Dear Patrick: My husband and I were out of work for a long time, nearly a year. I went back to school and finished a nursing degree I had started in my twenties. It was a huge relief to get a decent job in a hospital. Now we all have health insurance again. We can’t afford child care, however, so he is staying home with our preschool aged twins, a boy and a girl age 4. I feel that we are dealing the best we can with a really difficult situation. There was a point where we discussed whether he would have to move out so I could qualify for welfare, and we even considered letting the children go live with their grandparents so we could work overseas.
I respect and love my husband, and I do not think he is being less of a man because he stays home. But every time we see my parents, my dad has an unkind comment to make. My husband laughs it off but I think it hurts him. And our sex life is definitely suffering. We used to look forward to getting the kids put to bed so we could be intimate. We rarely went more than a few days without making love. Now, we are lucky if we have sex once every few weeks. It seems to me as if my husband is making excuses. I don’t want to put more pressure on him partly because I don’t want to be emasculating! But I also don’t want this to become normal.
Couples whose lives don’t follow a traditional pattern often have to do extra work to be allies with each other. Outsiders can use humor (as well as outright hostility) to criticize the way that you choose to arrange your lives. But it is really none of your father’s business. Maybe you should have a little talk with him or with your mom to point out that your husband has tried his best to find a job to no avail. Bringing it up over and over again simply makes him feel bad. If you have to fight with your father to make it clear that you support your husband, do so. You can say, “Dad, I want you to stop harassing my husband. We are already under a lot of pressure because of the lousy economy. You are not helping us to cope when you make fun of us. My husband is working, and because he does that work, we are able to keep our family together and put food on the table. So knock it off.”
A conversation about sex is long overdue. Your husband may feel that you have withdrawn from him because you, too, no longer perceive him as masculine. He may also be genuinely tired, have back pain, etc. after chasing after the kids all day, every day. Perpetual child care is one of the most challenging jobs on the planet. Let him know that you still want him. If you can find a way to salvage your sex life, it can help you to stay bonded with each other and strong in the face of adversity.
It takes a real man to look objectively at a problem, devise the best solution possible, and follow through with a commitment. I have never understood why our society labels certain tasks as male or female, or why men are in jeopardy of losing their masculinity if they take care of the children they sired. If you try to work this out with him and there is no improvement, you can always get help from a trained professional. Your husband may be holding back his reactions or beliefs because he doesn’t want to make the situation even more stressful. I think once you are both able to connect by expressing some genuine, authentic emotions, the erotic channels might open up and arousal may bring you together again.