By Esther Mann, LCSW
My husband is cheap and lazy. Well, probably more lazy than cheap, but either way, it doesn’t work for me. “Jack” is in his own business and it is of the manual labor variety. He must be good at what he does, because he has more business than he wants to handle. There is never a lack of jobs for him to go to. The problem is that he doesn’t accept them often enough. He’ll keep customers hanging for days, weeks, and sometimes even months.
There have been days that I’ve come home and found him taking a nap in the middle of the day! He’s only 31 years old, for goodness’ sake. What is a 31-year-old doing napping in the middle of the day? I go ballistic when I find him napping. But he always has an excuse. A headache, he didn’t sleep well the night before, his morning job was so draining, or he had to regroup.
I also work, and I work hard. I’m on my feet, and though I work only three days a week, they are full days and demanding. But you’ll never catch me napping in the middle of the day. There’s just always too much to do. And even if I didn’t have something to do, the thought of a young person napping kind of makes me sick. My 83-year-old grandmother never takes a nap during the day.
Oh, and he even occasionally takes a day off. In the summertime he likes to take a day to go to the beach. Just like that. Even though he’s got plenty of work waiting for him to tend to. But he loves the beach and sees nothing wrong with taking a Monday off to relax. In the winter he will sometimes go skiing for the day.
So besides not relating and frankly being turned off by his lazy ways, there is a practical downside to his choices. We have a home, thank G‑d (and thanks to our parents), but it is very far from furnished. I’m plotzing to order a couch and coffee table, not to mention drapes and many other items for our home. When I bring up the subject, Jack says we can’t afford it. Well, of course we can’t afford it. If he didn’t take so many naps and days off, I’m sure we would be able to put together enough money to furnish our home. And there are other things I’d love to spend money on for our children and ourselves.
I’m not so sure how much of this is cheapness, or just his not caring so much about how he lives and it’s simply not important to him whether or not his home looks normal, if it means hustling, like so many other husbands I see around, to do what is necessary to buy all the regular stuff that people need.
We fight about this all the time. I tell him he has to work harder and provide better for his family. He tells me that he doesn’t live to work—he works to live. Whatever that means, I still want a couch to sit on when we have company!
How do I get Jack to understand that napping and taking days off is just not optional? It would go against my grain no matter what, but I believe I would be able to tolerate it if I felt that I wasn’t having to do without, just because he’s so lazy.
I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall and am extremely frustrated at this point. Can you give me some advice how I can shake Jack up enough to get him to understand my needs and respect my expectations?
Everyone has different priorities, as you are learning the hard way. There’s always a toss-up in all of the choices we make. How much effort are we willing to put out there in order to attain the goodies? This applies to everything in life and we must always decide which fork in the road will ultimately be most rewarding for us.
There are usually good reasons that prompt such choices. But sometimes even the person in question can’t fully tune in to their own behaviors and understand why they are acting in ways that are ultimately not in their best interests, why they seem to intentionally be taking the wrong fork in the road. Like a puppet on a string, we’ve all experienced moments when it seemed we were being manipulated by some unidentifiable force to make bad choices for reasons unknown even to ourselves.
In Jack’s case, maybe the first question to ask is whether there is something emotionally unhealthy going on within him. Some need to sabotage his business, his marriage, his success, and even ultimately himself. Many people have demons within. You can refer to it as the yetzer ha’ra, or use some psychological language to label that force that often propels individuals to act in self-defeating ways. And it can apply to all sorts of behaviors. This is the most extreme justification I can come up with, and I’m probably going overboard even suggesting it. However, when you mention that Jack doesn’t necessarily get back to customers in a timely fashion, I wonder whether this can ultimately come back to bite him and customers will get frustrated and decide to go elsewhere for their services.
If there is something emotional going on with Jack, then the answer lies within him, and probably only a trained professional can help him tap into his feelings and help him work through whatever demons are getting in his way. And by the way, excessive sleeping could also be a sign of depression, though you haven’t mentioned any other symptoms that would lead me to this conclusion.
Secondly, have you ever considered the fact that maybe there is something physical going on with Jack? For a 31-year-old to take a nap during the day, one would think that he needs to be checked out thoroughly by a good internist, in order to determine if there is a physical basis for his need to sleep at such random times. However, it sounds like when it comes to skiing, he does have plenty of energy, so that is a bit confusing.
Could it simply be that Jack hates what he does for a living? Have you ever discussed that with him? Not everyone loves their work. Loving one’s career is a special blessing that is not typical. Maybe this is not what Jack is meant to be. Maybe he has some secret fantasy of doing something completely different for a living and needs help tuning in to what that is (if he hasn’t already) and deciding if there is a way to transition to an entirely different career.
Whatever is causing his behavior, I think you need to sit down with Jack and find a way to communicate with him that does not sound accusatory or like an attack, but rather coming from a compassionate place of trying to understand what is going on with him and whether he’s OK. In the past, your understandable anger at him probably led the way in every conversation, which immediately caused Jack’s defense to rise up and it became and remained a constant battle between you. Maybe you can change the tone of the conversations and if he hears a different and compassionate side to you, he might be able to view your needs as coming from a concerned place and ultimately rethink his choices and behavior.
But sometimes a rose is just a rose. After this whole long analytical answer, maybe Jack just doesn’t care. Maybe he just wants to work the bare minimum, take on as little pressure as possible, and forgo what most people view as necessities but what he’s convinced himself are luxuries. (Really, Jack, a couch?) In some ways, this would be the simplest but also the scariest answer, since there is little to do to change another person’s nature.
If this is the case, the only thing to do is release your frustration and anger, since it will only cause your blood to boil (while Jack will nap just fine) and figure out practical ways to get what you feel you want and need. Is there a way to put aside some of the money you have been earning toward extras? After all, Jack finds money to go skiing, which is not cheap. So why can’t you earmark some of your income for things that will bring you happiness? I’m sorry to say you may have to work four days a week, and use the money from the extra day to purchase what you’ve been desiring for so long.
Good luck uncovering what’s behind Jack’s lifestyle. I understand how difficult it must be for you. And getting angry is a typical reaction, but I’d rather see you get the couch instead!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.