On Friday, Carolyn’s live chat was dominated by a woman who startled on several fronts: first, in her defiant, deluded, egocentric approach to marriage and then, oddly, in her open-minded and seemingly sincere desire to fix things. The extremes were jarring to the extent that Carolyn called her out as a fake….but I’m not thinking so. The rundown, below:
Arlington, VA: I’ve finally put my foot down and told my husband our discussion about housework is over and he needs to increase his share of the work or else. He wasn’t too pleased with this, but I feel I need to stand my ground. We each estimated the number of hours we put toward housework and watching the kids. I end up with almost 60% of the work. [Slight digression: a good chunk of the chat also hit on the rudeness and pointlessness of eye rolling. Nevertheless….I find it hard to believe we didn’t all do so here]. I excluded things on his side that I don’t really call work, because I know he enjoys the solitude (lawn care, weeding, finances, cooking, etc.).[Um. What? Roll. Roll. Furrow brow.] He doesn’t think that’s right, but I don’t think these tasks are any comparison to vacuuming, doing dishes every night and cleaning bathrooms. I also don’t buy his argument that he works 10-15 hours more than I do at work each week.[What? Does he or doesn’t he?] That is a career choice, and while it’s enabled him to earn far more money than I do, it doesn’t excuse him from his share of housework. [What? What?] Short of threatening divorce, how do I convince him that he is wrong? As a reality check, I threw this out to friends and family and everyone agrees with me. [Just casually tossed it out there, I’m sure…]
Carolyn Hax: Let’s play “one of these things is not like the other,” a la “Sesame Street”:
a hot bath,
a long walk,
a good book, and
hunching over to claw at dirt for several hours!
How do you like to get your solitude? I guess it’s something that you still have friends, because I might have thought otherwise after reading that you count weeding among “things on his side that I don’t really call work.” Wow.
Anything you wouldn’t already be doing as a leisure activity counts as housework. Period.
And if he is at 40 percent of the household load with all of the yard work, cooking and finances excluded, and if he’s carrying this nearly-half-to-possibly-more-than-half of the domestic load while working longer hours than you do and bringing more money to the household than you do, then you owe him one of the fattest apologies ever owed a spouse–not just for failing to respect what he does, and not just for standing your arbitrarily you-centric ground, but also for dragging his rather domestically generous self through the mud of everyone you know as you sought approbation.
To deliver this apology, you might need to track him down at his attorney’s office.
Now, if he’s cooking only for himself and not you, or if he’s gardening/doing lawn care as a way of escaping from you, or if he isn’t contributing his extra money to the marital war chest, then you’ve got something–something different from what you’re saying, but a legit gripe nonetheless, one that’s worth taking to counseling. [Carolyn has to give these caveats I think, because she has so little information to go on…but in this case it felt like she was just offering this nut a rather complicated conditional set of legs to stand on. I wish she’d just skipped ahead to: ]
But if you just don’t like him any more, then, okay–end the marriage, don’t make up a reason to trash him.
Housework vs. yard work: As a single woman with a house and yard that I have to keep up all by my little old self, can I just tell the woman complaining about her husband to count her blessings??!! To think that I would NEVER have to think about cutting the grass, weeding, cleaning cutters, pruning shrubs, sweeping the sidewalk, makes me want to swoon. Cooking too??.sdakkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk….sorry I just passed out for a second.
Carolyn Hax: No problem. People think I do that all the time during these things.
Re: Arlington Housework: I don’t really buy your reasons for thinking my husband is correct. [She doesn’t seem to “buy” much of anything, except her own argument, does she?] He does contribute all of his salary to our family, but that’s beside the point. [How?] The big difference is that I absolutely hate cleaning bathrooms while his chores are not that big of a deal to him – mine just get weighted more heavily in the calculation.[So none of his contributions to the family count because she hates cleaning bathrooms? No logic, here. If he hated his chores more, the bathrooms would still need to be cleaned] Also, you might call asking friends about this “dragging him through the mud”, but I think it might be the only way he changes his ways. [Whoa, these do not cancel each other out. This is not, “you might call it dragging him through the mud, but I call it getting feedback.” If that’s what she said, I’d still agree with Carolyn, but at least those are different words for the same thing. This is “getting him to do what I want by dragging him through the mud”]. If nothing else works, I think my next step would be to have my Mom talk to him [What?] and then discreetly get my friends to mention this as often as they can when we get together [Whaaaaaaaat?]. Another option is to hire someone to do my share of the work – then I’ll have nothing to complain about. [Why the hell not? But seriously? If that’s really the only thing that’s bugging her, how can it have ballooned into a disaster of this magnitude? I have a really hard time buying–to use her phrase–that if someone else cleaned the bathrooms, she’d have “nothing to complain about.” She seems like the type who will find something.]
Carolyn Hax: Seriously–if this is just about cleaning bathrooms, then hire someone to clean your bathrooms. Or switch it up with your husband, and alternate weeks where you clean ‘throoms and do yard work.
If he refuses to do that, then you have a leg to stand on.
However, I maintain that your airing your grievances to “friends and family” makes your husband look bad–and I maintain that that stinks. Consulting with one friend and your Mom, okay, but surveying everyone? And doing it, you now admit, as a means of leveraging him? That stinks even more.
As for enlisting your mom and friends to talk to him, well, that’s so mind-boggling I have to wonder if this is a fake question.
Re Re: Arlington Housework: One other thing I probably should have included in my original post. You might think I’m self-centered, but I have a different take on it. My husband was pretty socially awkward when we first met. I don’t want to say I did him a favor by marrying him, but it’s not that far from the truth. I’m much better looking than he is, I’m much smarter, and I have a much better personality. We have what you’d call an unbalanced marriage and I expect him to compensate for that, in some way. So even if he is doing slightly more work than I am, I don’t think that even comes close to what he really owes this marriage. [Oh my. Sadly, it doesn’t really surprise me that this kind of thing happens, and that this kind of resentment and passive power play occurs as a result. But I’m stunned that she’s so completely aware of it, open about it, and seems to be of the mindset that this is totally OK–that she confesses it as an argument for what she wants, not as a nail in the coffin of her case. Has she read Carolyn before? What is she thinking? Who is this person?]
Carolyn Hax: Okay, you officially can’t be real. Too bad. [She seems only too real to me….]
Re Re Re: Arlington Housework:: I’m not sure why you think this isn’t real. My husband is upset about the whole thing and maybe my take on things is skewed — that’s why I wrote in. It’s hard to think my view is really so off when I get validation from just about everyone I talk with and even my husband would agree with how “unbalanced” our marriage is [Ha, right? ]. He just doesn’t agree there needs to be a remedy.
Carolyn Hax: When you married each other, you deemed each other your equals–emotional equals, equals in status and your standing in life, equal partners in each other’s happiness. You became equals who would then divide the household chores more or less equally, with that “more or less” being determined by your responsibilities outside the marriage, such as jobs and ailing relatives and such.
The marriage you’re describing is a business arrangement–and, as it happens, as a business arrangement, it seems to be pretty fair. [This confused me, or seemed to be lacking context or something, here, but she elaborates below]
A straight answer, just in case.
Re: Arlington: Carolyn, I think she’s real. In fact, I think I know her.
Honey, I am one of the “friends” you dragged this to, and I agreed with you just to get you to shut up. You may be more outgoing and better-looking, but take my word for it, he has the better personality. The person who married up is you.
Carolyn Hax: Oh dear. [Indeed]
Re: Arlington Housework and Boston: Sheesh. Movie script: the Arlington Housework husband cuts loose, moves to Boston and falls in love with someone who appreciates him. Arlington Housework starts a new job as an party planner for self-centered 20-something’s. [Boston, Party planner, etc., refers to another topic in the chat]
Carolyn Hax: Casting ideas?
Re Re Re: Arlington Housework:: I appreciate the straight answer. Maybe what I can take from all of this is that I need some individual counseling and that my husband and I need some marriage counseling. [Even more shocked that she seems to accept this. This, not anything she said above, made me wonder if it was a fake message….how can she be so adamant, so mired in her narrow perception of the situation, ready to divorce if she doesn’t get her way, and then be suddenly up for counseling? I mean, Carolyn’s good, but…..]
Carolyn Hax: Yes, I think that’s fair. I’m sorry I put you off as insincere. I do get fake questions, and your declaration that he owed you more housework because you have the better personality really was shocking–enough for me not to believe you.
Why? Because I don’t believe there’s such a thing as altruism in marriage. No one marries someone as a favor to the other person. What happens instead is that the people who marry perceived inferiors get something in return for doing that, be it money or security or a place where they don’t feel threatened–as in, an abiding sense of superiority to prop them up through life.
I guess what I missed is that there is such a thing as -perceived- altruism in marriage, where one spouse -thinks- s/he has done the other a favor. And when you get a few years into the marriage and feel your spouse hasn’t delivered the benefits to which you believe your altruism entitles you, then that’s seen as grounds for divorce.
If that’s what happened here, then I have only this to repeat–marriage made you equals–and this to say: He is a human being. Please grant him the dignity that affords him, and stop shouting to everyone who will listen about his social awkwardness and his relative worthlessness as a person against your high value. Start noting and appreciating what he does for you. And yes, counseling, stat.
Casting Couch: How about Mark Ruffalo for the husband?
Carolyn Hax: Like it
[several minutes of chat pass; other topics are discussed]
Carolyn Hax: Mark Ruffalo was so right for the husband that I posted it before remembering that I’d thought better of following the movie thread. Just to explain why I’m not posting your suggestions. Thanks, tho
Shouting to everyone: Huh, wonder if I am guilty of some version of what Arlington is doing. My spouse is smart, attractive, good at his job and interesting. He is also lazy to the bone around the house and tends to be very moody at home. I vent about both. Should I not? It is true, not likely to change, and venting does make me feel a bit more able to cope with it.
Carolyn Hax: It’s okay to have discreet outlets, it’s not okay to air to any and all. [Here things take an interesting turn to the topic of spouse-venting.]
And while I’m here: It’s okay to accept tradeoffs in mates, because no one will be all that–but it’s not okay to hide behind “venting” when you;re really just miserable. [Reminds me of good advice my mom gave to me: it’s OK to vent to your friends every once in awhile–and always thank them for listening–but if you’re venting all the time, it’s time to focus on fixing what’s upsetting you, not griping about it]
Talk to fewer people, sure, but also listen to yourself. [Nice–concise]
Politics of housework: Everyone, ever, who has housework issues that are also partner issues should read the should-be-dated-but-definitely-isn’t “The Politics of Housework,” which is a (short) essay by Pat Mainardi (easily googleable). I say this not because I necessarily agree with the woman who wrote in about her husband, but because it’s a good way to separate the issues from the other issues.
washingtonpost.com: The Politics of Housework
Carolyn Hax: Haven’t seen it myself, but will have a look, thanks. [I read it; it’s worth taking a look and makes interesting arguments, though it also makes it easy for women to be a bit smug and self-important about things like the division of housework. I got a little fired up, and had to remind myself that in our house, it’s SK who remembers to vacuum, clean bathrooms, clean the litter box, etc. Don’t let the gender theory obscure your own reality]
Talking about your spouse’s shortcoming: Is this really that common? I just don’t talk about issues we have from time to time with others. A few things in passing, sure, but nothing like our split of household chorse. It’s not that we don’t have our issues, but we tend to talk about them ourselves and I don’t get anything out of talking to other people about them. My husband is the same way. Does that make us strange? [Le sigh. I’m with this person’s approach, but I can’t help feeling that this isn’t a sincere “are we strange?” question. She has to know their relationship is–at least based on this tiny tidbit–more healthy and equitable than the others thus laid bare in this chat. Why she needs public validation of that is anyone’s guess.]
Carolyn Hax: I think it means you get along well. But let’s take this up next week?
Fairfax, VA: Airing spouse’s laundry: a friend once told me something that has stuck with me. “You are your partner’s best advocate. Or worst.”
It’s true. My friends and family will remember long after I’ve forgotten that Spouse -forgot our anniversary, doesn’t help around the house, told me I was fat on our firstborn’s first birthday.
I will talk to my friends/family about things in my head, but I never forget that what I say can’t be unsaid. [Great point about not polluting your spouse’s image to others, though if all of her examples are real, I’m feeling a little sad for her].
Carolyn Hax: I like this too.
Wow–Pretty much ran out of colors with this one. I hope they do take this topic up again next week! Will keep you posted.