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Money Issues, Lack of Time Together

QUESTION: My husband and I have been fighting a lot lately. We end up saying very rude things to each other. He is especially good at this. We fight over everything but usually the fights are really bad when we are having financial trouble (this has been a major problem in the marriage). He likes to buy expensive things (cars, trucks, electronic equipment and clothes).

He works hard and makes about $25-27,000, I on the other hand work hard but only make about $18,000. I also work a second job and make a $3-4,000 off of that. I get home each night around 9:45 (I have to leave in the morning by 7:00 because my job is 45 minutes away).

When I get home he usually has dinner for me (he is the cook in the marriage) I eat and try to do at least one thing such as laundry, dishes, or just plain cleaning up after he destroys the kitchen. The trouble is I don't always have time to do everything because I am so tired when I get home I just want to go to bed.

On the weekends I am very good about doing all the household chores. But if I ask him to help he says he makes more than me and that I need to do the "womanly" chores. He always throws that he makes more money than me in my face.

This has been going on for 5 years. What can I do - I beginning not to care so much for him anymore!

ANSWER: Your husband is not only devaluing you, based on money-making, but forgetting that both of your incomes are the property of the other. Remind him that marriage is a legal contract to share!

In addition you lack time for one another and simultaneously gender issues are threatening to destroy your marriage. Statistically, women still make less money for the same amount of work than men. Your husband is adding to the problem if he is devaluing you because he makes more money than you do for less time on the job. As your husband, he should be supporting you against the slings and arrows of unfairness in life, not adding to them!

Perhaps you and your husband should consider having you quit your part time job or hiring someone to keep house. Neither you nor your husband seem to be able to do everything, but you are not facing this fact. Instead you are taking your overtiredness out on one another. You are blaming each other rather than solving your problem.

It may be that you and your husband have been arguing over money, but the real struggle that is not being addressed is the quality of your relationship. Why is it that you do not appreciate his cooking, but focus instead on his mess? Why is it that he does not appreciate the long hours you are spending to bring money into the family, but criticizes whatever is left undone in the house? And why is he conveniently calling the housework "woman's chores" instead of expecting more from himself, particularly if you are working more hours outside of the home than he? Where is the caring for one another in all of this?

Your marriage relationship is what you create together. However, it is possible that gender roles and intimacy issues from your parents' marriages may be influencing the irrational fighting the two of you have been embroiled in these past 5 years. What was the role of your husband's mother, of your mother in the family? Was she respected as an equal partner in decision making in the family. What was expected of her? Did she work outside the home? Or was Dad the main money-maker? Did Dad wield unfair power in getting his way because he made the money? Was the unpaid work of life (nurturing, cleaning, household organization) devalued in the marriage partnership, or was this work respected and valued in the family?

Remember that power and intimacy are bed partners. The power dynamics present in a marriage impact the dimension of affection and love that can exist. Trust and love are the result of mutual respect and care in your relationship. Partnerships that are based on very traditional gender roles can be healthy and happy if all work is respected and valued in the family. But where money becomes the regulator of respect and choice in the marriage, affection suffers. Love is something that must be nurtured between adults. It is not free. Adult love is not Unconditional love. That special love is reserved for children. Adult love is based on mutual respect. Disrespect and devaluation damages the dimension of caring that can exist in a marriage.

It is very common for couples entering marriage today to truly believe they are freed from the gender roles and power struggles that can be played out because the woman works to bring in money. But such is not the case! Conditioning runs very deep, and men as well as woman are vulnerable to expecting women to not only bring in an income, but magically take care of all the household chores and be available to emotionally nurture at the end of the day. And why not? Who wouldn't love to have a magical person in our lives? But this is a childhood fantasy that must be relinquished if we are to have happy marriages!

Let your husband know your feelings. Discuss not only the dynamics around money and household chores, but the fact that the two of you are not approaching your life together as a team. Why not? What can be done to solve the problems without resorting to overworking and blaming? Tell him your limits and your concern that you are beginning to "not care for him so much anymore". This has to do with the adversity and lack of quality of affection between you rather than who is making what amount of money.

Explore together your respective parents' marriages. What kind of affection was shown? What was the quality of intimacy between them? Did they work together or was their answer to life's adversities to turn on the other? These are your unconscious role models in your marriage. If you like what you saw, emulate the parts that are positive. If not, take stock of what kind of marriage you want to have, and what you need to do to make that happen.

It may not be too late to elevate the quality of your relationship. Begin by spending some time together doing something enjoyable. Revive activities that you shared before you became buried in work. With this kind of emotional buffer, you will more easily be able to review the negative choices you have made in the marriage and get back on track.

But remember, marriage was never meant to provide you with the perfect life. No marriage can do that. It can be a resource for mutual support and healing from the bruises of living, if you do not mistake your partner for the enemy! It is all too easy to project unrealistic expectations onto our marriage partner because a marriage does trigger long lost childhood needs that are associated with our earliest nurturing relationship, usually our mother. So it is natural to sometimes make the mistake of seeing our partner through childhood eyes that render them the magical qualities we once experienced in our own parents. Get realistic about the time you have and how you are spending it. What needs do each of you have in this marriage? Are you seeing your partner realistically as a human being with strengths, weaknesses and limitations, or do you only want to see the "ideal" partner and what he or she can give you?

A wise old man who supervised me in my training as a marriage and family therapist once said to me: "People marry each other instead of growing up...they have to figure this out before the marriage can succeed..."


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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