We love our partners. We really do. But when we tend to do the bulk of the work we also feel the bulk of the resentment!
We’ve all complained at some point to our friends about how tired we are and how inconsiderate “he” is, and take pleasure in murmuring empathetically when we hear the same gripes from fellow moms. “I have to be the disciplinarian while he gets to be the fun parent,” and, “Admittedly he helps with tidying up, but why do I have to ask him to do it before he will?” or even, “His life hasn’t changed as much as mine has since we had kids.” Sound familiar?
Many of us have entertained such thoughts about our partners. But instead of voicing resentment, we remain tightlipped – until we reach boiling point.
Leigh Potter, 34, a regional content researcher in KZN, says her husband travels a lot for work. And though he’s pretty hands-on and washes the dishes, hangs up the laundry and does the garden, she doesn’t think he really comprehend show much of the familial responsibilities she shoulders. “From packing school bags, making lunches, arranging aftercare and extramurals, knowing the names of my kids’ friends, being nurse when they need it, and buying their clothes, to knowing when they need a hug, and all the other millions of things that make up their little lives, in a way I think he believes it’s a woman’s lot.”
She’s not alone. London resident and mother of one Frances Paddick, who is a part-time marketing administrator, says, “We have heated conversations, probably more now that we have a child and therefore have more stress about the future and finances. But my partner is very chilled out, so even if I’m trying to start an argument, he just calms things down. I do nd I have to stop myself from nagging about the little things though, because otherwise I annoy myself.”
What's going on?
The roles we take on in the home have been moulded over generations, and we act them out unconsciously. “Thanks to gender pro ling [through cultural and societal norms], the assumption is that the woman will take charge of the home and know all the family information. As a result, no one else pays attention and mom ends up becoming the family encyclopaedia. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that everyone (except maybe mom) is happy to go along with as it lets husbands off the hook,” explains Judy Klipin, life coach and author of Life Lessons for the Adult Child.
Michelle le Grange, 37, who runs a catering company part-time in Cape Town says, “My husband works long hours, but in his culture the men like to socialise together so it does drive me crazy at times that he automatically assumes I’ll stay home with the kids. I usually simmer until I can’t hold it in any longer.”
“Men aren’t natural caregivers,” says Ilze van der Merwe-Alberts, family expert, psychologist, executive coach and founder of the Bella Vida Centre in Johannesburg. “Women are the natural nurturers and that instinct switches on immediately after giving birth.”
Ilze explains that we place a lot of unrealistic expectations on our partners. The reality is they really don’t understand what we are going through. And we forget that though their lives haven’t changed as much as ours, they have still changed – in a different way. “Remember that he used to be the centre of your universe and now all of sudden, he’s been forgotten and his partner has fallen in love with someone else.” She says resentment builds up on their side too and though they may not be allowed to voice it, they do sometimes withdraw and choose to take a back seat, allowing you to do most of the work.
Mariette Bergh, a work-from-home mom, says of her husband, “I have to manipulate him.” She often overexaggerates how tired she is and he’ll often oblige out of guilt. “It’s a 70/30 split (to me) when it comes to shouldering the responsibility of parenting but he does help out as much as he can.”
Dealing with the pressure
A glass of wine and a bit of informal group therapy with your BFFs might help us all suffer in silence but how much damage are we unknowingly doing to our relationships? Johannesburg-based life coach Judy Klipin says, “Resentment is extremely damaging to relationships. Anger is at least more out in the open and can be responded to by the other party, but resentment is often a silent emotion, which builds up and escalates until it becomes uncontainable and there is an explosion of emotion. When that happens we tend to lash out and make unhelpful statements like, ‘You never do anything to support me,’ or, ‘I can’t ever rely on you.’ Because we have been hanging onto and tending our resentment, the dissatisfaction grows and everyday incidents are often escalated way out of proportion. You’d be surprised how willing many men will be to help, once they are allowed to do so.”