My husband isn’t working very hard

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My husband and I are in our 30s and have been together for five years, married for almost two. The economic downturn has hit our workplaces hard, and while we are currently both employed, we've each seen significant staff reductions in the last six weeks. Witnessing these layoffs and hardships at my company has inspired me to double down on my efforts to be a present, integral team member at work. I can't say the same for my husband.

In the last two weeks, he has casually mentioned that his manager has had to talk to him about him not meeting daily benchmarks. This has happened at least three times. He confessed to me that he's continued not to meet these benchmarks in spite of them being relatively easy to accomplish, if tedious. He is doing work and contributing in other areas, but per his own admission, not in ways that are easily quantified by a manager.

I am at a loss for his behavior. When he's mentioned his manager's comments to me, I've tried to calmly engage with him about his reluctance to work toward meeting goals, and he had a handful of excuses. Some legitimate – I am empathetic to a point because some of what he's asked to do does sound like fruitless busywork. But I also think he needs to either make that case to management and get their buy in, or just suck it up and do the work. I have confided that I am nervous about both of our jobs. He has heard me out to a point, but ultimately I’m told to back off and to stop trying to manage him. Ouch. I truly do not want to be his manager, but I am genuinely afraid of him losing his job. If he does, we become a one-income family with significant financial responsibilities in an expensive city.

Perhaps most concerning – I can't imagine how hard it would be to not seriously resent him. The kicker is that he is so smart, talented, and capable, but I feel like he has some weird block that's making him dig his heels in. I do not want my "nagging" to be part of the reason he digs in. I am not sure how to approach this with him in a way that doesn't feel patronizing or dismissive. In a world of unknowns and things we can't control, doing the basics of your job feels very within reach to me, and his apparent unwillingness to do it – or articulate why – has me at wits end. I would really value some feedback.

– the reluctant mrs. manager


I understand your frustration. There are so many people losing jobs right now. Unemployment numbers are devastating. If you're in an industry that hasn't shut down during this pandemic and you've been able to maintain your employment, you'd think you'd want to work to keep it.

But ... maybe not. These are strange times.

If your husband’s disinterest in his work is new – if his level of engagement and willingness to put up with fruitless busy work has changed since the start of this stay-at-home life – maybe it's more productive to talk about what this time has revealed for him. A lot of people are having existential discoveries during these months. Some are assessing their work and how much of it they actually enjoy or miss. Maybe your husband doesn't want to return to this job. Perhaps acknowledging that – and talking about what he does want to do in the future – would help him see the present as a means to an end.

It's important to have the conversation without starting with unsolicited advice. You have to listen to each other – to ask questions and figure out where you both stand. At that point, maybe you can come up with some plans together.

Something to think about: You didn't tell us how your husband has chosen to spend his time, and what he enjoys when he's not working. If he's apathetic about a lot of things right now, that's something to flag. Does he need some help? Would he benefit from counseling during this unusual and difficult period of pandemic? Would you? It's available, even now.

– Meredith

Readers? How do you talk about this kind of thing?