Misuse of Power Threatens Marriage

Dear Neil:  My wife of ten years makes twice as much money as I do.  As a result, she has taken it upon herself to make all the important decisions concerning how the house will be furnished, decorated and landscaped without me, even though she knows I am want my taste and style to count also.

Although I have told her that I don’t want her messing with my dresser and closet, all the same she has organized all my clothes, shoes, socks and coats just the way she wants them, so that now I have to ask her where things are when I can’t figure out what she has done with all my stuff.

Last week I needed  $120 for my medications, but my paycheck was short, so I asked her for the money, and she refused, saying it was my problem.  When I told her I thought she was being unfair, she said that if I didn’t like it, I could leave.

Most of my life I have been the primary wage earner.  I have paid the vast majority of the expenses and I was generous with my money.  Now I’ve fallen on hard times financially, and rather than us working together as a team, my wife thinks if she makes more money, she has all the power in the relationship, and all the important decisions are hers.

It’s humiliating for me to be in this position, and I have largely withdrawn my affection and sexuality from her.  What’s wrong with a woman that behaves this way?

Emasculated, Vail Colorado

Dear Emasculated:  Most women don’t have experience or training in providing for their men—and handling that role with class, generosity and grace.  They weren’t raised with the notion that this is something they needed to learn or prepare for, and they didn’t have role models for it.

So, you’ve hit a role reversal of sorts.  But just like it isn’t OK for men who are primary wage earners to act as if their wives don’t count, it isn’t right for women to do it to their husbands, either.   It breeds tremendous resentment, and profoundly changes the power dynamics in a relationship to a contest between the haves and the have nots.   Intimacy, closeness, trust and equality lose in this arrangement.  Resentment, hostility, mistrust and distance wins.

So what can you do?  First, let your wife know your feelings, and communicate them in a respectful way.  Let her know you’re hurt and resentful, and that you feel distant as a result.  Then tell her what you’d like different about your financial arrangement, and the power dynamics in your relationship in general.  You might try asking the question:  “What would it take in order for you to share decision making with me?”

Also, try coming back with affection regardless of what she does.  It may be that her position has hardened because she’s felt your position harden.  If so, you might be able to break the power struggle single handedly by changing your side of it.  

It should be stated that there may be nothing you can do to alter these dynamics—that your wife will continue to view all financial decisions as hers—regardless of what you do.  If that’s the case, you have to decide if you can live under  circumstances long-term.

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