Dear Dr. Andrea,
I feel very stuck. I thought I was in a happy marriage but we are struggling. My husband believes I have anxiety and need to see a therapist or go on medication. But so much of my stress is because everything is falling on me, with him not doing his share. We have two kids and having them always home and now distance learning is very, very hard. I feel like I am drowning trying to hold down a job and also supervise them. My husband works too, but is just not as involved in the day-to-day with our children, even though he thinks he is. The kids come to me instead of him whenever anything goes wrong. I field all the emails from teachers and check the assignments. I check on them to make sure they’re not getting up during their Zooms or doing something they shouldn’t be. All that on top of the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry, which I have always done more of because I used to have less of a commute. But now that neither of us have commutes, he has gained more time and yet all these duties are still “mine.” I can’t keep this up. I want to scream at him.
— This is not working
I’ve been seeing this conflict play out for months in many different couples, so you should know that you are not alone. And talking through this with him — I mean really getting him to see your perspective, in a truly collaborative conversation where you both are empathetic and vulnerable — may unfortunately make things harder before it makes things easier. But, it’s crucial that you commit to trying to work through this. Resentment corrodes a marriage over time, from the inside out. And even if someone waved a magic wand tomorrow and made the laundry or the Zoom hiccups go away — or transported you back to pre-pandemic times — the underlying imbalance in the mental burden of running your household would still be there, ready to pounce every time there is stress, a disruption to your routine or heightened needs from your kids. So you’ve got to address this.
First, the fundamental chicken-and-egg conundrum. He sees the issue as your stress and anxiety, that solving that will make things easier around the house. Perhaps he even secretly thinks he would help out more if things weren’t so tense, or he feels like he can’t do anything right if you’re uptight about things, and so he doesn’t bother. Whereas to you, the original problem is that he’s not doing his share.
So, what’s getting in the way of that happening? Has it always been this way, and the pandemic has just made it worse because the demands of child care are unrelenting (and the dishes quadrupled?) Does he not see the work you do? Does he over-count the work that he does or maybe the income he brings in? Does he believe the roles are already set, and he’s not a particularly adaptable, flexible person?
You have to dig deep yourself, as well, even when the questions uncover difficult truths. Is there a part of you that doesn’t really want to give up your outsized role because you worry you won’t be as valuable to the family anymore, or wouldn’t be loved as much? Do you have a hard time delegating because you want things done your way only? Is it true that your anxiety predated this imbalance, and has it affected him more than you realize? Might he think that he doesn’t ever have to change because he doesn’t see you doing so? I’m not blaming you, just identifying common bumps I’ve seen arise in this scenario. Even more uncomfortable are questions like: What if your husband is simply not equipped to do more, whether for a lack of motivation, problems multitasking, lower standards for child-rearing, or the sense that wasn’t what he signed up for? (Again, I’m not saying those views are justified, but rather — what are you prepared to do if those views are ingrained and can’t be budged?)
If he’s willing to work together, you can start by listing all the typical tasks that make up your day. Not as an accusation, but as a realistic, collaborative starting point for a re-divvying. Try one small change per day, like a three-hour chunk of time where the kids come to him, not you, or an alternating grocery trip schedule, or a category of school email that he gets custody of and is expected to handle. Then it’s literally one day at a time.
If there’s still an impasse, counseling could help — but remember, the deeper road blocks aren’t going to go away on their own unless you’re both willing to move them.