Brother Frustrated About Wife (former SAHM)

My brother has been married to my SIL for 23 years and they have a 20 year old Junior son (only child) in college. My Brother is 52 and my SIL is 50.

My brother and SIL made a decision when their son was born that my SIL would stay at home taking care of their son and my Brother would work. My SIL said she would go back to work when their son was older. Now, my SIL refuses to work and is at home while my Brother is the only person making money. I feel bad for my Brother because he is such a wonderful man and has always been a great Brother to me. He is a great father and was always (and still is) completely involved in his son’s life. He coached his son’s baseball team, volunteered, etc. I don’t know how he had time to do it at all.

My Brother is frustrated and he confided in me that he’s not sure if he can take being married anymore. They aren’t rich, by any means, and he is feeling the pressure of supporting his wife and his son in college.

Have you personally experienced something similar or know of people going through this? I would really love to give some advice to my Brother.

The only advice I’d ever give would be for the couple to see a marriage counselor, not so much about your SiL not working but about improving their communication. I presume there’s a reason why SiL refuses to return to paid employment. Whether or not she’s tried to discuss it with him, and whether he’s listened with an open mind and tried to explain how he feels, you’ll never really know. It’s better for you to just say you’re sorry they’re having a rough time and you hope they’ll come to a mutually agreeable resolution with the help of an unbiased mediator/counselor. You cannot be that person.


Counseling. SIL may have anxiety or undiagnosed learning difference.
Can she go part time? Get skills assesed at with temp firm? Get certificate to freshen skills?


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It’s not always easy to get back into the work force after dedicating your life to raising your child.

I agree with suggesting counseling and then staying out of it.


It can be difficult to re-enter the workforce after a 20-year absence, especially in the middle of a pandemic. What kind of work does your SIL do? Her skills are likely to be out-of-date.

I agree that it might benefit them to see a counselor. And you should stay out of it.


Thanks so much for your comments.

My SIL has a master’s degree.

I’m just frustrated because my Brother is frustrated and stressed out.

There was a job opening at my friend’s business that I thought was perfect for my SIL. The job was open a month before their son graduated. The job was hers and all she had to do was do an interview. She declined and told me back then she wasn’t going to work. My Brother was confident that my SIL would change her mind. They had many discussions, but she just keeps refusing.

Sounds like she needs a physical and counseling, & possibly neuropsych eval for learning difference.

I’m curious how not wanting to enter the work force after 20 years leads to “neuropsych eval for learning difference”, a physical, and counseling.


Curious how you are coming to this conclusion with such limited information?

No one knows what goes on behind closed doors and we’re just getting a second hand account of only one side.

I have plenty of stay at home mom friends who didn’t return to work after their kids were flown. I’m currently not working myself (although I have my h’s full support after sacrificing a lot so that he could focus on furthering his career).

This is between the married couple to negotiate.


Just a suggestion to rule out physical causes.

I can think of several possible reasons for the wife’s decision, but I certainly have no clue which (if any) fit. No matter how well you think you know what is going on between the two of them, you cannot know everything … so you cannot even begin to understand, nor should you try. As others have said, the best thing you can do for your brother is to encourage him to go to counseling (alone, if his wife isn’t on board).


I don’t have limited information. I have a first hand account because my friend would have hired my SIL, but she refused the job.

I’m just concerned for my Brother. It’s not like he worked and sat on the couch when he got home. He worked and was extremely involved in all of his son’s activities.

I think all of those long days and weeks are hitting him and is now just frustrated his wife isn’t helping to pay the bills.


Are you saying my brother should go to counseling because his wife is refusing to work? How will that help him?

Counseling will help your brother communicate better with SIL and develop coping strategies for frustration.


Counseling isn’t about changing the other person. It’s about helping with communication and processing your own feelings. Although in this case, they may be better off going together to a marriage counselor.

I’ll also add that if your brother is already stressed and feeling financial pressure, divorce will just exacerbate that.



I appreciate your suggestion, but it would be a waste of money and time for my Brother to go to counseling. Communication isn’t the problem.

His coping strategies with his frustration is talking to his friends and family. He is always calmer after I get off the phone with him and he appreciates my input.

As far as divorce, my brother owned the house they live in before he was married and has made every mortgage payment since then. My SIL is not on the title.

My SIL would feel the financial pressure. I really hope it doesn’t go there, but right now my Brother told me it’s a possibility if things don’t change.

If I found out my spouse was gossiping about me to his brother then financial stress would be the least of his worries. Your brother needs to talk to his wife. And if he feels so strongly about the issue that he’s contemplating getting a divorce then they should see a counselor to help them find a path forward (together or apart). But you should stay out of it.


I am seeing a lot of how your brother feels. But little about his wife. 20 years is a long time to be out of the workforce. Think about the changes that have happened in that time? And for some jobs/careers that is more true. Its not easy to pick up like those 20 years didn’t happen (and that is more true again in certain jobs/careers). I would like to better understand the concerns the wife has and what steps could be taken to address those.

I know several stay at home moms who looked to go back to work (married to one) and it was a mixed bag. Some were able to do that better/easier than others. Some had to change jobs/careers. Some weren’t able to get back into the workforce. But its not necessarily like turning a switch back one (depending on the job/career and how long out).

In a lot of ways, being out 20 years and going back is like starting over. Not easy to do that when you are 20 years older than people who are doing that and lack the experience that people your age have.

Seems to me better understanding the wife’s concerns, fears, etc. will go further than I am stressed out and need someone else to help make money. But that will depend on the couple/situation.


I was a SAHM and did not return to the work force after our daughter grew up. Lots of reasons, none relevant here as they are probably not the same as your SIL’s reasons. My husband was behind me all the way. We lived carefully within our means, and are still doing so. The important thing was not whether I worked outside the home or not but that we were on the same page.

You may think you have the whole picture but it is unlikely that you do-- people do not share everything, even with other close family members. There are issues my BIL and SIL know nothing about, that influenced our decision. They are private.

I think it’s best you stay out of it, frankly. This is really between the two of them. JMO