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Division of responsibilities causes division in marriage

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Division of responsibilities causes division in marriage

Q: I've been married for six months, and it feels like my husband wants me to be his mom. He was always a little scatterbrained, but it's gotten worse. He misplaces his keys, glasses, etc., almost daily and then frantically needs my help to find them. He'll call me at work and ask me how to cook a steak or where he left his pills. When I've asked him to try to handle more of this stuff on his own, he'll joke that this is what a wife is for.

We lived together before getting married and he helped out around the house then, but that, too, has fallen off considerably. I've told him I need him to pitch in more, and it hasn't really happened, except sporadically.

I'm thinking I should go on strike and just not do his dishes or laundry until he gets the point. Any other suggestions? I'm feeling a lot of resentment. I'm already the primary breadwinner and work more hours away from home than he does.

Married for Six Months

A: Yaaaaaaaagh. You married him, why?

I'm sorry. You don't need that.

But you do need to banish the "try to handle," the "helped out" and the "pitch in more" from your language in discussing this, unless you genuinely believe it's your job to run the household and his to "help." Both of you seem to have been lulled into outdated notions of "proper" divisions of labor.

So while it may seem that the problem is his expecting you to serve him, the real problem is the lulling. You didn't make the informed decision to run your lives this way, you backed into it with delusions and wishful thinking.

I don't mean to be harsh, and this tirade isn't directed at you alone — it's a mistake people make every day, every day, every day, still. Even while knowing well in advance that there's a problem.

So you start by knowing the problem for what it is. He went into this expecting you to prop him up, and you complied; the only thing that has pushed you to rebel is the wear and tear of doing it over time, combined with the realization that it has gotten worse.

So if you really want a partnership of equals, then spell that out — starting with the fact that his "joke" wasn't a joke, but a truth you both consented to.

Then you let him know you're withdrawing your consent, because it's not only unfair, but making you seethe with anger. Neither of you wants resentment to swallow your marriage — which it will if left unaddressed.

Two ways to take it from here:

(1) Together, decide on a clear division of responsibilities. He does A, B and C, and you do X, Y and Z. Base it on what each of you does best/likes most/hates least.

And, (2) Stop enabling him. Don't say "Try to figure it out yourself" while giving him instructions for cooking a steak. Suggest (Web site here) for a recipe. Then, "Bye."

If/when things even out, you won't need the latter — in fact, it will feel (and be) petty. But as long as you're his Mistress of the Menial, it's necessary. Good luck.

Division of responsibilities causes division in marriage 02/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 9, 2009 3:30am]

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