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There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza...
July 6, 2009 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: I am at my wits end. How can I get my husband to get back on track and do what needs to get done?

My friend and her husband have been married for 35 years. He lost his job about 5 months ago and since then has done nothing to change the situation. She works full-time, and he stays at home and collects unemployment. Her job does not provide health insurance.

About 7 years ago, they decided to raise elk as an investment. He was planning on selling stock and meat. After they invested a lot of money in starter stock, he never took it past that. Now they have a large herd that eats a lot, and it takes about $700/month to feed them. For my friend, this is a lot of stress, because she says they were barely getting by, and now they are getting behind. She has been asking him for about a year to sell the elk. Whenever she tries to talk to him about his finding another job, he gets moody and pouty and "doesn't want to talk about it". According to my friend, each time she has a discussion with him about the elk or anything financial, he agrees with her. Then he does nothing.

She doesn't know what to do. She is fed up (with everything-she is having difficulty coping as well). She doesn't believe in divorce, but she has threatened to leave him. Nothing seems to work. So what can she do? Has anyone on the green experienced something similar? I advised her that he is probably depressed and needs therapy, but he is the sort that doesn't really go for that type of thing (think very typical midwestern farm couple).

So I am asking on her behalf for suggesions, thoughts, ideas of any sort. I have tried to write down all the important info, but if you think of a detail or something that I missed, please ask me. What can she do to save her marriage?
posted by bolognius maximus to Human Relations (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
If he's home all the time, then he has plenty of time to see a therapist twice a week to treat his depression.
posted by hermitosis at 1:30 PM on July 6, 2009


Sounds like depression to me. It is all too common among people who lose long term jobs. He needs to get to a job counselor and a shrink most likely.
posted by caddis at 1:31 PM on July 6, 2009


Also, I think she should sell the elk herself. I think he's essentially abandoned his say in the matter.
posted by hermitosis at 1:33 PM on July 6, 2009 [13 favorites]


She should go to therapy without him if he won't go. It is impossible to make someone do something they don't want to do; the wife needs to figure out what she wants, independent of him. Therapy will help her do that.
posted by decathecting at 1:36 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Definitely therapy, except that your friend doesn't have health insurance, which can make therapy very expensive, especially if he's got a lot of issues to work through to break down his motivational roadblocks. Can she convince him to exercise, maybe doing it as a couple? Little things like that can help elevate his mood and maybe bring some motivation back into play.

Is part of his lack of motivation to get out of the house having to do with there being enough stimulus for him there? If so, cut back on expenses like internet and cable tv (which she should probably do anyway, since it sounds like they're living beyond their means and need to make adjustments until he's back in the workforce). If there's nothing fun to do around the house all day, he may become more motivated to do things like find a job and sell the livestock in order to better their financial situation again.
posted by scarykarrey at 1:38 PM on July 6, 2009


Why can't she sell the elk? The husband, from this post, sounds useless. She needs to take over running the household and taking care of finances (since she's the only one bringing in money) and, in the process, sell the damn elk. If he's not into therapy and she doesn't want to divorce him, this seems like the only option.
posted by meerkatty at 1:43 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Threats don't mean much unless they're carried out. Sorry to say it, but it's true. She has two options. One is to take over all the household decisions, sell the elk and stay with him even though he won't step up to his obligations. The other option is to leave. That'll either kick him into doing what he should be doing or it won't, but at least she'll have her answer. Whether or not she comes back is a discussion for another day.
posted by cooker girl at 1:55 PM on July 6, 2009


Thanks for the responses. When she threatened to leave, he said, "Don't think you can come back." I don't know if he was kidding or what...
posted by bolognius maximus at 2:06 PM on July 6, 2009


Are they churchgoing? People who might not be willing to talk to a therapist might be willing to talk to a pastor/priest about this sort of thing, and who might also have some practical job leads, ect. Also, it's free.

Selling the elk would take care of the financial stress, but is likely to only make the home situation worse.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:06 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who knows if she can save that marriage -- not I. But she can sell those animals, she doesn't need him to do it.

Though she might want to get some information from him -- "Melvin, who buys elk? What is their phone number?" -- and once getting those two pieces of information, she calls these elk-buying people and says "Hi. I'm Myrtle. I'm selling some elk. Please let me know when you can come pick them up and give me a pile of cash. Thanks!"

Note that she doesn't need to get that information from him; if she asks him and he just looks at her like he's got gas, she can smile at him and walk away, and then begin to make some phone calls. Probably five calls, maybe eight, it can't be more than that. Two hours maximum. Once she finds out who buys elk, she can proceed to call these elk-buying people and say "Hi. I'm Myrtle. I'm selling some elk. Please let me know when you can come pick them up and give me a pile of cash. Thanks!"

Elk problem solved.

Next. Moody and pouty problem. "Melvin, we need to talk." (translation: Melvin, I'm fixin' to bitch at you.) Continuing -- "I'm very, very unhappy about the fact that you aren't working, and I'm also very, very unhappy about the fact that each time I've brought this up you get all moody and pouty and refuse to talk about it. I'm done with that jive. Talk to me, Melvin baby, talk to me. I'm not getting out from in front of the tv until you talk to me. I'm not making dinner until you talk to me. If you try to make dinner before you talk to me, I'm going to throw everything onto the floor and insist that you talk to me. I'm done with this jive. I'm not going to get out of your way until you talk to me. I'm not going to stop. Talk to me, Melvin baby, talk to me." Note that she may have to enlist the aid of her sister or mother or any other interested party, for support, to stand by as this happens, to help her throw Melvins dinner onto the floor, etc.

If, after all this, Melvin refuses to engage Myrtle in talking about what's shakin', or if Myrtle just cannot bring herself to do these things (which I know are sure easy for me to write and not easy for Myrtle to do), then she will have only to make one telephone call -- to a local divorce attorney. Local divorce attorney, Eldon, will gladly make the elk telephone calls for her, and the real estate people telephone calls for her, to sell the farm, and to begin to set this next phase of Myrtles life in motion.

Myrtle has some rough choices to make here. I wish her luck. Melvin, too -- losing Myrt is going to be difficult, as difficult or more difficult than making the changes that she is insisting upon as a condition of not losing her.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:08 PM on July 6, 2009 [16 favorites]


"Don't think you can come back."

Yikes. Was he laid off, or did he get fired? If it's the latter, he might be acting self-destructive, including pushing away his wife of 35 years and allowing the both of them to fall into a financial downward spiral. At this point, if he's unwilling to consider therapy, she needs to decide what would be in her best interests, up to and including cutting and running.
posted by scarykarrey at 2:09 PM on July 6, 2009


He was laid-off. You know, economic downturn, blah, blah, blah. I don't know if he was being an ass or just thinking he was funny.

dancestoblue: LMAO!
posted by bolognius maximus at 2:17 PM on July 6, 2009


One. Sell the damned elk, with or without his input.

Two. He's depressed. He may not be open seeing a therapist, but there are more traditional sources of emotional and spiritual assistance that can be called upon. Extended family. Neighbors. Bowling team. Clergy. He's going through a tough, but not uncommon situation. It shouldn't be hard to get him in touch with someone who can sympathize.

Three. After 35 years of love and mutual support, he's forced into unemployment for five months and she's already threatening to walk out? "Don't think you can come back" is about the politest response she could have expected. He was already feeling emasculated for being unable to support his family, and then his wife tells him their marriage was, and is, all about his paycheck? That's not a kick in the ass, it's another kick in the balls.
posted by a young man in spats at 3:35 PM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


For a community that's usually all about relationship counseling and "depression is a disease", I'm shocked at the hostility toward this guy.

After 35 years of love and mutual support, he's forced into unemployment for five months and she's already threatening to walk out? "Don't think you can come back" is about the politest response she could have expected. He was already feeling emasculated for being unable to support his family, and then his wife tells him their marriage was, and is, all about his paycheck? That's not a kick in the ass, it's another kick in the balls.

This, exactly. I think she owes him an apology, or at the very least she should take it back. I can't imagine anything that would make a person less inclined to talk out his fears and hopes and possible plans than being threatened with divorce.
posted by moxiedoll at 3:53 PM on July 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think they need marriage counseling, or at least to work on their communication skills. It's a pretty crappy marriage when one partner threatens to leave. Doubly crappy when the other partner says to not come back. This isn't depression; this is a troubled marriage (that's both of them, btw).

Maybe he agrees and then does whatever he wants because he feels like she's nagging, or trying to push him into something, or arguing. You know, instead of listening to him. She's talking with you about her marriage problems. She should be talking with (not to) him.

I would guess that they have tremendous financial problems -- especially if she's worried about a 5-month period off looking for work, during a 35-year marriage. So, maybe when they work on talking and listening, they could also work on getting their expenses under control.
posted by Houstonian at 3:58 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe she needs a break from the stress. Could she stay with a family member or friend for a week or two?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:19 PM on July 6, 2009


I think it's reasonable to leave him for a little while, seeing that she has a job and is worried about how the partnership will work. Why should she bear the brunt of it? I don't think marriage is disposable, but five months is a very long time and he hasn't made an attempt to acquire new skills or plan for their future. He seems fine with the status quo.

Maybe it's time to quiz him on his goals in a non-bitchy way and see if they just aren't shared goals anymore. If his goal is to live off of unemployment or whatever until a job falls in his lap, fine, then she knows and she can leave him.
posted by anniecat at 4:27 PM on July 6, 2009


35 years of marriage - and then people say it is reasonable to leave?

With these attitudes it is no surprise why the institution of marriage is failing. Idiots have no commitment. They can't get beyond girlfriend/boyfriend. The power of marriage is the commitment to stay even when it sucks. You don't stay if that period will never end, but you stay until you know. The idiots make that decision way too quickly though. When you both make that extra commitment to stay through each other's dark times, well that is something special. You remember how when your parent said (or hopefully said),"no matter what, I will be there for you."? That is the feeling you get in that really strong union. If your union is not that strong then you adopt this attitude toward your spouse and you will be surprised how it will be reflected back at you. That is the thing about relationships. Everything you do gets reflected back at you. Sometimes you get lucky and your mate initiates those good vibes (but you then need to act on them), but even if they don't you do it and you get rewards. "In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
posted by caddis at 6:26 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


If they've been married for 35 years and he's older she may be dealing with some health issues that are affecting his cognitive functions. Do they have a trusted doctor she can talk to even without insurance?

and yeah, sell the elk.
posted by fshgrl at 7:09 PM on July 6, 2009


Tell her to sell the damn elk herself, and move on with her life without him. He is a grownup and at some point she has to accept that she cannot change him or force him to get help.

She doesn't have to leave him. She should try to separate herself from his problems mentally, insulate herself financially, and try her best to be happy.
posted by kathrineg at 7:54 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


With these attitudes it is no surprise why the institution of marriage is failing. Idiots have no commitment.

The husband sounds like an idiot. He obviously doesn't care about the strain he's putting on his wife. Where's his commitment? Why isn't he holding up his end of the bargain?
posted by anniecat at 8:56 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


He obviously doesn't care about the strain he's putting on his wife. Where's his commitment? Why isn't he holding up his end of the bargain?

Careful. The facts we have are that a man who has always worked and who is probably pushing sixty at the youngest has been laid off in the midst of the worst economic conditions in decades. Also - they live in the country. So concluding that he "obviously" is lacking in "commitment" and isn't "holding up his part of the bargain" because he's been out of work for five months is one hell of a fucking leap. The lack of charity in this thread is astounding to me, and this kind of "yeah - what a loser!" cheerleading is the worst possible advice to give a woman who is channeling her legitimate fears about her future in this economy into blame directed at her husband.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:05 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Elk sales seem not all that complicated.

When she sells the elk, she should specify from the get go that the buyer is responsible for transport. She might also want to talk to the vet about a payment plan on health certificates which I'm guessing elk buyers expect.

She might also be able to get help from a local local-food group who would come over and slaughter the elk and pack off the meat to locals who want to eat local elk. If that's legal she would end up with a freezer full of elk and some cash. (This is a HORRIBLE idea if her already depressed husband is attached to them.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:09 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Why isn't he holding up his end of the bargain?

That is precisely my point. Everyone goes through periods where they don't. Usually they can not because of some strain like this. Staying committed beyond their crap is where the deep bonds are formed. If you make it out the back end after something like this the bonds are significantly deepened.
posted by caddis at 9:11 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


the wife needs to figure out what she wants, independent of him. Therapy will help her do that.

I think it's clear what she wants: for him to be financially responsible. Marriage prevents you from being independent of your spouse, unless you separate. And, as caddis says, people who advocate separation after 35 years because of 5 bad months are being stupid. So, what's left? She should sell the elk. And they should make a plan, together, about what he's going to do. Regular exercise would be a good start. They can do it together.
posted by smorange at 10:04 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would advocate cautious sympathy for the husband as well. There's a lot of that going around right now, after all.

My dad went through something similar. He set a deadline for quitting a 25-year job because he felt he had accomplished all he could in it and couldn't expect a higher salary ever. He was then unable to find another job in his profession (non-profit management) for months, and when he had an offer it came with significant strings attached including a city-to-city commute. He spent a lot of time on the couch during this period with the shades drawn.

I'm only a few years younger now than he was then and I find that uncommonly frightening -- seeing a career black hole ahead of you. (Well, mine actually exploded in my face during the IT crash a few years back, so I've been through that.) Imagine having the responsibility of a family on top of that and it shakes me to the core.

All that said, he does need to get off his ass, if only for his own mental health. This can't continue along the same path. He needs therapy, if he can get it -- there may be a community health option. He probably needs career counseling or a pink slip club to go to, rural environs be damned. He needs to get out of the house.

He does have to agree to this. The wife here may be generous but needs to set firm deadlines. If he doesn't come up with a plan to sell the elk by the end of July, say, he has that taken away.

Frankly, I know how doldrums like this can make a simple task like daily animal husbandry seem productive and rewarding. It's probably one of the few things that gets him through the day. She needs to acknowledge that. But they obviously can't afford this as a hobby any longer, so it needs to become a business fast, or liquidate.

They may also need to do some broader soul-searching. What if he can't find a job at his skill level? Does he become a Wal-Mart greeter, or something in between? Do they consider moving? Can they stay in the same area but downsize to a smaller house in town? If there's still a relationship, then they need to address these questions together.
posted by dhartung at 11:08 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


He's on a downward spiral, she doesn't need to go with him. Take off for a month, maybe that'll make him realize he needs help. If not, DTMFA.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:46 AM on July 7, 2009


people who advocate separation after 35 years because of 5 bad months are being stupid.

How is this stupid? Do you get your mortgage paid and your basic needs met if you stay together for your whole life? Is there some kind of prize for supporting a lazy husband? He might be depressed, but she can't help him. He's got to want to help himself, and he doesn't. He's not her child. And if he was her kid, she'd hopefully have sense enough to boot him out the door.
posted by anniecat at 8:20 AM on July 7, 2009


2 households are more expensive than one. That's assuming they just separate and never actually get a divorce. Divorces are expensive and time-consuming. Breaking up because you can't pay your billsis impractical and counterproductive, especially when you both have income (unemployment)

In many cases, staying together for your whole life does help you pay your mortgage.

If my husband of 35 years threatened to leave me after I was out of work for mere months I would be crushed and even more hopeless than before. I don't think that's the right strategy here.
posted by kathrineg at 8:52 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This whole DTMFA, walk, etc. meme just seems kind of selfish to me. One of the reasons people get married is to be there for each other through the rough spots in life, and trust me there will be some. Packing up and leaving when the going gets rough, well you are just thinking about yourself, "it's all about me." Nice. If you want to be selfish and espouse selfish values fine. It's a free country, but it doesn't seem like something one should feel proud about. Frankly, someone who has remained married for 35 years has probably already made that decision to not take the selfish path in a relationship. From everything I can see friend is looking to save her marriage not leave it. If she left on such shallow terms rather than being empowering as some suggest I think it would make her feel guilty and ashamed that after 35 years of partnership she bolted instead of sticking up for her lifelong partner in rough times. I think advice telling her to just leave is terrible.
posted by caddis at 10:14 AM on July 7, 2009


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