A recent article about the problem of over-reliance on your spouse at blackandmarriedwithkids.com definitely stimulated my thinking and provoked a reaction. The logic of the thesis is pretty hard to refute – the fact is that most of us develop relationship roles after a time in which we count on the other person to do certain things, and depend on them to accomplish their (perhaps unconsciously) assigned tasks correctly.
For example, my husband and I have been married over 12 years, and there are definitely jobs on each of our lists that we rely on each other to do. Unlike the author of the article, we both drive, so we share that equally. He loves to do the grocery shopping, which I can’t stand to do. I am in charge of the checkbook, paying the bills, and other financial record-keeping.
He takes care of the lawn and outside home maintenance, partly because I have allergies, but mostly because I am not handy in the way that he is. I do much of the house cleaning, but he helps at times, and he does most of the cooking so it is a fairly even trade. He also does the laundry, another task that doesn’t suit me, but when our children were at home, we essentially shared caring for them.
So in our case at least, the tasks we rely on each other for are primarily that way because it’s the way we want it to be. He does what he is good at and likes, and I do the same. When there is something that for some reason becomes my job, but I don’t want to be in charge of all the time, we talk about it and work it out.
It doesn’t seem to be a case of over-reliance, because there is nothing that either one of us couldn’t do if we really had to or wanted to – and that’s not being dependent. It’s a situation of being independent, but choosing to rely on the other person.
It’s easy to imagine, however, that this is not the way some couples work together. Becoming reliant on your partner to play a role that you can’t, or to accomplish a chore, or do a job that isn’t possible for you may make you resentful in the long run.
If you begin to feel too dependent, you feel unequal and somehow controlled by your dependency. Conversely, the one being relied upon too heavily can feel that without him or her, the spouse wouldn’t be able to get through an ordinary day. There absolutely should be a balance between partners and neither should feel as though the other would fall apart if one suddenly disappeared or was incapacitated (God forbid, of course).
But with that said, I don’t think that swapping tasks every once in a while is really a good idea. I certainly wouldn’t want my husband taking over the checkbook for a month, even though he would probably do just fine at it. It would cause me more stress than any over-reliance. And I don’t want to take over the shopping and the laundry – call me crazy. But we do need to make sure that we feel like equals, and that there is no underlying resentment about the way we have chosen to live. We do depend on each other to make our relationship work, whatever it takes.