Emotional Health

What Happens When a Man Loses His Sense of Self Along With His Job

Cecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.


Dear Dr. Ford,

I am the 52-year-old breadwinner in my family and I sure never planned to be. My three children are thankfully out and on their own and have jobs that allow them to pay for their vocational school and college costs. I live in the “rust belt” and my husband of 30 years has not worked full time for the last 10, since the factory he worked in closed. We have a mortgage that is almost paid off but have had no money to repair anything for the last 10 years.  We have two old cars that my husband manages to keep working. I work full time 7 to 3 p.m. in a hospital then do extra shifts as a private duty nurse to save a bit for unexpected problems like illness or, God forbid, loss of my job. I barely see the children or my friends, I don’t exercise, I have gained 30 pounds in the last decade and my sleep is not good because of the extra shift work I have taken on. My husband does odd jobs but never contributes the money from that to our living expenses and his mother and he make references that make me feel like I am not a “good wife” and that I act as if I am the man of the house. I have to do the shopping and cooking and cleaning as well, by the way. And every time I suggest that he go to a training program to become an aide in the hospital, which he could certainly do, he says that kind of work is beneath him!

I am astute enough to understand that the permanent loss of a job for a middle-aged man can have a real impact on his sense of being “a man” but I have enough to do to keep us afloat without being his personal shrink. I guess I am lucky that he doesn’t drink or do drugs and that he has been a good father, but I can’t go on like this. I know lots of families where the wife works full time and the husband does what he can but many of these men at least manage the house. I am angry and becoming depressed and worry that this stress will affect my health. I do seriously consider divorce even though the children would never forgive me. What can I do?


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