Woman Breadwinner By Default: How to Handle the Resentment (Read Time: 7 min.)

couple 8You 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.

Sound familiar?

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.

Remember:

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.

–>CLICK HERE TO BUY THE BOOK ON AMAZON<–

Choose You Not Divorce

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How to Get Marital Peace When You’d Rather Be Anywhere But Home… (Read Time: 4 min.)

coule 6You run your show.  You bring home the bacon.  You’re the one wearing the pants… and the BOTH of you know it.  But, lately, things haven’t been easy.  There’s been tension in the air, things left unsaid, household responsibilities left undone, and outside of talking about bills, birthdays, and chores, there hasn’t been much to say… that won’t bite you in the butt later.

Can you relate to that scenario?

How you deal with marital stress will determine a great deal about how the rest of your marriage goes.  Stress is nothing new nor is it unique to the woman breadwinner but how it shows up in the marriage has a lot to do with who’s wearing the proverbial pants… and who is not.  Even though you signed up for this (and sometimes you didn’t), there may be parts of you wondering, “Why am I the one with all of this financial pressure?” or “Why can’t I take it easy, pursue my dreams, and have the lighter load?”  The moment you start feeling like this, guess what?  You’re in a particular phase of marriage that ALL married couples go through.  It’s called the devaluation stage.  Rather than give in to it and begin looking for the exit door, own up to it, get familiar with it, and find your way to a better place  WITH your spouse by your side.

The question becomes:

“How do I do that when I spend most of my time nagging my spouse to do things he KNOWS he’s supposed to be doing?”

Here are 3 simple steps to cultivating marital peace (esp. when it’s the last thing you feel like doing):

Step 1: Do a Spouse Appraisal.  Yup, appraise him.  Just like you would a house.  In other words, detach from the emotional upheaval that your dissatisfaction, nagging, and anxiety have caused, take a step back, pull out a pen and paper, and spend 3-7 days observing your spouse.  In your notebook, answer the following questions:

1) What did my spouse do today that pleased me?

2) What did my spouse do today that annoyed me?

3) How did my spouse help in our household today?

4) What did my spouse forget or not do today in our household that really needed to be done TODAY?

5) What did I love most about how he behaved today?

6) What bugged me most about how he behaved today?

At the end of each day’s observation, compare your responses and see if there’s more good than bad.  Ask yourself, “How did my mood, my day, and my thoughts impact how I evaluated my spouse?” and write down those answers as well.

Step 2: Comparison shop.  This is a fabulous notion discussed by Sharyn Wolf in her book, ” This Old Spouse.”  In other words, when you get fed up with your spouse, think seriously about the grass you think is greener on the other side.  Look at your friends’ marriages and your divorced friends’ dating lives and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Would I want to have THEIR marital problems in place of mine?
  2. Is that grass really greener… or is it turf?
  3. What lessons am I learning in this marriage that, if I don’t get here, I’ll simply take with me to the next relationship?
  4. Would I really be happier without my husband or am I making MY happiness his responsibility?  Is that fair?

Step 3: Identify your REAL needs and ask to have them met.

This is a two-part step.

Part 1: Identify your REAL needs.  When you’re nagging your spouse, what is it that you REALLY want?  Do you want to be heard?  Do you want to be seen?  Do you want your spouse to show his care and affection by jumping up in that minute and taking care of the laundry or the garbage or whatever else you’re asking him to do?  What is the emotion or the desire that you have underneath the discussion you seem to keep having?  Once you get clear on your needs, you’ll better communicate them to your spouse.

Part 2: Ask to have your needs met.  Not demand.  Not order.  Not control.  When you’re in a loving mood (keep in mind that loving is your natural state and you can get into that mood at any moment you choose; just watch a cute kitten video on You Tube and tell me if I’m wrong), sit down with your spouse, look him deeply in the eyes, caress his face, and lovingly ask for what you need WITHOUT expecting that he jump up in that second to prove his love by getting it done in that minute.  Ask, trust that it will get done, and move on to the next thing.  You’d be surprised how trust (of the self and your spouse) mixed with affection and love do the trick EVERY time.

Now I have a couple questions for you…

Knowing these 3 tips can save your peace of mind.  Taking action on these 3 steps TODAY  will change your life.

Having read this post, what steps will you take to get marital peace? 

Which of the 3 steps resonated with you most and what do you plan to do about what you’ve learned here?

Reveal what you plan to do in the comments below.  I’m always checking and commenting 🙂