Am I an asshole for wanting my husband to have a career?
November 16, 2008 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Am I an asshole for wanting my husband to have a career?

We've been married for nine years, together for eleven. We are both 30ish. I'm in my last year of my bachelor's degree, and have a decent job due to my partly-finished education and work experience. I have a general plan for "what I'd like to be when I grow up."

My husband does not have his high school diploma. He has never taken a continuing ed course. He has been a hard worker, taking jobs at factories, then admin assistant or record management jobs, mostly on a temp basis, when we moved to the city. He is a very intelligent, morally upright, kind person, and has supported me when I've been going to school, and through many rough patches with my mental health.

For the past year, I have supported him. He's had a mild health condition which, combined with some kind of anxiety, has kept him from working. He is trying to get better, but he's still not back at work, and I'm worried. We don't have much money, and we live in a slummy place.

Tonight, we had a big argument because I am worried about 1) whether he'll go back to work, and 2) whether he will have some kind of direction when he does. By that, I don't mean I expect him to become a lawyer or a dentist, but just that I want him to have something he cares about that he pursues, either through a series of jobs that lead to a satisfying occupation, or by getting an education in a field he enjoys. (I say this because, in his past jobs, he has definitely NOT been happy, and it has, at times, affected us as a couple.)

He says that he does not have a plan, does not necessarily want to have such a plan, and feels that I am not accepting of him because I would like him to have a plan. Neither of his parents went after a certain career or went to college, and while I love them and they are great people who have done well for themselves, they are also struggling to remain employed as the economy tanks. I know nothing is guaranteed, but I would like for us to strive for a better future as a couple.

We were very angry at each other this evening, and I feel terrible for getting frustrated and mad. I do love him. But I am not happy with this situation, and I don't see myself being happy if he continues to work an endless series of unfulfilling, dead-end jobs.

Is this unreasonable? Am I not being as accepting of him as I should be? If there is a way I can encourage him without making him feel I'm disappointed in him, how can I do it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have kids? How do you divide the housework?
posted by Sara Anne at 3:58 PM on November 16, 2008

He is not required to find a career, unless he is breaking a promise he made you. However, he is required to make efforts to be a happy, fulfilled individual if his being unhappy and unfulfilled affects you (which of course it does). If he were able to find a secure yet dead end job, and then found a hobby that made him happy and balanced, then I would say it would be unreasonable to ask him to engage in careerism for your sake.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:01 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think Bookhouse puts it well.

He needs to, within his abilities, do his best to make you happy. This obviously includes holding down a job, even if it doesn't provide advancement opportunities. It is, however, unfair to him for you to push him into a career. Perhaps this is not what he wants, and you need to respect that as well. This may not turn out well, but it is the answer.
posted by InsanePenguin at 4:16 PM on November 16, 2008

To your original question, you are not an asshole for "wanting" anything. It may be useful to examine the source of your desires, though.

If you are the same poster as the one who posted a very similar story, linked above, it seems that your desires may be motivated by the perception of your friends and family. Someone does not have to have a career to be a happy, healthy individual or to achieve success through personal growth.

It depends on what you both want out of life, for yourselves and for each other. Does he have a goal of being financially independent (or do you both) and he is not making any steps toward getting there?

In my opinion having goals does not mean you have to follow the societal norm of having "career goals." If one's goal is personal growth and he or she can meet that goal by living on the beach in a shack reading various philosophical works and not earning a dime, no one else can say that this person is a deadbeat.

So the question is - what are his goals in life? If they don't include career/financial success then he is not doing anything wrong, but then you will need to decide together if both of you share the same life goals and if you can work together to reach them. He may need to set a financial goal for the sake of the relationship, but that doesn't necessarily have to mean "career."
posted by Nixie Pixel at 4:16 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Marriage is supposed to be a team effort with each party more than pulling their own weight, on average. His job is to make your life complete, and vice versa. To be slacking off on this is to betray the marriage. <>
But balancing this is what, for lack of a better term, the depression spiral can do to one's motivational energy.
posted by troy at 4:21 PM on November 16, 2008

Could your husband take a job that is fundamentally back-office? By that, I mean, perhaps your husband's anxiety is that he will be recognized as disfigured. Because although the sex and probably lovely and you adore him to death, he is still very worried about how will be judged by co-workers.

Challenge your husband to take a job for two months. But, allow him to take any job - whether it is only ten hours a week or is from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. He should be able to work the hours that will make him comfortable and feel safe. Because even if he doesn't like the job, it should be painless and comfortable. Warehousing is a good idea. UPS and FedEx, even USPS would be a good fit and all offer good benefits. Although, caveat, FedEx is currently making certain of its employees become contractors, which your husband should NOT do.
posted by parmanparman at 4:24 PM on November 16, 2008

It is wonderful that you are supporting him through his illness, just as he supported you through yours. But is he taking active steps to get better, both medically and psychologically? If not, then yeah, you have aright to be pissed. If he is genuinely trying to get better and frustrated by his own inability to work then don't get mad at him, get mad at the illness. Act like a team to get through this. Expecting him to get a career though, well ... as long as he is earning a steady paycheque and acknowledges that he can't bring his work-stress home then I think you have to accept his low career ambitions since he was that way when you met him There are definite benefits to having mismatched ambitions. If you were offered your dream job in a couple of years and it required him to move to another country he would be willing and able whereas a more ambitious couple may not have that flexibility without someone giving up their career. You are also not competing against him to see who gets the better job, bigger paycheque, more responsibilities.
posted by saucysault at 4:46 PM on November 16, 2008

This is about karma. If you press people to do something, they will resist. If you reward them when they do something you like, then they will run to the reward.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:59 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I just ended a long term relationship over a similar issue. I don't think you are wrong, I think it is difficult when there is a significant imbalance, and when it seems there are two different directions that you want to go in.

If you can, I would suggest either going separately or jointly to a therapist to talk things through to see if you can work things out.
posted by hazyspring at 5:05 PM on November 16, 2008

From what I'm reading in your question, you are not an asshole. He is also not an asshole.

However, you are two non-assholes who are no longer moving in the same direction.
posted by 26.2 at 5:27 PM on November 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm in my last year of my bachelor's degree, and have a decent job due to my partly-finished education and work experience.

...and a whole hell of a lot of luck. You're not sick. Your company didn't fold. Etc.

I do think you're being unreasonable. The man is sick, depressed, and unemployed, and now he has to have a Goal In Life and Something to Strive For.

Let him know that you will support him and love him no matter what, and let it go for a few months. Do what you can to help him exercise and eat right, enjoy having a wonderful man at home who loves you and can sign for packages when you're not home, and relax.

You were living in a slummy place when you were sick, too. What's the difference now?
posted by sondrialiac at 5:44 PM on November 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

Not everyone needs or wants a "career," by that meaning focusing much of your life on a progressive series of jobs. But he does need to be doing his share in the marriage (which might include financially, and supporting you, and being the kind of partner you need him to be.) The compromise here, I think, is that there are ways for him to provide that kind of support without having the kind of career that becomes one's dominant identity.

You know how some people say "I am a plumber"; "I am a doctor" -- the career is their primary or dominant identity. But other people prefer to define themselves by their relationships ("I am a father"; "I am a patriot") or by their interests or their political affiliations or whatever. Their job (if they have one) is just that -- a job, something that pays the bills and allows them to pursue their primary focus.

And to my eyes, that is at least as valuable as saying "I am a plumber." But that doesn't excuse freeloading in a relationship, or refusing to be supportive in any way. (I'm not saying that that is what he is doing -- in fact, it sounds like he has been very supportive in the past, and is having a tough time right now, and that you are having trouble with the situation being reversed.)

I see nothing wrong with him not having a "career," but if the two of you are having a tough time economically, I see everything wrong with him not having a job, any job, no matter how temporary. If you are going to be a partnership, that means working together to support each other, and make the partnership work against whatever the world throws at you.

So I guess I'm splitting the difference here. I think middle class people fetishize careers too much, while at the same time people who have correctly figured out that a traditional career is not for them sometimes throw the baby (a job) out with the bathwater (career). Career or not, goals or not, the rent needs to be paid, you know?
posted by Forktine at 7:49 PM on November 16, 2008 [4 favorites]

What you describe here generally results in the end of the marriage. Something has to change, and change soon, for that not to be the case. What has to change is either your husband has to get a job or your feelings about his unemployment need to change. If neither of those things change, your marital status will eventually change. The marriage is probably, for practical purposes, in the process of going through that transition now, although you don't mention it.

The only thing you have control over in this process might be your feelings. Do you love him enough to keep him, unconditionally, for better or for worse, to support him in his unemployed state for the rest of his life? If you can't get to "yes" on that question, might as well call the divorce lawyer.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:11 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some of the answers to this post might interest you?
posted by Weng at 8:58 PM on November 16, 2008

Further to the above I should add, the situation is quite different in my post, but I think the similarity comes down to a question of values... if you are someone who values career and ambition in relation to your life goals, this situation will probably always continue to bug you, whether your husband is employed or not. After all, whether he is employed is one thing - but you seem to be equally worried about his lack of direction when he is.

I'm still confused on this one, but I agree with some other posters that it seems to signal that you are growing apart...

Good luck whatever you decide!
posted by Weng at 9:21 PM on November 16, 2008

I wish I knew more about why you wanted him to have a career. Trying to make him want to get a career will be hard, or impossible. It will take a long time. I'd try to unhook these things in your mind -- your happiness, his career -- if there's a way to do it.

It might help to get really clear about your goal: what do you want your life to look like? Think about it as what you want for yourself (i.e., don't say "I want my coworkers to respect him" or "I want us to be respected by my coworkers." Say "I want to be respected by my coworkers.") Be detailed about what you want. Think about why. (So, don't say "I want a nice life," say, "I grew up struggling, and it's really important to me that I never have to worry about whether I can pay the bills, so I want to always have a financial buffer" or say "I've always dreamed of starting a family and in two or three years from now, I want to be able to afford to stop working for a few years to raise some little ones.") Then, begin to visualize creating that for yourself. It's your life, whatever happens with him -- how can you work to get there? (You could, e.g., meet with a financial planner.) Once you've unhooked your goals from him doing any one thing in particular, talk to him about your mission. Explain what you're trying to do for yourself, and why it's so important to you. Will he help you get there? Can you work together as a couple to get there? How?

I suggest you focus on fundamentals like this, because it sounds like you're at a temporary impasse: "I want him to have something he cares about that he pursues, either through a series of jobs that lead to a satisfying occupation, or by getting an education in a field he enjoys." But "he says that he does not have a plan, does not necessarily want to have such a plan, and feels that I am not accepting of him because I would like him to have a plan." So, you're going to have to find a different way to talk about this, so you can begin working on the same team to get to a shared goal. In reality, there are probably many routes to that goal.

I agree with ikkyu2 that you're pretty far along here. It sounds like you're beyond the easy points of intervention ("You know, you being in a bad mood all the time really kinda sucks for me"). You now have a whole plan for what you think he should do to fix this variety of things that aren't working for you. Even if he tried to do your plan, it probably wouldn't go the way you imagine. Getting more fixed on a plan that requires him to do things he's not willing to do will probably be a dead-end. You have to back up and focus on your goals, and then enlist his help in achieving them.

If there is a way I can encourage him without making him feel I'm disappointed in him, how can I do it?

It's too late to encourage him; you're going to have to talk about this in terms of what it means to you, ideally non-judgmental, non-controlling terms. desjardins' comment here might also be helpful.
posted by salvia at 12:02 AM on November 17, 2008

I'd find a different approach for talking with him about this. Don't talk to your husband about having a "career" or something he "cares about". Talk to him about the fact that he has been unhappy in past jobs, and say you'd like to help him get into a job or line of work that he enjoys, and how you're willing to support him in whatever steps he needs to take to make that happen. And then don't pressure him in that at all.
posted by orange swan at 5:15 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

To answer your question, no you're not an asshole for wanting your husband to have a career. Keep in mind though that he might define career as something very different than what you have in mind.

That said, there's one thing you said that jumped out at me: "He's had a mild health condition which, combined with some kind of anxiety, has kept him from working."

So it's not particularly that he doesn't want to work. It sounds like he might be stuck because of his anxieties. Step one here is for him to find some professional help to deal with those issues.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:00 AM on November 17, 2008

I don't see myself being happy if he continues to work an endless series of unfulfilling, dead-end jobs.

So it's not enough that his jobs have to satisfy him—they have to satisfy you as well?

Is this unreasonable?


Am I not being as accepting of him as I should be?

No, you are not.

Mind you, you are who you are, and if you can't live with a man who doesn't have what you consider a "career"—despite his being "a very intelligent, morally upright, kind person" who "has supported me when I've been going to school, and through many rough patches with my mental health"—then you'll have to break up with him, stupid as that seems to me. Where I'm coming from: like your husband, I've never had a plan and never had any desire to have a plan; I drifted from bookstore work to proofreading to editing. I've paid my way and had several fulfilling relationships, none of which were defined by my employment status or that of the woman I was involved with. I am married to a woman who supported us both for a while; now I am supporting us both. Neither of us cares if the other has a "career." That seems normal to me, but obviously YMMV.
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on November 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's okay for it to be about money. It's a big drag to be the primary earner with a partner who doesn't make much effort. You're finishing a college degree, and he has no interest in completing a HS diploma. You are aiming for a lifestyle where people will notice a lack of education.

It's okay for it to be about wanting to be with someone who pursues personal growth. Self-education is a great alternative, if he's interested.

He sounds depressed. Therapy and meds might be the most important thing. Also, living with a depressed person is hard. That may be causing more trrouble than you know.
posted by theora55 at 7:46 AM on November 17, 2008

Is he that much different today from the man you married? Or has he not changed enough to suit you?

It is an old saw, but frequently true: Women marry men expecting them to change, and they never do. Men marry women expecting them never to change, and they always do.
posted by dinger at 7:53 AM on November 17, 2008

well, it's kind of assholish.

why a career? why not just a job that he enjoys? examine that. you can have a good salary and benefits with "just a job."

before you encourage him to find a career (which implies life-long committment, even if you hate it), you should really encourage him to get his GED, which will open a lot of doors, even in this tanking economy.

i understand why you would want him to get back to work (if he's able to/better) but you need to figure out why you're pushing him to get a career instead of work.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:17 AM on November 17, 2008

I agree with misanthropicsarah. Pursuing a career is a personality change, IMHO. You have to be a certain kind of person who enjoys having a career, and have it be important to you.

To want him to have a career is imposing a highly personalized way of life on another person, akin to asking him to join a religion.

You may ask, what's the big deal? Shouldn't everyone pursue a career?

Short answer: no. Just because many people have one does not mean everyone should. And just because he has one, it doesn't mean life will be peachy. In fact, it can often become worse (for you and him) if the person feels like they are pushed into it.

That being said, asking him to have a JOB (or some kind of income) seems totally reasonable to me. He needs to at least be paying at least half of basic living expenses. He sounds like a smart guy. He'll figure out how to bring some money in.
posted by uxo at 12:36 PM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was in this situation with my ex-fiance, and I got nowhere. You have my sympathies. I had big time fear that I was going to end up the breadwinner (and I'm an artsy type, so you KNOW I'll never have money), and end up with a house husband who does nothing and I would have no backup if something happened to me financially. Yeah, it was a little embarrassing to be a college graduate with someone who dropped out sophomore year of high school and refused to so much as go to a JC any more, but it was feeling like the guy wouldn't have my back if suddenly I didn't have a job that really worried me. If I brought in tons of money I wouldn't have cared so much, but I did not.

I have the impression here that he DOES NOT WANT to do any more schooling. Period, full stop, hated it, no. Am I correct?

The problem being with jobs that make you happy, or have better money, or stability, is that you're going to have to do some kind of schooling. Even if it's a Heald or plumbing school or whatever, you have to learn how to do it. If he's resistant to school, well... you're kinda SOL. And my not being "accepting" of him being a house husband for life, well, that's why we're done. He understood my logic behind "I want you to have your own money coming in too," but logic did not win out over the deep inner urge of "I don't wanna."

I don't necessarily think you are being unreasonable, but he's probably not going to change, especially if he grew up this way and to him it's "normal." And I can definitely say that encouraging didn't work at all for me. You are pretty much stuck with him the way he is, unless you choose to leave. Sorry.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:28 PM on November 17, 2008

You are not being unreasonable. Let's look at your motivations:

1. You want him to be happy in his future work.

2. You want him to help you support your family (even if it's just the two of you, that's a family.)

I do not find those unreasonable goals. I will add, however, that I am in your exact position, except we don't live in a slummy place, and I've been supporting him for three years (including cashing out my 401k while I was looking for work.)

We have been in couples counseling for over a year, which is the only thing that saved our marriage. We have made major strides in how we listen to and understand each other, and we've realized that we were both contributing to the problem.

We found our counselor by searching for 'couples counseling sliding scale [name of town].' If he'd go with you, I highly recommend this.
posted by cereselle at 5:05 PM on November 17, 2008

He needs to at least be paying at least half of basic living expenses.
Did you miss the part where anonymous says that the husband supported her through college and many rough patches with her mental health? I find that that does change the situation quite a bit. I would think that he supported you for a while, now it is your turn to support him, and remember that a big part of the reason why you can have those career plans now, is because your husband supported you in the past.

Of course the husband should find a job again eventually, and work to figure out the anxiety issues, but it seems like that that's not what anonymous worries about. She wants him not just to have a job, she wants him to have a career. And I do think that that is unreasonable to ask of someone, and also that it will not solve any problems if the husband does pursue a career.
posted by davar at 2:55 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older How do you make awful news make sense to a toddler...   |   Not buying this "cats are clean" nonsense... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.