Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Unequal amount of free time has spouses at odds
West Virginia: I'm self-employed, make decent money and have plenty of free time to do the things I like. Living the dream! My wife, on the other hand, is in grad school and works part time, makes little money and doesn't have much free time.
For some time now, I have felt frustrated by her attitude toward my free time. If I say I'm headed to the gym, she says petulantly, "I wish I had time to go to the gym," and a diatribe ensues on how busy she is and when the last time she exercised was. No matter what it is I'm going to do, if I tell her about it, I feel guilt-tripped. I've tried talking with her about this, and she apologizes, but soon reverts to doing it again.
Very recently, I find that I've stopped telling her when I leave to do something. She's typically at work or her internship, so she never knows. I know this is the wrong path to take, but oh my God, it's so much easier if she just doesn't know.
I hate that I've become this. Any advice?
Carolyn: I'm not entirely convinced you've "become" something bad. If your having free time isn't the problem, and instead it's just hearing about it that sets her off, then what's wrong with a little discretion? I'm a huge fan of easy, practical solutions.
Now, if the fact of your free time is an issue, and if she thinks, for example, that you should be using some of that gym/hobby/whatever time to lighten her load somehow (grocery shopping, meal prep, housework, etc.), then hiding will be easy now and much harder later. She'll be angry, you'll be living your life independently of hers, and your marriage will be dying slowly right under your noses.
So, you need to be really tough on yourself before you're tough on her. It may seem otherwise, but grad school isn't eternal; are you doing everything possible to support her through her big push? Have you taken over most, if not all, of the household drudgery and logistics? Petulance and diatribes aren't the mature way to express anger to a spouse — however, if her schedule consists of school, internship, laundry/grocery shopping/straightening up/paying bills, and yours consists of work, gym/a provocative novel/some e-mails/a nap in the breezes, then the substance of her anger is valid and warrants an abject apology. And four loads of laundry a week, five dinners, seven clean kitchen sinks and a weekly grocery shop.
If you have been her knight in shining dishes, then stick with the discretion plan and modify only the guilt. If it helps, consider the absurdity of the alternative: taking on an extra part-time job for money you don't need just to make yourself as miserable as she is.
By the way — while grad school will end, the fact of annoying life stages is always here to stay. Prepare for that by making a habit of examining a difficult situation, being ruthless in assessing your own contribution to it, and weaving these into a practical, high-road adaptation to it. This will help you get through a bad stretch without hating each other, and all but guarantees you'll get through without hating yourself.