For the first decade or so of marriage, my mind swirled with these same thoughts. My husband was the love of my life, my soulmate. But he wasn’t an equal partner. Instead, I felt like I was doing everything: running our finances, managing our house, and doing all those hard-to-see tasks of emotional labor.
This state of affairs filled me with resentment. I started to feel like our family taskmaster. Each day, I would bark out instructions to my husband. “Please unload the dishwasher.” “You need to call the insurance company.” “When are you ever going to handle that basket of clean laundry that’s been sitting in our closet for the last week?”
In my mind, the dynamic was clear. I was doing everything. He was doing nothing. And it was his fault.
Then, one day, I asked myself two questions that blew my mind: “How am I participating in creating this dynamic?” I wondered. “And how am I committed to having an under-contributing husband?”
This question turned out to be an invitation to see our lives from a new perspective – to let go of my story that I was the victim here and my husband was the clear villain. Most important, it helped me see that there was something in me, keeping my husband from becoming fully engaged in our life: my desire for control.
Let me explain. Take the example of our finances. Since the early days of our marriage, I took on responsibility for paying the credit card, reconciling bank statements, managing our money, and making sure our taxes were submitted on time.
After spending hours doing family finances, while my husband went for a hike or watched a football game with friends, I often felt angry and irritated. I felt like I was doing everything and that wasn’t fair.
But if I was honest with myself, I also wasn’t willing to cede control of the family books. Deep down, I actually really liked knowing how every penny was spent. I also wasn’t sure my husband would bring the same organization and attention to detail to our finances. In short, I wanted help, but not enough to surrender control.
The result? Not surprisingly, everything stayed the same. I did our finances. I resented my husband. He remained unengaged.
That is, until one day, I summoned up the courage to let go of control over the family finances. I sat down with my husband and asked him for help. I did it from a place of love rather than anger. With this new approach, he could hear me. And it turned out that my story about him wasn’t totally accurate. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help me. He just didn’t know how.
We then sat down for several hours as I transferred all of my family finance knowledge. At first, he dropped a few balls and made some errors. He didn’t do it perfectly. I worried that I was making a mistake.
But then, something amazing happened. He not only got good at it, he started to enjoy this new role. He began creating new and more sophisticated ways of tracking our spending and investments.
It was terrifying to let go of control like this. It was so difficult for me. And yet it finally got my husband engaged – something that had never happened before.
It was seven years ago when we made this switch. I haven’t paid a credit card bill since. My husband now manages all of our finances, and this pattern has expanded to him managing a number of other major areas of our life. I now have an equal partner. We are a team.
Looking back, the big insight is this: my desire for control prevented me from having a true partner. For things to change, it took me wanting help badly enough that I was willing to let go of control.
How about you? When you complain about having an under-contributing partner, take a closer look. What are the tasks, responsibilities, or roles you’ve been scared to surrender? Where are you clinging to control?
As we explain in our new book, “The 80/80 Marriage,” it’s a question worth asking, because it’s a question that might just change your life.