"He Lost His Job"
Laura: I hardly recognize the man I married. My husband has always been so solid, a confident man who knew what he wanted and worked hard to get it. But in the last year, he's lost two jobs and it has thrown him completely. Something like that just doesn't happen to straight-A-Dean's-list Matt! He's shell-shocked: negative, pessimistic and floundering. I've never seen him like this and it worries me.
Heitler: Laura is right to be concerned. One in ten Americans suffers from a depression that is severe enough to require medical treatment; one in five will at some point in their life. Depression -- or one of its many symptoms -- is the most common complaint heard in doctor's offices. And while it has myriad causes -- some biological, some environmental -- there's no question that real-life events can trigger a depressive episode. Losing a job tops the list for many men.
Laura: Matt has an MBA in finance. He's worked for the past few years as a strategic planner for an Internet service provider. He loved the excitement of a start-up company, but when it was bought by a large corporation, many of the original staff members were let go. At first, we didn't think being unemployed would be any big deal, or that it would last very long. Though we didn't become instant millionaires when the deal closed, we did make more than enough to tide us over. Since he's always so methodical, I was surprised when Matt jumped at the first job he was offered. I expected him to take more time to think about his next move. But within two weeks, he'd started working for a man who has a reputation as a shark. How he could make such a choice is beyond me. Despite warnings from colleagues, Matt was convinced that the job was made in heaven. Well, a month after he started, and two weeks before Christmas, he was fired.
This time, Matt went into a downward spiral. He's distant and unresponsive to me and the kids. He used to love playing with them, but now, he gives them a quick hug then disappears into his den or workroom. Matt claims that parenting and household responsibilities are split fifty-fifty. Maybe they were, but not anymore. It's more like me doing ninety percent of everything. Only if I ask, does he do the marketing, change a diaper, or take the kids to my friend's house, where her nanny watches them while I'm at work. Though he's continued to look for work, it's been a desultory job hunt. After almost a year, nothing he hears about or interviews for is "the right fit." I've been patient and supportive, but I'm losing my confidence in him -- and in us, too.
Before Matt lost his job the first time, I'd been questioning whether I wanted to continue living such a fast-paced life in a big city. I desperately want to spend more time with my kids. Until I was a mother, I didn't realize how much my priorities would shift. We'd discussed the possibility of me stopping work next spring. Obviously, I can't think about that until Matt figures out what he wants to do.
Heitler: Matt's job loss triggered a tidal wave of questions and indecision not only for him but for Laura, too. She was already feeling the pull of motherhood and the pressures of a job grown stale and she was eagerly anticipating cutting back her own work schedule. Now, she's forced to put her dreams on hold until Matt finds a job. She's done this willingly and lovingly, perhaps longer than was helpful for either of them. Right now she feels selfish asserting her own needs, especially since Matt is struggling. Yet resentment and anger have a way of seeping out sideways: Instead of saying directly how she feels, she hints, nags and complains. She feels like a shrew -- and Matt feels henpecked and attacked. The groundwork is laid for small problems to mushroom.
Laura: We're arguing a lot lately, and that's never been our style. He doesn't seem to care about my needs. I know losing my temper is wrong, but I get so frustrated trying to communicate with him. Matt only gives me the silent treatment, or gets defensive and accuses me of criticizing him. Maybe he doesn't realize it, but he walks around like he's the only person on this planet. Now it's the job hunt, but before that, it was this huge renovation project on our home. The house -- which we were both so excited to buy -- has become a constant source of battles.
Just after I had our first child, we bought a rambling Victorian that needed tons of work. Very quickly we discovered that Matt loves stripping, sanding, varnishing and painting -- and that I don't. For the first year, we couldn't even sit in the living room since all the furniture was covered in drop cloths. Finally, the house was in decent enough shape that we could order our first living room furniture. By this time, I was five months pregnant with our second child. But one day I came home from work to find Matt ripping up the flooring in the upstairs hall. Why didn't he consult me? I was livid.
And why doesn't he ever tell me what he's feeling? Maybe he never did, but I was just so in love I didn't realize it. He doesn't even share important information with me. About a month ago, one of his brothers was in the hospital for two days. He's fine now, but he had some intestinal bleeding and had lost a lot of blood. I found out in a casual conversation with my sister-in-law and felt so stupid. Now, isn't that the kind of information a husband would share with his wife? When I asked him why he didn't, he shrugged and said, "This is the way I am" and, "Well, my brother never told me when my great uncle died." What kind of an answer is that? Does the fact that his family was dysfunctional make it okay?
Heitler: Right now, Laura is understandably upset, but for her own sanity-- and the sake of her marriage -- she needs to clarify her goals. Telling your partner, "We need to communicate better," especially when that partner has simply never learned what that means, is too vague. Better: "I'd love it if you discussed topics that are more personal, such as our feelings" or "Asking me about my thoughts on different subjects shows me that you can about me."
Laura: I was an only child and I grew up in a suburb of St. Louis. My dad worked as an accountant. I know there were periods when he was unemployed, but I'm not sure why. Suffice it to say that he never made much money and my mother, a nurse, basically supported us, much like her own mother had done before that. I love both of my parents very much, but I've always been closer to my mother. She's a bundle of energy, the true offensive line in my life. Mom was the one who plunged right into things with me and gave me the confidence to try.
Heitler: Laura comes from a family of strong women and weak men. However, she possesses her mother's energy and drive, and enough self awareness to know what she doesn't want from her own marriage. Determined not to repeat the mistakes her mother made, she chose a man she thought was dependable and sharply focused on his future. But now, she's beginning to doubt her own judgment and choices: Was Matt the man she thought he was? Was this the life she wanted after all?
Laura: My parents had a very volatile relationship -- a lot of yelling, slammed doors and tears. Although Dad was usually mild-mannered, he could be vicious when he was mad. Several times, he moved out of the house, only to move back a few weeks later. I suspected infidelity on his part, but to this day, I've never been told the real problems. In any case, those battles frightened me when I was little, but by the time I was in high school, I accepted them as par for the course. They divorced during my senior year, and I was actually relieved.
In spite of all that, I remember having a fairly happy childhood. I was athletic and very involved in school activities. I had a lot of friends and did well academically. When I was fifteen, I decided to be a lawyer when I grew up. I was impressed by a young woman attorney who came to our school on Career Day. She made the law sound exciting and meaningful.
Matt and I were introduced by friends about nine years ago. I'd recently passed the bar exam and had started a job as in-house counsel for an environmental engineering firm. Matt was adorable and athletic, funny and wise. He had such down-to-earth family values, and I was impressed by how ambitious he was. He talked excitedly about running his own company and working on high-risk deals. But he also dreamed about having a family and a lake cabin to retreat to on weekends.
We married eleven months later in a small ceremony and then had a big party that night. And for many years, we were very happy. Our sex life was really good, too. Now, it's non- existent. At first, I attributed that to preoccupation and exhaustion with the kids. But I think we're both too upset to want to make love. I feel as if Matt and I have been on hold for a long time and I don't want to wait forever. But I don't know how to help him anymore.