(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: “Dear Dr. Kenner. I find it so hard to cope with the housework. I’ve got two young kids and a husband, Joe, who has a 1950s attitude. Joe refuses to help. Even when I tell him that with two kids, it’s not possible to have the house clean at all times. He still yells at me. He tells me that it’s my job, that I have to have everything in perfect order when he comes home. I suffer from fatigue now. I enjoy my kids, yet everyday it seems that the housework is taking over. Please help, Marissa.”
So, Marissa, you want to find your voice. You don’t want to let this go on forever. You want to be able to set boundaries with Joe. There are a few points that I want to make here and then I want to give you some words that you can play with and you can find your own voice, but I’ll give you what it might sound like to speak with Joe. First, you never want to let somebody else’s controlling your life take over your own life. You need to be able to learn assertiveness skills. Not so that you yell at the person, no so that you say things you’re ashamed of, you call them names and whatnot, but so that you can let him know your context. Where you’re coming from. You want to hold your own there.
The second is, you never want to take away the joy of you being with your own kids. If housework is standing in the way, guess what? A little of the housework can be sacrificed to spend that quality time with your kids. And you also need to take care of your own health. If you’re finding yourself, fatigued, sometimes we can get very fatigued and it’s over emotional issues. It’s not that we’ve been running a mile or anything, it’s that emotionally, you can’t cope and you just lose your motivation because you’re not living your life. You’re living somebody else’s life. You feel controlled. You feel forced. Even if you’re forcing yourself. That makes it even worse because you’re aware you’re forcing yourself to do what someone else says and you’re not holding your own.
Another point I want to make is, is there something else that’s going unaddressed in your relationship? It’s very true that your husband could have a 1950s attitude about the woman’s work is in the house, and the house should be impeccable, because what the heck else is she doing during the day if she’s home with the kids and not working? He definitely needs information there. But many times, spouses will pick on one another, or one spouse will pick on the other one, and they’re nagging, nagging, about the house for example, needs to be clean. It could be something else too, but they’re nagging, and they’re not dealing with the real issue. That’s just a surface issue. Sometimes it has to do with sex, f it’s a sexless marriage. Maybe he’s taking it out by making sure he can control you in the housework. You really need to bring out the deeper issues. They need to have a voice and you need to be able to sort through those.
Also, your husband’s expectations come from somewhere. What is his context? What does he dislike about housework? Why won’t he do any? I don’t know what happened in his own family of origin, what the backstory is, but you can take a look at his parents’ relationship. Something caused him to adopt that 1950s mindset or maybe it’s just power lust. Maybe he thinks that marriage is having control over you. If that’s the case, you might want to reconsider the marriage, but I know that you have two kids. That’s always an option for you.
Here’s what you might be able to say to him. You could say, “Joe, you wish that I would have a home clean when you walk through the door at night, and you know, I wish for your sake that that was easy to do. It’s absolutely not. And I’ll give you several reasons and I hope you’ll hear me out. Number one, Joe, yelling at me doesn’t help. I feel resentful and annoyed when I’m attacked. And I feel depleted of energy when I don’t feel listened to. I expect the yelling to stop.” Right there you’re setting a boundary. “We can learn to respect one another, to listen to one another, and I think we can find a solution to the housework problem if we work differently together. I also worry that the kids hear our complaints. We are role models for them, and I think we can work together to make your coming home at night a sunnier experience for all of us. Second, I want to enjoy parenting and focusing on having the home perfectly clean with two rambunctious, adventurous kids, shifts my focus away from enjoying parenting. I end up yelling at them to clean up, just as you’re yelling at me. They end up resenting me, and you and I, Joe, both value the kids and I think that’s more important than having a perfectly clean home. And finally, I value having a clean home too. And we need to get our expectation of what is reasonable in sync. I resent that it is considered only woman’s work, and I’m wondering why you think so lowly of me, as if I’m your servant and not your wife, to have me do all the work. I’m puzzled. Is there something deeper going on here that would make sense of your valuing the housework at the expense of our relationship? Joe, I’m hoping we can figure out a better way to make our marriage feel fair to both of us. We can look at alternative ways to manage the housework. For example, as the kids grow up, we will teach them with a sense of dignity how to make their own beds, how to fold the clothes, and maybe earn some money for it too, to earn an allowance. And maybe we can hire someone part-time, a mother’s helper, young kid after school that can come in and help, or scale back. I’ll tell you Joe, having this house perfectly clean, that type of perfect is not perfect for us.”
That’s one way you could approach it. Now, he may not be open to that. He may be. I don’t know. What you don’t want to do is force yourself and feel like you have to just shut up and put up. You don’t want to do that to yourself. You want to learn assertiveness skills. There’s a book I wrote with Dr. Ed Locke that talks about relationships and would be very helpful for you. That’s The Selfish Path to Romance, which you can get at my website, DrKenner.com, and I wish you the best with that, Marissa.
Female: I don’t know why Sam broke up with you, okay? Just like I didn’t know two hours ago.
Male 1: Wait, everybody, before you scatter – tell me, what do you think are my main faults?
Male 2: Well, let’s start with what you’re doing now. You analyze everything to death. Sam said it wasn’t your fault but you keep digging around and digging around until you drive everybody nuts.
Female: Come on Frasier, why don’t you just admit what you’re doing here. This isn’t some, “Help me be a better person,” thing. You’re trying to figure out what you can fix so you can win Sam back. But you shouldn’t change yourself just to please her. It’s not healthy and it doesn’t work.
Dr. Kenner: That’s from Frasier. Should you change yourself to try to win someone over? That’s kind of a mixed question, because should you change yourself? Certainly if there is something to improve that you’re not fully aware of and people around you, that you trust, can help you become more aware of it. Obviously in very tactful ways. Then that’s helpful and you’d want to work on improving yourself. For example, if you snap. If you get angry all the time, or if you bottle everything up and you don’t express yourself. Those are things you might want to work on for self-improvement. But if your only goal for fixing things is not to improve yourself but to temporarily win somebody, it’s not going to work in the long range because you are yourself and you’ll just revert back to the old habits once you win the person. And so it won’t be much of a gain for either of you.