By Baila Sebrow

Question

I have been divorced for four years. It was an amicable divorce, and my ex-husband was very generous. He let me keep the house, and my children and I are also taken care of financially, thank G-d. I don’t have a real job, because I don’t have to work, but I don’t sit around doing nothing all day; I do bikur cholim, help out my elderly parents, and I’m always busy with good things.

I met a divorced man and we’ve been dating for several months. It’s getting serious; we are now talking about a prenuptial agreement. He is well-to-do, but he is insisting that I get a job, which doesn’t make sense to me.

At first I thought he was worried that I’ll get bored, and he just wanted me to keep busier. But he told me that he will not marry me unless I work. The problem is that I have not worked for many years, and I’m not sure what kind of job I could even get. Also, it would be too much for me to work, cook, and take care of everything else around the house. We want to have more children, so how could he expect me to work? He is being very strict about this, and it is the main thing holding us up from getting engaged.

Adding to my confusion is that his married daughters who have kids don’t work. Why does he care so much that I should work? It’s definitely not the money!

There is another thing that bothers me. He was single for a long time and he has lots of friends. Many of them are women. He talks to them all the time, and they text back and forth while making jokes. He also gets together with them in groups and they hang out. He says that they are just friends. But I know that these women like him more than just a friend.

I told him how I feel, and he tells me that I’m jealous and looking to pick a fight with him. Am I overreacting?

Response

Second marriages are usually complex and often fraught with many challenges where ongoing compromise and negotiations are necessary. For the most part, even before the marriage, uncomfortable developments may arise because the related issues are usually multifaceted. What may have been considered typical, normal, and acceptable in a first marriage may not tolerated in a subsequent marriage. When you take two people who lived full lives prior to meeting one another, it commonly feels to each of the partners as though the other is unreasonably foreign in viewpoints or behavior.

In your marriage to your ex-husband, it sounds like you both decided that it would be a good idea for you to stay at home and take care of the household. That is quite typical in many marriages when one earner is enough to sustain the financial needs of the family. Now you have a dilemma on your hands. This man, unlike your ex-husband, demands that you work, and you just don’t understand what his problem is. Particularly since money is not an issue, why is he so insistent that you get a job?

This is not the first time I have heard of such a dilemma, and I will share some thoughts with you. One reason for this request could be that he may be thinking ahead, perhaps in a negative way. Since he is financially well-off, and you’ll become accustomed to not working while living a lavish lifestyle, he may be afraid that he would be legally obligated to support you in the same manner if the marriage ends in divorce. It is possible that he might have experienced something similar in his previous marriage, and he is attempting to protect his finances. Or maybe he is not as financially comfortable as you assume, and he is counting on you for a second paycheck. There could be other reasons that you can’t know unless you ask him straight out.

Depending on what he says, you will then make the decision whether or not to give in to his firm request. However, here is what I am concerned about. Based on what you are saying, you have not been formally employed anywhere for a number of years. Realistically, you won’t be at the top of the list of applicants applying for whatever job that will appeal to you. When it comes to hiring, employers seek the most qualified person with experience in that specific field. Sure, you might be able to get an entry-level position, but will you be happy accepting a minimum-wage salary, especially if you don’t need to work? Not only that, but will you be resentful to go to work every morning because that is what your husband demands of you? Additionally, what is your level of education? If you don’t have a college degree, then your chances are slimmer, even for that entry-level job. That might leave you seeking job opportunities that will not feel dignifying.

I am not discouraging you from seeking a job. Rather, I am encouraging you to do so if that is what you really want or need — for yourself only. Doing the bidding of another person begrudgingly will make you feel exploited, and that cannot be a healthy recipe for a marriage.

But the job factor is not your only issue. You are troubled by his behavior of carrying on friendships with women in the same manner as before he dated you. What is worse is his cavalier reaction to your feelings.

When he says they are just friends, what does he mean by that? Jesting by phone or text messaging, socializing, and hanging out with females in groups that you are not part of is not in good taste. And even if he would include you, if you are not comfortable with that sort of activity, it should be expected of him to be sensitive to your feelings and discuss the issue, rather than brush off your complaints so condescendingly. Not only that, but you say that some of these women like him. Are they aware that he is in a serious relationship with you? Or is he giving them the impression that he is free and available?

It could be that his interaction with those women is innocent on his part, and based on where he is coming from in life he does not see this as a problem. You do say that he was single for a long time. The women — who in his mind are really just friends — might have been there for him when he was going through a difficult time after his divorce. It is possible that if these friends have pulled him through challenging times, he feels a certain camaraderie with them. Moreover, his overly friendly relationship with them might be simple loyalty. If that is the case, then his problem is balancing those bonds with the relationship that he has with you. In addition, he may also be struggling with setting boundaries so that his priorities are in the right place.

On the flip side, it could be that he enjoys having women fawn over him. There are people who, though they are in a serious relationship — or even married — still feel the need to know that the opposite gender finds them attractive. This typically causes tremendous grief for the partner who is in a relationship with such a person.

You need to accept that he is a grown man, and he will likely not change. Furthermore, I have seen in these types of situations that when the partner makes a big deal about communications with the opposite gender, he or she sometimes promises that the friendship is over, yet continues carrying on discreetly. And that is something you definitely do not want to happen to you.

The way I see it, you have been addressing this situation with the women in his life in a manner that made you both feel under attack from one another. My advice is to go to couples’ therapy. You need a professional to facilitate healthy discussions so that neither of you will feel defensive. At the same time, you can also address the matter of his requirement for you to work in order for the relationship to proceed further.

Regardless of any therapeutic approach, however, you may still feel unsatisfied with the outcome. That will be the turning point in making a rational decision in determining if this man will ultimately be able to make you happy. 

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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