Married to an Unmotivated Man

By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach;

With Linda Riley, LMFT & Certified Sex Therapist

Right now you know a woman working at least two jobs, (not counting parenting children and running a household), who is married to an unmotivated man. It may be a co-worker, a sister, a neighbor or friend at church, but you know this woman. Here’s what you don’t know.

She’s hurting more now than she ever has before. Why? Because recession hurts the most when you’re married to an unmotivated man.

These women have a major problem, they believe they really love the guy on the couch who just can’t or won’t keep a job. This causes another major problem, because they don’t want their children to suffer or do without the basics, like new shoes, school supplies or playing little league. And so they do the only thing they think they can do- they work, and work and then they work some more. Work is all they do because an average family needs 60-80 hours of income to take care of their home budget, which means that both parents are working 30-40 hours per week, or one person is working two jobs just trying to keep their family afloat.

Obviously not every man who is temporarily out of work is an unmotivated man who makes life miserable for his wife. In fact, a highly motivated man will always find something to do to support his family during tough times so his wife usually feels emotionally secure that he will provide for her and the kids. This article isn’t about guys who dig in during tough times to live out the words of their wedding vows to be there, ‘in sickness and in health, for richer- for poorer’, no this article is about a very different kind of marriage, and one that gets much worse during difficult economic times. Let’s start by looking at both of the major problems this exhausted woman faces, and then a third problem that is often overlooked.

1. Lazy men or just Losers?

First, what’s up with the guy on the couch who isn’t providing enough income to meet the needs of his family- what makes guys like this so unmotivated? Well, some guys are just lazy- they grew up without any self-discipline, or self-respect and they just won’t keep gainful employment.

Their mother’s didn’t do them any favors since some guys never grow up, and marry someone to take over where their mother left off… they expect hot meals, clean clothes, healthy children, the bills to be paid and someone to function as an attractive personal assistant- but they refuse to give back to the relationship. This type of marriage isn’t a partnership at all, it’s sort of like the medieval system of a master and peasant, and the woman is basically expected to be a slave to meet his every need. 100% about him- and 0% left for her.

Then there is another group of unmotivated men, simply put, the ‘losers’. They may have failed in their education, or failed in their career aspirations, and have just given up on finding a good job to meet the needs of their family. Some guys in this group will go out to work at a job well below their potential just to avoid feeling like a failure again, which is better than nothing, yet eventually the bills will overshadow the gap in their income, leading to another major financial failure if they don’t change.

Often women want to make excuses for their husbands continual failures, or blame it on his low self-esteem, but there comes a time in life where a man has to step up to the plate to become a man, which often means him going out to seek some help from others so he doesn’t have to not fail again. However, many times he just keeps repeating the same mistakes, which just dumps more problems onto his wife to fix while he escapes by watching sports on TV.

It should be noted that sometimes a man is unmotivated because of substance abuse issues. Potheads, alcoholics and porn addicts don’t think about providing for their family, they think about themselves. Sometimes what may look like a motivation problem is actually due to bigger psychological or substance issues, which would take professional intervention, diagnosis and treatment. The problem is that addicts don’t usually seek help until they crash, and if they are enabled by others, they can stay addicted for years while creating terrible pain and hardship for those around them.

The last group of unmotivated men aren’t lazy or losers they just never learned which career path to take so they take the first job available. They may work hard for years, but will struggle to get ahead because they haven’t found career coaches, leaders or mentors to guide them in moving up the career ladder.

They end up being unmotivated because they feel the desperation of being alone yet often are just too afraid to seek out help to discover their career strengths, so they slowly sink financially, while watching other more motivated guys get ahead.

An interesting problem is that this guy might actually sabotage any efforts to try and help him because he feels so hyper-sensitive about even discussing how he is trapped in a dead end job. He may fight against those who reach out with good advice on making some positive career changes to experience the financial freedom to provide for their family in a stable way. Oddly enough, even though it’s their greatest fear, they can often be so prideful that they don’t let anyone come alongside to help them face it with courage and so they stay stuck in a downward career spiral, leaving the growing financial burden on their wife. Their fear of making a career change hurts the people they say they love the most.

Good guys – or unmotivated men in disguise?

Many of these guys may appear to be clean-cut, all-American, likable husbands and fathers who volunteer at church, mow the grass, don’t act mean, hateful or abusive, but they are still married to an exhausted woman. This is because recessions are tougher when a woman is trying to bridge the financial gap in their family budget by overworking to make up for the areas where their husband is unmotivated to change.

2. How much is enough?

The second major problem this woman is facing deals with a combination of expectation and entitlement. There is tremendous pressure placed on parents to ‘do the right thing’ for their kids, which often is interpreted as being forced to provide the latest and greatest cell phone, elaborate birthday parties and expensive forms of entertainment for their kids. It is not a sign of bad parenting to say ‘no’ to things you cannot afford it’s actually a sign of strength and will help a child learn that you can’t have everything you want. Part of being a responsible adult is learning how to control and manage financial impulses.

This situation can create a downward spiral of spending because some moms try to over-compensate for the lack of parenting from their passive husbands, then add the guilt she may feel from being gone so much of the time trying to make more money to pay the bills and you have a recipe for a spoiled child, strained marriage and pending financial disaster.

The financial reality that some activities can’t be done in a given month may be hard to deal with in the short term, but it’s a lot better than collecting massive debt to create an artificial lifestyle to keep everyone feeling happy for a while. Some women live in continual fear that the credit card lifestyle they secretly use to fill the gap of living with an unmotivated man will one day come crashing down, so they keep this credit spending hidden like an addiction inside, hoping every day that she will make it to the mailbox before her husband discovers her secret.

3. Hidden roadblock to living with an unmotivated man

Mark Twain said, “If the truth hurts- it should.” Women married to an unmotivated man often don’t want to hear the truth about their husband. They may fiercely defend his lack of employment, his bad luck with bosses, speak up about how he loves the kids but just doesn’t have time for them, because once they openly acknowledge that their husband is an unmotivated man, it makes it real, and once it’s real, it means that something has to change.

It’s hard to face this reality, and it’s hard to confront a man they care about, so to avoid the risk of hurting his feelings they just carry the burdens inside. Another common way women avoid making their husband uncomfortable is by secretly asking their parents for money to make it another month, and grandparents are suckers when it comes to providing for the needs of their daughter and grandkids… so it goes on month after month until someone runs out of cash. No more cash means things eventually will crash.

Recessions quickly force things out into the open that might have gone unnoticed in a better economy. Unmotivated men are a big one. Exhausted women feel desperate when they reach the end of their financial rope… without access to lines of equity, retirement accounts or the inability to get a family loan from parents who may be financially stretched from a deflated stock portfolio or undervalued real estate market. When she runs out of options a woman has to face a painful reality. Get honest about the problems caused by the unmotivated man in her life and then confront them boldly, or silently find some negative way to cope, (like overeating). She will slowly and silently drown in her sadness if someone close to the situation doesn’t step in to ask some direct questions and offer real help.

This isn’t about blame shifting or attacking a man’s character as a human being, it’s about the basic financial reality of a shared financial partnership to run a family together. It’s about sharing marital responsibility instead of dumping everything onto an exhausted women going through life alone like a single parent, (except she just happens to be legally married to a non-producer who financially drags her down).

Sadly, it may take an exhausted women feeling completely overwhelmed to finally take action and say, ‘listen Mister- I desperately need help running this household and it’s time for you to grow up’. A husband-wife partnership requires both people yet some women are so used to the dysfunction of living with an unmotivated man that she is almost numb to the idea that things could ever change.

Change requires Confrontation

No one likes conflict, but this type of relationship problem can’t improve without direct communication and confrontation. Most women won’t be able to do this alone, because most women have tried many ways to get their unmotivated husband to change and it didn’t work. So if talking to him doesn’t work, a woman has to have some back-up to confront in a way the unmotivated man can begin to hear. This may come from a parent, a trusted friend, pastor, counselor or career coach.

Be sensitive to this tired woman, she needs someone to help her turn her husband around, but she doesn’t need to be judged or criticized- she does enough of that against herself every day. If you want to really help her, don’t blame, just point out the realities of the situation and ask how you can help. There is a biblical principle that says, “in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom and safety.” And this woman needs both… wisdom and safety, so be kind as you move forward to gently, but firmly offer help.

Sometimes it may involve the unmotivated man having someone come alongside to create a step by step approach of accountability that includes building confidence through attending men’s groups, leadership events, personal development seminars, career coaching or church retreats on learning new skills as a healthy husband and father. The information for unmotivated men to change is available- it’s out there. He still has to be the one to go out and seek it.

Often he won’t begin to change until being hit with some very hard realities. The most severe that he may lose everything of value to him if he doesn’t take bold action to turn things around for his family before it’s too late.

Leading families in partnership together

He has to move from being an unmotivated man to becoming more self-disciplined as a leader for his family, and if you say that word very slowly, you will discover the real answer to solve many of the problems of an exhausted wife… she needs someone to ‘lead –her’. Not a boss lording over her- she needs a partner. She needs a motivated man who wants to build a great family by her side, no longer like a married ‘single parent’ no- now as partners building memories, instead of being in misery.

When a man learns how to be a motivated leader things can turn around rapidly, and no matter how deep the recession, if a husband and wife are working together they will not just survive it, they will thrive from the blessings of being partners pulling together through the toughest of times, instead of slowly drifting apart.

Someone you know is the woman in this article. May these words challenge you to reach out with God’s love and a gentle heart to let her know that she is not alone and that she can count on you for support as she takes action to finally end the crazy problems that come from being married to an unmotivated man.

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About the authors-

Dwight Bain is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice over 25 years with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He is an author and member of the National Speakers Association who partners with media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference.

Linda Riley is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Sex Therapist, woman's support group leader, divorce recovery expert, and guest lectures for medical staffs around the country. She is a radio and television guest, with over 25 years of experience in marital conflict and intimate communication.

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