My Husband/Wife Won’t Work – What Should I Do?

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You might have never thought it possible that the person you loved enough to marry would suddenly turn around and treat you like their personal cash cow…

…but if you’re reading this article, it’s likely that’s exactly the situation you’re facing right now.

If your husband/wife is refusing to work for absolutely no good reason, you’re probably feeling a lot of anger, frustration, and even confusion.

After all, unless you’re living a completely self-sufficient lifestyle somewhere, you’ll need to do some sort of work in order to earn money for food, shelter, and other necessities.

So why, if you are in a committed partnership, are you being expected (or even forced to) carry the load all by yourself?

If your husband or wife won’t work out of choice, let’s take a look at how you may have gotten here, and what you can do about it now.

What is “refuse to work syndrome”?

In simplest terms, unless a person can’t work due to a concrete physical or mental impairment, refusal to work syndrome is generally exhibited by a person who just doesn’t want to work.

They’ll find any possible excuse to avoid working, from not being able to find a fulfilling job in their field, to insisting that they need to stay at home because their child or cat needs them there.

Sometimes, if and when they’re faced with ultimatums, they’ll grudgingly give in and get a job… only to do something in order to get fired, or just work long enough to qualify for unemployment benefits.

They want you, their spouse, to support them financially, and that’s all there is to it.

Did they work before you married?

How did your husband or wife person support themselves financially before you came into the picture?

Did they still live at home with their parents? Or did they have an allowance that permitted them to pay for food/rent without having to work for it?

If they did work, what happened to that job? Were they laid off? Did they quit?

It’s understandable that a parent might want to stay at home with very young children, but once they’re in school full time, there’s absolutely no reason why that parent shouldn’t go back to work, at least part-time.

Similarly, if one spouse had to take some time off due to a work-related injury, and they haven’t been maimed permanently, they should be able to get back to it once they’ve healed.

Some people balk at the idea of returning to a career they hate after taking time off from it, and try to avoid going back into that field. If this is the case, then your spouse should determine what it is they actually want to do, and pursue career re-training so they can work in that field instead.

They may be dead-set on only working a type of job that they really like, and if they can’t have that – either because there are no job opportunities, or they aren’t qualified enough – then they refuse to work full stop.

But only doing what we love isn’t always an option, especially during times of financial strain.

All that said, if your spouse won’t work because they don’t want to, well. That really isn’t an option, is it?

So what’s going on here, exactly?

What were their previous relationships like?

Take a look at this person’s dating history. This is generally easier if you know one of their exes, or if you know people they’ve been friends with for several years, as they may be able to offer insights.

For example, have they made a habit of living off previous partners? Have they always refused to get a job?

Does this person have a history of serial monogamy in which they just happened to lose their job as soon as they were secure in their relationship, thus forcing their partner to support them financially?

Or, alternatively, are they projecting past negative experiences onto you in order to create a different outcome than the one they experienced before?

This is a scenario that happens more often than you may realize. A person may get absolutely exhausted being the primary breadwinner in a relationship, and when that one ends and they get involved with someone else, they decide that this time, they’ll let the other person support them instead.

In essence, they’re projecting their resentment and hurt from their past relationship onto you, and punishing you for that other partner’s behavior by refusing to work.

You’re forced to become a beast of burden despite not having done anything to deserve that kind of abusive behavior.

What was your marriage agreement?

In simplest terms, did you cover this as part of your marriage contract?

Was there a mutual discussion and understanding in which you consented to be the sole breadwinner here?

Or was this something they just surprised you with and dumped onto you?

If this is something that you agreed to at some point, and you’re not able to continue doing so because it’s breaking you, then it’s time to renegotiate that relationship contract.

This person is your life partner, and if they love and respect you as much as they claim to, then they’ll step up and handle their share of life expenses.

Alternatively, if this was absolutely not agreed upon and they’ve just decided that they don’t want to work, then you need to make it clear that this isn’t acceptable.

State unequivocally that you never signed on for this, and that they’re treating you as a slave rather than an equal.

Address this issue with your spouse directly, and immediately.

If you’re looking up how to deal with a spouse who won’t work, you’re probably getting increasingly frustrated and resentful. And exhausted.

It’s difficult enough working to support oneself at times, but if you’re the only one supporting two adults – and children, if you have them – then you must feel absolutely shattered. And that’s not okay by any stretch of the imagination.

This won’t be a pleasant conversation, but you’ll need to sit your partner down and have a serious talk about their refusal to work.

Make it very clear that you can’t, and won’t, be the sole breadwinner. That they need to get a job and start contributing financially as soon as is possible.

They will undoubtedly come up with a slew of excuses as to why they can’t, but unless they are under a healthcare provider’s orders not to work, then those are all bullsh*t. Sorry.

If they claim mental health issues as a reason not to work, and you think there’s validity there, then insist that they get therapy and medication.

If their psychiatrist or psychotherapist determines that no, they can’t work because of mental disability, then they can apply for disability benefits. That way at least they’re still contributing financially.

Don’t accept no for an answer here. If their mental/emotional issues are so bad that they’re keeping them from working, then they’re bad enough to warrant counselling.

If they refuse, and just want you to take care of them while they behave like parasites, then you’ll need to take more drastic action.

Be prepared to cut them off and walk away if they don’t start working NOW.

In researching this article, I spoke with one person whose spouse of 15 years decided they just didn’t want to work anymore, because doing so made them feel like a slave.

That spouse didn’t seem to realize, nor care, that their choices here put an excruciating burden on their partner. Instead, all their focus was on their own needs and wants.

There is no universe in which this is okay.

If you are in the situation where your husband or wife either won’t work or has purposefully left a job because they didn’t like it – and you want to remain in this relationship – then you’ll have to have that uncomfortable talk as mentioned earlier.

You may possibly need to follow up with drastic measures. These may include:

  • Cancelling joint bank accounts and credit cards.
  • Not paying for the other person’s groceries or personal expenses.
  • Cutting off their use of the family vehicle, since they’re not paying for gas or maintenance.

Just to name a few.

If they howl and squawk that this isn’t fair, make it clear to them that their behavior toward you hasn’t been fair, and you won’t continue to be part of this kind of imbalanced relationship.

And unless you want to spend the next several decades supporting the two of you single-handedly, you need to hold fast to your convictions, here. You need to be prepared to walk away if they insist on treating you as their slave.

Otherwise, you’re choosing to be one.

Our spouses are equal partners, not dependent children.

Many people who haven’t worked through various childhood traumas might still harbor a selfish, childish desire to be taken care of.

This might relate to mommy or daddy issues, whether because of over-attachment or abandonment.

Instead of doing the work to get past these so they can become independent, functional adults, they regress into childlike behavior once they feel comfortable and secure in a relationship.

Marriage or a civil union commitment can make a lot of people feel wholly secure and comfortable, at which point they let go of various pretenses they were projecting up until that point. All of a sudden, they reveal that they don’t want to work, and so won’t.

They’re secure, now. They feel like they have iron-clad protection and support, so they fully embody their need to have a parental relationship with you: you are the parental figure, and they are the dependent.

It’s like a type of either arrested development, or an adolescent dependency that they are most comfortable and content with.

But who wants to be married to someone they see as their child?

How can a person be sexually attracted to one who is dependent on them, and doesn’t respect them?

If they want to be loved and respected by you and treated as your equal, then they need to step up and start behaving that way.

This may seem harsh, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Make this abundantly clear to your husband/wife, and make it known that unless they get a job and stop depending on you, then they’ll need to get a job to support themselves.

You’re not going to do so anymore.

Still not sure what to do about your husband or wife who won’t work? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.