Although any employee is grateful to have a job in this economy, a relationship can suffer when a husband loses his job and his wife becomes the household’s primary breadwinner. This is especially true when he believes that his purpose is to provide for his family. Unfortunately, among the couples having to switch roles, clinging to these traditional ideas of family life can lead to their “love bank” going bankrupt during the role reversal.
Women are usually the keepers of the household budget. When the additional pressure of job security is also a concern, they are much more vulnerable to the ramifications of having a bad day at work. A husband who stays at home may help take care of the kids, but may expect his wife to still cook dinner, clean the house and do laundry after coming home from work. On the other hand, the wife may expect that her husband would do those chores while at home — and it can hurt her when her husband refuses.
“I wish I had enough money to pay someone else to do the housework — spouse or otherwise,” says Susan, who lives in Manhattan. “It’s hard to find a man who wants to be kept at home with a vacuum and a duster in his hands.”
Donald, who makes less money than his wife, doesn’t mind the monetary imbalance, and still pays his share of the bills and cooks. But, the Staten Island-based freelance computer repairman prefers that his wife do the housework.
“Most men feel that they can help out and do chores once in awhile,” he said, while his wife was not in the room. “But housework is really a woman’s job. They are genetically programmed for these tasks.”
Lynn, a working mother who lives in Whitestone, is the sole breadwinner in her home — and the housekeeper.
“For me, the upside is that [my husband] Bill gets to spend more time with [our son] Matthew, during the day and after school,” she says, happy in the belief that Bill is developing a strong emotional bond with Matthew. But, their situation is not without problems — the problems are just simply not financial. Bill gets stressed about his job situation and his role in the marital relationship. He helps with Matthew’s homework, doctor visits and recreation, but will not help with household chores that do not involve Matthew. He won’t pick up his own dry cleaning, cook, or clean.
Lynn also finds it difficult when Bill decides that he needs to do “guy stuff” with his friends on the weekends. She admits she can’t wait for him to find a job, so he can get out of the house and return to being the man she married.
When their roles become reversed and their wives are supporting the families, some men can feel emasculated — particularly when they are expected to help with chores, or they feel they are not getting the attention they think they deserve when their wives come home from work.
“In these tough economic times, most couples are simply trying to make it all work, regardless of the added social pressures of holding new or old roles in their domestic lives,” says John Gray, relationship expert and author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.”
“You both need to be more sensitive and accommodating to each other’s needs. You’ve built a life and a family together. Your shared future at every point is more important and certainly more lasting than any daily pressures you feel.”
Promises to help out and be more supportive are not as important as actually doing what is needed to improve the family‘s situation.
“Actions speak louder than words. My family is pulling together to work things out until the economy gets better,” says Anne, a working mother in Queens.
She makes what she calls “good money” as a medical assistant. But, she says, it wasn’t enough to support the family’s lifestyle when her husband Kurt lost his job 18 months ago. Her family has found ways to dramatically cut back on spending. When he couldn’t find work after several months, Kurt decided to return to school. Their young children needed to go to daycare, so Kurt now stays at home with the children during the day and goes to school at night.
Anne had been working at three different sites but had to cut back her hours, because she felt she was missing her rapidly growing children’s daily progress, and the company of her spouse. So the family sold the car and cut out cable TV and other luxuries. Currently, their condo is on the market, but they haven’t yet found a buyer.
Bronx resident Lydia is the primary breadwinner in her household. Her long-time spouse works on a part-time basis in a field that he enjoys. He is openly supportive of his wife’s career on a cognitive level, but on a primal level, he doesn’t seem to understand why she is not more motivated to do more cooking and cleaning in the house. They joke about their expectations of one another — her husband pounding his chest while yelling, “I’m a man,” while Lydia copies him and says, “I need a wife.”
We should remember the victories women have made in the business world and offer them real support when they are ready, able and willing to step up and provide for their families. Be glad for those who can pinch hit, financially, because we don’t know how many innings the downturn will last. But one thing is certain: Everyone will be a lot happier when this job market rebounds. Hopefully it will — and can — end the war between finance and romance.
Candi Sparks is the author of the “Can I Have Some Money?” book series. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook as Candi Sparks (writer).