Several years ago I was having a rough day and opted to vomit my emotions onto a Google Doc. The gist of what I wrote was how I felt I now understood why some men walk out on their families. The whole, “I’m gonna go to the store for milk,” then never come back kind of thing made sense.
While my emotions were strong that day, my logic was in control of my decision making. I never left to get any milk.
Since that day we’ve had two more kids in addition to our oldest, and my experiences as a husband and father have further solidified my understanding of why some men just peace out.
Quite simply, being married and raising children is hard. As men are typically the bread winners, we can often feel enormous pressure.
The Average Family Man
The most stressful days in any given month are when bills get paid. Watching the bank account shrink to near zero in about 30 minutes is depressing. I feel so blessed to have the means to live, but living paycheck to paycheck is the curse of middle-class America. If anything out of the ordinary happened, then what?
I work full-time while Lisa takes care of the kiddos and our home full-time. Then we trade a couple evenings each week. She works while I take care of the kiddos and our home.
Asher’s kindergarten is a co-op. So in addition to dropping him off and picking him up each day, one of us will help teach about once a week. There are also monthly events and bi-monthly meetings.
A family of 5 means lots of dishes and lots of laundry to keep up with. It also means lots of cooking to feed everyone. The days of being young-marrieds-with-no-kids feels like a lifetime ago. We never realized how simple our life really was in the beginning.
Once bedtime for the kids rolls around we’ve had a full day of work, cooking, cleaning, breaking up fights, changing diapers, and on and on. The 2 hours we have together in the evening as husband and wife (if Lisa doesn’t work that night) is recovery time before we take showers and go to bed.
Then we get woken up by the baby once or twice in the middle of the night and start the day over again.
Very rarely do we enjoy each other’s company without a child needing something from us. Dates happen maybe every other month when grandma is in town to watch the littles. Our time as a couple has dwindled significantly, which isn’t terribly great for a wife whose primary love language is quality time.
Potential Impending Results
Many of us men deal with pressures, stresses, and craziness at work, then come home to the insanity of young children playing, screaming, fighting, and pooping. Our wife isn’t getting what she needs from us, and our bills struggle to be paid. This stokes the flame of the male psyche that is performance and results driven creating a bonfire of inadequacy.
Men compartmentalize. We take it on the chin over and over and over. Hold it all in. All of these are weights being set on our backs, while simultaneously chipping away at our knees. Defeat is not an option. We carry all we can.
Until one day our legs give, the burdens crush us, and our sense of self is obliterated. Destroyed.
We’ve given away so much of ourself to our jobs, our wives, and our kids that we don’t have anything left. We don’t know who we are or why we do it anymore.
All that’s left is a trip to the grocery store. Returning was never an option.
What Do We Do?
There used to be a piece of me that scoffed and judged people that ran out on their families. I always wondered what made it so hard. But now I get it. I’m in the middle of it and experiencing the pressures of being the “man of the house” and what it is to provide; to have others depend on your for everything.
Now when I hear those stories I feel compassion and empathy.
The way we men compartmentalize isolates us and makes us feel like we’re the only ones dealing with these struggles. But it’s actually commonplace.
It feels like there’s no time for self, no time for friends, and no time for spouses. I get how feeling unable to provide financially and/or emotionally can wear a man down to the point of destruction.
How do we keep going? How do we stop what feels like impending doom?
There are three things I find myself constantly coming back to when my hope begins to fade: my vows, being vulnerable with my wife, and winning victories over my stuff.
The very first day we were married we committed ourselves to our spouse while standing in front of friends and family.
Remember those promises and the gravity of what was said in the presence of witnesses. The reality of “for better or worse” is that we are accountable to stay put and work through difficult times.
We must be honest and authentic with our spouses. When we open up our hearts and say what is going on inside us we can help create an environment of vulnerability in our marriages.
Someone has to take a first step. Let it be you.
The scary part is not knowing your spouse’s reaction. There’s that fear of being rejected in the midst of being honest.
Try this script with your spouse before beginning a vulnerable conversation:
I want to talk to you about what’s going on inside of me, but I’m afraid of not being understood. Before I share, can we commit to understanding and accepting one another instead of reacting to each other?
Speaking honestly about what’s happening inside of us and still being accepted is where true love, unconditional love, is experienced.
We must be willing to lose our ego and win control over our thoughts, actions, and emotions.
I have never been able to brilliantly argue my wife into agreeing that she had a problem I saw in her.
Our fight is not against the love of our life, but within ourselves. The only person who can change you is you. Commit to stop pointing fingers at your spouse’s stuff and work on your own.
Taking time for your personal growth will never be a hindrance to your marriage. It will enhance it.
You are more than your emotions on a bad day. You are more than the burden you carry as a family man. You are committed and your best days are ahead.
Stay true to your vows. Tell your spouse how your feel. Open up to her! Then work on your stuff so that you’re better for her and your kids.
As the men in our homes we get to lead by example and show our family that they are worth every ounce of energy and love we have.
And when we go to get milk we’ll actually just be going to get milk and come home to the family we have the privilege of sacrificing for.
Want a New Perspective?
I’ve created a measuring guide to alter how you view your marriage and your spouse. Ask yourself these questions, your mindset will shift quickly.