H usbands and wives share a mission and a life, working together side by side to achieve their mutual goals. Or so one would think.

“My husband has a lot more freedom than I do. He just assumes that I’ll stay home every night looking after the kids while he does whatever he has to do. He goes to meet clients for dinner, goes to the gym to exercise, stays late to finish work at the office, and of course, learns and davens.

“Whenever he explains to me why he can’t be home till late, it makes sense, but what doesn’t make sense is how I ended up being single-handedly responsible for the kids 24 hours a day! Why does my husband have a built-in babysitter, but if I want to go out, I have to hire and pay someone? Why does he get to announce, ‘I won’t be home till 11 tonight,’ but if I need him to look after the kids so I can go out to a shiur one evening, I need to make elaborate arrangements a week in advance?”

Why indeed?

Divergent Paths

Couples don’t always start off living separate lifestyles. Very often, though, the birth of the first baby brings a woman home. Even if she continues to work or study part- or full-time, she tends to want to spend as much time as possible with her infant. She’s also more likely to be physically exhausted and less inclined to do more activities out of the house, especially at the end of the day.

As she has more and more children, these factors multiply so that it may become “natural” for her to be a homebody tending to the needs of her family. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, it’s taken for granted by both spouses that “Mom is always home,” and Dad is the one who comes and goes.

Daily Balance

Not only do Mom and Dad begin to diverge on the freedom front, but they also begin to develop different lifestyles. Very often, Mom is constantly working. At work she’s organizing car-pool pickups and dentist appointments; at home, she’s scheduling meetings and finishing assignments.

The one ball that gets consistently dropped is the one with her own name on it. There’s no downtime. If Mom does decide to go out in the evening, she’ll often come home to a houseful of youngsters who were supposed to be in bed hours ago but who are now having snacks, making messes, and waiting for stories. There might be dishes waiting, along with other tasks that got shelved for her “special evening out.” It would have been easier for her to stay home.

“When Danny comes home from one of his trips, I’m usually in a rotten mood. I’ve just spent days managing the household on my own. The kids are always wilder when he’s gone and I’ve got to do extra tasks and more errands.

“He comes into the house all happy and gift-laden and I feel like throwing the baby at him. I know it isn’t totally his fault that I’m overworked and miserable, and he’s just trying to support the family. But I resent the fact that he enjoys life so much in the process.”

Whether he’s flying business class, golfing with clients, or schmoozing after shul, a man often attains a bit of balance in his lifestyle — balance that his wife may lack.

Finding the Cure

A large part of the cure for unparallel lives is understanding. Usually, a woman values what she’s doing and doesn’t want to do it differently. What she wants is for her husband to understand the difference between her life and his and to provide useful, real relief on occasion.

She doesn’t want him to tell her that she can have more fun if she wants. She wants him to appreciate and value her efforts. She wants him to ask how he can help, be sensitive to how she feels when he comes home from an enjoyable activity, and find ways to step up to the plate on a regular basis so that she can relax however she wants to — in or out of the house — while he takes over. She wants him to minimize absences and maximize participation on the family front and not act like he can exit whenever he pleases.

When he does this, she’ll be a lot happier — and their relationship will flourish accordingly. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 555)