By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach
Right now you know someone, probably a woman working two jobs, (not counting parenting children and running a household), who is trying to make their marriage work and they are in it alone. It may be a co-worker, a sister, a neighbor or friend at church, but you know this person, and since it’s most likely a woman let’s consider it from her point of view because she is in a tough place. So while you may see her smiling on the outside talking about her love for her man, here’s what may be going on inside that house when you aren’t there to see it.
She’s hurting more now than she ever has before. Why? Because Marriage was never meant to be done alone. So why do these women keep working without help to make their marriage work? A couple of reasons. Obviously they really love the guy on the couch who just can’t or won’t keep a job or step up to lead his family. This causes another major problem, because she doesn’t want her children to suffer or do without the basics, like new shoes, school supplies or playing little league. And so she does the only thing she can think of doing – she works, and works and then she works some more. Work is all she can think of doing because an average family needs 60-80 hours of income to take care of their home budget, which means that both parents are working 30-40 hours per week, or one person is working two jobs just trying to keep their family afloat… and that one person is exhausted.
Obviously not every man is a sitting on the couch watching sports while his wife is cooking, cleaning and trying to pay the bills, but tragically there are a lot who do and leave their wife to be the responsible one. In fact, many men are highly motivated and disciplined and go out to find something to do to support his family during tough times so his wife isn’t trying to make it work alone. He realizes that a woman draws emotional strength from knowing her husband will provide for her and the kids. She has the confidence that he will be there for her. This article isn’t about guys who dig in during tough times to live out the words of their wedding vows to be there, ‘in sickness and in health, for richer- for poorer’, no this article is about a very different kind of marriage, and one that gets much worse as time goes by. Let’s start by looking at the major problems this exhausted woman faces, and tragically, she faces these challenges alone.
Lazy men or just Losers?
What’s up with the guy on the couch who isn’t providing enough income to meet the needs of his family or who demands that his wife cook, clean, care for the cars and lawn while they play video games- what makes guys like this act like irresponsible teenagers? Well, face it – some guys are just lazy- they grew up without any self-discipline, or self-respect and they just won’t keep gainful employment or if they do work, they aren’t disciplined to budget their money to benefit the family. They need to take a Dave Ramsey financial management course, but probably won’t since they believe their money belongs to them, not their family. Remember the phrase, “Selfish is – as Selfish does.”
Their mother’s didn’t do them any favors since some guys never grow up, and just decide to marry someone to take over where their mother left off… they expect hot meals, clean clothes, healthy children, the bills to be paid and someone to function as an attractive personal assistant- but they refuse to give back to the relationship. This type of marriage isn’t a partnership at all, it’s sort of like the medieval system of a master and peasant, and the woman is basically expected to be a slave to meet his every need. It’s 100% about him- and 0% for her. That is not God’s plan, but sadly it is common in culture.
Then there is another group of unmotivated men, simply put, they have given up on life, and most see them as ‘losers’. They may have failed in their education, or failed in their career aspirations, and have just given up on finding a good job to meet the needs of their family. Some guys in this group will go out to work at a job well below their potential just to avoid feeling like a failure again, which is better than nothing, yet eventually the bills will overshadow the gap in their income, leading to another major financial failure if they don’t change. Crushed self image can lead to just walking away from responsibility in life. While it helps to see the psychological root factors, it doesn’t change that it leaves a woman exhausted and empty from trying to make her marriage work alone.
Often women want to make excuses for their husbands continual failures, or blame it on his low self-esteem, but there comes a time in life where a man has to step up to the plate to become a responsible man, which often means him going out to seek some help from others so he doesn’t have to not fail again. However, many times he just keeps repeating the same mistakes, which just dumps more problems onto his wife to fix while he escapes by watching sports on TV or online gambling. He may escape with a beer, or with a newspaper, but the story is always the same. It’s someone else’s fault, blame, criticize, cuss or attack… the theme is always about how someone else is the reason they can’t get ahead. You won’t hear them talking about their lack of partnership and you won’t see them calling the counselor or pastor for help. Dump it on the wife to fix… and be moody or temperamental so she will be afraid to speak the truth that his behavior is wrong. Remember, bully behavior won’t pay the bills, and it just scares the people that he says he loves the most.
Watch behavior… if there is a marital partnership it will show up. However, if there is one person doing all the work to make the marriage appear ‘normal’, then that will show up too.
It should be noted that sometimes a man is unmotivated because of substance abuse issues. Potheads, alcoholics and porn addicts don’t think about providing for their family, they think about themselves. Sometimes what may look like a motivation problem is actually due to bigger psychological or substance issues, which would take professional intervention, diagnosis and treatment. The problem is that addicts don’t usually seek help until they crash, and if they are enabled by others, they can stay addicted for years while creating terrible pain and hardship for those around them. Kids suffer, women get exhausted and often homes are foreclosed on while everyone ignores the hard reality that addiction doesn’t get better without intervention, in fact, it often gets worse.
Lost boys become Passive Leaders
The next group of unmotivated men aren’t lazy or losers they just never learned which career path to take so they take the first job available. Think of them as “Lost” because they work hard for years, but struggle to get ahead because they don’t have any direction. Basically they haven’t found career coaches, leaders or mentors to guide them in moving up the career ladder. They could step up to become more of a partner if they had some coaching and accountability to change. There are a lot of guys who grew up in crazy dysfunction without any leadership and it’s a bigger group than you would think. Thankfully when these men see a better path they experience rapid results because they step to be the leaders their wives want them to be and it’s fun to watch. They build strong homes and experience peace out of marital partnership. However, if they don’t get some direction these guys may stay stuck and unmotivated for years because they fear seeking out help to discover their career strengths, so they slowly sink financially, while watching other more motivated guys get ahead and have better lives.
An interesting problem is that some guys might actually sabotage any efforts to try and help him because they feels so hyper-sensitive about even discussing how trapped he feels in a dead end job. He may fight against those who reach out with good advice on making some positive career changes to experience the financial freedom to provide for his family in a more stable way. Oddly enough, even though it’s their greatest fear, they can often be so prideful they don’t let anyone come alongside to help them face it with courage; so they stay stuck in a downward career spiral, leaving the growing financial burden and exhaustion on their wife. Their fear of making a career change hurts the people they say they love the most.
Good guys – or unmotivated men in disguise? Some guys may appear to be clean-cut, all-American, likable husbands and fathers who volunteer at church, mow the grass, don’t act mean, hateful or abusive, but they are still married to an exhausted woman because they won’t step up to lead their family. They look like a great guy to the public, or people at church, but they just don’t partner with their wife, which makes everything tougher because God never designed marriage to be a “one person does all the work” kind of relationship. In fact, if a woman is overworking to make up for the areas where her husband is unmotivated to change she will often resent him and the relationship will suffer, or fail.
View a health marriage as a two person bicycle. It works great when both people are pedaling together, but it is EXHAUSTING when one person is trying to pedal twice as fast because the other one won’t do their share of the work.
When should an exhausted woman who feels alone in her marriage speak up?
There is tremendous pressure placed on women to ‘do the right thing’ for her kids, which often is interpreted as being forced to provide the latest and greatest cell phone, elaborate birthday parties and expensive forms of entertainment for their kids. It is not a sign of bad parenting to say ‘no’ to things you cannot afford it’s actually a sign of strength and will help a child learn that you can’t have everything you want. Part of being a responsible adult is learning how to control and manage financial impulses. This takes financial pressure off of both the husband and wife in a marriage, but sadly many couples don’t sit down to work on budgets together, since one person frequently does all the earning while the other does the spending. The lack of partnership in dealing with budgets often bankrupt families. If a woman sees this happening and doesn’t speak up, she will be evicted along with her kids. Better to speak up now, rock the boat a little instead of calling U-Haul and friends to help make a hasty move after the house is foreclosed on.
Silence about the lack of partnership in a marriage can create a downward spiral of bad behavior, especially with spending when moms try to over-compensate for the lack of parenting from their passive husbands, or to cover the guilt she feels from being gone so much of the time trying to make more money to pay the bills. Overspending to make up for the lack of marital partnership often ends up with spoiled children, strained marriages and a pending financial disaster. Silence is the worst approach to take when there is a lack of marital partnership.
Saying “NO” is a lot better than collecting massive debt to create an artificial lifestyle to keep everyone feeling happy for a while. Some women live in continual fear that the credit card lifestyle they secretly use to fill the gap of living with a passive man will one day come crashing down, so they keep their credit spending hidden like an addiction inside, hoping every day that she will make it to the mailbox before her husband discovers her secret… when speaking up would have been a stronger course of action.
Partners talk about issues, good, bad, ugly, they talk about it and often can solve the problem. If you are married to a passive partner at least bring up the problems. But don’t nag, no one listens to critical whining… it’s a waste of breath.
Lack of Partnership? It’s your job to speak now
Mark Twain said, “If the truth hurts- it should.” Women married to passive husbands often don’t want to hear the truth about the love of their life. They would rather live in the illusion of their feelings that he is a “great guy” and that their marriage is “normal” than to look into the mirror and see the truth. They might fiercely defend his lack of employment, his bad luck with bosses, point out how he loves the kids but just doesn’t have time for them because he needs to exercise and be on the church softball team; because once they openly acknowledge that their husband is an unmotivated man, it makes it real, and once it’s real, it means that something has to change.
It’s hard to face this reality, and it’s hard to confront a man they care about, so to avoid the risk of hurting his feelings they just carry the burdens inside and work harder. Another common way women avoid making their husband uncomfortable is by secretly asking their parents for money to make it another month, and grandparents are suckers when it comes to providing for the needs of their daughter and grandkids… so it goes on month after month until someone runs out of cash. No more cash means things eventually will crash and everyone will have to face the truth that was there all along. Marriages can’t work with one person doing all the work.
Finances quickly force things out into the open that might have gone unnoticed when there is more disposable income. Exhausted women feel desperate when they reach the end of their financial rope… without access to lines of equity, retirement accounts or the inability to get a family loan from parents who may already be financially stretched from the tough economy. When she runs out of options a woman has to face a painful reality. Get honest about the problems caused by the lack of partnership in her marriage and then confront him boldly. Sadly some women are so afraid to say something to hurt feelings that they silently find negative ways to cope, (overeating is the most common). She will slowly and silently drown in her sadness if someone close to the situation doesn’t step in to ask some direct questions and offer real help. Marriages require partnership.
Speaking the truth isn’t about attacking a man’s character as a human being, it’s about the basic reality of a shared partnership to run a family together. Emotionally, Financially, Parenting, Household chores… it takes two responsible adults to make it work. Partnership is about sharing marital responsibility instead of dumping everything onto an exhausted women who is essentially going through life alone like a single parent, (except she just happens to be legally married to an unmotivated man who keeps dumping problems on her lap to solve).
Sadly, it may take an exhausted women feeling completely overwhelmed to finally take action and say, ‘listen Mister- I desperately need help running this household and it’s time for you to grow up and help me!’ A husband-wife partnership requires both people yet some women are so used to the dysfunction of living with an unmotivated man that she is almost numb to the idea that things could ever change. If she doesn’t speak up with boldness the bitterness of time will cause her to explode in rage… and no one listens to a screaming woman. So the cycle often repeats.
Change requires Confrontation
No one likes conflict, but this type of relationship problem can’t improve without direct communication and confrontation. Most women won’t be able to do this alone, because most women have tried many ways to get their unmotivated husband to change and it didn’t work. So if talking to him doesn’t work, a woman has to have some back-up to confront in a way the unmotivated man can begin to hear. This may come from a parent, a trusted friend, pastor, counselor or career coach.
Be sensitive to this exhausted woman, she needs someone to help her turn her husband around, but she doesn’t need to be judged or criticized- she does enough against herself every single day. If you want to really help her, don’t blame, just point out the truth of her situation and ask how you can help. There is a biblical principle that says, “in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom and safety.”(Proverbs 15:11) And this woman needs both… wisdom and safety, so be kind as you move forward to gently, but firmly offer help.
Sometimes it may involve the passive man having someone come alongside to create a step by step approach of accountability that includes building confidence through attending men’s groups, leadership events, personal development seminars, career coaching or church retreats on learning new skills as a healthy husband and father. The information for unmotivated men to change into loving leaders is available- it’s out there. Still, he has to take responsibility to go out and seek it. The formula works like this: R=R simply put, RESPONSIBILITY = RESULTS. When a man takes positive action to change his family, the results are an improved relationship and stronger partnership.
Often he won’t begin to change until facing some very hard realities. The most severe that he may lose everything of value to him if he doesn’t take bold action to turn things around for his family before it’s too late. These aren’t threats, because no one takes a threat seriously. It’s the reality that trying to petal for two eventually leads to the bicycle crashing and everyone getting hurt.
Leading families in partnership together
A man has to move from being an unmotivated man to becoming more self-disciplined as a leader for his family, and if you say that word very slowly, you will discover the real answer to solve many of the problems of an exhausted wife… she needs someone to ‘lead -her’. Not a boss lording over her- she needs a partner. She needs a motivated man who wants to build a great family by her side, no longer like a married ‘single parent’ no- now as partners building memories, instead of being in misery.
When a man learns how to be a responsible and motivated leader things can turn around rapidly, and no matter how deep the financial pressures they are in, when a husband and wife are working together they will not just survive it, they will thrive from the blessings of being partners pulling together through the toughest of times, instead of slowly drifting apart. It makes their partnership stronger and their marriage gets rock solid as God intended; remember, marriage was never meant to be done alone.
Someone you know is an exhausted woman trying to make her marriage work alone. May these words challenge you to reach out with God’s love and a gentle heart to let her know she is not alone and that she can count on you for support as she takes action to finally end the exhaustion and aloneness from trying to make her marriage work alone. Do her a favor, give her this article, and more importantly, give her your prayers that starting today she can experience a marital partnership with the man she loves.
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About the author- Dwight Bain is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 years with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He is an author who partners with media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference in our culture for Christ. Access more counseling and coaching resources designed to save you time by solving stressful situations by visiting his counseling blog with over 500 complimentary articles and special reports www.LifeWorksGroup.org