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I Support My Spouse, So Why Is My Dinner Late?

"I work hard for my money, so my wife doesn't need to work. She's free to stay home and do as she pleases, as long as the house is clean and dinner's ready when I get home."

"I always thought we'd retire together, but my husband took early retirement when it was offered and now I can't afford to do the same. He's not working. Why can't he at least clean up his breakfast and lunch dishes and cook dinner while I'm at work?"

"We both work, but my wife works part-time. This makes sense to both of us, because it allows her to be home when the kids get out of school, and because I earn more per hour than she can. So why does she keep refusing to take responsibility for all of our dinners?"

What is it about meal preparation that makes it such a problem in so many marriages? And why is it so much worse when one puts in more paid working hours than the other?

I don't hear anyone asking why their spouse doesn't grow the family's vegetables in the time they're not working. Or why they don't sew a hand-tailored suit worthy of a promotion for their spouse with the full-time job. Or even why the oil in the car hasn't been changed.

Food's the big deal. We'll use the money we earn to pay other people to grow our vegetables, make our clothes, and do our oil changes. But if we have to earn an income for more hours than our spouses, we want food. Not overly expensive. But definitely tasty. Our kind of tasty. And on time. Which means, of course, when our workday dictates it's time for a meal.

And we ask why this is so hard as if it were a rhetorical question. More of an accusation.

But if we work for a living, we know just how uncomfortable any obligation we didn't choose to take on can be. So we pretend there was something in our marriage vows about cooking.

If we work for a living, we know all too well the frustration of trying to tackle two conflicting priorities at the same time, the fear of consequences for choosing the wrong one when both can't get done. But we pretend life outside of work has no such conflicting priorities, and our impatience or disappointment becomes one of those feared consequences for the person we vowed to love and honor.

If we work for a living, we must admit that some days we're not as productive as other days. We just don't get as much done. Maybe we even deliberately take some time for reflection or for socializing or for catching up on organizing our work area. And yet we still expect that the final task of our spouse's work at home will be completed on time every single day.

On those other days when we're working especially hard or producing a lot, we can really look forward to refueling and spending time with family. Coming home to a note about reheating something in the microwave or to a spouse who wants a night off can feel so unfair.

It's so easy to forget that we married for love, not to avoid paying a cook or restaurant to prepare the meals we don't feel like preparing. It's so easy to develop an expectation, a sense of entitlement.

Resentment corrodes marriages. And it's really not that hard to throw together an occasional meal or that expensive take the family out to a restaurant occasionally. If divorce insurance could be had for such a small price, I'm sure most of us would sign right up.

What if you Assume Love when there's no dinner waiting for you? What if you try on the notion that this person you married hasn't lost his or her sense of fairness, hasn't become the sort of person who would deliberately hurt you? What if you knew without a doubt the only reason for not preparing your meal while you worked was a darn good one? What would your words say then? What would your body language look like?

What next step would you take? And how would it feel to to take that step, to be that person?

And who would your spouse become if you treated him or her as someone who does the fair thing, the just thing, even when it's not exactly what you expected?

Comments

It's a good reminder. Any time someone isn't doing what we think they obviously "should" do - step back and try to see it from their point of view. I saw how much resentment built up between my parents based on assumptions they both had about what the other should do, how the other should behave. My mother in particular created a lot of unhappiness for herself by being angry over things my dad didn't do, rather than considering that what he did do might be just as valuable.

It's such a common error. Causes so much unnecessary pain. Thanks, Rosemary.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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