She Said, He Said: Parenting stress in relationship should be about the ‘we’ not the ‘you vs. me’
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
My husband and I have fallen into a place in our marriage where we are always on edge with each other. From the beginning of our relationship, his career has always had more income potential than mine. Even though I enjoyed my work, staying home with my kids (ages 5 and 2) has been more important. My husband thinks that because the kids are in day care a few days a week, it should be easy for me to take care of them, manage the errands and household, and have time for myself and him. I’m increasingly frustrated that these are his kids and his home and yet he thinks financially providing is all he needs to do. I want him to put in effort to help me with dinner, bath and bedtime, but he believes he deserves to unwind and take care of his own needs in the evenings. Who’s right?
Signed, Needing A Partner
Lori and Jeff: Sometimes the most challenging part of marriage is accepting that there is no singular, universal truth — no right or wrong. Each of your needs, desires and emotional experiences are valid.
Lori: You and your husband are stuck “above the line.” You’re battling over scorecards, checked boxes and time on the clock, each entrenched in an unending cycle of presenting data to prove that you do your fair share. The reality for most couples with kids is that both parents can be giving all they can sustainably give, and it will still rarely feel like the combined efforts are enough. And when the gaps show as exhaustion, a messy home or the inability to soothe a grumpy child, it’s easy to point the finger at the other for not pulling their weight. But this entire conversation paradigm will get you nowhere, except perhaps divorce.
If you want a partner, you also need to start acting like one. It’s time to drop below the line and shift the conversation from “you vs. me” to “we.” Instead of focusing on what your husband is not doing, create space to listen to what each of you is really feeling, wanting and needing from each other. My sense is that what is missing most is acknowledgment for how each of you does give. “You need to help with bedtime” could instead be “I appreciate how hard you worked today, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and could really use your support tonight.” The delivery matters.
Jeff: One of the underlying themes in your conflict is the balance between mission and connection. Mission tends to be associated with more masculine energy and is often focused on achievement and accomplishment. Connection is associated with feminine energy and is more centered around relationships and bonding. These are not necessarily specific to the genders of male and female, but they do tend to fall across those lines in more traditional social constructs.
Relationships that involve children often have polarized roles. One partner is more focused on financially supporting the family (mission driven) and the other is more responsible for the child care and maintaining the home (connection driven). These roles can become static and it’s often difficult to transition from one to the other. You are justified in wanting your husband to connect with your kids when he gets home, but if he’s still in mission mode from work, he will just see doing things with the kids as more assignments and not as an opportunity to spend time with them as their father. If you can reframe your requests as a desire for him to have a chance to bond with his kids instead of giving him a list of what you expect him to do when he gets home, you may find that he is more responsive to your needs.
Lori and Jeff: Both of your experiences are true and real. A heartfelt conversation around how to change your perceptions about them will create the space for more understanding and compassion. This will require both of you to drop below the line and communicate your emotional experiences, preferences and needs.
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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