“I feel as if COVID-19 sent me back to the ’50s into the traditional gender roles I never signed up for. I feel resentful, angry, suffocated and defeated. It’s making me bitter”, my client said.
She was the third client this week, who expressed this fury. It forced me to ask some questions. Is the stress and uncertainty making us regress in our coupledom to a ‘survival’ mode? Are we now being forced to ignore hard-earned progress in the area of equality and the distribution of labour?
In an Australian Amazon review of Susan Maushart’s book, Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women, a woman writes:
‘I am a 60 yr old female living in WA state in an upper-middle-class community. I found this book in my search for remedies and treatments for my Fibromyalgia and anxiety. I consider this to be the best book I have ever read about the war of the sexes. I always had the feeling that I was living in some sort of battlefield of someone else’s making. Growing up in the ’50’s and 16 years of Catholic school wrote my script and I have been fighting to change it for 40 years. I would love to see statistics on how many Fibro sufferers are in or have been in conventional marriages. The result of all that resentment and rage that simmers under the surface of most wives is often physical and psychic illness. If I were a writer this would have been my book, for I related to every page. I am now working with my partner for a really equitable relationship. Thanks for this book.’
Are married women asked to rise to the challenge and put their needs aside while we are dealing with social distancing, homeschooling career and financial stress and so much uncertainty OR are women asked to integrate a new perspective around domestic labour and emotional labour even into stressful times?
What I have come to see is this:
- Men too have a component of unseen labour. Woman would be wise to acknowledge this too. This gives a more accurate, less resentful, more cooperative and realistic platform to engage in a fruitful constructive conversation. When we acknowledge the unseen labour of our partner we can then feel gratitude for it. I know this is hard if you feel unseen, disempowered, disregarded and alone but do it anyway. From this place, you will communicate to yourself more clearly and create a greater and safer space for your partner to see their blind spots.
- This conversation is a process and not a quick fix. It is unique for every couple’s circumstances. Agreeing on a vision or a ‘shared dream’ is more effective in working towards a new reality, then scoring points and arguing tit for tat. Have a conversation that is focused on the dream or the fantasy you hold within you with regards to how you operate as a couple and family. Rather than trying to fix it on the pragmatic level, start with the big picture. Find the common ground. State what the advantages would be on your mood, energy and connection. Dream big. See it, imagine how you would feel, and how it would make both of you feel to realize your vision. Only when the vision is clear can you start being creative about taking the steps to get there.
- This, in my opinion, is the most important point – giving unwillingly is corrosive. The challenges are real, the demands are big, yet our attitude is ours to own. If you don’t want to do something, then you need to stop doing it. You need to be willing to stop doing what creates resentment. If you decide to do things, it is because at this point this is what you want to do. This is empowering. If you say to yourself, I don’t have a choice if I don’t do it no one else will come back to the fact that this is your choice. Be okay with leaving a gap between not doing things, and no one else doing them. Be okay with things not being perfect. Be okay with having things done in a different way or standard that you would do them.
In her book Do Less, Kate Northrup writes to explain that the way for (working) mothers to cope with the never-ending to-do list of responsibilities is not to try to fit into the system, or to ‘lean in’. It’s to create a whole new system, one that is not dependent on how productive women are, but where they do less and achieve more.
We always have a choice between the pragmatic and the relational. If our focus is on fixing the problem, many times we create a relational gap or distancing through criticizing and even contempt. It also depletes our resources as a couple, adversely affecting our ability to be motivated and to find creative solutions. Remember this is a process, not an event. If you stay in your heart’s centre you will have more clear compassion towards yourself and will achieve more – and faster. Be honest about what support you need to keep coming back to YOU.