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"How's your husband doing?" That was one of the questions Cheryl kept getting after the publication of her memoir, "Wild." What people meant was: How's he handling your success?
In this encore episode, the Sugars take two questions on the dynamics of gender, power, and love — a young man struggles with jealousy when his girlfriend gets a career opportunity he wants for himself, and a woman finds she's no longer attracted to her husband now that he's not the breadwinner.
Joining them to discuss the subject is Cheryl's husband, the documentary filmmaker Brian Lindstrom.
My husband has a life that many people who are "rule-followers", such as myself, would envy. When I first met him, it was undeniably a passionate love affair. I'd never dated anyone or known anyone like him before. He successfully took risks, lived all over the world, has many passions and is a loyal friend. He’s 7 years older than me, and we met at work, where his power and seniority at the office was insanely attractive to me. The year we got married, he wanted to take a risk and go back to graduate school to find his dream job. I trusted his judgement, and between his savings, my new job, and some sacrifices, we comfortably lived while he underwent 2 years of graduate school. My husband now has his dream job. I'm proud of everything he's accomplished and what we were able to do together to make it happen.
Over the past 4 years, my career has skyrocketed in ways I never could've dreamed of. I've broken through the hypothetical glass ceilings in a male-dominated industry. I am a huge believer in women in the workplace and always will be. If they become the breadwinner in a marriage, more power to them. Now herein lies my problem - I became the breadwinner in an extreme way. I committed to supporting us for two years, but we're going on four now, and it will likely be five. Our income divide is so extreme that I pay for 90% of our living expenses. What I've found is I can't live this girl-power lifestyle that I believe in.
I'm very close to a breaking point, and I never stop thinking about leaving my husband. And no matter what other reasons I come up with, it always leads back to money, power and sexual attraction. I hate myself for it. I hate my sexist, wealthy, materialistic father, who likely instilled these ideals in me. I hate my mother-in-law, who thinks women shouldn't have to work. I hate that I want a more traditional lifestyle with a husband that can provide for me. I hate that I'm not confident enough in myself to have children because I don't think I can be the financial provider and a mother. And I hate that I would never look at my husband the same way if he was a stay-at-home dad.
What I hate most of all is that this is not what my husband wants, either. He never imagined that he would spend all of his savings to follow his dreams to come out on the other end making a quarter of his prior salary. When I ask myself if I would've ever married an older man that I would financially support the first five years of marriage, and possibly forever, the answer is a hard “no.” And most days I feel like I can't do this one second longer.
He's doing everything in his power to make more of a financial contribution, but his fruitless attempts haven't pulled me out of this rut. It's embarrassing enough to him that I could never tell my friends or family the extent of our income divide, and I can't tell him exactly how I feel either. Maybe this was a risk he shouldn't have taken. I want to be taken care of. I want to pull back at work in order to have a family. And I am so ashamed of my feelings.
Sugars, please help me live what I believe in.
Cheryl: It’s a fascinating letter because Breadwinner is talking about essentially having a dual reality. She thinks she has these values, and then she actually has these other values. Breadwinner, I think that you either need to end your marriage and go find a powerful, rich guy to be your partner, or you dismantle this value system that’s causing you so much angst and anxiety and sorrow.
Steve: She writes, “Please help me live what I believe,” and my question is, “What do you believe?” Breadwinner, you’re going to have to come clean with your husband about that internal struggle. What’s so heartbreaking in this letter is that this guy has his dream job. Isn’t that the thing that you’re supposed to want for your partner?
Cheryl: What’s interesting to me is that she doesn’t say, “My husband is lazy and refuses to get a job, and he sits at home all day playing video games in the basement.” That would be a really legitimate complaint. I think the deeper question is, how is your husband’s wealth connected to your sense of his masculinity and your sexual desire for him? It’s about you really taking a close look at what’s contributing to your sense of, essentially, falling out of love with your husband. And maybe the reveal is that you never were in love with him; you were in love with the position he occupied — the things he reminded you of and the culture of your own family system. And then what do you do with that? You say things like, “I can’t have start a family and be a provider.” Well that’s not the case. But these side issues, I think it’s really about you taking a close look at how those beliefs about money are influencing your ability to make a decision about whether you want to stay in this marriage or not.
Steve: She’s telling us, “I want to have the experience of being a mother.” I think she also wants to be able to work. Breadwinner, if that’s your ambition, you have to try to make those compatible, and you have to make sure you have the support of your husband. I don’t mean his financial support, I mean his support emotionally and psychologically, as well as financially.
Cheryl: I think that her husband cares an awful lot about money too, and he probably senses her disappointment. Breadwinner, maybe think about approaching this in a way where you both try to speak to each other — without judgment or condemnation — about what your values are about money, about traditional gender roles and how you want to live. You may need to rethink those values in order to meet in the middle on this.
Over time, I've come to define myself by what I do, as I think many of us do. A few years ago I decided to go to graduate school, and just a couple months in, I met my girlfriend in the same program. Because we're always together, it's added interesting turns to our relationship, and while it can be difficult, I feel that it's given us an incredible bond and understanding of one another. Since meeting, we've both enjoyed a good amount of success in our field, some of which has been together and some as individuals. She's much more carefree, social and outgoing, whereas I'm much more of a high strung introvert in regards to new situations and people. In most cases this works out fine for us, and she's been a positive force to counter my fairly cynical outlook on life. Oftentimes, I get myself so stressed and down about my work that I find it hard to continue and she's always there to talk me back down and give me the motivation I need.
Lately though, my insecurities are causing me to have so much inner turmoil that I don't feel I can express to my partner. She's just been given an incredible opportunity for her work, one that was on both of our career-goals lists. She is entirely deserving of this recognition. She works hard, Sugars, really hard, and I'm very proud of her for earning the opportunity. But I'm also so incredibly jealous. I'm more jealous than I am happy for her. I feel like I have a raging jealous bitch monster inside me that I can't get to shut up. I don't want to feel this way. I even know that if I had attempted to get the same opportunity she did, which I didn't, I'm not ready for it anyway. So it’s not that she got what I think I should have gotten, it’s that I can’t help but think of all the other great things that will come for her following this. And then conversely, I wonder what it will be like if my own practice never takes off while hers flourishes?
I don't want to bring up my jealousy with her and have my usual negativity rain on her parade. I don't want her to think of me as a burden as she is preparing, or worse, feel afraid to keep me in the loop about any part of this opportunity for fear of hurting my feelings — though I fear this has already happened. After she received her news, I only found out because a professor was discussing it with her while I was in the room.
Sugars, how do I combat the jealousy of her success? Do I let her know how I feel? I don't want to damage my relationship because I love her, and really, I want her to be by my side.
Steve: Envy, it’s OK that you have this feeling. The question is, how much power do you give it? You’re sincerely happy for her, and so you’re owning these feelings. But I think it’s really important that she hears that loud and clear, because her first instinct is going to be to feel blamed or condemned or like she needs to be apologetic about this achievement. You need to think really deeply about the nature of jealousy — that’s about you, your relationship to your work and your relationship to the feeling you have when you see other people getting what you someday hope to get. It’s important to own that and do some internal work to resolve some of those feelings before you bring them to your girlfriend.
Cheryl: I do think that when it comes to jealousy, you need to be really careful about how you share those feelings. Right now, you’re on one side and your girlfriend’s on the other side. Instead, shift it to say, “We’re in this together. You got something that we both want, and here’s how I feel about it.”
Steve: I think it’s important to also address, more specifically, that there is this expectation that the man’s job is to achieve and to be dominant, whether it’s financially or through career advancement.
Cheryl: The idea that masculinity is built on female weakness is false manliness. The strongest man is somebody who is absolutely not threatened by the strongest woman.
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