As my former women's studies professors might say, let's talk about the gender division of labor ..
Q: I have been with my partner for 15 years now. We are heterosexual, both in our 50s and my issue is that he is no longer an equal partner in pretty much any facet of our relationship. We owned a business together, which failed recently. I have a thriving consulting practice. He has a work-from-home gig but he’s doing nothing to promote it. He isn't seeking work and he has almost no income. I have been our main support for our entire relationship but now that he is home all the time, I find I resent that he isn't either looking for work or helping around the house. My practice involves 60+ hours per week, also working from home, and I am somehow still responsible for all household chores, grocery shopping, etc. I am paying for everything (have ALWAYS paid for everything), doing all household chores, and I'm getting tired of it. I have known him for most of my life and he is great, but this lack of support is getting to me. I have tried gently to ask for more help but he resents the implication. I know of several other couples in our acquaintance where the woman is the breadwinner and they all seem to have worked out some sharing of duties. Is anyone else in this boat and can you give me some advice? I want to stay with him forever so I am hoping for guidance, not just a blanket "dump him" response.
-- Unequal Partner, Newburyport
A: UP, it seems to me that you don’t mind being the primary breadwinner – you’re just irritated about your partner’s lack of motivation. It sounds like you’d feel better about him if he tried in some area of his life -- at work or at home.
I have to wonder if his apathy is tied to depression. This economy makes people feel hopeless, out of control of their own destines. It’s hard enough coping with the failure of a business. I bet he’s pretty miserable.
You may want to tell him you’re concerned about him. You may also want to tell him that depression is just about the only legitimate excuse for his behavior. Many unemployed folks have stopped looking for jobs, just because things are so bad out there. But I guarantee those people aren't stomping their feet about doing the dishes.
He may resent the implication, but you resent his behavior. I know you don’t want to ask tough questions, but I think it’s time. My guess is that he doesn’t know how bad you’re feeling about all this. And perhaps he's too proud to admit that you're bringing home the bacon and asking, politely, that he fry said bacon and then clean the pan.
I think he’d rather do chores and step up the job search than lose you. As long as you’re empathetic, you have every right to talk openly about how you’re feeling.
Readers? UP doesn’t want to be told to dump this guy. Give her some thoughtful, grown-up advice – she’s a grown-up, after all. Share here. Submit a letter to the right.