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Are "Equal" Relationships Possible?

QUESTION: I work full time, as does my husband. He helps with the laundry and dishes and even puts dinner on the table once in a while. He claims that he does more than any other husband he knows. But I feel he doesn't appreciate that I do a much greater share of the housework. He insists we have an equal relationship. This is making me feel resentful, even of silly things like when he leaves the cap off the toothpaste. Why am I feeling this way?

ANSWER: Traditional relationships, as portrayed on "Leave it to Beaver" and other early television programs, have left us with a legacy of expectations that are difficult to alter. Women, it seemed, specialized in homemaking and caretaking for the children, while men were expected to secure the financial health of the family.

In the "perfect" world of TV, specialization appeared to work. Husbands and wives respected and appreciated each other, and were fulfilled by their respective roles. But in the "real" world, the divorce rate climbed to 50 percent. Traditional marriages were far from ideal, with sociologists declaring the American family to be in a state of crisis.

Times have changed. Women's role in the workplace has evolved, but not much has changed on the homefront. Most men still measure their worth by the amount of money they provide, and women are prone to feel more responsible for their children's welfare and household appearances. Furthermore, the unpaid work of raising children and housework remains largely invisible in our families and society at large.

As women have moved into the workforce, they have shared the financial burden, but often still find themselves doing more of the housework and childcare coordination than their partners.

When your partner does not acknowledge that you do more of the running of the household, salt is poured into the wound. Because he is doing more than his father did in the home, he believes that he is surpassing expectations. No wonder you are upset!

If your husband gave you credit for the extra effort you extend in caring for your family, you might feel less frustrated. Since it really is a matter of love that brought the two of you together, you may feel unloved when he does not value your contribution. This exacerbates your perception that the workload is unfair.

But what is the agreement in your marriage? Did you both agree to equal household and financial responsibilities? If so, you must return to the drawing board. It is up to both of you to decide what is really fair in your relationship. Discuss the household responsibilities and make a list of what each of you will do. Consider household help if what is to be divided is too much for the two of you to actually split up and achieve by yourselves. Work on this until you can both feel that your agreement is fair.

But take a deeper look at what level of appreciation is expressed in your marriage, too. We do things for the people we love because we know it is emotionally meaningful to them. This is the nature of love. And it is the quality of a good marriage. The question to ask ourselves is, "How can I have a positive influence on my relationship?" and "How can I make my partner feel special?" For if you succeed, the good feelings will come back to you in the form of increased affection and consideration in your marriage.

Research studies revealed that men who reported high satisfaction in their marriages did more housework! When asked about this correlation, individual men said that they simply had come to understand how much this meant to their wives. The love these men felt for their wives had extended to an understanding of what was important to them. In these cases, love was translated into action. Housework by these men increased due to love, not equality! But clearly, there must be a connection between the two.

"Equality" does not necessarily mean partners do the "same" work in a relationship. Partners who agree on different, or even specialized areas of work in the family can also succeed at having a satisfying marriage. An important key to a satisfying marriage is genuine appreciation and acknowledgment!

You are suffering because your husband does not acknowledge your efforts. Talk with your partner about a fair division of household and childcare responsibilities. Also, let your husband know how his lack of appreciation is making you feel.

When our relationships are truly loving, we allow our partners greater leeway for mistakes, even inequities. If you feel loved in your marriage, leaving the cap off of the toothpaste will no longer symbolize the different ways you feel taken for granted.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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