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The Big Change

Sarah Chana Radcliffe

Spelling things out clears clouds of resentment

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Rivkie does all the cooking — even though she holds down a full-time job and is the mother of three children under the age of five. Izzy holds down a full-time job, is the father of the same three children, but he doesn’t do any of the cooking. Rivkie’s resentment spills out in one way or another almost every evening. This is a typical conversation that occurred minutes after they got home from work:

Rivkie: Izzie, I’ve got to get dinner going — can you please help me chop the vegetables?

Izzy: I’ve got to make a quick call. Please start without me.

Rivkie: Start without you? You mean “do it yourself” don’t you? You know you’re not going to show up in the kitchen until I’ve done everything!

Izzy: I don’t have time for this. I told you I have to make a call and the guy will be gone in five minutes. Do the whole thing without me if that makes you happy.

Izzy disappears to his den. For a half hour. After which dinner is prepared and hissing away in the Instant Pot. He shows up “to help” but somehow, that doesn’t turn out very well. The two of them have a big argument, the theme of which is “I work harder than you.”

Here’s a snippet from that conversation:

Rivkie: It’s totally unfair that I have to come home, settle the kids, and make dinner every night. You need to help out more. I can’t do everything myself!

Izzie: Since when do you do everything yourself? Don’t I do the dishes every night? Don’t I give the kids a bath? Don’t I do all the laundry? And don’t I clean the bathrooms and kitchen twice a week? You just don’t appreciate anything.

Rivkie: Don’t pat yourself on the back so much. Who does all the shopping and unpacking? Who irons your shirts? Who vacuums this place? Who makes lunches for the kids every morning?

Izzie: If you want to get like that, then fine! Tell me, who takes the kids to daycare? Who gives them breakfast? Do YOU go to shul three times a day? Do YOU manage the finances? Do YOU take care of the repairs and the garbage and the outside of the house? I do plenty around here and I’m tired of hearing I don’t do enough!

This is a rather odd conversation. We can see that both husband and wife are working very hard. Why, then, is Rivkie so upset that Izzy isn’t helping out with dinner?


Unspoken Expectations

If Rivkie and Izzie were to sit down and tally up all their responsibilities, they would, in fact, see that they are contributing pretty equally. Even though Rivkie makes dinner every night, she never has to deal with laundry or floor-washing or a bunch of other tasks. Why does she feel so hard done by? Is she just ungrateful, like her husband suggests?

The fact is that this couple never agreed on who would do what. It turned out that Rivkie dislikes cooking but has somehow found herself responsible for making meals six days a week, 52 weeks a year, year in and year out. Now she resents her husband even though he’s helping with plenty of other tasks. In fact, they had both fallen into doing the jobs they’re doing rather accidentally, without ever officially talking about the division of labor. Due to this lack of clear consensus, Rivkie ended up feeling she was unfairly put upon with a disliked task she’s solely responsible for.

This couple can solve their problem by having a sit-down discussion about the various tasks that need to be done and by freshly dividing up those tasks. Although the new arrangement might end up looking very similar to the old one, it could be modified to remedy the onerous meal issue. Perhaps Izzy will end up making two meals a week, while Rivkie ends up washing dishes on those nights. Whatever they decide, they’ll be able to remove the conflict that often arises from working on assumptions rather than on agreements.

Making assumptions and developing expectations happens naturally in marriage. When the same argument occurs again and again, it’s time to sit down to make the implicit explicit. Clarity has an uncanny way of reducing conflict.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 639)

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