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Do you compete with, or complement, your spouse?

Over the years, a couple of stay-at-home mums have told me that they can’t wait to get back to work to ‘show’ their husbands. Over the years while they had been at home burping and changing babies and cleaning after and feeding the rest of the household, they felt their economic power dwindle and their voice in the home lessened. As a result they often can’t wait to get back into the workplace once baby is a little older and earn their own money so they can ‘show’ hubby and make their own purchases.

Competing in marriage

The desire to ‘show’ hubby has a lot packed behind it. When a woman says she wants to ‘show’ her hubby that she can make money too, she’s really saying she’s been hurt, feels left out of decision making and wants to show him that she’s valuable and can’t be relegated. She really should say this to hubby and talk about it; but she doesn’t, or feels she can’t, or won’t because he won’t listen. So she goes out to work, makes her own money and pushes for promotion. And instead of complementing, couples start competing. They could complement each other - by harnessing the new possibilities open to them because of their joint earning power or by making strategic choices about who shouldn't work for family reasons. But they don’t because they are in an unspoken competition. The man wants to show that he’s the man and the woman wants to show that today a woman can succeed just as well in a man’s world. You know you are competing with your spouse when these questions play on your mind - who makes the most money or who’s job is more important or prestigious?

It goes without saying, that when theres competition between two people who should be complementing each other - the scene for contention is set. When someone has to stay home because a child is ill, a battle ensues when wifey is asked to stay at home - ‘Is her job less important than his?’, she thinks. But it’s not really about the job, she’s really saying, ‘Am I less valuable than you in this set up?’ Many times the things we fight about as couples have not been properly named.

When left unchecked, each partner retreats into their own corner - making independent financial decisions, accepting new positions and over time even new jobs without consulting each other. They can’t share weaknesses, fears, failures or anxieties with each other, because the other person is a competitor. Intimacy on all levels ( emotional, sexual and spiritual) is weakened as a result.

A turnaround is only possible when such a couple are able to name the real issue they are dealing with - not jobs and earning power but value and their place in the marriage. When a couple are able to find ways to make each other feel valued and give each other a significant voice in the marriage regardless of their work status - they can stop competing and begin to complement each other.

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