Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Complicated Marriage

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 18, 2012

Jo, fifty-one, female, got a huge job promotion. Her husband, Joey, told her not to take it. “We have five kids, and I have a big job, and I just don’t think it is good for our marriage or our family,” Joey says to her, in my presence. “Yes, but what about me? What about what I want? I won’t get this opportunity again. This is an executive position that I have wanted my entire professional career. How can he tell me not to take it?” Jo, looks at me, almost begging for support from a fellow female. “Look,” Joey responds. “Our kids need a lot of attention. I mean all kids do, but ours especially. Brittany, our twelve-year old needs to go to educational therapy twice a week. Rachel, our ten-year old, does club soccer and she needs our support to take her places. Sure, we can hire help, but I just don’t think it is good for our kids.” Joey says, as if appealing to me that I should arbitrate this major crossroads in their marriage. I stay neutral. “It must be hard to navigate these waters when there are so many things to think about.” I say, trying to help them problem solve through this dilemma. Jo, though, is not interested in problem-solving. “I am taking the job and that’s that.” She says, almost defiantly. “How will you feel about Joey’s disappointment with your decision?” I ask, curious to see how she thinks about how her actions impact her marriage. “I have been plenty disappointed with many decisions he has made and we have dealt with that,” Jo says, almost as if she is taking the job out of a sense of retaliation. “There seems to be so much bitterness in your voice,” I say, trying to help Jo reflect on her tone. “I am bitter, but we will deal with it and the kids will be fine, and we will appreciate the increase in my salary,” Jo says, reminding me that there is a big financial gain from her perspective. “I think it is important for your marriage and for your children for the two of you to have a relationship of mutual respect and bitterness could interfere with that.” I say, trying to help them be more supportive of one another. “We will be fine,” Jo says in a dismissive tone. “I hope so,” I repeat, suggesting that there is still work to be done.

4 Responses to “The Complicated Marriage”

  1. Jon said

    The work/life balance issue is always difficult. This becomes even more so when there is a “two body problem” of two workers. Add five children and the situation may become an intractable “seven body problem.” Hence, the makings of an already strained relationship can become even more exacerbated. The tensions seem unstable. Something will have to give.

    • I am not sure that this is a work/life balance as much as it is a power struggle in the marriage. Something will have to give, but not because of two careers and five kids, but because of the lack of negotiating skills in this couple, or so it seems to me. Thanks!

  2. Shelly said

    Who is your patient here, Jo or Joey? Or do you see them for couples therapy? What does a “big job,” mean? Why does Joey feel that Jo shouldn’t accept the promotion but Joey should have a “big job” that obviously involves a large time commitment away from the family? How does Joey see the division of labor around the house, strictly as Jo’s responsibility? How does couples therapy actually work when both parties feel that the other gives less than 100% to the relationship?

    • The couple are my patients. Yes, I see them for couples therapy/parenting work. A “big job” means a job that demands more than forty hours a week. Yes, you are right to point out the asymmetry of the relationship. Joey feels that his freedom to choose his preferred job is different than Jo’s. This has created marital tension, that with five kids, become something that flows in and out of their daily lives. Couples therapy is designed to outline the issues in a clear way such that both people can learn to see the other’s point of view. By understanding the other’s point of view, deeper intimacy and respect may develop and thereby create a higher functioning relationship which benefits them and their children. Also, by understanding the other’s point of view, sometimes this inspires people to put more energy into the relationship. Like all therapy though, couples work, is a lot of to and fro. It is hard to both get one’s needs met and be supportive of the other. This is a life-long journey. Thanks.

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