Unemployed husband feels like a failure


September 10, 1995|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"Jack promised that if I agreed to have a baby, he'd find a job and stick with it," grumbles Audrey, a 25-year-old secretary. "Well, I'm three months pregnant -- and he's still unemployed."

Audrey met Jack when they both worked for an insurance company. She had no intention of getting involved with anyone, but when Jack dropped a heart-shaped invitation to dinner on her desk, how could she say no? "That first night, I realized he was gentle and shy and a very talented musician. But piano players don't make very much money, even if they can find a job," Audrey complains.

Soon after their wedding last year, Jack lost his job in a company-wide cutback, "and he's made little effort to find a new one," Audrey reports. "I came home the other day to find him lying on the unmade bed, the stereo blasting, and the breakfast dishes still piled in the sink."

Audrey is worried sick about the future and cannot fathom why Jack doesn't understand the seriousness of their plight. "Jack likes to think of himself as a creative free spirit, but I can't support myself and a baby, and I have no intention of supporting my baby's father," she states firmly. "Why can't Jack act like a man?"

Twenty-six-year-old Jack is acutely aware that he's a bitter disappointment to the one person he cares most about. "She has every right to be furious, though I wish she'd express her feelings a little more tactfully," he says with a shrug. "I'm not a bum, and I'm just as upset with myself as she is with me." In fact, Jack admits, he's felt like a failure for most of his life.

Lost in the shuffle of a large family, Jack hasn't felt competent since he was 13, the year he won a citywide music competition. "My parents were unbelievably proud of me," he recalls. But when he failed to even place in the competition the next year, "I realized my parents didn't love me for myself; they loved me because I played piano well." From then on, he found it hard to focus.

Jack wants to be there for Audrey, but he can barely get a sense of who he is, let alone figure out his role in the marriage.

A problem for both

"Jack is floundering, and Audrey is understandably frantic," notes Mark Snowman, a child and family therapist in New York. When one partner has a problem as deep-seated as Jack's, it soon becomes the marriage's problem, and it can be difficult for a spouse to be supportive and clearheaded.

If this is happening in your marriage, you need to explore ways to help your spouse help himself. The following points can help you defuse a partner's fears and motivate him to seek professional counseling:

* Don't ignore the problem. As soon as you notice a pattern in your marriage that significantly disturbs you, address it. If you allow a problem to go on too long, you, like Audrey, will become so angry and resentful you won't be able to see the real issues either.

* Start by explaining how you see the problem and how you feel about it. A partner may genuinely not understand how his behavior is affecting you. Don't be accusatory or shaming, but do be specific. Pick a time for discussion when you are feeling confident and strong yourself, so your message will get through.

* Be empathetic. People like Jack have a long history of feeling devalued and misunderstood. It helped Jack when Audrey stated simply and lovingly that she understands how he feels.

* Seek counseling yourself. This will show your partner that you are truly committed to the marriage as well as give you a safe place to express your angry and frustrated feelings.

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