Confession: I am always tempted to start each post by addressing you as "Hey, loveys." Which is how I greet my friends, kids, and cats, and other mammals I like. So if it slips out some time, it's just because I like you.
Today's question is from Alicia:
"I would like to ask your readers for advice on how to get your spouse to be a more equal partner. I do almost everything in the house. Early in our relationship, my husband informed me that he didn't care if the house is clean and that if I care, I should clean it. And I should probably have known this did not bode well for the future, but I was 26. Now I am 51 and we have two kids. If I ask him for help, then I am nagging. I do all the dishes, almost all meals, grocery shopping, paperwork, laundry, errands, and more than half the childcare. Plus I work full time. He does fun things with the kids but I do all the schlepping to doctors, buying clothes, all the things that are not fun.
I would love to regain that youthful ardor/affection in our relationship, but first I really need him to take some of the load off my shoulders. I'm often so exhausted I feel sure at times I am going to get sick and die. We've talked about it in counseling but everything he has agreed to do he almost immediately stopped doing after about a week.
He is also incredibly resentful that we don't have enough sex and especially adventurous sex. He would like to have sex 2-3 times per week. We're lucky most weeks if we have it once. We have gone more than a month without.
The Mommy workload vs sex equation is completely messed up in our relationship.
Please help! I would love especially to hear from people who have been there and who figured out how to turn it around."
Since you've talked about it in counseling, and are in counseling, I'm going to assume that your husband realizes how hurtful this is to you.
What I'm going to say is based on the negotiation techniques I've learned in business school and in life, and is based on the terminology in the book Getting To Yes (a classic, and also a fast, chunkable read):
You need to know three things: What you really want (your "ask"), what's the least you'll accept (your "reserve"), and what your alternative is if you can't make an agreement (your "best alternative to negotiated agreement" aka "BATNA").
It feels to me like in this specific situation, your BATNA is the part you need to clarify. Right now you're just living with not having an agreement, so in some ways your BATNA is the status quo. But it doesn't sound like you want to live that way anymore. Which involves clarifying your boundaries and then making them a priority.
I was talking about boundaries and this kind of negotiation between spouses (which I never experienced in a healthy way) with my friend Wokie Nwabueze of Manifest Moxie. Wokie works with women on clarifying what they really want and then learning how to find their clear voices to ask for those things in all kinds of professional and personal situations. She said, "One of the most powerful things a woman can do for herself is to understand her boundaries. And it is not enough to simply have boundaries--you must clearly articulate them and provide quick and consistent feedback when lines are crossed. Speaking up takes courage but it is the way we teach others how we want to be treated."
And that was something I sometimes miss--the idea that enforcing our own boundaries TEACHES other people what we want and expect. So I'd say that you need to keep speaking up. And if your husband doesn't care that he's treating you in a way that you don't want to be treated every day, then you may need to decide what your BATNA really is. Or, as Wokie said, "When we get to a point when we feel like the cost we are paying or will pay exceeds the benefit, we should make a decision about whether or not to walk away. Knowing your BATNA helps us understand what our options are if we choose to walk away. Clarity equals courage and smart choices."
Readers? Have any of you been in this situation and come up with a solution you are happy with?