I read a lot about men dismissing their wives’ changing behaviour and dissatisfaction as a ‘mid-life crisis’ caused by hormonal changes. I want to give a possible take on the situation. Obviously, what I’m going to say is a generalisation, and perhaps controversial in places, but here goes anyway.
A couple meet and start a life together. Things are fun – there are few responsibilities. Then they buy a property, pay bills, children arrive on the scene. The latter has a profound effect on a woman – overnight she becomes responsible for another human being – no matter how hands-on the father is, it is my understanding from speaking to other women that she feels the ultimate responsibility lies with her. The father’s responsibilities are different – he is generally assumed to be the main breadwinner, even if his wife continues working. He goes out the door in the morning, knowing that his wife has organised the childcare. The woman will generally do the bulk of household chores. Like I said, this is a generalisation.
For a woman, her time is no longer her own. She can only do things when the childcare is in place and that can be a difficult thing to arrange, so difficult that doing something for herself becomes not worth the effort of getting everything in place to enable it to happen. She makes sacrifices, often willingly, but sacrifices and compromises nonetheless. She goes to the hairdressers but with a screaming two-year old so the experience is stress-laden; she meets with friends but can’t concentrate on the conversation because they are constantly responding to their children or checking on their safety and behaviour; she goes to the cinema but to see a cartoon not a thriller or rom-com; she goes to work and feels like a bad mother neglecting her children; she’s at home with the children and feels like a bad employee not pulling her weight at work; and so on. Life is a constant struggle to juggle – a compromise and sacrifice to the demands of others.
However, all this time she is aware that one day her children will be less dependent and so she is mentally filing away the things she wants to do in her pending drawer, in preparation for this moment.
And sure enough, it does come eventually. It takes her by surprise. One day she’s at the beck and call of her children, then suddenly she’s sitting around waiting from them to return home from their friends, twiddling her thumbs, wondering what she used to do with her time pre-children, so all-consuming had they become.
So she goes to her pending drawer and starts flicking through the things she’s put on hold for 15-20 years. She joins a gym instead of chasing around after the kids; she learns a language instead of talking toddler-speak; she takes up dancing herself instead of watching her little ones perform in the school show; she reads The Tiger’s Wife instead of The Cat in the Hat and joins a reading group where she can discuss it with like-minded people; she dusts off the killer stilettos and ditches the comfy trainers; she goes from being drab, practical mummy, housewife and employee to sassy, sexy lady.
What the f***, thinks her husband. He thought he knew his wife. Their life together seemed steady, mapped out, growing old together, sitting at home in front of the TV. Who is this woman? So he gets suspicious, he resists and resents this new person standing in front of him, what has happened to his old, comfortable life. “You’ve changed”, he accuses. She can’t understand it, doesn’t he realise this is the person she wanted to be all along, but couldn’t. They’ve got time to enjoy together but he doesn’t want to do anything. Why doesn’t he want her to be happy? She starts to become resentful, “I’ve sacrificed so much, surely now the kids are older, it’s my turn to do the things I want to do. Do you begrudge me my happiness?” But he’s frightened and worried: the woman in front of him looks great: hair, make-up, great clothes, oozing with confidence from successfully raising children whilst looking after house and home and holding down a job. The insecurities of her youth have gone. Heck, now there’s nothing she can’t do and she plans on making up for lost time. He looks at her and thinks she’s fantastic. He thinks other men will look at her and think she’s fantastic. He becomes fearful and withdrawn. He doesn’t know what to do – he wasn’t expecting this and doesn’t know how to handle it.
And so the relationship starts to break down.
I think that men severely underestimate the sacrifices and compromises that women make when they have children. I’m not saying that it is only difficult for women. During these years, life is busy for both parties. They are struggling to keep on top of the everyday duties. It’s exhausting and they’re too tired to talk about how they’re feeling. Men feel burdened by the responsibility of providing for their family; women feel pressured by the constant juggling of family, home and work. Their relationship is overshadowed by the struggle to survive. But I think men need to realise that their wives are going to get that pending file out when the time is right and start attending to the unfinished business that has been put on hold for so long.
This is just one take on the situation. What do you think?