Dear Dr. Tobin,
My husband and I married during his medical residency. With the understanding that he had greater time constraints than I, I took over most of the household duties, including finances, and when our son was born all the child care.
He has now completed all of his training and I see little indication that he wants to take on a fairer share of the responsibilities. I know that his parents viewed work [for the man] as more important than family. How can I get him to understand that his household and child should be higher on his list of priorities? I have tried on numerous occasions to discuss this with him, but there is always one other thing that he must accomplish (exam, research, etc.) that I have to wait for until he will do more around the house. I am afraid that there will never be a time when things will be more equal. How do I stop from building up resentment and eventually hatred for this man?
A specific example: He has never (okay, maybe a handful of times) gotten up for the baby in the middle of the night. It is to the point where now, even on the weekends when he doesn’t have to get up for work the next day, if the baby wakes up and cries, he waits for me (or yells for me if I’m in another room) to tend to him.
Dear Seeking Fairness,
You ask two questions:
- “How can I get him to understand that his household and child should be higher on his list of priorities?”
- “How do I stop from building up resentment and eventually hatred for this man?”
Question #1 assumes that there is a method for convincing your husband to share your sense of urgency. You feel desperate. You need and want him to think and act like you, to make you and the family a higher priority. If he doesn’t change, then you’ll have to hate him. The frustrating fact is that as long as you insist that he must change, he won’t. Neither you nor I have the power to turn your partner into a caring and responsible husband and father. If you demand, he’ll resist and if he resists, you’ll demand and so on and so on. Call it Marital Physics: For every forceful demand there is an opposite and equal powerful resistance.
Perhaps this sounds discouraging. You came to WholeFamily looking for hope and I’m offering you a pessimistic view of reality. I’m telling you that you won’t change your husband, and you’re most likely thinking that if he doesn’t change, then that’s the end of our marriage. Well, before you completely give up let me tell you about another law of marital physics, “The Principle of Perpetual Growth”: Change yourself and the other might change.
Unconsciously you’ve already begun to apply this principle. You ask, “How do I stop from building up resentment?” I hear two other questions: Am I free to think, feel and act as I choose regardless of what my husband does or does not do? Does his attitude determine my feelings and actions? If the answer to the first question is “No” and to the second question “Yes”, then hatred and/or depression will be your only choice.
But you know that you have more freedom than that. Why? Because you didn’t ask, “Is it possible to stop resenting…?” Rather you asked a technical question, “How do I stop…?” The how question automatically assumes that with proper information and guidance you can learn how to control your feelings.
So now let’s move on to what is within your area of responsibility and control. Here goes:
- Self-Control – Right now you’re hurt and angry. Why shouldn’t you be? You do all of the housework and the childcare. That wasn’t the deal. When he was a resident, you were willing to take on the extra burden. You wanted to help and support him. After all isn’t that what a loving partner does? But where’s the reciprocity and where’s the fairness?I suspect that there is no end to how angry you can be. Nothing gets us more enraged than the feeling that we’re being taken advantage of. Your problem however is that what you want is justice and fairness and what you need is cooperation. It seems to me that you approach your husband with the attitude of “you owe this to me”. The result is that you get the predictable response – “No I don’t and I won’t do it.”You need to decide whether you wish to be right or effective. In marriage being right means you win the fight and lose the relationship. Muster up your self-control and take a chance on being effective. Approach your husband from a spirit of cooperation. Assume that he is capable of being a competent father and husband. Ask him his opinion about issues of childcare and family finances. Invite him to join you in solving household problems and be appreciative if he does. If he understands how exhausted you are, he might be willing to hire someone to help with the household and childcare.One thing is certain, as long as you are in an angry and blaming mood you will not elicit his cooperation. Use self-control and be effective.
- Acceptance – You can learn to accept the fact that your husband’s priorities are different than yours. Does it mean that you will be happy that his career is more important to him than his family? Absolutely not! Acceptance means that you accept that which you can’t change. It’s a painful process. You have to give up your dream of marriage and family life. His dream is not about home, kids and a loving wife. It’s about being a successful physician. As you said, he learned from his parents that work is a higher priority than family.
- Choice – Acceptance leads to choice. When you come to terms with reality, you quickly learn what your options are. For example, without blaming or demanding that he change, you can make it clear to your husband that what you and he want from life seems to be quite different. Those apparent differences are very painful for you. You can tell him that you love him and that you want to remain with him but that the current lifestyle is not acceptable to you. You can suggest marital therapy or marriage encounter in order to help you work through your differences.Every choice has its logical consequence. If he decides to focus on his career at the expense of his marriage and family, then he shouldn’t be surprised that his wife and kids will relate to him as a stranger. You might even choose to divorce him. You don’t have to live with a man who doesn’t share your commitment to family.
I don’t know what you’ll choose to do. Perhaps you’ll continue to insist that your husband should change until you finally come to realize that the only change that’s occurred is that you’ve turned yourself into an angry and bitter woman.
Or, perhaps you’ll learn to move beyond blame and anger to a recognition that you can choose how you wish to be. My final piece of advice to you is to stop chasing after your husband and demanding that he be like you. Instead work on yourself and perhaps your husband will come to see and understand what he’s been missing.
Dr. Michael Tobin