Dear Penny: Am I Cruel to Make My Husband Work if We Don’t Need the Money?
My husband and I have both worked full-time jobs our whole marriage. About 10 years ago, I started a side hustle. I worked on it nights, weekends and any free time I had because I wanted to eventually one day be my own boss.
In June 2019, I was laid off from my job, along with many others in the company. I was lucky enough that my side hustle (I sell stuff online) was making enough money to cover my salary and a little more. So I decided to make it my full-time job, which my husband was OK with. I still work at least 40 hours a week.
When COVID hit, my husband left his job because I have health issues, and we did not want to get exposed to the virus. By this time, my self-employment was making enough money to cover both our salaries, so it was financially OK.
Now, almost two years later, he does not want to go back to work. He likes that he can do what he wants all day. We are financially OK, but I feel that since we still have a teenager in the house, him working to make a few extra dollars would be a good idea. Our goal was always to retire early, and we are on that track, but I did not think it meant he would retire now. He never said it would be that way until just recently.
He is currently looking for a new job (since he knows it’s what I want), but he is not happy about it. I am trying not to feel bad and tell myself that most people work. He has no real good reason not to work since we are still young. We can’t retire and travel right now, since we have a child in school, like we planned for the future.
Is it wrong for me to ask him to work, even if we don’t necessarily need the money to live off of? I even suggested part time or finding a job he loves, even if it does not pay as much, for another few years. I’m not asking for decades.
If your husband sulks, ignore him. But please don’t waste a second feeling guilty about asking him to work. He’s gotten two years of leisure.
You busted your butt to get to a place where you didn’t need to be traditionally employed. You basically did two full-time jobs for nearly a decade. You did that because you wanted to be your own boss, not so that your husband would never have to work again.
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Sometimes in a relationship, it makes sense for only one person to work because both partners benefit. Initially, this arrangement made sense because by staying at home, your husband helped you reduce your risk of COVID exposure. Likewise, it often makes sense for one person to quit their jobs when there are young children because childcare costs are out of hand. But as the threat of COVID fades and the world returns to normal, your husband is the only one who benefits from not working. Meanwhile, you’re carrying the weight for both of you.
It’s great that you can survive on your income alone, that doesn’t give your husband a get-out-of-work-free card. Whatever your financial goals are, you’ll get there much faster if he’s contributing. I don’t want you to settle for being “financially OK,” when you could be thriving.
In all fairness, though, your husband is doing what you’ve asked of him. He’s applying for jobs. As long as he’s making a serious effort, try not to be too hard on him, even if he’s not especially peppy about it. If he complains, you can acknowledge that you’re asking for a big change. Tell him you appreciate the fact that he’s willing to readjust after two years out of the workforce.
The two of you should sit down together and review your progress on whatever financial goals you share. If you’re already on track, aim higher. For example, say you’re both aiming to retire in five years and travel full time. Maybe you could set a new timeline of three years when you factor in the paycheck your husband will soon be earning. Or if you planned on a retirement budget of 70% of your pre-retirement income, perhaps you could shoot for 80% or 90%.
Maybe your husband will be more motivated when he sees that his contributions are necessary for reaching your goals. Keep in mind that change is hard, though. He might keep on complaining for now. But hopefully he’ll stop once he readjusts to working life.
Hold your ground on this one. You’ve supported your husband for two years. You’re giving him room to find work that he loves. No matter how much he whines, you’re not being unreasonable.
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