A letter to … my wife, who won’t get a job while I work myself to death

The letter you always wanted to write

I remember the thrill of first seeing you at law school orientation. You were radiant in a sea of dour, nervous faces. It quickly became clear that you were kind, down-to-earth, engaging, loyal to family and friends. By graduation, we were inseparable. We took the bar exam and were married. The future looked bright two freshly minted lawyers with supportive families and a dream of starting a family of our own some day.

I started my career with the gruelling hours and high stress that are traditionally visited on young lawyers. You were unexpectedly ambivalent about finding a good job or any job. After gentle pressure from me, and more from the student loan payments, you puttered around in some non-legal positions more suited for someone with half your education and intelligence, and which offered commensurately low pay.

Pregnancy something we both wanted diverted you to the most important job in the world. After a few years, we were blessed with a second child. You have never returned to work, although both kids have been at school full-time for years, and our firstborn is heading to college soon.

Ive climbed the professional ladder reasonably well. We have the trappings of middle-class success a nice house in a safe, quiet neighborhood; annual holidays; happy, healthy children; money saved for their college years. But it has come at enormous personal cost to me. My stress level has increased dramatically with added responsibilities at work and my health has deteriorated. People who havent seen me for years flinch when we meet again and Ive attended more than one event at which I have overheard someone remarking on how much Ive aged.

I dont think I can do this for another 25 years. I often dream of leaving my firm for a less demanding position, with you making up any financial deficit with a job even a modest one of your own. Ive asked, and sometimes pleaded, for years with you to get a job, any job. Many of my free hours are spent helping with the house and the kids, and I recognise that traditional gender roles are often oppressive, but that cuts both ways. I would feel less used and alone if you pitched in financially, even a little.

Thats not going to happen. It has become clear that you are OK with my working myself to death at a high-stress career that I increasingly hate, as long as you dont have to return to the workforce.

You keep busy volunteering, exercising and pursuing a variety of hobbies. You socialise with similarly situated women who also choose to remain outside the paid workforce. You all complain about various financial pressures, but never once consider, at least audibly, that you could alleviate the stress on both your budgets and your burnt-out husbands by earning some money yourselves.

Our family is grateful for all that we enjoy and we know that were far more fortunate than millions who work far harder than I ever have, or will. And I know all too well that work can be unpleasant. But I dont want you to work so I can buy a Jaguar or a holiday home. I want you to work so I can get a different position and we can still maintain a similar standard of living.

I want you to get a job so I dont wake up in the middle of the night worrying that my career is the only one between us and financial ruin. I want you to work so our marriage can feel more like a partnership and I can feel less like your financial beast of burden. I want our daughter to see you in the workforce and I want her to pursue a career so she is never as dependent on a man as you are on me, no matter how much he loves her (and he will).

But mostly I want you to get a job because I want to feel loved.


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