She Said, He Said: It’s tough sometimes to work through the working relationship at home
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
Shortly after we married, my husband decided he wanted to change careers, and I supported him in going back to school. It was a real struggle for me to be the primary earner, manage our home and care for our newborn. We made it through and are now able to afford a comfortable lifestyle on his income. I have always wanted to be an artist, and now that we have the security, I’d like to go back to school myself. My husband has been supportive of my painting as a hobby, but he pushes back when I tell him I want to pursue a degree in art. He’s focused on the financial ROI, the costs of having to find child care and that he doesn’t want any more responsibility at home. I’m becoming more resentful by the day. How do we get through this?
Signed, Artist In Waiting
Jeff and Lori: Couples often keep mental scorecards to establish a running tally of how much we’ve done for our partners and how much we’re “owed.” While it’s nice to get a return for things we’ve compromised on or efforts we’ve made for our partners, the act of giving should not be subject to the big payback. Generosity and cooperation need to come from a place of love and support, not from an accumulated balance sheet.
Lori: It sounds as though you’re both stuck in your rigid stories about one another and this topic. It’s easy to be resentful if your narrative is “I worked harder to support him than he is willing to do to support me.” But I suspect there are more layers of emotion and vulnerability at play than either of you are acknowledging. We teach our clients a framework for navigating tough topics. The first step is to take a pause when a topic or content is leading to tension. Nothing good happens when partners are communicating from an emotionally escalated place. The second step is to use that pause to individually identify what the emotions, stories and vulnerabilities are attached to this topic. “Stories” are how we conceptualize what is happening or why our partner is doing what they’re doing. Step three is to come back together, share what you’ve learned or identified in step two and validate each other’s feelings. Even if you don’t understand why the other feels what they feel, it’s important to recognize that everyone’s emotions are real. This is also where emotional safety and intimacy is really forged in relationships. Once mutual validation is experienced, you have much more opportunity as a couple to create a conversation that honors both of your feelings, fears and needs and sets you up for a successful resolution.
Jeff: I wonder if your husband fully understands the true cost to the relationship if you are feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. Because our lives can be so hectic, it’s easy to have a myopic view of the day-to-day activities and events, only having an awareness of who does what and how much is earned. But in order to join the conversation, he will need to change his perspective to the 10,000-foot overview. Once he’s able to rise above the din, he’ll be able to see that finding balance in a relationship is not about a tit-for-tat comparison but an authentic assessment of values, goals and purpose.
It sounds like he’s found his calling within his chosen profession, and it’s an added bonus that he can make a comfortable living while doing it. And it seems that he’s reached some of his goals and is comfortable with the status quo. But if you are still yearning to find your passion — what gets you excited and motivated to bring your best self to the world and to the relationship — you will need to ask him to seriously consider your visions and dreams. This may not be just about your future as an artist but possibly about the future of your being together as a couple.
Lori and Jeff: No one wakes up in the morning planning to be a lousy spouse. So if your partner is behaving in a way that seems selfish, it’s a good indication that your ask is creating vulnerability. Be sure to share with him what art means to you and be willing to acknowledge what it’s bringing up for him. The solution will be found in ensuring each of you feel set up for success.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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Teachers are underpaid. They can’t find housing. Turnover is unacceptably high. If you are a teacher in Aspen today, you face losing your entire current work group five years hence.