What Happens When Your Spouse Decides She No Longer Wants to Work?

Figuring out a short-term solution to a long-term problem

I received a message from a connection on social media about a situation where his wife no longer wants to work. Matt, upon receiving a response from me, went on to share more of the story. He and Shelly were engaged to be married in July 2012. Shelly lost her job just before their wedding in October 2012. Despite their financial situation becoming a little more stressed, the couple went ahead with the wedding in front of about 100 family members and friends.

Matt and Shelly had a conversation prior to the wedding in which they both acknowledged the need to increase their household income. However, after the wedding took place, Shelly told Matt she would prefer to stay at home with their 2-year old daughter instead of looking for another job. Shelly’s decision blew Matt away and they have had ongoing, heated discussions about the situation ever since.

Matt works as an IT Support Analyst in Atlanta, where he makes $75,000 per year. This amount allows them to stay afloat, but the couple is no longer able to save any money or do any extracurricular activities. Matt desires to take care of his family, but it’s becoming a little frustrating because he’s unable to progress at the pace he originally planned.

I shared with Matt that he needs to document the financial facts and show them to his wife. Based on his income, the two can afford to maintain a decent standard of living. However, they may have to downgrade in certain areas of their lifestyle in order to accommodate the lower overall household income. They don’t own a home, which allows them the flexibility of moving into an apartment with lower rent. I also told Matt to consider downgrading their automobiles in order to increase their overall cashflow. They can no longer afford to maintain their $636 and $554 car payments if they expect to also be able to save money.

In addition to the financial impact of Shelly’s decision, it also exposes a communication issue with the couple. They need to have a heart-to-heart about how decisions need to be made going forward. When two people are impacted by decisions, it’s even more important to obtain the buy-in of a spouse before proceeding forward. Marriage is the merging of two people’s lives together for a better future. That being said, selfishness is a sure-fire way to compromise a relationship and destroy a marriage.

What advice would you give to Matt?

Kenny Pugh is a Life & Relationship Strategist, Author of ‘Can You Do It Standing Up?’, Speaker, HLN Contributor, singles leader and sought-after speaker on singleness, relationships, finances and life. He is also the visionary behind KTP Financial, LLC (www.ktpfinancial.com). You can find more information about Kenny at http://www.kennypugh.com. You can follow him on Facebook at Kenny Pugh or on Twitter @mrkennypugh.

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  • Valerie

    Downsize housing… is she willing to start/work a home based business? Hope they can make it work.

    • Kenny Pugh

      Yep…I think things will work out for them.

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  • Leon

    It’s understandable when a new mother does not want to leave her child in the care of day care centers or babysitters. I am sure that Matt’s salary is more than sufficient to take care of the family without need for drastic change in life style. One thing that can be changed for sure is the use of two car’s. if only one person works then i don’t see a need for two vehicles.

    Also they probably can shop in bulk, and avoid dining out too often. It appears the problem has more to do with money management and less to do with a second income, although the latter would be preferable.

    Besides once the child reaches the age to begin school, i’m confident she might want to go back to work, even part time to occupy her free time during the day.

    • Kenny Pugh

      Do you agree with how she communicated her desire? It wasn’t mutually discussed and agreed to.

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  • HOUSTON

    “selfishness is a sure-fire way to compromise a relationship and destroy a marriage.” What type of idiotic statement is this? How is she selfish because she doesn’t want to go back out and work like a RANT MULE, which is typical in most black marriages and households, so that HE can progress further?

    Do you have any idea how much money they are actually saving in daycare, gas, mileage, work overhead, housekeepers, food costs by having her stay at home with her child? And who is to say that she could not use a spare room in the house or a corner to start a home business to generate income.
    Your advice to “gather the bills and show her what she is doing” is the WORST. Calling her “selfish” because she is not adhering to some discussions that were had before they were married AND before a child was in the works is RIDICULOUS. In white households, it’s extremely normal for the wife to stay home once a child is born and become the household caretaker. Running a household is a job too!

    In addition, they are not living in New York, Chicago or LA. They are living in ATLANTA! Not exactly hard to stretch $75K there, now is it? Really Kenny, some of the advice you give with your ongoing and underlying digs at BLACK WOMEN are just ridiculous. I’m sure at the end of the day the husband and the child will say “Gee, I sure am glad I was able to provide and I had a wife and mother raise my kids in a stable home environment” rather then “Damn, I wish my LAZY ARSE SPOUSE would pick up a and get a job and generate MORE BILLS TO PAY”. Really, think before you dish advice.

    • ❤❤❤

      Lol! You’re so angry.

  • Simon Says

    My advice to both of them would be to serk counseling; therapy. There is a deeper issue at the heart of the matter. Life is about choices and when you’re in a relationship/marriage, you MUST consider how those choices would impact the other person. If you’re the type of person who likes making decisions independently, PLEASE do not get married. This may keep you from going to divorce court and subsequently contributing the divorce rate. She did the switcha roo :) . Even if she changed her mind about seeking employment. This should have been openly and honestly communicated.

  • Shanls36

    I don’t think the selfishness is in the desire to stay at home and raise your child, but the selfishness is in not communicating that desire. I do not believe that she suddenly decided not to go back to work; rather she already felt this in her heart. Even if she wasn’t completely sold out to the idea- the mere thought should have been communicated. Marriage is a compromise and I agree with one of the commenters that the savings of no daycare costs, getting rid of the second vehicle and saving in other areas is just one facet. I believe we must get back to what is really important and trust me…money is NOT all that. We do however, need it as an exchange for goods and services, but we must understand that success should not viewed as how much “stuff” we can accumulate. Money is seed, therefore, a tool.
    Once a child is brought into the picture, we need to consider not only the financial needs but the emotional, psychological, educational and social needs as well. Our priorities in this culture are so skewed by the desire to accumulate more and more, just to continue to have an unfulfilled soul.
    All of that being said, if there wasn’t a conversation about this very important subject, both parties are in error and $75,000 is nothing to sneeze at. I’ve had that salary recently (5 years ago – before my layoff) with two teenage boys in high school and supporting daughters in college. Thankfully, my sons are out of school and now in college are all are self-supporting. I am living off less than half of that owning a home and having a car payment. How? By God’s grace…no additional income and building a business (using my $$ to invest).
    This is a time for them to consider the wonderful opportunity to create passive streams of income and work (create and walk in purpose), rather than labor (sustain someone else’s system).
    Marriage Key: COMMUNICATE

  • Name

    “Matt and Shelly had a conversation prior to the wedding in which they both acknowledged the need to increase their household income.” This could mean very different things to each individual. To the wife it may mean you should get a better paying job (but honestly $75k should be more than enough). To the husband it may mean the wife getting a job. The problem is a lack of effective communication from both parties. That being said, I think having a stay at home mom for children is invaluable. If scaling back your living is necessary it is worth it in the long run not only for the child but the family as a whole. I loved coming home to my mother when I was a kid and I was a very successful student and I am now an engineer. My mother stayed home and brought income into our home as a babystitter for working mothers in our neighborhood. Once we were older she worked outside the home. I would suggest they have a heartfelt discussion and come to a compromise that is agreeable to both parties.
    On another note I would suggest that men should not get married if thier sole income can not support a family. Your wife should have the option to stay home with the kids.

  • Heather Brown

    Network marketing/direct sales businesses are a great way to increase household income without having to go to a brick and mortar business. She can have the best of both worlds and help out in order to bring in extra income. And then I would look at what they are spending and make sure it isn’t anything frivolous or not something that can be cut out for the time being. Also, I don’t think she’s being selfish. I would much rather stay at home and raise my child and forego some luxuries in order to raise my child myself.

  • VickieDee

    People get married to move forward in their lives not go backwards. She decided on her own that she would not return to work, and is now using him as a free ride and a meal ticket. This man now has to not only pay his car note, but hers, along with HER other personal bills brought into the marriage. This was not a joint decision so that is the selfishness part. It would have been wise to discuss first paying off some of the bills so that they would not have to downgrade and move into an apartment. I am quite sure that if this man wanted to stay in an apartment, he would have stayed single.

  • BLESSEDONE

    She’s being selfish point blank. 75K is not that much with debts for two parties/rent/and a child let’s be real.Atlanta is not all that cheap when the cost of food/gas etc. is the same as DC. They can find cheaper housing though on the outskirt of town. Before she decides to not look for work at all, I suggest she temp for six months to help build a reserve. It’s obvious her decision is straining her husband but she doesn’t seem to care, COMPROMISE is the key word in a marriage. If homebusinesses were that easy to start everyone would have one. She needs to do what is best for the FAMILY.

  • seen it all

    I have been married for 36 years to the same person. You cannot make unilateral decisons that affect both sposuses, the household and the marital unit. She breached an agreement they had before they got married. I have seen wives decide that they want to stay home and not work and end up trying to control their husbands’ income. If she does not go back to work or develop a business she can operate from home she will not accummulate anyhting she owns-social secuirty, a retirement plan,assets that she earned and acquired.Thisis a foolish economic decision for many reasons.
    What if he decides this is not what I agreed to nor bargained for and he decides to leave and divorce her then where will she be back at having to get a job to support herself.
    I was a divorce attorney for 10 years. Many men can and do divorce their wives over this very issue. You cannot agree to marry someone on one basis and then change the rules unilaterally after you get married.

  • Mico

    I think she pulled a fast one on him AFTER the wedding. I know someone whom the same situation happened and 5 years later she remained unemployed. She’s using her two year old as an excuse and I’m sure that wasn’t the conversation before. It’s unfair to her spouse and he needs to give her some alternatives and a deadline because in todays economy having gaps in employment makes it even tougher.

  • BillW

    I have to smile seeing all of the comments where people are asserting facts or underlying motivations that they couldn’t possibly know with certainty. The one thing that is clear is that more communication is necessary. I would encourage Matt to engage his wife calmly and with understanding. What has changed for Shelly in terms of her financial priorities? What are her aspirations for financial security, and long-term goals such as saving for retirement, and for their child’s education? Do both parties have a clear understanding, and a shared understanding, of the financial implications of staying at home, vs. two working parents? All of the considerations, including cost of child care, keeping a second car, even costs of maintaining a professional wardrobe, should be considered, with both parties agreeing to the “facts.” And the dollars and cents need to be weighed against the quality of life implications of two working parents vs. having one income and a stay-at-home parent. As was pointed out, the issue is not selfishness, or even broken promises or changed minds, as much as it is a problem of honest communication, shared decision-making, and effective strategies for resolving differences of opinion. At the end of the day its about making things work for the person you intend to spend your life with, as well as for yourself. It’s not about winning the argument, or who reneged on an agreement.