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22 July 2012

Husband Sets Boundaries with Slacker Wife and Tells Her to Grow Up and Get a Job

Last week, the Shrink4Men Forum welcomed a group of new members, which happens every week. This article focuses on the recent stellar boundary setting of one of the Forum’s newest members.

Let’s call this gentleman “Earl.” Earl joined the Forum primarily because his wife has been spending their family into debt. Additionally, she has been chronically underemployed or unemployed by her own choice for the majority of their 15-year marriage.

Naturally, Earl’s wife had a career when they first met, which is one of the qualities that attracted him to her. She was a single, working mom with a child from a previous relationship and he admired her gumption and work ethic. After they tied the knot, her career began to crater.

My suspicion is that she made herself out to be more successful than she was during their courtship and the truth about her career came out after the marriage. Alternately, perhaps with her new financial safety net (i.e., husband), she let her career tank because she never really wanted to work in the first place.

According to Earl, his wife spends money as fast as he makes it, which puts enormous stress on him. Her expectation is that Earl should find new ways to make money to keep up with her spending habits and lack of gainful employment. Sound familiar?

For the last few years, Earl has pleaded with her to go back to work. He has told her they only need an additional $20,000/year to cover their bills, cover her spending and save for retirement. His pleas have been met with the usual excuses: “I can’t find anything I’m qualified for that I like. No employer will pay me what I’m worth. I’ll be miserable at the jobs available to me. I want to pursue my dream of starting my own highly niche craft business.

To punish Earl for having the reasonable expectation that she contribute to the family finances, she has been acting out passive aggressively. For example, she tries to ruin scheduled family events by making them late because “she has to stay home and work.” The implication being if Earl wasn’t “forcing” her to work (i.e., be a grown-up), everything would be peachy keen. Most recently, Earl’s wife made them 2.5 hours late for an elderly dying family member’s birthday party.

Up until joining the Shrink4Men Forum, Earl has been going along with this, waiting on her and feeling more and more trapped. My advice to Earl regarding his wife’s passive-aggressive lateness is as follows:

Leave without her and let her get mad. If she wants to be passive-aggressive, let her do it all by her lonesome.

I suspect it should only take 2 or 3 times for her to figure out her games are no longer going to cut any ice with you. She’ll probably get mad and portray you as the jerk, but at least you’ll be a punctual “jerk.”

This isn’t the only advice Earl received on the Shrink4Men Forum.

Earl states that he would prefer not to get divorced, however, he is tired of enabling his wife’s irresponsible spending, entitlement and expectation that he pay her way through life. He is tired of sacrificing his happiness and well-being to her sense of entitlement. He thought he was marrying an equal partner, not a dependent.

A long-time forum member, Jham, suggested that Earl follow his example. Over a year ago, Jham finally had enough of his wife’s similar behavior and cut her off from the joint finances and credit cards. He essentially gave her an allowance to cover groceries, the monthly bills and that’s it. Jham told his wife if she wanted more money to pay for all of her incidentals and frivolities, she would need to get a job.

Recently, Jham discovered his wife was padding their monthly bills in order to skim money off the top, so he took those over as well, leaving her with less pocket money per month. By the way, who embezzles money from their own family? Wow!

Jham quit paying for his wife’s car insurance, upkeep, parking violations and cell phone bill. He figured she’s been angry and full of contempt for him and unappreciative of everything he’s done to support their family for the last 20 years, so what’s the worst that could happen? She’ll be more contemptuous, ungrateful and angry? She’ll file for divorce?

Let me be very clear. What Jham is practicing is not financial abuse. What Jham’s wife and Earl’s wife are doing to their husbands is financial abuse. They are spending their husbands and families into debt without contributing anything to the financial welfare and security of their families. They are also unfairly placing the entire financial burden on their husbands.

These women are essentially overgrown children who have been running amok with “daddy’s” credit card. Earl and Jham do not want to control their wives via the family finances; they want their wives to contribute to the family finances. This is a reasonable expectation; it is their wives who are being unreasonable.

Over a year later, Jham’s wife finally figured out the money tree was not going to magically sprout new bills ever again and guess who just started a paying job 2 weeks ago? Sure, she’s resentful as hell about it, but welcome to the world of grown-up realities.

Earl took Jham’s advice and ran with it in record time. Earl has given me his permission to share what transpired just over this past weekend. Here’s what happened:

I went home from work last Friday like I always do. Wife was going crazy because she was really behind on an order she’s been procrastinating about for 2 weeks. I talked to her several times during the last 2 weeks about getting started on the order instead of waiting until the last minute and that she should get her work done first and then play on Facebook. She would not listen and would only argue and fight that she knew what she was doing and I should get off her back.

I told her that I always want to enjoy my weekend, and if she is going to work all weekend, then I would enjoy it by myself.

Since she was busy, I did not pause or wait for her (took away her control) and I went and had a great time by myself. Got home by 10pm (I am up early) and went to bed while she was still working.

Should have known Crazy could not let that go.

At 3am, when our daughter got home, she went into my wife’s office and started talking loudly about what a fun night she had. Since they were standing 5-6 feet from my head with the door open, they woke me right away. I try really hard to never say anything in anger, so I let it go until the morning and got up about 15 minutes after my wife finally came to bed.

I started my day. Went to work out, worked on a few small items at work, set up our church for service the next day, had breakfast with a friend and came home and paid all of our bills by 9:30am. Feeling good about how much I had already accomplished for the day, I woke my wife and daughter up (they were not happy to be woken up “so early”) and established clear boundaries. I said:

For 15 years I have worked exceptionally hard to put your happiness and well-being before my own. Today that changes. I am not putting myself before you, but I am now putting myself equal to you. For 15 years I have financed and supported you while you have chased one dream after another without ever truly financially supporting yourself, your daughter, or this family. This ends now. You are welcome to chase your dreams, but like everyone else on the planet, if your dreams will not support you, then you better get a job.

‘We have mixed our finances together since the day we got married. Today that ends. From here on out, we are separating our finances. You will use the money you make to cover our food budget, gas for your car, your medical co-pays and any personal expenses you may have in a given month. In September, you will take over the cable bill. In December, you will take over the energy bill, and in March, you will take over the cell phone bill. This is exactly 1/4 of the bills that we pay every month. You will need to either make your business work very fast, or get a job.’

‘If you have to work on weekends, that is fine, but that is my time to relax and enjoy life. I will be doing so. Preferably with you, but if not, I will do it without you. Life is too short for me to watch it pass by while you work in your office at night because you spent all day on Facebook.’

After that she cried a bit about not knowing how she was going to get a job because she ‘tried that already’ or ‘no one will hire me for what you want me to make.’ I calmly explained to her that all I’m asking her to do is get a $12/hour job. She has already had 4 jobs like that over the last 4 years that she has quit. I am no longer going to be the one that is punished because she does not go to work. It was her decision to quit those 4 jobs.

I pointed out that most adults who do not work, do not eat. This seemed to upset her. I let her anger be the sign that she was tipping out of control and used that as a weakness. I then related a Bible parable about a man stealing from his employer instead of working, which resulted in him being kicked out of his employer’s home. I told her I do not want it to come to that, but if she continues to not produce, she can be kicked out, too.

This really shocked her. She was incredibly docile all weekend.

I am going to keep this up until she gets and keeps a job, or until she leaves. I hope she does not leave, but I am no longer paying for her to stay with my happiness.

Bring the crazy. I am prepared.


Bravo to both Jham for leading the way and Earl for having the courage to take a stand for his happiness and well-being.

However, I suspect Earl will experience some blow back in the form of more passive-aggression, bargaining, manipulating, rationalizing, threats, resentment, hostile dependence, accusations of being cruel and abusive and perhaps even threats to divorce. He seems to have made his peace with the possible repercussions.

Fellas, boundaries are good. Natural consequences for bad and/or irresponsible behaviors are good. Your wife will be angry and resentful, but aren’t you already getting a regular serving of that because of her hostile dependence?

You have a right to be happy. You have a right to enjoy the fruits of your labor and to be able to save for your retirement. You have a right to a partner who pulls her own weight in the relationship, emotionally and financially.

When your wife spends $300 on a purse she doesn’t need without batting an eye it’s probably because she doesn’t get (or doesn’t care) how many hours you have to work at a job you probably don’t like for her to be able to buy that bag that ends up in the back of her closet never to be used. If she had to work 20 hours for a jerky boss and crabby customers to earn $300, she probably wouldn’t spend money so freely. This is why many parents make their kids get paper routes and after-school/summer jobs; to learn the value of a buck.

Your wife may never let go of her entitlement and unreasonable financial expectations, but that doesn’t mean you have to continue to let her financially abuse you.

Don’t try this at home unless . . .

To many of you reading this, what Jham and Earl are doing probably seems like a nuclear option. It might be, depending upon your individual circumstances. The simple fact of the matter is your wife or girlfriend is unlikely to ever change (if that is even possible) unless she experiences negative consequences for her current behaviors and attitudes.

Many women will just divorce you if you quit subsidizing their spending without working because they know they will, at the very least, get half of your assets in a divorce. Therefore, do not attempt this unless:

1. You have made your peace with the possibility of divorce.

2. You have figured out the cost-effectiveness of divorce and potential spousal support and child support costs vs. continuing to subsidize her permanent summer vaca stay-at-home lifestyle.

3. You have clearly figured out a working budget, reasonable expectations for her contribution to it, an equitable division of household bills, and reasonable deadlines for her to obtain a job, etc.

4. You are prepared to deal with any resulting temper tantrums, silent treatment, withdrawal of affection, elective martyrdom, self-sabotage and self-defeating attitudes, bargaining, pouting, etc.

5. You are prepared to stick with your boundary 100%. Any softening in expectations, backpedaling, caving and weakening of boundaries and consequences will undermine your credibility. Your wife will not take you seriously ever again and it’s all downhill from there.

Do not do this if . . .

1. Your wife is physically violent.

2. Your wife has threatened to make false allegations against you to the police.

Although, if your wife is violent and/or threatening to get you arrested, what the heck are you still doing with her? Her gainful employment or lack thereof is the least of your worries.

This advice may not be suitable for you. The point is the importance of boundaries in achieving peace of mind and happiness. Your wife or girlfriend may or may not respect your boundaries once you decide to implement them. If this is the case, you will need to provide a natural consequence, whatever that may be.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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