The Moneyist: ‘Coronavirus has ruined everything. My IRA is a shambles and my husband refuses to work — he has bounced from job to job, and has finally landed on the couch’

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Dear Moneyist,

I have been working since my now-husband and I have been together. He has bounced from job to job and finally landed on the couch. I’ve pushed him to go to school, take online courses for an information technology (IT) certificate, etc. We’re entering into “year two” of our marriage, and I’m completely drained. What money I received from my inheritance is all but gone.

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Coronavirus has ruined everything. My IRA is a shambles due to the pandemic, and now I’m working from home. I see him everyday relaxing and taking it easy while I work. I’ve suggested jobs with car services and food-delivery services, but to no avail. He simply refuses to work, and now he has good reason not to. What are my options? Bills need to be paid. I need him to start working soon.

Am I asking too much now that the threat of COVID-19 has shutdown a lot of businesses?

Sincerely,

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

You can blame coronavirus for a lot of things. You can blame it for social distancing, for long lines outside the grocery store, the lack of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, the deaths of 5,148 people to date in the U.S., and 49,236 deaths worldwide, and you can blame it for the 3,000% jump in jobless claims between March 7 and last week. You and I could debate how much blame lies with COVID-19, plus how the lack of ventilators and available testing in the U.S., and action or lack thereof taken by governments around the world have contributed to this global health crisis. But let’s not do that.

Your husband was a job hopper and a couch surfer before the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed global economies, closed businesses and threatened the livelihoods and lives of millions of people. He is someone who appears to have no qualms about relying on his marriage as an ATM machine, providing him with free cable, a roof over his head and a comfortable armchair to settle into. While you see the contrasts in your lifestyles and work ethics, he appears to see a square box on the wall.

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Unless he had a complete personality change when you got married, I’m guessing that you had a pretty good idea what you were getting before you got it. You read the description and you overlooked it. Perhaps you were convinced that the companionship and love you felt for each other would encourage him to be the best version of himself. Here’s the bad news: This could be the best version of himself and, if it’s not, he may not have the willingness to show it to you or, indeed, himself.

Love is not a feeling. Hollywood producers and 17th Century French romantic novelists wanted us to believe that romance is an antidote to life’s problems. Let’s hope we have a vaccine for coronavirus before next winter, assuming social distancing works, and together we burn this pandemic out. But there is no cure for what you are dealing with here. Do the opposite of what millions of people who are doing as they wait this crisis out; take action. Because love is an action.

Your husband can tell you what you want to hear, or whisper sweet nothings in your ear to soften your resolve, or opine about the state of the world, and buy himself another week, month or year on the couch. But my guess is that when this current pandemic has passed, you still won’t have to go to the store for potatoes, because you will already have one big uncooked potato sitting at home on the couch. Love is respect, first and foremost. A successful marriage requires that above all else.

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The good thing about extreme situations like death and divorce — and even a time such as this when the world seems to come to a standstill — is that it forces our hand. If we allow it to, it can bring us new strength and perspective, and the knowledge that we deserve to be happy, and the motivation to ensure that we invite positivity and good things into our lives. This is an opportunity for you to do that. Tell your husband what you need to happen and, if it does not happen, you have your answer.

By all means, do everything you can to make this marriage work. But he must join you in that quest. He must bring solutions, not problems. If you put his excuses for not wanting to work above your needs, you could spend a lifetime trying to fix something that doesn’t really want to be fixed. Do not merge your finances, do not buy property together, and do not blink and do nothing. Because if you blink, it will be 22 years from now, and you will look back at this letter and wonder, ‘What if?’

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You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

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