Perhaps you are a stay-at-home parent with a couple of kids. You love your partner, but you feel undervalued and underappreciated. Your partner works a full-time job outside of the house and expects dinner to be made and laundry to be done when he or she comes home from work, because this is your “job.” If not, your partner gets angry rather than appreciating everything you did manage to do. How do you make sure you aren’t taken for granted and how to you make him or her understand how hard it truly is to stay at home as a parent? How can you better balance responsibilities?
Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. I am currently seeing several couples who have this same struggle. Sometimes it feels like you are speaking different languages: neither understands nor fully appreciates the other’s reality. And, unfortunately, because we live in a market economy where the currency is cash, non-cash compensated work is often undervalued and underappreciated.
There are probably three issues that need to be addressed here: expectations, responsibilities, and appreciation.
First, given the fact that you are the stay-at-home parent for three kids, your partner’s expectations may be unrealistic. Parenting three kids can be demanding and time- and energy-consuming. It shouldn’t be a surprise or a scandal that dinner is not always made or the laundry always done on time.
How you and your partner chose to divide responsibilities in your relationship is up to the two of you, but if you are hoping to better balance responsibilities and are aiming for equality and the lack of control of one partner by the other, research shows that the important dimensions related to happiness are: (1) the perception of fairness and (2) emotional responsiveness to one another. What might be called imbalances in power and specialization in a relationship (i.e. your partner working outside the home and you being a stay-at-home parent) are not a problem if these two qualities are present.
You probably do not perceive the division of responsibilities or the expectations in your relationship to be fair. In his research, Dr. John Gottman found that a perception of fairness is necessary to build trust in a relationship. When there is a perception of unfairness, trust is eroded and couples fall into zero-sum or win-lose games, where one must lose for the other to win. Ultimately, this leads to one of the partners feeling defeated and undervalued. What you want to set up here is a win-win, where neither loses.
I think that it would be important for the two of you to have a genuine dialogue about your responsibilities and expectations of each other. You might want to enlist the help of a therapist, particularly a Certified Gottman Therapist who has been trained in the Gottman Conflict Blueprint. If you cannot enlist the help of a therapist, try to follow the guidelines of the Conflict Blueprint yourselves.
First, neither of you should engage in persuasion until you can state your partner’s perspective to their satisfaction. Second, take turns as speaker and listener. As the speaker, try to avoid blaming or “you” statements. Talk about your feelings. Use only “I” statements about this specific situation. And state a positive need (it is easier for your partner to hear and respond to a positive need). As listener, postpone your own agenda. Hear and repeat the content of the speakers needs and perspective. Hear the speaker’s feelings. Name their emotions and try to feel them. The listener can ask questions, but try to avoid rhetorical or “gotcha” questions. The spirit of the questions should be, “Help me to understand this better…” Most importantly, validate the speaker by completing a sentence like, “It makes sense to me that you would feel this way and have these needs, because…” You don’t have to agree with your partner’s perspective, but you can validate at least one part of it.
The second issue here is appreciation. You do not feel appreciated or valued in your role as a stay-at-home parent. Some work could probably be done on sharing fondness and appreciation in the relationship. This would involve being intentional about telling each other ways that you are fond of and appreciate each other, perhaps daily. As an aid to sharing admiration and building appreciation, you might want to use the “Giving Appreciation” Card Deck in the Gottman Card Deck app, available for free in the App Store of the Google Play Store.
Building appreciation might also involve your partner becoming more aware of everything that is involved in being a stay-at-home parent, which could be the subject of another dialogue using the Conflict Blueprint.
I wish you well in your efforts to create more fairness and appreciation and to better balance responsibilities and expectations. My experience as a therapist and as a husband and father says that it is not easy, but it is possible. And, in the end, you will both will be happier for it.
© 2020 Michael Brown, MSC, LMFT, dba Happy Couples Healthy Communities