Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Q: My wife's work schedule is much more unpredictable and demanding than mine. I work a 9-to-5 job; she works anywhere from 55-60 hours, sometimes nights and weekends, and she doesn't have a lot of control over her schedule.
Sometimes she'll call at 4 or 5 and say, "Hey, I'm getting out early — want to see a movie/go to dinner/etc.?" I know I should be happy, but I end up feeling resentful — like I'm at her beck and call and don't have anything better to do (even when I don't). I don't want to be a person who waits by the phone, but I also know it's not her fault that her job is chaotic. How can I be supportive without being a doormat?
Carolyn: I'm not sure I understand your doormatty feelings or resentment. She's not pulling your strings; the job is pulling hers. So why does hopping to a movie when the opportunity arises feel like capitulating, instead of, say, waking up to a snow day? Seems like a happy surprise.
If it's because you sometimes aren't up for a movie but feel you can't say no, then there are alternatives to grudging attendance. You can apologize for not being in the mood and suggest a quiet night at home — or, if she pouts at that, you can say openly that you feel pressured to either celebrate her every night off or be punished by her disappointment, which doesn't seem fair to you.
Beck-and-Call Boy again: I think what bothers me is this: My wife usually has only one or two free nights a week, so I feel like if I want to see her, I have to keep alllll my nights free. Then either she's not free and I feel like a chump for sitting home, or she is free and I feel resentful that I'm conforming to her schedule. Even though I know it's her job's fault, I still feel like a pathetic hanger-on.
So maybe the solution is getting my own hobbies and plans — even when that means we might not see each other for a couple of weeks?
Carolyn: This makes much more sense to me, thanks. It might help if you just choose a night or two each week that is your standing social night. Then, if your wife happens to be off on one of those nights, she either has the house to herself or gets to see her own friends (a luxury she has given up on at this point, no?).
Yes, it might mean you miss each other one week — assuming you can't bump your plans a day — but life is long and ideally so is marriage.
Anonymous: This could be my husband. I long for a night at home by myself, but when I get home, I feel so guilty that I force myself to hang out with my husband. Call Boy — live your life. Join a club. Take a class. It will be well worth it — especially if it means that when I do see you, you're happier and not resentful.
Carolyn: We could have a whole discussion on people's varying needs for alone time, and the pressures of expectations. Thanks for speaking up.