in your response and enjoyed reading it. I also can totally understand why some people may view my husband as a bum. I wasn't criticizing anyone who characterized him as such, but I didn't want my post to give the impression that I'm married to a bum.

We're going to try to work things out and see what happens. We've invested a lot of time and love into this relationship, so I'm not willing to throw in the towel without giving him a chance. However, I strongly believe that you have to always love God and yourself first and not stay together just for the kids' sake. I think things will work out in the end, but only time will truly tell.

Again, thanks to everyone for the advice.

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