"He's Out of Work -- and I'm Out of Patience"

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Her Turn, continued

"Howard's family owned a jewelry business in Hartford, Connecticut, and after our second anniversary, he decided to join it. The two stores were successful; moreover, Howard's father, Max, was approaching retirement age, so we figured Howard would soon take over. The downside was that we had to move to Hartford. I'd never felt accepted by my in-laws, but the real trouble started when we had to spend more time together. I'd try to join their conversations, but if they didn't agree with something I said, they'd turn verbally abusive. I kept waiting for Howard to intervene, but he didn't, preferring to fight with me at home later rather than defend me to his parents and sister. 

"The situation didn't improve even after we had kids. As grandparents, my in-laws play favorites. Howard's mother, Shirley, buys holiday clothes for her daughter's children but not for ours. Our kids see this because their cousins flaunt their new clothes at family dinners. But when I asked Howard to speak to his mother about it, he called me 'petty.'

"The worst episode occurred a year ago. Shirley and Max said they planned to give our kids their Hanukkah presents at Yom Kippur in October because they would be out of town in December. Howard and I asked them to mail the gifts instead -- we didn't want Ellen and Steven to open gifts two months early. After dinner Max started distributing the presents, so I whispered, 'Say something,' to Howard. He remained silent, so I seized control. 'We're not doing this,' I declared. 'Get your coats, kids. We're leaving.' Shirley burst into tears, and my sister-in-law spewed obscenities at me. Still, Howard said nothing. We drove home in silence and I didn't speak to him for a week. I told him I'd never go to his family's homes again.

"His job loss is the last straw. Seven years ago Max had yet to give him a raise and showed no inclination to retire, so I endorsed Howard's decision to leave his dad's business and open a jewelry store in the suburbs. I was involved from the start, handling the bookkeeping, helping out behind the counter, and offering suggestions on hiring and marketing. The first store did well, so four years later he opened another. The next year he added a third, even though I thought he was expanding too quickly. Then a chain store moved into the area, and Howard couldn't compete. His poor hiring decisions became a time-consuming problem. Despite declining sales, Howard thought customers would return for the personal service his staff provided, but over a two-year period, he kept losing money, customers, and employees -- until he finally closed the last store.

"Since then he has been bitter and despondent. He isn't interested in job hunting, and he just zones out if I offer to help with networking or writing cover letters. The more passive he is, the more aggressive I become, screaming and slamming doors. I hate myself for acting this way, but I can't seem to help it. Last week, after another blowup over his job search, I fell apart. 'I'm tired of being emotionally abandoned,' I sobbed. 'Come to counseling with me, or it's over.'"

Continued on page 3:  His Turn


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