DEAR AMY: I have been married for 33 years. I love my husband, but I have totally enabled him — to the point where I am now feeling abused. For instance, this morning, he was in a minor car accident. Through my business relationships, I have an excellent contact in the repair business, and so I kindly took his car in, gave him mine to use in the interim and picked up the rental. I asked him to drive the rental so I could have my car back and he refused. I told him I felt used. He basically said I should get over it. Because of my family background and decades of behaving this way, I am now at the point where I feel incredibly put upon because of all of the expectations, as well as the total lack of gratitude. At this point I want to try and start pulling back from “doing everything” in our household: Making breakfast, lunch, coffee, laundry, cleaning, running the accounts, doing the taxes, etc. It is important for me to keep harmony in my house, but I also want to take care of myself. I am a successful business owner. I have a somewhat flexible schedule, which contributes to my taking on too many tasks. How can I change this?
DEAR FRUSTRATED: You sound like a nurturing and competent caretaker. Perhaps you feel disappointed when people don’t do things as well as you know you can, and so you do more, but then feel unappreciated.
I’m trying to point out that you have a big part to play in this dynamic, because in order to change it, you’re going to have to learn to back off, and not immediately jump up to volunteer your services — especially if you aren’t getting any emotional traction or reciprocation from being so generous and competent.
This morning, for instance. Did your husband ask you to solve his problem for him? Or did you know you could handle it well and volunteered because you love him and love helping him, and because helping is an important part of your identity?
Couples are supposed to help each other. Your husband needs to be given the opportunity, and the expectation, to step up and help himself, and also help you.
In order to change things at home, you’re going to have to risk your husband’s disapproval, as he struggles to adjust. (Now it’s his turn to “get over it.”)
You’ll want to be clear about the tasks you’re happy to continue doing, versus those things you’re going to stop doing. Let him get his own coffee and make his own lunch. Maintain a neutral attitude. You should make a conscious effort at the start not to volunteer your services to take on any task that doesn’t have to do directly with you, and to be more intentional about your own behavior. When you change, even a little bit, people around you will change, too.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I were married last summer. We received many generous gifts. One of my friends, though, did not give us a gift. She has mentioned several times that she “still owes us a gift.” I am over it and am not risking a friendship over something like this. My husband, however, jokes about it frequently. Whenever I have plans with her, he says, “Make sure she pays, as she owes us a wedding gift.” Amy, his sister and her family also did not give us a gift, nor did one of his friends, and yet he never mentions them. I’d love to reply, “Well, your sister and your friend also owe us gifts,” but I know that would be petty. How can I get over this, and help my husband let it go, as well?
DEAR UNGIFTED: Your husband is the one who keeps this going by making these snide comments.
You should finish it. Remind him that there are people in his world who also didn’t give a wedding gift, but at this point it is petty and unkind to continue to bring it up. Tell him you’re over it, and it would be nice if he would get over it, too.
DEAR AMY: I was disgusted by the letter from “Atheist Mom and Dad,” as well as your response. It was quite obvious from your sympathetic response that you are an atheist, too.
DEAR FAITHFUL: Don’t tell my Sunday school class; they’d be quite surprised.