A lesson I’ve been relearning since Andrew and I tied the knot is that marriage is no 50/50 gig, and I’m not sure that it’s ever going to be. In any instance when a task is taken on by two, people delegate even the smallest details to balance the yoke. It’s the American way – you do your part, I’ll do mine – and it’s so deeply instilled in our general approach to life that we bring it to the altar and beyond. And why shouldn’t we? Fair is fair, right? When it comes to marriage, though, the typical concept of fairness is anything but, and imposing it on my husband just leads to keeping score and bitterness on both sides.
When we started out, it was easier to keep duties evenly divided. I cooked. He did the dishes. We folded laundry together. We both worked away from home; but even in the days of matching schedules and chores, married life isn’t always split evenly because of a difference in expectation and habit. For example, I liked spending weekends working on projects and getting things done, while Andrew relished in the chance to relax after a long week. So naturally, I took on more to-dos.
After I left the office to stay home with our first son, the weight shifted to me being responsible for most home tasks and Andrew took the reins providing for us. In the day-to-day, work calls Andrew away from the house which leaves grocery runs, bank deposits, and three wily boys under my charge while I piece dinner together. He gives his all at work – carrying us financially – while I keep my nose to the grindstone here, cultivating a happy home. That’s the goal.
But in extreme circumstances, one of us might carry every aspect of family life all the time. After my dad passed in September, I was under a dark cloud for several months – so deeply depressed that simple tasks were beyond my capabilities. I felt terrible that Andrew had work, the kids, the house, and me on his shoulders. But that’s just how it was. He handled it all and did a wonderful job; not to say that it wasn’t frustrating for him – it was – but he carried us all the whole way through until I could pick my head up again.
With “normal life” or extenuating circumstances, you can’t hold anything back and you especially can’t cling to the idea of things being 50/50. It’s a battle fighting the cultural dogma that all things should be even; and, I especially have to fight feelings of injustice when I have more than “my share” of domestic responsibilites. It’s easy to fall into keeping score (I changed the last diaper; I cooked so you do the dishes; you got to have a night out last), but doing so only skews my perception of Andrew and of myself. Resentment makes me right and him wrong regardless of facts – and the fact is that we’re in this to serve each other.
So break the habit of bitterness – it’s simple, but not necessarily easy, and takes a concerted effort. These methods are all tried and true, and worth reminding ourselves to do because bitterness is toxic to marriage.
1) Be grateful – Understand that the kids, work, the laundry, and any detestable details are all blessings from God, sent for your further sanctification. More easily said than done, right? I get it, but when you take a hard look at life, realizing that God works through the crosses to make us better and make our spouses better, then you realize there are more reasons to be grateful than not. It doesn’t matter how you split it, joy in marriage has to begin with gratitude. So thank God for the blessings as well as the crosses.
2) Teamwork has different faces – With a marriage and family to maintain, it’s less about you do this, I do that and more about, let’s do this. Andrew and I are a team and sometimes we’re able to face things hand-in-hand, but in life’s chaos, our teamwork looks more like a relay race. When I’m worn out and need 5 minutes (or 5 months), I pass the baton to him and he keeps us going. When it’s my turn, I have no choice but to keep going and the way is so much easier when I decide to be happy.
3) Keep those rose-colored glasses on – When you’re constantly measuring everything your husband does, then he will always come up short. Focusing on the positive protects your marriage when resentment becomes a temptation. Send an email telling your husband what you respect about him – if you can’t come up with anything, then it’s time to take an honest look at how steeped you are in habitual criticism; thank him for working; tell him you’re looking forward to when he comes home. Anything! Habitual gratitude and optimism become more and more genuine as they’re practiced.
4) Communication – I don’t know about you, but when bitterness bites, my biggest temptation is to stonewall. Stewing in resentment builds a barrier and turns Andrew into an enemy who’s guilty until proven innocent. Thanks to the Domestic Church movement, we finally learned how to put the entirety of our shared life into perspective. Once a month we have Couple Dialogue, a 2-3 hour conversation examining how we’re doing as spouses, as parents, and in faith both together and individually. Setting aside a given time to voice concerns cultivates a sense of openness to each other throughout the rest of the month. We tell each other what we need, our expectations, and we’re set for success; but…
…there’s no way we can have Couple Dialogue every time tension arises – and in those cases, it’s just best to keep conversations brief. Say what you need to say with charity, convey your needs, ask for his, and then proceed knowing you’re in this together. Some of the worst arguments happen because neither party knows when to stop talking.
5) Love as God loves – today’s Mass reading from Micah reflects: Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, And will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? (Micah 7:18-19) Because we’re called to be conduits of God’s love and mercy, especially to our spouses, we have to let go of anger and delight in resolve of conflict within ourselves (resentment) or with each other.
What am I missing?? How do you blind yourself to bitterness and balance the yoke?