Jane sat at a corner table of a coffee shop with her friend Maggie. It was a typical Tuesday morning, the two of them enjoying a cup of high-dollar java as a prelude to a morning of errands before the youngest kids had to be picked up from Mother’s Day Out. Jane noticed that her friend of four years seemed more than usually distracted this morning. “What’s up?” she asked.
“Darryl.” Darryl was Maggie’s husband of nine years.
“He ok? He’s not sick is he?”
“No, nothing like that,” replied Maggie. “It’s more of what he doesn’t do.”
That caught Jane off-guard. “Whoa. There’s something Darryl doesn’t do? He’s like super dad, super husband, and super businessman all wrapped into one. He’s the most sensitive man I know.”
“That’s not it.” Maggie struggled to find the right words. “My husband is a wonderful man—no denying it. It’s just that, sometimes he’s so sensitive that he’s not aware.”
Jane tilted her head to the side and gave Maggie the I-don’t-get-it eyebrow arch.
Maggie grinned. “Don’t give me that look. I mean that Darryl is really sensitive to the needs of the kids and to me personally, but that sometimes, a lot of times, he misses what needs to be done day-in day-out practically.”
“And you’re complaining? Most women would kill for an ounce of Darryl’s sensitivity in their own husbands.”
“I know. That’s why I’m struggling. I feel so guilty for even thinking this. But I can’t help it. I just feel like I’m the only one who notices things that need to be done around the house, which is never ending. As soon as something is straightened up, it’s destroyed ten minutes later. And on Darryl’s day with the boys, it’s worse. On those days, I don’t have just three home destroyers—I have four. And so when I get home, I have to pick up a really big mess instead of just the usual big mess. And cook dinner. And try to recover emotionally from stuff at work.”
Realistically, yet compassionately, Jane pressed. “You are a pretty detailed person. You’ve wrestled before with your high standards in regards to house work.”
Maggie sighed. “I know, but this isn’t just about standards.”
“Then what is it?”
Maggie sighed again. “This may not make sense, but what I feel like I’m missing is a partner. Ok, before you go all eyebrow on me again, yes, I know, Darryl is sensitive and a dream. But it is on me to keep everything, or so it feels, from falling through the cracks.”
“For instance, yesterday was Darryl’s day with the boys. He picks up the younger two from Mother’s Day Out, they play, waiting for Cole to get home, and then they play more. Cole usually has homework. It doesn’t take long, but Darryl never, and I do not exaggerate here, never checks the folder for Cole’s homework. I got home late last night, too tired to think about anything. This morning, as I’m cleaning up the kitchen from last night, and right before Cole is about to walk out to go to school, he says he didn’t do his homework. So it’s a mad scramble to get it done. I drop what I’m doing; Darryl leaves because he has a meeting and can’t be late, I help Cole finish, interrupt the other two boys’ breakfast to take Cole to school, mad dash home to get them finished with breakfast, then dressed and ready to drop off at MDO. Kitchen is left a mess, I don’t get to shower, because after dropping them off, I’m to meet you here. Then shopping that if it doesn’t get done means it’s another week and we have nothing to eat for the next few days. And this happens all the time. I know details are not Darryl’s strength, their mine; but good grief, do the details of daily life all have to fall on me? Is it too much to ask for a little attention to the details and to do the practical matters of us and our family together?”
Maggie sighed again. She took a sip of her coffee. She then turned to stare out the window. Jane sighed too, took a sip of her coffee, and then reached her hand across the table to take Maggie’s in hers. Maggie looked down at her hand in Jane’s, and then lifted her head to see Jane smiling at her. Now it was Maggie’s turn to give the I-don’t-get-it eyebrow arch.
Jane squeezed Maggie’s hand, looked her in the eye, and said, “No. No, it’s not.”
Maggie smiled. “Then let me ask the million dollar question… How?”
Great question… and one we shall address this year in That’s Life. We will attempt to answer the question: How can any couple turn their roles of parenting and marriage into a partnership, a partnership of practicalities as well as matters of the heart? Please stay tuned, and if you get too antsy, give me a call. We can get to work immediately.
—Paul Johnson, M.Ed., LMFT, LPC