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Carolyn Hax: Wife resents spouse’s easy, lucrative job

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from April 18 and 20, 2008.

Dear Carolyn: My wife and I have been married four years. We share a mortgage but don’t have kids or other significant debt. My wife works a lot harder than I do. Her company pays her $100,000 a year, but she is always exhausted. I have a publishing business that pays me $150,000 annually. I have been building my business since before we married and now enjoy the passive income it provides us.

My wife is resentful that she has to work so hard and that she sees me kicking back. I would love to travel by myself once in a while or do a guys’ trip, but I get nothing except guilt from her, which, in turn, makes me angry and resentful. It feels as if there is a constant cycle of resentment because of it.

She stays in her job because there may be potential to move up, and because she enjoys the challenge and responsibility. She is also making terrific contacts, and she likes working hard. I’ve always told her that if she doesn’t like her job, I support anything she would choose to do, regardless of her income.

I feel that I carry my weight financially (and so does she). Shouldn’t I enjoy the fruits of my labor without feeling guilty, and shouldn’t she give me the freedom to enjoy it once in a while? She has vacation days she can use if she wants. I would need to get a second job to make more money, which we don’t need right now. She implies that I am lazy and not driven. I disagree; I built my business with hard work and drive. Doesn’t my income count heavily toward that argument?

— J.L.

J.L.: I suppose, but I would make a different argument entirely: that being “driven” is seriously overrated.

I’m glad some people are. We all enjoy — in fact, take for granted — countless fruits of other people’s elective 80-hour workweeks.

I simply reject the implication that it’s necessary, or even desirable, for everyone to be driven. People pulling elective 80-hour weeks certainly enjoy — in fact, take for granted — the fruits of other people’s refusal to spend that much time at work.

That cohort includes not just our poets, volunteers and people who make sure they have nothing more pressing to do than walk at their toddler’s pace.

It’s also people who think 40 hours more than suffice.

You have a pretty sweet life. Whether you earned it or picked it up off the sidewalk is, I think, immaterial. You are content with what you have.

If your wife envies your contentment, then she needs to do something to find more — with your cooperation, of course. Her insistence that you lessen your contentment, by taking on stress equal to hers, of all things, is absurd. A stunningly selfish solution.

Granted, you don’t mention any ways you apply your spare quality of life toward improving hers: chores, cooking, social planning, to cite a few examples. If you don’t do this, then do this. “I support anything she would choose to do” isn’t a promise kept only in few possible futures; it’s one to make good on daily.

If you already do pamper her, though, and a thoughtful, happy, well-paid, supportive spouse isn’t enough to make her happy, then it’s time for you both to start asking what is.

Dear Carolyn: My son-in-law is a very bright, well-spoken young man. But he gestures with his hands when he’s talking. This may be an accepted style in Italy, but I’d always been taught that using your hands to help make a point was a demonstration of lazy thinking, and that if an effort were made to choose the appropriate words, the point would be relayed more effectively. How can I suggest to him that he keep his hands quiet when he’s speaking without offending him?

— Mother-in-Law in a Quandary

Mother-in-Law in a Quandary: To me, the definition of lazy thinking is taking something you were taught as a child and then, without questioning its foundation, its value, its accuracy, its significance or its relevance, using it as a weapon against the bright young man your child lovingly chose to bring home.

Please, in the name of reason, give him a break. By your own description, it’s clear that even if your fears are warranted — an “if” of ample proportions — this is about nothing more than his appearing less bright than he is in the eyes of people who share your dim view of southern European norms and/or demonstrative expression. That’s a pretty narrow band of injury, hardly worth the ill will you’ll generate by trying to control a grown man’s behavior — and, not to mention, by championing such a judgmental, nitpicky, xenophobic and prejudiced cause.