One of the most common issues raised in couples relationship counselling is a grievance list about the division of family and household responsibilities, and how it leads to a strained relationship.
We are busier than ever in our lives and media messages appear to celebrate our busyness. There is almost an unspoken contest to see who is the most stressed and busiest. Parents are challenged by society to be the couple who cram the most activities in for their kids in an effort to get them ahead in life. In the world of the high flying career, couples are often thinking “who has the busiest career?” because almost every magazine has an article about celebrities ‘juggling’ responsibilities. And us, like those celebrities, are striving to wear the ‘busiest’ (and thus ‘most important’) badge of honour.
Busyness + importance = self-worth?
What we do not tend to do is to ask ourselves why we need this in order to feel valued? How did we reach the stage where our identity is dependent on how busy we are? In other words how much we are needed/depended upon at work and at home defines our sense of self-worth. But arguably the most important question of all in this is a simple and often overlooked one: do we individually or as a couple actually want to be caught up in this merry-go-round?
Research says that we work longer hours than ever to satisfy our employers. Similarly, in the developed world we are providing ample opportunities for our children in further education, sport, music and activities. So what’s the catch? In the hypnotic whirlwind of ‘having it all’ nearly a third of parents are complaining of burnout. They are drained and argue about responsibilities and the result is a very strained relationship.
A strained relationship: the reality of the merry-go-round
A recent example from The Spark Counselling highlights the nature of the problem:
When Chloe and Sam started coming to counselling they both looked exhausted. Chloe explained she felt “in her head, it’s a constant swirl of planning and schedules”. She picks up the kids, runs to the supermarket for dinner, and throws it down whilst also putting on the washing and feeling like she hasn’t the time to breathe. Somehow, in the midst of this the kids amble along and manage to ‘work’ their parents. Consequently no help is given with tidying or the washing up.
Meanwhile Sam said he “can’t do right for doing wrong.” When he gets back from work, feeling exhausted too, he gulps down his tea, indigestion choking him, gathers Sophie for gymnastics and Rory for football practice. Often he forgets their kit (another grievance for Chloe) and has to race back for it. At weekends he finds little relief: Saturdays and Sundays have become centred on the children and their various activities, sports and hobbies.
Both Chloe and Sam felt that they “hadn’t signed up for this”. They believed being a family would be great but it felt like a huge burden. As the tension mounted, the kids were starting to play one parent off the other. Their’s was a very strained relationship.
Chloe and Sam were taken through a series of scenarios during their marriage counselling:
Was it time to take stock? Their marriage and family was at risk of collapsing in on itself and the spectre of depression and other health problems later in life was rising.
Did they look at their partner and just feel resentment? Did the person who at one time understood you more than anyone else and made your world a safe and loving place, now feel like a competitor or a rival?
Chloe and Sam worked through their difficulties and found a better balance in their lives following counselling. It proved to be a safe place in which to stop the merry-go-round for a while and understand what they really wanted from life.
If this sounds or feels familiar, The Spark Counselling can help you on the road to a similar positive outcome. A strained relationship rarely heals itself but we have included some tips on where to start the process in your relationship. You can also talk to us free, and in confidence, about counselling options for you and your partner on 0808 802 0050 or find out more.
Getting off the merry-go-round – tips
As a couple, make time to sit down and discuss the following topics individually. Agree beforehand that this is not about blame. It is very probably that you are both feeling the same way:
- Do you ever wish we had more down time and more time together?
- Do we connect with each other anymore?
- Sit with your partner and state what is making you unhappy in your strained relationship? Try to understand with each other what is behind this feeling.
- Can you jointly agree what is really important to you as a couple or family?
- Spend time looking at ways you can create time for each other as a couple and as a family.
- Take stock of what you really need in your week, especially in terms of household chores. For example cleaning the bathroom is important but do you really need to iron the duvet covers? You can probably let go of that one.
- Although your days are probably planned to the precise minute like a military operation, agree to set aside real time for you to be together as a couple and to do something special you always enjoyed (going for a coffee, dinner out, going to a gig). And don’t let it slip.
The Spark Counselling provides marriage counselling, couples counselling and family counselling from centres across Scotland including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Dunfermline, East Kilbride, Irvine and Paisley.
To book a counselling appointment freephone 0808 802 0050 or e-mail The Spark.
Find your local The Spark Counselling centre here.