Dear Penny: How Do I Deal With My Husband Who Refuses to Keep a Job?

A man reacts as his wife lifts up their red couch to vacuum underneath it. The photo is meant to represent a lazy husband.
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Dear Penny,

My husband has constantly changed jobs since I’ve been out of pharmacy school for 11 years. He got his own account, but he was still using our joint account without any contribution. He refuses to contribute to the household. He’s also got $8,000 of credit card debt in his name. 

He wants my help to start a new business, but I refuse because he’s already had four failed businesses. He pressures me and says I have no faith in him. 

I’ve thought about divorce, but I’m scared. What can I do?


Dear T.,

This marriage sounds like trying to run a marathon in concrete shoes. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job or as a wife. You’re not getting anywhere because every step is a struggle.

So you need to think about what scares you more: Getting divorced or living like this forever? Because from what you describe, I think these are your only two choices.

Your husband has the freedom to do things exactly on his terms. You work for two. He gets to play. You’ve been his safety net for 11 years.

I think you know that your problem is so much bigger than your husband’s money and career choices. Maybe this specific problem would disappear if you had an unlimited supply of money and neither of you had to work. But I don’t think you’d have a happy marriage because his needs come first.

In a healthy marriage, there’s room for compromise when spouses don’t see eye to eye. But it sounds like you can choose Option A, which is to work hard enough to carry the financial burden for two. And Option B? There is none. If you agree to anything less than Option A, you’re the bad guy. That’s a terrible position to be in.

What if you decided it was your turn to switch careers or start a business? Would your husband do whatever you needed because of his undying faith in you?

Yet I get why this is such a tough decision. On the surface, it may seem easier because you’re the breadwinner. You don’t have to stay in a bad relationship because you can’t afford food and shelter.

But letting someone you love fall on their face is hard after you’ve been there to fix everything for so long. Just the idea of separating yourself from someone you’ve built a life with for many years is overwhelming. Things get infinitely more complicated if you have children together.

If you have any hope of salvaging this marriage — and not feeling completely drained every day of your life — you need to have an honest conversation with your husband about what you need from him. Keep in mind that being equals doesn’t necessarily mean you have equal incomes. It’s more about each partner putting similar amounts of energy into the relationship.

I have no idea what your past discussions have looked like. Maybe if you’ve been focusing on not wanting to fund what will probably be another failed business, you’ll be more productive if you refocus the conversation on the pressure you feel over being responsible for everything. If your husband refuses to budge or even have this discussion, he’s telling you there’s nothing to salvage.

I do think you should at least speak to a divorce attorney so that you understand your options. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to file. But sometimes just knowing what to expect makes things less scary. An attorney could walk you through the process and financial considerations, like alimony and splitting assets. They could also help you determine if there are any steps you can take now to protect your finances.

There’s always the possibility that getting served with divorce papers is an impetus for your husband to start taking your needs seriously. Maybe he’ll be able to stick with a job that’s less than perfect if he knows his safety net could be ripped out from under him. But I wouldn’t count on it. Some people are willing to work really hard at being lazy. It sounds like your husband is one of them.

Accept that if you pursue divorce, life is going to be a lot tougher in the short term. I’d expect your husband to make things as difficult as possible. But try to imagine your life five years out. Finances are certainly part of the picture, but they’re not the only consideration. Ask yourself if you’d feel freer and happier not being in this marriage. If the answer is yes, you know what the solution is.

Your husband has been telling you exactly who he is for 11 years. Listen to him. If you decide to stay, you have to make peace with the fact that things will look exactly the same 11 years from now.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].