So I’m feeling like a jerk for hanging my husband out to dry. Yes, he could work on some stuff, but so can I. And he really is a good person, a caring husband and a dedicated father. I think in the end it just comes down to him being exhausted and overwhelmed, and lucky enough to have a wife who will step in and get shit done. Who wouldn’t take advantage of that if they had the chance?
And of course, I play a part in our dynamic as well. No half of a relationship exists in a vacuum, the other person is always involved in some way. I am in no way a perfect partner and it is not my intent to play the martyr. Sure I’ve tried to make changes in our relationship, but I’ve also tried to make changes in myself and I don’t always succeed.
There are many things my husband puts up with about me, I’m sure he could write his own post about all the annoying shit I do. He is a better listener. He stays calm when we talk, even if I’m saying something hurtful. He is understanding and supportive, even if he doesn’t really understand why I’m upset. He’s so good at playing with our kids, really listening to them and being present, while I’m always half way between them and a chore, or sneaking glances at my phone. He is a much better judge of how they are feeling and when they need a break; it has taken me a long time to read our daughter and accept when she just can’t do the next fun thing I had planned. He doesn’t get disappointed when plans change and is much better at managing his expectations. He is incredibly smart and very funny–no one can make me laugh like my husband. He is very accepting of my weaknesses and limitations, while I clearly struggle to do the same for him. He really is a good husband and father, I think he just struggles with the realities of raising two kids in an expensive city where both parents need to work.
I think it’s unfair for me to put out such a one-sided account of our struggles to achieve equality in our marriage. It’s also no very productive, as the only person I can change is myself. So, here is what I bring to our dysfunctional table:
I am someone who likes to get things done. I take pride in in the sense of accomplishment. I don’t necessarily like doing the actual task, but I like crossing it off my to do list when I’m done. I definitely grew up with the mom who did more for me than she probably should have, but I also grew up watching her sacrifice for us, and I definitely learned that that is what a mom does. My husband watched the same, but maybe the message didn’t feel as relevant to him because it was his mom doing it and not his dad? I guess my point is I bring a lot of this “you have to do it, it has to get done” mindset from my own childhood, and I probably need a let a little bit of that go if I want my husband to have opportunities to do more.
I can also be a bit of a perfectionist, and I will admit to the satisfaction I find in doing things my way. I am sure there have been times when I could have delegated a task to my husband, but didn’t because I wanted the final product to meet my expectations. Also it should be noted that my expectations can be rather high.
I tend to take on more than I can handle, drive myself to the brink of insanity and then lose my shit. My husband and even my kids have felt the fallout. Sure I get more done this way, but I also cause some damage. My husband may seem unwilling to step up, but he is VERY cognizant of his limitations and he respects them. He rarely over commits to the point where he can’t handle what he needs to do.
I am really shitty at having crucial conversations. So I struggled mightily to communicate what I need in a productive way. That is definitely part of the reason why we have made so little headway.
And this is hard for me to admit, but I think I do take a certain amount of pleasure in being the one who does more. I think I feel more comfortable when I can claim a certain moral superiority, than I would if we were equals. I am just realizing this now, as my husband offers to step up with increased sincerity and pragmatism. It is hard for me to give up the high ground and stand with him on a level playing field. I clearly need to work on this myself, which is one of the reasons I wish I could be in therapy right now.
I am also not good at accepting help. There are times when my husband offers to help, but I always find some reason to say no, like the way he asks or something he said earlier in the day, or my fear of what his attitude will be like while or after he does it. If my husband offers to do something, I will often say no, and I think there is part of me that expects he will insist after that first “it’s okay, I’ll do it.” Maybe that is because I frequently insist, or I do things to help him without his asking. I guess I expect him to insist, or do it without my asking too, which is ridiculous. Clearly he offers once and if I say no, he assumes I don’t want or need his help. I need to say yes when he offers and then stand back and let him help. I don’t know why I’ve perpetuated that cycle. (I will admit, he usually asks me if I need help folding laundry, and that is “my job,” while dishes are “his job” and I think I want to respect that division of labor, because I like how clean and easily defined those lines are.)
Having said that, I am quick to do the dishes when I know he’ll be out late. Partly this is because I want to be nice, partly it’s because I know he won’t get to one side of the sink for days and it grosses me out, and partly it’s so I can feel good about myself. Then I feel resentful that he never offers to cover the laundry when I’m out late. I know I need to stop this, and I have abstained from doing any dishes, despite my husband coming home late a few times in the past weeks. I do think it’s helping and I will continue to let him get caught up on the dishes during his own time, no matter how gross the sink gets. I do hope that some day I can find joy in helping him out, but I’m just not there right now.
I need to request more time for myself. My husband is horrible at giving me time, but if I ask for it, he always says yes if it is logistically possible. I need to ask for time more often. I was doing a better job of this last year, when I saw seeing friends more, but since the summer I’ve basically stopped trying to meet up with friends, not because of anything at home, but more because of a disillusionment with my friendship situation. My new schedule at work also means I need to workout more in the evenings, so there are nights he puts our daughter to bed so I can workout, but that doesn’t feel like a night off because I’m still around to be hounded by the my daughter. There is a part of me that feels like asking for time to workout at home three times a week means I can’t ask for time to be away from home. But that doesn’t need to be the case. I need to give myself one day a week where my husband puts both kids to bed and I am out of the house. If I don’t have a friend to visit I could always go to a café and read. I wish I could afford a yoga class (or exercise anywhere away from home)… that would be a great way to spend an evening.
I’m sure there are more subtle and overt ways that I perpetuate this dynamic and I will continue to think about them. In the meantime, I’m going to (1) ask for more time away from home, (2) point out when my husband is assuming I’ll be home to watch the kids when he’ll be out, instead of asking if I’m available, (3) say yes when he offers to help and then step away and let him do it and (4) tell my husband to cover at least one bath night during the week (we only give them bath 2-3 times a week, so that is almost half). These are baby steps, but hopefully they will get us moving in the right direction.
Thank you all for making this such a thought provoking conversation. I’ve gained so much insight into our dynamic and for the first time in a long time I feel like I have a solid understanding of what I should expect from my husband and what I can do to help him meet those expectations. There may be hope for us yet.