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Building intimacy in marriage is not just about the physical; emotional intimacy happens as a result of respecting differences – while communicating what you need.
This is part 1 of a 2-part series on truly strengthening one’s marriage, in a mutually respectful way. Click here for part 1 of this series: How our marriage can become true partnership
Many women have a difficult time receiving.
This can be as small and apparently inconsequential as dismissing compliments, or bouncing them right back with great vigour. Consider this familiar example:
“What a great dress! You look lovely!”
Instead of a response given with simple pleasure (“Thank you very much! I appreciate the compliment.”), the compliment is immediately tossed back in the speaker’s face:
“Oh, but what about you! You look FABULOUS! Doesn’t she look WONDERFUL, everyone! Look at those gorgeous earrings….” and so on.
Or it can be deflected:
“I was so busy, I just grabbed the first thing out of my wardrobe. But I have put on weight and it doesn’t fit so well now blah blah blah…”
It leaves the person offering the compliment floundering and trying to find their feet in the conversation. Do they renew the compliment, do they insist you look great?
I bet we have all noticed women employing variations of these strategies. Maybe you do this too.
This apparently trivial habit is only the tip of a bigger problem around receiving.
The daily household chores are the prime arena where a woman’s strength and capability becomes a rod for her own back. Her strength and capability work against her.
Many women complain that they are left having to do everything – but they too believe they are responsible for everything; they are the only ones who know how to do the tasks “properly”. Nobody else cares enough to really get it right, or is competent enough to do achieve the required results. Further, it would be too much of a bother to “teach” someone else how to do things exactly right. “It would take too much time.” Therefore, they have no choice but to do everything themselves. “I might as well do it myself.”
What a self-defeating mindset.
Further, femininity in our culture has been equated with believing it is our responsibility to take care of everybody’s needs. Many of us do not have a realistic perspective on what is our responsibility and what is not.
If daily life is run along these unfairly drawn lines with the woman carrying the weight of responsibility alone, then at the time of illness, it is only to be expected that she will find herself alone.
Why would things suddenly change when she is ill? We have taught men that they can get away with doing the bare minimum, we have told ourselves day after day to expect little or no support – the natural conclusion to this dynamic is that we find ourself alone in our time of greatest need.
If you want a mutually supportive relationship, stop being a superwoman day after day.
Here are some thoughts on how we can evolve together into a new, more balanced dynamic. It begins with revising expectations within ourself and then communicating differently with our partner.
First: Running a household and family is a shared responsibility. It isn’t true that the wife/mother is primarily responsible while the husband ‘helps’. No. This is starting on the back foot.
It isn’t true that the wife/mother is primarily responsible while the husband ‘helps’. No. This is starting on the back foot.
Instead, let’s begin with the idea of an equal partnership. Both partners are equally responsible for the home, and for care of the children.
If one partner brings in the income, the other partner might have their ‘working day’ occupied with the home. But it isn’t that one person’s working day ends at 5 pm and they have the weekend off, while the other works indefinite hours seven days a week.
For some couples, a partnership will mean a rota system. For others, it will mean a broader division of responsibility – for example, he will always take care of the cars, while she always takes care of the garden; one will cook while the other will clean.
There is no right/wrong way to divide up tasks; I have noticed that when the couple are united in the concept of shared responsibility and equal partnership, the details of who does what works itself out without difficulty. Each person handles the tasks that come naturally to them; couples find that there is little left over to squabble about. The difficult part is arriving at that commitment to equal partnership.
Pay attention to the balance of the relationship, the flow of giving and receiving. Does it feel good, or does it feel weighted too heavily on one side?
Step back and reflect on how each of you gives to the other. What are all the things he does for you; what are the ways he expresses his care and love? What are the ways you express yours?
Check whether you are good at receiving. Can you acknowledge and appreciate his contribution? This eases the feeling inside that you’re the one who has to do everything.
Practice noticing and taking in his gestures of caring; check if you’re quick to dismiss or discount them.
Don’t be a martyr. This is a corollary to not being a superwoman. When you’re tired or ill, learn not to push yourself. Ask for help. Express clearly how you feel and ask for what you need – be specific.
Don’t nickel-and-dime the chores. Be generous – it creates warmth and goodwill in the relationship – but not to the point of being ‘a mug’ (naive fool).
There will be cycles within the relationship – periods where one will give more than the other, where one will need more support than the other. This is a natural part of the lifecycle.
Many men have ‘learned helplessness’ inside the home. They have been well trained – by good old mum or gran, of course – to park their capability in the office. They then regress to their truculent adolescent self – or worse, to their little boy self – when at home. They can be highly resistant to having this change. The smart woman – and that is you, dear reader – will address this steadily, while recognising that a reconditioning process needs to happen and it takes time.
Changing this means being clear within yourself about shared responsibility and steadily holding that ground.
Let go of the attachment to a sparkling house, things done perfectly or to very high standards – the things you might cherish – in exchange for an equal partnership. Tolerate some disorder and tardiness in return for creating a healthy and balanced relationship.
This will also ease any neurotic beliefs that have been passed on to you that equates your success or worth with having a sparkling house.
Having a lovely home is for your pleasure. It is a not a statement of your value. The house exists to serve you. It is not more important than you.
Remember you’re not his mum; you’re his wife. Don’t treat him like a little boy who needs looking after. Instead, communicate your feelings like an adult – and treat him like an adult too.
While working out household chores, please don’t insist on having everything done your way and on your schedule. Instead of “my way is the right way”, talk together about what needs to be done – and be open to new ways of doing things.
An equal partnership also means loss of absolute control – this is a tough one for a lot of women who are used to holding the reins at home. It may mean not believing you’re the expert on everything, letting go of the need to be the boss, honouring that he has equal rights as well as responsibilities when it comes to deciding how things are done at home. This can be a radical orientation for many of us.
Once you’ve agreed that he is going to be responsible for something, trust and let go. Don’t hover around and supervise. Don’t keep checking up. Surrender and let go. Practice moving your attention to something else.
Teething problems in the initial stages need to be handled with awareness. Don’t immediately jump to tired old conclusions such as:
Oh, I knew this would never work!
If he cared, he would have paid attention and done it properly!
Men are all like this!
Instead, trust that you married an intelligent man. He is capable of figuring out what needs to be sorted out. Give him time and space to learn in his own way.
A final tip: As women, we carry the hopes as also the pain of generations of women before us. I do believe there is, within our cells, the collective memory of our mothers and grandmothers and those before them.
We have to hold that legacy lightly and take care not to burden our relationship with the disappointment and anger of the earlier women. Let us mourn what was not possible for them; but in moving to create a different paradigm, we are also leaving the past where it belongs – behind us.
This unburdens us from the acrid taste of centuries-old resentment and anger and allows us to do the work of our own relationship with humour and grace, with a light touch. It makes freedom and laughter possible as we evolve together.
Image of couple via Shutterstock
Dear Sharadha, what an amazing article! Every word rings so true! Funny, but unless something is brought out so clearly in words, we keep on rushing forward, rejecting compliments or ‘bouncing them back’ as you say. Why do we then complain that we are not recognized! Also, yes, many women hold on to the household reins, not wanting to lose control. Your article very compassionately outlines the important points and also gently guides us towards leading a more sharing, caring and mutually beneficial and healthy live. Thank you for this beautiful insightful piece and we hope there are more to follow.
Thank you for reading and for writing in with your kind words.
As you say, it is indeed ironic that we reject compliments – but then complain that we are not recognised. If it didn’t cause so much unhappiness, it would be comical!
Each of us is blessed with many gifts. It’s time to acknowledge ourself – and allowed ourself the pleasure of being acknowledged by others. What could be better than celebrating each other!
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