I’m Doing Everything … I Feel Stuck
For many people, home is not a restful place. There are things to be done and children to be taken care of and that’s on top of what needs to happen outside the home. The weight of life (not only their own, but everyone they care about) seems to be resting squarely on these people’s shoulders. They are the ones responsible for holding everything together and they do it without asking anything in return. They put on their “everything is fine face” and carry on unacknowledged, unthanked, and unnoticed. Physical responsibilities aren’t the only thing. The emotional well-being of those they care about also rests on them. Inside, they want more, they know that this grind is sucking the life out of them and they can’t do this forever, but what is the alternative? They feel stuck … trapped.
It’s an Epidemic
Even if you aren’t this person, you know them, you may even be living with this person. In the last month, I’ve read multiple articles inspired by this person.* Even former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama has opened up about her similar experiences in marriage. This is a universal conversation.
These stories don’t surprise me. They match up with the stories I’ve heard from women and men in therapy for years. Usually the person who identifies most is a woman, but if you are a man reading this and nodding your head, you are not alone. Something about the way we do relationships encourages this dynamic, especially in marriages. One person keeps taking on more and more responsibility and the other keeps living life oblivious to the effort their partner is putting out to keep things from falling apart.
Why Does It Happen?
At the heart of this dynamic is two personalities** caught in a negative feedback loop:
The Fixer: They keep all the wheels on the bus. They want to keep everything functioning, even if that means doing it all themselves.
The Builder: They are always trying new things. They don’t just want to keep the wheels on the bus, they want to find the best bus possible. Builders are dreamers and visionaries and can be very single-minded.
At first, the fixer and the builder feed off of each other. They work on projects they both care about and are invested in, but that positive feedback loop turns negative at some point. Either the builder keeps building past what the fixer can comfortably keep operating or the builder and fixer start to have different priorities. In either situation, the result is that the fixer becomes overloaded and the builder continues on oblivious. Of course, all of this has been happening in the background with no conversation about it.
What Can I Do?
If you are reading along and nodding your head, chances are you are the fixer in your relationship. You’re probably burned out and frustrated. I’m going to ask you to do something very hard. Let something break. Of course, don’t let the kids starve or get run over by a bus, but maybe leave the dishes unwashed, let the laundry pile up, or leave the toys where they lay. See what happens. The next thing is to start a conversation. Use the time you are saving to ask yourself “What are my priorities, what do I value, and what do I want out of life?“, then share that with your partner. The hardest part is giving your partner the benefit of the doubt … they might actually care, but were oblivious.
If you are the builder reading this, I’m going to ask you to do something hard as well. Take time to make sure you are still on the same page as your partner. Don’t make assumptions. Both of you have grown and changed. There’s a big chance that your goals, priorities, hopes, and dreams have drifted apart over the years. Your job is to work as hard as you can to make sure your priorities and those of your partner are aligned. Your partner is an amazing, behind the scenes, force for your success. Please honor the work they do and be open to shifting the status quo so that your relationship is lifegiving and exciting for both of you.
It’s Worth It
That conversation usually isn’t easy. By the time you notice something is up, the hurt, frustration, and anxiety are probably pretty high. That’s why many couples avoid having it for way too long. When you need to have this kind of conversation as a couple, I would love to walk through it with you. It’ll be hard, but totally worth it as you figure out how to adjust your relationship so both of you thrive. The sum is greater than the parts when you are moving in the same direction and supporting one another. Get in touch by using this link and schedule a free consultation where we can discuss what that might look like.
* These articles inspired this post:
- Why Your Wife is Stressed Out (Spoiler Alert: It Might Be You) – Huffington Post
- I’m a Great Cook. Now That I’m Divorced, I’m Never Making Dinner for a Man Again – Glamour
- Various articles regarding Michelle Obama’s tour promoting her book, “Becoming”
** Each person has both a Builder and a Fixer side. One just comes out more strongly than the other at times. Interestingly, couples can experience these negative feedback loops with each partner flipping between builder and fixer roles in different parts of life.