Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I went to bed a little peeved last night due to some brief comments made by my husband about my role in the relationship since I left the traditional workforce.  He was joking (partly)--something about me owing him a back rub because he's bringing in the money and I'm not.  I know it sounds like a petty thing to be peeved about, but it highlights a greater theme that I genuinely wrestle with.

This greater theme is the notion that "contributing" in a relationship is first and foremost an economic activity.  In the case of my marriage, my husband is contributing and I'm not.  Thus, I need to make up for it any way I can.  It's a subtle burden--this idea of "making up for it"--like some kind of imaginary tally sheet.  He earns xxx dollars, and therefore I need to add xxx to my side of the bargain, be it through back rubs, dinners, cleaning, etc.

Now, I'm not negating the value of cooperative labor in a marriage.  We should be sharing the burdens of the household.  It's just that the burden of earning money seems to always trump everything else.

What also bothered me was how I have begun to feel that my concerns or complaints in the relationship suddenly do not have legitimacy.  I'm not earning money, so I have no right to confront or complain.  It is as if the wage-earner gets a free pass.  To be fair, my dear husband has never proclaimed this--it is more my own doing, my own feelings.  But why should I feel this way?  Why should I hesitate to confront, feeling that I have not earned (literally) the right to do so?  

I suppose that this battle has been waged in marriages long before the women's movement struck our fair shores and reoriented the traditional family.  Domestic work always seems to take a back seat to The Market.  I would venture to say that these debates over roles and value are less favorable to domesticity than even a few generations back, though, perhaps because free-market capitalism has intensified it's hold on our lives, evidently creeping into our marriages too.

And what is the remedy for my conflict?  Truth be told, I'm not sure there is one, at least not anytime soon.  We live in a market society, and money still trumps other amiable "contributions."  It is highly possible that my husband and I will wrestle over this issue for years to come, maybe only reaching a compromise when I once again earn income in my own right.  Not that I like that solution.

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