you been in this situation with your husband?
two of you are at home after work or on the weekend. You’re catching up on
household tasks or things you need to do for the kids. Or you may be trying to
rest, but your head is spinning with thoughts of all you should be doing.
While you’re stressed, he’s relaxing by the TV or happily scrolling through his phone. If it’s bedtime, he’s out like a light.
One of the most frustrating and fascinating things I see happening in relationships is that there’s still a big gulf between the way men feel at home and how women feel in the same space.
Despite all the changes in gender roles and expectations that have happened in the past half-century, I believe that most men continue to view home as a place to relax and as a refuge from the stress of the outside world.
Meanwhile, women see home as a place that has its own set of responsibilities and stresses. There’s a good reason for this. Wives still tend to do more housework than their husbands do. Primary responsibility for childcare also continues to fall mostly on women, as well as the emotional labor of the household.
And then there are the cultural norms that affect us all to one degree or another. Traditionally, we’ve seen the home as the woman’s domain. A lot of us know deep down that if, for example, the house is messy when someone drops by that we will be the ones who are judged for that, not our husbands.
Things More Fair at Home
But, just like your husband, you deserve to get some rest and relaxation at home. And your marriage will be better if you don’t have underlying resentment that you’re doing more around the house.
Change starts by talking openly about the unspoken expectations and assumptions both of you have. You might discover that the behaviors you were taking personally (“He’s lounging around and doesn’t care that I’m so stressed!”) are actually just habits he learned in his family of origin or stem from his lack of awareness of how much is on your plate.
After you’ve cleared the air, negotiate how the two of you can divide domestic responsibilities so that you both get some rest. For example, maybe you agree that each of you will take a set amount of time to decompress after work and then have certain tasks to complete. Or, perhaps, you’re responsible for the dishes and he does the laundry. The more specific you can be, the better.
This common conflict really drives home how social expectations can affect your marriage. Remember that you are both on the same team and can create a less stressful life if you work together to ease the burdens on each of you. For more ideas about decreasing the stress in your marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
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Whatever is on your holiday gift list for your husband, there’s really just one thing that he desperately wants from you.
It’s not for you to lose weight, to cook more meals at home or to surprise him with some “mind-blowing” sex tip from a magazine.
What he wants from you is admiration. He wants to look in your eyes and believe that he is important, special, and necessary in your life. That’s it.
Men have a deep need to be needed, to feel like they are doing their job as your partner. While some couples are letting go of the assumption that the husband should be the primary breadwinner, boys are still raised to take care of people, to be confident, to be “the strong one.”
They get these messages from an early age. And what they come away with is the belief that their worth depends on being of some value in your life.
It might help you understand where your husband is coming from if you consider what women are taught about the importance of our physical appearance. Even if our parents didn’t raise us to believe we “have to” be pretty, even if we live our lives based on very different values and priorities, expectations about women and beauty are so pervasive in our culture that it’s difficult not to be affected by them to some degree. Being told we’re ugly can hurt in a way that other insults do not.
That’s how men feel about being useless.
‘Why Should I Stroke His Ego?’
Some of you might be thinking things like this:
“Why do I have to prop him up?”
“So now I have to flatter him all the time?”
“It’s not my job to give him self-esteem!”
Let’s be clear. It is your job to boost him — and it’s his job to boost you. You both signed on to care for each other emotionally. Expressing sincere admiration is part of that. We all have the need to feel valued and appreciated. Sometimes we overlook the fact that men have this need too because there’s still the societal expectation that men are supposed to be self-sufficient.
The keyword here is sincere admiration. We’re not talking about flattery, fawning and fake enthusiasm. But your marriage will be better when you make an effort to notice your husband’s contributions and to praise them.
Whether or not you realize it, research shows that for many husbands, their wife is the main source of emotional support in their lives. How you look at your husband has a huge impact on how he feels about himself.
When he feels valued in your eyes, he’ll feel good about himself and much closer to you. That can lead him to give you some of the things you’ve been needing emotionally too.
The Most Vulnerable Times
It’s especially important to understand your husband’s need to feel useful and admired by you when he’s going through a circumstance that could make him feel useless and not very admirable.
For example, a job loss or layoff is painful for anyone, but can be especially difficult for men. If you respond by panicking and “managing” his job search, you could be magnifying his shame and guilt. On the other hand, reminding him of the special value he has to you and expressing confidence in his abilities, regardless of his paycheck, can help him come through the crisis more quickly.
A Holiday Wish
Think of some of the ways your husband makes the holiday season a little brighter for you. Is he always patient with your talkative dad during your family gatherings? Does he go out of his way to create special moments for the kids? Does he give you gifts that melt your heart? Let him know how much it all means to you.
You’ll find many more insights that will help you understand your husband and deepen your relationship with him in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
I wish you both much joy and closeness this holiday season and into the coming year!
Be honest: Has the holiday weekend left you refreshed, or are you exhausted right now?
The Labor Day holiday seems like an appropriate time to take a closer look at how much women work, how tired it’s making us, and the effect of all this “laboring” on our marriages and families.
Let’s start with a few important facts that provide clues about why you may be finding yourself so tired these days:
–Data from a CDC survey shows that women actually do report feeling exhausted more often than men do. The difference is most pronounced in the years that most of us are raising families.
–Women’s financial responsibilities in the family have increased significantly in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, in 40% of the households that have children under 18, mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners.
–Although men are certainly doing more domestic chores than in the past, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that working women are still carrying more of the housework burden.
–This probably won’t surprise you, either: A study published in the American Sociological Review, found that women multitask more than men, spending 40% of their waking hours doing at least two activities at once. Most of the juggling is with household tasks and childcare, two areas in which women are often judged by others if they don’t do them well.
–A study by the University of New Hampshire found that when kids were sick, 74% of mothers missed work to stay home with their sick child compared to 40% of men. Many families find that demands made by employers make it difficult to fulfill other important responsibilities, thereby constantly increasing work stress (and exhaustion).
All of this takes its toll on our relationships. We get snappy and impatient with our kids, and it’s hard to have emotional or physical intimacy with our partners when we’re so tired and stressed (See blogpost on “The Science of Flipping Your Lid”).
Speaking with the Washington Postabout the topic of exhaustion, author and researcher Brene Brown notes that fear can be a barrier to fighting constant overwhelm. People in her studies have told her: “If I really stopped and let myself relax, I would crater. Because the truth is I’m exhausted, I’m disconnected from my partner, I don’t feel super connected to my kids right now.”
If you see a lot of yourself in this statement, consider these ideas for dealing with exhaustion:
1. Remember you’re not alone. First, it’s important to realize that it isn’t “just you.” Economic realities are having a huge impact on life for American families. Brene Brown reminds us that we’re also up against cultural norms that tie our self-worth to our productivity and make being constantly busy and exhausted a status symbol of sorts.
2. Do one thing at a time when you can. Make every effort to curb multitasking. Although it may seem like you’re getting more done, did you know multitasking actually reduces productivity? Not only that, it’s mentally and physically exhausting!
3. Stop saying, “yes.” Although some reasons for our busyness and exhaustion can’t be avoided, others can. As women, our default answer when someone asks us to do something tends to be “yes.” We don’t want to disappoint anyone, but we’re much more effective, and happier, when we set stronger boundaries. Limit how much you have on your plate, and you’ll have more time and energy for the people and things you love.
4. Choose you. Everyone needs time to refuel. Take time to rest, play, and do things that energize you. Taking time for you is not being “lazy;” it’s absolutely essential to your health and well-being.
5. Work together. Finally, and most importantly, work together with your partner. Instead of stewing about what your husband isn’t doing, ask for more help with housework and child care. And don’t stop him and take over when he doesn’t do things exactly your way. (See blog posts on micromanaging) Instead of trying to divide all your household tasks 50-50, look for ways to share responsibilities that play to your individual strengths. If he loves cooking and you love Quicken, for example, let him handle meal duty while you take care of your finances. All of this takes negotiation, of course, but it’s worth the effort. With all of the overwhelming demands on our families, you’ll both feel a lot better facing them as a team.
So in honor of this Labor Day weekend, make a vow to labor less, and to rest, play, and reconnect with your husband and kids much more.