Respect for a Husband Who Doesn't Work
Q: You talk about the husband’s need to provide for his family and that showing appreciation for this desire is one way a wife can show respect. But my husband has not worked for several years, which has put me in the position of primary provider. I have a good job so he seems content to be the parent who stays home with the kids. I am finding myself becoming resentful because he isn’t even trying to find a job anymore. How can I respect him in this situation?
Dr. E says: It’s easy to assume the difficulty is with the role reversal when in reality who brings home the money is not really the issue. While I don’t know all the details that led up to your situation, I’m quite sure the real issue is different than it appears.
What is the Real Issue?
Let me share a few stories that illustrate what is likely going on.
My dad lost his job in his early 50’s. At that juncture my mom provided the primary income. That arrangement strained the marriage not because mom earned more but because dad felt disrespected when mom would unthinkingly comment about having to earn the money, or she’d spend money independently of dad’s knowledge.
And mom felt unloved when dad did not express appreciation for all her work or would explode in anger when she appeared too independent.
Failure to Apply Love and Respect
Interestingly, mom and dad erroneously thought the reversal of the traditional role of man-as-primary-provider caused the marital conflict. No, a failure to apply love and respect in the face of that reversed traditional role triggered the arguments.
A bedridden husband can love his working wife and a working wife can respect her bedridden husband, and the two of them can experience deep marital satisfaction.
The Cause of Marital Tension
What ignites marital tension is when a husband feels disrespected for earning less (or staying at home with the kids) and a wife feels unloved and unappreciated for earning more (or working hard at her job all day).
Listen to this wife who missed her husband’s need to feel respected while she generated the primary income.
The Main Ingredient
"I realize that...the real issue with where it started to collapse was in my lack of respect for him. I never imagined that's what I was doing, because if you asked me, I had great regard for my husband. However, we had a paradigm shift that occurred that left me the bread winner and him the stay at home dad...All this time my husband has been crying out for respect and didn't know how to articulate it and even if he did, I'm not sure I could have heard it or interpreted it before now.
I now realize it is the one ingredient I have been missing all along.
The funny part is, no one would have ever guessed this about me including myself. You see, I have known the women you quote in your book and their tone and words offend even me. I have never been that woman and never will be…but I didn't understand his need to provide and feel worth from his job as men obviously do. I could never relate or even hear what he was saying because my job is what I do, not who I am, and I honestly have no real pride because of it. It's a gift and talent and a way to provide for my family and that's where we got so much wrong.”
Extend Grace and Mercy
Why did she miss her husband’s heart? With this wife, her self-image did not rest on her employment. She defined herself in terms of her own person, her marriage and her children, even with an impressive career.
Consequently, when she commented to her husband about this role reversal concerning income, however innocent and infrequent her comments, her words dropped like an atomic bomb on her husband even though he never said anything.
This is comparable to a husband making innocent complaints about his wife’s neglect of the children because of her career thereby flattening her emotional landscape. It doesn’t take much to verbally kick a person in the core of their being.
Let’s extend grace and mercy to one another.
Remember, God created Adam in Paradise to cultivate and maintain the Garden, and this before God created Eve. In other words, God designed Adam to work.
Your husband may appear to be content not searching for a job, but his feelings likely go deeper than that. Most men define themselves in terms of their employment. When two men meet for the first time they ask, "What do you do?"
Though a husband’s identity should not solely rest on his work any more than a mother should define herself in terms of the children, a husband leans in that direction as does a mother.
Don’t assume that because your husband appears indifferent, he isn’t feeling some inadequacies. It’s safe to assume there is more behind this than laziness or indifference. Can you be the more mature person in this situation and offer him grace? As you do, he may open up to you about his deeper feelings.
Desire vs Performance
Focus your comments more on your appreciation for all he does at home to care for your children when you are away. Pay closer attention to his character qualities that first attracted you to him. Unconditional respect is more about appreciating a man for who he is, not for what he does. And, it’s more about respecting his desires not his performance (see C.H.A.I.R.S: How to Show Respect to a Husband in Love & Respect).
Here’s the good news: If you both practice respect and love no matter what your circumstances are, you can have a satisfying marriage.
That’s the deepest issue – love and respect - and my mom and dad missed that for too many years.