When I met my husband, Josh, I was planning on starting law school the following year. My father is a very successful attorney in private practice, and my dream was to join him in his practice. There are no boys in our family and, as the oldest, I felt it was my responsibility—and an honor—to work with him.
But at that time, Josh was in the middle of medical school. We fell in love and decided together that I would work and support us through the rest of his medical school years. So my dream of becoming a lawyer was put on the back burner. By the time Josh finished medical school and began his internship, I was already pregnant and felt it wasn’t the best time to start law school, so, once again, my career was put on hold. I found myself pregnant again and again, thank G-d, and was busy raising our family. During those years I also began to get involved in a lot of volunteer work for our children’s schools, our shul, and other important causes. I was, and continue to be, busy as a bee!
Today, Josh is a well-respected doctor, and rightfully so. However, from the very beginning, it always seemed to both of us that his time was more precious than mine, his accomplishments were more valued than mine, and, in general, I was number two in the family hierarchy. Josh was the sun and everyone and everything else in our home revolved around him. Interestingly, one day I had a wakeup call and realized that I actually work harder than Josh. My jobs are 24/7. Though he works long hours, once he gets home, he’s done for the day. He can relax and unwind. My jobs, on the other hand, are never done: I’m always dealing with the needs of others and making meaningful contributions at all hours to chesed organizations and, of course, our children.
Sadly, something I didn’t really want to look at too closely became abundantly clear to me recently. I realized that Josh really doesn’t respect my work and, on some level, he probably doesn’t respect me either. It was a real eye-opener recently when my 12-year-old daughter asked me why her father speaks to me in such a disrespectful way. She made that comment after Josh had asked me to serve him lunch and when I handed him a sandwich, he told me that I should know by now that he only likes whole-wheat bread! He said it in a very condescending voice, as though I were his waitress. Mind you, I would never talk to a waitress that way. But, regardless, it made me realize that Josh sees me as a person who has less to offer the world than he does and, therefore, he probably doesn’t respect me very much.
I look back on my life and think that I probably shouldn’t have been so quick to sacrifice my dream. I’m sure that part of my crisis right now is that feeling of regret. But more importantly, is there a way to force someone to respect you when the trend has been going on for so long and seems etched in stone?
First I’ll address the easier aspect of your “crisis.” What is stopping you from pursuing your dream here and now? No matter your age, your initial vision, and any other variables, if being an attorney was something you always dreamed of pursuing, what’s getting in the way from making it happen at this stage of your life? You supported your husband’s goals for many years, and now it should be time that your goals are supported. I understand that you’ve spent many years devoting yourself to important causes, and that’s very commendable, but it’s OK to hand those torches over to other individuals who are ready to take over. It also sounds as though your children are no longer babies and it would be manageable to devote serious time to yourself. So my real question to you is: What is stopping you right now, in real time, from achieving your dream? You can spend the rest of your life bemoaning what you gave up for your husband, or you can take charge and responsibility so that ultimately you can achieve this particular sense of fulfillment you’ve always wanted.
Having said that, there is no job in the world that’s more important than raising a family. It is probably one of the most challenging jobs, requiring a myriad of skills and, as you pointed out, it’s often a 24/7 commitment. Additionally, your volunteer work is something you should feel extremely proud of and you should acknowledge to yourself that you are deserving of a tremendous amount of respect for what you do.
More to your point though, a negative pattern was put into motion many years ago between you and Josh. We can all understand what led to it, but somewhere along the way it got out of control. Yes, I’m sure Josh worked very hard for many years and probably still works very hard. (As do you.) And yes, I’m sure the work he does affects many people’s lives in a very positive way (as does your work with your children and others), and no doubt he receives frequent accolades (which maybe you do not). But treating one another respectfully reflects a basic character trait that is non-negotiable. We all deserve respect, regardless of what we do or what we accomplish. We all deserve kindness, sensitivity, and warmth from one another. If you are made to feel like a poorly performing waitress within your marriage, something is very wrong!
It’s possible you became desensitized a long time ago regarding just how disrespectful your husband’s tone is to you, and it took the observation of your daughter to point out that what you have become used to as normal conversation is not alright. If she’s sensing a lack of respect, I’m guessing it must be so.
We do teach other people how to treat us. When we don’t let others know that their conduct toward us in inappropriate, not only will they not stop, but they might not even recognize the error of their ways. It’s up to you to inform Josh that he has to be mindful of how he speaks to you, both in the tone and the messaging. If the example you gave is just the tip of the iceberg, Josh has got a lot to learn about you and, maybe even more importantly, himself. But first it is necessary for you to believe that you are every bit as worthy as he is and that you deserve so much better from him than you have been receiving.
When we let behaviors slip by, nothing changes. When we take a stand, something will inevitably change. But first you need to believe in your heart and soul that you are deserving of as much respect and appreciation as Josh, whether or not you ever decide to pursue a higher education. You have value just by being you, but, additionally, raising a family and contributing your efforts to organizations makes you deserving of as much admiration and respect as Josh commands.
Your life can change and your marriage can change, but you have to decide it’s time to make it happen.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone, Zoom, and FaceTime sessions. She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295. Read more of Esther Mann’s articles at 5TJT.com.