Holding it in: When Gender Roles Collide With Marriage
Marriage is not easy. It is a work in progress. It is constantly evolving, changing, expanding. As a marriage counselor, I often see trends in the couples I am seeing—common issues. When these things arise they make me think that these points of contention are not a single relationship issue and more of a common overarching marital issue.
Gender Roles and Privilege
Over my years I have seen the tone of marriage counseling get harder and deeper as conversations about gender roles and privilege emerge. I hear from wives that they have spent their whole marriage doing nothing but caring for their husband and children and they want time for themselves. They want the autonomy to make their own choices. They want to do things for themselves, make decisions without consulting the other party.
From the men I hear frustration and hurt. They thought they were making decisions with their wives as a unit. They thought these were things they were doing together. The men had assumed a high degree of cohesion. Now that their wives are feeling the need for autonomy, the men are wishing for more consideration of their feelings and needs.
The wives in these cases are resentful. They feel like they have been attending to their husband’s needs and feelings this whole time and now it is time to care for themselves.
Overrun With Guilt
The reality of these issues is that women are raised to think they need to be caring for their spouse and their children and putting their needs ahead of their own. This is what history has shown us. These are the examples we were taught. So all this time we are doing these things and keeping our mouths shut. We want to do things for ourselves but instead, we are overrun with guilt. We have this deep-seated obligation to please our spouse whether it hurts us or not. It is something I am not even sure most women think about or realize until they hit a breaking point.
It is when they hit the point of feeling overwhelmed, not themselves, lost, confused, depressed, whatever it is..it is then that women start to see the way things have been all along.
Marriages would operate much better if we saw these potential problems from the beginning. If we could communicate to our spouses that we don’t want to stay home with the kids, we don’t want to clean the house by ourselves, we don’t want to cook dinner every night. If we asked our spouses for help. If we were open, honest about our feelings things could be better.
The key, as it is with most relationships, is communication. It is about having an open, honest dialogue with your spouse. Your happiness matters. Your needs matter. Speak up for what you want. Express concern to your spouse.