Want to Help Your Spouse—But Don’t Know How? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

When I met my husband, he was attending a prestigious business school. He graduated top of his class and was aggressively recruited by a big company. We thought he would rise quickly, get regular salary increases, and it would all be rosy. In the meantime, I would help out working as an admin and then I would stay home with the kids.

Well, he didn’t rise—in fact, he was let go after 18 months. Then he was fired from his next job. In all, he has been “downsized,” as he says, four times and is currently unemployed.

My plans to work and then stay home have gone in a different direction. It turns out I am really good at what I do and I really like working. My company paid for me to go to grad school at night, I have risen through the ranks, and now have an excellent job managing a team of professionals in a growing industry. I mostly do the second shift to allow me to spend time with our kids.

I keep trying to help and encourage my husband, but it’s not going well. When I make suggestions, he accuses me of lording my success over him. He rants about how smart he is and how well he did in business school. He says despite what I might think, I am really just a glorified admin, which really hurts my feelings.

My husband refuses to accept responsibility for anything that has happened. I am at a loss for how I can help him anymore. He is so depressed now he can barely get off the couch, much less show up well for a job interview. What would you do?

Can’t Help

Dear Can’t Help,

I am sorry your plans as a couple haven’t worked out the way you expected, but I am thrilled you found a job you are good at and enjoy.

My short answer about how you can help your husband is this: you can’t. Your husband has an underlying issue he is not dealing with that is keeping him from growing up and developing self-awareness about the part he has played in his work experiences.

When a person has had a lot of opportunity, has failed repeatedly, and then blames everyone but themselves for their lack of success, it is often due to a deeper problem—sometimes substance abuse or a personality disorder. Those two things are traditionally what keep people from being able to show up with their best foot forward and tell the truth about what is happening to them.

Sometimes people really do have terrible luck—but the fact that your husband is mean to you when you have clearly been supportive of him is an indicator that there is more going on here.

You and your husband need professional help. I am not sure what kind—but starting to work with a counselor or therapist would be a good first step. A professional will know what to look for and can recommend the right direction. Not every professional is going to be a good fit, so trust your own gut.

If your husband won’t go, go by yourself and get the support you need to take care of yourself. It is not unkind or unfeeling of you to stop providing help to someone who has not asked for it and in fact repays it with meanness. At this rate, you are going to run out of steam before too long, so I highly recommend you put yourself and your kids first.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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