And Helping Couples Feel The Love Between Them Again.
On my way home from the office this week, I found myself listening to our local NPR station and was captivated by the conversation they were having. This particular hour was dedicated to Think with Krys Boyd, where they were discussing the different experiences men and women have regarding childcare responsibilities, inequities of distribution of labor, how these dynamics impact the quality of the couple's relationship and how children learn about the value of men and women in our society. I encourage everyone to listen to the entire interview.
You can listen by clicking on the link below.
As I listened to this podcast on my drive home, I realized 2 of the 4 couples that I had seen that day were working to address this very issue. They were working hard to understand one another's experience, care for ways they had unknowingly hurt one another's feelings, and figure out how to make their relationship work and stay connected given all they had on their plates. Feeling like life and responsibilities aren't evenly distributed is one of the main catalysts for tension in a relationship and a fierce culprit in eroding feelings of love and affection between even the most passionate partners. I like this interview because it put into words the experiences of these couples and highlighted some of the barriers to creating change. What I didn't like was that the segment did not provide a lot of solutions or hope for change if you're not satisfied with the current division of labor in your relationship. Below are some tips to start making adjustments in your relationship that will lead to you and your partner feeling more understood, more loved and to make sure we provide our children a blueprint of family life that will make their adult relationships a little easier.
1.) Listen to the podcast by clicking here. Seriously, do it. And I would put money on it that you'll have some emotional reaction to it, either feeling validated or defensive or confused or maybe even a little mad. Whatever you're experiencing, send the link to your partner and then ask to talk about it. Even just asking them, "What parts resonated with you? Where do you feel we do this well? Where can we make some adjustments?"
2.) While sharing with one another your individual experiences, practice expressing compassion for one another's experience. Gender issues are hard for women as well as men in different ways, and usually each person feels more constrained then their partner understands.
3.) Think for yourself. The explanation of "this is what I saw growing up" just isn't good enough. It makes sense this a default, but it's very common to marry someone who grew up in a different family dynamic or someone who wants something different. You're going to need to be creative and flexible and work together to figure out how each person in the family will feel loved and valued. It doesn't matter whether you choose a more traditional model of family (one parent works outside the home/other parent works inside the home) or a more modern/egalitarian model of family (both parents work outside the home/both help with childcare and household responsibilities). What really matters is that you've discussed this and make a conscious decision that aligns with your desires and your values.
4.) If you can afford it, outsource. Outsourcing certain responsibilities of cleaning/childcare/lawn-care/etc. can be hard on the pocketbook, but if you can financially manage it, it can be a small part of creating a greater sense of equity, freedom and respect between partners. You may also consider exploring a barter system with others who are likely in a similar situation as you and could use the mutual support.
5.) Make the implicit explicit. So much of family dynamics is unspoken. You feel it, you know it, but no one really says it. From who is responsible for deciding on Christmas presents, to coordinating family outings, to lunches to grocery runs, it's easy to just get in a groove about the distribution of labor, and never talk about it. So again, start talking explicitly about this and be open to switching things up. In long-term healthy relationships, this is an ongoing conversation where you continue to course correct. Be gracious with one another, be kind and be clear about what adjustments you want. If you know there are specific things you want, you have a responsibility to speak up and give your partner the opportunity to grow with you.
Creating increased equity between partners, being flexible with one another and growing together in creating a family life that works for all is the work of falling in love again and staying in love.