What is making so many married clients so angry, bitter or resentful?
Male clients in relationships are often coming to therapy resentful of the fact that their partners seem more interested in their friends, careers and children than they are in them. Some are feeling nagged about not pulling their weight around the home or with the children. Some are feeling derided, controlled, misunderstood, disconnected, and to top it off, they are having little or no sex. They do not seem to know what is expected of them anymore - whatever they do, it seems it's wrong. They are lost and angry because they don’t understand what is happening or why.
Those whose children are now adults often resent still being expected to support them financially or having to put a roof over their heads. They may resent the fact that their seemingly ungrateful children resent what they have, because they themselves don’t have it and they resent the loss of an expected new found freedom.
In the workplace, many are feeling overworked and undervalued, and some are now terrified of being accused of sexual harassment. This last feeling is a very real and present threat, so much so that some are suffering regular panic attacks. If they open a door for someone they fear derision. They fear redundancy and the security of their futures because of the uncertainty prevalent in the country and world today. They fear growing old and being alone.
Those who have recently retired can feel utterly lost unless they continue to have productive lives and a sense of purpose. But if they do not, then they are often resentful of the fact that they are being constantly nagged and feeling like they are not welcome in their own homes.
They feel out of control, insecure, angry, bitter and resentful at the state of their lives and the state of the world.
So what about female clients in relationships who come to therapy angry, bitter or resentful - are they feeling that way about the same issues?
To some extent yes; many fear for their own and their children's futures, the environment and the state of the world. They too feel controlled. However, female clients often have a greater fear of a loss of identity.
Some are accused of spending too much time with their female friends or made to feel bad for wanting to go on holiday with them for short breaks.
Some women bitterly resent the assumption that every aspect of keeping a household up and running is seen as their responsibility, as is every aspect of their children’s lives. When they remind their partners that there are two people with joint responsibility for all aspects of this household and family, they are often accused of nagging.
They also bitterly resent being told, not only by their partners but often by their own family, that if they are struggling to cope with the demands of family life, maybe they should give up their careers.
They resent the fact that their partner’s careers are deemed more important, often even by the partners themselves.
So what is going wrong?
Social conditioning, expectations and entitlement are the main causes of these problems.
Men and women have usually been conditioned to adopt one or other of two roles.
Women became conditioned to taking on the role of being responsible for the running of the home and family because they had watched their mothers do everything for their fathers. They learned the same behaviour, yet in this age of supposed equality, have found it to be stifling and frustrating.
Men were taught that their fathers were the breadwinners who toiled all day and needed to come home to a harmonious domestic household, where nothing more was asked of them. They watched their mothers do everything for their fathers and take no active role in domesticity, including the welfare of the children unless they were asked, and so, they assumed that they would do the same.
Men still very often want to be the breadwinners (but struggle with the fact that their partners may earn more than they do). They will often leave all of the responsibility for the running of their own home and the needs of their children, partners, partners' parents and siblings to their partner just as their father did, but, interestingly, will as adults readily assume that the welfare of their own parents and siblings falls to them, where the dynamics in their birth family has resulted in them growing up in the role of being the responsible, reliable one.
Parents always treat their adult children as if they were still children but are still surprised when their adult children expect to be "taken care of" just like they did when they were children. For example, expecting to be able to come back home, get free board and lodging and be financially taken care of.
Retired couples suddenly have a lot more years on their hands than they might have expected and therefore have to adjust in ways they never anticipated.
Communication is key here, as is a deep understanding of the cultural landscape that has shaped each of their cultural expectations. Once this is understood, there is a chance that each will have a better understanding of themselves and the other, so that a sense of balance can be restored.
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About Jan Merrills
Jan Merrills LL.B (Hons) P.G.Dip Counselling and Integrative Psychotherapy
Jan has a practice in Stratford Upon Avon and can be contacted through her profile.