Stay-at-Home Dads and the Confrontation-Averse

by A Married Dude

1. My husband went from having two jobs when we were first married to now being a stay-at-home dad. He raises our toddler daughter, runs our household like a tight ship, is a fantastic cook, and manages our finances so well that we live fairly comfortably on one salary.

He loves being a full time dad. He was worried at first that he’d be bored, but he loves his time with her, and especially being able to plan his days the way he wants. Between the parenting and the domestic stuff, he’s working just as hard, if not harder, than he ever did. He’s fulfilled and happy.

My issue is his mother. She’s very old-fashioned, and constantly makes snide comments alluding to our role reversal — a term I resent — and insinuating that her son is “trapped.” She’ll say things like, “And you’re okay with this, being a house husband?” and, “Well I know your wife insists on being a *career girl.*” — asterisks denote sneering.

He mostly laughs it off. But I’m concerned that this is touching some nerve deep down, hardwired from childhood with this awful woman, that tells him he’s not “man enough,” because he’s not providing for his family financially. The man works a hell of a lot harder than I do (I just happen to get paid more to spend my hours away from home) and I couldn’t be prouder of who he is and the way he’s raising our daughter.

Is there anything I can say or do to counteract this negativity? He’s not much of a talker, so maybe even bringing it up would be worse? Like, asking if he’s okay will make him think it’s not okay? I can’t help but think a “I’m Proud of You” Hallmark card would just make things worse.

Working back to front: Hallmark card = bad idea, check.

Now you don’t say how much practical effect his mother has in your shared life, on a spectrum from “She lives two thousand miles away and they only talk on Sundays” to “She lives down the block and takes care of our daughter two mornings a week.” I’m going to assume it’s somewhere in the middle — she’s part of your life, but not a major support.

If that’s right (and salt to taste if she’s a ‘two mornings a week’ grandma), then you have a culturally approved way of bringing this up, and giving him some safe space to talk: Don’t complain about the way his mother treats him, complain about the way your mother-in-law treats you.

She is, after all, not just dissing your husband (something it sounds like she’s adept at) but dissing you, and your marriage. In fact, if you concentrate on her criticism of him as a non-traditional dad, but not her criticism of you as a non-traditional mom, you re-enforce the idea that he’s got the short end of the stick here.

So you could say something like, “I’m sorry to say this, honey, but we have to talk about your mother. I love our life together, and I think we’ve made something that works for both of us, but I feel so judged by your mother for our choices.”

That puts you on his side and him on yours, opens up a space where he can talk about his mother, and, I think, does it in a way that doesn’t have that sound that many of us men hate or fear: “Let’s talk about you and your feelings.” Instead, it’s part of a conversation far more men are willing to have: “Let’s talk about us against the world.”

2. I feel foolish for mailing the internet about a man, but here I am. I met this guy a year ago, we dated for six weeks and it ended. He ended it. He had two jobs and was starting up his own business. A cop out, you say. I thought it, too. He said it wasn’t. He said it was timing. I believed him. I had to.

Even though it was a brief period, those six weeks were fucking epic. Not only were we dating, we became friends. At the beginning I wasn’t that interested at all; I wasn’t attracted to him and he just seemed nice. Then one night Bam! There. I. Fell. Literally swooned inside myself. (I am cringing at myself right now.)

So when it ended, I was honest with him and said I couldn’t hang out and be a part of his life as he wanted (that would be rough for me), and we parted ways. He was definitely sad. I was too.

I didn’t really see him after that, or hear from him. The odd txt over a few months, but that was it. And yet, I still think about him.

Am I a silly, silly girl, or could I go for it one more time? I’m not talking straight away, though, I think I need a few months to sort myself out with a few things, but I was thinking about waiting maybe six months, then seeking him out again.

Or am I kidding myself and have I been played? I don’t know. I would appreciate your input. I’m going crazy here.

*(I didn’t add this to the main part, but one of the reasons I think I have really fallen for this guy, even thought the encounter was brief, is that even though it was only a couple of times, the sex was awful. AWFUL. Sex is very important to me, and even then I don’t care and would love to see him again.)*

First, about him: He was not playing you. He sounds like a nice guy, sensitive enough to say “It’s not you, it’s me,” which is the kind thing to say in that situation, and has the advantage of being at least partly true. Don’t take it as manipulation, but don’t take it as an open door either.

Next, about you: No cringing. You fell in love. It’s nice when that happens. It can also be painful when it doesn’t work out over the long haul, but don’t let yourself forget that it’s nice when it happens, and don’t cringe about having believed it might work out, just because it didn’t this time.

More importantly, you said you need a few months to sort yourself out with a few things. THIS IS YOUR ANSWER. Needing that kind of time suggests that speculating about your post-out-sorted romantic life is probably not a great use of your time.

Now I’m not saying you should laugh alone with salad every night for 180 nights. Go out, have fun. Or: Stay home, have fun. Whatever. Just don’t try to figure out now what you’re going to feel like next year about a serious relationship.

There’s a chance that that relationship could be re-kindled. It’s been known to happen, and you’ll know better when you’re feeling more together. Also, there’s a chance that you’ll come to see it as something in your past but not your future. That can happen too. Or you’ll meet someone else. Also happens. But the question “Would my recent ex be a good boyfriend for me six months from now?” is probably not best answered by the pre-sorted-out you.

3. I am an outspoken, extroverted, leader-type. I am great at arguing and at getting what I want. My husband, on the other hand, is a reserved, introverted, accommodating guy. He would rather do almost anything than have a fight. So when we argue, it is the mismatch of the century! I try to be sensitive to his reluctance to fight by saying things gently and encouraging him to speak up for himself. I usually feel I am arguing both sides of the issue — his and mine.

The problem is that although he won’t argue, he still has preferences and disagreements. He often expresses these in a very passive-aggressive way. For example, he won’t say, “I don’t want to go to your friend’s party. I’d rather stay home.” Instead, he’ll just put off getting ready to go until it’s too late. He also won’t negotiate household chores. He’ll agree to whatever arrangement I suggest, and then just not do the parts he doesn’t feel like doing and say he forgot. But come on! Nobody forgets to fold the laundry for three years! When I try to suggest a different arrangement (“You clearly don’t want to fold laundry. What would you prefer to do? Do you feel you have too many chores?”) he’ll insist that the current arrangement is fine and he’ll remember next time. But he never does. These are a few examples of a fairly consistent pattern.

Married Dude, I’m a patient woman with good communication skills, but I have no idea how to deal with this kind of behavior. It’s impossible to accommodate someone who will not state a position! So my question seems to be, how do I get him to speak up for himself and negotiate, rather than acquiescing and then resisting?

And the answer is “That’s the wrong question.”

You two don’t actually sound like the mis-match of the century to me. Your husband didn’t want to go to your friend’s party, and then he didn’t go to your friend’s party. Sounds like he insists on his preferences pretty effectively, no?

So the right question is “Why does he adopt a passive-aggressive strategy?” and the answer is “Because it works.” Meanwhile, the question you end with, the wrong one, sounds like you asking “How do I get him to adopt my strategy, which I am better at, so I can beat him fair and square?”

Will he get a life more to his liking by stating his preferences clearly? That’s certainly one possibility, but only if you are willing to say “If you are more expressive, I will be less argumentative.” But another possibility, implicit in your description, is “If you are more expressive, I will get my way more often, and you less, because I’m better at arguing.” Why would he sign up for a life like that?

4. I’ve been with my Dude for almost three years. He’s the love of my life, and he thinks the same about me (and I believe him). We’ve recently started to talk about getting married, which I’m generally all for. The sticking point is the wedding. We both come from families so complicated that, if you were to try to draw a diagram of who is related to whom and who is currently fighting with whom, the universe may actually explode. In the last year I’ve spent a cumulative 10 months being completely cut off by one or another parent for my behavior toward another parent or step-parent (i.e. visiting when I’m not supposed to — oh, and I’m 29). His family is no better. Needless to say, the idea of having all of these nutjobs in the same room, at the same time with alcohol scares the living bejesus out of me. But the idea of slighting any of the crazies quite possibly scares me more, as I’m not sure some relationships would recover from a non-invitation. At the same time, we want the experience to be special and meaningful to the two of us, so the idea of being just a number in a courtroom or married by Elvis isn’t very appealing.

So my question is, as a married Dude, did what you did or whom you had at your wedding wind up mattering at all later on? Did you decide to not invite anyone, and do they hate you? Or should we just suck it up, strap on the Kevlar and hope for the best as no one will remember it next year? After all, the whole point is the being married part and not the wedding, right?

Yes, right, the whole point is the being married part, and for that reason, the sticking point is NOT the wedding. The sticking point is “How much do you want to be married?” If the answer is even approximately “All the way much,” then the wedding is simply something you have to get through.

So, you’re in the “We could pay for the wedding by starting a reality TV bidding war!” zone. I don’t doubt that your respective families are practiced at bringing the crazy, but everyone’s wedding is a bit like that. There’s the alcoholic uncle, the college roommates who both dated, and messily broke up with, the best man, as well as, ad abundantiam, the weepy, bitter cousin, the demented aunt, and the friends who’ve stopped speaking to each other.

For me and my wife, the stress around our wedding rose and rose and then collapsed like a soufflé when we finally realized, while wringing our hands about her father’s incessant, incompatible demands, that there was simply no way to do it right, if by “right” we meant “A light-hearted and stress-free evening for all concerned.” And once we accepted that we were planning an event that would be part fancy dress party and part international fiasco, we relaxed, and set about the task of containing the fallout, rather than trying to forestall it.

When you draw up your guest list, there will be people you don’t want to invite but have to. There will be people you do want to invite but can’t. There will be people you can’t bear not to invite, but will then lose touch with immediately after. There will be people you don’t invite who later become such dear friends you forget they weren’t even at your wedding.

And someone will throw up and someone’s baby will cry during the vows and the music will be too young for the old people and too old for the young people and your relatives will glare at each other and get poisonously drunk and either fight or descend into mute fury, and in the middle of it all it will be time to cut the cake, which some relative or other will regard as very very urgent, and you’ll freak out and grab the caterer and say “Have you seen my husband?” and when you use that word for the first time, every dreadful thing happening around you will fade a bit as you realize that your family, the family you really belong to, has just shifted from the one you inherited to the one you’ve invented.

Previously: Debt-Sharing and Mismatched Ambition.

A Married Dude is one of several rotating married dudes. Do you have a question for A Married Dude?

Photo by ARENA Creative, via Shutterstock