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Ask Dr. Andrea is a series from The Lily with Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist and advice columnist. She answers questions about relationships, mental health, work-life balance, family dynamics and more. If you have a question for Bonior, please send us an email.

Dear Dr. Andrea,

My husband has always been very social, making friends wherever he goes, and a good friend to his inner circle. I’ve always loved it about him. He has buddies who do different activities with him, from trivia to work happy hours to golf. I am more introverted. I have a few friendships that I cherish, but we don’t do as many activities and two are long-distance. I’m more of a homebody, happy to have alone time, read or get lost in some of my favorite shows. I ground him and he pushes me out of my comfort zone sometimes, so it’s suited us well.

Then enter parenting a young toddler. This past year was obviously really difficult for my husband especially, but it gave our little family a lot of time to bond with each other and my parents, and to spend outside. But now that we are vaccinated and my husband’s prior social life is returning, I realize what an imbalance we have. He spends so much time out with friends, and that means that although we both work full time, I spend so much more time caring for our son. (Even during the pandemic, he would do stuff online with his friends often too, so I think this pattern has seeped in for a while.)

I am starting to resent it. It’s like we both have this parenthood job but his comes with way more vacation time. He’ll ask me first if he can do these things and I will say yes automatically and it would be weird for me to say no. And he assumes if I get overwhelmed I’ll just go to my parents’ house. He is a great father and husband and I want to be grateful.

The truth is, I don’t want or need more time with my friends, so I don’t know the answer.

—Strained

Imbalances with child care or household chores are so common, but they often have layers of emotion on top of them — resentment, fear, guilt, insecurity — that make them sit unaddressed. The number one thing you can do is speak up about this sooner rather than later, so it doesn’t fester even more emotion or get even more ingrained as a pattern. And it doesn’t have to be nearly as personal or as fraught as you think. Personality differences or not, at some point it’s a simple math problem. Stop the automatic “yes” and have a real conversation instead.

(Courtesy of Andrea Bonior)
(Courtesy of Andrea Bonior)

You can be grateful for everything that he does and also work with him to adjust an imbalance that exists. Just like he can be a wonderful husband and also have a blind spot that he needs to be made aware of. These things can all coexist, but it’s easy to fall into a pattern of all-or-none thinking that tells you they can’t. That’s dangerous, because over time it can silence your voice, making you feel helpless in accepting things that shouldn’t be acceptable. (You might recognize other all-or-none thoughts that I have seen erode marriages through silencing: “If we have a significant disagreement, then we must not have a happy marriage” or “If I’m to be a kind and compassionate partner, I need to stay quiet about things that bother me.”)

As for practical solutions to offer up: You don’t need more time with your friends, and that’s fine. It’s a red herring to imagine that the answer is to go even-steven on social time. This isn’t about equality in your social time. It’s about (approximate) equality in your child-care responsibilities. You both need time off, social or not, and his social time should not always come at your expense.

So there are several strategies to fix this. The most obvious — and there’s no way around this — is that he has to cut down on his weekend outings. You have a toddler. Rounds of golf can’t be quite as automatic as they used to be. And some of his social time needs to be child-care time — he makes friends everywhere and this is 2021, so why not find a dads group, where the guys meet up at a playground? Or on bike rides, or hikes, or whatever suits his fancy. Moms take their babies to meet friends at restaurants, and so can dads. Or, maybe some of his social time happens after he gets the baby to bed, and you are free to commune with your Netflix.

Finally, stop invalidating your need for time off just because your preferred way of taking it looks different than his. Any moment where you’re not having to guard a little gentleman from shoving a stuffed animal down a toilet is a meaningful break — whether you’re spending it with people or with a book.

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