No this will not be a post about politics or any current world events that would make any sane thinking person to the conclusion that the world has lost it's collective mind. No...the loss of sanity I would like to talk about today is much closer to home. Finding the balance of power within your relationship....be that married, dating, domestically partnered, or any combination there of.....dividing up responsibilities such as who stays home, who pays the bills, who cleans what, who gets the kids to school can be more than a little crazy making....and a constant source of relationship negotiation.
Being both Gay and a stay at home dad, I think a lot of people may get a skewed idea that gay couples struggle both more and less than others do in this area. There are those who are still so hidebound in their notion of gender roles that anyone who stays home gets labeled as "the mom", with the working parent as "the dad"...and then, on the other end of the spectrum are the people who's only exposure to gay couples is on TV. To them we are all independently wealthy enough to afford nannies, have immaculate homes, and dress our whole family like an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, all the while maintaining our perfect gym bodies. Yeah, right....as if...my tummy begs to differ.
Nope, we struggle the same as the next couple does with all the same issues as any other couple and being two men or two women does not alter the dynamics of coupledom much. Which is probably why one of the fights I am most likely to have with my husband is about "who" did "what" all day(or did not get done)....and what we think we are entitled to as a result. This can spark the flames of argument like nothing else.
Sound like a recipe for disaster? Is it a sign of relationship problems?....pour yourself a cup'o joe and lets discuss...
There are many places in which couples work out power in a relationship...though we may not always call it a power struggle, or recognize it as that. For instance, is the person who cleans the bathroom the one who always makes the mess, or the person who stays as home? What about who pays the bills?...is it always the person who makes the money who is the person who writes the checks or the person who understands the budget?....I know that it was a struggle for me to have to ask, to spend money from our account rather than see us overdrawn. It was hard to get used to not having the freedom and sense of independence to just do that. But when its all of us living off one income, I have to bury my ego issues and just check in first.
Issues like these are hashed out daily by couples in all stages of a relationship. Yet sometimes, you matter how clearly we negotiate our rules, we still come to conflict over simple, small acts, that when done(or not done) often enough, send us into arguments that expose the push/pull of negotiating power in a relationship.
Now, I am not a psychologist, nor a relationship councilor....I am not offering advice. Through this blog I am trying to work out issues that I don't have answers for yet myself...but I hope that we can talk about it...and maybe even laugh about it. At least I hope so...or I'm sleeping in the dog house tonight.
Being the stay-at-home parent, I have some abilities to organize my day that my husband, who works, does not have. I have no boss, sitting over my shoulder, telling me what to do and when to do it. That means that I have to be responsible for maintaining the house, monitoring my children's health and school progress, take care of pet issues, and somewhere in there maintain myself. If I want to, I can play video games all day...but having that ability comes with the responsibility of not abusing it. The laundry still needs to be done, the kids need homework help, the dog now needs an emergency vet, there are meals to cook....the needs of an average home are always ongoing and there is no clocking off or end of shift.
On the other hand...My husband has a job that is both mentally and physically stressful, as well as being dangerous. Being in law enforcement means that you have to have a heightened sense of danger for most of your day. He also has to deal with bosses and personalities that can sometimes test a saint. also, having to drive to and from work in some of the worst traffic on the planet one hour both ways adds to the frustrations of the day. This means that he can come home tired and cranky and just want to sit down and stare at something until his body relaxes and his brain unwinds...the last thing he want to deal with the issues of the home.
Both of our days can be very different, and we approach each other at the end of day from the point of view of two very different experiences. He can see something that didn't get cleaned or an appointment that didn't get made and feel like he now has to do it...sending him into cranky mode. I see that not only has my husband come home...but that I am not the only parent in the house anymore and I am welcoming the helping hand he represents. If something isn't done that should be, perhaps I needed the reminder...maybe even a bunch...but that doesn't mean I wanted it to be your job. And off we go to the power struggle Olympics...
Not all power struggles are about control...and I think many of us would readily say that we have no desire to control our significant others. More often than not, in our own arguments, what I notice in myself are issues of identity. For example..
Sometimes the fight may be about a surface issue...but what we may really be arguing is how we are navigating living a life as a couple and making decisions together that we used be make on our own. We want to keep some control so we do not feel like "I" is dissolving into "we"...so we resist on that surface issue not understanding whats really freaking us out. Who am I within this team?...you never know till you trust enough to find out....
The second and biggest part of power struggles in our house has to do with not feeling seen and appreciated. The person who works feels like they are sacrificing their time to provide for the family....the other person feels like their contributions to the home as a stay-at-home parent are not seen, nor appreciated because the other person sees only the things that aren't done and not the many things that are. Like the clean bathroom that is dirtied up five minutes later...or the nearly invisible contribution raising smart, well rounded, and compassionate kids. Both sides end up feeling not seen, under appreciated...and wondering how the other person would do with a week in their shoes. It's a perfect recipe for resentment to breed...and breed it does until it sparks an argument and both sides are too entrenched in their viewpoints to see it from the outside.
Sound familiar?....it plays out in homes throughout the nation, straight or gay.
When it happens to us, it can be hard sometimes to deal with that initial flash of anger. Even more difficult still to do the one thing that is most needed, which is to talk about it...and even more important to listen with an open mind. Getting past all my, "he can't talk to me that ways!"....and the, "he's gone all day, how does he understand what my day is like!" thoughts that are weapons in the battle for power in the relationship. You don't want to be the one who's always wrong....the one who loses the fight...because it feels like losing who you are to someone else's will. Those are all the angry thoughts that pass through our minds before we are clear headed enough to look at it all from the outside and admit our part in what ever occurred.
It can be supremely challenging to lay down my verbal arms and just see a man who is tired from his drive home....or resentful of my day because he would want so bad to be at home too. It's harder still to say when I messed up, and not let that admission fuel judgement...even from myself. Anger at others can just as easily be turned back on ourselves and it's just as destructive.
And so we learn to work it out one step at a time. Yet you can't help but ask yourself, is this balance of power thing just a phase all couples go through and eventually leave?....or is it something that you revisit again and again as new balance is needed? Is this just what it takes for two people to negotiate our way through raising kids and forging a life together?
I don't have an answer for that yet. All that I do know is that the push/pull between us has taught me a lot about myself, a lot about him, and a great deal about relationship itself. This dynamic of striking sparks off each other has helped us to grow in ways that we didn't expect and weren't always comfortable at the time....arguments seldom are.
I know now, that I can't just walk away from an argument, that resolves nothing and makes it last longer. I know that I have certain strengths and weaknesses as a parent that I was not aware of before. I know that I absolutely suck at multitasking. I know that hard feelings come and go in a relationship but don't define that relationship. I know my husband on a deeper level because(not in spite of) the fights we have had. I also know that fights don't mean by themselves mean danger to the relationship. To some degree, they are normal and my marriage has been tested by them enough to know that they come and go. These examples, among many others too numerous to list, are how the small struggles for power have helped me to grow....so even though I may have been mad as hell at the time, I couldn't always see how I was getting a necessary lesson either....;Not that I would have cared at the time either.
It needs to be said that this post is meant to talk about an issue that is only one small facet of our lives. It is a reality of coupled life...you just have to work these issues out again and again. I am not meaning to say that we fight all the time or that either of us is unhappy. My husband is my best friend and I trust that we are safe enough with each other to be able to express those feelings....let alone to share them in this way.
So I open up the conversation to all of you. We all experience it at one time or another. It may be over big issues or small, but we all fall prey to power struggles with the people we have chosen to walk through life with. One...how do you resolve them? And two.....what have you learned over time?
I know that I am still growing. I also know, that no matter how much we may have struggled over these issues over the course of our relationship, he is still my best friend and there is no one I would rather struggle with. Perhaps that is the next stage of love?...letting it mature enough that none of those struggles matter anymore? Now it's your turn....you tell me how you work it out...
Until next time dear readers...