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Reversal of Marital Roles

The biggest change since we came to the island was the reversal of roles between Kristin and I. It is bigger than the isolation, the climate, the scenery, the people. When we lived in Boston, I worked and Kristin for the most part took care of the children. Now, these roles, plus a few more, are flipped. This just wasn’t something we thought much about before we left.

Not that we had traditional gender-based roles before. I regularly made dinner during the week, and weekend cooking was entirely my job. When I was not working, I looked after the children more than Kristin. (Wife does not agree.) And Kristin mowed the lawn, and never saved lifting heavy things for me. Gender specific or not, we definitely had clear roles and responsibilities that had been painstakingly worked out over 10 years of marriage. Out the window they went. Defenestrated, using one of my friend Rob’s favorite words.

Say money. In the US, I managed our finances. Not that I was better at it, but when Kristin came to the US I had already established a system, so it didn’t make sense for her to take it over. Now, I don’t even have an ATM card for our bank in Norway.

In Boston, I never touched the vacuum cleaner. I never mopped the house. Now, every Friday, I set aside an hour to clean and vacuum the house. And Kristin has to deal with the end result even though she would’ve done a more thorough job. Thankfully, Kristin kept laundry duties which I detest more than any other chore.

In the morning, I make breakfast and lunch for the children and then walk them to school. I pick up the children in the afternoon. On daddy days I dream up fun and educational activities. In the US, I wake up first and then round up the troops before heading to work. Now, Kristin has to get her lazy, unemployed house-husband out of bed.

Oh, being a house-husband isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The worst thing is that I no longer have work as an excuse to get out of doing something. One more thing. Although Kristin and I never argued about money; for me, not bringing home the bacon makes eating the bacon just a tiny bit less satisfying.

My sense is that most people who’ve been married for a long time generally operate within a tight comfort zone of roles and responsibilities. Role-related conflicts, which are rampant early on, were either worked out through shouting, stewing, rational decision-making, consulting higher powers — whatever — or the marriage would be no more. Changing roles is a big shock to a marriage.

The good news is that we settled in our new grove quickly with minimal collateral damage. The bad news is, we have to do this all over again when we get back to Boston.

  1. AiTomBounDin #

    Winston! We passed by the same situation when my husband took his retirement from the army. He was 45 that time and I didn’t work since we married just about 10 years before…
    As he was a professional military man and he had no any other speciality it was my turn to earn money:-)
    And our children were 8 and 6 years old…
    I like a lot your writing about your marital roles. You’ve got a chance to change after returning to Boston and we had to keep our new family settings till now. As my husband died 10 years ago. They say that the greatest problem he couldn’t overcome was “used to be out from the army”:-(
    Good luck!

    October 16, 2011
    • Thanks Ai. Maybe my retirement should continue when we get to Boston’s too! Kristin, you should comment.

      October 17, 2011
      • AiTomBounDin #

        The idea of retirement is not so bad as it is considered by the way. We have the oppotunity to develop our talents. Hope you’ve got some 🙂

        October 17, 2011
  2. bob potter #

    Great blog. I wanted to “like it” but blogger wants to register me. Haven’t seen this yet in social media. I’d like to be you for a year. I’ll even do the laundry.

    October 17, 2011
    • Thanks Bob. You can click Facebook “like” on this page!
      You went from wanting to be me for 2 weeks to a year… that’s progress. I’d like to be you for a year, too. Maybe we swap next year?

      October 17, 2011
  3. Winston,

    What a great post! I shared some of your sentiments when quit my job a couple of years ago. Not having income made spending it less satisfying (though my husband never made a single comment about how good I am at spending it:) . And I felt like I had an obligation to do much more at home, including my husband’s laundry – after all, he was now the primary breadwinner (somehow I forgot that I was, and still am, the primary caregiver.) Funny thing is, now that I’m back working (albeit part time) I still do almost all the kids’ stuff (clothes, activities, homework, etc.) Hmm, I think I’ll give him the laundry back to do himself, as I don’t like it either…

    Your post made me think we should have a chat about our roles here at home as the kids grow and our work committments change.

    I think it’s very good to reverse roles for a while. And when you come back to Boston, perhaps there’s a way to mix your current and past roles to “optimize”? 🙂


    October 17, 2011
    • I read about a couple who worked out who does what in the household purely rationally. They wrote down the things that need to be done, and how many hours per week it’d take. Each person gets to pick his or her most hated and enjoyed tasks. This would make some chore assignment very obvious. The less obvious ones, the ones that BOTH people like, or the one that BOTH people hate, need to be split up in a more arbitrary way. You can make this system even better by adding an “efficiency” factor: who can do it faster.
      Or you can do it the old way: the husband makes money, and the wife does everything else.
      Life must have been much easier before when people didn’t have so many acceptable choices.

      October 18, 2011
  4. Good suggestion! I’ll try that for the everyday stuff and see how goes.
    Although I decided to outsource some of my chores and got a housekeeper years ago. It’s a win-win; i get to spend more time doing the things I enjoy and my Tibetan-in-exile housekeeper supports her family.

    Maybe life was easier before with less choices, but i think much less gratifying!

    October 18, 2011

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