Wednesday, January 27

How much say should a spouse have?

I talked to a friend last night. She needed to vent some frustrations. She and her husband had just had a huge fight about employment -- or, rather, lack thereof.

He has been out of work for almost a year now. He, like Tim, has had some health issues and so unemployment gave him some time to get healthy again. The idea was to wait until he was able-bodied again and start looking. He's been able-bodied for two or three months now.

Every week or two, she'd mention that he should look for some part-time work. That would stretch out the unemployment. The urgency increased, though, when she found out that he's down to 3 months of benefits.

That might normally be enough time, even in this economy. But he is going to a wedding in late February. (A mutual friend of ours is getting married.) That means he can't look for long-term work before February 23. No company will hire someone who needs to take time off after only three weeks.

And the wedding travel is going to be costly. She's anticipating $400-500, which means they'll make very little progress on the cards for a month. Still, she understands it's a one-time thing. So she's willing to make it work.

They agreed that he would look for some interim work. Just enough to help stretch out the benefits, so that he's not down to eight weeks when he comes back from the wedding. They thought it was a good agreement, right up until she found what she thought was an opportunity.

He'd distribute fliers and would get paid based on people who called back. Allegedly an average of 3-6 per week, at about $75 per person. She understands that there is a chance he'll work hard and get nothing out of it. But then they still have unemployment. So they were safe either way.

The husband was not all that thrilled with the prospect. He argued that operators could put in the wrong number -- a typo or one of their friends' codes. Or what if the person who got the flier didn't refer to the code when ordering? He wasn't comfortable with that setup.

My friend freaked. She was already getting antsy about unemployment running out, and I completely empathize. Tim and I aren't that far off from where they are now.

As she sees it, they have two options: this or Labor Ready. She told him, as it became an argument, that he could take a week to see what else was out there and apply for various things. But she was terrified by how easily he was dismissing one of the two major options they had.

Apparently, he agreed to look into it. But he also declared that -- if the system was set up in the way he was predicting -- he wouldn't be comfortable taking the position. The problem is, once he gets a preconceived notion, he tends to block out any facts that don't fit. So she's worried that he's going in with the belief that it's not going to work out, which will influence him.

She was just angry that he wasn't willing to take the chance and, yeah, maybe do some work for free. Because, if it paid then that was great. If not, he knew not to go back the next week. And he'd spent plenty of weeks on unemployment, so what was the harm in one week of potentially unpaid work?

The whole thing blew up with both of them saying the same things over and over and not getting anywhere. He kept claiming he wasn't dismissing it and he was going in with an open mind. Except, she said, he would then follow it up with, "But I'm saying is that if this thing is the way I think it is, I'm not going to want to do it." Apparently that kind of shattered any reassurance he was giving her.

He also made the mistake of essentially telling her he thought she was overreacting -- never a good thing to say, especially if the person is overreacting. She admitted that she was getting more panicky, but she thought it was validated by circumstance. And that he just wasn't accepting the reality that he would need to be willing to take on any option that presented itself.

For the record, he later gave some good reasons to worry: The flier job would have no L&I. So if he stepped on a rusty nail, they'd be paying for a hospital visit. If a dog went after him, there was nothing to do about that, either. Still, she thought he was being a little dire in his "what if" scenarios.

In the end, his stance is that she can't tell him what to do -- not if he's the one who has to actually do the work.

She, on the other hand, believes she's been more than understanding and supportive. And his refusal to consider any and all options is going to endanger their financial future. So she should get a pretty big say. I think the other thing is that she's the CFO of the marriage. So she's used to having final say in financial matters.

It also doesn't help that her own job is probably ending this summer. There's a small chance they take her on for another contract job. But it's pretty slim. And she doesn't qualify for unemployment. So, as early as June, they could be looking at zero income. She'd rather deal with things before they get that bad.

So, as I said, she's freaked. And tired. And angry. Meanwhile, he's indignant that she's trying to tell him what to do; what he can and can't say no to.

In case it matters: She found out that the part-time work won't disqualify his unemployment claim. He just has to call in his hours worked/amount earned each week. The amount will be deducted from his earnings.

I mainly sided with her. Not just because she's my friend, but because I can empathize with her situation. Tim and I aren't that far from where these two find themselves. Also, I feel like the husband is choosing a path that creates extra stress on her, and then refusing to lighten it by being more open-minded about jobs.

In this economy, I'm not sure that eight weeks is enough to find any kind of job, even a lousy one. So his resistance to jump at any opportunity offered is unfair. And it endangers her financial future as much as it does his.

But she's my friend. I'm interested to hear some impartial opinions.

How much say should she have in the work she's not having to do? How much right does she have to demand he take the first opportunity available -- at least on a trial basis?

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Blogger Cat said...

I was married to this guy.

I'm now divorced from this guy- for other, more violent reasons, but looking back I should've left him when he got kicked out of the military. Instead I stuck around for 4 more jobs in 6 months- which he quit for made up reasons. Then he had a psychotic breakdown while I was pregnant. But I don't know enough about this marriage to say RUN RUN RUN like my instincts are telling me. But she needs to kick his bum or do SOMETHING to make him understand how serious this is. If he can't... RUN RUN RUN.

January 27, 2010 at 7:18 PM

Anonymous A.B. (Mrs. Modern Tightwad) said...

Honestly, it sounds to me like they both need to pull their heads out of their butts. She may be the decision maker for their family finances, but running the books does not mean you run your SOs life. And as a wife, I don't think there is truly a point where you can say you've been "more than understanding and supportive." Unless you're enabling, those are supposed to be characteristics mutually without limit.

My husband was out of work for three years. He did go back to school and helped around the house during that time. The rewards that I have experienced in our life together now, for being persevering then, are unimaginable.

To an outside observer, it sounds like he's scared, possibly of his health going backwards, or of not being able to support his family permanently. Her pushing him, is not going to make him more enthusiastic, or quell his fears. If he can give logical reasons for not wanting to do this job, then she has to respect that. And he has to go and find something else if he doesn't want to do this. Newspaper delivery, dog poop scooper, anything and everything. (In my case, I also utilized my skills to write my husband's resume and cover letter. It also allowed him to see how highly I thought of him.)

My no holds barred advice is she should start focusing on getting additional work for herself come June instead of projecting all of her fears on to him. (Some is acceptable, but he can't bear the brunt of everything.)
He should start looking for work no matter what. I've started jobs and had to tell them that I needed the first week after training off for a pre-arranged trip. A good employer recognizes a hard worker and won't care about a small issue like this wedding.
They both need to stop utilizing so many excuses to hinder themselves and each other.

January 27, 2010 at 11:34 PM

Blogger Angelia said...

It sounds to me like this guy just plain doesn't want to work. How many more excuses can he feed her and how many times will she buy it? I understand that this wedding is important, but really-is it more important than their financial future? Not looking for long term employment just because you have a wedding to attend is irresponsible. Most employers will understand that you may have prior commitments, if not then he needs to stay home and work. I agree with Mrs. MT-they both need to pull their heads out and grow up.

January 28, 2010 at 7:38 AM

Blogger Abigail said...

I wanted to do a quick update before addressing comments:

She called me last night and said she felt like an idiot for not even considering one of the most basic options: Temp work. She got him a list of temp agencies and he's started applying.

Still, I think I will be passing along the bit of advice that most employers won't care. Now that I think about it, if he's working part-time, they could probably arrange his absence to barely affect his schedule.

On to your comments:


I know for a fact that he has a very strong work ethic. I understand why it would sound like it; but having had severe health conditions that ruin your work history... It's scary to consider getting back out there.

And I'm pretty sure that she's the one who is convinced that no employer will hire someone who already needs to go. It sounds like she's completely off base there -- which I may let her know.

Mrs. MT,

Like I said to Angelia, it sounds like she was wrong about the employers caring. (I've been out of the normal workforce long enough to have no clue, really.)

I love your perspective. You're completely right about a wife always needing to be supportive. I empathize with her too much perhaps because my own financial fears cause near paralyzing panic. But you're right: Her pushing isn't going to help. Honestly, I think they both feel backed into a corner here. And neither of them was acting much like a grown-up.


I think he does actually want to work. But fear is a paralyzing thing. I agree with Mrs MT that she needs to be supportive and trust that, with that support, they can figure it out together. Still, coming from your perspective, I can see where the warning signs would blare in your head.

January 28, 2010 at 12:56 PM

Anonymous Cheapskate Sandy said...

If the temp agency thing doesn't work he can be a Census taker. They are making between $15-$22 per hour in my area.

January 28, 2010 at 1:21 PM

Blogger Shevy said...

There are a lot of other possibilities for work (even short-term work) than just this particular flier job or Labor Ready or temp agencies. Personally, the flier thing sounds like a bit of a scam to me and I would stay clear of it. Try for temping, newspaper delivery (perhaps relieving regular carriers who are ill or going on vacation), retail, fast food, warehousing, snow removal, handyman work (if he has skills), pet sitting or walking, etc. etc.

But, more than that, I think his wife is just freaking out about the current and looming unemployment situation and is being very rigid as a result of her fear. She needs to take a deep breath (or 2 or 20) and realize that she has to start planning ahead for the end of her contract, not just worrying about it.

January 31, 2010 at 12:15 AM


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