Is reversing roles putting your marriage at risk?

Is reversing roles putting your marriage at risk?

The Ox captivated me...underlined, capitalized and emphasized in bold italics.  He captivated me when me met....classic tall, dark, handsome, charming singer, big broad chest, muscular, kind, so so smart, audience stopping singer, reads books like they're three meals a day....I was falling for him fast.

Right before He and I became involved, six months after recovering from my last breakup, open to a new relationship, I made a list of the qualities I wanted in THE ONE.  Wonder if I still have it saved somewhere?! It was a relatively simple list that went something like this:

The next man I fall in love with, my next boyfriend....
- is strong enough to change a tire
- is sensitive enough to cry at appropriate times, and feel no less a man
- is tall, dark, handsome, and intelligent.  
- is a responsible, hard working guy, regardless of vocation.
(White collar handsome and refined or Blue collar hot and laid back.)
- is stable, not erratic or impulsive.
- enjoys chess, Scrabble, pool, karaoke; loves nature and camping.
- loves food, enjoys cooking and dining, in or out
- is a drinker but not a drunk, and even a smoker, as I am and couldn't stand the look of disgust on my ex's face after I'd smoked.  (smoker plus smoker negates the disgust, since they both smell, they neither smell!)
- is someone who loves to read, and we could read books together and talk about them.  (The first book we read together was the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—absolutely marvelous book! And we literally lived where the story took place, walked the streets of the book.)  
- is to be kind, affectionate and emotionally available.  He would be outgoing and friendly, but not steal my spotlight, not overshadow my presence.  He will add to it...
-  We mutually stimulate each other and have lots of fun.  Love and fun...

He had it all!!!

And WhALa!!!! There was my Ox!  Not everyone believes in the energies of the universe, the energy of God, but I believe The Ox and I came together through something greater than ourselves (sign one).  I told him that he had everything on my list...therefore I 'created him'.  (joke!)  He thought it was cute. :)

However, my list left off experience, so he came to me very inexperienced. (red flag one)  I was not used to being the teacher in a sexual sense.  All my former boyfriends had been up to eight years my senior, so I was the student.  My last had really opened up my world in terms of my sexuality, brought me to the next phase—a place where I became comfortable in my skin, embraced the body.  But still....I'd always preferred following in bed, or at let receiving some instruction or direction.  When I was with X I was a girl; now I was a woman, and I was with a man, who was kind of a boy. (red flag two)

But, for all that he was worth, so much, I could look past the items I neglected to include on my list.

Waiting to sleep together was an "A" move....when we did, it was really a magical, bonding experience. Nonetheless, our experiences were beautiful, soulful and sensual. He had natural ability in that department, and responded well.  I couldn't get enough of him, whether we were playing a game, seeing a movie, talking, cooking at home, watching cartoons (which I don't do, but did for him!), napping, going out and about with a group, or doing our karaoke—our favorite, I loved being with him as much I could get and could always be found on his lap—where he always pulled me (it made me melt every time), or with his arms wrapped around me.  He made me happy.  It was simple.  Pure.  We were inseparable.  He was initially resistant to a relationship, but fell for me too.

A hop, skip, and a bump later, we discovered that we were going to have a baby....a true miracle baby I say because when people use condoms, babies are not usually part of the picture!  (sign three)—no rubber barrier was stopping this soul from binding us, joining us, extending us...we were brought together more. I did not have a single doubt about keeping the baby; I was 26, had a professional degree and license, and I knew I could make it work, regardless of how Ox would respond.  When I told told him he was going to be a father, and that he could be as involved as he wished, his eyes flooded with love in a way I have never seen in human eyes....he embraced it completely, and gazed at me as the mother of his child.   It at once drew me in and propelled me away.  This was IT. (Sign 4 and Red Flag 4)

I was petrified and excited, became cold, distant, ate in such excess that the pregnancy ended with a 77 pound heavier me.  Yes, I said 77.  I ate to control my emotions, like a maniac.  I pulled away from Ox.  He noticed, he asked, I asked for his patience; it was so much to process.  I wondered if he was in love with me or in love with the mother of his child....but I was scared out of my sense.  My worst fear realized....will I ever know? Is he in love with me or with the baby's mother?  Ox was patient, present, understanding, but somewhat hurt.

I came around quickly and moved into his apartment, got rid of the roomates. He had "a plate, a fork, a spoon, a knife" (red flags 4 and 5).  Luckily, a woman is in and so within a minute that bachelor pad mess transformed into a cozy home (my first power struggle win...)

A beautiful, perfect, profoundly aware, baby boy came into our lives nine months later.  He was gorgeous.....the deepest brown eyes imaginable, brown hair, and a heart melting smile.  He was a carbon copy of his handsome daddy....everybody still says it!  We had the sweetest, most intelligent, happy baby.  Such a spiritual experience as a first pregnancy, the sonograms, the baby, singing to my belly, sharing thoughts and dreams, massages every day, talks of names.  Our relationship was solid with hopes for the future.  We were creating a family. He was so wonderful, giving giving giving giving... a foot massage every day, satisfying every craving without question, taking care of me. He sought to please me and have me comfortable, he was a sweetheart.

Ox worked and I got to stay home with my perfect baby that almost perfect first year.  Life was good.....I had always dreamed of staying home with my children, being a housewife.... It is what I wanted my entire life, more than a career, more than anything; a happy home in which I got to play the role of wife and mother.  And I was blessed that year.  

Ox made very, very little money, however, working as a carpenter's assistant.  UNbelievably low.  I couldn't understand how such a hard working, solidly reliable, skilled guy like him could accept souch low standards, yet again (as I noticed with the first girl, red flag A) and the way he was taken advantage of by his roomates in the living situation prior to the family.  I convinced him to go demand (ask) for more pay, and reluctantly he did, with success; be it small, it was more.  This was my first ....Taking Control....getting him to step up and have the confidence he should have,  He was worth, is worth, SO much.  Deserves decent pay for great work. Though I found myself fighting most of our battles (flag!) in the name of the family, making most logical decisions, and Ox would go along with whatever.  We still enjoyed the life we created.  We had a lovely wedding and then a week later found out we had a surprise daughter on the way.  

We decided to move out of NYC and try out the south, a place we both found a better environment for a family. And off we went.

I was so happy and excited to travel, to move somewhere new, seizing the adventure, my first major move with my new husband.  I was high in spirits and wanted to share that with my husband.  But when I looked at him with zest in my eyes, he returned the look with a shrug, and maybe a grunt or a moan.  He hates moving.  Moved too much growing up. Army kid. That is the marked point in our journey, the first time i felt profound disconnection from him, still just a couple months after our wedding.  Honeymoon phase over. That day it began, that moving day on my birthday, no card or cake, off we drive with my bubble of brightness punctured and slowly deflating.  Into a very different future. Off we went.

Ox's salary barely supported us with one child.  So I had to go back to my career.  I made significantly more money and had health coverage for the whole family.  It was the only thing we could do. And I have always resolutely said that my children would be raised by their parents, not sitters.  I was with many sitters while my mother pursued her path out of our home, her nursing degree, and did not like the feeling as a child.  Ox would stay home with the baby, soon to be babies.  Even if we were to put them in daycare, it would've cost more than Ox's salary. When they are able to speak, nursery is good, but until then, home with Dad. I immediately got a job, which fulfilled me more than I expected it to, but I longed to be home with my son.  And so it began...

It was an ache I carried; I ached to be with my baby.  I wanted to be home....playing with my baby, reading and feeding, cooking lovely dinners for my family, keeping the adorable house up.  But I swallowed, had to do it for the family, didn't whine much about it.  I'd come home and Ox would generally be on the couch in a robe. TV. video Games.  He created a barrier around the living room, effectually the largest playpen ever!  And there was laundry....and there were dishes....and.....what, he asks, do I want for dinner?

I still insisted on doing some of the cooking.  I guess I said I just like to cook for my family, but really I wanted to be the woman in the house.  Our beautiful little girl comes to join our family a few months later....a sweet new soul.  I got to spend a few months on maternity leave, thank god or I would've lost my sanity.  So things were somewhat pleasant at times, but lonely.  Money was pouring down the drain. Ox is an amazing, actively involved daddy to his kids, but aside from that, he was becoming distant....always playing a video game or on the computer.... When I noticed him, not noticing me, I reacted with far more distance than the distance I perceived from him.  I felt lonely in my marriage.  And he hadn't noticed my sadness, my loneliness WITH him.  Maybe if I had reached out then.....I wanted a man who noticed.  What happened to us?

WE had no friends there, total Yankee outcasts in itty bitty North Carolina rural town of 207 where religion pervades the lives of all.  We are not a part of organized religion, and so another reason for isolation.  That's all people did there.  Work and church functions.  It got agonizingly isolating.   Ox was always playing with Baby or laying around, wasn't fun.  He hardly ever went outside. (flag)  Was he depressed at his inability to provide?  The disconnect had settled further into place.  

I wanted him to go back to college and get a degree in these years he would spend home with the children. I wanted him to have whatever career he wanted, wanted him to love his job and get paid.  I wanted him to get the kind of paycheck he deserves.  He was enthusiastic at first, but then.....he didn't do it.  I would support whatever choice he made, but he made no choice.  I wanted to keep seeing the potential, wanted him to step up and take it, but he didn't. (This would come to be a reoccurring issue in our marriage.)  So we went on; I worked and he cared for the babies.    .........and my resentment festered......

(Candice frequently used to say, "Doesnt it bother you that he isn't the provider?  Doesn't it bother him? Doesn't he want to provide for his family?  Well, I couldn't handle that in a man.  I need a man who wants to take care of me and the kids."  I told her that he doesn't express frustration on the matter, and while it wasn't ideal, I was making the best of it....the pregnancy wasn't planned, so we had to do what we had to do.  She often brought it up....This line of questioning used to grate on me....I thought she was brainwashed by her mother's narrow-minded gender roles.  Men can care for children too!  I don't have to feel crappy about that!!  Yet now..... Yes, Candice, it bothered me more than even I knew.)

The disconnection that developed down south traveled like a quiet cancer until it arrived in the land of little communication.  Ox and I still enjoyed our babies together, but us.....what was us? Where was us? I didn't know.  I knew I needed people, longed for adult connection, starved for my social life. I was not done with fun, either; not by a long shot!  So back to NYC we ran as soon as spring reached its end.

Home sweet home. Summer with the babies and the friends, camping, softball games, barbecues.....a life again!  We had a fantastic summer! It was better.  We did well in groups of people because in those settings we were having fun at least.  We looked like we were doing okay, to the outsiders anyway, and maybe partially to ourselves; we still had some hope.  It had become common knowledge that the Lioness was in charge....some older men scoffed, some friends said it balanced us.  But we only know when we are in it, the real deal.

The more engaged we (especially I) became with the outside world, the further apart we strayed from each other, the more quiet it became between us.  Sex had become absent since the second pregnancy presented complications which required abstinance.  We got used to it being that way and just never became connected enough to resume, not really. The passion was gone. Sex became mechanical and unwelcomed, on the rare occasions at all. This complacency set the tone for our next phase of the relationship.  

I got another great job in my field and Ox stayed home with our two, plus another toddler for some extra income.  

The house was a mess, he was always in that horrid robe, he consulted me about every little thing, down to what he should cook.  You would think I would be grateful to have such a considerate husband, thinking of my wants, but it had the exact opposite effect on me.  I disdained it. I was disgusted by it. He stopped making any decisions and I decided everything, as simple as which restaurant to go to and as serious as where to live.  I controlled everything.  Everything.  My career, the finances, the home, the groceries, the shopping, the cooking, cleaning, the communications with family and friends,the career, the finances, the vehicle, the doctor appointments, the holidays ....his initiative was so low it was practically non-existent.  

I felt like his mother.  It got so bad that whatever intiative he did take would go unnoticed, or worse, criticised by me. Following the advice of a friend to "give him one thing that he will control, like groceries."  I tried but found myself meddling and micro-managing, and ultimately taking it over again within weeks. I was used to my way by this point.  This was the unhealthy way of our world.  We were in deep.  

Great, great dad.....but that was it with us. Faded. I was in charge and resentful for being forced into this position I did not apply for.  It was like I was living someone else's life.  God knows what Ox was feeling.  I was disgusted and hyper-critical; he was beaten down by me.  Every little thing he did drove me crazy.  He didn't pay attention to me or to anything (was probably intimidated!), the cabinets wide open, the sink looked like a terrible loss at Tetris, wrappers and dishes wherever last used, it was making me crazy.  Tornado Ox, I'd say.  I even begun referring to him as my third child—what an awful thing to say.  My words were sharp and I always won....except when it came to getting him to go to school.  

He would indifferently consider options, casually depricate himself as no good, unskilled, unable.  I poured out my support, but he was probably too beaten down at this point to even feel it.  I encouraged, I begged, I nagged, and nothing.  I pleaded with him....I would support whatever choice he made, just PLEASE make one!!  I'm forced to work and here is this brilliant man, who lacks the wherewithal to even choose a course of study?!  To even fill out an application? Or two?  (I find I can still get worked up about this when I go back to it.)  I resented this injustice beyond words.  I had a degree, but I always thought and intended my career to be on the back burner when I raised my children.  My dream of raising my kids, being the mother that I never had, was compromised and I was coming to terms with the reality that this dream would likely never  be realized.  I was raised by a man, and now I was the man, when all I ever wanted was to be the woman.  It was killing me inside; it was an assault on my womanhood.  This man was unable to provide at the time, but if he wanted to change that, he could.  But he made no move.  Stagnancy.  Blinders.  -- What we didn't know: there was something we both didn't know he could've done....Taken In Hand!  

Could that have cured the downtrodden esteem? Control?—the fact that he did nothing to seize the opportunity, did nothing to provide for the future through education, meant the family would forever be my financial responsibility. My respect for him dwindled, and with it, my hyper-critical view of him went into overdrive.

It became harder and harder to see any of all that bounty, that abundance of good he posseses, that drew me to him in the first place.   I then saw lazy, I saw lacking ambition, I saw weak, sloppy, I saw immaturity, fear.... I saw a child.    It only got worse from there.... I drilled him down, emasculated him.  Anyone could see it.  Being able to do that sickened me; I felt repulsed with him for taking it, I felt repulsed with myself for dishing it.   What kind of woman am I that I can crush my man?? I did not feel like a woman, and I did not see him as a man.

But other men did notice me; other men complimented me and startled the suffocating femininity within.  Other men stood up to me, above me, and were unable to be beaten down by me.  Yea, I'm feisty, but I don't want to be a man!  I couldn't control the urge to feel it for a moment, to indulge, to have an affair to feel alive (I felt trapped and dead), but in retrospect, I believe I wanted to feel like a woman, wanted to see someone as a man.  And while it was incredibly unfaithful, dishonest, wrong....it brought me back to life.  I mustered up the drive to lose the remaining 30 pounds of the 80 gained in pregnancy.  I wanted to resurrect the woman inside, i wanted to connect with a man, wanted to be wanted, I wanted to be swept away.  But  by way of guilt, by reason of what little moral code left, I discontinued it after a couple months.  Remained shut down thereafter.

My spiritual path brought me to come clean a year and a half later, in an attempt to salvage any possibility remaining in the marriage.  Ox forgave me and we moved on.  But we were just going through the motions.  At social functions we barely noticed each other, a far cry from the guy whose lap I lived on in the beginning.  I flirted with people who gave me what I needed, he flirted with people who gave him what he needed.  We never touched each other.  And at home, Ox was alone much of the time and I was out all the time, like a single kid, to all hours.  I didn't want to be there....avoided it at all cost.  Whenever he tried to confront me, I would bite his head off, tear him apart.  

Yet...

I had a few fleeting images of stumbling in at 5 am and maybe THIS will be when he has had enough.... to be a man who would throw me over his knee, and lay down the law; be the man I saw when I met him....remind me of the woman I was.  But such was the stuff of fantasy.  

The reality, he used to say, was I like a drill pounding him into the ground.  It was true and I couldnt control it and I hated it.  I don't want to be a drill. But why with him?  Why not with others.....neither of us had the right answer to that.  

Fast fwd.....kids in school, Ox begins working.  We function well as a family, but hang on by a thread as a couple. That same suffocating feeling of disconnection ever present.  I steamroller him when we fight until it reaches an even more dangerous point at which I don't even bother because I know he can NEVER win.  I am convinced he can't handle me.  I have become the Shrew.  

He was exasperated and I just felt trapped.  I felt that we weren't compatible, just never had enough time as a couple to figure that out.  We were a family most of the time, not a couple.  It was lost.  Same issues....I was a control freak and he was a doormat.  I roared and he backed down.  It was not a relationship....we were like roomates by the end, siblings maybe.  So sad.  Tried breaking up a couple of times, but it was too emotional....we couldn't let go.  Ox held tighter than I did because he was scared of being alone and lacked confidence in his ability to stand alone as a man, he had never done it before.  But it was over long before we finally split.  It had to end, and since I was in charge of everything, I took on that responsibility too.

He cried and pleaded and flew into a stream of self pity, invalidating himself in a way both heartbreaking and appalling, so sad and unattractive, and simply not true.  He is a wonderful man.  He wasn't happy with me, he couldn't have really wanted me, he was just scared of the unknown. I couldn't let it go on just because we were afraid of being alone; it lacked integrity.  He would learn like everybody else does, by doing it. He moved out the next month.  

I experienced an exhilarating freedom in releasing myself from this cage I had been living in, but the free feeling was short-lived and quickly followed and swallowed by the pits of hell. I dove into a relationship with a "friend" (who had been prepping me and overtly wanting me for months), and it allowed me to hide from any divorce feelings.  Though naturally shaken by the breakup, pulled in the direction of another man, An alpha man.  Even before the split I was sufficiently distracted to cope for a number of months.  I say cope, but I was extremely unbalanced; my breakdowns and meltdowns were delayed, but vicious, muddled, unfocused, destructive.  Over the course of the year,  I was a hot mess....partying and missing work, hanging out with the wrong crowd until all hours of the night, spending recklessly and selfishly.  My world was spinning. My "friend" turned out to be a complete asshole, and I ended that four months after it began, though it wouldn't truly end until several torturous months later.  I found myself mourning two men at the same time, and sorting out who I felt what toward and why.  I wanted so badly to be happy, and spent a whole year without Ox, trying to find that happiness, but instead I felt broken, hopeless.

While in the early stages of our time apart Ox was a sad wreck of a mess, he withdrew into his own world and worked through the feelings of depression, moved on, became independent, displayed assertiveness. Fairly quickly, he stabilized as an independent person. We shared custody of the children and interacted almost daily as a result.  We deliberately had family time—dinners together, some activities, and some holidays.  It was friendly but distant, at first.  We were civil, focused on remaining able to function as a family, and eventually attended common social functions, even formed a friendship.  I saw the change that taking care of himself did for him, and it was good, it was attractive.  He confronted things, confronted me, and didn't back down like he used to.  He was always there, was the most responsible father one could imagine.  He grew up, manned up, handled things.  He had become completely independent, budgeted his money with such precision that he usually had quite more in his account than I did, even though i made significantly more money.  He grew ...He stopped igoring things, faced them, and began handling them, handling me.  Over the year I saw these changes in him....

...I found myself, late, dealing with my feelings about the pending divorce.    My husband was the nicest guy ever.... Why the hell didn't it work?  Because I could push him around? It's that simple?  When we switched roles, everything went really wrong.  Maybe.....if we hadn't HAD to switch roles, maybe it wouldn't have been like that....maybe....there could've been something else.  If I had gotten to be in the woman's role, and he in the man's, what could've been?

A month before Ox and I broke up, I wrote for the first time in years....it focused on power.  

I wrote about how when Ox and I were at functions together, we didn't speak, didn't touch, didn't even notice each other anymore.  How different it was from the fiery beginning.  I figured I fell in love with an idea of who he was, rather than who he was himself.  Then I noted certain other women...when he spoke with them, he was animated and excited, and they were too.  I saw the empowerment he received in other interactions and knew.... I can't give him that.   Certain people can respond to him in a way that builds him, but it's not me.  I don't know why, but I could not. And I so deeply wanted for him to have that, he deserved that.  And likewise, I have such deep connections with a couple of others that got me charged up, built me up, validated and flattered me.  

I want to be empowered.  I want him to be empowered.  Isn't that the idea of a relationship?  Mutual stimulation, complementing the other, empowering the other and enhancing life?  Regretfully, we just didn't have that.....we weren't even on the surface of it anymore.  We should be with people that make us feel good about ourselves, not leave us less than ourselves.  Tragic.  I wished it could've been me, wished it could've been him.  But he can't take me......

Or can he?

          .......ENTER "Taken in Hand"......
                                                                     ....to be continued.....

Lioness

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Comments

Sometimes it just takes losing something

Isn't it amazing how things spiral out of control once you settle into a rhythm? Sometimes people are so aware of what they want and need that they assume that their significant other must be blind not to notice it. Obviously he or she just doesn't care. Clearly it's just too much trouble for him or her to bother. The solution is so simple and yet so hard to swallow—just admit what it is you want. It's a shame that it took breaking up for things to finally appear in perspective, but it seems as though that's just what it takes sometimes. The only way to see the whole picture is to take a few steps back from it. I look forward to the continuation!

to Elliemay

Thank you for your feedback.

Yes....spiral is the word, indeed!

I agree, if only people could admit what they want and need, it would certainly save a lot of heartbreak and drama! Unfortunately, I didn't know what I wanted and needed for a long time! But that is no longer the case! Gladly!

Role Reversals - and back again

My husband and I have always quite naturally had the sort of dynamics where he is wearing the trousers, is the leader and I follow – perhaps my 20 years less experience than him is involved in it but usually in life he finds himself the default leader in pretty much all situations so it is natural to him, I'm sure he would describe himself as 'a bit bossy'. We have been together ten years. Three years ago, we moved in together and were expecting our first child. By the time our son was 4 months old I moved out in a fit of rage and despair at what I saw as my partner’s neglect of our needs. We had found ourselves rowing incessantly over little things and although we had both talked about how we wanted a quite 'traditional' home life, I felt that I needed to take charge of the situation, go back to work and move into new accommodation because he was at the time bringing in little income despite working incredibly long hours because we were setting up a business. We weren’t apart for long after I moved out, in fact he came round the same day and told me he was putting up a symbolic ‘flag’ on my balcony, that he wasn’t going anywhere and we would get back on track.
The short time apart gave me space to work through some of the challenges I had to our family situation and where I had felt the need to resist so fiercely his principle that we should look not for jam today but jam tomorrow. I’m very focused in the here and now whereas he is looking to the long term. We got back together shortly afterwards, and I expressed that I thought he needed to take me in hand when I get into that out of control space I do get into, where I push the ‘red button’ as he calls it and won’t take my finger off. This dynamic worked very well and we had a few blissful and very erotic months. This ended one morning when the situation got out of hand and for the first time in our relationship I categorically rejected him having any authority in our relationship whatsoever. He backed off.

The power dynamics in our relationship had fundamentally shifted – I insisted on making most of the decisions about our home life, although he was still in charge of the business but I was challenging him on everything – our life became a nightmare. J said to me at one point during this time that he only ever felt like a lodger who had so little say in things – it is true I was a tyrant – my way or the highway, literally. All this I backed up with an immersion in feminist theory and discussions around sexual and gender politics. During that period of my life Valerie Solanus and I may well have found we had much in common, I became quite the angry feminist, completely on guard for any attempts by anyone to exert any control over me whatsoever, I became that fiercely independent person I had been when I first met J, putting myself through uni and working two jobs, juggling balls all over the show - I thought I could do the same again, with by now two kids in tow...

Anyway, we blustered on like that for two years, until a few months ago in fact, although I realised I had made a big mistake some time ago in having pushed J to cede control to me, that it had a terrible effect on so many areas of our lives and our selves - J lost confidence and started acting more erratically at work and home, stayed out more retreated to that 'cave' discussed in other thread., I became hyper, uncommunicative, made some pretty awful decisions and J and I were in conflict all the time.

The catalyst for change was a crisis - I burnt out, my health suffered – I had to take stock and realise that I was pushing myself too much, pushing everyone away, especially J, in a futile bid to convince myself that I could do everything on my own and didn’t need anyone’s help. I realised that I needed to let go, to pass the mantle back to my man, who has been waiting patiently for me to get this out of my system, ready and willing to take back control of the ship.
So, with J back on the reins, we’ve made some fundamental changes to our lives, to our relationship and to our approach to conflict resolution, as we call it - we’ve restarted a kind of taken in hand kind of dynamic in our relationship, we’re both happier, closer, filled with love and desire for each other and our marriage and family life is back on track.