Are you feeling used by your partner? 4 Reasons your partner may not be helping more.
Ann feels like she is always doing more than her share of everyday household chores and kid care. Yes, her husband Sam seems generally willing to step in and do what she may ask him to do. But that’s the other problem. She feels like she is always on duty, always needing to be the one to anticipate problems, plan ahead, initiate what needs to get done. She’s getting resentful and burned out.
Ann is not alone. This is a common problem discussed in couple therapy – not only that one person feels that she is doing more of the heavy lifting, but also feels the burden of responsibility – to be the captain of the ship 24 / 7 – rather than the couple working equally as partners. And yes, it leads to burn out and periodic bursts of resentful.
There are generally two sides to this problem. One side is why doesn’t Sam do more and take more initiative? Four possible explanations:
#1. Sam is dependent. He leans not just on Ann, but everyone to tell him what to do. He struggles with the whole concept of initiative. He is like the 8 year-old who waits for mom to tell him to clean his room. He does it willingly, but doesn’t think of doing it on his own.
#2. Sam walks on eggshells. Sam has learned that if he were, in fact, to step up – offer to plan the summer vacation or pack the car before a trip, or be responsible for getting the kids to bed if Ann were to take a night off — he would either never meet her standards and be criticized later, or be micro-managed to death while he is doing it. To do something, even something Ann asks him to do is to walk on eggshells worried that she is going to be coaching from the sidelines, and not really appreciating his efforts.
#3. Sam has different priorities, different vision. In his mind Ann is wasting time on things that just aren’t that important – vacuuming the living room every night or spending half an hour reading books to the kids at bedtime when 10 minutes would do. But rather than battling with Ann, he just lets her do it her way most of the time. He’s not motivated to do things that are essentially not in his mind a need or problem.
#4. Sam is entitled. Sam lives in a Sam-centered universe where he does what he wants when he wants and expects Ann to work around him. If he feels like helping out at home or with the kids, but if not, well….
The other side is: What makes Ann tick? Ann may be anxious and her control and tight routines are her way of trying to tamp her anxiety down. Unfortunately, this can fuel Sam’s dependency, or his eggshell-walking. If they have different visions and priorities, her need for control may leave little room for discussion, especially if Sam is conflict- avoidant. And if Sam really is entitled and Ann can’t get up the nerve to confront him, she becomes the martyr who takes it all on, suffers in silence. She gains control, but eventually burns out.
What To Do?
Sam’s eggshells: If Ann wants total control or perfection, she either needs to live alone or do everything herself. If she wants Sam’s help, they can negotiate what 3 things are really important to Ann that Sam do a certain way, but then she needs to give him room to do it his way. For him to stop walking on eggshells, Ann needs to appreciate his efforts and not nitpick the outcome. Ann may need to look at some treatment for anxiety.
Sam’s dependency: If Sam is dependent, Ann needs to have a serious conversation with Sam directly about that, namely, that she feels like she is always in charge and responsible. She needs to see if Sam is willing to make an effort to initiate more because he cares about her. Any effort on his part needs to be appreciated. Sam may need to go into therapy to give him the skills and support to do this in other areas of his life.
Sam’s different vision and priorities: Ann needs to get this on the table – why vacuuming is important, why storytelling can go long. She needs to hear Sam’s side of the story, reach a compromise and work out a system where they are working as a team.
Sam’s entitlement. Ann needs to confront him on this. He may minimize, try for a while then stop, or get angry. If he is not hearing the message, they probably need to get some couple therapy or down the road the relationship will probably dissolve.
If Sam is dependent, he needs to learn to deal the underlying anxiety he has and take steps to initiate and be active rather than passive. Did we mention therapy?
If Sam walks on eggshells, his challenge is to learn to push back a bit, be less the scared little boy. He can tell Ann how he feels and what he needs to feel safer (like her not micromanage). He can initiate rather than getting assigned chores by Ann.
If Sam has a different vision, he needs to put it out there rather than passive aggressively reacting to Ann’s. Again, he needs to step up and be the adult rather than taking the one-down position.
If Sam is entitled, he probably won’t even see that as the way he is or a problem. If he cares about Ann and she is unhappy, is he willing to change? Hence couple and / or individual therapy.
Can folks be a bit of each – sure, though usually they land in one corner more than another. The key here is breaking the patterns, and the key to breaking patterns is both having the hard conversations and consciously changing behaviors.
Come up with a specific behavioral plan, monitor it, fine-tune, repeat.