Work life balance between spouses
September 16, 2016 10:02 PM   Subscribe

My husband was laid off from his job 5 months ago through absolutely no fault of his own. He has been working hard to find a new job and has had no luck until recently. To cut a long story short, we expect he will soon be offered a job working 3 days a week for $15k a year. It will be a fun, enjoyable job with very little stress and he's excited about it. I'm happy for him but not happy about the low wages or part time nature of the work. I work 5 days a week and earn $100k a year in a stressful job.

He used to make $60k as did I, then we moved for my job and I got a raise and a promotion since then. It took him a year to find work making $30k and he looked very hard for a job, which we didn't expect as the area we moved to is a larger city where plenty of jobs are advertised. He just wasn't able to get any of them for reasons we don't quite understand. We have had multiple people in his industry review his resume. All we can think of is that it's his age (late forties) or that he is a man in an industry try that mostly hires women. Anyway he did finally get he 30k job. That's the job he got laid off from.

I guess I feel like the imbalance in salaries and the fact that he won't be able to support us even temporarily if I just can't take my job anymore and even if we drastically downsize makes me feel kind of trapped. Also he doesn't want to downsize. During his unemployment I suggested we move to a smaller house with a much smaller mortgage but he wants to stay where we are. Our house is too big for two people and needs a lot of cosmetic work (wallpaper is peeling off walls, etc) which takes all our spare money. There is little left for holidays or other fun stuff. But it also costs money to move so I can somewhat see his point on this one.

Also I have asked him if he would continue to do the housework duties he has taken on since being unemployed. He is willing to continue with cleaning the house but not with laundry/ironing. I kind of feel like he should continue with both since I only get two days off a week and he will get four. If he did the chores including laundry one day a week he would still have one more day off than I do.

My husband is kind and loving and he does work very hard. This is definitely very much not a DTMFA situation. I'm just asking for help thinking about stuff like: what's fair, should he take this job, am I wrong to feel the way I do, is he wrong to feel the way he does. I know in the grand scheme of things we are very lucky but worry that resentment is going to build.
posted by hazyjane to Work & Money (43 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Oops I didn't catch that one in preview, hour nudes should be industry, sorry mods!
posted by hazyjane at 10:05 PM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

[Fixed but that is some hilarious autocorrect.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:16 PM on September 16, 2016 [36 favorites]

Is moving back to the old city an option?

On the one hand, yes, it's somewhat fair and reasonable to expect him to suck it up and just do the laundry. I suck at and don't like laundry, but I'd like to think that I'd try to just do it were I in the same position.

On the other hand, moving to favor your job has substantially damaged his career. If you were to separate and he needed to fully support himself again, being out of the industry the way he has will substantially hurt his chances of getting righted again, and it will only get worse as time goes on.

Being woefully underemployed or unemployed is very hard on someone, especially if it's the price that's paid for supporting one's spouse. Would you be genuinely happy if you were chronically unable to get anything other than fairly menial work in order to support his career after all the work you've done to get where you are? It doesn't sound like he's been lazy or unmotivated about it, just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong age.

To dig back into past questions, can you support him to the point that he can complete what's necessary to become a lawyer and have new paths hopefully open up for him again?
posted by Candleman at 10:23 PM on September 16, 2016 [11 favorites]

I 100% get where you're coming from but I think he should take this job. Looking for work (which it sounds like he's been doing for 1.5 years in the recent past?) is stressful and demoralizing. It will be good for his resume and good for his mental health and your relationship.

I also think it's unfair to be resentful towards your husband for the wage imbalance. As you say, he uprooted his life for you and your career and has been working very hard to find a job. Fact is, if you'd stayed in your old city you'd actually be pulling in $5K more than you are now without all the stress and resentment on either side, so I feel like the feelings you have about the salary imbalance are pretty much on you.
posted by lalex at 10:25 PM on September 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

I totally get what you're both saying about the uprooting my husband bit and I completely agree that's on me. Can I just add though that we both absolutely hated where we used to live and both wanted to leave- and both love where we live now. Generally in our marriage it tends to be that if something isn't right my husband just puts up with it whereas I figure out a way to change it - and that way if it goes wrong I get the blame and he gets to say "well I told you that was going to be a disaster." This also happens for stuff like peeling wallpaper and mold and broken grout in the bathroom and water stains on the walls. He says "oh it doesn't matter, just leave it." So he sits back and I do the work to fix it. If it works, fine but since it didn't matter anyway it's no big deal. But if it goes wrong it's a disaster! The move is kind of like this too but on a much larger scale. Now see for example the fact that I'd like to move to a smaller house and he wouldn't.

Yes being unemployed is very hard and demoralising. I totally get that. Yes, the imbalance is all on me. I guess I just kind of feel like everything is always all on me? Even though I'm trying my best. But I know he's trying his best, too.

Also candleman he doesn't want to be a lawyer anymore although some of the jobs he applied for and didn't get were legal trainee roles.
posted by hazyjane at 10:37 PM on September 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Especially as he's older, he really needs to minimize gaps on his resume. That argues strongly in favor of taking this job. Think of it as a stepping stone.

Also, I know I would be crushed, absolutely crushed, if I quit my job to follow my spouse to another city, couldn't find a job for ages, had to settle for lower-level work, and then had to go through another bout of unemployment. Working at all must be so important for his morale at this point, and if you care about him, you need to care about that.
posted by praemunire at 10:39 PM on September 16, 2016 [10 favorites]

It sounds like you're frustrated about some things beyond either of your control -- that's fine, but not reasonable to take out on him.

What might be reasonable to push harder on is that you should both be working equally hard for the sake of the partnership, and if he's the one pushing to stay in a pricy home while working part-time, there's no reason he shouldn't be fixing up the wallpaper &c.

I admit to finding the upset over "he won't be able to support us even temporarily if I just can't take my job anymore." You're upset with him for not working as hard as you do and pulling in as much money as you do -- but -- there should be a 'take this job and shove it' option built in for you? Practically speaking, a nice option to have, but not an option very many people have and it sounds sort of uselessly idealistic. What if you quit only for him to fetch up laid off shortly afterwards?

Can you re-finance? And, a person who makes six figures tends to spend at that level -- they may *feel* cash-strapped because of a lack of luxury goods, but you are probably throwing away a fair bit of cash in random areas. How strict are you guys with thrift and budgeting? I wondered briefly if you could re-finance the house for a lower mortgage payment, and then started wondering if you use the car for single errands, eat lunch out every day, subscribe to a bunch of junk, use the internet to mindlessly mail-order stuff you take days to bother opening, etc, etc, and then started wondering if you couldn't force yourself to a level of frugality where you could pay a lot more, even if just for a period of time, to get the monthly payments down.

I think I might try to focus on: $115k/year and a big house, hell yeah!

But I would also want him to deal with the laundry. Working only three days a week, no kids, he's pushing househusband territory. Which is totally fine but part of the point of being an at home or mostly at home spouse is so you can be the support for the primary earner, which would definitely traditionally include being the one to deal with washing and pressing the full-time working spouse's clothing.

That long out of work and that poor a job offer at the end of it must have been completely demoralizing so I would hardly go tearing into him with 'of course you should iron my #@$* shirts you retrograde anti-feminist househusband who doesn't even know how to househusband!' but some conversations about equitable divisions of labour should be had.

If the house has mostly cosmetic issues, the overwhelming majority of that stuff is eminently DIYable and you should not be paying workers to come in and do it (see above about the spending habits larger earners tend to have -- when my house needed painting I did it myself, with a weekend's help from others thrown in, thankfully. It would not have occurred to me to hire somebody to do a job I can do myself and had the time to do). Why can't he spend his days off perusing YouTube how-to videos and sites like "The Family Handyman" (one of my favourites for reminding you on FB that your house is probably going to fall over because you neglected the twice-yearly clear-out of some obscure pipe) and figuring that stuff out? As a bonus, it should do a fair bit to give him some satisfaction on the 'job well done' front. He learns new skills, your shared equity increases, the frustration with the run-down house abates, your frustration with him sitting idle abates, etc.

The only reason I can think of that it wouldn't have occurred to him to hit Home Depot (or, since you should be frugal, the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store) is that he is still feeling down from the beating the job market has given him. Try to talk optimistically about the future rather than pessimistically about the present when discussing this stuff.

And do not, please, lose focus of: your combined salary is $115k, you are in a partnership you are not seeking to get out of, you have a house. I periodically need to pause things and re-focus my stresses on what is going right for me, and it sounds like you need the same pause. (I will spare you the traditional femmey recommendations for bubble baths, mimosas, chocolates, spas, a "mani/pedi," etc. But maybe a bottle of decent whisky and shooting for a weekend where you vow to ignore these frustrations and re-connect with what is good about your life and what is good about your spouse would be time well spent.)

...just read " This also happens for stuff like peeling wallpaper and mold and broken grout in the bathroom and water stains on the walls. He says "oh it doesn't matter, just leave it."" Mould and broken grout? Somebody needs, eventually, a how-to-grown-up lesson in how to keep one's equity in one's house, especially given that he's the one fussing about staying put. Agree to (cheerfully) stay put if he can put a basic level of care into the home; if he can't, perhaps it's time to admit that it is too much house for him and you need something small and new rather than large and old. If it "doesn't matter," ask if you can write a post-nuptial agreement where he agrees to reduce his interest in the house to some risibly low figure, because it "doesn't matter." His argument there is crap and you should not be re-grouting stuff with an able-bodied partner doing p/t work.
posted by kmennie at 10:45 PM on September 16, 2016 [32 favorites]

I understand it's an ask.metafilter cliche, but this is a classic example of issues (I'm including the follow-up info, which says volumes about the state of things) that would be better addressed with a marriage counselor, than through hearing what we all think about what is/is not fair.
posted by she's not there at 11:09 PM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have asked him to go to marriage counselling but he refuses because according to him we don't have any problems! A bit of a pattern is emerging here. Also he hates DIY and says he is bad at it so I either do it all or he sometimes helps but complains bitterly the entire time. Actually I think this askme is helping me massively though I agree we will probably still need counselling. I am starting to feel a bit less confused about why and what's going on with our marriage, though.
posted by hazyjane at 11:14 PM on September 16, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best wishes for future happiness.

I learned so much through marriage counseling, so I'm always quick to recommend it. The marriage didn't survive, which makes some folks think that the counseling was worthless. Those folks are wrong.

(Side note: hazyjane is one of my favorite user names and I've wondered if it is a reference to a couple of friends named in Spirit in the Night—regardless, it always reminds me of them, which is nice.)
posted by she's not there at 12:44 AM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

You went from 60k+60K=$120k to $100k+15K=115K and one of you gets two days off and less stress. $5k isn't that much of a drop for that stress / time upside. Is this really about finances? How do things look after tax? (Perhaps the move for you promotion included an upsize in costs like mortgage, I dunno.)

He is willing to continue with cleaning the house but not with laundry/ironing.

OK, now I'm feeling the rage.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:50 AM on September 17, 2016 [30 favorites]

We have a similar setup - I work full time (and then some), the bloke works 3-4 days a week for reasons that don't matter here (and his job enables him to leave work at work - mine doesn't). Our contributions to the household bills and savings reflect our relative incomes, with a tweak to reflect that hours worked are more important than actual income. (So we both have enough play money!).

When it comes to chores, we agreed that they should be split based on hours worked, regardless of income. He works significantly fewer hours than me, so he should take on more of the joint household chores. I think that's fair - that would give us both the same amount of time to do the things that make us happy and fulfilled. The bloke agrees with that in theory. In practice, it's not working out that way (hell, I'd probably settle for 50/50 but even that is not happening). I don't have an answer to how to make it work, but I'll say that if you're working X% more hours outside the house than he is, but he's not taking on an equivalent percentage MORE of the household chores, then he's not pulling his weight in your relationship.

Good luck. If you figure out how to make this work, please let me know!
posted by finding.perdita at 1:40 AM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have you called him out on his bs? He is basically saying that his time is more valuable than money. That's great, you hire a cleaner he pays for fully. They will happily do laundry and iron as well. Same for the diy projects he refuses to tackle that decrease the value of the house he refuses to sell. Clearly not going to go down well but it might help him realise that actually you do have a problem and marriage counselling is in order.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:59 AM on September 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

The thing is, maybe he hates doing laundry. Just because he got unlucky with the job market doesn't seem sufficient reason to say he no longer gets choice in what chores he'll specialise in. I mean, yes, we must all be adults, but in a functional couple, often there's some picking and choosing and negotiating as each person deploys their energy toward needs that they see in the household and are inspired to fill. Assuming you guys have historically come to a balance here, then I'd either wait to see where his extra energy goes or talk generally about chore distribution.

That's not to say your feelings and wishes aren't important. But those are better expressed at the level of expressing your feelings, whatever they may be ("I'm feeling overwhelmed," "it's embarrassing to admit to such a petty feeling, but I'm feeling resentful that you get four days off and I only get two. I guess it's because I yearn to do things like the wallpaper and starting a huge veggie garden and other unpaid projects. I feel the weight of all our undone DIY.") That way you two can tackle the root of the problem together, whether it's by moving (to get rid of the undone DIY), or by him taking on some chores (to free your time up for that veggie garden), him taking Code Academy classes (to prepare him to hunt for a new job so you don't have the pressure of being the sole earner), or whatever. If you puzzle out the problem all the way to a solution that requires him to do a single specific thing "... therefore you need to do all our laundry," then you miss the chance to feel understood and see him moved to figure out how to help you. And he might feel controlled instead of moved to help you.

It feels like there's more under the surface because of the way your follow up comment jumped to "I try to fix things then take the blame when they go wrong." Are you feeling guilty about how the move has impacted him? E.g., you wrote, "I guess I just kind of feel like everything is always all on me? Even though I'm trying my best." I can't quite tell what's going on but wonder if there's a way to focus on communicating to him your exhaustion, worry, or whatever you feel here, and trusting that some portion of your angst will ease just by being understood, and that another portion will ease after he finds ways to help that feel good to him.
posted by salvia at 2:55 AM on September 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

I think you might want to consider insisting in marriage counselling, and insisting on an equitable share of household chores,whatever those chores might be.

I feel like, add you've given more details, it sounds a bit like this is about more than the job, more about broader patterns and a dynamic which sounds unhealthy - for both of you.

In a partnership, what's important to one person must be important to the other, whether they agree or not, and it doesn't sound like your husband is on board with that sentiment.

That could be because of your communication style, or his, or because he didn't realise how important this is to you. But I also think it might be because of the dynamic. Did you see this recent post? I don't think it's universal but it seems to apply in your case.

I think you need a circuit breaker before contempt sets in. Demand counselling, and a better division of labour.

show him this article about how women do more household labour . Show him this one d on the wrong perceptions men have. Does he think you guys are different? Challenge him to prove it. Challenge him with the stats on this work and divorce, and marital satisfaction. Tell him you are unsatisfied. He needs to work on what an appropriate percentage would be for you guys, and then do it.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 3:57 AM on September 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

There are other ways to contribute beyond laundry and DIY. It can be helpful to make a list of all the specific tasks - who writes grocery lists, who picks up the post, who makes breakfast, who tidies the bedroom, who handles doctor appointments etc, and the fun stuff too, who makes extra cups of hot tea, brings fresh flowers every now and then, calls friends for get togethers, offers shoulder massages, etc. Maybe there's something there you both hate doing and need to outsource, maybe he does just three things on a thirty item list, maybe he handles a lot of things day to day already and laundry isn't a matter of entitlement, but time.

You also can go to couples therapy alone to start with. It's ok to go first and tell him that you want advice and help improving how you handle this and you'd like him to come asking and participate, but marriage therapy doesn't require his permission or presence at the start.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:06 AM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

OP, you see the pattern repeating itself, don't you? From issues minuscule (dirty grout) to enormous (getting a job, saving your marriage): he can't cope with admitting that there's a problem, so you're left doing all the work, and then you get the blame if something does go wrong.

Let me guess: you don't get appreciated, either, when things do go right? These are all related.

I lived this dynamic too, or something very similar to it, and it killed my marriage. I know how crazy making it is.

My advice to you:

If you feel like you are being taken advantage of, that's because you are. It's OK to be upset about this and to not want to do way more than your fair share. It's OK to be upset that he blows off your fears and concerns and requests. It's OK to find it unacceptable that your completely capable partner is leaving you twisting in the wind.

You can't make him resolve the issues about emotion and self-regard that underlie this behavior pattern. Odds are very, very good it's connected to low self-regard, shame, and fear. He's intimidated by a situation (doesn't know how to fix it, is afraid he'll fail if he tries, is afraid that you'll criticize him if he tries and you don't like it) and his coping method with these terrifying feeling is denying that there is any problem at all, even if it's staring both of you right in the face.

He's got to do that personal growth work to get out of that mess, himself. You can't do it for him. You can't make him do it. Really and truly, the only thing you can do it take it or leave it.

Leaving it is a legitimate option. I am sure it's not one you want, but I can tell you from experience, if you're doing it all yourself anyway, it is *so* much easier and better to do it without dragging a passive-aggressive, resentful partner along behind you.

I say: put your foot down and demand counseling. Also, two book suggestions for you. My ex and I read many, many books in the long torturous decline of our marriage, and while he claimed to see and understand the relevance to our issues, he froze up and couldn't deal with pretty much most of them. Two books where that was not the case were The Emotionally Unavailable Man by Patty Henry and Love Without Hurt by Steven Stosny. The latter book, and others by the same author, were also hugely helpful to me.

Good luck. It's hard. Feel free to Memail me if you need a sympathetic ear.
posted by Sublimity at 4:51 AM on September 17, 2016 [22 favorites]

You're the wife in this situation, right? I think the difficulty you're facing is the knowledge that if you were the part-time worker, you would be doing all of the housework and chores. You likely wouldn't feel the ability to say, "Laundry's not my favorite thing - you do it." Or "I don't feel like fixing up the house."
You're supporting the household and performing the emotional labor to keep the partnership running. And I bet you resent that. I would! I've experienced degrees of this and I've seen this play out in friends' relationships, and it can be beyond frustrating. I'm thinking of my friend with two very young kids who is the primary wage earner. Her husband recently left his job to be a SAHD. (Spoiler: he's stressed and can't believe how hard it is!) This is a good marriage with hard-working people, but guess who is in charge of most of the housework and all the weekend and evening parenting? Guess who is the one selecting preschools, leaving work to take kids to doctor and getting up at night to soothe kids? That's right, the mom. And I know that's her job too and of course her husband needs a break and time to himself on the weekends. But she's getting discouraged because as we all know, if the gender roles were flipped and she was a SAHM, he would not be doing the "extra" work she does. It's a very difficult balance and made harder because they (and you) don't have a lot of role models or other partnerships to follow. Sorry I'm rambling... but my main perception is I would feel resentful in your shoes, you are over-burdened with the planning and decision making in the relationship. I think you should downsize and one partner shouldn't be able to veto all housing suggestions- particularly if that partner is not helping pay for housing or maintain housing. Not a DTMFA situation at all, but your frustration is well-founded and I hope you can both participate in finding a solution.
posted by areaperson at 6:04 AM on September 17, 2016 [26 favorites]

If you haven't read the Emotional Labor thread, I think you should. And I definitely think you should demand to go to counseling.
posted by cooker girl at 6:05 AM on September 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

What you probably want to look for is parity in free time. So before chores, he has 18 hours of free time (I'm assuming you are out of the house 9 hours a day for work, change this if it's off) more than you do. So you want to split the chores so that it's a more or less even amount of free time. (If he continues to job search, that counts as work/chores.)

But he can dislike doing laundry. Does he do the grocery shopping? Can he prep lunches for you daily? Are there any DIY things he doesn't hate doing? If he wants to stay in a big house that needs DIY, he can't opt out of the DIY; if he doesn't want to do DIY, he can't insist on staying in house that needs it.
posted by jeather at 6:29 AM on September 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

I've always made much less than my husband but contributed to the household proportionate to my income. It has never felt unfair because my 50% contribution is the same level of sacrifice as his. We are tweaking things a little now that we are having a child, or there wouldn't be enough money to go around, but we are both happy with the concept of proportional contribution ---and now that I am not working due to impending baby, I am more willing to pitch in with extra laundry and such.

One thing I haven't seen others in this thread discuss is the choice you have in where to spend your own emotional labour---because you do have a choice. Spending it nagging him to do laundry he doesn't care to do is one choice. Working out a solution to the laundry which doesn't involve him is another. I know many laundromats here charge $5 for wash and fold. I personally would rather pay this $5 than spend time and energy and emotional labour fighting about the clothes. You have to decide what you would rather do.
posted by ficbot at 6:37 AM on September 17, 2016

I guess I feel like the imbalance in salaries and the fact that he won't be able to support us even temporarily if I just can't take my job anymore and even if we drastically downsize makes me feel kind of trapped.

This is the line that really leapt out at me. Have you had a frank conversation with him about your fears? It is really important that both partners feel like they have a bit of a safety net, and he needs to work with you to make sure you both have that sense. Maybe sitting down and making a plan, as a couple, for what you both can do to make sure that safety net is in place might encourage him to look at things differently. It might involve saving money for a move to a smaller place, for example, or having him take responsibility for making a plan and supervising the necessary repairs to the house if he doesn't want to move.

Re the issue of the laundry--which I think is fairly minor, but definitely set my teeth on edge--I think it would be entirely reasonable for you to say "okay, that's off your plate, but I hate being responsible for household repairs, so we trade." Or, he pays for getting it done, maybe by taking it to the fluff and fold. And don't back down on the issue of the extra time, either. All of these things are shared couple resources, and he needs to understand that he doesn't automatically get a bigger portion just because he's the guy.
posted by rpfields at 7:40 AM on September 17, 2016

Of course OP's husband is totally within rights to not like to do laundry. Everybody is totally entitled to like or dislike whatever domestic chores they please.

I think the reason why this specific issue is a particular flash point is because it's one of those domestic jobs that really does need to get done. No one would reasonably argue otherwise. And OP's husband is both declining to do it, and disinclined to problem solve to find ways to get it done, but not by him *or* her. His default is to walk away from the issue entirely and to leave it to his wife, who is already feeling way overburdened. This is their common pattern and it is totally within her rights to not want to handle the problem solving about every issue where he has taken the liberty to disengage.

This approach can arguably be OK about things that are not strictly necessary (fixing the wallpaper, whatever) but it's absolutely shitty to take that tack about jobs that everyone knows must be done.
posted by Sublimity at 7:43 AM on September 17, 2016 [22 favorites]

This is complicated!

I recommend, if you are wary of counseling, to start with two things: one, a financial advisor. Maybe your company has someone on staff who can advise you on budgeting, retirement planning, making the most of tax deductions, etc.. You and your partner need to strive to be on the same page with your financial goals and aspirations. I think downsizing would be great for you guys but you should make that decision with a fuller understanding of your interests, goals and needs.

Two, get a housecleaner. Two times a month for us has literally saved my marriage. I am not kidding. If you can find one, please look for an independent business person and not a large company. But just make this step. These are the two biggest stressors in marriage - domestic chores and financial worries.

Lastly, try to remember that the world is not fair. We can't expect to be equal at all times with our partner. The world is not making it easy for your partner to make the same wage as you. This is only marginally in your control. Accept the money for what it is. Figure out how it supports your common goals. Know that the reward for being the higher earner in a partnership is not free laundry service. Don't make this the sticking point blocking a happy partnership.

Financial advisor. Cleaning service.
posted by amanda at 7:47 AM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sorry if this has already been suggested up thread. I'm not sure what this system is called but I think I read about it in terms of doctor couples?

Anyway, the idea is tha instead of evenly dividing up financial obligations and chores, couples with major discrepancies in income or time off instead "bank" their leisure time so that both individuals get an equal number of hours or days "off."

So although one spouse may end up working longer hours or doing more of the housework, both spouses are guaranteed equivalent time to chill out and relax. If spouse #1 works 40 hours a week and has an hour commute while spouse #2 works 20 hours a week from home and laundry, cooking, cleaning is distributed 50/50, spouse #1 is going to be exhausted. Instead, chores are divied up so that both spouse #1 and #2 get to enjoy say 20 hours a week of chill out time.
posted by forkisbetter at 7:58 AM on September 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

Another approach to the laundry thing is for OP to just handle her own laundry. Do it yourself, send it out, whatever, but don't take on his. Tell him you don't want to burden him with your professional wardrobe maintenance, if it's more labor-intensive than yours, but that you also don't have the bandwidth to do his too.

OP, you are just as much within your rights to say "no" to work, too.
posted by Sublimity at 8:23 AM on September 17, 2016 [15 favorites]

I wanted to add, after reading the thread more thoroughly, that things are definitely in an imbalance. But I've also come to believe that long-term relationships go through phases. You all have entered a new phase and it needs rebalancing. You are going from a period of uncertainty in which many of the "rules" were relaxed and now you're going into more certainty where a new order needs to be established. You can sort through your obligations and make new value judgements on what is working and what isn't. And you can prioritize items that you didn't before or downgrade things that no longer seem as important.

The house is a great example. I'm a person who should have it in my power to DIY if not outright build my own house. But, I know my limits and that of my relationship. It's not a moral failing to change your mind about the "charms" of fixing up a house. You can decide as a unit to be in a new phase with how you want to live and where you want to spend your energy. This can be very positive!!

Also: split up your laundry. That's another thing that happened. Sometimes we do a bit of laundry for the other person but right around the time I hired the housekeeper, I also got two laundry hampers.
posted by amanda at 8:50 AM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I suggest you two both do a time log, really detailed, for two weeks. This will be a pain. But you'll know exactly what you both do and you'll have a list of tasks.

Then you can sit down and trade off tasks and figure out what works for you both.

Also, since your job is stressful and his will be fun, don't leave out time you need to decompress and get into a good mental state.

For laundry specifically, I have a really good system where I do one load every night on a schedule, even if the bin isn't full, so it never seems like an unmanageable task. There are definitely ways you can change things up so that it's not so onerous.
posted by betsybetsy at 8:53 AM on September 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

As the houseperson in the marriage that has more time at home & does the house management jobs I hate doing laundry too, & cleaning & cooking but I do it because for the days a week I dont' work I consider that my job. I bring in money by saving us money. I cook so we don't eat out, I clean so we don't pay for a cleaner I do DIY projects to increase/maintain the equity in our house all of these are ways to help the bottom line. Your husband needs to start looking at these things that way. He could save you $1000's of dollars a year buy doing these things.

Also on the off chance you don't do it. Respect the work he does at home. I get the feeling you do but it's easy to accidentally show disrespect for it without realizing.

Also he should totally take the job, counter intuitively it is so much easier to find a job if you're already employed.
posted by wwax at 9:28 AM on September 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is one of those threads that I wish we could see both the answers for the genders as they are (because that might be informing the dynamic) but also the answers for the genders reversed (because it's not necessarily driving things as much as we assume). It's quite possible that the historic pattern of women doing much more of the household chores is holding here, despite the female partner also being the primary earner. But if the genders were reversed, I wonder if we'd be hearing about how endless and around-the-clock household work is, how it can take much more time than is obvious, how underappreciated and demoralizing unpaid labor can be, and so on -- perspectives that might also be valuable. OP, I'm not trying to make assumptions about you or your husband (eg., I'm not saying you expect him to work around the clock on cooking and cleaning). I just want to gently push back on the assumption that the husband is an entitled man who expects his wife to do everything because #sexism and #patriarchy. I mean, maybe! Those things are totally real, of course. But maybe not. I kinda feel like the question would've been written differently if the main issue was "he's not looking for a job and leaves all the chores to me." And anyway, validating that "the husband needs to step up!!!" is only semi-useful -- the question there would be about how to proceed given that he's declined the first request that he do so (and given that the OP sounds generally happy in the relationship aside from this set of issues).

It seems like there's something else going on here, about having inadvertently, through nobody's fault, ended up in a household structure that the OP didn't choose and doesn't want. This job offer has led to some unsatisfactory chore negotiations but maybe also raised the concern that it's not a temporary emergency but the new normal. A few things arise from that -- resenting the husband for ways in which he's not helping to mitigate that (doing laundry, agreeing to move). It's also partly maybe leading to some self-blame(?), leading to the exculpatory realization that she's always the one trying to make improvements so also the one who always stands to take the blame. My thinking is, could the conversation get back to the root issue, that OP really doesn't want the household structure they find themselves in. Her job is stressful and she doesn't know how long she can take it but feels trapped. She'd like the freedom to quit or cut back to part time, or at least the piece of mind to know she could if she needed to. That's the real problem to be solved. It's not clear if the husband is satisfied with the current arrangement; he's certainly excited about the new job. Given how unhappy OP is, it's natural that this situation, and maybe his sudden happiness about the job offer, would lead to resentment. But that's a bummer because then rather than being on the same side saying "ageism sucks, this economy sucks, this isn't what we planned or wanted," OP and her husband are ending up on opposite sides. I wonder if there's a way to get back on the same team trying to solve the same problem. It would be interesting to hear what his thoughts are on the household structure -- is he happy being a semi SAH partner? does he want to keep doing that long-term, or does he see this job as a stepping stone? does he understand how unhappy / trapped / pressured / overwhelmed OP is? Once he understands, what are his thoughts on what they could do to fix it?

Maybe the conversation to have is along the lines of, "I'm happy for you, but I'm sorry to admit that seeing you so happy brings to the surface how unhappy I am. My job is fine for now but so stressful that I don't know how long I can keep working. I didn't really want to end up as the primary earner. I know you didn't want to end up going through unemployment likline you have, and I'm not blaming you; it's unfair that you're not getting called back!; I'm just saying I'm really unhappy. I'm happy for you, but I also worry that maybe you'll feel content staying in the current arrangement. I'm not; I really would love to know that, in let's say two years, I could take six months off and then shift to a lower stress, lower paying job. Can we work together to figure out how this can happen? And in the meantime, I'd love to equalize how much free time we both have by rebalancing household work in some way." And then maybe he'll react defensively because being unemployed / underemployed really sucks, and it would be hard to hear this without feeling bad. So it might take a few reminders that, no, for instance, downsizing and saving a lot of money would be another way to achieve the goal.

One last thing, OP. This problem solving nature of yours? He might never match it, if that's not who he is. Some people don't have the knack for saying "what if we rearranged our lives THIS way?" It might take a few conversations for him to come to share your goal of at least being able to quit your job (should you need to), and he might never be the one with brilliant, life-transforming ideas for doing it. But hopefully, he'll at least stop blocking and start supporting some of the ideas that you have.
posted by salvia at 12:39 PM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yes, he should take the job because having a few days off during the work week allows him to continue searching for a better job, while allowing him to build a network in his new city. I think this job, as little as it pays, will be important for moving him toward the next, better thing.

But absolutely, if he's not spending those off days job hunting, he needs to be at least running errands for the household, taking your cars to be serviced, keeping track of your budget and retirement accounts... something that he's good at that contributes to your household that you will feel better knowing it's taken care of. Your work stress is a real thing and he needs to understand that you just don't have the bandwidth to deal with everything on your own.
posted by Pearl928 at 1:48 PM on September 17, 2016

If the goal is to get him back to full-time employment, he should definitely take the part-time job. Any form of employment dramatically improves his chance of getting another job. You have real issues to work out regarding the division of household labor and what house work needs doing and your dissatisfaction with your job and several other things, but none of those will be made better by keeping him unemployed longer.

A lot of what happens on AskMeFi is people start projecting their own expectations and values onto your situation. This is useful when they give you new perspectives and kind of infuriating when they're completely and often unflatteringly wrong. So here's my take, and I give you permission in advance to decide whether it has any relevance to your situation.

I suspect the situation has moved beyond simple logistics to the weirder and less tractable realm of feelings and social norms and motivation. Even if the final outcome is for him to wash the silly clothes (which I personally think he should), it may be easier to get there by first acknowledging the stresses of his new situation, and asking him to acknowledge the stresses of yours.

From his end, he has advanced his wife's career at the cost of becoming himself unemployed for a significant period. If he's in his forties already, it's possible he will never equal your wages, or even his previous wages. And he is now effectively a househusband, which is not a role mainstream society admires. I know you say this is not a DTMFA question, but no-fault divorce is probably available to you, so I hope you realize how much he has made himself dependent on your affection.

From your end, it sounds like you are feeling the stress of being almost solely responsible for your household's financial future. You feel trapped because you are trapped. This is the lot of many men [1], but that doesn't make it less horrible. It only means your husband may have forgotten how horrible it feels. (If he ever knew, given your previously similar wages.)

[1] My father, after working sixteen-hour shifts five or six days a week for the preceding thirty years, once told me, "Try to marry a woman who makes as much as you. Don't let yourself become the primary breadwinner. It's stressful."

I don't mean to sound like I'm advocating for a return to more traditional gender roles. I do suspect, though, that you have both internalized those roles to some degree, and are feeling out of sorts because you have suddenly and dramatically deviated from them. It may help to acknowledge that.
posted by d. z. wang at 2:15 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nth that he's lost out as a result of your career gain, and should take this job. Also nth everyone doing their own laundry. (Maybe there's a way to make it a less loathsome chore? Maybe by getting a small dual washer-dryer, top-loading, and putting it in or near a bathroom, hamper right there too?)

If he's pulling his weight in most other respects wrt domestic labour, really, he needs to keep those free days of the week for career stuff, to maximize his value to employers (if he intends to get full time work down the road) - via further training, freelancing, volunteering, whatever. (Because he did lose some capital here.) That's work, too. And it's emotionally draining, so I think he's owed a bit of slack, as far as that goes.

The only other thing I want to add is that in my opinion (fwiw), your husband is being unreasonable about the house. I don't know how you'd go about convincing him, but it's clearly wiser, imo, to get something you can pay off sooner than later, while lowering your fixed monthly costs. *Especially* if neither of you is DIY inclined, and you don't intend to flip it. And *especially* if it's just too much house for you both to clean, never mind maintain... Sounds like you're really condo people, and there's nothing wrong with that. (But yeah, convincing him of that, idk. Unfair to just insist on it because of your greater earning power. I guess pro advice on that might help.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:08 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Until relatively recently, I was in a similar position to your husband. I gave up a well-paying job and followed my wife to a new city so she could pursue her career, and I was either unemployed or underemployed for many years that followed.

"I will give up my job and move for the sake of your career" is a big sacrifice. "I will give up my job and move for the sake of your career and then I will do all the laundry and home repair and housework and cooking in our relationship" is a bigger sacrifice, not an equivalent one. It is possible to agree to the first sacrifice without agreeing to the second. Indeed, it's possible he would not have agreed at all if he thought he was agreeing to the second one.

If, moving forward, he is going to have more free time than you but he expects you to do 60% of the housework, of course that's objectively unfair. But it sounds like what is happening is this: up to now, your husband has been doing 75% of the housework. He is going to have less free time, so he wants to only do 60% of the housework. That is, he wants to cut back on housework and fun leisure activities in the same proportion.

However, from your point of view, even though he will have fewer free hours in the day, he will still have time to fit in that 75%, and you don't want to have to increase the 25% you are already doing. You want him to keep up the same level of housework and to cut back on the fun leisure activities, because after all, he'll still have more fun leisure than you do.

This is a much more complicated situation. I don't think there's an objectively right answer, and you both have my complete sympathy. I'd encourage you both to recognize that you've each had the rug pulled out from under you.

He thought made a deal to sacrifice a specific job, and then it turned out that he was actually sacrificing his entire future career. Meanwhile, you thought you were making a deal to take a new job, and it turned you were taking on a (possibly life-long) role as main family provider.

And now, on top of these deals that the universe forcibly renegotiated on you, the two of you are trying to renegotiate a whole new deal. It will be hard for both of you, and it's not fair for either of you to assume the other must stay in the role the universe has forced you into.

On a smaller day-to-day level, be as honest with yourself as you can be about whether the household chores you think are necessary are truly necessary. Reading between the lines a bit, what you see as your husband setting you up to take the fall if projects go badly might actually be him just stepping back and letting you do stuff that seems important to you. Like (and this is a deliberately silly example) if he was insistent that it was vital to install a bowling alley in the basement, you might just let him go ahead with it. If it resulted in disaster, you'd be justifiably upset that he burst a pipe doing something unnecessary like installing a bowling alley. And if it worked beautifully and he wanted huge praise for a job well done, you'd probably find it hard to sincerely congratulate him for something that didn't need doing in the first place.

Now, I know from your point of view, fixing peeling wallpaper is a lot more practical than installing a bowling alley. But from his point of view, they both might be equally optional endeavors.

Maybe you could agree to bring in a contractor, home inspector, or other professional to tell you which projects are mandatory to prevent serious problems down the line, and which are optional. And you could both agree in advance that he will try to fix the stuff that is mandatory, while you will try to live with the stuff that isn't.

And you might take the same approach with larger issues. He might be more willing to speak to a financial planner and/or a marriage counselor if you present it as "Let's get a professional opinion on what we need to fix and what we need to live with."
posted by yankeefog at 5:47 AM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thanks, everyone. I feel like I've gotten so much out of this thread and really appreciate all the help (not to mention the very kind compliment on my user name which I had kind of gone off so it was particularly nice to hear!). Anyway, we went for a walk this afternoon and had a really good, honest, and open conversation. We talked about our guilt for each of our contributions to the fact that my husband has lost his career. I reassured him that I don't blame him at all and that I know he has tried everything and works very hard. He also said he would be willing to go to marriage counselling if I really think we need it but he thinks we are handling everything well.

He has said he will continue doing laundry but that if he gets this new job then what he'd really like to do is to try to get extra shifts and if he can do that he might have to let some of the household stuff go. That's totally fine with me and actually would be really great. I think there was a bit of miscommunication over his intentions and we hadn't really been able to have a good talk until today as things just kept getting a bit fraught. Anyway, I feel much better about things.

I told him I'd like more support when I take on DIY projects. He said he feels afraid I will either cause a disaster or ask him to do something that's beyond his abilities. I think he has a lot of guilt for not being able to do DIY because he feels it's something men "should" be able to do, so this conversation got a bit fraught.

As an example of a disaster he said I had thought about trying to open up a wall where the previous owners had sealed up a fireplace and that I might have made a big mess. I told him that first of all, I had decided not to look behind the wall panel and just papered over it. But also that I felt a bit trapped by his fear. If I wanted to look behind a wall panel I should be able to do so without it being a big, huge, deal. I asked him to try to be a bit more brave about things, and pointed out that he has lived his life being cautious while I have lived mine taking risks and we have both ended up in the exact same place so we might as well live a little. He said he will try, which is all I can ask, really.
posted by hazyjane at 7:34 AM on September 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

And yes, I'm very conscious of the fact that for a cautious person to give up his career and move with me is an even bigger deal than if a more reckless person did it. I really do appreciate him and think he's doing great. I suppose it's much easier to see that on a lazy Sunday afternoon than on a Friday evening after a stressful work week which is when I posted the question. So I think I mostly just need to figure out a way of managing my work stress levels without taking it out on him.
posted by hazyjane at 8:13 AM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I skipped most of the comments (although I did read your updates). It sounds like you guys are on the right path of trying to have good communication. That's a wonderful thing.

This internet stranger's comment is that your marriage and your individual mental health would be better served by spending $100/week or every other week on some household help. It's just not worth fighting over laundry, and domestic help is cheaper than therapy (plus it subtracts from your time commitments, rather than adding to it). In our house, I am super picky about cleaning so I don't have cleaning help, but we hired someone to cook for us once a week (multiple portions) so we always have fresh home-cooked food in the house, and it's been a god send all around. There are tons of people looking for work and we have found many people offering reasonably-priced help on Craigslist.
posted by vignettist at 1:43 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have never met someone who regretted going to marriage counseling and taking it seriously. Even people who are in relatively happy marriages.

What marriage counseling really brings out is that we each have expectations, often from our family of origin, often unspoken, about What Marriage Is, and these expectation mismatch moments can cause real difficulties.

Go to counseling. It is well worth it.
posted by corb at 2:29 PM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm going to go against every thing (or most things written here.)
IF THEIR'S A WILL, there is a way.
tl/dr: 'husband' steps up or he does NOT.

boring long story: both of us had engr degrees both earned ~$60k US [some years ago.] the way we could be together was for me to go there. in dread and loathing i did. i'm female.

couldn't get a job, there was NOTHING in the drop-dust town~~minimum wage?? tried, nope, at minimum wage=nope. and og i tried.
I did House-husband job for 2 years: all vehicles hand-washed, grass cut, garden flurshed+weeded, bought 3rd hand furniture and refinished it--Lunch for him? Packed. Dinner: on the plate. Washing+drying, dusting+vacuuming? DON'T ASK it was done.

~~~while I go for my 2nd engr degree (at a school far away, i slept in my car.)
then I walked, clear and free.
There's no reason for your husband or you to stay in this marriage~~CHOICE ALONE ~~
SO MAKE HIM OWE (i can't think of the word in English--it's when you're owed) up to you OR HIS CHOICE walk. --> making it his choice is easier in the end.
if he doesn't walk (and as you say) you don't walk --> consule.
posted by Twist at 8:47 PM on September 18, 2016

If you have to do laundry, don't do his laundry.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:07 AM on September 19, 2016

Update - he didn't get the 15k job. This is getting ridiculous! I feel so bad for him and can't understand why no one seems to want to hire him when he's so personable, skilled, and motivated. Well, hopefully something better will come along soon which would allow us to bring in some housekeeping help for a couple of hours a fortnight. Because by the time he does get a job, which has to happen eventually, I can imagine he'll never want to see another pile of laundry again!
posted by hazyjane at 10:20 PM on September 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Feedback was that he performed very well in interview but they decided to give the job to someone who was already doing it as a volunteer. Ffs, why waste other people's time interviewing them if you already know who you're going to give the job to? This sort of thing happens a lot and the feedback he gets is always uniformly positive which gives him nothing to work on. Grrrrrrr!
posted by hazyjane at 10:23 PM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Glad you guys have worked out your interpersonal stress. Sorry he didn't get the job! (Random thought: You might have someone pretend to be a potential employer and call his references, if he often gets to the final stage of the process and then receives vague or nonsensical reasons for not hiring him.)
posted by salvia at 9:35 PM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

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