Lisa is good when it comes to intimacy, but that’s the only place she wants to get it going. She quit her job three years ago for no apparent reason and decided simultaneously to stop parenting her children or doing any household chores. Terry is tired of being married, while being the sole breadwinner, housekeeper and caregiver to his children. It’s time for a Family Digest Marriage Makeover with Dr. Myrna V. Dartson.
Terry has worked hard all of his life and appreciates the value of a dollar. He is a man of high moral and ethical character, cherishes his family, and is very active in his church. He enjoys his role as father and husband and has worn many hats (i.e. cook, chauffeur) without complaint.
Lately, Terry has been feeling a little resentment toward his wife, Lisa. Lisa quit her job “for no good reason” nearly three years ago and appears unmotivated to seek employment elsewhere. When Terry comes home from work, he not only has to cook dinner, but assist the children with their homework. He even prepares breakfast, combs their daughters’ hair before school, drops them off prior to going to work, and cleans the house. Lisa, quite frankly, does nothing (other than shop) while Terry is working hard. Although Terry can manage to support his family on one income, two incomes would be better. He is bothered by what he perceives as Lisa’s “nonchalant” attitude toward contributing to the household physically and financially. Lisa does, however, meet Terry’s sexual needs but is absolutely uninterested in doing anything else other than “shopping and looking pretty.”
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As far as Terry can tell, Lisa is not depressed or unhappy in the marriage. Her unwillingness to make contributions to the household is causing Terry to experience stress and anxiety. He feels that he can no longer handle all of the household duties independently. Terry considered hiring a housekeeper but believes that with Lisa’s full cooperation, this problem can be resolved and some normalcy can be restored. He has threatened to leave Lisa in an effort to scare her into finding a job and performing chores around the house. Terry has no plans to leave his wife. He just wants her to be a productive partner.
Lisa never wanted for much and never had to work hard for anything she acquired. When she met and married Terry, Lisa felt that her life was complete. She loves being a wife and mother, and perceives Terry to be a good husband and provider. Lisa is attractive, smart, and kind. She has nothing to complain about and experiences no emotional distress.
Lisa’s decision to stop working was abrupt and unreasonable. There were no problems with her superiors or fellow employees, and she purportedly enjoyed her job. Lisa claims to have been “sick” of getting up early and traveling far. Basically, Lisa was “tired.” Initially, Terry had taken no issue with Lisa quitting her job and assumed she would take no more than two or three weeks, a month at the most, to “get herself together.”
Lisa readily acknowledges that Terry assumes more than his share of household chores, but feels somewhat resentful toward him for threatening to leave her over what she deems “little things.” She does feel “slightly” guilty about not spending more time with her children prior to and after school but feels that Terry has “everything under control.” She also feels slightly jealous when Terry spends time with the children because she is often excluded on outings.
Lisa feels that Terry is attempting to force her hand with respect to seeking employment. She has no legitimate excuse for not working or contributing to the household. Lisa enjoys her freedom and has entertained the thought of working from home. Terry, of course, is against Lisa working from home for fear that doing so will perpetuate her “laziness.”
Lisa does not think that Terry will actually leave her. She senses the strain her lack of assistance is taking on her husband and wants to change.
Dr. Myrna’s View
Marriage is hard work, but it truly takes equal effort to make it a success. Traditional male/female household stereotypes (e.g. men are solely responsible for outdoor chores and women for cooking and cleaning) have been nearly replaced with more reciprocal interactions between husbands and wives. Doing so creates balance, and levels of respect and appreciation that can satisfy relationship needs.
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Over the span of nearly three years, the sort of frustration that Terry experienced could lead one to abandon a marriage. After all, he fulfills the role of a single father although his spouse is in the home. At the same time, we can often teach people how to treat us. Had Terry been more persistent and insistent earlier, Lisa would not have taken advantage of a “good thing.” She would have attempted to seek and secure a job in addition to parenting her children. Somehow, Terry’s kind but passive nature sent the wrong message to Lisa. He allowed his anger and disappointment to fester for years without appropriately expressing his discontent.
Initially, Lisa assumed that Terry was fine with her decision to break from work and her familial obligations. As time progressed, she sensed his disapproval, carried on with her ways, and took advantage of her husband’s kindness. Although she sensed that Terry would not actually leave her, his emotional distance and persistence in participating in therapy has caused Lisa to experience shame and guilt. She was unjustified in neglecting her duties as a wife and even more so in failing to care for her children. Above all, the social and emotional needs of her children should have taken priority over her selfish desires.
As naive as children may seem to adults, they are extremely perceptive and forget very little. Children absorb the words and actions of those around them like sponges, and can recall events of childhood for years to come. This is something Lisa will likely have to contend with in the future. Her desire for “freedom” could have been taken as a sign of rejection by her children, causing them unnecessary emotional harm. Children need the constant attention, affection, and reassurance of their caretakers. After all, when one or both parents do not meet children’s emotional needs, the children often turn to negative influences (e.g. inappropriate peers or drugs) for some form of comfort. This is not to say that Lisa and Terry’s children will become rebellious because of her “hiatus,” but her lack of involvement in their lives will certainly have some impact on them emotionally.
So, what is there to learn from Lisa and Terry’s ordeal? First, every aspect of marriage (i.e. chores, child care responsibilities, etc.) should be a joint effort, unless otherwise specified and agreed upon by both partners. Establishing a mutual plan of order for one’s household will clarify expectations and facilitate productivity. Second, the lines of communication should always be open. Expressing desires early on can prevent emotional meltdowns.
Lisa, a three-year break from being a wife, mother and breadwinner is long enough. Get off the couch and go back to work!
<u>8 Bad Things That Happen When Couples Don’t Share Responsibilities</u>
1. Both members of the couple become resentful.
2. One or both members of the couple feel stressed and anxiety.
3. One half of the couple threatens to leave the relationship & family.
4. One half of the couple become jealous.
5. Anger and resentment fester for years.
6. One half of the couple feel shame and guilt.
7. Children will come to reject the mother or father.
8. Children suffer emotional harm.
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