Dear Therapist..."I'm the Dream Modern Man, Why Doesn't My Wife Appreciate Me?"
My wife says I’m grumpy. She’s probably right, but it’s because I feel taken for granted. I’m the dream of a modern man in some ways. I am an incredible dad, and do the majority of household chores. I play with my kids constantly and support my wife doing whatever she wants to do professionally. We both earn decent money but she works more erratically because of the nature of her work.
She doesn’t realise how unusual it is to have a husband support her as much as I do, in every way. And she’s dramatically offended by any hint of grouch in my voice. She’s overly sensitive but also doesn’t notice all the good I do. I guess I’m complaining to you as she’s done to me. Feels OK. But also I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. Any tips? This can’t be it. Will my wife ever stop being negative? There’s nothing I can do. But I don’t want this to be the rest of our lives, being this way.
I am picturing a grizzly bear. Supposedly cozy but utterly threatening, you are a fascinating blend of contradictions in your self-characterisation. You say you’re the dream of a modern man, but you seem deeply resentful of the role you’ve been cast. Who assigned this part for you, and whose dream version are you living? It’s your responsibility to live your life, along with caring for your children and dealing with the facts of circumstances, but you sound caged. And blaming.
I dare you to face whatever you’re shoving into the drawer of irritability. Being grumpy and annoyed is usually a stand-in for more helpless emotions. Are you snapping rather than sobbing? Grumpiness can posture as self-protective pride. Are you trying to punish your wife for writing the script of your life story unfavourably? For getting to pursue her work with more freedom than you, the grizzly bear in the cage? You say she should appreciate you more, but you seem to feel ripped off by your life.
You’re projecting negativity onto your wife (she might be a misery guts but she’s not the carrier or cause of all sorrow) and you outsource responsibility for your discontent in a way that makes me wonder if deep down you feel inadequate. I say this not to provoke you (well maybe a little. I too can be contradictory) but also to acknowledge the struggles of the modern man. You’re doing the invisible work that historically women have absorbed, and the world still isn’t acknowledging or noticing you in the way you’d like. You’re an incredible dad, you say. Do others say this? You cheer a little loudly, and to me it’s the sound of one hand clapping.
Your story is soaked with deprivation. You don’t want this to be your life, so ask yourself what you do want from being alive. What do you need? Make space for fresh air. You might be crowded and overwrought but you’re not caged. Look at what’s possible.