Unemployed and Unnerved

When my husband lost his job and his self-esteem, I had to learn a lesson in grace and patience.

Two months after our second anniversary, my husband, Mark, decided to quit his job as a plumber in order to pursue real estate investing.

"Are you sure this is what you want?" I asked.

"I've always wanted my own business. I know I can make this work," Mark assured me.

I worried about the risks: What if it doesn't work? What if I have to support the two of us forever? But I was equally excited—if things panned out the way Mark hoped, we'd never worry about money again. 

 With my blessing, Mark quit his job, and we invested nearly all our savings into setting up his real estate business. We took real estate investing classes, hired a lawyer to create an LLC, and had business cards and stationary printed. We relied on my income as a high school teacher to pay the bills, and implemented a strict budget that cut our grocery allowance in half and eliminated date nights, eating out, and movies. We even waited to turn on our air conditioner until the heat was unbearable.

Not long after we started our business, the real estate market tanked. For eight months Mark struggled to make the business work, but after a while he became discouraged.

"I'm not good at anything," he said.

He began to withdraw. Things we once enjoyed doing together, such as cooking and grocery shopping, I now did alone. I even ate my meals alone. Mark would eat quickly and excuse himself or not come to the table at all, saying he wasn't hungry. I felt rejected and lonely as my once hardworking, visionary husband was reduced to sitting on the couch, shades drawn, playing video games in the dark for hours. Sometimes he wouldn't even get dressed or shave. And he stopped working out—the hobby he was most passionate about.

Every once in a while I'd ask if he'd consider going back to plumbing. But he was adamantly opposed. Part of his decision related to the low pay, high stress, and uncomfortable working conditions. In addition, we'd moved from New Hampshire to Arizona. Arizona's plumbing regulations and techniques were vastly different from those in New Hampshire, where he'd first obtained his license. Mark considered himself a craftsman, and feeling he was surrounded by men whose only wish was to slap the job together as quickly as possible frustrated him.

Unfortunately, without returning to plumbing, Mark didn't have many options. A college degree plus a plumbing license meant he was too qualified, even for Home Depot.

I cried out in prayer countless times, "Please, God, provide Mark with a job." But no job came and Mark returned to the couch.  

It broke my heart to watch him. I tried to be upbeat and positive. I made his favorite meals and repeatedly told him I loved him and believed in him. Each week I'd comb the classified ads, highlighting jobs I thought might interest Mark. But he met everything I did with an empty stare.

Subhead: "I'm losing you!"

As the weeks passed, my empathy turned to anger. I resented that he did nothing while I worked so hard. Sometimes I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him out of the rut he'd fallen into, but I pushed the anger down, afraid if I opened my mouth I'd lose control and make the situation worse. Still, I was short-tempered and irritable, set-off by little things, such as a full garbage can or dirty dishes in the sink. I'd stalk around the house, quietly fuming that I was the one who was supporting the two of us emotionally and financially. With all the responsibility falling on my shoulders, I felt drained and frustrated. Mark and I barely spoke to each other. Mark had become a different person.

I missed the old Mark and feared he'd never resurface. When I expressed my concerns, Mark became defensive and snapped: "I haven't changed! You don't know what you're talking about."

After Mark repeatedly shot me down, I gave up talking about it. But one evening about eight months into his unemployment, I decided it was time to speak up. We'd just arrived home after our friends had taken us to a baseball game. I'd been thrilled about a night out, but Mark had spent the entire game silently slumped in his seat. Now he retreated to the dining room, where he sat playing games on his cell phone. I was furious that he'd treated the night and our friends with such disinterest.

Taking a deep breath, I joined him at the table. "Can we talk?"

"About what?" He kept his gaze on the game.

"I feel like I'm losing you," I said. "You mope around the house. You never spend any time with me—you won't even talk to me! I'm tired of being the one responsible for paying all the bills and doing all the work around here."

When my comments were met with silence and an expressionless stare, all my frustration came rushing to the surface. "Why can't you get over this?" I exploded. "You aren't even being a husband!" Tears streaming down my face, I retreated to the bedroom.

Mark spent that night on the couch, while I cried alone in our bed. Despite my anger, I wished desperately that I could take back my words. Even though I believed what I'd said was true, I'd seen the look in his eyes and knew I'd hurt him deeply.

"God help me fix this," I pleaded.

Unable to sleep, I opened my Bible to the book of Zephaniah. In chapter three was a passage Mark had highlighted: "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." As I read, God reminded me of his faithful love for me, for us as a couple.

I realized I'd been conditional with my love for Mark. Although I'd been compassionate at first, I'd quickly lost patience. I knew my harsh words had confirmed his belief that he was a failure. He didn't need another critic, he needed someone to love and encourage him even when he wasn't giving that love back.

The next morning, I joined Mark on the couch. "I'm sorry," I said, taking his hand. I told him about the verse I'd read and how I regretted my attitude toward him. "Will you forgive me?"

For the first time in weeks, Mark really looked at me. "I should be apologizing to you," he replied. "You were right—I haven't been doing a very good job as your husband. I've been focused on myself and not on trusting God. I'm sorry." Tearfully we embraced and prayed together, asking God to help us pull together and trust him to resolve Mark's job situation.

Mark continued his job search for several months, and we continued to struggle—Mark with trusting God and I with supporting Mark. I wrote him encouraging notes, told him as often as I could that I was proud of him, and prayed for him in my quiet times—not just that God would provide a job, but that he would strengthen Mark's faith and enable him to persevere.

Nearly a year after leaving his plumbing job, our prayers were answered. Mark managed to turn a long-time hobby, body building, into working as a personal trainer. Now when I see the smile on his face I'm reminded of God's faithful love for me, and feel a renewed determination to love Mark just as faithfully—in good times and bad.

Sarah Canney is a teacher who lives with her family in Arizona.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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