Dr. Love,Boy do i have problems. I am pretty sure they are male-female communication problems but even knowing that is not helping.Several months we made a decision we both regret, not to have a baby. We are in a monogamus relationship. We both have been married before, her children live with us.After that decision the relationship has gotten more stained for many reasons. Stress, the fact that i was not there for her (in my defense I really did not understand the magnitude such a decision is for a women). Lately it has been almost unbearable living together. She comes home most nights in a bad mood, and is very accusatory. I don’t seem to understand how little things such as a couch not being straightened properly, a wash cloth not rung out or remembering everything can affect. I feel as if I am being attacked on a daily basis, that she concentrates on the details. I respond by getting defensive, trying to explain that it is no big deal to me even though I understand it is for her. I try to compensate by doing more around the house and in our lives to give her room to relax.I also attack, and tell her how very tired I am about being bitched at by all the little stuff. I cook dinners daily, cleanup the kitchen, do laundry, fold it, pickup and drop off kids all so she will have less on her plate so hopefully we will have more time for us. But it seems the more I do the less happy she is. She is very unaffectionate, something I knew going into the relationship but has gotten worse with time.On her hand she has a very stressful job dealing with domestic violence, and really doesnt leave it at work, she often talks to coworkers and friends about her tribulations at works with clients and victims. She is also a whirlwind on the weekends, deep cleaning the house.I feel that our relationship is falling apart around us and we really dont understand why. She cannot seem to stop the constant bitching, and I can’t seem to focus on the details that annoy her. The more I try to do things like that the less it seems to work. I am truly at my wits.She gets extremely annoyed when I just don’t ‘get’ things. That my standards are different than hers (hers which are right, mine which are wrong). I don’t really want to placate her because that is not a solution, at the same time I want to do what will get us back on the right track to a strong, healthy solution.Any ideas?
You are fighting habitually over the household chores, but I don’t believe the conflict is due to communication problems, and I don’t think you are actually fighting about chores either. In fact, I think the chore wars are a smokescreen for a deeper issue. We need to understand what you are really fighting about, and then devise a plan to resolve the real issue.It sounds like the fighting began just after you decided not to have a child. And, my first thought is that the ‘decision’ not to have a child was not a mutual one. That is, I suspect that your girlfriend actually wanted a child, but didn’t admit this to herself or to you.You said in passing that you weren’t there for her after the decision was made because you didn’t understand how hard the decision was for her. If she was so upset after the ‘decision’ was taken, that means that she was not 100% comfortable with the decision. I sense that she went along with your wish not to have a child, even though she was very conflicted inside.Since that decision she has been bitching at you over every little thing. This is a sign that her anger is being displaced from the real issue onto other trivial issues.Further indication that the real source of her anger has nothing to do with the household chores can be found in the fact that no matter how much housework you do, she is still furious. Again, she is relentlessly furious because the real source of her anger is not being dealt with.Your girlfriend is what I call a rescuer/caretaker. She is a caretaker by profession, and even finds it hard to leave her work at the office. Caretakers feel very empty inside, and instead of asking for what they need, they identify with the underdog or victim and caretake to them, hoping to fill the void inside themselves. But, this process never actually fills them, it only leaves them feeling more burned out and empty.When you sense her discontent and emptiness, you attempt to fill her by helping with chores. In short, you become her caretaker, which actually helps neither of you. She still feels emotionally empty, because her real issues aren’t being resolved and you feel used and abused by carrying an unfair share of the housework.In spite of all that you do for her, she still feels used and abused by you. She bitches at you and is never satisfied with your great efforts. Beneath the angry veneer is a needy girl who caretakes everyone but herself, and she walks this earth feeling spent and angry.You may be wondering, how can she feel used by me, I’m her house slave? This is because she caretakes you in the sense that she sacrifices her real needs (regarding the baby) in favor of yours. And, after have caretaken you, and deferred her wishes, she resents you. You see her discontent, and do more, thinking that you will one day appease her.Doing more for her doesn’t address the real issue. In fact, your caretaking makes matters worse–you feel resentful which makes you less responsive to her true needs.This is a complex problem that is difficult to resolve. The clue to healing this mess is to focus less on doing so many chores, and focus more on helping her to convey to you her true, emotional needs. Our goal is to help her caretake herself by letting you know what she needs and wants on a deep emotional level.To begin this process, I would tell her that you have the feeling that the relationship has gone south since you came to the’decision’ not to have a baby. Then, I would ask her if she agreed to not have a child because she thought this is what you want. Get her to talk openly and keep checking to make sure that she says what she wants for herself and not what she thinks you want.Secondly, I would tell her that you have noticed that no matter how much you do more around the house, she still seems upset, which leads you to believe that you aren’t giving her what she really needs. Then, ask her what you could say or do–not chores–that would make her feel cared for by you.And, make sure that from now on, when she bitches about the chores being undone or done improperly, don’t veer off onto a chore discussion. And, don’t defend yourself. Simply redirect the conversation to her emotional needs that she is not expressing. You could say at that time,’Usually when you are angry at me over chores, it’s because I’m not responding to your needs on a deeper level. What am I not giving you that you need right now?’Remember, focus less on doing (doing more chores) and help her to verbalize her emotional needs. You are very sensitive to her emptiness and you are responding in actions, trying to do more for her, but this will never fill the emotional void. So, focus on her emotional needs and respond to those.That’s a big start, and it should help you break the impasse you are currently drowning in. Keep swimming and you will reach the shore.