Husband put himself first, and now wife is angry

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

April 14, 1996|By FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"The more I do for Tom, the more he demands," sobs Meredith, 30, who runs a small music school in her home.

Meredith was a 20-year-old music student, newly arrived in New York City from a small town in Idaho, when she met Tom, an enormously talented pianist who also played flute with a small, prestigious orchestra.

Romantic Tom sent flowers, wrote love letters and was an excellent critic of her technique.

Once married, Meredith found that her husband was a helpless male. Tom comes home from work, steps out of his clothes and expects them to turn up magically cleaned and pressed. He wants Meredith to fix elaborate meals every day, including homemade bread and soup. When their daughter, Elyse, now 18 months old, was born, he wouldn't think of changing a diaper, let alone walk the floor with her at 3 a.m.

"Mother was a slave to my father, and I learned that the house must look perfect and anything your husband wanted automatically took precedence over your needs," Meredith says.

A few months ago, when Tom was passed over for the position of soloist with the orchestra, he quit his job in a huff, claiming it was all political. "Since then, he's not only home all the time, he's interfering with my music school and causing me to lose students. As super-talented as Tom is, he isn't good teaching children," Meredith says.

Though she had expected him to put his energies into fixing up the handyman's special he insisted they buy, so far he hasn't picked up a hammer.

Tom, 32, doesn't know why things have soured. "Maybe I was just too preoccupied with being the man of the family," he says wistfully. "I had this tremendous desire to succeed for all of us."

He believes the problems started when Elyse was born. "She was a colicky baby, and Meredith expected me to be this super-attentive parent, but there is only so much time left in the day when you're working as hard as I was."

Tom admits he put his own career needs ahead of his wife's. He resents being blamed for the school's financial problems. "Kids dropped out because of the recession," he notes.

"Besides," he adds self-righteously, "if I helped out with the school, I thought that gave Meredith more time to be with Elyse."

Rewriting the script

"Meredith and Tom are suffering from a very unequal division of responsibility," notes Amy F. Cohen, a New York counselor. Tom put his needs ahead of his wife's on the rationale that his advancement would ensure the family's future happiness. Meredith failed to stand up to him because she had grown up expecting to be a good housewife and mother.

This exercise helped these two turn a rigid marriage into one of sharing flexibility:

* Define the problem. Meredith and Tom kept a diary of major events, conversations and arguments. After two weeks, they compared notes and found that she often described an argument as lasting a few minutes, and he reported that it had continued forhours. Seeing this on paper gave them the impetus to assess more accurately what was happening in their marriage.

* Focus on each partner's needs. Make a list of what you want your spouse to do not only in terms of the household tasks but also for emotional support.

* Set boundaries. Meredith listed the home-repair tasks she wanted Tom to do. It was up to Tom to say which he could do and when. In turn, if Tom hoped for an elaborate dinner, he could suggest it, but Meredith could say, "No, I can't handle that tonight."

* Get help. Even if you're on a tight budget, consider hiring a high school or college student to baby-sit or run errands. Or you might swap time with a neighbor, who can watch your children, and in exchange you watch hers, so you can achieve some

deferred goals.

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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