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Dear Miss SmartyPants,

Hi. My wife and I agreed when we had kids that she would stay home until the youngest was in school. The youngest has been in school for a year-and-a-half now and she isn't working, isn't looking for work, and has told me that she doesn't want to go back to work because she enjoys having time to pursue her hobbies. I've explored many avenues here: she's not depressed and she herself admits that she'd be able to easily pick up a part-time position in her line of work. It's not like I'm asking her to start billing 4000 hour a year at a law firm; I just want some help providing for my family. We have discussed it quite a bit. Discussed it so much, as a matter of fact, that she's made it clear she doesn't want to discuss it any longer.

Do I have any options here at all that I'm not seeing?


Dear Blind-sided,

Hmm. Well, you could say, "I would like to have time to pursue my hobbies, too, but I don't have that choice because I have to work every day, which suddenly doesn't seem fair."

But consider: it's not as if her job as chief parent is gone. There's a whole lot of childrearing left to be done, it's just happening after school hours. I could see her not wanting to jump from that job to one that grabs all her weekdays - again, while the kids are still pretty needy.

Having said that in her defense, the fact remains that you both agreed that your wife would go back to work when all the kids were in school, and now she is going back on it.

Certainly situations change from how we envisioned them, and people's feelings change. And when a couple decides together on a fairly big issue such as this, if one partner wants to back out, he/she needs to have a good reason. And maybe yourwife does, maybe she doesn't. But you must get her to talk about it and come up with a solution. You two need to open your minds to various ways a spouse can contribute to the family workload and wellbeing, and use that to decide ways you can both pull your weight without growing to resent the other.

OK, I have thrown in possible mitigating/complicating factors for you to consider before you accuse her of being a promise-breaking, leisure-seeking barnacle. I do so for two reasons: 1. I think these household-balance situations really are that complicated, and 2. I think there's a better chance of a happy outcome if you go into the conversation inclined to be charitable, vs. ready to be angry.

If necessary, you might both need to take this to a marriage counselor, but first you can try approaching it directly with her as, again, a fairness and balance-of-labor issue. If you've gone the, "We had an agreement," route, you need to abandon it, since, especially with kids, what you expect can be so different from what you get. Better to stick to the present, a present in which you feel you are carrying a disproportionate amount of the weight. Either she has a different view of it, which she owes it to you to share (and you owe it to her to hear without bias), or she's fine with your working harder than she does, which she needs to admit to your face.

As in all disagreements between spouses, both parties are best served by trying to find some room to agree, even the (possibly) wronged spouse, even if the (possibly) unreasonable spouse technically doesn't deserve it. Until you are both comfortable with the arrangement, the discussion remains open.

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