“Receiving is as blessed as giving, and at bottom they are the same thing. When we can’t receive, we are like people who, though fed, have malfunctioning digestive systems and therefore remain unnourished. On an emotional level, the reason this is so important is that emotionally hungry people are angry. We are angry about feeling unfed, but meanwhile, people right in front of us might have been feeding us constantly, as best they can, and are starting to wonder why we ourselves are so ungrateful, bratty, and ungiving.”
How often have you felt angry or frustrated because, in your mind, you’re doing all the heavy lifting and your spouse is simply riding the wave?
How often have you thought about walking away from the relationship and finding someone who could match you “where it counts”?
But the question remains: are you looking through eyes that really see the situation?
When you’re the person making the bulk of the money, it can be easy to point fingers at who isn’t doing “enough.” But until you define what “enough” looks like, you have no benchmark upon which to accurately measure contribution in the relationship. When people say, “I no longer respect that person” or “I do everything, they do nothing”, what they’re really saying is “I’m emotionally hungry, I feel unfed, I feel unsafe and this person isn’t doing a good job of feeding me and protecting me.” The real issue isn’t about what’s in the bank; it’s about what’s missing in the heart.
When you feel emotionally unfed, you feel physically unsafe. You could have millions of dollars in the bank but if you aren’t able to receive what others are giving you, no amount of money will provide the security blanket you’re looking for. In a relationship that is financially unbalanced, oftentimes the problem isn’t that one person gives more than the other; it’s that one person has the ability to receive more than the other. Learning how to receive is a critical first step for women breadwinners. When you have the ability to receive well, even when what you’re receiving is different becomes MORE than enough because you know how to usher the good in.
So, let’s break this down:
1) Can you give as good as you get?
2) Can you accept compliments? Dinners prepared for you? Dishes washed for you? Laundry done for you? Can you accept those things as easily as you do your spouse bringing home a big fat bonus or finding an awesome job? And can you see those things for the value they offer… even if the value isn’t monetary?
3) Can you see the gift in this relationship… or are you too busy looking for a way out?
4) Can you stop yourself, in mid pity party and ask the question, “What is the gift here?” and stop complaining long enough to find it?
Here’s the problem with wanting your spouse to be someone he or she is not: You’re not responsible for HIS change; you can only control yours… and yours is all you need to focus on to experience the relationship in a whole new way, regardless of the relationship’s outcome. Far too many people sit around raking their brains asking “Will this marriage work? Will it not? Will I stay? Will I go?” Wrong questions. You’re trying to look through a crystal ball on a future you haven’t created yet. Don’t waste time that way. Acknowledge where you are RIGHT now and make that experience the best it can be for you.
How do you do that when you’re angry about the imbalance? How do you enjoy being in a relationship where you feel like you are carrying most of the weight?
1) Get real about the weight you’re carrying. The weight you feel may not actually be the amount of lifting you’re doing so you need to get real about it. Pull out a sheet of paper and fold it in half. On the left side, write down, “EVERYTHING it takes to make this household work.” Then jot down every task, responsibility, chore, and role that must be fulfilled in order for your household and your life to run smoothly. List everything from carpool to pay the bills, from changing diapers to investing in the retirement account. List it all. Then, on the right side, next to each line item, write your name by all of the tasks that you primarily handle. Write down your spouse’s name by all of the tasks he handles. Once you’ve completed that list, step back and see what percentage you have versus what percentage he has… and then ask yourself one important question: Is it equitable? Notice I didn’t say equal. I love the newlyweds who go with the “You wash and I’ll dry mentality.” That lasts for about five weeks. In great marriages, equality is thrown out the window and equity is the focus. Based on your list, is what you and your spouse contribute (even though the form may be different) equitable? Is it fair? Do you both contribute in ways that are valuable and make the house run smoothly? This exercise will get you clear on how much you do versus how much you think you’re carrying. If it turns out you are doing “everything”, then it is time to take that list, sit down with your spouse, and have a loving, clear conversation about how to shift some of these responsibilities to him. In another post, I’ll discuss exactly how to have that conversation.
2) Look for the lesson. When you feel angry about the situation, instead of asking, “What am I getting here?” or “What have you done for me lately?”, ask “What lesson do I need to learn from this?” or “What have I done for ME lately?” Any time we feel shortchanged, it’s because, on some level, we’re shortchanging ourselves. Either we accept less than we deserve or we do more than we need to in order to feel like we’re “enough” or we reject other people’s gifts of love and contribution because we don’t want to “owe anybody anything.” I could go on and on but you get what I’m saying. If you resist receiving from others, no matter how much they give, you won’t be able to receive it. Maybe that’s the lesson in this relationship. Maybe just maybe the lesson isn’t that you married badly or you chose the wrong person. More than likely, you chose exactly the right person for exactly the right lessons you needed to learn and it’s better to be present for this and get the lessons this time around than to run from the lesson only to find the same exact spiritual classroom in the form of a different person, in a different relationship, in a different marriage, headed down the same break up road. I’m not saying you stay in a relationship that offers no equity. I’m saying you stay for as long as it takes to get the lessons you need so you do not repeat this cycle again.
3) Accept your role or change it but don’t bitch about it. Complaining is the mother of all failure because it does nothing to improve the situation. And, yet, so many women complain about what their spouses don’t do, won’t do, or can’t do without realizing that all of that energy spent in complaining could be better used in assessing and altering the roles they’ve chosen to play in the marriage. Contrary to popular belief, you didn’t “fall” into your role as breadwinner. You chose it. Yes, I get the economy might have been rough and you were the one making all the money so when the baby came, it was a no brainer that he’d stay home and you’d go to work. That was still a choice. I understand that you made a pact with yourself to always have your own income and you couldn’t help that you were more ambitious than him and climbed higher faster while he languished going from job to job. But guess what? You still had to choose to climb. At the end of the day, you being in the role of breadwinner is as much a choice as a woman who chooses to stay at home. Complaining about the choice you made (and continue to make daily) is a fast way to go no where. If you really dislike the choice (and I haven’t met many women breadwinners who’d want to switch to stay-at-home, not-receiving-their-own-paycheck women), choose differently. Sit down with your spouse and say, “In the next 6 months, I’d like to see our roles shift in this, this and this way… How can we make that happen?” and follow through on it. Don’t back down when you start to see you’re losing the control you once had in the relationship. Don’t shy away from it the moment he doesn’t do things exactly the way you’d do them. If you want to change the role but you don’t want to relinquish any of the power, you’re going to have a problem. If you don’t like the role, change it but, whatever you do, stop bitching about it. Bitching solves nothing and, in fact, creates more problems than you originally had.
At the end of the day, the marriage you’re in is the marriage you chose. Your lesson here is not to find another partner or to stop being married.
It’s to see this situation for the lesson it is and to ask yourself repeatedly as you learn it:
How can I create this in a different way?
You are the creator of it. You are the chooser of the role. If you don’t like what you chose, guess what? You can, at any moment, choose differently.