How to have a healthy relationship when one partner is unemployed

Guest post by Sullie Seeburg
How to manage as a couple when only one of you is making that bread. (By: Windell OskayCC BY 2.0)

My name is Sullie, and my partner and I live below the poverty line. What’s more, my partner is unemployed and will likely remain that way for the rest of our lives together. Considering we’re getting married in the fall, we’re looking at the long-term here.

So why am I okay with this? Because my partner’s health issues are chronic and difficult to manage. I could talk about the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through in the US to get medical care, but that’s a rant for a different day. Right now I want to talk about how we make our lives work with one bread-winner, under the poverty line.

Here are our steps to living below the poverty line on a single income…

Cook together, and make enough for left overs

My partner is a great cook, so several times a week we roll up our sleeves, kick our roommates out of the shared kitchen, and work together. I wash dishes and fetch things while he turns two pounds of rice and $5 worth of fresh ingredients into a world-class meal. He’s used to cooking in batches, so there’s always at least a day or two worth of left overs. He also packs lunches for me when I go to work. While all my co-workers are ordering delivery, I’m sitting pretty with my sandwich, carrot sticks, and apple.

Figure out which tasks can be completed by the stay-at-home partner:

Pet or child care: With my partner being home all day, this means our beloved dog is rarely left alone. He’s always there to throw her squeaky cow, refill her food dishes, or take her outside. Frankly, when I’m at work, I’m glad my partner and dog are both available to entertain each other.

Cleaning: And my partner helps keep things organized at home. We’re renting a room in a house right now. Aside from trips to the kitchen and bathroom, our whole life is contained within a single 10×14 room with sloped ceilings. It’s not a big space, should be easy to keep clean, right? With two people and a dog, it gets cluttered, fast. My partner helps me out by doing tidying tasks, like making the bed, sweeping the floor, and taking out the garbage. Every time I come home from work and open the door to our room, it’s like entering my own little oasis of calm.


My partner also looks out for my health, so I stay well enough to keep bringing home the bacon. Left to my own devices, I’m the sort of person to run myself into the ground by doing too many things at once. My partner picks up on symptoms and problems I don’t even notice, and will intervene when I’m neglecting myself. His own health issues have given him a crash course in doctor-ing, so when he hands me a pile of pills, or tells me my body is crying out for a nutrient, I listen. In the three years we’ve been together, I’ve noticed a definite improvement over my old way of doing things.


We make our budget together and we keep a bulletin board of envelopes for various regular expenses. If we’re getting close to the end of the month and we don’t have all the rent money yet, he cheers me on while I pick up extra hours.

Communicate and appreciate daily

Probably the most important things that my partner does to help me is communicate with me and boost me up. Most of all, we appreciate each other. He expresses gratitude that he doesn’t have to go out and quite literally work himself to death, and I express gratitude that he uses his skills to make our below-the-poverty-line life feel a little less austere.

Make peace with your circumstances

Would we rather be less poor? Sure we would, but we’ve made peace with our current circumstances and limitations. Right now, we have a rich and loving life together. We know plenty of couples with more money who are less happy.

There’s a really awful lie that society tells us, that we’re only worth as much as our paychecks, and the more money you make, the more important you are. The loss of a job, or the persistent inability to find a job, can cause depression and wreck a whole family. I think this narrative falls extra hard on men, especially if, like my partner, that man was raised in a “traditional” family where the father runs his own business or is the only adult with a job. The pressure to “be a man” and earn a living is toxic.

In this economy, there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around, and the jobs that are left are too physically demanding for someone with chronic health issues. Our decision to live on one income is not just a personal decision, it’s also political. I will patiently explain our reasons, repeatedly if necessary, to any hand-wringing family member or friend who thinks my partner is taking advantage of me. Short version: he’s not, and by sticking together, we increase our chances of survival.

Comments on How to have a healthy relationship when one partner is unemployed

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is such an upbeat and positive article. So many people are struggling with finance nowadays, and that affects so many aspects of our lives. Our health, our relationships, our leisure time. It was pleasant to read an article by someone who is economically struggling but making do and happy and healthy meanwhile. Thank you for the inspiration and the smile it put on my face today.

    • I’m glad you found it helpful! We’re certainly not beaming rainbows and cupcakes out of our eye sockets 24/7, but together, we have an overall happy life.

  2. Of all of these, I think communication is the most important. In almost 9 years together, my partner and I have gone through just about every combination of working/not working/in school that I can think of, and the only reason we are still together is that we have always been really good about renegotiating the structure of our relationship/lives every every time our circumstances change. Now, with 2 young kids, it’s become even more important to have periodic check-ins to make sure we’re each getting enough alone time (such is the way of introverts), feel valued/appreciated enough, and are happy with our current structure. It’s not easy, but I think it’s made us do that stupid “growing together” catch phrase that everyone says is so important.

  3. I’m So Glad I Read This Article. I have Recently Been Laid Off From My Job Because Of The Company Deciding To Close Over 300 Stores. Unfortunately, MineWas One Of The Chosen. I’ve Never BeenWithout AJob AnD Now Me And My Fiancé along With My 4 YearOld Daughter areCoping WithMe NowBeing Unemployed. Thus

  4. I’m sure you’ve looked into this, but you have you considered Social Security Disability? I know the process can take five years and many rejections, but if he is so chronically ill that work would hurt his health, it seems like he might be eligible.

    • Yes, this. *i* am in a relationship where my partner hasn’t worked, but it’s because he can’t find one, not because he can’t work one. However, one of my closest friends is married to a man with severe enough back issues that he had to go on Permanent disability. They work it out much as described here.

    • We’ve considered it. We are just now getting our medical ducks in a row. One of the crappy things about poverty is that the day to day effort of surviving often leaves one with little energy for other efforts, even for things like filling out paperwork that would theoretically help.

      • Absolutely- It sounds like you folks have your hands full, and are making wonderful things happen in a really hard situation. I’m an advocate for a social services non-profit, so my immediate thought is “you can get help for this!” I apologize if my suggestion failed to validate the real challenges of your financial and physical circumstances.

      • If your partner does manage to get approved for disability, he may be eligible for “at home care” at which point you can *get paid* to be his caretaker and do things like help remind with medicine or do tasks that are too physically demanding for your partner.
        (But as a lawyer, consult a tax attorney before you decide to do this.)

        • Totally true! Just do a Google search of something along the lines of “Aging and Disability services” and your county. This exists in WA state and I work in this field. One caveat that we have (and I don’t know if it would apply everywhere) is that a spouse cannot be paid to cake care of the other spouse. As long as though there is no legal marriage, it is all good.

  5. Thanks for writing this. I am the stay at home spouse due to illness, currently awaiting disability. I struggle with this every day, feeling useless and worthless, because he works so hard outside of the home. I have worked since I was old enough to count change, and I met my husband just after my accident that set my life on the decline…I pray every day that he doesn’t grow resentful – this article gives me hope, so thank you again!

    • I’m glad you found hope in our shared experience. Partner occasionally goes through bouts like you describe, and I’ve tried to communicate to him that I want him to TELL me when he feels bad, so I can reassure him. You deserve that reassurance and comfort too!

  6. I can’t say thank you enough for writing this. My fiance also does not work because of health issues. And while our problems aren’t all necessarily financial I have definitely become aggravated. I work and my commute (4.5 hours a day) and living situation is not ideal to my lifestyle -or my pocket- but we live where we live because he has issues with change and more importantly populated areas. I’m going to pass on your suggestions to him and see if some of them can be incorporated into our lifestyle. If they are doable perhaps they will ease my frustrations. Thank you again for sharing.

  7. This is such a lovely post, thanks! My partner and I have both been underemployed for a while, and I have usually been the one earning more money.

    When he found contract work editing technical papers that he could do from home, it helped a lot. He doesn’t earn much, but it is enough to pay for his personal things, while I still pay for rent, food, and major utilities.

    He is blissfully able to avoid society’s expectations of what a male wage-earner should be, but his parents have often hounded him for not having found a permanent job (not for lack of looking!). The contract work puts them off a little bit too.

    • Maryr, the parental disapproval issue is probably an article all of its own! Probably the two best resources we have for staying strong and united in the face of parental disapproval is the Offbeat Community and (I’m sure there’s an overlap here) the Captain Awkward advice blog and community. I don’t want to fill up this page with my angry ranting about Baby Boomers but seriously, Baby Boomers! The world has changed! You don’t get a job by “pounding the pavement” and “making follow up calls” anymore, you get a job by groveling, having a connection, and sheer luck, and this even goes for minimum wage jobs.

      • So f-ing true! You don’t get an opportunity to “sell” your employability face to face or even on the phone these days! Job hunting causes huge anxiety for me! My old school work ethics have gotten me nowhere in my experience.
        I lost my job due to my pregnancy with my daughter and have done many similar things to make the transition to one income less painful. I usually cook dinner and immediately portion out lunches for all three of us before we sit down to eat. It makes a big difference in my opinion. I also have cut way down on one time use items in our household since I have time for the extra laundry and such it creates.
        Losing my job has opened my eyes to how little the money I brought in improved our quality of life. The things I can do for our family I just couldn’t do with a full time job.
        Thank you for writing this!

      • I laughed out loud when I read this! I love the boomers in my life, but sometimes they just don’t get it. My husband and I have chosen to go carless. People our age, for the most part, think this is a great idea. Boomers, on the other hand, are aghast. “You ride your bike? To WORK? You take the bus…to get GROCERIES?” I have even been in work situations where I can tell that boomer colleagues have a lower professional opinion of me because I am carless. Which is bewildering to me. If I was a travelling saleswoman, yes, being carless would be problematic. But it has no bearing on the quality of work I do as a librarian…in a library…the same library every day.

  8. “There’s a really awful lie that society tells us, that we’re only worth as much as our paychecks, and the more money you make, the more important you are. The loss of a job, or the persistent inability to find a job, can cause depression and wreck a whole family.”

    This! I’ve worked pretty much since I was 14 doing various jobs. At 30 I got made redundant for the second time from my career and the uncertainty was making me miserable. I’d like to return to work one day but for now we’ve taken the opportunity to start a family. It means I can’t claim maternity pay (I’m in the UK) or any other benefits as my hubby earns just a little to much for any benefits to be available to us. But when I was checking this yesterday I was thinking we don’t feel poor. I know we might look it to others. We can’t afford many luxuries but then we never go hungry and we manage a few fun days out. I’ve become an expert at hunting down baby bargains and it means our house won’t be full of baby junk that baby doesn’t really need. As long as i’ve got my hubby, baby, dog and enough money to keep us in a reasonably comfortable life for us i’m happy. I now have the time to make a lot of our food from scratch, tend the garden, bring up our kid without worrying about expensive childcare and the horrible thought of leaving them daily.

    I feel lucky to be in the position we’re in and wish people wouldn’t feel like they need to feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for them having to go to work everyday. 😉

    • I came down to the comment section to “this” that quote as well.

      Also, totally agree with you regarding “not feeling poor”. Sure, it would be nice to have or do some things that I can’t because of my finances, but I love my life and DEFINITELY don’t feel deprived. 🙂

    • Right there with you. I’ve found, after several years of living together and managing our below the poverty line lives, that being around wealthier family and friends tends to stress me out. I like our cozy little cave-bedroom. I like Partner’s home cooked meals. I like spending so much time together, rather than only seeing each other rarely when shifts off happen to line up.

    • I came down here to “This!” this too!

      This is something my husband really struggles with. I know it’s a lie all day every day, but I feel like hubby only wishes it were a lie. I’ve been trying to move more toward self-sufficincy in our lives, and I’ve talked of moving far away from the city and living self-sufficiently on some acaeage. His constant response is “but how will I get to work every day? it’s too far” I haven’t yet worked out a way of explaining that self-sufficiency means that you’re self sufficient, in a way that he can understand that he wouldn’t need to go to work, and that his worth is not defined by his paycheck.

      • Its hard isn’t it to make that leap and get your head around not having an income or having less of one. Maybe he’d feel more comfortable working part time to start with while you got yourselves established. I worked part time for a bit and it really helped the transition but it was something I couldn’t continue doing while pregnant.

        If your going to grow and make stuff you can use that for currency too. I’ve crocheted things and used fresh produce to swap for time spent by friends doing jobs for us. Its surprising how grateful they are for it to if they don’t have the luxury of time to grow and make things themselves.

  9. Great article. I have a similar situation, and it is difficult to explain to people who have never been there or have expectations about life that I don’t meet. It’s really nice to feel understood.

    • I’m glad you found our experiences mesh. I mean, it sucks that so many people are struggling with poverty, but at the same time, there’s power in speaking up.

  10. We’re in this position, switching “renting a room” for “renting an efficiency” and the Other Half still works 1-2 days a week at a retail place, while I work as many hours as they’ll give me at two retail places.

    What do you do when it *feels like* he’s taking advantage of you? Like this morning, I woke up to laundry all over the floor just like it was when I fell asleep last night, recycling spread everywhere from the cats playing, and AC unit pushing lukewarm air because the filter needs cleaned, empty cat food dishes, and a bathroom I don’t even want to think about. I will work a short day today, going in at 4 and closing the store at 10. Wednesdays are usually the one day a week I schedule off of both places for my mental health and so if we need to go to the doctor, run errands, etc. we can do so without as much stress. But I chose to work Wednesdays at the second place this month to help cover vacations for full time staff. I’m the newbie there; I need to make a good impression so I can keep the job past the summer.

    I came (thisclose) to waking him up and reminding him that I don’t work a 55 hr. week so he can sleep until 1 in the afternoon and play video games. But today it looks like I do. And yes, I slept until noon, in part because I’ve run on a sleep deficit for the past week and a half and did a 14 hour day yesterday. I’m exhausted, I’m stressed, and I’m trying very hard not to take that out on him. (And our sex-life is suffering too, so I’m sure that’s at least part of why he’s asleep right now. But I don’t want to have sex with someone who, from the outside at least, is only demanding more out of me without giving anything back.)

    I can deal with the being broke and making less than $20,000/year. I’m not defined by my bank account. It’s the hurt I feel about *feeling like* the only one working that’s making this difficult. Any experience with that? Any tips?

    • Yes, I’m in a similar situation. We are very lucky that I have an amazing job and that my partner has been awarded disability benefits. It can sometimes feel like the balance is off and I do sometimes struggle with feeling resentful or taken advantage of. Just like you mentioned, when she sleeps in or when the house is a mess. The best tips I have for you are to learn what your triggers are. What are the things that cause you to feel resentful? For me it’s very specific things, I love to cook but I hate it when the kitchen is a mess. I hate to do laundry but I can’t stand it when I can’t find clean clothes in the morning. Then you have to communicate! We cook together on the weekends and she always makes sure the kitchen is clean before we start so that it will be a pleasant experience for me. In the mornings she almost always picks out my clothes for me and brings them to me while I shower. It makes my morning routine go faster and it’s just a really sweet way to start my day.
      Once you figure out your triggers you just have to talk about ways that your partner can help to fix them. It’s also been important for me to be able to share with my partner when I am feeling resentful. It took some time to be able to have that kind of conversation without upsetting each other but it’s not about her doing anything wrong and now it’s easier to explain. I’d rather be able to vent to her than to others because it’s easy to get the impression that I’m not happy in my relationship when I talk to others and that’s not the case, I’m just like everyone else and I have bad days too. Say “thank you” tell your partner when they do something that you are grateful for. Those are my best tips, I hope that things get better for you and your partner; I know it can be hard.

    • I have been in that same situation. It was so, SO hard. My husband lost his job right after getting out of the hospital where he had surgery to fix his broken arm. This was also just a few months after we had gotten engaged and we had already made down payments on the venue and a few other things. Putting aside the extra craziness from deciding to continue with the wedding, it was still very stressful.

      My husband became very depressed. He felt like a failure for losing his job, and he was losing his faith in the video games industry(he’s a programmer and his passion is making video games). He was so lost on what to do next. I was still in college at the time, but I had to start applying for jobs like crazy because the unemployment benefits only last so long.

      I was working 2 part-time jobs and still not making much, but food stamps helped. My husband was not working, and he barely had the energy to get up at noon some days. When he did get up he played video games and screwed around on the internet. The house was a mess, the pets weren’t taken care of, and it was SO frustrating. He had so little energy our sex life suffered as well. It is very hard to support someone in this situation and we fought about it a few times when I couldn’t hold the frustration in anymore.

      Having extra support from family helped. We got some financial help from our parents when we really needed it, and they were never judgmental. I tried to be as supportive as possible. I sometimes tried the tough love approach with my husband, but mostly it took a lot of patience. We love each other more than anything, and that’s what we had to keep in mind when things were bad.

      Buy a cheap bottle of booze and get drunk together, it actually helps. We spent time together drinking, talking, and playing video games. These were our cheap dates. Reconnecting to each other like this helped a lot. Also think about your priorities and realize that the house being a mess is not a big deal. It’s more important to spend time together in difficult situations like these and talk, talk, TALK! Try to get your partner to talk about their feelings so you both can work things out. Also try to clearly communicate your feelings using “I” statements and be sure to actually thank your partner when they do something you appreciate, even if it’s something they should be doing anyway.

      Try to look for any programs that can help ease the financial burden, such as food stamps, unemployment, student loan forbearance etc. These helped us A LOT while we got through this.

      After about a year and a half, his dad offered him a part-time job that didn’t pay much, to get him back to working. We actually both worked there together and it was kinda fun. I enjoyed working alongside my husband. It took him another 6 months to figure out a new career path outside the video games industry and he’s now starting out on the bottom of the totem pole, but he’s working his way up. We’re paying all of our bills early and even saving a little money with some budgeting.

      I hope this helps. No matter what, it’s gonna be hard, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can’t see it right now.

      • TALKING really is the key! As The Unemployed One (waiting for graduate school to start) I was really surprised at how quickly I began hovering around the cliff of depression after my last undergrad semester in December. I always thought of myself as a happy recluse but without the forced daily contact with human beings brought to me by school or a job, my self esteem started running right down the toilet. And that led to feeling like I couldn’t accomplish ANYTHING. Dishes? Laundry? Vacuuming? Looking for a job??? Working on my writing or art? Every activity, even the pleasurable ones, looked like a monumental task that I was just not equal to. With few friends in the area, Facebook became my social outlet, which led me down another rat hole of non-accomplishment and self loathing. I would look at the clock and see it was suddenly 2:00, and then feel worse than ever that the “whole day” was gone and piece-of-shit me was still a piece of shit, my time, my life slipping away into nothingness.

        Meanwhile, my husband was beginning to become quite resentful. Eventually we talked it out. Having to describe how I felt made me really think about how I felt and why, so I could begin to see things weren’t that bad, that this was a short term problem, that I could forgive myself for lost time and work my way out of the blackness.

        It may seem from the outside that laying around the house inert is the result of me thinking I’m so awesome I don’t have to do anything, but that’s quite the opposite of the feeling that leads to that behavior. It’s actually more to do with feeling completely useless and unable to take action while waiting for the rest of my world to fall apart. I am sure the defensiveness that comes with that powerlessness is absolutely charming to experience for the other person too!

        What I did to get out of feeling this way, besides several dozen heart to heart talks with my very social husband, was to take his suggestion and schedule brown bag lunch dates with people I knew but felt I was not really friends with. To my surprise, everyone I contacted (via Facebook, of course!) was agreeable, even enthusiastic! and now I have several budding friendships and a renewed feeling of self love. I initiated a fairly big house project too, and as that took shape, I started to feel more sure of myself due to pride in accomplishment as well as my husband’s appreciation for my job well done. I also began to feel annoyed that by doing the project, I didn’t have time to write or make artwork, which suddenly made those things a priority! Funny how love makes things work out.

        Bottom line: talking to my partner about it took a lot of bravery on my part- confronting the issue head on with no answers of my own, trusting that he loved me enough to help me out and in fact wanted me to get better rather than wanting to take out his anger out on me, to “punish” me until I “behaved”. It took bravery on his part too, trusting that I wasn’t just playing him for a sucker, and being able to get over his initial anger and resentment and really listen to what I was saying. WHEW!

        So yeah, talking talking talking, no finger pointing, only problem solving, forgiveness of self and others and love.
        P.S. I see a post below this one talking about therapy (Sullie Seeburg) and I have to add that both my husband and I had been through some really great therapy after our divorces, and I am absolutely certain that our therapy experiences provided the basis for us to work this problem out. Do it. It is worth it.

    • Two other folks offered great advice, so I’ll just add a small thought – therapy. Yes, it’s an additional expense. Yes, it’s hard to find a therapist who will work with you on a sliding scale. But they’re out there. Partner and I have been seeing the same therapist separately, and occasionally for joint sessions, for 2 years, at $15 to $20 a session and it makes an enormous difference.

      Also, ask yourself (and ask your Other Half) would everything be magically better if a job fell out of the sky tomorrow? If the answer is yes, then the situation is probably survivable with some good talks and a renewed commitment on Other Half’s part to being useful at home while looking for a job. But I’ve also been in situations where chronic joblessness just revealed a partner’s true form – a lazy entitled child who expected other people to serve him. I will admit that I am extremely lucky, because Partner has an incredible work ethic that is still chugging along at full strength, even though he does not have a job.

    • I totally agree about talking, talking, talking! I think on the one hand sometimes there could be jobs that are obvious to you, but not to him (this happens to my husband and I – sometimes I am literally dumbfounded that he doesn’t notice the state of the bathroom, or when I’ve cleaned it!). On the other hand, if he’s feeling depressed because he’s not accomplishing anything, just providing one or even a few concrete tasks he can achieve can help him feel better about himself which will get things moving again. Something concrete like “emptying the cat litter” is a lot easier to tackle than something vague like “researching jobs online.”

  11. Thank you for writing this! I am at this point deliberately underemployed, working about 15 hours per week, because that’s all my agoraphobia currently seems to want to permit. I’m working my way up with the intent to eventually go back to school for my master’s, if all goes well, but in the meantime we face a lot of eyebrow raising. There’s such a strong narrative built around money and success, and I don’t think my family in particular realizes how damaging it can be to describe people in terms of monetary value. I do my best to help out from home also, but I’m constantly stressed over bills and student loans that I could well be repaying if things had gone differently. I’ve heard mumblings about laziness, entitlement, freeloading, etc, but really what it’s about is doing the best you can to take care of you and yours in all aspects. Cheers to you, OP, for finding a groove that works.

    • Cheers to you as well, Anna!

      ” I don’t think my family in particular realizes how damaging it can be to describe people in terms of monetary value”

      Are we related? But yeah that needs to stop. As I said elsewhere in the comments, there’s power in speaking up about this all-too-common experience. And there’s power in teaming up with other poor people! Right now, our household is reorganizing to get rid of an unhelpful and unsanitary roommate, and those of us who remain are going to start behaving more like a little collective by pooling resources and working together. Poor Offbeat People, unite!

  12. OMG, this article is amaaaazing. I am currently on SSI (I didn’t work long enough to put substantial savings into SSDI, so I wasn’t eligible for that) and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to work. I struggle with feelings of worthlessness a lot but I try to remind myself that I’m a homemaker and a career is not the be-all-end-all to life – I can still have worth and contribute to society even if I’m not bringing home a paycheck. Thank you for this!

    • Hear hear, Aurora! I’ve learned a lot in the past couple years about what kind of work is deemed valuable and what kind of work is invisible in mainstream society. I don’t want to clog up the Offbeat empire with my half baked political rantings, but … yeah work INSIDE the home is still WORK.

    • Christy, I’m so sorry you lost your job during what should have been an exciting and happy time. I’m glad you liked my article, and I hope things improve for you.

  13. I am a sole earner in my household. My husband and I discussed and made a decision together for him to go back to uni as he was unhappy in his career. When he left, he told me it would be “easy” to get contract IT work in his holidays, so I didn’t stress too much. A year and a half later, he’s contributed a total of about $1300 to the household from a total of 2 freelance landscaping jobs that he got through other people (not applied for). $1000 of that was gained a week before a tree fell on our car, so although thank God for that, it was gone again, and we weren’t able to save it, or pay off any debt with it.
    We struggle week to week, and whenever anything unexpected comes in (like this month’s $200 power bill), I just about break down. Husband and I have had MANY conversations (every couple of months) about him contributing to the household, and it improves incrementally, but not fast enough to really reduce my stress levels. He says “I’ll cook, I’ll make sure the house is clean”, but if I don’t leave him a list in the morning, it doesn’t get done (and sometimes still doesn’t even when I make a list). He’s had a great idea for a side business that “will be easy!” but he’s been saying this for almost a year now, and it still hasn’t materialised.

    He’s the happiest he’s ever been, he’s really GOOD at what he’s doing at school, and in term time he is at school from 7am-4.30pm, and works well into the evening on his assignments. So I don’t want to tear him away from it, but I’m getting to the point where if he can’t do more to relieve my stress levels, I don’t want to continue supporting him to go to school. Which really upsets me. I’ve given up a lot for him to go back to school (comfort, lifestyle, travel, put off having children), and I work a HARD job (child trauma psychologist) and come home to cook, clean, pay bills, and organise everything.

    What more can I do?

    • Erinnyes, your situation sounds like a world of pain and heartache. What I took away from your comment is that your husband does not seem to value your security and happiness as much as you value his. I recommended therapy up-thread, because it’s been so helpful for me and Partner. Is that something you would consider?

      • Unfortunately it is something we absolutely cannot afford. We did have 3 sessions of therapy last year around a different matter which has really improved our ability to communicate, hence the ability to even HAVE these conversations. Sometimes I’m fine with everything, but it wells up and explodes every so often.
        But, I do really like the comment about him not seeming to value my security and happiness. I know that that’s not true, he would be devastated if he realised that was how it left me feeling, and perhaps that’s what I need to communicate more.

    • What helped me the most in a very, very similar situation was focusing on what I needed. NOT on what I needed him to do… just on what I needed. That allowed me to look for solutions as a team with my husband, ie “What can WE do about this problem?” rather than a more adversarial “Why aren’t YOU fixing this problem?” A lot of times it also allowed for more creative solutions than I’d seen up til that point. I don’t want to make it sound simple, because it’s not at ALL, but that was a crucial first step for me in at least being able to start talking about it.

  14. Last year my husband got an amazing opportunity to work abroad. I was able to go with him, but we both lived on a stipend meant for 1 person, and I was only there on a visitor’s visa, so I couldn’t work/earn money.
    Coming as the unemployable spouse, I have a few tips to help things run smoothly.
    1) Get up and get dressed every day. Staying in your pajamas makes your partner think you didn’t do anything all day (and they may feel taken advantage of).
    2) Take care of your own health as best as possible. For me this meant going to the gym, or getting outside for a run. But where one spouse might have health limitations, this can be broad.
    3) Make a to-do list and actually do it. This will help you feel like you’re contributing, and you can even tell your partner about all the stuff you accomplished that day.
    4) Be interested in your spouse’s day, and ask caring questions. This may feel like your view in to the outside world, but your partner also appreciates your real interest.

  15. When we first married, my husband (a veteran waiting on the VA for his disability rating) was killing himself working sixty hour weeks and we could barely make the rent. I am chronically ill, so I stayed home with our daughter and worked when I was able in elder care.

    When our lease went up, my husband left his job (mostly due to health issues) and we moved in with family. Currently, three of four adults in our household are bringing in money and we are making rent by the skin of our teeth…and that’s only because the landlord is family and includes utilities in the rent.

    We have hopes of moving somewhere with a lower cost of living, but that dream is dependent on his VA stuff going through (which won’t be until at least next year according to their predictions) and him finishing his degree. It’s hard to live in a state of limbo and I appreciate this post reminding me that it isn’t always as bad as it seems.

    • Holly, I hope your husband’s VA stuff moves along as quickly as possible, and I’m glad you found some comfort knowing you’re not alone. We’ve found a lot of camaraderie on the “wrong side of the tracks” ourselves.

  16. This is such a great article! My husband and I experienced this last year, when we moved across the country and he found work a few months before I did. And you know what we found out? He loved the work that he was doing, and I loved the work I was doing at home. The fact that I was at home did not mean that I was not working. It simply meant I was doing the work I enjoyed the most- taking care of our dog, cooking fabulous meals, and generally making our tiny apartment as livable as possible. Now that we’re expecting a baby, I’m looking forward to being home after the baby is born, and my husband is totally on board with that. It’s not too popular nowadays, but it works so well for us! I think the biggest key for us is the daily appreciation. Make sure the breadwinner knows that they’re appreciated for working so hard outside of the home, and the non-breadwinner for working so hard inside the home.

    • “He loved the work that he was doing, and I loved the work I was doing at home. The fact that I was at home did not mean that I was not working.”

      YES! Work inside the home is still work!

  17. i love this article, especially the acknowledgement of how hard it can be on a person (and the family by extension) when unsuccessfully seeking employment for a prolonged period of time. that struck a chord with me, especially with the education i have (i have a master’s degree! in engineering!), and yet, in four years, i’ve only landed two interviews and zero offers. it was extremely demoralizing, until my partner and i came to terms with it and decided that while i shouldn’t give up looking, i shouldn’t drain myself doing it, and instead focus on the good i’m doing while i’m at home, raising my son and keeping house and generally making everyone’s lives much easier, especially my partner’s. he always makes sure to let me know how much he appreciates what i do (especially now that i’m pregnant and exhausted all the time), and i always make a point to appreciate him as well.

    we’re not living quite as hand-to-mouth as you and your partner, but we’re not living as comfortably as our guidance counselors in HS and college hinted we should with our career choices. 😉 overall, i think this has made our relationship stronger and made us appreciate the small things more. thanks to having to go smaller on a house and going to the “more bang for your buck” ’50s neighborhood when buying, we discovered a really awesome community with great neighbors that something tells me we wouldn’t have, had we had the money for something “bigger” or “nicer”. a smaller house has helped me hone my organizational skills, just as a smaller joint income has helped both of us hone our budgeting skills, and we’ve made some great friends literally just a couple houses down, and next door, and across the street…

    it took some time getting here, but i love our little humble life, and your article was really spot-on (and even gave me a few other ideas for feeling useful). keep on truckin’.

    • You wrote, “we’re not living quite as hand-to-mouth as you and your partner, but we’re not living as comfortably as our guidance counselors in HS and college hinted we should with our career choices.”

      This a million times! My partner has a masters in electrical engineering. People with jobs in other fields don’t seem to understand that even engineers have trouble finding jobs these days. My degrees are in the humanities, so I never was looking for lots of money. But, again, advisers and counselors from high school through grad school never indicated (and perhaps never knew) that it would be as hard as it has been to find full time employment.

  18. Love this article! My SO started his own business & after having my second child, me working wouldn’t actually make money after paying for child care.

    Some family don’t understand I actually make more money by saving on things like cooking from scratch, making my own cleaners, ect. Not to forget the more important reduction of stress.

    It’s not all sunshine & roses, but for this stage in life, it’s what is best for us.

  19. My husband and I met when my illness was somewhat manageable. We both worked and went to school until I was too ill to do both and couldn’t afford school without work. Then we both lost our jobs. I managed to get three jobs (all terrible) relatively quickly, but he spent about 9 months without work. He applied everywhere and spent nearly every day at a day labor place. He was never picked up for work regardless of his construction and drywall experience. We ate on about $10 a week for a while and I think just about the only thing that made us survive that were eating 2 am pho around the corner from our apartment, him meeting me at the bus stop to walk me home every night, and continuing to play video games together. Our place was a mess constantly, but I knew he was trying. At the end of the day the mess just didn’t matter.

    A few years later and my illness continued to progress. My husband’s job had taken off and he told me to quit working. It was a relief but also practical. We were spending more money on ER visits than I was making.
    For the first few years I tried so hard to keep a perfect house and failed miserably. Many days a week I couldn’t walk. It was all I could do to take the dog out (up and down stairs) twice a day. Everything fell behind. I tried to cook and managed to do it 3-5 times a week, but then the dishes would sit for over a week. The laundry pilled up. All I had to do was take care of myself and clean the house and I couldn’t. I felt my family looking down on me choosing to be a housewife (which there is nothing wrong with anyway) even though it was in no way anything that I wanted. I know he was frustrated with me when he didn’t have clean pants for work, or when he came home from a long day and had to wash dishes and cook so he could eat dinner. But he didn’t just get frustrated-he also talked to me. He would vent but also encourage. He told me it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t get done- he knew I was trying.

    The house is still a mess 3 weeks out of the month and the laundry is still piled by the washer, but he knows I will get it done in my own time. If he comes home to find me playing games or having a netflix marathon, he asks to join me instead of asking me if I did the dishes today. His career has taken off, and he has a job and coworkers he absolutely loves. I’m still a terrible homemaker, but I’ve become awesome at managing our finances to accomplish our life goals. Plus in all that spare time I’ve managed to become an awesome baker. I recently opened a home bakery (after a few years of my husband and friends asking me to) and know it will never make much money compared to his salary, but he still thinks it is awesome that I’ve been able to find something I love to do that I can be flexible with around my flare ups.
    I have no idea how I lucked out with someone so understanding, and I honestly do not know how I could have survived my depression had he always gotten on my case about keeping house. I felt worthless not being able to contribute things, but he never made me feel that way- expectations that are ingrained in our society did.
    These situations are always ridiculously hard on both parties, but so much worse with resentment and no communication. Counseling will help if it is possible to afford, but communicating honestly with your partner about finances, expectations, ability, (and sex) is a must to survive with an awesome relationship intact.

  20. I am so pleased I read this article. I am the stay at home one in our relationship and at times find it very hard. My fiance doesn’t make a huge amount of money but we kind of manage, we even manage a night out every so often!
    But it breaks my heart to see how how physically exhausted he gets (he’s a removal man) and I can’t help him with the money. The house is spotless and I do all the cooking (except on weekends when we share), but until I get a job I think I’ll feel like this. When that happens I can give him the gift of a lie in which is what he’s always said is the greatest present ever.

  21. I can relate to this article so much. When i first met my, now husband he was homeless and living in an assisted living facility. I hated seeing him so depressed so i asked him to move in with me to keep him from getting kicked out of the assisted living. (i was always keeping him out late) and it was hard i took him in and now had two people to feed and only the one income. But we grew closer together and we did mange finacialy, and i kept telling him it didnt matter to me if he was working or not but that it mattered to me he was there. He is bipolar and with him being raised in a very traditional style home he always felt so bad about me being the one working. But i kept incouraging him and he started thinking outside the box and with a temp service he would get a job here and there. But it wasnt until he Got a job as an unloader at a big chain store that was opening that he really became better with the bipolar. I just kept telling him it will all work out in the end and it really started to. Now that we are happily married he and i are both working. but we are still under that poverty line. we know what to do and how to handle upsets and know they wont be able to pull us apart

  22. If you do pursue the disability route keep in mind that he will qualify for medicare after 24 months. At that time he will have the choice of electing part b at the cost of approx $100 a month or to remain on group coverage. ACA plans are not for medicare beneficiaries. If he does take medicare please look now at the plans available in your area. A medicare supplement can easily run $300-800 a month for an under 65 disability. Medicare is considered your primary indurance and your right to buy a supplement only lasts 6 months. Then you can and will be denied with underwriting ( laws vary by state, this is the federal rule) this DID NOT CHANGE with ACA. Medicare advantage plans are a much more affordable option ( usually under $100 with a drug plan included) but are only available in select counties, usually highly populated ones. Just something to look at now because you quite seriously may need to move or spend his entire disability check on insurance.
    – An insurance guru
    Disclaimer. Please seek the counsel of a licenced agent in your state. Laws vary by state.

  23. Such a great article! My partner and I moved interstate to start a new life and new jobs. Mine worked out okay, but my partner’s job was withdrawn after we had moved and the prospective employer knew this. We ended up living a long time with my elderly grandma, who turned out to have worse memory loss than any of my family really knew and she had to move into residential care. This meant we had nowhere to live in a city with very inflated house prices and extremely tight rental market. We moved in with my parents for a while but it was a 2 hour commute for me to work. After much soul searching we went back to our old house which we own and tried to get jobs there. I got work quite quickly but it has taken 2 years for my other half to get work. It’s been very trying, he feels embarassed and useless because he can’t contribute. He’s finally got work througn a contact, after more than 150 job applications. It’s been really hard because we didn’t want to lose our house, as we probably wouldn’t be able to get anything else even remotely close to work that would be affordable in the long term. People who say that job seekers are just not trying hard enough already have jobs and no idea of the reality. We have struggled to keep our house and gone without many things. We have been told to sell everything before we might qualify for benefits. It’s been fantastic to see the change in him when he got a job, even if it’s only casual retail it’s something. It’s so important for both people to feel like they contribute.

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