How Should She Deal with a “Useless” Husband?

 By Jim Duzak

Dear Jim:  My husband and I have been married nine years. We both work full-time. He works hard at his job, but I do, too, which is why I’m annoyed that he never lifts a finger to help me at home. In nine years, he has never once loaded or emptied the dishwasher, washed or folded the clothes, done food shopping, or helped me clean the house. (OK, he takes out the trash). 

We have a seven year-old learning-disabled son, but my husband only does the fun stuff with him, like taking him to McDonald’s or baseball games. I do the not-so-fun stuff, like dealing with his teachers and counselors, helping him with his homework, etc.  

How do I deal with a useless husband, other than walk out on him (which I don’t want to do as long as my son is so young)? (“Stressed Out”)

Dear “Stressed Out”:  Is it possible your husband is useless because you’ve never insisted he be useful?

You don’t tell me whether you’ve told your husband how frustrated you are, but my guess is you haven’t, at least not in a long time. You probably expect your husband to see how overworked and stressed out you are and then voluntarily offer to take some of the burden off your shoulders. 

In an ideal world, that’s what would happen. In an ideal world, every husband would want to share the housework equally. Every husband would pay attention to his wife and pick up on her hints and her moods. Every man would pitch in whenever his wife’s daily demands were crushing her.

But in the real world a lot of husbands are lazy, or self-absorbed, or not particularly concerned about fairness. In the real world, a wife has to tell her husband exactly what she needs from him. And she has to make it clear that it’s not just a one-time request. The whole system has to change.

You need to have a talk with your husband, at a time when the two of you are alone and in a reasonably good mood. Although you’ll be tempted to bring up the past (“You never helped me when I needed it…”), don’t do it. It’s water under the bridge and will only invite retaliation (“Well, why didn’t you ask me? I’m not a mind reader…”). Focus on the future, and don’t waste time or energy assigning blame.

And then get down to specifics. Don’t overwhelm your husband by giving him ten different jobs that must begin immediately. Start with just one, preferably one that’s easy to learn. Spend some time teaching him how to do it right, and let him do it for a while before you add another one to the list.

Be sure to compliment him on how well he does these jobs, and thank him for his willingness to pitch in.

With any luck, the two of you will soon start feeling like a team. Teamwork in marriage doesn’t necessarily require an equal division of labor, but it does require each person to understand and accept his or her role and be grateful for the work the other person is doing.

So, if you make your intentions clear and avoid acting in a punitive way, you shouldn’t have to walk out on your husband. Good luck, and please let me know if this helps.

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