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Dear Mary: 'My self-employed husband hasn't brought in a wage for eight years'


Bills will not arrive in houselholds until April

Bills will not arrive in houselholds until April

Getty Images/Creatas RF

Many relationships have been put under huge strain by the economic downturn of recent years

Many relationships have been put under huge strain by the economic downturn of recent years


Bills will not arrive in houselholds until April

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Q: This is probably not the right place to go with my particular problem, and I know that many others are far worse off than we are, but I cannot turn anywhere else because my husband would be very upset if I ever let down the side, as I feel I need to.

It is the economic situation which is at the root of it all. Despite the upturn we do not - and will not - feel it. I am in a permanent, paid full-time State job, and aware that I am very fortunate. Because of this, everyone thinks we are fine. My husband was self-employed - and still is - but he has had no income for the last eight years.

My own wages have been cut and frozen - when I look at the wage slips from eight years ago the net income is nearly half of what it used to be. We have children in and around their teens. We had savings but they have been whittled away paying the weekly grocery shopping as my wage barely covers the mortgage, ESB, insurance, tax and phones. We don't go on holidays, don't spend on new cars or clothes, and try to save every penny. It is, however, not enough.

But nobody can know, and I cannot go and find a second income myself because my husband says that would make him look terrible and how could I even consider such a thing. He cannot get another job - he is too old, too independent - and certainly not around here as it would be admitting to failure, and way too humiliating. He is not eligible for any State aid, dole or JobBridge as he is self-employed. He is at home, depressed, and sees no way out.

In the evenings, he may get some cans and then wants to spend the night talking to me, asking for ideas, asking me to be his shoulder to cry on. But anything I suggest as a solution is rejected as humiliating, and I cannot cry on anyone else's shoulder. It gets very hard for me to think logically. I have trouble sleeping, and have been sick but cannot afford to take time off work as that means a trip to the doctor for a cert - and I cannot afford that.

If the children get sick we do not go to the doctor unless it is very serious. Very soon the savings will be gone, and I am staring into the abyss. This hasn't been very well worded but I am sending it to you because I cannot send it to anyone else. How can I get another source of income without stepping on hubby's toes?

MARY: You say that 'Dear Mary' is most likely not the right forum for you to get answers to your problem, and as regards information on the dole, JobBridge and entitlements you are correct - you would be given all the relevant information for your particular situation and guided in the right direction by the Citizens Information Board.

But this is not really the problem - what you are trying to deal with is your husband's intransigence regarding anybody knowing that all is not well with the family's finances. So rather than saying 'what can we do together to help things?' he is asking you to find a solution whereby he gets to save face and continues to be seen as a breadwinner. Naturally, he shoots down everything you suggest because there is no easy answer, and if you were to get a second job then people would know.

While I understand his reluctance to let people know what is going on, I find it very difficult to accept that you have to be put in this position. After all, neither of you has done anything wrong, or anything to be ashamed of, and a lot of other people are in the same boat, with whatever variation of the story is relevant in their particular cases. But they will all be trying to exist on far less money than they had in the 'glory days' and they are trying to do their best to provide for their families. It is grossly unfair that you have to shoulder all the worry as he dumps his feelings of inadequacies onto you, and you cannot talk to anybody else about it.

If the answer to your current problem is for you to take a second job, then so be it. He can't have it both ways and you cannot sink under the weight of all this because of his pride. He has forced you into a very difficult situation and you need to be very strong now to get him to see the futility of his way of dealing with things.

You seem to be willing to take on a second job, and instead of being critical he should be grateful. Tell him that you are going to go ahead and do this because it is the only way out, and emphasise that nobody is going to judge him as being less of a man because of the way the economy has affected you both.

Perhaps, as a compromise, there is some way that he can help you while you are working, such as helping with the chores or extracurricular activities with the children so that there is more of an equal partnership feel about things rather than you doing all the work. If, however, nothing changes and he remains adamant that you don't do this then he will only have himself to blame when things hit rock bottom.


Sunday Independent

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