Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Role Reversal Marriage

Ah, yes… another modern relationship problem in another role reversal marriage. As it happens the woman writing to Carolyn Hax says she has not chosen to reverse roles with her husband. She works and he stays home to help with the household and to bring up their tween daughter.

I will not leave you in suspense. Hax believes that the outburst noted in the letter is like the dead canary in the coal mine… a sign that it’s time to go. She may be right. We do not have enough information to draw a clear conclusion.

Without further ado, here is the letter:

I’m not doing well at hiding adult problems from my child. I work a full-time, stressful job with long hours while my husband is a stay-at-home dad, which I never agreed to. I thought he was going back to work 4½ years ago. I have tried to hide my resentment from my tween daughter, but tonight I was exhausted and frustrated after I worked 14 hours, ate cereal for dinner, did a load of laundry, helped her with her homework and cleaned the litter box while my husband sat on the couch with his phone.

When I said good-night to my daughter, I told her I hoped she found a hard-working spouse someday who would allow her to have a stress-free life and spend time with her children.

I truly meant it and I have thought it many, many times, but I so regret saying it to her and now I don’t know how to unburden her of my adult problems that I never should have told her. I feel awful. Ugh.

One agrees that the letter writer, who calls herself “Not Hiding” has every reason to be resentful. She has not chosen her role reversal marriage. And yet, it has been going on for 4 ½ years, so she has certainly allowed it to fester.

She does not tell us whether and how she has discussed this with her husband. I assume that the topic has come up. Hax suggests a couples counselor, but a mediator might also be a good idea. One cannot imagine that the topic has never been broached but one suspects that this postmodern couple has tried to accommodate the situation because they think it’s the new normal. What other reason could husband have for having no self-respect?

Now, the wife feels guilty for having shared her adult problems with her tween daughter. She feels less than proud of herself for making the girl’s father look inadequate. She is married to a slug and, in a clear manifestation of good sense, she wants her daughter to know that she does not like it.

But, if this  has been going on for 4 ½ years, it is inconceivable that darling daughter has not noticed. Whatever makes you think that she has not compared her household situation with that of her schoolmates? It makes no sense to think that her daughter is completely ignorant of the situation at home, or that she thinks it is normal. Perhaps she loves her father, but it strains belief to think that she respects him.

One understands the higher moral principle… a good wife does not bad mouth her spouse, to the children. And yet, the problem is the husband’s behavior, far more than hers. Unless, of course, you consider her to be something of an enabler. This woman has tried to save whatever piece of her dignity she still has… by letting her daughter know that she has not chosen her condition and that she hopes her daughter will find a better, more manly spouse. From this perspective, the wife has not erred, but has acted responsibly. I think that she deserves absolution for her dereliction.

Her dereliction is minor compared with her husband’s dereliction. If we assume, as is reasonable, that this couple has discussed their role reversal and the division of household labor, she might also be frustrated to see that her husband has not gone out to get a job. All the world’s conversation seems to have produced no real effect. He has not manned up. He has dialed it down and become a household slug. True enough, we do not know what he does during the day, but it is fair to imagine that he does next to nothing.

If wife has failed to get through to husband, then perhaps she is simply trying out another rhetorical ploy— making him look bad in his daughter’s eyes. It is not a good thing, but her situation is untenable. Perhaps it is her last resort. Surely, her daughter will not greet it as anything but a confirmation of what she already suspects. If so, she is affirming her daughter's correct assessment of the abnormality of the situation. The wife's action is not a crime against humanity. For all we know, it might work.


David Foster said...

Is this really 'role reversal'?.....If the guy had been performing the traditional Wife role, it would have included things like doing laundry, cooking dinner, etc.

Sounds more like simple laziness.

Jack Fisher said...

Impossible to do more than snipe.

Why did she choose a profession that takes her away from her family especially when there's a kid involved?

Why did she marry a guy she has no respect for?

And, as always, what's his side? I find it interesting that she complains about him being on the phone. The usual complaint would be that he stays home and watches Spongebob, porn or plays video games. So what does he actually do?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Fair point about role reversal... if he's Mr. Mom, he's not doing a very good job. It reminds me of matriarchal cultures, as seen in Senegal, by Karen McQuillan. http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/2018/01/a-fecalized-environment.html

I have the impression that he once did work, but perhaps lost his job and did not bother to find a new one. Of course, it's also possible that he decided to drop out of the workforce to take care of his infant daughter... and promised to return to work when she was old enough. As often happens with these letters, they fail to provide us with enough information.

Anonymous said...

Your compassionate response to the wife in this story brought me to tears, because as a woman married to exactly this type of slug, I have never heard anything other than what an awesome guy my husband is to make such a brave choice (that, like the letter writer, I was not consulted about) even as he wears a groove into the couch I paid for with his behind. Like he’s this great feminist (spoiler alert: nope) and I’m some kind of Neanderthal for having hoped for a husband who made my life better, not worse. Anyway, thank you. You’ve made me feel marginally better today.

Jack Fisher said...

So why did you marry him?

ProTip: I think you mean "wears a groove with his behind in the couch I paid for".

Sam L. said...

"She feels less than proud of herself for making the girl’s father look inadequate."
It's not HER making him look inadequate; 'tis HIM. Why isn't HE getting meals on the table, doing the laundry and the dishes?

Anonymous said...

“What other reason could husband have for having no self-respect?”

S Venker wrote “Want Your Husband to Step Up? Try Getting Out of His Way.” She realized what she’d been doing when she found her husband hiding A1 sauce, so he could eat in peace. She realized it was not only her criticizing A1, but telling him what, how & when to do everything; how to drive, his language & how to improve everything. Controlling wives think "he’s lucky to have my help!" But what they call help, husbands call something else.

A married man with housewife & children built a successful business providing a comfortable living for the family. His wife always b1tched, perhaps because he worked so hard but in a violent outburst of anger she told him she was going to ruin him, take his money & children in such fury it seemed she’d stop at nothing. Later, after peace, he visited an atty who advised she could lie about him being abusive & have him removed from the house & force him to keep her in her current life style regardless of any $’s left to live on. A hearing would occur to officially impose the preliminary order. In months he could appeal at great expensive paying his & her atty’s & family court is so pro-mom nothing would likely change. His business failed, his wife had to go to work & with little enthusiasm he now earns about the same as his wife. They remain together for the children, both resentful.

After a bitter divorce a friend gave up on women & eventually built himself significant pile of cash & then met the sweetest woman he’d ever met. She waited on him hand & foot, doted on him. I’ve had my own jaundiced view of fem power of wives, but agreed he found an exception & they married. Soon after marriage while visiting he said he was going to buy a boat, which he could easily afford, & his heretofore “meek” wife scowled: “That’s OUR money & I have to approve any big purchases.”

I’ve heard & experienced, women change after marriage. It may be more than “having no self-respect.”

Jack Fisher said...

as usual, there's untruth that undoes stories like those.

1. family law courts are pro-child, not pro-woman. this is lost to the usual narrative because in divorce, one of the primary motives of the divorcing parties is to hurt each other and children are the usual weapon.

2. the "pile of cash" is not community property, it is his separate property.

Anonymous said...

I knew a woman (work colleague) who was in a marriage that seemed like this. She was quite attractive, with a pleasant personality, worked hard in a pretty important and well-paid position. It wasn't obvious what her husband did----he had a professional degree, but didn't work in the field---he may have had some sort of small home business going. He didn't seem to do much with the kids (2), even when there was something pretty urgent needing attention. Also, he made slighting comments about her on more than one occasion.

I was discussing this with a female friend, and wondered "Why has she stayed with him?", to which the friend answered immediately: "I'll tell you exactly why. He was probably the first man she ever had sex with, or at least the first man she had GOOD sex with, and she really liked it and doesn't understand that there are a lot of guys in the world with whom it would be as good or even better."

Don't know if this is the cause of the problems with the marriage in the OP, or the one in comments, but seems like it might be in a lot of cases. (Of course, the sex probably isn't good any more, because too much resentment, but it becomes too late to get out)

Women can get sex much more easily than men, of course, but getting SATISFYING sex, apparently not so much.