Dear Dr. He Said, Dr. She Said,
I am a stay-at-home dad, which means that I take our two kids back and forth to school, clean the house, do the laundry, pay the bills, and make the social calendar for us all. My wife is the bread winner. She works for a large corporation, has a graduate degree in economics, and busts her butt to make a decent living for us. A long time ago I had to make a decision that I could live with this arrangement between us. We’ve been married for 17 years, and for the most part it seems to have worked for us. There is, however, one area that I am fed up with that drives me crazy. My wife likes to treat me like I am not a very smart person. I never finished college and, as a result, she seems to think that her opinion should have more weight than mine in our relationship. What’s worse is that she has always treated me this way in front of our kids, who now jump on the bandwagon with her to discount my opinions when they hear something from me they don’t like. This feels unhealthy to me, but she says I am being a cry-baby about it. What do you think?
The first question that comes to my mind is, “What took this guy so long to grow a pair and finally speak up?” Your willingness (read: lack of self-respect) to put up with this kind of treatment from your wife says more about you, Warren, than about her. The economic division of labor “role reversal” in your marriage is not uncommon these days, but if—as a result of this arrangement—what also came was the expectation that your opinions and needs are not as important as hers, then this is what I feel a need to comment on. You say that she “likes” to treat you as if you were not very smart, but I would bet that she does it because she knows now that she can get away with it as a way to hold more power in the relationship than you. Again, rather than try to wonder what that is about her personality, I wonder what it is about you that has put up with this kind of treatment for so long. When you made your decision long ago to live with this “arrangement”, did you realize that in effect you agreed to check your manhood at the door? Is it unhealthy for your wife to put you down if front of your kids? Absolutely. But waiting 17 years to do or say something about this lack of respect in your marriage sounds pretty unhealthy as well, Warren.
Until you present yourself to your wife as the adult man you are who has opinions, thoughts, and feelings that are just as valid and important as hers, she has no reason to show you respect. Remember, respect is never owed. It needs to be earned. Not having either a job or a college degree in no way justifies disrespectful treatment from a spouse. You, however, need to figure out why you lack the gumption to sit down with your wife and paint her a very clear picture of how unacceptable it is for you that she treats you this way—whether or not it is in front of the kids. Talk to a qualified professional to help you figure out why you made this kind of a deal with your wife in the first place, so that you don’t ever do it to yourself again. Best of luck, Warren.
I think Dr. He has painted a good picture of your part in this muddle. I would add that you and your wife need to get extremely honest with each other about this problematic arrangement. She is obviously not okay with being the breadwinner, even if she says she is. If she was okay with the roles as they have been, she would not be pulling the power card on you, nor would she have such disrespect for you that she would degrade you in front of your own children. She must be extremely angry to allow the children to join in on discrediting you. What is most concerning is that the dynamic between the two of you is teaching your children that they cannot count on a man—that a man’s opinion is irrelevant—and that emasculating a man is okay. If you have a son, his self-identity as a man is in jeopardy. If you have a daughter, her respect for men is being compromised. I can’t imagine that your wife would continue with her behavior if she was really aware of what she was teaching her children. I can’t imagine that you would allow it to continue if you really understood the subconscious message you were sending to yourself, your wife and your kids.
Please get into therapy and get to the bottom of your wife’s anger and to the bottom of your own lack of self-worth that put you in a position to allow this to go on in your home for so long. You have an imbalanced relationship, and you need to change that for your own sake and for the sake of your relationship with your wife and your children. All the best to you, Warren.
Hanalei Vierra, Ph.D. (Dr. He) and M’Lissa Trent, Ph.D. (Dr. She) are a married couple who have worked together for over 15 years coaching troubled relationships to clearer communication, deeper intimacy, and healthier partnership. See their web site at www.sandiegotherapists.com/conjoint.html Please email any questions to: DrHanalei@aol.com . For more information and to purchase their new eBook entitled “Making Relationships Work”, go to www.HowToKeepHer.com on the web.