You married who you thought would be Prince Charming… and you wound up with a frog. He’s not as strong as you thought. He’s not as smart as you thought. He’s not the provider you expected… and you now find yourself in the role of breadwinner (probably still doing the laundry and cleaning the house and tending to the kids) while he takes it easy, enjoys his life, and has learned to tune out your nagging.
There are many situations where the woman breadwinner marriage works beautifully. Both partners know their roles and own them. Both partners see contribution in terms of equity, not equality and appreciate it. Both partners love their given roles and wouldn’t trade it for anything. And both partners have bad days (or bad months) where they wish things were different but still suck it up and keep it moving… and find the gratitude and joy in it. I’m a woman breadwinner in a 2nd marriage. Can you tell which marriage I felt resentful in? Yeah, #1 was the test. Marriage #2 was the eyes-wide-open sign up for this journey. At the end of the day, I coach a lot of women breadwinners who come to me and say, “I’m pissed off that I’m in this situation! I didn’t sign up for this! He has to step up! It’s not fair that I have to do EVERYTHING and he can sit in front of the TV and play X-Box! Why won’t he just… (fill in the blank)?”
They are SEETHING with resentment, filled with a deep anger and contempt for the person they married…
and they don’t know what to do about it.
So… if your resentment is real and you aren’t happy with the breadwinning role you’ve been thrust into, here’s what you’ve got to do to change things:
1) Get over the resentment. See resentment for the self-poison it is and OWN the fact that you CHOSE him. Period. It’s not pretty. It’s not fair. It’s simply the truth. There may have been few signs that he would end up this way but I guarantee you the signs were always there. The honeymoon stage of first love blinds us to character flaws and personality defects that, after years of marriage, we can no longer ignore. This disillusionment happens in ALL marriages and it doesn’t mean you’re heading for divorce but before you can give the relationship a fighting chance, you have to get over your resentment. Nothing he does or will ever do will make you feel any less resentment for what’s happened in the past. You have to alter your resentment. Nobody can do that for you. How do you do that? Look for the gift in the situation and accept responsibility for changing the situation. In other words, see what this breadwinning role has taught you about your strength, your talents, your ability to handle pressure and stress. Be thankful that you’re not living in some third world country where women are barred from holding positions of power, where sex trades exist and little girls are still treated as nothing more than cattle (and, yes, that still happens in the United States). Remind yourself that you have rights and power and abilities that, in some places, you’d never be able to have. Find the gift of your role. Find the lessons of your experiences. Feel gratitude for all of it and make yourself focus on what works about the role no matter how hard things are financially or emotionally.
2) Have THE TALK. Once resentment has left the building, you need to sit down with your spouse and have “THE TALK.” In other words, you need to communicate your unhappiness in the relationship, what needs to change, why it needs to change, and come to the table with ideas about how it could change. Remember: this is a collaboration, not a confrontation. Your word choice and tone of voice will dictate how this conversation will go for you. Keep in mind that if he’s not open to change, doesn’t think anything needs to change, or likes his cushy role and feels you deserve to do all the heavy lifting in the relationship, you’re at an impasse and you only have two choices: 1) Make it work as it is or 2) Make a different choice. I would not be the person to ask about Choice 1 because when I was confronted with this situation, I went for Choice #2 and would do it again if I had the experience all over again.
We teach people how to treat us and
the primary tool of teaching is our actions (talk is cheap).
3) Make your actions fit your words. Once you’ve made your needs known, discussed options and solutions, it’s time to enact a change of behavior… from you. If he won’t pitch in with the laundry, don’t do his laundry. If he won’t go out and find a job, take the X-Box out of the house. If he won’t help the kids with homework, make sure he does everything for himself ON HIS OWN. In other words, if you’re getting no help from him in meeting needs you have clearly discussed and asked for help on, you need to withdraw the extra help you’re giving him so you can practice extreme self care and fulfill your needs on your own. If you do this consistently enough, he’ll either get the message and change, get fed up with the situation and leave, or continue doing the same things and suffer the consequences of not having a maid/housekeeper/personal assistant at his beck and call day and night. Oh and if he isn’t engaging in the financial management side of the marriage, remove ALL extras from his budget. In other words, if he isn’t willing to contribute or to discuss, then there’s no reason he needs the extra car, motorcycle, boat, bike, cell phone, and anything else that isn’t of basic survival necessity.
To many of you, this will seem like an extreme tactic. But this is an extreme case. I’m not talking about husbands who are at home doing the leg work with the kids (carpooling, budgeting, cooking, cleaning, fixing up the house) or the partners who do whatever it takes to help their breadwinning spouses feel heard, seen, and cared for (back rubs, a shoulder to lean on, making sure dinner is ready and available, setting the bath, etc.). I’m talking about those partners that are married to women breadwinners but REFUSE to work in any, way, shape or form while insisting to live like kings. I can clearly say that that relationship, with its absolute lack of reciprocity, will not work out. So… choose your path wisely. Contribution does not have to be monetary but for a marriage to thrive, it does have to exist. Period.
If you’re navigating resentment and need help figuring out what to do about your marriage, check out my book, CHOOSE YOU, NOT DIVORCE.
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2 thoughts on “Woman Breadwinner By Default: How to Handle the Resentment (Read Time: 7 min.)”
I feel like I do all the work. I work 7 days a week, cook all the meals, and wash all the clothes. I defiently feel resentful. I have asked him to find a better job. He doesnt even look.
Hi Jackie! I COMPLETELY get where you’re coming from. One thing I did to cope with my resentment in my first marriage (I divorced after 10 years- he never changed) is this: every time I felt resentment coming up, I put the focus back on myself by saying to myself, “Okay, so I can’t depend on him. What now? What am I going to do? If I had to do this on my own, what would I do next?” This doesn’t remove the resentment but it at least got me to focus on what I could do and do that. At the end of the day, I divorced him. The resentment got to the point where I was totally and completely done. However, looking back, I wish I had focused more on what I could do and kept myself happier through the marriage than I did. I spent alot of time blaming and being angry and it was such a waste of my energy… and he fed off of that negativity. So stay strong and do your best to focus on what you can do… and then take those steps.