Podcast: Marriage and resentment

Today’s Best of Both Worlds episode covers the hot topic of marriage and resentment. A listener wrote in describing her family situation, which has some similarities to what Sarah and I both experience. Her husband works longer and less flexible hours than she does. She understands that, but she cares about her career too, and she occasionally feels like she’s running the home front while her husband works. Which is not what she signed up for! So how do you manage those occasional feelings of resentment?

It’s a good question. We started this episode as marriage therapists will often have people do, by describing how we first met our husbands. In the throes of early love, we are more inclined to be generous to people. This is a mental state that is then helpful for analyzing current situations.

I don’t think either of us have 100 percent sorted this out. But there are a few things that can help.

Make sure you get what you need. What makes life feel good for you? Sarah described thinking through the weekends when she covers her husband’s call, and making sure that she got in (for example) two workouts, a nap, some reading time, and a social occasion. One is less inclined toward resentment when there are positive things going on. It’s less “woe is me” and more “hey, I’m having fun going out with my friends; I’m sorry my husband is missing this because of work.”

Spend to get to 50-50. We now have evening childcare because I was tired of handling so many evenings by myself when my husband traveled. I still do a lot of childcare in the evenings, but now there’s almost always an extra set of hands. I don’t feel guilty about it at all. I’m still around! I’m not outsourcing me, I’m outsourcing my husband’s half of all this. Extra help costs money, but if one party is working long hours or traveling, hopefully their compensation is commensurate with those extra duties. If not, that is a different discussion, but somewhat outside the scope of what we covered in this episode.

Communicate. We discussed Sarah’s “household summit,” in which she and her husband discuss plans and parenting decisions and such. Other people can’t read our minds, and if issues are approached in a non-accusatory manner, sometimes both parties can brainstorm good solutions.

Nurture the relationship. Anything that helps keep that spark of early love can reduce the resentment factor. So plan in date nights, or date weekends, and make sure to keep the physical aspect of the relationship going. As frequently as possible!

We welcome any other strategies for reducing the resentment factor. Also, a surprising number of our new episodes are now based on listener questions, so please keep those coming!

22 thoughts on “Podcast: Marriage and resentment

  1. I guess it has potential to be a hot topic, but I found both of your suggestions great–practical and uncontroversial! One of my favorite episodes so far!

    1. @Ana- thank you! I’m so glad you liked it. I’m fascinated to see what generates comments and what does not. The getting-dinner-on-the-table episode is up to 60+ comments now. This one…not so much.

  2. Thank you for this episode!! Since having kids, we have alternated having “lean in” years at work. My husband and I both love our work and we do not mind working hard. We have both learned that it is MUCH harder for the parent who is leading the home front solo. I advocate for myself very easily (middle child??) while my husband is incredibly self-sacrificing and waits for me to notice his misery. It’s my responsibility to suggest that he take time for himself.

    Here is what has helped us: 1. Sync the home responsibilities with what you like/dislike as much as possible. 2. Have regular “check-ins” to ask the lead parent what can be done to make life more tolerable. Try to avoid comparing/tallying here- it is intended to produce specific, realistic, actionable requests. 3. The parent who is working longer may have to forfeit more personal time.

    Laura, I remember your blog post where someone asserted that a couple could not work >100hrs combined. Since we had kids, we have spent 1 year working ~85-90hrs combined, while others were longer, and it was so much easier on our marriage/family life. It was also the only year when we had regular date nights and non-family childcare!

    1. @Virginia – it is great that you two are so aware of each other’s temperaments. That you *know* your husband is waiting for you to notice his misery is so important to making sure it doesn’t reach that point!

  3. I really like the idea of a couple not working more than 100 hours a week. That makes so much sense to me! When our kids were young, my workweek was (and is, right now) 37.5 hours (plus commute and lunch, for about 47.5 total). He worked a regular 40 hour week (plus commute in the opposite direction for about 57.5 total), so we were a bit over 100 hours, but he also took the morning shift with the kids, and I took the evening. It was very doable. We only had difficulties when he worked a lot of overtime week after week, or when I traveled a week at a time. But once we got back to our normal work schedules, it welled well.

    1. While I’m not sure about a one-size-fits-all limit, I do think perhaps butting up against the 100 hr total mark was why I feel much better with my 80% position. I think most of the time we are sub-100 now, whereas before it was close or over!

    2. @Ruth – I’m not sure about strict limits (I think my post was arguing that a couple could work more!) I don’t like the idea of pitting each party’s career against each other. I also think the amount of flexibility one has matters a great deal. I have worked a number of 50+ hour weeks in my life, but I have a great deal of choice over which 50 hours. So does my husband, for that matter.

      1. Yes definitely there should NOT be strict limits! We have made >100hrs/week combined work just fine….but we definitely need to give the “lead” parent a break. This is the perk of non-family childcare- you don’t feel guilty asking them to come for a few hours on the weekend while you have some free time!

        1. You may still be >100 total post residency but you will have much more control over which hours you’re working so I suspect it’ll feel different/better. At least that’s what I tell myself as a PGY3. We are around 90-100 most weeks but I have more flexibility than I did last year.

          1. I’m a PGY4 this year, and have so much more flexibility, and it really is better. It is true, having control over your schedule makes a big difference, and I have noticed that on my research months. Though, if I’m honest with myself the real reason is that I rarely work 70 hours in a week when I’m on research (I know, hubris). I’m still worried about the total #s though. I mean, currently we’re about 120 when I’m having a heavy clinical week since my husband typically works 10 hours per day (plus a 2.5 hours in the car per day). If I include his commute, it turns into 130.

  4. Agreed! One of the best episodes so far. I may be slightly biased towards that being married but childless (but TTC), but the comments were SO good in this episode. And I have to say despite not having kids the other episodes have still been interesting and applicable. Not sure if it was you or Sarah but the comment about finding a way to do what you want to do and not caring what the other person does or doesn’t do if you get to do your thing was something I’ve been thinking about all day. I think that’s a huge mindset shift that I can make.

    The biggest issue that is tough for us to overcome is that I think that more things should be done in a day and he is okay putting something off. For example, I’m not going to sleep with dishes in the sink, I can’t stand an unmade bed, and I get twitchy when the laundry is piling up. I’ve been trying to logically think through the fact that he is right that it is okay if something goes undone, and that has also helped with restentment. I even forced myself to leave something one night and he did do it the next morning, so I know he will hold up his end of the bargain so I really either need to just do it myself or let it go sometimes. I can only imagine this would/could be complicated more when we hopefully have a baby, so it’s something to keep working on.

    1. @Katie – I’m a big fan of putting off housework that isn’t totally urgent. Otherwise, you will wind up with no leisure time whatsoever. You’ll wind up using that precious time after the baby is asleep cleaning, and your husband won’t be cleaning, and you might feel resentful. But if it didn’t actually have to be done then… Really think about where that “twitchy” feeling comes from.
      But yes, finding a way to do the things that make you happy can then switch the narrative quite a bit. It’s probably not actually fun to work on the weekend, or work late. Of course, it’s not fun to do a lot of solo childcare either. But if you make sure you’re doing fun stuff in addition to the solo childcare, then you can feel less resentful of the party who’s skipping out on the kid stuff.

    2. For me, thinking about big picture equality in my relationship is important but should not be confused with equality in every aspect. If he cares more about something than I do or vice versa, that decision doesn’t need to be “equal” for us to feel like our relationship is balanced. Being clear about your needs and not keeping score goes a long way.

    3. YES to letting some things go until the next day. I figured out that I should really try not to do non-urgent housework while my kids were napping, having “quiet time” or sleeping and to use that time for stuff I want to do or connect with the hubby. It really does make for less resentment all around and my husband is a morning person and is MUCH more likely to tackle house chores at 6am than at 9pm. I grew up in a house where the rule was “no dirty dishes in the sink after dinner” so it’s been hard breaking that expectation, but I realized it really doesn’t matter as long as *someone* washes them at some point each day. I’ve gotten the kids to unload it daily (and sometimes the hubby does it himself) so now I’m down to loading it, which we also share especially when it’s crazy like at Thanksgiving. Kids also have put away their own laundry since about age 3 – I don’t care if they fold it – it just gets tossed into the right drawer. I’m always on the lookout for things they can do — it’s good for them and for us parents 😀

    4. This is definitely the sticking point in my relationship! I do not like to wait to think about dinner at 5 pm or put together lunch boxes at 6:30 am (when we leave at 6:40) and so by wanting these things done earlier than the last minute, it falls on me to do them (and if I just let my husband do these things, it means we’re having chicken nuggets for dinner (OK sometimes, but not all the time) or I’m in charge of getting the kids fed dressed and out the door by myself while he makes lunches). I understand my “high” standards mean that I need to do the meal planning and shopping and make lunches while my husband relaxes in the evening, but it does make me resentful sometimes. I appreciate this podcast topic and I’m going to focus on making sure I still have time to do the things I need to do. I think that will help with the resentment.

      1. I agree with your comment about differing standards triggering resentment. When my husband is the lead parent, the kid is more likely to get screens… and he is screen-sensitive; bad behavior often follows long screen time sessions.

  5. Hi Laura,

    Sorry, this question is not related to this episode of the podcast, but the one on screen time- I think? Sarah had mentioned a book she had read, on how much we are consuming and how we aren’t creating enough. Could you let me know the name of the book and the author please? Thank you.


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