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Husband "Takes Off" Every Weekend

QUESTION: My husband and I have a 3 month old and a five year old. We both work 40 hours per week and have weekends off. It seems that every weekend my husband takes off, not even asking if I mind staying with the kids while he does things. Now he wants to go on two out-of-town trips, two weekends in a row, that we really can't afford. I'm not a good communicator and have been keeping it all inside. I don't want to seem like "that" kind of wife, and I don't want to start a fight. How do I bring up the subject and let him know how I feel?

ANSWER: Marriage is a "quid pro quo" meaning a contract in legal terms which offers your partner fairness in what is perceived as the "give and take" of your relationship. The dissatisfaction following the birth of your second child is a sign that your partnership needs to be reviewed and updated.

Your current difficulties are in part caused by lack of perspective on what creates long term happiness in marriage and family relationships. Develop teamwork to address the tremendous workload of this stage in your family's development. You have a three month old and a five year old and both of you work outside of the home 40 hours per week. Your husband's apparent selfishness may be caused in part by deprivation, based on the work and involvement that parenting two children creates, and lack of long term perspective. But this is no excuse for treating you as if you are not also in the same boat!

You and your husband have created a relationship that you now feel is not meeting your needs. It is your job to express that you feel your marriage and family roles are not fair to you, and it is his job to listen and be concerned for your experience in the family!

Do not blame your husband for your "unhappiness". Instead, take responsibility for communicating your needs. Make positive suggestions to him for what you believe would make you happier rather than merely complaining. Women are raised culturally to be the caretakers for the emotional well-being of family members. Perhaps you are ineffective in your communication, partly because you both accept and resent this cultural role. What about your happiness? You, too are a member of the family. Your happiness and well-being are critical to the health of your entire family system. If you truly believe you are entitled to consideration, your communication will come from a place of power rather than accusation.

Women often undercut themselves by "complaining" instead of stating their requirements in a relationship. The unconscious wish is for others to meet needs without asking! This is often a result of being caught in the double bind of cultural messages which disparage women for expressing their needs directly. If a man is angry he is defined as assertive. If a woman expresses anger she is labeled a "-itch" (or "that kind of wife".) Rest assured that your needs, expressed clearly are well within your rights. Do not fall prey to loss of self-esteem because you are a woman who expresses your needs directly. But do not expect your partner to read you mind.

Perhaps when you only had one child, you were content enough with the satisfaction you felt in your role in the family. Maybe you enjoyed being the primary nurturer which suited your husband in some way that allowed him his "freedom" on weekends. Or maybe he was more involved with fathering his first child because it was a new experience.

Whatever the reasons, they are no longer valid for you. Organizational change that allows you to feel valued, rather than used by your husband, is necessary. Do not inhibit your feelings for fear of being "that kind of wife". After all, he too might become "that kind of wife" if he felt it was taken for granted that he stayed home with the children on weekends after a full week's work, while you scheduled trips away with friends that depleted the family income! Perhaps he will understand that you, too, need a "wife" in traditional terms. However the two of you do not even have the traditional relationship. The real key to family happiness is teamwork. You have added a new member to the family. This requires a new organization of your system. Perhaps you are feeling the pangs of growth!

Talk with your husband about what your vision of a family is about. What kinds of things can the two of you compromise upon during this very stressful phase of your family's development? Can you see the kind of relationships you want to have with your children in the years to come? With each other? Take time to regain perspective on where you are in the family life cycle. The deprivation you experience as parents will lessen if you see the value of your long term goals for family relationships. Negotiate to share the very little free time that is available right now. Perhaps your husband could take the five year old with him on a weekend trip and/or family trips could also be an option for "getting away". Discuss the allocation of the precious resources of money and time with the goal of maximizing everyone's enjoyment.

Both of you made the decision to become parents. Let your husband know that you are not the destroyer of his freedom, but a partner on a long voyage the two of you embarked on together. Neither one of you can change the fact of the life choices you made together. Give up being your husband's "Santa Claus". You will only resent him for it, and blame him for your unhappiness. If you continue to be unable to discuss the parameters of your marriage or to consider changes necessary for your joint happiness, consult a marriage counselor. The sooner you reorganize, the less chance there is that resentment will sabotage your marriage!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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