Dear Rabbi Bernath,
I have been married almost five years now and the journey with my husband has not been easy. When we met, he was separated from his first wife and had children. I went through the trials of divorce with him and embraced his children as my own. However, I have often felt like all my love and support was not appreciated enough.
When we got married and had a child of our own, my feelings of loneliness and isolation continued to grow. I suddenly had a newborn to take care of, plus his two children. I have to plan, buy and prepare the daily meals. I take care of all of our finances. I also work full time in a pretty demanding job. I love taking care of my family, but I do wish things were more balanced. It would be nice to come home to everything being taken care of for a change, rather than to everyone waiting for me to get dinner ready.
My husband works, too, and can be helpful at home, but he always needs to be told what is needed. And he’s often moody and needing support, instead of supporting me.
I need help. I feel like I’m drowning.
This sounds like a relationship with a lot of potential, but the situation must be very painful for you. You seem to feel uncared for and unloved. Thank you for reaching out, instead of burrowing inwards.
Your man seems to be out of touch with his own feelings (the unexplained moodiness), and therefore out of touch with yours, too. He may not even realize there is a problem.
He’s also out of touch with the quantity of things that need to be done at home, how much effort they take and that they’re not exclusively his wife’s job – after all, he lives there, too.
Before we get to any practical solutions, you’ll need to speak to him about how you feel, in a way that he understands.
Some men speak the language of emotions: “I’m in a lot of pain and I find living like this unbearable. I love you, but it’s so bad that I find myself wondering if I would be happier alone.”
Some speak the language of money: “I’m so overwhelmed by working and having to manage everything at home. We will have to hire someone to help.”
Some speak the language of food: “I’m exhausted and I don’t think I can pull off dinner tonight.”
The point isn’t to be angry and spiteful when you do it – you’re just trying to communicate something. And you may finally have an audience.
Now that he’s listening, the message is that you’re not a stay-at-home mom who can be expected to run the home while he works. You both work, so you both need to have responsibilities at home.
Many men lack the natural urge to take care of the kids and the home. A representative survey of North American men showed that even when the wife earns more, a majority of men are mentally obsessed with being a material provider. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to take on the cognitive load of the home. So it’s not realistic to expect that he’s suddenly going to gain the initiative by himself.
Instead, he needs specific, cyclic responsibilities, such as: “You’re in charge of dinner every Sunday,” or “You need to bathe the kids.”
With time, you may be able to teach him natural awareness – like noticing the dishwasher needs to be emptied and doing it – but it will take some patience.
I believe that all men can be trained to be more home-aware – I certainly was.
If none of this works, then there may be deeper relationship issues that have caused him to check out. If so, couples’ counselling would probably be a good idea.