Dear Carolyn: My wife has been a freelance consultant whose work has dried up. I have a good-paying job and I figured with her work having dried up, she’d take care of the house, bills, paperwork, etc., with her time. Instead, I don’t know what she does, but things are not put away, and if she spent as much time taking care of our house — for which I just paid for a hefty remodel, by the way — as she does defending herself and how busy she is, then there would be no problem. (She is busy with her hobby, when she does it, or seeing friends during the day.)
She cooks, and on weekends I do the wash. But it’s becoming an issue for me and she knows it, but nothing changes. I feel used.
Carolyn says: I’d be angry too. Seething. A household involves a lot of work and I could not trust a partner who was comfortable leaving most of that work to me.
But that’s not all I find irksome. I also don’t like it when someone “figures” I’ll assume this or that responsibility without checking with me first.
And I don’t like it when the person then gets angry at me for not doing it.
And I don’t like it when I’ve always been X, am liked or accepted for X, embraced as X, and then because someone’s needs have changed I’m expected to be Y.
And I don’t like bean-counted remodels.
So. Did your wife “know this” because you discussed divisions of labor upfront? Or did she find it out only after you (1) just assumed she’d parlay underemployment into more housework, and (2) got annoyed when she didn’t?
Has she ever put things away?
Did you marry her just for the pleasure of her company? Or also to share the load a bit, to have her there for you and likewise be there for her when the uphills start to feel steep? Or was it more transactional than even you’d like to think?
On this last question I don’t judge, since there isn’t one right answer (besides mutuality, perhaps). But it helps to know your answer — wants versus needs — before deciding how to respond to not getting either of these.
It could be your marriage is suffering from an imbalance in its ratio of assumptions to communication. It could, too, be suffering from something so simple as a poor delegation of responsibilities; why divorce a problem that outsourcing could solve, except perhaps to self-vindicate.
And of course you could be right about being used. There are certainly differences not worth reconciling.
So: Swap out the topic of conversation from what you expect to what you feel, and ask her to suggest what household contribution she thinks is fair; switch up the chores so you each get less of what you’re bad at; reframe her presence in your life as companionship first and gauge whether it helps.
As in, apply solutions to the more easily solved problems and see whether that is enough.
If it isn’t, then you’re approaching a crossroads in your marriage, and she needs to know that. Should you get there, all I can advise is to choose the direction that brings you peace.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.