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Q&A with Geoff: How can we Overcome Differences in Ambition in Marriage?

q&a with geoff Aug 23, 2023


My husband is not motivated and often just sits and stares into space. He accomplishes the minimum to keep up the house or to keep me from what he calls nagging. My husband is very smart and has an answer for everything. Lately, it has been “You can do it,” or “You can call him.”

He is only 66 and a retired military contractor who worked graveyard shifts.

Eerily, his dad had a similar career. They both had or have no friends. They didn’t get along with anyone is why they worked graveyards. My father-in-law died a very lazy man in a trailer all alone. He didn’t do a thing after retiring. It makes me shiver. My husband at this point in his life has given up, couldn’t care less about anything and does the minimum. Thankfully, he has always groomed himself and picked up after himself. 

I grew up with a father who was a successful business owner, investor, and community man. He also was highly active with his family. He built play spaces for his children and grandchildren, retired at 50, learned how to fly airplanes, and continued growing and developing long past retirement.

On the other hand, my husband is always sitting around watching TV or sleeping. It bugs me. He will not see anyone. Can I survive this marriage with this husband?


It’s evident that the differences in drive and ambition between your father and husband have created significant tension in your life. I see how important growth, engagement, and connection are to you, but you’re feeling isolated in your marriage due to your husband’s apparent disconnection from those values. While I am not in a position to know your unique circumstances fully, I can offer some insights and encouragement.

While your husband’s lifestyle is no surprise to you, it’s not uncommon for us to be surprised by our spouse’s choices. Even if we think we know what they’ll do, living with another person who has full agency to direct their own life can provide us with ongoing challenges that test and stretch us.

One thing we neglect to tell newlyweds is that marriage is not only full of joy and happiness, but it’s also full of grief and sorrow. Building a good marriage involves tearing down our individualistic ideals about how we think things should be. Imposing our dream on our partner only creates more separation and contention. Of course, I’m not suggesting we tolerate abuse, affairs, abandonment or addictions in the name of surrendering our ideals. Those conditions are toxic to all marriages. 

However, even though marriage invites us to approach our spouse with compassion and patience as we look for the good, it doesn’t mean we should resign ourselves to stagnation or accept unhealthy behaviors.

Marriage requires consistent effort to grow, nurture and understand one another. While your husband’s behavior might be disappointing, there may be underlying issues that he hasn’t communicated or even recognized himself. His father’s similar behavior suggests a potential pattern. Perhaps there are unresolved emotional or mental health challenges stemming from his earlier years. 

It’s also worth noting that the transition from work to retirement can be challenging for many, and everyone responds differently. His years working graveyard shifts in isolation might have taken a toll on his emotional and social wellbeing even if it’s something he believed was better for him. Perhaps your husband hasn’t yet discovered or rekindled his purpose post-retirement. Encourage open dialogue to better understand his experience. 

It’s also essential to assess if there are ways in which you might unknowingly contribute to the situation or ways in which you can be a better support. It’s critical to check your responses to him, as you’re clearly frustrated after years of these patterns.

I recognize that you’re a thoughtful and intelligent woman who wants a life full of growth, movement and connection. I’m sure you’ve tried countless ways to inspire your husband to wake up to a more fulfilling life. However, it simply may not be something that interests him. Instead of spending your energy trying to convince, cajole or criticize, I encourage you to spend your energy building a life you love and inviting him to join you in it.

Even though your husband isn’t asking you to live his life, the way he lives his life impacts you. Likewise, your way of doing life impacts him. There’s no way around it when we live in such proximity to each other. You might find ways to emphasize the parts of the relationship you enjoy while managing the less desirable elements.

You asked if you could survive in this kind of marriage. That’s a deeply personal question that only you can answer. Each of us has limits, but I do know our limits can be expanded as we work hard, seek personal inspiration and seek support. You might find that as you build a life of meaning, you have more capacity to work with his completely different way of living life.

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