How to Divide Domestic Responsibilities (Part 2)

Letter #2

Dear Dr. Harley,

In reading this week's Q&A at your web site, I have come away very frustrated. Tell me, why is it so common for the male head-of-the-house to be totally disinterested in doing what is commonly referred to as routine maintenance of his own house?

I am not speaking of domestic chores -- I think those are my responsibility. My husband and I agreed that I would stay home and raise our daughter, I "retired" from a career in electronics when she was born. I am speaking of things such as repairing woodwork on house; helping hang wallpaper in our bathroom that has been prepped for 4 years; painting; mowing; upkeep of vehicles; changing a light bulb; plus helping me file his paperwork -- telling me what to keep and what to throw away; either repairing the washer or getting someone to; helping clean the garage or the 3 vehicles we have; helping me carry in the groceries (has helped maybe 4 times in the 18 years of marriage).

My husband seems to have no interest in helping me even when I am struggling to do what I can to get them all done. I have been doing almost everything around the house, inside and out, all these years and now I'm just tired. I'm tired and frustrated and hurt that he seems so oblivious to my need for his involvement as a partner in these chores. He works hard too, to support me financially, but when he's home he has plenty of time to help me keep our home looking nice.

We live in a middle class neighborhood where the houses and yards are well-maintained. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I am the only female in the neighborhood doing the outside chores. I get embarrassed and hurt by that because sometimes he is in the living room watching TV while I am mowing or doing some other chore. Our daughter and I were on the roof in December hanging Christmas lights and he got in his truck and went to his Mother's.

He goes to his Mom's on Saturday and Sunday and stay all day and most of the night instead of staying home and working with me to keep our home nice. At his Mom's, he fishes, watches TV, or catnaps. I know you have said that the home usually means more to the woman than the man, but isn't this ridiculous?

I am not a nagging wife -- we have always been good recreational partners; we have wonderful sex (even though I am losing my desire because of my frustration with his lack of help); and I have done all the work around the house in the past because I did not "work" away from the home.

But I am frustrated! I'm sure this all sounds selfish, but I am just tired and tired of not having a helpmate. I have prayed hard; I have ask God to change my attitude and I know I must be willing, which I am, but I have been increasingly frustrated for the past five years and I need help trying to understand what's wrong with me.

Can you help me?


Dear S.N.,

You are probably doing an outstanding job meeting your husband's most important emotional needs, and he probably loves you very much. But he doesn't seem to be doing a good job meeting your emotional needs.

I have spent much of my professional lifetime asking men and women to explain to me the advantages of marriage. It helps me understand their underlying emotional needs. Well, there is a small, but significant group of women who tell me that the only reason to be married is to have someone around who can fix things. That answer always startles me when I hear it, because it seems to be something that can be done so easily with hired help. But that's how they feel. They don't want sex, affection, conversation, financial support, admiration ... all they want is someone to keep the house looking nice.

These women have a very deep and enduring need for domestic support. As they watch their husbands mow the lawn, or repair a lamp, or trim a tree, or fix the washing machine, love units cascade into their Love Banks. But when they must do the work themselves, and their need is not met, love units are withdrawn at a rapid rate. These women often fall out of love with their husbands when they refuse to do any of the work.

An emotional need is a craving that, when satisfied, leaves you feeling happy and fulfilled. But when it is not satisfied, you feel unhappy and frustrated. One of your most important emotional needs> may be domestic support, because your husband's help would deposit so many love units if he ever got around to it.

I'm sure you do not feel that domestic support is the only thing men are good for. But I'll bet domestic support is high on you list of emotional needs. Have you ever discussed your emotional needs with your husband? In my book, His Needs, Her Needs, I describe ten emotional needs of men and women, and encourage spouses to pick the five that are most important. Then I suggest that they learn to meet those needs for each other, because their fulfillment deposits the most love units. When they meet each other's most important emotional needs, they guarantee their love for each other throughout life.

Have you ever told your husband that what would make you love him the most would be his putting up Christmas lights? Mowing the lawn? Hanging wallpaper? It puts a whole new perspective on the importance of these tasks to you.

Domestic support can be the same as any other emotional need. If it's not met, the marriage can be at risk. There are many women who simply don't see the need for sex with their husbands, and refuse to make love after five years of marriage. They often have good reason to refuse -- they may hate making love to their husbands, and finally reach a point where they simply cannot do it any longer.

There are men who do not see the need for employment. They decide that earning a living is just too unpleasant, and they live off of what their wife can earn. By so doing, they fail to meet her need for financial support, and they put their marriage at risk.

Unless a woman who hates making love to her husband can learn to enjoy sex with him, his need will not be met, and his love for her is likely to erode. Unless a man who hates to go to work can learn to enjoy making a living, he will not meet his wife's emotional need, and she is likely to fall out of love, too.

In your case, if your husband does not meet your need for domestic support, you may lose the feeling of love you once had for him. The losses of love units over the past five years have already taken their toll on your sexual response to him, and if it continues, you may find yourself without any sexual interest at all.

Even though it may be crucial for your husband to meet your need for domestic support, he must do it in a way that he finds enjoyable, or it won't work. The woman who develops a sexual aversion must learn to meet her husband's need for sex enthusiastically. That means she can't force herself to make love to him, she must learn to enjoy it enough that she actually looks forward to making love to him.

The same is true of the chronically unemployed husband. He must learn to enjoy earning a living to support his spouse. I've helped many men find work that they truly enjoy, and they earn enough to support their families. When that happens, their wives love for them is restored, and their marriage is saved.

But that's what meeting emotional needs is all about. Making your spouse happy in a way that makes you happy. Sacrifice is short-sighted. You can do it once in a while, but it does not endure. If you want help around the house from your husband, you want to see him doing it cheerfully, because that's the only way you will get consistent help from him.

That brings us to the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse). Your husband can learn to meet your need for domestic support if you follow the Policy of Joint Agreement.

Quite frankly, you have not been following this policy. Whenever your husband trots off to his mother on weekends, you are not following the Policy of Joint Agreement. I'm sure you do not enthusiastically agree to his plans to go fishing. When he drove off when you and your daughter were putting up the Christmas tree lights, you were not following the Policy of Joint Agreement then, either. Granted, you should not have forced him to help, but his plans to visit his mother did not have your enthusiastic agreement.

You made a deal with your husband years ago that if he supported you financially, you would support him domestically. You now know that deal does not work for you. It is no longer a deal that you enthusiastically agree to, so it should be revised using the Policy of Joint Agreement.

There's nothing wrong with you, I can assure you of that. Your frustration comes not only from having to do difficult and unpleasant work, but from the feeling that you have been abandoned by your husband because he is not meeting one of your important emotional needs. What you want is the feeling that you and he are partners in this business called life. For you, it is very important for him to help you with household responsibilities, so I would negotiate with him to get the help you need.

Use the steps I suggested last week, and you may find that he will cheerfully take some of the responsibilities. Negotiate with him to help you with some of those that are left, and I think you will find him to be far more helpful than you imagined.

You may not have confronted the issue because of your underlying feeling of guilt to want him to do things that you feel are your responsibility. Forget all of that, and focus on what he could do for you that would make you the happiest. Then bargain in his best interest to get it done for yourself. You will both have a happier and more compatible marriage as a result of your effort.

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