She Said, He Said: My husband’s not a slacker, but he kinda is
November 7, 2017
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My husband and I met in college. I was always a little more career driven than he was, but we were young, and I thought he'd grow into himself more as we got older. His family is wealthy and he has never had to worry about money. We both enjoy a lifestyle with a little luxury and moved to Aspen a few years ago. I have a great job that pays well, but is also demanding, and he works odd jobs that he really enjoys. I would like to be able to work a little less and not feel the pressure of being the financial provider, but he isn't motivated to increase his income. Instead he relies on the safety net of his parents, which he accesses in times of need. I want to share this great life with him, but am tired of having to foot the bill. How can I get him to reach a higher potential?
If your dissatisfaction is rooted in the notion of fairness, your solution may lie in setting clear financial boundaries. If you decided together to live at this level of lifestyle, it's worth sitting down together with your budget and discussing that each of you is responsible for half. If he would rather live at a lower cost, you have to decide to either adjust with him, or make the choice to continue footing the bill — but that choice is yours to own. Marriage is a partnership, and you cannot be resentful if your tastes extend beyond his financial means.
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However, for the majority of couples struggling with finances, the true challenge often lies in how we make sense of dollars. Money has an uncanny ability to evoke emotion, and often projects deeply rooted beliefs and stories. In order to wisely move through this gridlock with your husband, you first need to identify the tales to which you anchor your money.
It sounds as though he has financial resources available through his family, so we're curious if your discontent is really about your bottom line. You ask how you can you get him to reach higher, but what outcome would satisfy you? If he doubled his income in a labor or service job, would that be sufficient? Or is the "more" about something deeper like his status, work ethic, or dependability? What labels do you associate with his choices when you think about the current dynamics — lazy, selfish, childish?
Lori: Your labels are likely a reflection of your money story. For example, my family has a generational story of scarcity. Specifically, safety and security are dependent on money, and there's never enough of it. I grew up believing anyone without the same drive to save was "irresponsible." I've had to work at teasing out my own fear-based judgment to accept that my grandparents method isn't the only right way to have security. When you come to fully know your financial biases and beliefs, you empower yourself to seek what it is that you actually need. This can create a much more powerful conversation than "Honey, you have to make more money." The key is own your lens (your story, fears, and beliefs) with awareness and work toward a solution with openness, honesty and respect.
Jeff: The assumption that your husband would grow into himself as he got older seems entirely reasonable, as most of us do follow that kind of trajectory in our lives. But I'm curious if you've got expectations of what that path looks like for him and why they might be more career-oriented and driven by income. Often the expectations for men to "grow up and be a man" can be overwhelming and sometimes even paralyzing, riddled with feelings of guilt, shame and vulnerability. I would suggest an exploration of some of his goals and aspirations and see if they truly are on a similar path as yours. If they are, he may need some support in accessing what elements are keeping him stuck and not able to take the necessary steps toward reaching his goals. If they are different and he is OK with the path he's on, then the more financially driven discussion is the one to have.
Lori and Jeff are couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Coaching. Submit your relationship questions to email@example.com and your query may be selected for a future column.