Help! My Husband Wants to Go Back to School, Not Work

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I’m a wife, mother of two, and have a great career in the legal field. I’ve been supporting my husband since we got married three years ago while he finished his degree, which he did nine months ago. The plan was for him to start his own career after he graduated, but he has had no success finding a suitable job and is quickly losing hope for finding work in the field he studied.

He has a history of depression, and I think he is quite depressed. The only types of jobs he can get right now are for minimum wage doing things like janitorial work. He is unwilling to do that type of work out of concern it will kill his spirits and make it harder for him to get a job he really wants.

Instead of focusing what little energy he has on finding the job he wants, now he’s talking about going BACK to school to study something else with better career prospects. Needless to say, I’m not too keen on this plan, as I didn’t think I was signing up to be the sole breadwinner for the first five to seven years of our marriage, if not longer. It’s starting to feel like he’s taking me for granted and instead should be redoubling his efforts to put the degree he just attained to use.

I think he expects me to go along with his new plan. It’s true that I can afford to provide for the family by myself indefinitely, but that doesn’t sit well with me and it doesn’t feel fair or reasonable. I am afraid to bring up my true feelings about this out of fear it will worsen his depression and sense of hopelessness. His mental health seems precarious as it is.

He’s a good father despite not being my children’s biological dad. He’s a good husband, too, aside from this ongoing saga. I just don’t know what to do. I want to be with him, but I don’t know if I’m willing to go down this road again. I don’t want to resent him, but it feels, in a way, like I have three children. What do you think? —Sugar Mama

Dear Sugar Mama,

It sounds like you and your husband BOTH may be depressed, and you appear to be somewhat angry, too, about his inability to find a decent job and help support the family. I feel for you both. It’s hard to carry this load alone, as you have been doing for three years already. I imagine it’s hard for him to be carried by you, too, and to not be able to find suitable work.

I don’t know what kind of career he has in mind for himself, but it is true that some fields are slow starters. Maybe he’s thinking he made the wrong choice for himself professionally and wants to correct this mistake. Maybe you’re thinking you made the wrong romantic choice and want to correct that, too. At the very least, you feel burdened.

You are afraid to talk to your husband about your fears. I understand your concerns, but communication is a top priority in a deep relationship. Learning how to discuss difficult things together is part of learning how to get along with each other. It will serve your relationship well both now and in the future.

Despite his real problems work-wise, you state he is a good father to your children, even though they are not biologically his, and he is a good husband to you. These are priceless gifts. His ability to be caring, loving, and nurturing are important contributions to a happy family life.

You are afraid to talk to your husband about your fears. I understand your concerns, but communication is a top priority in a deep relationship. Learning how to discuss difficult things together is part of learning how to get along with each other. It will serve your relationship well both now and in the future.

I wonder if you have each considered counseling. Your husband might benefit from consulting with a career counselor, and it sounds like you both could benefit from couples counseling and perhaps individual therapy, too. Your family seems strong aside from this issue, certainly worth working to save, in spite of your resentful feelings. Love is a great and important gift. If talking this through with your husband (with or without a counselor present) would help preserve your marriage, consider it an investment in your family.

This is a decision you must make together. If you both want to stay together, or if you’re deciding on perhaps parting, please act to find counselors or social workers who can help you with this choice. Professional help can allow space and clarity to make any important decisions.

Marriages need to be cared for by both partners, but sometimes outside circumstances don’t favor family life—in fact, it can seem like they conspire against you. I hope you’ll do everything you can, together, to prevail. Silent resentment never works.

Good luck and take care,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • jocelyn S

    jocelyn S

    June 10th, 2016 at 10:49 AM

    Same thing with mine
    he would be a professional student if we could afford it

  • Robert

    Robert

    June 11th, 2016 at 2:48 PM

    First off I do strongly believe that it is imperative that we all get the very best education that is available and accessible to us. But I do not believe that once you have a family this is always going to be the best choice. You have to pay your bills, provide for the family and being in class all the time is neither going to give you the time to do that now will you automatically have the financial means to do that either. Those are all things that one has to take into consideration.If he is unwilling to do those things, that I could honestly say that he is being selfish to you and the family.

  • Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    June 12th, 2016 at 5:37 AM

    Hi Jocelyn and Robert–
    Sounds like you have thought this over and come to clear decisions. Thanks for writing.
    take care,
    Lynn

  • Marty

    Marty

    June 13th, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    When my husband lost his job back in 2008, we had to make some tough decisions,. There wasn’t that much work available in the fields he could work in so know what we did? He took out some student loans and went back to culinary school. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough and did not pay the bills. Yep we got in debt. But he was happy and as a result the rest of us were happy too. He has a job as a professional chef now which he loves and we will probably never fully get out of that debt we incurred, but it was trying to make the best out of a terrible situation and for us it has been okay.

  • Zoe

    Zoe

    June 13th, 2016 at 12:57 PM

    He has to be happy with his own life before he can ever do anything productive for the family too

  • Carson

    Carson

    June 13th, 2016 at 3:44 PM

    Well this is quite the tough situation that I hear that you have found yourself in. The positive of it is that it sounds like things would be alright financially if only you were working and he did go back to school, to pursue something that he loves. The bad thing is that I can already tell that there is a lot of resentment there if this is the path that he chooses and this could be hard for the two of you to deal with if he wants to go back to school and you can’t find a way to support that option for him. Maybe talking to a counselor could help both of you to come to a resolution that would work for the both of you. Or maybe being a part time student and working part time could work.

  • terrence

    terrence

    June 16th, 2016 at 1:43 PM

    What if, and I am just playing devil’s advocate here, but what if he sees going back to school as his way of doing more for the family?

    Obviously it might not mean that it is doing something for you right this minute, but you know, for in the long run.

    he could have reasons behind this that you might not be aware of yet.

  • Mason

    Mason

    June 26th, 2016 at 5:02 PM

    It has to be about doing what is right for the family first. There will always be time for school later, but you have to know that right now providing for the family has to remain the number one goal in your life. We all give up some of our hopes and dreams when we become parents, that’s the way it is. You can pursue your own dreams later, but right now get a job.

  • Jessica

    Jessica

    January 10th, 2017 at 11:18 AM

    If someone wants to go back to school, you should always encourage them. They want to better themselves and possibly be trained for a better career. My husband has gone back for his BA, much to my insistence. We don;t have any kids right now, but finances are still tough for us. I work at least 3 jobs at a time. Honestly though, he will get paid better once he has his degree. He’s been working and going to school at the same time, saving himself so much money in loans. I wish he would go back full time to finish up now instead of focusing on the money. He’s at a state school where he will have minimal loans. Education is one of the most powerful things out there, be it in the form of a traditional college degree or a trade certificate. Having skills to offer combined with education is the best way to get ahead.

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