“Resentment is like building a wall brick by brick. Eventually, it gets too high to climb over.”
A few years ago, I made some pretty big changes in my life for the better. I lost weight, I got my finances in order and in doing so I became a happier person. Everything is great right? All the terrible habits and poor life choices I had made for so many years have been solved or, so I thought. You can lose 100lbs in year. You can get on a budget immediately and make great strides in tackling debt in a short amount of time. What about the resentment that builds up around you, in the loved ones that supported you for years while you were lazy, “figuring things out”, and/or generally inconsiderate?
A female friend of mine (we’ll refer to as Amy) who has lived with this resentment shared an article with me (https://www.scarymommy.com/women-do-most-emotional-labor-family/)that would help me understand what my wife was living with for so long. It refers to the emotional labor of women managing the household, knowing the details about the kids, often being a wage earner and only receiving assistance from the husband when specifically asking for it.
I immediately read the article. With each passing paragraph I kept saying to myself, “Ok, this is where I will be different…” until I finished. It was me. It was eerily similar to the relationship my wife and I have. The worst part; despite all the improvements I had made, it was still apropos. I had the following internal dialogue, “Shit, I don’t know anything about Olivia’s (our 4-year-old daughter) daily routine. Do I even know what size clothes she wears? It’s 4T right? It’s her age + T, but when does that stop? When she is 13? I’d better ask. It’s better to look stupid now and start making progress than otherwise.”
I shared the article with Jess and awaited her response. Deadpan, “Yup that’s pretty much all right”. I sheepishly asked what size clothes Olivia wears. “4T, but also extra small childrens because the pants are a little bit longer than 4T.” Her explanation demonstrated the nuances of the household I wasn’t even aware existed but were a daily facet of life for her. “How bad is the resentment?” I asked. “It’s built up over 13 years, it’s going to take a while for it to go away if it ever does”.
It’s not always the obvious things that can lead to separation and divorce: drugs, alcohol, infidelity, or your Chinese bound foot fetish. Resentment from emotional labor discrepancies can build the foundation.
Amy; a single mother of two who runs her own business, describes her experiences as both manager of the household and being the main wage-earner, “Resentment is like building a wall brick by brick. Eventually,it gets too high to climb over.” She continues, “I think it’s very hard when one partner is incredibly focused, and one isn’t. I figured out a long time what I wanted for a career. It obviously evolved tremendously but I’ve been in the same line of work since I was 21. Is that rare? Maybe. I’m not sure but you support someone so long while they are flailing until you run out support and patience for it…[I wanted him] to simply contribute. Instead of always being asked to do A,B,C,D; how about you simply do it.”
For years my beautiful, understanding and patient wife would handle the vast majority of the household affairs while also being the main bread winner. She knew well before college that she wanted to be a physical therapist and spent her time at West Virginia University studiously working toward that career which she now holds. By contrast, I studiously worked toward becoming the only 2x Natty Cup winner in beer pong.
It’s easy now to look back and see were the resentment begins and builds. I can distinctly remember the arguments and my subsequent defenses: you’re crazy, you’re overreacting, you have ridiculous standards, what’s the big deal.
What becomes less obvious is when you stop hearing the complaints. It’s not that she realized she was wrong; it’s that she has likely given up. I regret the way I acted for 10+years. Why couldn’t I have treated her better? At very least I could have looked at it the same way as I would handle a disgruntled client. You may not agree with why they are disgruntled up front, but it’s important to take the time to figure out why that perspective was formed in the first place rather than throwing out ludicrous defenses.
These scenarios are as pervasive as they are reinforced by movies and television shows we watch. The wife and mother is always organized while the husband and father is lazy and carefree. The other night Splitting Up Together was on TV. In it the male and female protagonists are splitting up because of this emotional labor discrepancy. In this particular episode they attempt to work on their relationship by taking a trip together without the kids. The female lead gets upset when things at the hotel aren’t aren’t working and amenities weren’t as advertised. The male isn’t bothered by the resort so much as he is bothered by his wife being upset about it. They then attempt to portray her uptightness as a flaw equivalent to his lackadaisical attitude and its utter nonsense. She is upset because she put all the work into planning and organizing the trip itself and making sure everything was set in the household before leaving. The male didn’t plan anything, he didn’t invest any time nor emotional labor which allows him the convenience of not caring when things aren’t perfect. Yet the viewer is meant to see these two as equals.
In the end it’s going to take focus and work. It’s the hardest kind too; work without any kind of immediate payoff. When controlling your diet, you can see progress in the mirror and on the scale each week. When controlling your finances, you can see your debts decrease and your savings increase. Resentment? You don’t get a scorecard for that. You don’t get 3 points for vacuuming the stairs without being asked. In fact the idea of keeping track of it gives the impression that you need a trophy for doing the things you should have already been doing. You do need to communicate, be aware, and then shut up and do your part.
Author: David MatthewsI started this site as a way of discussing what I’ve learned about the relationship between personal finances and physical fitness. What I have learned allowed me to lose 50lbs and improve my credit score 150 points in the same year and become a happier person. Husband. Father. West Virginia University Grad. Licensed Insurance and Financial Professional. Sports fan (Philadelphia, WVU, and Manchester City). I’m also a huge nerd (like Magic: The Gathering huge)