For better or worse
I have been married for six years to a man I thought was my best friend. When we met, he could barely eke out a living and bemoaned the loss of a business that was his life dream. After we married, we launched a new business that he ran successfully for five years. Last summer, concurrent with a bout of depression for which he eventually sought treatment, he quit. After seven months of his inactivity, I refinanced my home (it’s solely mine) to pay taxes and other debts accumulated by the business. Earlier this year, I insisted that he get a job to contribute to the household. He only kept the job for six weeks. Now he says he is “not a job person.” He has vague plans for self-employment, but I no longer believe he has what it takes to run a successful business. It would be foolish to further risk my financial stability. Our marriage counselor was only interested in my husband’s personal problems and believed that the job issue was temporary and easily remedied. I resent being put in the position of indefinitely supporting him (and his grown kids) financially. I am desperately unhappy and considering divorce.
Oh, honey! Do you remember vowing to be with your best friend “for richer or poorer”? The universe is collecting on that promise now. Your spiritual challenge is huge and difficult: You must love your best friend more than you love your rules about money. Not many of us can accomplish this, because our fears about the lack of money are so much greater than our affection for each other. Can you find the balance of loving your best friend widely while also sharing your wealth?
If you cling to the fear that you will be the sole income provider forever, it will be impossible to transit this period of your marriage. Like your therapist, I see your husband’s job problem as temporary. That’s because your husband appears to be in a cycle common to his life. Your denial about this is over. The disappointment buried beneath your indignation results from realizing that you cannot transform him into who you thought he could be.
So, can you love him in his imperfection? That’s what “in sickness and in health” means. The sickness is the chemical imbalance of depression that left your husband bankrupt of motivation to work. Try these steps to health: (1) Think as a couple, not as a single woman. (2) Create and follow a strict family budget. (3) Support your husband financially while he is in counseling. Support his use of medication and gradual movement back to work. (4) Insist that his adult children support themselves financially. (5) Continue in individual and marriage therapy. (6) Love your husband like he is still your best friend. (7) Decide if the marriage is over after you have dealt with your personal fears about money and mental illness.
The reality of selflessness required in a successful marriage is reflected in percentage ratios such as 80-20 or 70-30 or 90-10, not 50-50. The key to contentment is to ensure that over the extended history of the marriage, the spouses alternate so that each learns how to be other-focused. It’s your turn to challenge culture-inspired expectations of marriage and explore the spiritual depth of covenant.
I loved the “Be a matchmaker for the world” column [SN&R Ask Joey, July 1], but I was surprised that you didn’t mention Ralph Nader. Why?
He’s not electable at this time. Plus, as cultural historian Rebecca Solnit said, Nader “doesn’t get” feminism, race politics, environmental issues or “complex cultural issues like bioregionalism, local economies, sustainability and alternative community building. All he gets is why corporations are bad and product reform and the role corporate money plays in corrupting government. And it’s such a narrow spectrum.”