Sunday, February 17, 2008

"You're Not A Wife, You're A Job."

Copyright 2008 Old Sarge

As I was pulling out of the parking garage a couple of days ago, an ad was playing on the radio for a new episode of Dr. Phil's reality show. You know the one, where people who are progressively more screwed up than the previous group get a dose of the good doctor's tutelage.

Normally, I tune these ads out. These reality shows just seem too much like an appeal to the lowest common denominator. But there was one line in the ad that stood out.

"You're not a wife, you're a job".

Dr. Phil was admonishing what appeared to be a particularly manipulative and selfish subject, who demanded so much of her mate that being with her was more like work than a relationship.

I think we've all been in those relationships at one point or another. It starts out with you wanting to please your significant other, perhaps even changing your ways a bit to satisfy them. In a healthy relationship, this is all part of a give-and-take, of a becoming "we" in addition to being individuals.

But in some cases, that change you make only turns into a demand for more. And the more you change, the more is asked of you. And yet, there is no change on the other end. It's a one-sided deal and you're getting the short end of it.

I have a friend whose first marriage went this way. He was a bit of a wild man, a little Bohemian in nature. He met his wife-to-be, and she fell in love with him as he was. And he fell in love with her.  But she had an idea that she would "tame" him, asking him to change the way he dressed, the way he acted. She thought she could 'improve" him.

And change he did. He loved her enough to change against his core being and act/talk/dress the way she wanted.

Guess what? She stopped loving him.

Why? Because he was no longer the person she fell in love with. He worked his tail off to be what she said she wanted, and every step he took moved him farther away from who he was, and who she fell in love with. His job, at that point, was pleasing his wife, and she fired him.

Some of us go a different route. We believe that marriage is a vow taken seriously, and we are determined not to be in that 50%+ statistic about divorces. We can make it work - it just takes effort. We genuinely believe it, and work hard at it.

But notice the word that keeps coming up: work. There should be effort, to be sure. But when the effort is one-sided, and the moments of joy are far overshadowed by what's required to "earn" them, the relationship becomes more like a job. The analogy of a frog and boiling water is an apt one. Drop a frog in boiling water, he'll jump right out. But put him in cool water and heat it slowly, and he's likely to sit in it till he's cooked. If we see the trouble up front, we'll bail. But when it slowly evolves over time, we don't detect it until we're cooked.

To be sure, we're to blame. We get ourselves into the situation, then become afraid of what we need to do to get out. The pain of being alone often surpasses the pain of continuing the relationship. So we plug along, "working" at it. But in the end, who are we helping? Not ourselves, and not the other person in the relationship.

If you think you might be in this situation, ask yourself a few questions -

  • Am I constantly walking on eggshells, afraid I'll say the wrong thing?
  • Does it seem like I can't do anything to please my partner?
  • Are the moments of joy being overwhelmed by the effort to achieve them?
  • Is heading off to work a relief, a break from being at home?
  • Have I changed dramatically to maintain this relationship? Has my partner changed for the relationship?

These questions are a start. If you have answered more than 1 or 2 of these questions "yes", then take a hard look at your relationship. You deserve to be happy, and you shouldn't have to "work" two jobs to do it.


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