I am married to a smart, sexy woman. We have a child (in school) who is my complete joy. Life is good. The problem: My wife does not work, and it kinda drives me crazy.
She used to work when we first started out. Then she went part time, then not at all. I believe strongly that men and women are equal. I've encouraged her to go back to school, do charity work, and to just follow her dreams. No action. If I try to talk about it, she gets defensive ("This is just about money") and the conversation goes nowhere. I don't bring it up anymore.
I know this is partly my issue. I have a tendency to quietly obsess about things. Sometimes I'm a bit jealous of her schedule and resent the extra financial burden. I've used the importance of my current job to avoid addressing my own goals. I'm trying to avoid martyrdom.
Over the years my support has become less hands-on and more cautious (but never critical). I think I'm protecting myself from another letdown. I really love this woman. I want her to be happy and confident and doing something she wants to do. And I want to get past this. Any advice?
Dear Kinda Crazy,
I think you should start by getting specific about what you're missing out on while working to support your wife. What are these goals that you've avoided addressing?
Focus on your concrete desires and minute feelings. This may take some work, but it will be worth it. Identify the moments when your feelings of resentment arise. Perhaps they arise when you get home from work or when you leave for work, or when you talk to her on the phone from work and realize the great disparity in your situations. It's those moments and their specific emotional content that you need to concentrate on. When one of those moments comes up, ask yourself: What would I rather be doing right now? What am I supposed to be doing? What is this feeling of uselessness and waste all about? Is it related to past experiences? Does it feel like a betrayal of my beliefs? Does it feel like I'm wasting my talents? Is it part of a pattern in which I ignore my own natural tendencies in order to keep the peace? Struggle with these questions. It's worth the effort. Your goal, after all, is to find out what you are supposed to be doing with your life.
There are issues of fairness and equity here, but until you find out exactly what you want, you will have nothing realistic to propose to your wife. It won't help much to say that you just think she should work because that would be fair. It's much more persuasive to announce that you've found your mission in life and you need her help. What if you realized, for instance, through careful thought and perhaps some focused discussion with a good friend or counselor, that you really wanted to go to film school? What if you came home one day and asked your wife and your child to give you their support so you could follow your dream? What if you said that would involve cutting back on your own paid work to half time? What if you asked your wife to either go to work to make up the difference, or learn to live with less disposable income?
Your wife and child might be excited, if frightened, by the prospect of change. They might fight you at first, having come to view you primarily as a dependable source of income. But if you come to them with a heartfelt proposal for a better life, it's bound to open up a lively discussion. It's bound to get them thinking about the value of your time and money -- and theirs. And it's bound to force them to see you in a new light, as a person with his own dreams and feelings. I think that would be a much better way to approach the issue than from the approach of simple fairness and equity. Create a quest for yourself, and in doing so create a dream for your family. Then invite them to follow you and help you. I think you will find them willing.
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