In many marriages, one partner is the main “bread winner”, spending his time (or her time, but mostly his) outside the home, being busy with work-related stuff some of the time at home and needing support from the “other” partner (typically the woman). This creates an imbalance in the family.
You see, human beings have emotional needs. In order to feel good and to be happy, every person must satisfy these needs, at least for the most part. Sure, we can put our own needs aside sometimes and help others, but we all have our limits and we just cannot ignore our own needs for too long.
Simply stated, the human emotional needs are:
- Certainty – feeling safe, secure and having a sense of confidence in what the future holds and our own abilities to handle life
- Variety – having an interesting life
- Significance – feeling meaningful and important, standing out from the crowd, being unique
- Love & connection – belonging, being liked, loved and related to others
- Growth – becoming a better and bigger person
- Contribution – being part of something large, global or universal, taking part in something purposeful
The partner who goes out to work gains all of these things from working:
- Certainty from the generation of income
- Certainty from the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routine
- Variety from the activities, projects and changes at work
- Significance from being the main provider
- Significance from having valuable skills and succeeding
- Connection from belonging to the group of people at work
- Connection from clients, suppliers, employees, colleagues and superiors
- Growth from professional and “on the job” training
- Contribution from taking part in what the company does and how it serves its market
At the same time, the partner staying at home gains similarly at first, especially when raising young children, but then the kids grow up, they go to school and the days start looking pretty much the same. When this happens, the partner staying at home may feel used, bored and stuck. He or she becomes the “other” parent or the “other” partner.
When Ronit was pregnant with Tsoof, we moved from Texas to California. We were new, I had to work and Ronit had to watch herself, so she ended up spending time with “the wife circle”. Nearly every day, she told me stories of disappointment, resentment and frustration she had heard from the women of high-tech employees. These were well-educated and well-travelled women, who stayed at home and simply went nuts from inactivity.
At the same time, I and the husbands of these very same women felt very differently. As much as they were feeling stuck at home, we were feeling stuck at work. As much as they felt we were connected to the people at work, we wanted to be connected to them and to our children.
Needs are funny that way, you know. Get too much of any of them and that is no good either. There is too much certainty in going to work every day, even on days when you really do not feel like going to work. There is too much significance if you can talk like an expert on photolithography, but nobody wants to listen.
So what did Ronit and I do?
When we moved to Brisbane, Ronit was the one who got a steady job and I spent a wonderful 6 months at home, much of it with Noff, who was still a baby. I got to see my family a lot more, I got to cook for them (I love cooking) and I got to be outside.
Sure, I did the shopping and ran the family errands, but I did not care a bit. As far as I was concerned, I was free.
Now that Ronit and I have our own business, we alternate.
When Ronit needs to prepare a presentation or a workshop, I become “her team”. I edit documents, solve problems, give ideas and, most importantly, encourage. This way, she is the leader, she is significant and I am her support.
When I have to do something important, like launch a new website or go to an important meeting, Ronit is there to help and support me, allowing me to be successful and proud.
In life, everything is up to you, you see. Feeling stuck is a choice. Why not choose differently?
If you are the homemaker and you have had enough, take a break. Find something you really want to do, even for a while, and get your partner to accommodate you. You may be surprised with his or her reaction when you suggest this.
If you are the partner with the career and you need some time off, take it. Talk to your partner about how you feel and work something out that will allow you to swap roles, even for a while.
If you are truly adventurous, consider doing something completely new together. Plan it carefully and make sure it will work before you start, but tailor each partners’ role to suit his or her skills and to give him or her ample opportunities for self expression.
Whatever you choose to do, keep a balance between your needs and the needs of your partner.
Life is there to be enjoyed!