She Said, He Said: Am I expecting too much of my marriage?
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My husband and I have been together for 11 years and have two young children. I had been working in finance when we met, but I’ve never really prioritized my career. I’ve always known that being a mom was my calling and passion. I love supporting my husband in his work and making sure the home is running smoothly for all of us. I’ve come to realize that I can’t do it all on my own and still take care of myself. When I talk to him about it, he says he’s supportive of me hiring help or taking some “me time.” But then when I do, he makes snide comments that make me think otherwise. More importantly, when I comment that I’d like a deeper connection with him, he tells me he already has too little time and is giving everything he can so I can have the life I want. I’m left feeling that I should be more grateful, but I want more of a relationship. Am I expecting too much?
Grateful But Guarded
Lori and Jeff: Most couples will at some point struggle with defining the value of each partner’s contributions. Even in cases where income is equal, there’s still balancing all of the other responsibilities of life — maintaining the home, parenting, errands, chores, planning dates, social engagement and vacations — that couples can get hung up on.
Lori: There are two sides contributing to the relationship gap here. Let’s start by looking at the pieces you may be responsible for. First, are you sure you’re confident about what you’re providing? I know you can create a mental list of everything you do and give, but deep down are there doubts about whether all of it, or you yourself are enough? If you’re bringing subconscious insecurities about your lovability into the relationship, you’re only going to project them onto your husband. Meaning, every time he’s not 100% thrilled about your self-care choices, his reaction is going to resonate much more deeply and more personally than it needs to. There has to be room for him to have his own emotional experiences and preferences without you translating them as him being unsupportive. But in order for you to create that space for him, you have to be internally confident that you’re worthy of the things you’re asking for.
On his side, he needs to spend a little time getting real with himself. If there are patterns of reactions to your self-care, that’s often a sign that he needs to establish better boundaries for himself. If he has unmet needs in the relationship that are a source of resentment, he needs to communicate that clearly. Alternatively, if he’s envious that you’re able to take care of yourself and he’s not, then he needs to explore how to create better balance in his life, perhaps with some specific asks from you.
Jeff: In relationships where roles are more specifically defined around who makes the money and who raises the kids, the patterns of behavior often reflect the imbalance between the more masculine (not necessarily male) energy of mission and the more feminine (not necessarily female) energy of connection. This kind of imbalance can lead to an overall lack of a relational bond, with the more mission-oriented partner devoting all of their time and energy to earning an income or building a house or company and the more connection-oriented person focusing on parenting the kids. While both partners end up feeling lonely and disconnected, it is usually the more connection-oriented partner, like you, who is the one to express the feelings of frustration about the relational distance. There can also be the associated experience of guilt around asking your partner for more quality time together and a stronger bond.
The key is to find a healthier balance in the roles so that each of you feels equally empowered to ask for your emotional needs to be met and each feel valued for what you contribute to the relationship. The challenge is that often men — who typically assume the more mission-oriented role — are more comfortable and familiar with doing than with feeling so they gravitate toward the mission. Not only do men have trouble asking for their emotional needs to be met, but often struggle to even know what those needs are. Instead, they get their sense of value and worth through what they do or how much they make. This is not a sustainable dynamic, as you’re experiencing firsthand, with both of your emotional needs going unmet.
Lori and Jeff: Ultimately, both partners need to feel valued in what they contribute to the family, regardless of whether it has quantitative value like the mission or qualitative value like the connection. There also needs to be willingness for both you and your husband to dig a little deeper into your own stories around the definitions of the assumed roles you have created in the partnership.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit http://www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.