No One Asked You To Be A Martyr

This week, I thought we’d take a week to talk about our relationships and money. You know, the hard stuff. The real stuff. The stuff people don’t talk enough about. If you want a refresher, you can look back at these two posts on marriage and money and combining finances. This week, in true APW fashion, I thought we’d approach this from a lot of different perspectives, some direct, some tangential. What’s it like to support your partner? What is it like to be supported by your partner? What does it mean when we buy an engagement ring? Write a pre-nuptial agreement? I don’t think anyone has all the answers (or any of the answers), but we might as well talk. So today, I thought I’d kick it off, talking about the sh*tty economy, and limited job opportunities, and the ugly stuff. Because we might as well be honest, right? So here I go…

The other week I was poking around Helen Jane’s site. HJ (who is pretty spectacular—she is one of the women who threw Mighty Summit, and has been a blogger since… more or less the dawn of blogging) wrote a series of letters to her then-unborn baby this spring. One of them, “No one asked you to be a Martyr” hit me in the gut. I’m terrified of parenthood mostly because I’m terrified at becoming a martyr. I’m terrified of losing myself completely to the needs of a family, and I take constant reminding in the form of women like Cate, Marie-Eve, Maggie, Kristina, and well, Helen Jane, that this does not have to be the case. So this hit me, hard:

I seem to have noticed that lots of women who have children become martyrs.
They give themselves over to the housekeeping, to the child rearing, to full-time work, to husband support, to Can’t You See What I Do For You People?

What they never seem to remember is that the children didn’t ask to be born and raised.
The house never told them it needed all that attention.
The husband never requested they give up their ladies’ nights.

They quit being themselves to throw themselves at the altar of Can’t You See What I Do For You People?

They’re making themselves miserable so they can feel more important?
They’re making themselves sad to show how much they give up?
They want you to pity them, they want you to see how selfless they are.
How selfish.

No one likes a martyr.
No one asked you to be a martyr.

Baby, please do me a favor, if you see me breaking out the Can’t You See What I Do For You People, will you please crack a joke?
Will you bring me back from the glorious misery of self-pity?
I’d really appreciate that.

But then I realized. The reason I’m so scared of martyring myself for my family, is that, well, that’s a role I fall into too easily. That’s one of the hard parts of marriage for me.

These last few years have been tough, money wise. I don’t mean money has been tight, because it hasn’t been (nothing like years of making $25K working in theatre to make you feel flush working in the for-profit world). But the balance of work has been hard. For the first year we were married, David was still in law school. As I mentioned when he graduated, I was the sole breadwinner, the economy sucked, layoffs were happening all around me, I was stressed.

But it hasn’t ended, exactly. And that’s when it got tougher. David did phenomenally well in law school. But his sector of the legal market has been hit hard, the Bay Area legal market has been devastated. So he’s waiting for his bar results. (Can we talk about how absurd it is that, even though law school costs six figures-plus, you have to wait a full six months after you graduate from law school to practice law?) So, in the meantime, he has a fellowship. He’s one of the lucky ones.

So I’m working. As you do. We’re married, and one of the great parts of marriage is that you become a single economic unit. You’re no longer dependent on just yourself, the two of you somehow keep afloat together.

But it’s hard not to feel like a martyr. Sometimes. In your heart of hearts.

When you go to work each day knowing that you don’t love your job, but you can do it well. When you come home each night with more work to do, because you’re blessed enough to have a side project that turned into a job. When you don’t have enough time to yourself, but you know the bills have to get paid, and both of you need to be insured, and life must go on. It’s hard not to feel like a martyr.

And none of us are at our best when we’re being martyrs, even if we’re only being martyrs in a tiny piece of our hearts. We’re not our happiest; we’re not our most generous; we’re not our kindest. And our poor partners. They didn’t ask us to be a martyr. They’re struggling too.

So how do we stop this? How do we keep carrying on, doing work we don’t love, sharing responsibilities, but not sacrificing ourselves on the altar of self-pity?

I’ve got no real answers, yet. I know that it helps to remind myself how lucky I am. How lucky I am that the bills are paid; how lucky I am that I have work that I’m good at; how lucky I am that I can take pride in supporting my family. And, to be honest, I remind myself how lucky I am that my work clothes are cute. Because really, shallowness helps soften the martyr heart. But mostly I remind myself that things will change, slowly.

And we’re in this together. No one asked us to be martyrs, but we did decide to be a team.

And now, will somebody please make a joke? I’d really appreciate that.

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  • I’m racking my brains trying to remember a good joke but all I can think of is how spot on this post is. I was really guilty of this in my first marriage and it cut me to the quick when my ex would say ‘but I never asked you to do that’ instead of showing any appreciation. Also my mum is one of the strongest most intelligent people you’ll ever meet but she still did everything for my dad so I guess I thought that was what a wife should be. I’m ashamed to admit that when things weren’t going well I thought it would make him want to stay, he did for a while but for the wrong reasons.

    I also wish I had answers. Being with a different person has helped alot. I’m really lucky – my partner just does things without being asked. I have to make sure that I don’t take advantage of him! It also helps to have a reality check and say – did behaving like that make you happy? No – so don’t let yourself do it, it’ll end badly. I also now know that I don’t have to be my mum. I respect her enormously for having five children, with a full time job – while my dad was supportive he certainly wasn’t making dinners or cleaning. He only changed when all the children had left home! I love my mum but I don’t want or need to be her and I now know that she won’t judge me for that.

    How easy it will be to keep thinking like this if we have children I don’t know, but of all my friends and family who have kids – the children who seem most well adjusted are the ones whose mum’s will ask for help and not give in to the temptation of martyrdom – well at least not all the time – I’m sure everyone has thier moments.

    Sorry – still haven’t thought of a good joke – sure my ex would find it a big joke that I feel anywhere near qualified to comment on this though :)

    • So many of us are programed to follow our mom’s examples in motherhood and wifehood. They sacrificed all, so we think we should sacrifice all.

      I think those of us who had mothers like this need to be especially tuned into looking for alternative examples to motherhood and wifehood. We need different models so that we don’t fall into the same trap.

    • I was really guilty of this in my first marriage and it cut me to the quick when my ex would say ‘but I never asked you to do that’ instead of showing any appreciation.

      Yes, yes, yes. I have heard this before from my husband, as well, and it always makes me scream “I know, but I did it so could you just say thank you?!” Although, I’m also guilty of not always giving credit where credit is due, but, for some reason, it’s always easier for me to become the martyr than for him.

  • a totally off topic childish joke:

    two toothpicks are walking through the forest. All of a sudden, a porcupine speeds by.

    one toothpick says to the other: “oh MAN! if only we had known that the bus is running today!”

    get it?! hmmmmm…

    • Another Joke:

      How do you wake up Lady Gaga?

      Puh puh puh poke her face!

      ***B’dum Ching***

    • kireina

      Another joke:

      Two sausages are put in a skillet. The first screams, “Aaaaargh! We’re being cooked alive!”

      The second sausage screams, “Aaaaargh! A talking sausage!”


      • Noelle

        Another joke:

        Why does a chicken coup only have 2 doors?

        Because otherwise it would be a chicken SEDAN.

        Bahh haha.

        • Morgan

          What does a mouse wear?


          … yeah, I know.

          • Jessica

            How do you make a tissue dance?

            Put a boogie in it.

            (Credit goes to my 6 year old cousin…kid jokes are the best!)

          • memery

            My favorite joke, ever:

            What’s brown and sticky?

            (think about it for a minute…)

            A: a stick!

            gets me every time. poop is funny. :)

          • Kinzie Kangaroo

            Hahaha Jessica that is brilliant. I work in a daycare, so this is right up my alley. Here’s the following gchat convo between me and my fiance that stemmed from reading this joke:

            me: How do you make a tissue dance? (this is a joke)
            Donnie: hold on to it and wiggle it around a little
            me: Put a boogie in it.
            Donnie: that’s snot funny

            Isn’t he good?!

  • Rose in SA

    Wow Meg! I love your honesty in this post, love getting an insight into what’s going on in your world.

    I too am terrified beyond reason of giving up my whole world if/when we have children. And although I love seeing examples of women who are not martyrs, my heart still doesn’t really believe it’s possible. Maybe because I find it easy to fall into that role too (see also: making my husband’s lunch everyday).

    I wonder sometimes if I (maybe together with my husband) am making him into a martyr. We’ve got very comfortable living on our two salaries, especially my husband’s very generous one. I wonder if maybe this makes him feel trapped into this job, since it would be very tough to find such a lucrative one elsewhere. We’re ok right now, but this is a good reminder that this martyr thing can go both ways.

  • Carbon Girl

    Wow, that post described my mom exactly. And let me tell you, living with a martyr can be really hard–like screaming fights, beg-for-therapy when you are only 15 years old hard. I spent my whole young adult life trying so hard to please my mom, to make her happy. My mom was not a financial martyr but a homemaking martyr. She was miserable about it, the guilt trips were constant, and the resentment laid bare. She on more than one occasion implied she wished we had not been born so she could have a life. I tried so hard to keep my brothers in line and went way above 100% with chores I did and made sure to be the perfect student. I started resenting my brothers for not trying as hard and therefore basically fell into the role of the sibling martyr or “martyr-to-the-martyr”.

    I said a never wanted kids for a long time seeing what it did to my mom’s psyche. Now, all grown up, I have seen plenty of good examples of self/motherhood balance to make me believe it is possible to have kids and a life. I know firsthand that giving up yourself for your children is not what is best for the children and can come back to bite you in the butt. I often wonder how much happier my mom would have been with a messier house because she made more time for herself.

    And a joke: OK, so this may not be funny to those outside the family and may seem a little dark . . . but my brothers and I joke now joke that you know its the holiday season again when our mom starts rushing around yelling like a stressed-out banshee. As in who needs cold weather or Christmas decorations to mark the season when mom in full martyr role is enough.

    • you have written the comment that I could have written. sounds like you’re a bit further along than me — I’m still trying hard to make my mom happy. But I live far away now, so it’s a few times a year pursuit instead of a daily pursuit.

  • I wish I had a good joke for you… but I’ve never been very good at telling jokes.

    I can tell you that this is everything I’ve been thinking in the deep down parts of me I don’t like. Except you said it so much more beautifully. I sometimes resent my husband for going back to school and making us live on the cheap so we can pay for it. I resent him for not having any time for us to spend quality time together, since he’s working as much as possible as he is going back to school. We’re newlyweds and I keep thinking it shouldn’t be like this.

    Writing those things down make me want to smack myself because I am 100% being a martyr and it makes me sick.

    What I SHOULD be thinking is how thankful I am that we have the money to get him through school without going in to serious debt to do it. I should be thankful that my husband is a talented piano player that has been able to teach lessons and make some pretty good money when he is going to school at the same time. I should be thankful that I have a job that pays well and that I’m pretty darn good at, even when I don’t try that hard.

    Now to repeat that to myself when I start with the self–pity….

    • Elissa

      I totally feel you on this one. My husband went back to school and he’s finishing up this winter (yaaay!) and we both know it was the right choice — he was in a dead-end job before this and now he’s receiving specialized training that will probably help him land a more secure job with better pay — but we are also newlyweds and he’s lapsed into student mode (sleeping late, going to class, playing video games in his spare time, part-time food-related job) while I’m in going-to-work mode (waking up early, going to bed early, generally being too tired to do anything when I get home, resentful that he’s spending his tips on video games instead of adding it to the already lean bank account).

      This post hits really close to home because I’ve been in martyr mode the past year and a half, ever since he went back for his certification. I don’t mean to be, but I also feel like it’s not fair. Whenever he and I talk about it, he tells me it’s temporary. I know that it is temporary. But the here and now feels so permanent that it puts me into a black hole.

      Not sure what else to say, but hey… I can relate. :\

      • Another Thea

        I feel hesitant about saying this, because I’m sure you all know this, but as I read your comments here, I just want to point out, that if something feels off to you about the balance of your marriage, it is also okay to speak up. Especially important because you can risk falling into the “martyr trap” backwards, where you are silently resenting your husband while sacrificing yourself so he can have the space to pursue his dreams.

        If he’s spending time (for example) on the couch playing video games and he has a different schedule from yours, while you’re getting home tired from work each day, is he also putting in a load of laundry when it needs it? Offering to cook dinner on nights when he doesn’t have a heavy load of homework? Taking care of errands that are difficult for you to do, but that he can do between classes? Thanking you for supporting the family while he is studying, yes, even though you both know that it’s for a good cause and you are happy to do it? Is it possible for him to make a dedicated night to the two of you once a week, even if it’s only for an hour or two?

        I really don’t mean to be shoving my oar in, so I apologize if this sounds at all disrespectful of what you are doing here. But it does seem to me that’s worth a conversation.

        • meg

          WELL SAID and worth paying attention to. My husband has done all the cooking and laundry and most of the cleaning over the past few years of law school, while I worked my ass off. And, he got up at 6am every single day to keep my schedule. Sometimes I still played martyr, but deep down I new better, and that’s an important thing.

    • Chantelle

      Wow, this post (and this comment) really touched a nerve. Sitting at my desk at work crying while I type this and hoping no coworkers pop in my office.

      I fall into the martyr trap constantly, and on some subconcious level I equate being a good mother with being a martryr, and being willing to sacrfice EVERYTHING for your child when you choose to have one…which is why motherhood also scares the crap out of me.

      My fiance has returned to school, and is one of the most super hard working driven people I have ever seen, but yes, there have been many fights where I feel that school and his future career is higher on the priorty list than spending time together, and deep in my heart I feel resentful that he is pursuing his dream to do what he’s passionate about, while I work at a decent job to help him achieve this. And I know he’d support me in a heartbeat if I wanted to drop it all and pursue my own dreams…it’s just that sometimes figuring out what your dreams are isn’t as easy now as it was when you were a teenager.

      I think what makes it harder is that sacrifice is necessary, and I’m not sure if today’s generation grew up understanding the concept of sacrifice…I know I didn’t. So it’s incredibly hard to be financially restricted etc etc, when society preaches instant gratification.

      Thank you for reminding me to come up with my own mantra of gratitude, because I really have so many wonderful things in my life, I am not a victim, I just like whinging in my head sometimes. I’m surrounded by love and the two of us have the ability to laugh off just about anything which is something that is so invaluable….I just need to be able to kick myself out of the martyr rut.

      • Rachel C.

        …”I feel resentful that he is pursuing his dream to do what he’s passionate about, while I work at a decent job to help him achieve this. And I know he’d support me in a heartbeat if I wanted to drop it all and pursue my own dreams…it’s just that sometimes figuring out what your dreams are isn’t as easy now as it was when you were a teenager.”

        Oh, Chantelle, this is me. My fiance’s in grad school, working on a career he’s wanted since high school. It really does a number on my head, too. The hard thing for me to remember is that even though I don’t have a specific dream to chase or feel like I’m Called by God to Some Certain Career, I’m just as worthwhile as the people who are passionate about pursuing something.

        • Chantelle

          *virtual hug* Rachel C. I think its hard to remind myself of that truth, that it doesn’t make me any less worthy since I haven’t figured out “my calling” yet, thanks for the reminder.
          I love seeing him so engaged in what he’s doing, and he is sooo much happier than he was when he worked a dead end job. I am constantly amazed by his creativity and passion (he’s back in school pursuing a career in film)…I think what all this is teaching me is that I need to stop being a martry and instead focus my energy on getting in touch with myself and figuring out what path makes me happy too.

          • aarika

            My goodness Ladies! I feel you guys so much on all your points it took me a day to respond! I ungraciously fall into the martyr role too much. It’s hard not to feel taken advantage of sometimes.. My fiancee is a wonderful man, but it was an extremely tough time when he was unemployed after we had only been engaged for two months :/ The hardest part of it is, he loves his job now but it’s physical, he is gone on the weekends, and his earning potential is at best a 1/4 of mine. Which is fine, but has taken a bit of adjusting. And I feel like an asshole even saying that, it’s a comment on how deeply ingrained gender roles are even when you think they aren’t a part of your life. I’m an extremely liberal minded woman but being the head of household shook me to the core, in fact I still struggle with thoughts of “he should have gotten more done today, if I was home all day I would have”.. and then when I think those kind of things I pick on him (I’m embarrassed to even type this thank god for anonymity of the web). At the same time I know he doesn’t expect me to stay at my mediocre well paying job, but I feel like I need to. To support our life together, but Meg you are right he sure as hell didn’t ask me to. So now comes the hard part, trying to un-teach myself this bad deeply ingrained habit and start being a better me & a better partner. ugh.

  • Kristin

    What do they say when a chrurch is burning down?



  • Liz

    this is something with which i’ve struggled so much since getting pregnant. i worked (until very, very recently) a job i hated (only to be replaced by a slightly better but more stressful job) by day, and came home and pursued other financial goals in my spare time. and then, all the sudden i was pregnant and EXHAUSTED. and i would come home feeling so drained from job #1, i couldn’t do jobs #2,3 and 4.

    one thing that has helped us ALOT is voicing expectations. whenever we get to the point where i crack and end up yelling, “I FEEL LIKE I DO EVERYTHING MYSELF.” we sit down and sort out exactly what i expect josh to do while i’m at work, and what exactly he expects me to do (which is usually far less than i martyr-ly pile on myself)

    the other key for me has been voicing appreciation. for the dumb stuff. when i come home and the dishes are done, i’m sure to say, “thanks for doing the dishes, babe.” even though that’s his “job.” and when i come home pooped from being disrespected by 14 year olds all day, he rubs my feet and says, “thanks for working so hard for our family, sweetie.” and that constant back-and-forth of appreciation really, really keeps both of us from sinking into, “WHY DO I DO EVERYTHING?” because no job feels thankless.

    • Liz

      aaand the motherhood-martyr thing. scares the POOP out of me.

    • Meredith

      YES! The appreciation. Whenever I cook dinner, my partner makes sure to say thank you and then tell me how delicious it is. Every. Single. Time. And somehow, it doesn’t feel cheesy. I really like it.

      So I do the same. “Thank for putting the dishes away” “Thank you for taking out the garbage” etc. Knowing that what you are doing is appreciated sure helps a lot.

      • meg

        Oh, thank god I don’t cook the dinner. If I did, we wouldn’t be very functional around here and there would be a lot more screaming. I am very grateful for that :)

        • Same here. My cooking skills (or lack thereof) have become a running joke for us. I love the idea of expressing gratitude for even the little or expected stuff.

      • YES! My fiance works from 6:30am – 2pm, and tackles household chores every afternoon when he gets home. And I appreciate it SO much. If he didn’t, it would be another thing on my plate when I come home at 6pm. But the key is making sure to let him know how much I appreciate it, by saying “thank you” even if he does it EVERY week.

      • You know, I think this is key for escaping martyrdom. I genrally like doing a lot of domestic things (except dishes, I hate doing dishes so much), but without appreciation it’s easy to start playing the martyr. We do both make an effort to say thanks etc, but it’s easy to take things for granted sometimes and that’s when things start to go downhill.

      • Wsquared

        Out of the pair of us– my fiance and I– I do most of the cooking. He helps me, but doesn’t always have time. He does, however, do the dishes most of the time. So it’s a fair trade-off.

        He always makes sure to thank me for the meals that I cook, and I know that he appreciates them. It’s certainly nice to be appreciated. But.


        But while I’m glad that he’s glad and grateful, what doesn’t make cooking seem like a chore is that while I may cook most of our meals, this isn’t just about me cooking for him. I’m cooking for ME, too. I’ve always loved cooking for me. Always have during my active single life. No reason why it should stop, just because I’m engaged and getting married.

    • Liz, what fantastic concrete things to do you just gave me! Voicing expectations and being appreciative. Awesome. I feel sometimes like I’m trying desperately to voice all of my fears/expectations before we get married which can seem kind of overwhelming, and by this point I’m able to relax a little and see that we communicate well enough to deal with it as long as we keep communicating.

      And you’re someone I look up to a lot about the motherhood/martyrdom. You live your own life, just with a baby in it! Kind of like Cate and Marie-Eve and a few others.

    • Mattingly

      This strikes a chord. My dad has a very over the top personality, and can be quite forceful at times, often without even realizing it. And my mom, for the most part, is quiet and very much wants to please everyone. (tho, she can be a firebrand if pushed…) So for my whole life I’ve grown up with the phrase ‘I affirm you!’ as a constant refrain between my dad and my mom. Any time she gets a bit worked up about not knowing what he wants, or thinking she’ll do something wrong, he just goes “I affirm you!” and we all laugh, and she knows that he doesn’t really care if it’s perfect and is grateful she’s doing it at all.

      Then when J and I got married earlier this year, his grandfather (who’s wife just passed away after about 45 years of marriage) gave us a traditional framed penn-dutch wedding ‘frakture’ with the saying ‘The Golden Rule of Marriage is: be kind to one another.” It hangs above our bedroom door now as a constant reminder and challenge. And I think what you’ve outlined here is a great example of that. If we can continuously be thankful for the little things (amen on the dishes being done!) perhaps it will help us keep the bigger ones in perspective as well.

      • This is the cutest thing I’ve heard today.

      • meg

        I love the “I affirm you!” I picture myself like half yelling it enthusiastically, since clearly I’m the huge personality in our relationship. I mean, David has plenty of personality, but I have enough for about 10 people.

    • JEM

      I need to do a better job appreciating things fiance does. I think the problem I face is my wildly independent streak that says “I CAN DO IT ALL BY MYSELF!” but really, I can’t. So when he helps, it’s a clash between letting myself down and getting used to not having to do it all by myself.

      It was great talking about marriage/relationship roles yesterday at the DC Meet-Up; probably my favorite part of the discussion. (“So which one of you is wearing pants??!” heheh)

      • Sarah

        I can understand this completely. As much as we struggle with the Sarah-does-the-majority-of-the-work (because to be completely honest, I do most of the work. And bring in most of our money. But we recognize that for what it is and try to move on.) thing, is INSANELY difficult for me to let go when he offers to clean the bathroom, because my mind screams at me that it won’t be done properly unless I do it.

        My issue is with letting go of that and letting him contribute, because really, what does it matter if the bathroom isn’t white-glove clean?

        It’s a struggle. But we’re working on it.

        (Also .. the pants!!)

        • Oh my gosh! I am constantly in a pull between trying to martyr myself and do EVERYTHING and letting him help. I feel awful when he washes clothes or sweeps the floor. I know this is completely ridiculous but my mother was the mother-of-all martyrs. She resented the fact that she had to work to help support our family and would have rather martyred herself on the throne of staying at home (because I know that this would have been the case either way) and still was expected to do all of the cooking, cleaning, raising the children. So when he sweeps the floor, my first reaction isn’t thanks it’s well, I could sweep the floor. I should have swept the floor instead of doing whatever it is that I’m doing now. Doesn’t he know that I could do that? Does he think I’m a bad wife or lazy for not having a clean floor?

        • meg

          Oh jesus. I do no cleaning, or laundry, or grocery shopping, or cooking. Because well, it’s not going to get done right if I do it (though I do tidy like a dervish, all the time). Which is a lovely thing to remind myself of when I b*tch about working endlessly :)

          So no homemaking martyrdom here. Which is totally a blessing I need to be reminded of.

      • Many years ago when I was in my early 20s and reading Good Housekeeping was my guilty pleasure, I read an advice column in there where a woman was complaining that not only did her husband not do enough around the house, what he did, he did WRONG. And the advice was, the dishes don’t have to be cleaned perfectly every time. The toys don’t have to put away in the “right” place so long as you aren’t stepping on them. Do you want the help or do you want things to be perfect? And to this day, I think of that whenever I am tempted to complain about the way my wife does some household task. I cook and she does the dishes – and yes, she doesn’t do them the way I would, and sometimes it’s hard for me not to make suggestions. But at the end of the day, I’d rather have the help than have it be perfect. So that’s what I try to remember – and it really does help me let go.

        • JEM

          You (and Good Housekeeping) are so right. Besides my fiercely independent streak, I also am a Type-A, Perfectionist. My fiance balences me out, but I have to remind myself to LET HIM balance me.

        • Mallory

          I think it’s important too to recognize how cyclical that micromanaging and resentment can become i.e. he tries to help -> I tell him he’s not doing it right -> so he stops doing it and I finish the task -> I get frustrated that he doesn’t help enough. Well duh, I wouldn’t want to help either if I had someone telling me I was doing it wrong. I see it in my own relationship and have started actively trying to behave differently and allow him to do chores his way because it usually works out just fine.

        • Marina

          Yes. My husband and I cannot cook together because the way he cooks drives me CRAZY. We both can cook delicious food, but I chop and mix as I go and try to be as efficient as possible, and he spends an extra hour chopping and prepping before the stove goes on, and then sits down and relaxes while it’s cooking. It drives me nuts. So… we don’t cook together, we take turns cooking. I go into the other room when he’s cooking. I don’t ask for his help when I cook. And we both get to eat delicious meals that were prepared with love and not bickering.

          • Carbon Girl

            Ha! We can’t cook together either. Though I am the problem partner with my micromanaging, asking him questions, and nitpicking when he is in charge. If I leave him alone, the food is still amazing. I am just a “backseat cooker”!

        • peanut

          ooohhhh totally! I am such a perfectionist about bullshit things that when we first moved in together I think I was indirectly discouraging my partner from doing housework. I lightened up and everything is a lot better :)

      • Ohmygosh, thank you for saying this, Jem.

        I’m the same way – it’s not so much that I expect myself to be the wife my mom was, but that I expect myself to be able to take care of my own house and do it “all by myself” as some sort of badge of awesomeness.

        Your comment made me realize that I do feel sort of like I’ve let *myself* down when I need help, instead of realizing I should be asking for help in the first place because it’s *our* house.

        • JEM

          Right back at you. *Our* house is the key part there. Heck, he now considers my educational debt “our” collective debt, the least I could do is let him put his tools (and remote control helicopter…) where he wants them, right??

          • Hehe. My husband has one of those remote controller helicopters too. :)

      • JEM

        Can I just tie this all back to the Wedding part of A Practical Wedding?

        As I noted somewhere else in the 150+ comments (whoo!), I have a high 5-figure amount of education debt. So right now, even though I am making more money than my fiance, most of the money I make goes away like, yesterday. I am having a hard time being ok with the fact that my fiance is the one who will essentially pay for our wedding, even though I am the one who has planned what the wedding will be like (note: I have consulted him consistently along the way and he and I are in agreement to the “type” of wedding we are having.)

        He rationalizes that my debt is part of the Package Deal he gets with me (wow, I must have some damn good redeeming qualities!) and he is not concerned in the slightest. I am the only one struggling with this. I guess, then, I flip flop between being the martyr and being the leech.

    • meg

      Yes. We are big on the voicing appreciation. It helps. Doesn’t exactly solve the problem, but helps.

      • We joked about needing to talk about how we appreciate each other for so long that now we play “the appreciation game”! Which now basically entails one of us saying, when we feel unappreciated or unnoticed (or martyred) – “let’s play the appreciation game!” or “I am playing the appreciation game! Appreciate me!!” in a joking way. I love it. It lets the other person know you’re feeling sooky and gah about things without whinging, and gives them an opportunity to give you a big hug and say “I APPRECIATE YOU!” Which usually works.

        • Eliza, I really like this! :)

    • Both of us work multiple jobs and we both have entirely different perspectives on busy-ness and the value it has for each of us. He’s taken on more to try and keep up with me and we get into a cycle of trying to do more to make more hoping financial security will keep us both happy. Instead we end up with less time together and ultimately more stress.

      2 things that have helped us are being thankful as mentioned here. Just being present and appreciating one another at least brings more value to the stress we put on ourselves. It’s certainly nice to be recognized for your efforts and diffuses the feeling of “Can’t you see what I do for you!”.

      The other item is a cost time analysis. This doesn’t necessarily work in the world of we-don’t-have-enough-to-make-ends-meet, but for those of us prone to biting off more than we can chew it’s a helpful way to decide WHY I’m taking on what I’m taking on and what the ultimate value will be. If its detrimental in the long run to our collective psyche or our relationship, it’s not worth it!

    • Erika

      Liz – LOVE the way you all have sorted out chores….that you discuss expectations and then actual actions. And, what a great partner to know when you’re stressed out that all you both need to do is sit down and make a list/talk about it, so that reality of life sets in and you can go on being grateful istead of stress. Here’s a hug from SF!

    • Liz – something about your comment brought me to tears! That’s so sweet that you two can sort through that and remember to be grateful for every little, teeny, tiny thing you both do… my hubs and I have been focusing on that lately as well. It makes a WORLD of difference.

    • JC

      Your last Paragraph is Stellar! It’s the Shared “Little Acts of Kindness” coupled with Patience & Communication that really mean the most in Preserving your Relationship over the Long Haul …even if you don’t have a Penny to your Name..

  • Knock knock.
    -Who’s there?
    Interrupting cow.

    Now, exactly. To this. And Helen Jane, thanks for that letter. What a fantastic practice. And this entire post is going into my “personality inspiration” folder. I’m lucky in that my mom always told us we were the best thing that ever happened to her, but I’ve seen one of my sisters hate the fact that her children took her life. It’s heart-wrenching. And while motherhood doesn’t do that for me, I do that in other relationships, past romantic relationships and sometimes with my family. I’m counteracting that tendency by learning how to be assertive.

    • Jo — That is one of my son’s absolute favorite jokes. He also likes:

      Knock Knock
      Who’s There?
      Police who?
      Police stop telling these terrible knock-knock jokes.

      • I like this one:

        Person A: Hey, I have a really great knock-knock joke, wanna hear it?
        Person B: Okay!
        Person A: Okay, you start!
        Person B: Knock knock.
        Person A: Who’s there?
        Person B: …. D’oh!

      • that Bug and his sense of humor. ;)

  • Carreg

    Wow, Meg, you’ve hit the nail right on the head about why I’d be nervous about having children. Maybe the feeling isn’t all that uncommon.

    Er, joke… when I was little, my dad would always pick me up with the words ‘where’s my free crane?’ As in, I was getting so heavy that he ought to have been supplied with a crane for free, in order to lift me. It doesn’t have to be funny, it’s a father joke.

    Oh and if anyone says ‘two minds with but one thought’ my Grandma always says ‘well, at least that’s better than if they had no thoughts at all’.

  • From “Kids say the Darndest Things” and in response to THE PERSONAL QUALITIES NECESSARY TO BE A GOOD LOVER, Ava age 8 responded:
    “One of you should know how to write a check. Because, even if you have tons of love, there is still going to be a lot of bills.”

    I think Liz hit the nail on the head in saying that it has a lot to do with thanking your spouse, or your family or friends, for the help that they do provide, even if it might seem small, or like it’s their “job”. We have roles to fill as husbands or wives or moms or dads…so yes, it’s our job, but it doesn’t have to be without praise for good work or thanks for the dedication to the family unit – or without accepting that perhaps your spouse or parent has had to make choices, and possibly even sacrifices for your benefit.

    However, I’m having a hard time finding the line between feeling like a martyr and a responsible adult. Sure, there are days when I feel that I’m wasting my time working a job that I don’t love all for money to pay the bills and keep food in the kitchen, but I suppose that I don’t feel like I’m doing it out of martyrdom, but out of adult-dom. Because making money to support yourself and your family (however you and your husband determine is the best way to do that for your family) is part of being a grown-up. Sometimes, it goes without people voicing their praise, but I think, if one looks hard enough at what they’ve created as a family unit, the praise is quite evident…in the smiles of your spouse or the joy on your child’s face. The happiness is there…

  • angela

    i don´t know what can i say to you….unless that you are not alone. It´s a common sense around my world this days…i also feel it myself…and I also question myself about having babys, the right time to have them (if exist?), and if i will ever be at least half a good mother my mother has been to me….and also i am trying hard really hard looking for a good job, even if i dont really like it, but a job with not so much hours in it will suffice….
    Some days i wake up like a complete mess, some days i can apreciate the beauty in our lives, and thanks for being alive and wealthier….

  • lisa

    uck. I hear you.

    As a sole bread-winner at the moment, especially early in marriage, it’s hard not to feel the kernels of martyr-anxiety. I think the cultural crap that you can’t escape plays in as well. “We are women and the home is our responsibility” contributes to home-martyrdom even if that’s not what our partner is saying or we really believe. “Men should be wage-earners” plays into sole-breadwinner martyrdom, even if that’s not what we and our partner have decided is best for us right now (or the economy has given us as our best option).

    I like humor, appreciation, and “we’re a team moving towards our goals” as antidotes. Or a spouse cooking something yummy. That always puts me in a more appreciative mood.

    • I feel a lot of the responsibility about our home, but that comes a lot from other people being in our home!

      My husband teaches piano lessons from our house, so when our house isn’t clean I 100% think that the parents blame ME and not my husband for the mess. For me, it makes me feel very ashamed and nervous that they’re going to judge me or not want to take lessons from my husband because our house is a mess.

      I asked my husband about it, and initially he of couse said it wasn’t only my job to clean, which is definitely correct, we both take responsibility for cleaning (or in our case, often not cleaning). When I mentioned that his students parents might see it a different way, I think he started to think about it a little more. We’re both busy and the house is never as clean as I’d like it to be for guests. Having strangers over every week makes it that amuch worse. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten him cleaning more yet… but maybe just maybe…. until then I just try and stay out of the house when his students are there so I don’t have to see the mothers. :)

      • “I feel a lot of the responsibility about our home, but that comes a lot from other people being in our home!”

        Exactly! My almost husband & I have a similar tolerance for mess (as in we can both put up with it for a while!) but whenever people are coming round I have a mad cleaning frenzy. At the heart of it is the feeling that people will judge *me* on the state of *our* house.

  • I don’t have any jokes, but as the person currently on the receiving end of many, many good deeds, THANK YOU.

    My husband is amazing and patient, and so he gave his full support when I said I wanted to leave my stable, high-paying, very much hated job to work on our business full time. We don’t really have enough clients to justify that, but since I’m here all day now, I have time to find more and do all the other things that were holding us back before. Because he is wonderful, he is staying at his job AND working on our business. I have major guilt and do a lot of cooking as a result. I guess everyone benefits there. Anyway. On behalf of those who take, thank you. We do appreciate you. :-)

  • this is a really good one, thanks!

    i’ve been perusing for a long time and our issues have to do with getting engaged (me for the first time ever at 43!!), his getting fired/laid off in february, turning our long distance relationship into living together since july, getting a new job, helping him return to school to get a college degree (while i continue paying off my masters – arg), fixing up and cleaning up his 30 yo, somewhat neglected by a single dad and teen ager home, becoming a step mom to a really awesome, and planning and paying for our destination wedding! because, you know, i’m a multi-tasker like that…

    i’m constantly reminding myself about just how MUCH change and adjustment we are all going through (i haven’t had roommates since my early 20s) and trying to give myself a break for feeling so freaked out all the time….

    i identify with this post but part of my worry is where do i fall on that scale. one the one hand, i know part of my freak outs have to do with this continous news crawl thru my brain that i am now, despite my minor in women’s studies, LIVING THE SECOND SHIFT!! ACK!!!

    because here is the thing – i LOVE my fiance, i thought he was organized (way more than me, he travels with wet naps and cortisone cream in plastic baggies. it’s a parent thing i guess), i thought our discussions meant we had similar goals and styles in the house department. i IGNORED some evidence to the contrary, as far as the house thing goes, and wrote it off to his full time work status, full time single parent status and limited funds. now he’s back to school, which i know is a big emotional challenge if not always a time crunch, and even though the three of us are doing on my salary, it’s still more money than he made alone before – but noone does a freaking thing around the house!

    in my mind i think, once the wedding is done and most of the home “remodeling” is done (which all should be by the spring), i realize a housekeeper, if we can afford it, is in order to help me cope and not feel burdened. but for now, and for ever, i know the guys in the house feel like i am a martyr but, um, i AM doing MOST of it…. i could make a list but that is probably very martyr-ish of me! i don’t want to be or feel like this, but i really didn’t know i was going to feel this way.

    i hope the answer to all this is not that i am with the wrong person because his bathroom sink is coated with toothpast scum and noone can get the dish into the dishwasher or clean a toilet. and i think there is a difference between my utter annoyance at the 7 empty soda cans dotting the landscape that push me over the edge (crazy martyr) and the fact that i am reminding the owners of the cats for the last 10 years to maybe change the cat litter once a week (gross and making for sad kitties).

    i have a hard time personally, in any venue, being appropriately thankful about people doing what they are “supposed” to do. it is something that comes up for me at work from time to time as well. i feel almost like i am being patronizing to thank someone for doing the basics, but that would be something i could do (if i can work on NOT being sarcastic about it because that IS martyr-ish) and maybe that is what i am looking for as well. a “thank you” for being a part of our new family from time to time would be awesome instead of “honey, where did you put……..?”

    wow. i’m pretty crabby this morning, but just trying to riddle this out this morning i think is helping a bit with perspective. except i DO WANT A HOUSE THAT ISN’T FULL OF DIRTY SOCKS, WADDED UP PILLOWS AND TRASH AND FOOD STREWN ABOUT!!!

    ——— a brain goes into a bar. the bartender looks at him and says, “i can’t serve you. you’re out of your head”


    • Rizubunny

      Lisa – check out It’s a little cheesy, but it’s been awesome for giving us both a way to keep the house in a better condition, when neither of us really want to do it :)

      • Noemi

        Omg! Flylady! I was obsessed with her and her book one summer just after I graduated high school. A woman I worked with got me into her and her philosophy. I am so glad to be reminded of her and I need to crack open that book again. Thanks!

    • FM

      I think that starting out the appreciation can sometimes be done without talking about it too much – like if you start saying thank you for things (and letting yourself mean it), in my experience people will start to respond with their own thanks taking your lead without having a conversation about your intentions in advance. It’s worth a try. Also, positive reinforcement supposedly is effective for motivating people to do that thing that got positive feedback in the future (more so than negative reactions when they do it wrong or not at all). I think another thing that’s nice about saying thanks to my husband all the time for all the little things, is it helps me actually feel more grateful, and that contributes to my happiness. Also, as an employee in a job that has supreme suckiness at times by it’s nature, with a boss who is really, really good at saying thanks and good job (while still providing criticism as appropriate), I can attest that it makese a HUGE difference in my morale and loyalty. And mostly it isn’t cheesy, but even when it is (like when he says good job for something totally trivial, which he will occasionally do), I just think it’s funny and that also improves my morale.

      Also wanted to say in solidarity that it frustrates me to no end how much dirtier my home gets now that there are two of us living in it instead of one (as I lived there for about 4 years before my husband moved in). I honestly could not (and still cannot) understand how it literally gets DUSTIER twice as fast with two of us.

      • Olivia

        Well now there are twice as many people shedding all those skin cells every day (yuck…).

    • Agape

      Dude! That is a lot of crazy transitions all happening at once! My hat off to you for diving right in there and getting it done.

      I think that it is important to distinguish between martyrdom and resentment. Obviously, they are totally related, but martyrdom to me is kind of long term passive aggressive swallowing of resentment and frustration until it erupts in various nasty ways.

      Resentment is just a feeling and feelings are rarely right or wrong in my opinion. It is what you do with them that really matters.

      And often, feelings can be a really important signal that something needs to be addressed. From what you’ve mentioned, it sounds like you are doing a huge amount of effort to feel comfortable in your own home. Resentment is a logical response to this!

      I’m in a slightly similar situation in that my fiancé has a much greater tolerance for messiness and dirtiness. I am also very very sensitive to smell, so that cat litterbox thing practically has my hair on end. I’ve found my resentment going down a lot when he understands that underneath my focus on chores is just a desire for me to feel comfortable and happy in my own damn home, which is easier for him to understand than my otherwise apparently inexplicable insistence that the bathroom must be cleaned every week.

      Sooooo we are working on it. We are hashing out what is the absolute bare minimum that needs to be done and trying to split that down the middle. I actually do enjoy cleaning and tidying to a certain extent, so I’m always going to do more, but we are working towards that “more” being the things that he would never do. We are a work in progress.

      That ended up being a really long response. But I just wanted to say that struggling with issues of fairness and how the family home should look and feel – that does not a martyr make. Choosing to struggle with it, talk about, engage the issue until everyone feels heard and there is a workable solution…..and then starting the whole process up again when needed…I think that functioning marriages go through that cycle over and over again with all sorts of issues.

      Anyways. I will stop myself now.

    • Tina

      I think it’s really important to add to what AGAPE is saying about Lisa’s comment. I definitely don’t think the point of the original post is to feel bad that you will sometimes feel bad and feel resentment or irritation for a current situation. I completely agree that it’s how you deal with those feelings that is the most important.

      Lisa, you are transitioning in a lot of ways to a new situation. You have a new home, stress of this impending job less, and a partner and teenage son that are now a part of your family and home. They are transitioning too. I think it’s important to discuss your feelings. Really important. You can’t do it all. While they may say that you don’t have to and that they are not seeking perfection, it’s also important that everyone can find balance and comfort.

      I know this was a struggle after moving in with my boyfriend who had lived on his own, without roommates, for over 5 years. He had gotten used to a higher tolerance for mess than I could deal with. At the same time, after talking, we realized that our tolerance for cleanliness vs tidiness was different. I’m guilty of leaving clothes and shoes on the floor, and then doing a tidying up spree. On the flip side, I can’t stand a dirty kitchen or dishes from the night before still being in the kitchen the next night. It took some time to work out, but we essentially did what AGAPE mentioned. We decided what we were both willing to do. What we absolutely hated doing. Why it was important to us to have a clean home. How often we should clean and what seemed like a reasonable compromise, etc. Then we wrote it down, and posted it on the fridge. I joke that we have a chore chart, but having it in writing is what worked best for the boy. We have some slip ups now and then, but things are much better than they used to be.

      Hang in there!

  • What do you call a person who lives with a witch?


    A BROOMmate :) Yeah I know, that wasn’t funny at all.

    My husband lost his job in September and hasn’t found work yet. We are getting by on my income alone. It may help that I was making more money than him when we was working, but either way, its a very scary time.

    I haven’t cracked and shared how hard this is on me, because I know how hard it is on him. I keep my martyr thoughts to myself when they do pop up, because I do not like my job but it has great benefits and it is keeping us afloat.

    Thanks for this post Meg, because even though no one wants to talk about these things, they are so many people’s realities right now. It makes things 100 times better knowing there are others out there going through the same things.

  • Meg, you are a wise and insightful lady. I have a hard time with this one. My mom is a matyr mother, though she has made great strides since her children have grown up. I find myself falling into the pattern over and over again. Just this week, I was crying and yelling about how I incorporate all these organic fresh vegetables into our meals and he can’t even lift a finger to help with dishes! Well, he’s in grad school, I work full time, and we like to hang out with friends. In order to keep our sanity, I need to put the kabosh on my self made gourmet matyrdom. He’d do the dishes more if I cooked one pot meals.

    Another quick point, usually when I find myself saying that I do EVERYTHING, I’m not appreciating what my husband is doing (I’m just seeing that he’s not meeting my impossibly ideal husband duties). He’s finishing school so that I have the option later to stay home with babies or continue working. He’s pursing jobs that will make him happier, which in turn will make us happier. He’s mowing the grass because I get really bad mosquito bites in the yard. Sometimes it’s good for me to question what my ideal is, why I’m upset, and if my expectations need to change.

  • Laura

    What an important post. I’m currently finishing my grad degree at a university that is across the country from my fiance and the city where we’ll live after we get married. With money tight and the distance so far, we only see each other every two months. It’s really easy to feel sorry for myself -which is the thing about martyrdom: it’s just so easy! It’s harder to sit and remind myself that I actually have basically everything I ever wanted (an incredible man that I love and loves me back, the beginnings of a career in a field I love, and attending grad school at a wonderful program, the program that was my top choice – and with full funding): I just don’t have everything in the right geographic location yet.

    I think this topic is really fitting with Thanksgiving coming up. What an awesome time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and remembering all the wonderful things that we have.

  • This is so completely true. Thanks for being so honest about something that’s tough to own up to. I find myself falling into this trap. I make slightly more money than my husband, but he works WAY longer hours than I do. So I take care of most of the house stuff (bills, making dinner, grocery shopping, etc.). I’ve found myself falling into the martyr trap, and my husband saying “but I don’t need/ask/want you to make dinner/pay the bills/grocery shop!” And then I feel silly. It makes sense for me to do things (I’m a control freak, so I really would do it anyway), so why do I fall into the martyr trap? I agree with Liz, it makes a HUGE difference when we both appreciate each other.

    Side note: I”m also really freaked out about how this will play out if/when we have kids. I know I will want to stay home for my maximum maternity leave time, and a little more if I can spare it. I don’t want to play the martyr then, but I can see how easy it would be to slip into that role.

    • JEM

      Oh, I am right there with you. I have a steady, consistent, reliable job with “normal” hours. My fiance is the entrepreneurial type who works a lot more hours than I do, but is bringing home slightly less.

      I have to also realize that his work is just as important as mine, even if he doesn’t have the set “career path” that I have. We are both contributing to our household and both continuing to improve so that we can achieve our united goal of being able to live a certain lifestyle and provide to our future children.

      It’s so easy to think about when you aren’t in the middle of a “I DO EVERYTHING!!!” arguement…

  • Leahismyname

    Very interesting, this post. I think that I definitely have martyr-ish tendencies, if not occasionally rocketing into full-blown martyr. That’s thanks to my mom as well, who has a fantastic way of making it known exactly how much she does for everyone else. Breaking the cycle is important to me in so many ways.

    It’s complicated by the fact that, unlike some of the commenters, I’m NOT the high-earner in my relationship. I make less than half what my fiance makes, which isn’t much itself. But he works close to 80 hours a week, while I work exactly my required 40.

    That means that most of the household work falls to me, even though he does his chores too. Sometimes I get myself all worked up because something stupid happens that makes me think he doesn’t notice everything I do around the house. Sometimes I want to heave a snotty sigh and point it out. And sometimes I do that. But I’ll try to remember not to be a martyr. He didn’t ask me to do the dishes for the fourth night in a row. I volunteered. Stop being a martyr!!

  • I’m struggling with financial martyrdom myself. After moving away from our old home to a new place for my job, I’ve been the breadwinner. My partner is starting over as self-employed, but it’s very difficult for him. I feel like I should do everything and give everything because I asked him to make this big move for me. I must sacrifice all I have because he made a sacrifice for me.

    It’s hard to remember we are equal partners and he choose to move, I didn’t force him. Therefore, he’s not asking me to give all of myself over in martyrdom. That we will both contribute to our relationship, finances, the home, etc. at different levels, but it will still be egalitarian.

  • Katie

    Hey Meg, have you heard about the corduroy pillows?

    (No, Katie, I haven’t. What about them?)

    They’re making headlines!

  • This is an interesting post. My sister and I often used to call out my mum for playing the martyr role so well. I think it helped she just knew we’d spot it and call her on it.

    For me, the temptation to act the martyr comes less around household or parenting responsibilities and more around job opportunities. I married a man who works in the corporate sector and is a bit of a rising star at the moment. I am immensely proud of the way he works with integrity and commitment in his job. But I am also aware that future moves and plans are currently more likely to be oriented around his job than around mine. And it’s easy to let myself feel like the martyr for “giving up so much”.

    Which is essentially rubbish. Because any career decision he made would be made in full discussion with me and he would not take a move that would be detrimental to my career. He is my top supporter when it comes to me finding a good job fit where I feel like I am contributing something.

    But it can be all too easy to fall into those old cultural and social thought patterns. I think maybe it’s like a path through a field – you just need to make a habit of taking a different “thought route” and eventually it will become the easier and clearer route to follow.

    • Kristin

      Wow, I feel exactly the same way. We moved two a new town for my husband’s (dream) job and I while I know that this is what’s best for our family I still hold some resentment that I left the better job prospects, my friends and family in the city. Even though it was MY decision to move up here. It’s better now that’s I’ve found a job and settled into the community, but everytime he’s working late and I get lonely the same old “I gave up so much for this!?” thoughts come back into my mind.

      • Kristin… I hear ya. Same thoughts in my head, somedays.

  • What about Jesus? He’s a martyr, and people LOVE that guy. Also people dig his mom (sacrificed her only son), and we must not forget Harry Potter (has to die to rid the world of lord Voldemort).

    Remember The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein?

    In all seriousness though, I think there is a strong narrative in our culture of martyrs (the self-sacrificing) being ummm…. worshiped, only the martyr in question is not supposed to desire the worshiping, unless they’re Jesus, but Harry Potter always seemed pretty put off by it.

    However I find that when I’m doing the martyring, I feel like I ought to be worshiped, or at least excessively thanked, and often that doesn’t happen, and the resentment starts to build. I’m not just talking about in my marriage but in all of the areas of my life. When I find my self giving and giving and giving and giving…. and then waiting for someone to realize how awesome I am. When it doesn’t happen I wind up feeling well…. used.

    Only I’m the one who told people to value me for what I can do for them, instead of for who I am. I’m the one who pretends to be fine with it when I’m not really fine with it.

    I am not a parent, but should I become I mother one day I’m sure that this cycle will be even tougher and more fraught with ambiguity. I will HAVE to provide so much for my children, and yes give up bits and pieces of my self, change my lifestyle, but not become a mommy-droid. When I think of people who have really good relationships with their mothers, it’s usually not just because their mothers cooked for them, wiped their butts, supported them, and gave and gave and gave. It’s also because they think that their mothers are awesome people, because they retained a large part of themselves… they love their mothers first and for most for who they ARE, not what they gave. The giving doesn’t go unappreciated exactly, but it’s expected.

    So thank you for this post Meg, I really needed it at this moment, and it has given me so much to think about. And for this blog… thank you thank you thank you. You’re the awesomest.

    • harry potter died?

      • meg

        Not exactly.

  • Being a martyr is a role that I find myself slipping into all too often. I earn more than my husband by a significant amount, the insurance comes from my job, my job is far more “serious” than his, I am the primary WORRIER ABOUT THE FUTURE and the list goes on. But you know what, we both love our work and work hard while we are there. I need to remind myself often that the amount of money made does not really matter, it is the partnership that matters.

    • Meghan,
      It’s refreshing to read that I’m not the only “worrier about the future.” It’s also refreshing to read that I’m not alone. My fiance hasn’t worked in a while. He’s looking for work, but having very little luck with the way the job market is looking these days. I’m super lucky to have a job as a social worker in a high school (big money, right?!!), and have been able to pay all the bills and save for a wedding in 4 months. It’s really hard to not feel resentful sometimes, and start thinking that I’m responsible for everything. And I worry about everything…he has no health insurance, no money to get by, how are we going to pay for the wedding, will he ever find a job, can we afford to have babies, can I support a family on my income alone????

      I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in my worries. But then I’m reminded at how lucky I am, too. I come home and the house is spotless; the yard work is done, the house projects are finished, he rubs my feet, makes our dinner, and has a kind shoulder that I can cry on when my day at work is awful or overwhelming. This makes it hard for me to feel sorry for myself. I tell myself that it’s temporary and things will get better.

      It really, really calms me to read other women in similar situations.

      • Laura,

        Worrying about the future is my second job. It drives both of us nuts at times, but it gets the mortgage paid down and retirement saved for. Talking to my husband about the WORRY helps. He understands my crazy a little more.


    • N

      Another “worrier about the future” here! I sometimes feel so frustrated that I am constantly thinking and planning ahead, whereas he is just…not a planner. It stresses him out too much to think about the details of future plans and it stresses me out NOT to think about those things. So I remind myself that in our relationship, I am basically in charge of the future, and he is in charge of the present. Because he is so helpful in bringing me back to living in the now and today. And I need that.

      But sometimes I get martyr-y about the fact that the future is way bigger than the present and way harder to be in charge of and how come I am the only one who ever thinks about XYZ?!?? This has been a real challenge in wedding planning, because I have felt like the whole thing became my job as the default (it being in the future and all, as well as full of tiny stressful details). Of course, neither of us was innocent in letting this happen. I went full speed ahead planning for things, and while I involved him in decisions it was ME who initiated every conversation. And he was fine with that. And being the bride and all, I just felt like I was a living the stereotype of the super-planning bride and the apathetic groom. Which made me crazy.

      I am getting off topic. But the point is, I have totally been a martyr on the wedding planning front. I expressed my desire for him to help me with thinking about it and how we need to plan for it, and then I wait. I wait and see if he’ll say something, because I don’t want to ask. I feel like I’m not getting what I need when I ask him for help because that makes me the delegater of tasks, which makes me still in charge. But, personalities are what they are. If I am already thinking of something that needs to get done, why would I not just say, hey, help me get this done rather than lurk and wait and hope that he notices it needs to get done?

      Moral of the story: this post is awesome. I needed to hear it. Thank you, APW.

      • Yes!
        “So I remind myself that in our relationship, I am basically in charge of the future, and he is in charge of the present.”

        I feel exactly the same way and agree with so many things you said in your comment. I know that my husband and my personality differences are the reason for the way we each think, but, boy can it be frustrating sometimes. I need to try to relax and remember more that I need to enjoy the present too, and let him remind me of that. :)

  • Liz

    What do vegetarian zombies eat?


  • Well, I’m on the other side of the fence… He’s in school and (oh so luckily) getting paid for it, while I have a nursing degree and can’t get a freaking job! So, I work part time as a nanny, do job applications all day, clean the house, run the errands… and live off his grad student salary. It sucks. I’m not a martyr, I’m a parasite. Maybe the other way around is worse, but this feels pretty darn bad to me. He pays for my food, my health insurance, the car, our apartment… he even sent me home for a visit with my family! And what can I say besides– thank you for providing for me… sorry I haven’t found a job yet… sorry I’m a drain on your teeny tiny income… sorry I’m cooking beans and rice again because we can’t afford much else…


    • kireina

      Ah. Yes. This is my little niche as well. I hate cover letters.

    • Liz

      yes, but. when i come home and dinner is made and the laundry is done, i KNOW we wouldn’t be able to survive without josh handling those things. coming home and not needing to do much more than sit and eat and watch law and order is great. and usually (when i’m not sinking into martyrdom) i am acutely aware that josh pulls his weight in his own way. just like it sounds like you pull yours.

      • Tina

        You’re a teacher and you have time for law and order at night? Maybe I’m at the wrong school. ;)

    • I am so glad to hear from someone on the other side of the fence. Being the one supported is not an easy thing either. I feel like all the plans and dreams we had when we were engaged are being put off and it’s all my fault. I’m the one holding us back. I feel slightly resentful that my husband found a new job before me and we moved to a larger city but not large enough for me to have an easy time finding a job in a slightly specialized field. I sit at home, working on what freelance work I can find, waiting for an opportunity to arise. I feel that it is now my duty to do all of the housekeeping, cooking, etc. to show him that I do contribute and to hope that he doesn’t see me as a weight on his dreams. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to get up and clean the bathroom. I can be paralyzed by fear that I’m never going to find the job I want and all I want to do is hide under the covers and watch endless episodes of horrible tv. I know it’s temporary but sometimes it feels permanent.

      • and I know being a martyr sometimes makes you feel a little better or a little more justified (I know, I’ve been on the flip side of things before) but it really makes those of us on the other side feel even more like crap than we already do. Because when it comes down to it, being a martyr, no matter to what cause, is always self-martyrdom. I know that I would much rather have a heart-to-heart with my husband about the stress he feel supporting both of us than for him to quietly hold it against me.

      • more than exactly, Kayla. Hulu definitely doesn’t help me on those days when I’m terrified of it all.

      • Jamie

        This comment just made me start crying. This is me. I graduated law school in May, we moved to a new city together in June, and there are seriously NO JOBS. I live with my boyfriend, we’re not engaged yet but we want to be. When will we get new furniture? When can we get engaged? When can we pay off all the credit card debt we accumulated in the moving process (I had NONE before, no consumer debt at all)? All of these things hinge on me getting a job. I am holding us back. It feels really, really terrible. I look for jobs every day, apply when there are openings, but mostly I feel like a burden. My boyfriend is wonderful about all of this, he says he doesn’t mind paying for literally everything and that I’ll find a job soon and everything will be okay, but right now it’s very hard to see when/how things will look up. This is kindof a depressing comment, but I just wanted to say I know just how you feel.

    • meg

      We’re talking about this later in the week… I actually feel like it’s the (slightly) more often discussed topic, so I didn’t lead with it.

      That said, it’s not his income, it’s your income. I’m always clear about the fact that it’s our income, and I think David is too. (Though he does let me buy myself nice clothes sometimes to reward myself for it). It’s all the responsability and the long hours that freak me out. Not that we share an income (because obviously, we share an income).

      • With all the bread winning women around here (which I think is awesome!) it would be interesting to have a post about the other side from a man’s perspective. That’s a side that is so rarely discussed except for the stay-at-home-Dad tv specials where it’s all about telling the world you haven’t lost your masculinity.

        To have a serious look at what exactly they are feeling while their wives are martyring themselves would be very eye opening and helpful. I think it might could open up an avenue of discussion in all of our homes where this is the case that really needs to be happening.

        Another take that I think would be fascinating and to my knowledge hasn’t ever really been discussed anywhere (I think we’ve touched on it slightly on APW) is how this feels when it’s a same sex relationship. How, as a wife, does it feel to have your wife financially support you? Without as many gender stereotypical roles to deal with, is it somewhat easier (than a man who is not the breadwinner) to handle or do we all carry the same crappy baggage?

        • meg

          We just need someone to volunteer to write that.

        • suz

          I would love to see these things discussed on APW!

          My partner is considering going back to school and we’re both a bit worried about how this will all go down. I keep trying to tell her that it’s OUR money and that we’ll be in it together. But after many years (we’re both in our middle 30’s and have been on our own since our early 20’s) of having her own money she’s having a hard time thinking that money I make will be hers as well.

          It helps me to think how I would feel if the situation were reversed. It would be hard for me to give up a decade or more of independence to live on her salary, even if we both agree that it’s our money.

          I’m sure we’ll sort it out but there will be some growing pains. I’d love to hear concrete ideas on how others work it out. Did you have a plan? or do you just kind of make it up as you go along?

          • meg

            Check back to my old posts about marraige and money (linked in the intro) for a long discussion of how we combined finances :)

      • Thanks for the reminder, Meg. I know that… on my good days :) clearly, this was not one of them!

    • Oh Caititlin! This made my heart ache and gave me some small insight into how my hubs is currently feeling after a year of unemployment & me working two jobs to keep us afloat… Wow. Really. Wow. It really woke me up, this post of yours. It’s not easy on either side of the fence.
      And please know that he couldn’t do it without you. (Just like I couldn’t do it without my husband keeping the house in order… I don’t know what I’d do if I had to manage laundry, groceries and cleaning on top of all this working…) So know that you are needed too – even if you’re not bringing money in – you’re definitely ‘working’ for your family!

      • totally typo’d your name there – sorry! :-\

    • Marina

      Just wanted to pitch in some nursing sympathy… my husband has a nursing degree and it took him almost nine months to get a job. And everyone’s always like, “But there’s a nursing shortage, it’s so easy to get a nursing job!” Well, when you find one, just send it our way, bub… Argh.

      • Liz

        people tell me about some supposed “teacher shortage” all the time. um. yeah. apparently not high school english teachers in the northeast.

        • Marina

          Not in the northwest either. The organization I work for runs an afterschool program, and they’re hiring certified teachers for part time positions that pay $12/hour. It’s absurd.

  • My GOD I needed this today. As two full time public school teachers, both with side gigs to help (barely) make rent, our house turns into a full-fledged, melodramatic, battle royale of perceived martyrdom on a regularly basis. I’m honestly thinking about posting this quote on our fridge to help remind us:

    “And we’re in this together. No one asked us to be martyrs, but we did decide to be a team.”

    • ka

      Ahh, so good to hear from another double-martyr household! I’ve got 2 part-time jobs, he has one full-time jobs plus tons of freelance work to make ends meet, and it’s like a Mexican standoff of who will break down first. Neither of us really want to be working at any of these jobs, but sh*t needs to get paid, and how do you decide which of you gets to take the educational/entrepreneurial leap before the other?

      (And now add in the fact that we both HATE cooking and housework, and well…)

      Love the quote.

  • Sometimes I feel like a time martyr and have gotten very aggravated over it without talking about it first. Like, Richie needs help doing something, so he asks me to help him. I’m busy, but pause what I’m doing to help him. Then I feel like we function on his schedule and get all martyr-y. He never insists I put my project on hold to help him, but I do it anyway. I know that I’m not allowed to blame him for a decision I made and have to remind myself of that all the time.

    I mean, how hard is it to say, “No prob, baby, just give me 5 minutes”?

    • Barbra

      Oh my gosh…I have the exact same situation that goes on at my house! For me, it’s about setting appropriate boundaries. If I’m doing something that I really don’t want to stop at that moment, then I need to say no. If I am able/willing to help right away, then I need to recognize that as a decision I’m making. It’s not his job to assess my exact state of busyness at that point.

      Besides being a time martyr, I also can become a consideration martyr. The truth is that I’m a very (usually overly) considerate person, and he is just not. But not only is policing myself to make things easier/more pleasant/nicer for him not the most healthy behavior, it is also something he has not asked me to do.

      Of course, realizing this now vs at the time is a different story. :)

      • meg

        Oh, I always say give me 5 minutes or 10, or “shut up I’m working.” You can DO IT.

        You guys are doing a good job reminding me of the ways I’m not a martyr. (Maybe a little bit of a b*tch, but not a martyr… and I kind of prefer being a b*tch).

  • The other day I was just thinking I hope Meg posts something on marriage and money soon. Ta da! I quit my day job and my husband is supporting us, and as a bona fide independent woman I sometimes have freak outs and a teeny complex (She wasn’t married 5 minutes, and then she quits her job!) In any case it’s weird for me for my husband to be ‘in control’ of our finances, and strangely we both noticed that I will over-do it on the housekeeping routine to make up for it. My husband acknowledges that it’s nice to have a ‘Haus Frau’ but also gets weirded out when he feels that I’m doing it because I feel I ‘owe’ it.

    Aside from this I’m totally anal about keeping a clean house and can slip into martyr-y mode if I don’t watch it. A couple of things that help:

    – I remind myself this is MY DEAL, no one has asked for these things, I could let it all go to hell and my husband would. not. notice.
    – Be grateful for the things my husband does (which are substantial) and, as was mentioned in another comment, thank him for doing things even when they are his ‘job’
    – This is tactical, but- Keep it small and simple. While I sometimes wish we had a bigger apartment, I often take a minute to appreciate our smaller (more sustainable) space because it is easier to manage. This is true for life in general, the less ‘stuff’ in your life, the less admin there is.

    I can’t say anything about kids, because I’m totally terrified of that too…

  • Faith

    Something that my now FIANCE (yay!) and I do is remember that we are working at our jobs out of love for each other and recognize that’s why the other person is going to that job they don’t love every day. We try to see the acts we do for one another as love and it really helps to keep the purpose of why you’re working so hard as the priority.

  • Lauren

    This is something that my husband and I have both struggled with. When we were first engaged, his job fell out form under him- there just wasn’t enough work for them to support him, but the business was small enough that they didn’t have to lay him off or give him severance- they just quit having him come in. I supported us, and also took care of the house, because I like doing housework. I like being domestic. It makes me feel happy, and I didn’t mind doing it. But as time went on and he still didn’t have a job, and then had only a part-time online gig that didn’t make much… We had fallen into the habit of me doing (mostly) everything, and I felt like it was expected of me.

    Fortunately, before that conflict could come to a head, he got a new job- a good one, considering that he really, really is happiest as a blue-collar worker, and therefore will probably never be making a huge amount of money. Then I lost my job, and now we’ve traded places- I’m at home all the time, and he’s working his butt off to support us. And though he loves what he does, he doesn’t love the people he works with, and I know he feels obligated to stay because he knows I don’t want to go back to work- I’m pregnant, and the first few months I felt like I couldn’t handle a new job, and now that I could, physically, it will only be a couple of months before I can’t again. Plus I am determined that I’ll stay home for at least three months after the baby’s born, and I’d rather it be a year. So any job I got now wouldn’t help us in the long term.

    It helps that I was the sole breadwinner at one point. I know how my husband feels, what the pressure is like, especially when you aren’t looking forward to going to work every day. So I tend to overlook his martyr attitude- and then feel a little bit martyred myself when he expects me to do everything around the house, because even though I’m home all day most days, I am pregnant, and I do get tired, and there are days when I’m just not up to cleaning or cooking. I think we’re close to a good balance, but it’s really easy for one of us to slip over the edge of tired and frustrated into that state of martyrdom.

    I think the thing that helps the most is talking about when we’re frustrated, instead of acting like we shouldn’t be feeling that way. Once we understand why the other person is acting the way they are, it’s easier to think about them instead of about ourselves. And if we’re both thinking about each other instead of stewing on our own issues, the issues we have don’t seem nearly so bad.

  • Sarah

    So, so relevant.

    In our house, I’m the breadwinner. He’s in school, and that’s PERFECT. But I can relate to the struggle and stress with being the one who supports us financially. (Last night he offhandedly mentioned “at least we’re keeping up with our bills” …. and I asked him “Even this month? We don’t have a balance?” Sure enough, we’re paid up. I cannot express the feeling of relief that swamped me at that moment.). At the same time, I do most of the “work” around our home … I enjoy cooking, so I cook … but somehow that turns into doing the dishes and cleaning up and doing the laundry and and … you get it.

    I actually asked him (in a fit of rawring) at one point if this was how he grew up … turns out, yes. His mother, and his grandmother (who lived with them), did all of this. His father cannot cook, and is lost without someone to fold his clothing for him. I have to try very, very hard not to resent him for expecting this to be the norm when it HAS always been his norm. I have to remember to be patient and grateful that he wants to learn how to do this, while teaching him how to load the washing machine (for the 10th time). And to remember not to just stop him and do it myself because I know I can get it done quicker, and better.

    And sometimes it’s very, very hard. There was a night last week when he looked at the living room and said “Just so you know, this mess is not acceptable.” I just broke down and cried. Here he was meaning “We shouldn’t let it get like this, we both need to clean up.” and I was hearing “Why aren’t you doing more?”

    I think this is something that many of us are going to struggle with for a very long time. The best we can do is (like Helen Jane asks of her unborn baby) have someone there to snap us back into the correct mindset, and keep trying. =)

    • My husband is in school for his PhD and is also a research assistant. He should be at work for about twelve hours a day, plus one on the weekends. He often comes home earlier than that (at only 7 or 8 pm, wow!) because he misses me and wants to see me– but then he feels guilty about not working. And he’s exhausted, so he doesn’t do the dishes, or take out the trash, or pick up his dishes…. And suddenly our apartment looks like a WAR ZONE.

      He also has something of a mothering background– he did chores when he was little, but didn’t when he was older. He was living with his parents while he was going to college, and his mom cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and kept up after him and his father. She isn’t a martyr; she is just a hyper-nurturer. My husband moved out and lived with a couple guys for a while, but we very quickly moved in together, and suddenly I’m doing the laundry and he’s “doing the dishes”– i.e., I do all the laundry and he supposedly does the dishes, but he’s exhausted when he gets home, so I end up cleaning the giant pile of pots and pans in the sink.

      …….Huh, unexpected resentment. So, yeah, I hear you. :D

    • JEM

      Oh I hear you about marrying someone who has been well taken cared for, as in a super organized on-top-of-it mother (who I adore and am ridiculously similar to, since she’s just like my own mother!) AND a maid AND nanny while growing up. I do the best I can as one person, but I can’t be all three (mom, maid, and nanny). So since living with him, my standard of “tidy” has just had to lower itself because that’s the level I can handle.

      And he absolutely doesn’t expect me to be the 3-in-1 fiance of his dreams, I assign that role allllllll to myself.

      • That’s an important clarification, for sure. Is he asking that, or are you just doing it because of societal expectations or your desires for a clean house or or or.
        I’ve been in both relationships. And I count myself very lucky that C was raised to do loads and loads of chores. And I plan to pay it forward with my child.

        • Sarah


          In my case, it’s not something he asks for, but it’s something he expected. As in that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-so-why-should-it-change? type of thing. He honestly wasn’t aware that other people’s homes ran differently than his had, growing up. Mom and Grandma cooked, and cleaned up, and did the laundry. He never had to worry about it. So, as much as it SOUNDS like it’s the whole “that’s women’s work” (we joke about this CONSTANTLY), it’s not. He’s just not used to it not happening for him.

  • LPC

    And sometimes you want to martyr yourself for your kids. It doesn’t feel like martyrdom and you don’t resent it one bit. They didn’t choose to be born, after all. Some of us honestly feel lucky we got to have children. For some of us, every flicker off our children’s hair gives us joy and they are truly not a burden. We don’t, however, feel the same way about husbands. And therein lies the rub. Therein lies the ghost in the machine.

    I didn’t say this. You didn’t hear me say this.

    • Liz

      dude, lpc. you’re awesome. i can get understand this, and i haven’t even popped the kid out yet.

      • Love this too. I always appreciate your wise words LPC. And on a side note, I am so curious how you and Meg know eachother. Yes, I am a nosy gal.

    • Meredith

      LPC- you are so wise.

      • LPC

        Thank you guys. I promise that any wisdom is only the continued consideration of years lived. No native talent, no old soul here. And as for how Meg and I met, she probably wouldn’t mind if the story is told, as it’s not dramatic at all, and is for the most part documented. I’ll check with her. Not dramatic, that is, but highly fortuitous:).

        • meg

          We met on the interwebs. If LPC has a more interesting version of the story, she’s more than welcome to share.

  • Harry Potter died? Damn…I knew I should have finished the series before reading this blog!

    Love the interrupting cow joke. I’ve always had a tickle spot in my heart for animal humor. So, not joke from me, but hers a cute animal video you might have seen but forgotten about.

    Okay, this post touches me on so many levels that I don’t know where to start. I’m on the other end of child rearing and as a single mom for most of my kid’s upbringing, I know I had my martyr moments. Although I’d like to think it wasn’t a permanent lifestyle. Luckily, I never gave this much thought when I opted to have kids (What can I say? It was the 80s.)

    I’m in a situation that is a bit unusual. My business has grown to the point (as of two years ago) where my husband quit his day job to work on the business too. Ergo, he works for me. The layer of emotional dynamics that this adds to our marriage defies words!

    But in terms of the martyr thing–because I am ultimately responsible for the amount of money that comes into the household (that’s my end of the biz–his is admin, contracts, accounting) the feelings of martyrdom can rise quickly during times of fiscal challenge. I find myself sighing “woe is me” all too often (especially at this time of year, when the wedding business slows down) because I, and I alone, have the burden of making sure we have enough to pay the bills. I’m not sure what I get out of this attitude, other than to make everyone feel crummy. Oh yeah, that’ll help! (eye roll). And note that I LOVE what I do–not a day goes by that I don’t approach my work with pleasure and anticipation. What there is to be martyrish about is often beyond me, but if anyone can find a way, I can!(It’s a talent that I’m sure you all envy…)

    So alas, I have no words of advice on this one, but I’m grateful for the post and all the comments. If nothing else, it makes me (and all of us) mindful of what we’re doing. And that is, after all, the first step to changing any unwanted behaviors.

    • for the record, harry potter did not die.

  • SingColleen

    What’s brown and sticky?


    A stick!

    Now seriously, thank you for this. You seem to be uncannily attuned to what your readers need and when they need it. I spent a good part of this week feeling that martyr thing, like, “oh, poor me, I have a great job that I love and keeps me really busy, and a great hobby that I love and keeps me really busy, and now I have to come home and cook a meal that I just found a delicious recipe for, because my husband is having a rough week and hasn’t felt like cooking.” And this. Just puts it all in perspective. So thanks for that.

  • Carrie

    One thing that has really helped my state of mind?

    Realizing that I don’t actually, personally care if there are dirty dishes in the sink, or if there is unfolded laundry on the couch. Because I hate doing those chores more than I hate seeing the clutter. So does my husband. Oh, we both have a breaking point where we’ll suck it up and do the chores, but we’ll definitely both procrastinate long enough that the house is pretty messy.

    For a long time I felt guilty. I should be tidy! I should be a great housekeeper! I should care about this stuff! I have these friends who just naturally clean the whole kitchen after every meal, and just naturally tidy away anything that’s out of place — I should be like them! So I made myself do it, and got resentful because he wasn’t also making himself do it.

    And then I realized, you know what? No one is judging me. Those friends don’t live with me (and we clean up together before they visit). My mom — who is actually the same as me, naturally untidy but with a major guilt complex about it — isn’t there. My grandma, who keeps a super-tidy house, isn’t there. If I don’t actually care whether this gets done right now, and neither does my husband — why should I do it?

    It took me a long time to figure out the difference between whether I actually, personally cared, or whether I felt like I should care. Yes, the house is untidy. No, I can’t host a party at a moment’s notice. But that’s not currently a big priority for me, and I’m totally okay with that.

    In my own mind, I think of this as doing housework like a man. For the most part, guys don’t consider anything but their own preferences and standards when it comes to housework. If they want or need it clean, they’ll clean it. They don’t feel nearly as much like their families, friends, and strangers are judging them based on housework. Letting go of that guilt complex really helped me.

    But this is not to say that being upset when someone really isn’t pulling their weight means you’re being a martyr. I’ve been in that position too, before we got married but after we’d started living together. He wasn’t doing any of the meal planning, grocery shopping, or cooking, and sitting down together for dinner just wasn’t on his radar screen. But that was really important to me. I let it go on way too long, getting incredibly fed up and frustrated, before I directly asked him to share the work. And you know what? He did, and happily.

    In that situation, “not being a martyr” meant directly asking him to do his share of that work. It didn’t mean accepting that he didn’t care and I had to do all the work. It meant understanding that we were a partnership, and this was important to me, so it was okay to bring it to the partnership and share the work.

    • TNM

      Yes to this: “In that situation, “not being a martyr” meant directly asking him to do his share of that work. It didn’t mean accepting that he didn’t care and I had to do all the work.”

      I am uneasy with the idea that seems to be floating around that “avoiding martyrdom” means accepting uncomplainingly that “he” doesn’t does not do as much house/work as I do because “he” cares less. (Quotations because this is not always gendered.) Sometime the concept is sounding like not only do you have to do the second shift, but you have to rationalize it too, and then smile to boot.

      While clearly people have different standards of cleanliness, planning, income production, I would say that you have to agree on compromise standards, and then *both* work to meet those standards. If one person is still doing 75% and the other 25% then I would hope that I *would* play the martyr. Loudly. Until something changed.

      • meg

        Well I never clean unless ordered to by David (though I do tidy, pay bills, and work my ass off, so we try to keep it feeling even). So I don’t accept that it’s up to me… if that helps ;)

    • Morgan

      Are you me? Because yeah, I totally understand what you’re saying. I have no interest in cleaning, and I don’t do dishes or vacuum. (I’ll cook but he cleans up the kitchen.) It took me a while to realize that as long as a certain base standard was maintained, we’d get to the rest when it started to both us. Which means about once a month we both spend an hour or two of intense house cleaning. In between? I could care less about dust. I’d much rather be out in the garage refinishing furniture, or reading a book, or doing anything else on earth.

      I sound defensive. I think I might be. It’s hard to go against the cultural norm of hausfrau.

  • Michele

    Yet another incredible post, and like the Shame Blaster post last week, it’s one that’s got me wondering why I feel as though my own experience differs so much from that of many women. And once again, I think it has a whole hell of a lot to do with one’s upbringing – in my case, having been raised primarily by my father without much of a feminine influence – I didn’t have a martyr-mother to model. I never learned that this is what women are “supposed” to do – give themselves over the alter of Can’t You See What I Do For You People.

    And so I don’t. I never have. And I’ve never felt guilty for it either.

    And therein lies the rub. Because instead of being afraid that I’ll lose myself in the martyrdom of motherhood, I’m afraid that I WON’T. That I won’t know HOW to. That’s not to say I feel as though I (or anyone else) should give themselves over to motherhood to the extent that they truly are a martyr, but even the simple sacrifices associated with parenthood – things like not sleeping in on Sunday, and investing in a 529 rather than going on that extra weekender – scare me. Not because I’m afraid of giving them up, but because I’m afraid that I simply WON’T and my child will suffer for it.

    While many women struggle with the “selflessness” of being a martyr, I struggle with the “selfishness” of not.

    • My husband and I are talking about getting a dog (…so not the same as kids, but bear with me), and he’s concerned about this. He doesn’t have the time for it right now, and he’s worried that I simply WON’T step up to the responsibilities of having a dog. And right now, you know what? He’s right. I’m a slob, I like sleeping in (instead of bundling up to walk a pup), and I like my freedom. But I know that I want one, and I want one soon. So I think in the next year or so, I need to start preparing for what I *am* ready to give up. Am I ready to keep a puppy-friendly house, one that is clean from clutter and mess that a puppy can chew? Am I ready to get up a half hour earlier so I can walk the dog? When I prove to myself that I’m ready, then I can get a dog.

      It’s about what we WANT to martyr ourselves for. And some things we will jump into martyring (for example, while skeptical of my puppy-parenting, my husband knows that I’ll be 110% great with our children), and some things we CHOOSE to martyr ourselves for. And then it’s not martyring; it’s a gladly given sacrifice for someone we love.

      • Jo

        Until reading your comment, it had never occurred to me that getting a dog would HELP motivate me to keep things tidy. As a lifelong cat person, that’s actually one of the first things that will go on my pro getting a dog list! (The hubs is obsessed with dogs, and once we have enough routine in our schedule to walk it/give it sufficient attention, I know we’ll get one)

      • ddayporter

        ha! I had the very same thought process – “ok we shouldn’t get a dog until we can keep this place perfectly dog-friendly.” we got a little better about it and then got a dog anyway. we just found a dog that we figured would fit into our half-assed lifestyle – we rescued a 9-month old mix dog that was partially crate trained, semi-housebroken and didn’t have a habit of destroying things when left alone – he’s been a bit o work but it was pretty much the amount we were ok with getting into. we still don’t keep a perfectly tidy house, because as much as we’d like that to be who we are, it just isn’t! newspapers are going to pile up on the coffee table! dust still collects! but now, we naturally look for things that could be a danger to our dog and pick those up; we keep the doors to the bathroom and kitchen closed so he can’t get into too much bad stuff. thankfully he doesn’t seem to care much about the cords coming out of the entertainment center, or the books on the shelves, or anything much beyond his kong and his stuffed elephant. and our faces. but we do have to get up 20 mins earlier than we did before, budgeting for even the shortest get-aways now has to include boarding, and our personal allowances have largely been cut down to a bare minimum, to make up for vet visits, dog food and toys. It’s been worth it for us!

        If you are taking on the primary care of the dog, maybe you could find an adult dog that is already well trained and won’t need as much work on housebreaking and discipline? I mean if you know you can handle a puppy by yourself, I affirm you!! But if you were worried about all that work with a real baby puppy, there are tons of pretty well behaved unlucky dogs sitting in shelters. And once you find one that you love, the early mornings won’t bother you so much (at least that’s been my experience).

      • Maddie

        Lady, I AM you. We wanted a dog so badly, but frankly I have a hard time convincing myself to shower every morning and make sure my socks are clean, so there were obviously some concerns on our part about taking care of another life form. Added to that, my husband is pretty lazy (not irritatingly so, but more in the sense that he’d rather spend his free time playing video games than doing projects, but that’s me too, so no complaints).

        But we wanted one SOOOO badly and we found the perfect dog who was big, lazy, self-sufficientish and friendly as all get out (English Mastiffs, my friends. They are expensive and eat a ton, but they are so low maintenance). I resolved to get up a half hour earlier for the walks, and he would come home at lunch and take her out if we thought she needed it.

        But then the shit hit the fan. Turns out we’d rescued a severely ill dog who required us to take her out every 2-4 hours or else she would literally shit all over our house. So all of our careful preparations went right out the window when we were either waking up at 3am, 5am and 7am to take the dog out, or coming home at lunch to find that she’d rolled around in poop* all morning in her crate and trying to clean that mess on an hour lunch break. Needless to say, it drained both of us. We were both martyrs and let each other know, *frequently* (we sacrificed pretty equally, but he definitely took the brunt of it by default of working close to home).

        But you know what happened? We both manned up. Epically. I mean, to the extent that was possible. We ate takeout all summer and pretty much didn’t have sex for like 4 months, but despite the obvious suckiness of that, I was really effing impressed with ourselves.

        So the moral of the story is, (Yoda style), you can only prepare yourself so much. The rest of the time, you just gotta know that you’ll be prepared whenever you make the decision. It’s sort of a “There is no try, only do” kind of deal.

        Now, will you pleeeeeaaase send pictures when you get your dog?!

        *Sorry for the graphic poop-references. There was a LOT of it (she weighs 120lbs). However, our girl is now happy and healthy and no longer poops 8 times a day. And she is AWESOME and we love her and it was totally worth our 7 months of Hell. The end.

        • ddayporter

          oh my word! we had one episode of rolling-in-poop-in-crate and that was the most horrific experience of my life! luckily it was not a long-term health issue, just what we guess was a stress reaction (boy was not so ready to be left alone in his crate). I bow to your endurance.

    • meg

      I think that’s probably a more clear example of what I’m afraid of. My mom wasn’t a martyr (she doesn’t cook either. Boys cook! Duh!) and I’m not a very GOOD martyr. IE, if I can’t do my own thing I feel like a martyr right quick. So yes, I’m concerned about not wanting to give up sleeping in… so I’m concerned that I’ll loose myself in how annoyed I am by that, and how much it makes me feel like a martyr.

      I mean, I just wrote, “I feel like a martyr because I mostly pay the bills” and everyone else was like, “I know! And do the cooking and the cleaning too!” And I was like “WHAT? Who said anything about that? Can’t I be a martyr without all that noise?”

      So there you go. I am a very bad martyr. It’s not just you.

      • Sarah

        See, it’s different for everyone.

        For me, the fact that I work to support us while he finished school is stressful. Good lord is it stressful. But it’s not my big martyr thing. Oh, I get the feeling occasionally (goodness do I ever!) and I can totally see why it is so huge for other people. I’m not sure why it’s not for me, but it’s not.

        The housework, however, IS my big thing. Because no matter how much I want to recognize that he’s tired from school and studying and trying to make the grades etc etc etc I can’t help thinking about how tired *I* am from working … and then trying to do everything around the house. Which leads to the martyr feeling BIG TIME.

        Then I have a girlfriend who’s in the same situation … and the housework is no sweat. But the money issues … that’s HER big one.

        It’s interesting how we can all do the same (or similar) things, but have such different reactions to them.

        • Emily

          I feel much the same way…while it’s stressful to be the sole earner in my house, the part that I find myself getting more upset about is home. My fiance isn’t in school but he is working on a reel that he needs to get a job, and he works hard at it (sometimes until the wee hours of the morning). But he does it at home. So when I come home and he didn’t magically clean the whole house or do the dishes or scrub toilets I have to remind myself that yes he was home all day, and no he isn’t making a salary, but he was working.

      • Marchelle

        ‘Boys cook! Duh!’

        I love it. That’s precisely the example I was brought up with as well. From my grandpa, to my dad, to… oh wait, is *that* why the Boy does all the everyday stovetop slaving, and I see cooking as some indulgent and relaxing leisure activity? (Thank you, mom and grandma! And mother-in-law!)

  • Zan

    My favorite:

    What do you call a fish with no eyes?


  • Hallelujah, preach the gospel, Meg. Cause it’s frickin HARD.

    My husband and I met in high school, and he’s had a wandering path through his education (dropped out of high school, got his GED, took a couple years off before starting at community college, etc). He also has had to finance his entire education on his own. That means that right now, he- scratch that, WE- probably have about $150,000 in student loans. But now he’s in a competitive PhD program where his tuition is waived and he’s being paid a stipend, which is a Really Big Deal. It’s wonderful that he’s finally bringing in some money; it’s how we paid for our wedding, and it’s how we’re starting to build our savings.

    However, I’m applying to graduate programs this fall to finally follow MY dreams and to build the career and the life that I’ve been yearning for and waiting to start. I had waited to apply to see where he would end up for graduate school (no point in applying if we were moving across the country), and then we got engaged, and I decided to wait until after the wedding. I’m thrilled to be finally applying so I can start my own career, but– the money. I could go full time and take on even MORE debt (ouchhh), or I could go part time and probably avoid a lot of debt. If I went part time, I’d have to keep my current job (f*ck that, ugh) AND it would take twice as long.

    And that feels like being a martyr to me. Like giving up what I really want (to immerse myself in my education like he can) for the more prudent and responsible choice. It’s painful. Right now I’m still only applying, and we’ll see what financial aid comes up with, but it’s brutal. Why do I have to be the practical one?

    • N

      Totally off-topic, but I find it really awesome and inspiring that your husband didn’t finish high school but is now GETTING A PHD. Rock on.

  • Class of 1980

    Warning – this is my gut reaction.

    Look, avoiding the martyr thing completely is IMPOSSIBLE. Do you hear me? Impossible. Okay, you can get better at managing your feelings, but you’ll never squelch it completely.

    The simple fact is that couples today have ALL their time eaten up, and that’s before there are even children in the picture. But we keep on thinking that the problem is US and if only we could just get the correct attitude, we’d be able to shed these feelings of pressure, and the resentment that builds from too much pressure.


    Feminism was a great idea for a lot of reasons, but it never was able to change the nature of time itself. It didn’t add more hours into the day for everyone to be simultaneously fulfilled by a stimulating career, be competent parents, run a household, do errands, cook nutritious meals, and get enough sleep. Intelligent and capable people have been struggling with this for decades now.

    Decades, people.

    Add a terrible scary economy and people working more than one job or losing their job into the mix. How many more straws before we break the camel’s back?

    I do agree that a couple can talk it out and find some solutions that will help for a while, but it won’t be long before new demands or schedules will throw you off balance again.

    To tell you the truth, when people talk about having balance, as if you can will it into being with your mind, I want to throw up. Maybe those people have learned how to make time stand still. I have not.

    Previous generations had a lot more recreational time on their hands back in the day when men worked and women stayed at home. They carved out more time for enjoyment. They weren’t so rushed all the time. I remember those days because I was a child in the sixties and a teen in the seventies. By the time we got to the eighties, we were all screwed. ;)

    I only mention it to point out that we’ve all reached our MAXIMUM level of commitments. The only thing left is for us to all start juggling plates in between errands and I wouldn’t be surprised if some magazine says it’s the new trend soon.

    • LPC

      I’m class of 1978:). And I think there’s truth to what you say. Life does turn out, often, to be harder than one expected. I think it would be a good idea to set up the infrastructure to deal with overload early, so that it’s at least carried fairly and the distributed weight is acknowledged by all.

    • Liz

      i found this supremely depressing! i don’t know that i plan to entirely ban the martyrdom- i know myself well enough to know i try to do everything, and then feel so imposed upon for it. but i’m never going to stop trying to do everything (though, pregnancy has really helped a lot in making me incapable of it).

      but i do think it’s worth considering what kind of process we will go through when i hit a martyr streak- especially with the kiddo coming. voicing expectations and thanking one another (two of the things i suggested above) don’t solve the problem- they don’t end the cycle. every few weeks, we get back to the point where i’m doing EVERYYYYTHING and you don’t UNDERSTAND. but we have a gameplan for when we get to that point, and we know how to right the ship.

      • Class of 1980

        Really do hate to depress you, but I’m telling it the way I see it. Of course, anyone is free to disagree and no doubt they will.

        That’s okay.

        I think there is a big divide between what women are programmed to expect and what really happens in life. I don’t think there is enough honesty about reality and young women are set up for too many rude awakenings.

        I just think some scaling back is necessary for the sake of sanity and health.

        • Maddie

          I think you are kind of right on, 1980. I am quite young, newly married, a few years out of college, saddled with almost six-figure student loan debt and working a miserable job that requires me to commute almost 4 hours a day. And for what?

          I used to complain to my husband about my commute, about my job, about the time we didn’t have together. And only recently did I realize (after hearing my husband say countless times that he never asked me to work in the city) that I had no idea why I was killing myself for zero gain. I think it has a lot to do with this need to fulfill a million different tasks all in one lifetime, but with little regard for the task of relaxing and enjoying life. I insisted on having this lifestyle in an effort to avoid being the martyr (I felt like sacrificing any sort of career-oriented goal for my marriage would only end in the same sort of mommy-martyrdom that Meg talks about). The funny thing is, in this very effort I ended up doing the thing I didn’t want to do.

          This is all to say that I think the answer lies in really, really, REALLY prioritizing your life. You can’t please everyone and you can’t do everything that you want to do, unless you’re ok with sacrificing time and personal relationships. You can’t be the best at anything unless you’re prepared to sacrifice a lot of other things that you could also be pretty good at. And this knowledge can be terrifying (which is why I think we almost suffocate ourselves under the weight of trying to do everything) and therein lies the path to martyrdom.

          The more I simplify, the more I find peace with the options I’ve chosen and the paths I’m taking because I feel like I’m doing things with much more intention now, rather than trying to jam every experience into a lifetime.

        • Michele

          Of all the things I learned in college, the best of all was learning how to say NO graciously.

          In the first few years of college, I was little miss campus crusader (not in the religious sense) running around to meetings for this, that and the other student organization, volunteering to plan this, or fundraise for that, etc, etc, etc, in addition to going to class, working, and still managing to find plenty of time for debauchery.

          In very short order, that pace is what people came to expect from me, and I became the go-to girl for nearly everything. I’m sure you’ve heard that old saying, “if you want something done, ask a busy person,” and I embodied that. And for a long time, I loved it, because I genuinely loved everything I was involved in.

          One semester, I had a particularly heavy course load and decided not to run for President of an organization I was involved in, knowing that I would burn out and SOMETHING would suffer (most likely my sanity). It was a decision that surprised a lot of people, but that first act of saying NO taught me some of the best lessons of my life, including the following:

          1. Not everything you think needs to get done ACTUALLY needs to get done. The world will not stop spinning if certain things are just plain ignored.

          2. Those things that really, truly do need to get done WILL get done, even if you’re not the one to do them.

          3. Some people will actually do those things better than you would.

          4. And even those who don’t do them as well or the same way you would still get them done, and that’s the important thing.

          And now, nearly 10 years removed from college, I still carry those lessons with me. I say NO – graciously, yet unapologetically ALL THE TIME, carefully picking and choosing what I commit myself to, and guarding my personal time and space with a vengeance.

          And today, THAT is what people know and expect of me. Even in the midst of my career in the non-profit world – an industry that is FULL of martyrs – I was able to create and sustain balance with relative ease.

          Which brings me to the fifth, final and most valuable lesson of all:

          YOU determine other peoples’ expectations of you.

          • JEM

            Love this whole thing.

        • Maddie

          Does anyone else also feel like they’ve suffered from career-related martyrdom? I know that I was raised to put career goals first, and personal relationships second. So I worked my ass off to obtain just the kind of job that would set me off on the path to becoming very successful in a traditionally male-dominated industry. And along the way, I feel into (and then nurtured) a very healthy relationship that has turned into a great marriage. And all the while, I’m plugging along on this career path that brings me no joy and requires all of my time and energy. And it’s been killing me, because I feel like I’m trapped between abandoning almost all of my preconceived expectations of what will bring me happiness and achieving *actual* happiness.

          And then finally I snapped and realized that maybe I’m the kind of person who values my personal relationships over my one-day potential executive status. And it’s taken me some hard thinking to come to terms with that, but since I’ve done it I’m so much more at peace with myself. And now that I’ve committed to making my relationship with my husband as much of a priority (if not more than) my work, it’s made my entire existence more fulfilling.

          And this is in NO way to say that careers aren’t fulfilling and home lives are. I think it can go both ways (as mothers, wives, workers, etc). I just feel like we can end up the martyr in any situation where we value our expectations more than our actual wants and needs.

          • Zan

            Yes! I already hit exactly but yes. This comment could be mine, but Future Zan, not present Zan. I haven’t had the realization moment yet, but I feel like I’m circling it. Circling it in a hopeful way though, not in a pet-goldfish-during-the-flush kind of way.

          • Vmed

            This is part of why I’m “dropping out” of my PhD program (since when does graduating with a Master’s in neuroscience make me a dropout? crazy field) and I’m trying not to develop a complex about it.

            Because it does make me happy to nurture my relationships. And all my mother’s yoooouuuull seeeeees were just hyperbole. And the next job move may be fulfilling, and it may not be, and I may not even find a job, but there is value in living a calmer life.

            It was nice when I was single to live in a world of ideas and experiments because those things were so grand and important that when I made myself a martyr to them it seemed worthy…. until the experiments didn’t work for months and months. It took someone who cared noticing I was making myself sick with exhaustion for me to stop and really think about what I wanted my life to be about. Fulfilling work, sure. But basing my personal value in the work? Not healthy. Especially in a place like wet lab science.

            So, Exactly.

        • Class of 1980

          One more thing to put today’s overload in perspective.

          Back when men were working and women were staying home, the men were often working the same or fewer hours than people work now, yet their salaries supported a family. AND those men did very little housework, cooking, or child raising.

          Keep in mind that between full-time jobs and doing housework, women work harder today than men did back then. More of you have also achieved more education on average than people did back then.

          And you wonder why you get a little tense?

          • Michele

            This is one area where I sometimes think the womens’ rights movement has backfired in a monumental way. Ha! Those rights seem to have come with a hell of a lot more responsibilities!

    • I think you’re right in that we can’t do everything because we’ll go insane. As Liz said, I’ll still keep trying. But that really stresses C out and so every so often we sit down and we enumerate our priorities and make sure that we’re still living according to them. Some things get left behind.
      One thing I appreciate is that I’m hearing more and more lately “Guess what, ladies? You physically *can’t* do it all. You have to make choices.” Which is helpful because it’s starting to fight back against the push to work and keep a perfect home and volunteer and be a great cook and have fabulous style and take amazing vacations and raise fabulous kids and and and. My mom was a great example in that she taught me to do what I can, and do it well, and then let the rest go.
      The fact that gender roles actually make things easier in one sense isn’t enough to make me embrace them, but it does add to my frustration.

      Time to make some massive changes in infrastructure, country.

      • FM

        Also, redefining your expected outcomes, means and methods is important. As some people are saying above, maybe your house doesn’t have to be spotless and clutterfree all the time, or have to be cleaned specifically by you, or have to be done exactly a certain way. Or your kids don’t need to be [insert thing you could be flexible about here], or that could be done by someone else, or in a different way. Or your career. Etc.

      • Aine

        I have to disagree. We’ve been told for YEARS that we have to stop thinking we “can do it all”- what needs to happen is for people to start telling MEN that they need to do some of “it all” too. Why should we be stuck justifying our second shift, when even with the two job families many of us have, it can be scaled back to two people with a shift-and-a-half each?

    • meg

      Well, I found this very cheerful, since I can’t see any real solutions eaither. Except work for myself, because then at least I feel like I control my time a little bit more, even if it’s crazy busy (it calms me to feel like I’m calling the shots). And I know you’ve done that too.

      So anyway, thanks. Hooray for normal!

      • Class of 1980

        Meg, you are not normal. You are ABOVE normal. You are a trooper.

        The only solution for having a baby when one person has a high-powered career (two jobs counts as a high-powered career) is for the other one to take care of the baby full-time.

        Because if two people have moderate career demands, it’s HARD enough. If you’re doing two jobs then all bets are off. What would David say to bringing up baby?

        • Class of 1980

          Maybe the two of you could switch off over the years. Which is kinda cool if you think about it.

          • meg

            I think that’s sort of our plan. He really wants to help with babies, but he also really loves law. The good thing is that crimminal law is slightly more flexable than firm work. When you have a big case you’re crushed, but there are other times when it’s pretty quiet. So hopefully we’ll both switch back and forth between doing more at home and doing more at work.

            And thank you. I want a trooper sticker for my shirt.

    • Calumnia

      The funny thing is, the family dynamic where the wife stayed home and the husband went to work is a modern development. Think of Harriet Beecher Stowe writing in the mid 1800s while raising seven children. Or garment workers running sewing studios out of their home. Its only since the 20th century and the invention of some of our household appliances (as well as canned soup, electric stoves and other time-saving devices) that we’ve had what we think of as recreational time.

  • Class of 1980

    Oh and Sarah’s post above compels me to add this …

    The generation that reads APW is saddled with the worst student debt EVER. It’s a crime.

    I expect you all will be taking to the streets soon with a revolution. The burdens seem to get worse with each generation.

    • Liz

      student debt and no jobs. it’s infuriating.

    • Sarah

      Good lord, yes.

      My husband told me last night that he will graduate with “no more than $50,000 in student loans.” And we celebrated.

      Hold on a second, WHAT? That was a reason to celebrate?!

      My, how our perception has been warped.

      • JEM

        I came out under 6 figures (barely…) and felt lucky.

    • I escaped from my undergraduate degree with only $14,000 in debt (which is actually pretty minimal), which I’m fine with paying back; it’s my contribution to an amazing education that scholarships and my parents sacrifice paid for.

      My poor husband, on the other hand– since he’s not a straight-A student, he got next to no scholarships, and had to get private loans for everything. And then the last year, when we were living together, he had to get loans to pay for rent. It is absolutely BRUTAL.

      And now I want to go to graduate school, and even though I personally don’t have a lot of loans, we’re still saddled with so much debt that I’m re-thinking my plans. Ugh.

      • I completely understand. I escaped with no debt (woohoo! Something I still celebrate!). What I married into, however, is quite different. I did feel a little martyred when I realized that as soon as I got married my net worth went into the hole $60,000. But hey, we’ve got a plan to get it payed back and we’re making the payments, so I can’t feel too upset!

    • Lethe

      Amen to this. I actually think something will have to happen politically to resolve a lot of this debt because realistically, too large a percentage of our generation owes too much money – with too few lucractive career prospects – for it EVER to all get paid back! Massive loan forgiveness for public service? Discharging student loan debt in bankruptcy? Who knows, but they’d better come up with something fast.

      • Liz

        this is a hope to which i cling as sallie mae continues to call daily.

    • Maddie

      Can we talk about the fact that the interest rate on my federally financed student loans is almost THREE TIMES the rate of my private, variable rate loan. THREE TIMES! That is all…

    • Karin

      I think we could have an entire additional discussion thread about the student-loan-debt-martyrs, i.e., those of us whose significant others signed up to be our partner despite our soul-crushing debt loads. I’m in my last year of law school, and I chronically feel horribly guilty about how much of a black hole loan repayments will be to our baby family’ finances. Can’t help but think often about how much fun we’re not going to be able to have for the next 10 years as we pay off my loans, and somewhat wish I hadn’t gone in the first place… but thankfully there’s only so much wallowing you can do in semi-martyrdom.

      • Jo

        Totally starting that separate thread here, so sorry about that. BUT I HAVE to say, it’s so nice to know other people out there our age are struggling in the same way. Somehow, I’ve ended up surrounded by a ton of friends who have literally no debt, and it makes it really awkward when budgets are tighter for us than for everyone else. Can you all move to my city now, please??

      • Liz

        josh’s parents paid for his education. i worked my way through school and ended up with some debt. it used to be a major burden- as in, i thought about it all the time. i organized our finances around what would get the loans paid off more quickly. (we really dont NEED groceries this week…)

        and i’m at the point of just pretending they aren’t there. it’s a monthly bill- like rent or water. and hopefully, some sort of system will be enacted in the future wherein they’ll be paid off, but until then, i’m not going to stress about something that brought little benefit to my life.

  • I know this post is about how we make ourselves feel like the martyr, but has anyone ever experienced others expecting you to be the martyr and judging you based on that?

    I am a part time grad student and I work part time in my field. My husband stays at home. He does most of the housework (laundry, dishes, keeping things tidy). I cook all of the dinners. He drives me to school, picks me up. I bring home the majority of money and all of the homework. He pays the bills. And we’re happy, I’m happy. I mostly enjoy my job and I love school, and he enjoys being at home, taking care of things. We feel lucky to be able to live like this, and we are very happy with our set up.

    However, it seems so many people out there believe I should have a problem with this set up. How could I “allow” my husband to stay at home? Don’t I feel taken for granted? Shouldn’t I be angry that I work and go to school why he does “nothing”? How do I get people to understand that this actually work for us. I’m not delusional. I’m not “being used.” My husband does so much everyday to keep us running that everyone else can’t see. I don’t feel like a martyr. But how do I deal with the fact that most of my friends and acquaintances think I should?

    • Class of 1980

      Tell people to back off. Your arrangement is DIVINE as far as I’m concerned.

      You are probably happier than all the people who want you to be unhappy because you actually have BALANCE. Both of you are busy, but neither of you has to kill yourselves.

      And people who think running a household isn’t “real work” are idiots. Period. It’s unpaid work.

    • Michele

      I don’t experience that now, Carrie Dee, but that’s part and parcel of my fears about NOT being a martyr if I become a mother.

      The only thing higher than a mother’s expectations of herself are society’s expectations of her, but I’ve never been one to care much about other peoples’ expectations of me or feel pressure to live up to them. I’m also fairly vocal about that fact, so I’m afraid motherhood might be marked by a whole lot of ‘Eff You’ from me to the world at large.

      Which isn’t terribly becoming.

    • Liz

      i get the opposite, carrie dee! i hear, “oh, what a saint…” when i tell people that josh does the laundry and dishes.

      emm no. he wears clothes and eats. so, why the clucking in admiration of his “sacrifice” of cleaning up after himself like a big boy?

      • Oh yeah! We were talking about this at the Philly meet-up last night!

        Richie and I split our thank you cards evenly, so I was patting myself on the back for having such a “helpful” husband. But then I got angry, because guys get brownie points for helping with thank you cards while women are *supposed* to do them. And then I wrote a blog post about it:

      • Uh huh. I was flabbergasted when our ring guy started telling Jason what a “saint” he was for “sacrificing so much” to move across the country so that I could pursue a graduate degree. If our situation had been reversed, I don’t think anyone would be congratulating me for being “soooo selfless.”

      • Kate

        My partner is a performer, and I realized recently that I get really weirded out going to his shows, even though they are good, and even though he recently followed me around through a long weekend theology conference (and sat through my 6 hour presentation), while he is an atheist.
        Thing is, him doing that is very New Man and admirable and heroic in the eyes of most, while me going to his shows is just fulfilling thousands of years of Little Woman roles.
        Not that I don’t still go and appreciate him very much for all his talent, and for coming to my stuff as well, but I’m so happy to have this community to recognize why I feel that way.

        And also, he’s moving in this month, so well timed with the sharing-duties posts!

    • Marina

      YES. Conversation after conversation of me talking about how nice it is to have a stay-at-home husband, and other people insinuating that he’s “living off” me or that I’ll change my mind when we have kids or I don’t know what. I like working. I like coming home to a rested, happy husband, not a stressed out grumpy one like I did before he quit his horrible job. Everyone else can go suck it.

    • Alexandra

      My man is the major housekeeper & I’m the major breadwinner. It works for us. ;)
      Sounds like you’ve got a good deal. Rock it!

  • ddayporter

    I can’t say much more beyond: thank you. I needed this.

  • Noelle

    This is a wonderful post, and I just had to share my experience – I, like many others who posted before me, am more or less the more “dominant” breadwinner, since my husband is in school and working a couple jobs on the side. It can get frustrating since I’m in that situation where I’m in a job where I’m not as happy or fulfilled as I could be, but it’s a GOOD stable job, and I’m very lucky to have a wonderful boss and incredible benefits, so I would never think of leaving it while we’re in this somewhat precarious position. However, I don’t feel resentful about it, since I know my husband would do the same for me if we were in opposite roles. (and he has, when I was in college and he was working more, and he took me out to eat constantly to really wonderful restaurants without expecting me to pay a cent.)

    I want to echo the statement made about appreciation – we constantly thank each other for doing basic stuff around our home, like simple cleaning tasks or making a meal, and I think it’s immensely important. It’s not like we go overboard and grovel every time someone does the dishes, but a simple ‘thanks’ shows that you notice your partner’s efforts and appreciate that it got done. I think it makes a huge difference in how we interact at home, since we haven’t had a single squabble about housework since getting married yet. (uh, knock on wood…)

  • There is so much I could add to this about have an unemployed spouse, being the current “breadwinner” on my VERY small salary, and putting off life events/ desires BECAUSE of having one income.
    Just when I start to have me “woe is me” mentality, I realize that we’ve been down this road before at the age of 19 when we were both working 2 jobs and going to school and having mini-nervous breakdowns. If we did it then, we can do it now.

  • Also, a joke I heard from my 5 year old nephew:

    Why was Tigger dirty???

    Because he played with POOH!

    • We actually had this joke happen in real life. I had changed my son’s diaper twice (bad timing) and was taking the two diapers downstairs to throw away in the outside trash. On my way down, I grabbed my son’s favorite Pooh bear to put into his backpack for naptime at preschool. My son has two Pooh bears. My daughter asked, “Is that the new Pooh?” To which I responded (looking at the diapers in my hands), “Why would you care?”

  • Thank you so much! I needed this today.

    My husband and I are still negotiating the money stuff – and, yeah, it’s bringing up lots of issues. I found myself in tears just the other day, because I bought a pair of shoes that I didn’t *technically* need, and as soon as I got home, I started feeling guilty. I shouldn’t have purchased them, I didn’t need them, the $15 that I spent on them could have been better spent elsewhere, what was I thinking since we still had some lingering credit card debt from the wedding to pay off, etc. Yes, this whole crisis was over $15 shoes. I was feeling so bad that I decided to return them – but of course my husband and I both realized that I was being silly, and yes, being a martyr (we can absolutely afford the shoes, so the issue was mental, not financial). I kept the shoes.

    So I can recognize the problem – but fixing it? Is really, really hard. My mother also had a huge martyr complex, but strangely, it wasn’t about being a mother. She was really, really involved in church stuff and volunteer stuff and couldn’t say no to anyone. So she made vestments for church, and washed coffee cups (a whole saga in itself) and cooked food and threw surprise birthday parties for other people’s children (though never for me, which I’ll be honest, still stings a bit)- and the whole time, she resented the hell out of it all because she felt that people were taking advantage of her. So I have witnessed how miserable the martyr complex made her, and I swore I would never do that. Yet I cry over shoes…

    Right now, the best thing my husband and I do to fix some of this is that we talk – a lot. We talk about money, we talk about chores. I have to let go of my perfectionistic ways, and he needs to do a bit more around the house. We’re both working on it. Sometimes I ask myself – am I doing (or not doing) ________ thing because I want to, or because I think it’s expected of me because I’m a wife now and that’s what wives do? That question helps me keep things in perspective (sometimes)

    • Class of 1980

      I hear you.

      My parents invested way too much time in church when I was growing up. They went twice on Sunday and also Tuesdays and Wednesday. They were both in the choir, which meant practicing till 10:00 p.m. on Wednesdays. Also dad was a Sunday School teacher and mom was a Sunday School Director. They also did all kinds of extra projects for the church throughout the year. You can’t IMAGINE.

      I wasn’t able to get involved in any extracurricular activities at school because of it. I missed tryouts because of it. And it affected my whole outlook about school.

    • Oh yes! The guilt over buying something. I know that very well. My husband and I have starting an “allowance” system that has really helped my guilt. We each get $30/month which we can use to buy any little “frivolous” thing we want. I used to have a huge guilt complex over buying anything that I deemed not valuable to both of us. Now I have a special fund for new shoes, a uptenth bottle of nail polish, and other girly things that I enjoy, but that I never allowed myself to have before.

      • And see, I *want* an allowance! But my husband doesn’t like the idea, for some reason. Yet another thing we’re negotiating…

        • Liz

          haha, i keep thinking that we SHOULD do the allowance thing. but we have a more free-form, “hey is it okay if i get this?” way of handling it.

          which works out for both of us, but not for our bank account. because we’re entirely too generous with one another and never say, “no.”

          • Haha, right on, Liz! I told Jason the other day after he said yes to my buying a new trench coat, “No no no, you’re supposed to be all ‘No! We should save that money! Your current clothes are fine!'”

          • meg

            We do both. We have allowances, but we’re pretty flexable with each other beyond that.

  • Other Katelyn

    Just last week, I invited friends over to my boyfriend’s place (where we both spend weekends). They always host, our turn was long overdue, and I like to have people over to my space. But after issuing the invitation, I realized that I would be beyond embarrassed to have these friends see the condo in its current shape and demanded that my boyfriend start cleaning with me in the hour we had before the friends arrived. THEN, as I was sweeping the bathroom floor and cleaning the toilet, I got angry. Why should I *have* to deep-clean? Shouldn’t it just always be clean, or at least clean enough that we didn’t have to deep-clean just to have guests over? And I got even more angry when I saw that he, sweet but slobby he, was grumpy about spending the hour cleaning. Eventually clarifying words were exchanged, hugs were given, showers were taken, everything was clean enough, and it was fine.

    Of course, his space should probably be less toxic-dirty than it usually is, just for health reasons (hah. But seriously), and therefore easier to tidy up for guests. But the real issues were that I had invited these friends over, it was my sense of social obligation at play, and my boyfriend genuinely didn’t think his friends would care about the mess. Yes, we share that space on weekends, and yes, of course it was fine that I’d invited them over, but I needed to let go of my expectation that he would somehow have psychically intuited that I was going to invite guests over that weekend and magically, instantaneously change decades of cleaning habits in preparation for the event he’d seen in the crystal ball that was about to happen. (Unrealistic expectations, much?) I also needed to let go of the idea that my standards of cleanliness aren’t automatically his. I’m the one bringing the “omg guests! MUST DEEP CLEAN THE BATHROOM IMMEDIATELY” crap to the table.

  • Alice919

    I am glad that this is a topic as well and I am especially glad to see all the ladies who are in the same boat as me!! My husband (we’re newlyweds!) lost his job a few months ago and went back to school full time (as was the plan..just sooner). I work full time and support us but we still need some help as we live waaaayy to close to the margins so he is looking for PT work that will fit around his school schedule. But no such luck and he doesn’t want to “work retail”. Instead, he focuses on school and has slipped into the student lifestyle of staying up late, sleeping in, playing Xbox, etc. No, he’s not at home in an apron cooking dinner and vacuuming. Yes, it is frustrating sometimes and its easy to get into the “I hold the purse strings so please do _____ type of martyrdom” but the key for me has been ACCEPTANCE. I have to remember that if the tables were turned I would not want him to be resentful at me and so we talk about it instead. Listening to eachother helps a lot. And we always remind eachother that we are a team! GO TEAM SIBLEY!!! We are in this together and here to support eachother. And if he can’t support financially he supports in other ways. He helps where he can, rubs my feet, takes care of the dog, cooks dinner sometimes, picks me up from the metro…. Lots of support that I really need!

    He is the man I love and we both agreed to this situation. He is not super clean and will never be. He will never walk into the bathroom and think “My, the tub needs a good scrubbing”, but he is getting better at it and helps when I ask . He is not super frugal and I get irritated about how he buys dinner on campus instead of bringing it from home but he is getting better and we talk much more openly and honestly about money.

    This weekend he spent most of the weekend on the couch watching football or movies. I spent the weekend running around the couch cleaning, unpacking wedding gifts, etc. I realized recently that I have a choice in this. I can hang out on the couch with him or I can run errands or clean or hang out with my friends. There is no obligation. If the dishes don’t get done, then so be it. Acceptance is the answer. He is not “making” me take care of the house while he relaxes and I do not “have” to do it.

    When I find myself martyring myself and grumbling under my breath about doing all the work around here, I ask for help and stop doing it. Sometimes I just need to ask him to do housework, sometimes I need to go out with my friends and forget about housework.

    Thanks for the post and for the fellowship of women!

    • M

      This is a tough situation, one I have heard of a lot since the economy went south. Sending good vibes your way!

    • Liz

      yuck. we were here not too long ago. i wouldn’t say my husband is LAZY- but after working your ass off for years, unemployment can be a nice break. and it can be easy to slip into bad habits. we now start each week with a little weekly planner and a list of things that need to be accomplished within the week. it’s like having an allowance for our time. we both start off monday with “this needs to go to the drycleaners, someone needs to take the car into the shop, and eventually we need to buy these groceries.” then we have a good idea of what needs to happen over the course of the week, but some flexibility in when it needs to, sure- spend today on video games. but know that that means tomorrow some serious laundry needs to happen. it’s also forced me to allow some… looseness in my expectations. i can power through all of the above in the same day. but it’s not fair for me to come home frustrated because he didn’t.

  • Can I again thank you for writing about the real issues of marriage instead of just showing real weddings? It’s so refreshing after looking at all the wedding eye candy full of bliss and promise of the perfect future to come here and find actual helpful information about living life with another person. Because it ain’t easy and I think we all need to talk about that a little more so that we don’t feel like failures when it gets tough.

  • Mary Jo

    I think martyrdom is a gene on the X-chromosome. I have it on BOTH sides!

  • Jo

    On our drive home from Mexico at the end of our honeymoon, we got into our first married fight. I caused it, because I was feeling all martyr-y about my debt, that was now our debt officially. We were talking about money, and he referred to the debt as ours, and it totally hit me so hard that I was the reason we had to think so hard about money, because he had been smart/lucky and had 0 debt coming in to our marriage.

    I COULD have thought, wow, I’m so glad I married a man who is willing to look at the debt as ours and is smart/lucky enough to not have any. But instead, I got all martyry about how I’m doing everything I can to deal with the debt. Le sigh.

    • JEM

      You nailed it. I am in the same position, and given the fact I’ve *Exactly’d* about 10 other comments along the way, I think it is safe to say a lot of us are in the same boat.

  • Roxi

    Wow…I read APW constantly but never felt compelled to post until now. Meg, I am pretty much exactly in your situation (minus the extra job to come home to, I don’t know how you do it), and it can be SO hard sometimes. In my head I’m better at this. In my head I don’t mind supporting my fiance with a job I don’t love. I don’t mind working really hard and then having less disposable income than all my colleagues/ friends, because everything I earn is halved. I don’t mind feeling extremely constricted in my own career options becuase I need to have the stability and the income and the benefits to support both of us. I’m not pissy when my fiance can sleep later on days he doesn’t have class, or when he gets tons of school vacations that I don’t get. But, in real life, I’m so much less good at this and so much less selfless than I thought I would be. In real life, I know it’s “our money”, but sometimes I still feel like I should have more control over what we do with it, because I’m the one making it. In real life, when I have a long, crappy day at work, and then have to come home and cook dinner/ do chores because my fiance is studying, I am SUCH a martyr. And then I feel guilty about not being better at this.

    I don’t have any good advice (or jokes), but thanks for posting. I needed to hear this today.

    • ddayporter

      exactly button not enough. are you me? with a few minor tweaks I could have written that comment. I thought I would be better at this too.

    • Sarah

      Um … yes. This. Yes.

  • Years ago while vacationing in Bali, I walked past an art gallery in Ubud. One of the paintings on display had a cartoon face with a pistol pointing at it. Underneath the illustration, the words “my life is so suck” appeared in black. I was overcome with sadness, feeling guilty for planning and attending my own first world pity parties for the stress induced by a living wage employment and an active social life. I now display that photo in my living room because it is a constant reminder that I am one of the lucky ones.

    The occasional march in the pity parade still happens. I think it is a part of life. I try not to be overly critical of anything, and that rule even applies to my occasional tendency to whine.

  • Marina

    It’s about taking 100% responsibility for all my actions. I LIKE doing things for my husband. I like washing his dishes and folding his laundry and working hard to pay our bills when he can’t. I like that I make his life better, and that the work I do goes towards our baby family, not just to myself.

    But I have to remind myself of that all. the. freaking. time. It’s so easy to think, “I’ve been working all day and he hasn’t even done a few dishes?!” or whatever it is. But that’s not how it works. Doing dishes or bringing home a paycheck needs to be like taking him out to dinner or buying him a special birthday present. I don’t do it because I want something in return, I do it as a gift, because it makes me happy to do something nice.

    And I really, really need to know that if I don’t give him that gift, he’ll be okay. If my job is too terrible, we’ll find another way to make it work. Bottom line.

    • Marina

      After reading other comments, I also wanted to add that I’ve learned to get better at just sitting down and saying, “I need to feel more appreciated” when I’m getting into the martyr thing. And more than that, I need to tell him EXACTLY what makes me feel appreciated. Early in our relationship, if I said, “I need to feel appreciated” he’d hear, “I want hugs and kisses and verbal apologies” when what I meant was “I want you to bring me a cup of tea and maybe take something off my to-do list.” Being explicit about what I need has helped a whole lot.

      We’ve also put a lot of work into striking the phrases “You never” and “You always” from our vocabularies. a) It’s not accurate, and b) it’s not helpful. It works so much better to fight about a specific situation than to fight about some nebulous thing that “always” happens.

  • In my case, I just love being a mom and just love being there for my kids and with the innovation of the internet, I found myself being able to work at home but at the same time still take care of my kids plus the occasional coffee with my close friends.
    Wives should know what really is important for them so that they do not fall into the trap of misery. Although it mostly happens to wives during the first stages of their marriages and it also happened to me. But i grew to appreciate what my life is now and now I would not even change my life before from my great and contented life now.

  • This post is one big EXACTLY! Thanks for reminding me it’s up to me to make sure this doesn’t happen to me and that’s it not automatic. Since getting engaged I feel that anytime I mention to married colleagues that they should do a, b or c. The answer I get is you don’t understand because when you’re married you can’t do that. Same thing when I suggest to parents who complain about not having enough time to themselves to just take 30 minutes or an hour the answer is always, you don’t understand because you don’t have children. These answers always freaked me out, would I become a totally different person once I was a wife or a mother? Would this person I am now just fade to black? I know that I already think about why do I do so much and the FH is allowed to just reap the benefits? But I also need to remember a) he didn’t ask me to do these things and b) there are things he does for us that I know I take for granted they just might not be doing laundry or wiping down the bathroom sink.

  • Oh Meg, this post hits home today. I’ve been having REALLY MAJOR second thoughts about my grad program recently (OMG, right? I haven’t even finished one semester yet!) and then feeling all, “But if I do quit, what kind of career will I end up in? The economy sucks and who knows if I’ll be able to get a job comparable to the one I left to go back to school and my stipend is what is paying our rent right now and we’ll have no health insurance and and and… why can’t HE just get a super-lucrative job so I don’t have to worry about all this???” And then I feel really guilty for complaining about a life in which I get paid to read all day and have such copious amounts of free time (and for which I uprooted us and moved us across the country).

    All of which is to say – I’m trying to learn gratitude and, for now at least, to take things one day at a time. And to have faith that things will somehow work out, even if I don’t have a contingency plan for everything life might throw at us.

    • ddayporter

      if it helps to know, my husband had major second thoughts about his program also, especially in the first semester. I don’t know if it’s just that naturally the first courses in grad school stink, or if it was an adjustment period he had to go through, or what. but now in his second year he is a lot more excited about the program and about his future career. I don’t know that your doubts are coming from the same place his were, but I wish you the best as you figure this out!

      • It does help! I’ve been told by a couple of friends who’ve gone through their programs that “everyone” has second thoughts and it’s a matter of figuring out which of the objections are valid and which are, “Waaaah, my entire academic worth is being determined by three people right now” (which, you know, could be a valid objection all on its own…). I’m not planning on doing anything rash (and the Type-A personality in me is all “I finish what I start!”) but it’s been a bit disconcerting when all my classmates keep saying, “I can’t imagine doing anything else!” and I’m like, “Um… I can? Lots of other things in fact?” :) I’m glad to hear that your husband is glad he stuck with it!

        • Harriet

          Your classmates can’t imagine doing anything else? Nonsense. I’m a third year doctoral student and I have to say that existential crises just come with the territory for me and every other grad student I know–at least those of us who are being honest with ourselves. The first year was definitely the most full of doubts. There’s been a huge improvement since then, I promise! The reading and the free time is a pretty sweet gig.

        • andthebeautyis

          I just have to say – People were saying in my UNDERgrad that “If you can imagine doing anything else – do that instead.” I always thought, “Well, of course I can imagine doing other things. I have other interests and talents. I just prefer to do this.”
          People like to limit themselves to make their choices feel easier and then impose those limits on others.
          And PS – I feel the same way about marriage. Can I imagine someone else I could marry? Of course! But I like this one [understatement], and I won’t ever have a deep, fulfilling relationship if I wait for a neon sign saying, “This one is more perfect for you than anyone else in the world!”

  • peanut

    My husband and I are both grad students, contribute the same amount financially, and work very similar hours (we carpool to school, so we have to). The trap of martyrdom looms when I find myself the first one to get up and do the dishes after dinner, thinking “*sigh*, of course I have to pick up…” and then I shake it off and tell him to get his ass over to the sink!

    I do think how the chores will be split up when we have different jobs and different incomes and different levels of commitment to our careers …. like should the person who works longer hours do less housework? Or the person who contributes more financially have to do less? Or the person who has the longer commute? I mean, ideally it would still be split, but if one of us works from home or something or has a mellower job then clearly they would have more time to do stuff ….. I am hoping this will be discussed in APW later :)

    • meg

      We break it up this way. Like, everyone should put in about the same number of hours running the household. I work more hours so David (bless him) does more chores. It will flip flop at various points in our lives.

      • peanut

        That totally makes sense…I guess what I am wondering about is in cases where it’s not so “cut and dry”; for example, I am friends with a married couple who both work full-time, but the husband makes like three times as much as the wife, and the wife does all the housework (laundry, cooking, dishes, etc) I guess to equalize things. Something about that arrangement bugs me. I mean, on the one hand, it makes sense that since the husband contributes three times as much to the financial stability of the household, then the wife should contribute three times as much to the housework – but it seems unfair that the wife comes home from work at about the same time as the husband and immediately gets to work cooking dinner while he doesn’t just because her career field isn’t as lucrative as his. It seems like they should share all housework since they devote the same amount of time to earning money for their family, even if that amount of money differs.

        • I’m not sure how your friends came to their arrangement, but what I’ve found to be helpful for my husband and myself in divvying up our chores is to employ the “who cares more?” and “play to your strengths” rules. I.e. no matter what our working schedules are like, I will probably always cook dinner more often than Jason does. Not because I’m a martyr, and not because cooking is “women’s work,” but because I really, really love cooking and he doesn’t. To balance that out, he does the grocery shopping and the dishes, and we try to clean our place together so that it’s not just one of us feeling like we always get stuck with the task.

          One of the marriage books I read made a note that research has discovered it actually matters less that chores are divided completely equally as that both spouses *feel* that they are putting in an equal amount of time and effort. So for some people that might mean one spouse taking the brunt of the financial-provision stress and the other taking care of the housework while for other couples that might mean splitting all chores straight down the middle. I like thinking of those findings when other people’s (or my own) choices sometimes baffle me!

          • peanut

            that’s a really good point; I mean, as far as I know my friend (the wife in the above situation) thinks she has a sweet deal and doesn’t complain at all – like “alright, we can afford to buy a house in SF cuz my husband makes bank – I’m gonna cook dinner!” – I just know that that isn’t the way I want our home life split up. I’m with you on the cooking dinner part – I love to cook and I am better at it than my husband, but he does other stuff that I don’t like doing and we are both totally fine with our sitch right now. I just think ahead to when we both have “real jobs”, when he will probably make more than I do, and what would seem a fair split for us in my head; I mean we’ll probably have to cross that bridge when we get to it. I totally over-analyze stuff like this.

        • Class of 1980

          Whoa, Peanut.

          If the amount of money earned, rather than the number of hours worked determines who does the most chores, then that couple lives in a dog-eat-dog marriage.

          That is a completely unfair arrangement. And cold. And heartless. And cynical.

          The wife is paying a PENALTY for having a career that doesn’t pay as high as his. Sheesh!

          • Jo

            Ok, yes, if truly the arrangement is based on income, and not hours, this is an unfair agreement, and the wife doesn’t realize what she’s agreeing to. BUT, one thing I know is, don’t try to judge other people’s relationship agreements – there are often many, MANY more things that go into it than you know. The easy example has already been suggested – she LOVES doing those things, and he supports her in more other ways than just his paycheck. Now, if they were openly discussing this with friends as the straight tit for tat, I’d get uppity with you all. But, since we’re all just analyzing the situation with such limited information, let’s at least reserve the option that perhaps there’s more than meets the eye. Mmkay?

        • meg

          WHOA! That is some serious bullsh*t! Our money is our money, no matter who makes it. We both work equally hard to support the household, that’s the deal. I could make a million dollars and David could make five dollars. Then WE would make a million and five dollars a year, and divide chores based on time available and personal strengths.

          Trying to think of something more nuanced to say, but that arrangement makes me sooooo angggggrrrryyyyyyyyy. SEES RED!

          • peanut

            are you kidding me, the whole situation totally creeps me out, I was being politically correct….but unfortunately I think it’s pretty common for the burden of house chores to fall upon the woman’s shoulders, even if both partners work full time, with one of the “reasons” given is that the guy makes more money. Interestingly, it’s the women that I’ve known in these cases who have provided this reasoning – and I’ve met quite a few educated, full-time mothers when I used to work a “real job” before I went back to school.

          • Class of 1980

            Agree 1000%

          • Class of 1980

            Jo (above),

            There is no “mmkay” in this for me.

            It was stated that they get home at the same time every day from their respective jobs. And she does ALL the housework.

            I can’t think of anything the husband could do to mitigate the fact that his wife is working so many more extra hours than he is, when he could easily help. I also can’t think of a good reason why he watches her do all the housework and isn’t bothered by it.

            Sorry. Not buying it.

  • I think it’s clear from the comments and the content that this is an important post. Playing the martyr is so easy and so damaging to ourselves and our relationships. But I don’t think it’s enough to stop and tell yourself that nobody asked you to be a martyr. Because the truth is, no one had to. Meg said that it’s a role she falls into too easily. And many of us echoed that sentiment. If we’re all doing it, it can’t be because we’re wrong or because we had martyr mothers to look up to. It’s because, as women, we’re expected to martyr ourselves. There are a lot of cultural and societal pressures contributing to this. I haven’t thought about this long enough to be able to name them. But they’re the reason that we are the ones that automatically feel the need to sacrifice everything for our families and when we stand up to that pressure, feel selfish or bitchy. It’s all well and good to say that being selfish and bitchy is better than sacrificing everything, but we shouldn’t even have to think that doing something for ourselves first is selfish or bitchy or any other ugly word.

    • meg

      I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m not really playing martyr because it’s culturally accepted or I grew up that way. For us, its more that the bills have to get paid.

      Though I totally hear what you’re saying, and think you’re right. I’m just sort of playing gender reversed martyr. I work lots, David works some and does the chores, I let myself be convinced that he has it easy. I’m martyring myself Dad-style, not Mom-styel.

      • Right, and that’s the problem. If your husband was paying the bills and you were in school/homemaking, you’d still be the one feeling the pressure. And you’d still play the martyr. Not that he wouldn’t feel the stress that comes with working to support a family, but I just don’t see men martyring themselves the way women do, I think because they don’t feel like they have to give up part of themselves to keep a family going (whether they are working or homemaking or both). And I think that comes from social expectations. Note that when I say “you” I really mean “me.” I have a problem imposing my thoughts and feelings on others.

        • meg

          No, I disagree. I’m martyring myself exactly the way my Dad did when I was growing up. He worked a job he didn’t (always) like, and felt like everyone just expected that of him, and no one appreciated it. I’m doing the sammmmmeeeeee thing on my bad days.

          I’m not sure I’d be playing martyr if I was going to school, or generally doing something I liked. I’m not much of a natural martyr, but falling into the role I fell into (and never expected to fall into), of doing something I didn’t like much, while the economy fell apart, and my husband went to school. Of not feeling like I had a lot of choices. And, that was a sucky martyer-heavy situation to fall into.

          I do get that you’re talking about yourself, and not invalidating that at all. Plus, I think what you’re saying is really common. I’m just explaining my side of things.

          • Class of 1980

            You have two situations that led to this.

            One, you didn’t expect to get stuck being the sole provider. You both thought there would be flexibility and there is none right now. You didn’t sign up for this.

            Two, a job you don’t like feels vastly different than one you do like. It sucks the energy out of you instead of energizing you. It is tiring to constantly have to force yourself to do something every day that you don’t want to.

            Do you know how many studies have shown that job happiness is correlated with a feeling of control? Your feelings are natural.

            The only solution is to keep two things in mind …

            It’s not your fault and it’s not David’s fault that the fools who manage our country have driven the economy into the ground. So acknowledge that you are both under stress that you did not create. All your plans together have been rearranged by outside forces.

            Secondly, keep in mind that it’s NOT permanent. Repeat this to yourself several times a day.

          • I appreciate hearing the other side. This is a reminder that all of my problems don’t boil down to gender and that men martyr themselves also, though probably not often in the same numbers or to the same degree that women do. This was actually my favorite thing about the APW meetup yesterday–it reminded me that like-minded women do not all think alike.

          • Ruckus

            Wow, I just realized that my dad martyred himself in this way too. I acknowledge but have sometimes downplayed his sacrifice in relation to my mom’s. My parents both played the martyr in very typically gendered ways.

          • meg

            I think that was always my Dad’s point. That when men make sacrifices to support a family, they are often downplayed to the point of not exsisting, even if they feel like they are giving up the life they wanted so that everyone can go to school, get fed, get ahead. Why? Because they are men, and it’s their responsability to pay the bills and suck it up, no matter what it takes.

            So yeah, it’s worth some thinking. I’ve had to to do some thinking about that, when I realized that David had no real interest in sacrificing it all to support a family. Turns out he wants to be home some of the time and enjoy being a parent, not suck behind a desk for 15 hours a day. Turns out he wants a fullfilling job, even after we have a family. Turns out he thinks I have an equal responsability to support us, and that he should get a chance to stay home with the kids if he wants to as well. I mean WHAT? That’s my role. Oh, wait a minute….

  • For me, when I start to feel that way, I remember everything that my husband is doing for us and how easy it would be for him to do the whole pity-the-martyr thing if he wanted to as well. And since we both can’t be martyrs at the same time then we both probably shouldn’t be one at all.

  • does it relieve me of any martyrdom at all that is i think “egad, someone is coming over – clean the bathroom!!” it is because the bathroom actually is pretty disgusting? it’s not that it isn’t cleaned perfectly, it just hasn’t been touched since the last time i cleaned it and ….. wait a minute…. <—– martyr-ing!!

    • Marina

      I totally stress about cleaning the bathroom when people come over.

      … I also give my husband a couple days advance warning that I’m going to be freaking out about the bathroom, and usually that gives him enough time to realize that he wouldn’t mind having a cleaner bathroom too. ;)

  • Meg

    Two peanuts were walking down the street…and one was assaulted.

    Get it?

  • Annie

    Thank you for this post. I let myself slip into martyr mode, and that’s when things go wrong. But when I stop and take a step back, and remember that I don’t need to be perfect, things are so much easier and enjoyable!

    Plus the look of absolute pride on my fiance’s face when I thank him for or tell him that I appreciate those little things is absolutely priceless.

  • mandy

    not that you don’t have enough to do already (hee)… but this post just reminded me of how THRILLED i would be if reclaiming wife became its own site :)

    • meg

      Well, funny you mention it. More on that next week.

      • Morgan


        • Ruckus

          I’m interested to hear more about this. Just some quick feedback Meg – as a new reader, I kind of appreciate the less frequent postings on Reclaiming Wife since the topics and comments can be heavy/thought-provoking. It gives me more time to digest what has been said, especially since it can take a couple of days to work through all the comments! I definitely relate more to “this” side of the blog than APW, but appreciate both spaces.

          • meg

            I think I agree in a lot of ways. Hum, stuff to think about. Thanks, no one has mentioned that explicitly, but I think it’s a smart observation.

  • Meg, I totally hear you on the job thing – hating it but being good at it and the job being necessary for bills and insurance. *sigh* I struggle with that EVERY. DAY. I’m thankful that my husband has a job, but it’s in such a volatile industry that there is no telling how much longer he’ll have work. (In fact, his office just had to lay off 10% of its staff, and another in the same industry just had to lay off 40 people.) It does get hard to not martyr yourself, just a tiny bit, sometimes.

    • Morgan

      I feel you. Last year my husband was in an industry where the unemployement rate in this city was at like 90%. It’s turned around, but it was a hard year. I was in a job that just about killed me.

      Thankfully, I’m in a new poistion, and he’s now employed. Best of luck.

  • My boyfriend and I often talk about the future, in very serious tones. Capricorn – blame it on the Earth sign? I often sigh with despair about my future as a mother, a working mother! The horror! But a SAHM? With no money of my own? The horror! But a life without children? The horror! So basically, I’m not doing a great job of envisionning a happy future. Because my boyfriend is the best, he reminds me that infact, there is no horror. We are in this together and there will be joy and some hardship but no self-imposed suffering.

    You know, the things I already knew, but it’s nice to hear them said in his voice too.

    • Mmm, I really like this about envisioning a happy future. As someone who is totally anxiety-ridden, I have a really hard time not worrying every single aspect of my (objectively very wonderful) life to death. Thanks for the reminder!

  • I’ve been sorting this out myself lately. My fiance and I are both tired and stressed out all the time, and I’ve felt totally unappreciated, and like he doesn’t do anything to help (or when he does, it’s not actually helpful, like when he went to the grocery store and got just enough food for dinner that night instead of stocking up for the week, ugh). And all it led to was this self-pity-party where I was frustrated with him and confused about why.

    So I’m working on being more appreciative myself, and on asking him to do things when I’m just too tired, and it turns out all of this communication really helps! (I mean, duh, of course it does, but it’s an easy thing to forget.)

  • Class of 1980

    My business partner is a man aged 56. He met his future wife back when they both worked in a restaurant. In the early eighties they got married. He was managing a restaurant and she had graduated college and worked herself up to an executive position in the apparel industry making big bucks.

    After they were married, he decided to go to college, which meant he was an older student (late twenties). While he was going to school, he also worked at restaurants and bars full-time and did all the cooking at home.

    They moved around a lot for her career (Manhattan, Boston, Atlanta, etc…) and he went along even when it meant he had to switch schools again.

    Over time, they grew distant from each other. She quit wanting to even have sex. Finally, they went to therapy and the therapist said – “I’ve seen this a million times. So many women think they want this big career and take on being the primary breadwinner and then they just burn out.”

    His wife said she wanted to go do basket weaving for a while. ;)

    Since he was just graduating college, he wasn’t going to make much money for a long time. He felt between a rock and a hard place because he had feared being able to make her happy before they ever got married. And he was confused because he thought he was being a liberated “eighties man”.

    They kept struggling and then he graduated and got a job that required him to work 70 hours a week at the same time she was dealing with high career demands. They got a divorce not long after.

    Maybe they would have divorced anyway, but the stress didn’t help at all. He says he would never get into an unbalanced situation like that again if he could help it. Of course, this is part of why he works for himself – he has control now.

    The sad thing is that he didn’t do anything wrong. Going to school full-time and working full-time is very hard. I remind him of that whenever he looks back with regret because he worked hard too. There wasn’t anything he could have done differently, except not get married in the first place!

    This is one reason I said this stuff has been going on for decades.

  • kc

    This post really hit me. I’ve been the breadwinner for our household for almost 2 years. During that time, my husband has been working his tail off to build two businesses but this economy sucks and profit has been slow and irregular. I believe in him and his work, but sometimes it’s so hard to face my dreary life-sucking job when he’s happily working away on his dream. One of the things I’ve done for myself, recently, is to give myself a block of time each day to work on my dreams or daydream or anything that is completely and selfishly just for me. It’s not a golden ticket answer. I still have days when I want to cry Can’t You See What I Do For You People?!? But I’m hoping it’s a step in the right direction.

  • Sammie

    This is a topic my fiance and I have had several conversations about. For the most part we came into the relationship with similar ideas about money. I too can relate to the getting by on 20k! We both work in Theatre, he free lance and I have a seasonal gig 9-10 mos out of the year. The martyr situation comes in when he is on a down time between contracts and I am in rehearsals, I come home from work, he’s been playing video games and there is no dinner idea in sight. This was the source of one of out first misunderstandings when we moved in together. It is so great to read others comments and know I am not alone. We now try to be aware of the others schedules and when one will be getting home later the other to at least have a dinner game plan, even if it is not in play. (Tech baked good also are very important :) )

    Acknowledging the little things has been an important adjustment for both of us! I am a perfectionist by nature so my guy is aware, even if I am not “telling” him, that he put the spices back in the wrong order. I have to make a conscious effort to not exude “that doesn’t go there!” and to acknowledge that I enjoy his cooking and at least he is putting them away. Also giving thanks when he has put away the dishes or vacuumed. All things I would want him to acknowledge of me. Treat others as you would like to be treated – it applies to everyone, Including (or most importantly) your loved ones!

    I certainly stress when I think about having kids. We get by together on our 2 starving artist salaries, but I have always wanted to be the stay at home mom, or at least the most of the time at home mom. In our current situation this would not be a reality. I struggle with that. Neither of us want to leave a career we are passionate about to do a nine to five that we struggle to like. We get by just fine, we save up money to have certain things but we don’t have the expendable income like some of our friends outside of the business do and this is where I have been struggling lately. My friends say they understand that we don’t have the money but in the same breath don’t understand why we cant just go and do “this” or “that”. I do not run around saying I’m broke, but when I say I don’t have the money, it means I really don’t have it and I’m not going to spend money I don’t have. I am lucky that i have found a guy that has the same opinion.

    Thanks for all of the input on APW, I have enjoyed reading and catching up the last few weeks since I stumbled upon and look forward to hearing more!

  • N

    This post and discussion reminds me of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I haven’t read the book, but I read the blog when it was on Slate, and she has a commandment of “No calculation.” Which basically means not to keep score of the tasks that you do, especially because we tend to over-estimate what WE do and underestimate what our partners do. I like her perspective because it’s not preachy–this is something she personally struggles with. There is a great post about it here:

  • Here’s a joke I heard on the Daily Show told by the wonderful David Sedaris:

    A man is at his house,; it’s late at nigh,t and he’s getting ready for bed when there’s a knock at the door. He opens the door, and it’s a snail. The snail says “I’d like to talk to you about buying some magazine subscriptions.” The man, furious that he’s been interrupted rears back and kicks the snail as hard as he can, slams the door and goes to bed.

    Two years later, there’s another knock at the door. He opens it and it’s the snail, and the snail says “what the f*ck was that all about?”

    • meg


    • Class of 1980

      I love that joke.

  • ok, so i have to confess that i didn’t read all the comments before this, mostly because there were 220 and i just don’t have the time to read that many. but also, because i just have to put this thought out there. and it’s a big one for me. i work at a job many many people out there in the world would fight tooth and nail for. i work at a job that required 4 years of college and 4 years of medical school to get, and its still not an end point, and i don’t love it.

    i am still in training. and in the past 4 years of residency and 8 years of medical school and college have left me in what feels like an insurmountable pile of debt. when i married my husband he had been working at his current job for ten years, making almost 3 times as much as i make. and can i remind you, i don’t love my job. i definitely don’t think its work the quarter of a million dollars in debt that i owe as a result of going to school to learn enough to be qualified for this job. and now my husband is saddled with my debt. i feel incredibly, unbelievably guilty about that.

    but i also DO NOT love my job, and i would in fact be happy doing any number of other jobs. yet i am stuck with this job i DO NOT love, paying more than two thousand dollars a month in student loans and struggling to keep our heads above water because of it.

    so, i’m not a martyr. i was just a foolish teenager who thought being a doctor sounded like a good idea when i was 18. and now i’m paying the price, both in money and with my life. i work 80+ hours a week and make three thousand dollars a month. i pay two thousand toward student loans and don’t have enough left to pay my mortgage, let alone tackle the other bills. thankfully i have a husband with a better paying job who can help with the bills. i feel guilty about my debt and i feel guilty about NOT loving my job.

    what can i do????

    • N

      I have to preface this by saying I am not a doctor and have very little knowledge of the medical profession. But are there things you could do with your MD that aren’t just “be a doctor”? Like…research, go into public health, hospital administration, health policy? My mom has a similar professional degree and did not enjoy the traditional route that her degree takes most people in so mid-career she switched to doing research and it suits her much more. That way your debt would be redirected as investment toward something that feels more worth it.

      Someone more professionally knowledgeable than me could probably help more!

    • Olivia

      What type of doctor are you? Can you work in an FQHC or in a medically underserved area and get some loan forgiveness? That would at least get you out from some of the debt. Can you change your practice type within your specialty – clinic instead of hospital, etc.? None of that fixes the issue of not wanting to be a doctor, but there’s still a lot of diversity within medical practice, maybe you could find something that you at least like better.

      Or do as the person above suggested, go into administration, public policy, etc.

      What would you do if you weren’t saddled with the MD?

    • Marchelle

      Oh shit Sarah, that SUCKS.

      I struggled with this for a looooong time. I loved medical school, but became disillusioned pretty quickly once I entered the real working world, and realised how little patient care there was in medicine. It took me 3 and half years of tears, and failed resolutions to just be happy at my work goshdarnit, and then repeatedly vowing to leave, but feeling unable to because I felt trapped by my choices, and totally inadequate for any other career. Thankfully, I finally and totally serendipitiously stumbled across a subspecialty that I LOVE (which incidentally, barely counts as medicine), so while I am currently in a miserable job, there is light at the end of my tunnel as I’m aiming to begin training in that at the end of this year. (I guess it would be the equivalent of fellowship post residency? Only 9 more months to go… provided I can get a place on a programme! And that’s a whole ‘nother worry.) But I know the hideous feeling you describe.

      I don’t know about the US system, but there *are* other options, though. I have too many friends who’ve left the traditional UK medical training and working path because they simply couldn’t tolerate it. Some went into research full time, some have gone into completely different fields (banking, of all things), or related fields (medical journalism, or management, or the army medical services), or just moved to a different part of the world where they have a better quality of life (Australia, Sweden). It’s really hard to think outside the usual training path, but I think that alternative paths can be forged if we can just manage to stop and breathe and remember how amazing we are, and all the many other parts to ourselves there are, that can sometimes feel as if they just wither and die under the hospital lights.

      Also, your husband being more settled in his career and financially stable is an opportunity! My husband is at the same debt-laden, training phase of life that I’m at, which has made my thoughts of cutting and running, or starting over in something different more challenging, and more guilt-laden. Or maybe that’s just my inner martyr speaking…

  • This is great – my mom is the queen of martyrdom and I worry about following in her footsteps. She constantly complains about working and then coming home to all the housework – but sighs that my stepdad just doesn’t know how to clean the bathroom/dust/do the laundry/whatever… my response has always been, “well then show him how!”
    Eric and I are quite equal in terms of earnings/housework/dog care (and I’m sick right now, so he’s doing absolutely everything – win!). But last year when I was working before him, I definitely sometimes felt myself slipping into that line of thinking – I’m the one working all day, shouldn’t you be more grateful? Of course, I did get footrubs every day, which helped. And it could be hard in the future since because of my career, Eric will probably not be able to work sometimes when we’re overseas.

    I agree that thanking your partner is so important – thanks for working, thanks for doing the dishes, etc. And remembering that you’re a team instead of roommates who keep tally of each and every chore.

  • Wow. This was a fantastic post and, like others, I’m scared of becoming a martyr if/when we have children. Unlike some others though, I had a mother who found more satisfaction in her job then us kids I can now say without too much resentment, my father was definitely a martyr as he raised us and then he married a louder and more emotional martyr in my step-mother. There’s no bad blood now, but it was a strange childhood growing up with two *very* different mother figures and a father figure who did traditional mother things better than mothers of my friends, e.g. braiding hair, sewing costumes for my plays, coming to every concert/play/sports game he could.
    He quite obviously sacrificed career advancement (and therefore potential income) so that he could be home in time for dinner at 5.30pm every weeknight and spend the weekend with us. And now he’s almost 50 and nearing the limit of this career path and I feel bad that we might have limited him in such a way…

    But I didn’t want to talk about my dad. I wanted to talk about how many of you out there have one or both partners unemployed or studying. I am flabbergasted reading this. Living in Australia we have weathered the GFC pretty well – both Fiance and I have good jobs (I just got promoted – YAY :D) and even when he was unemployed for a couple of months earlier this year, I was able to support us quite well, along with our savings that I’m so very thankful he squirrels away before I can spend it.
    Affirmations of awe to all of you going through that. You are so strong and I hope that you achieve all you are working for.

    In our house, because we’re both working full-time (although he says he works harder and longer but I earn significantly more) and I get very involved in activities (particularly ukulele and community theatre, and now some song-writing) our martyr-related arguments centre around how lazy and procrastinating we both are. Neither of us can be bothered tidying most nights, or similar. Even though the agreement has always been whoever cooks the other does the dishes, it never feels like that’s how it works. I more often cook for both of us, but he’ll cook for himself on the nights I’m out – and I hardly want to do the dishes when I’m coming home at 10pm…

    Anyways, I’d like to try the idea of openly discussing who does what. I can see how that could work, but it does scare me that it would feel like living with flatmates again and having a roster…
    I also like “I affirm you!” and the other positive affirmation/thanking phrases you’ve all shared :)

  • Ruckus

    I have been reading APW for a minute now, but haven’t been able to comment. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the vast amount of comments and I usually can’t chime in until after a lot has already been said. But this post really resonated with me, so I thought I would contribute. I relate to a lot of what has already been said and I have sooo many thoughts on this topic, I could write an essay about it!

    For the past year, I have sometimes felt like a martyr since my husband is in grad school (and working full-time), and I have taken on most of the household work in addition to less couple time (we recently married in March). I am pretty much ok with this situation for the moment because I am able to get my head around, rationalize, and accept why things are the way they are, and it makes sense to me. Also, I think my husband contributes more (to the relationship and house) than what I could if I were in his situation, and I value him for it.

    What really gets my anxiety going in a real way (and reading this post + comments actually made me really anxious!), is how everything will change when we have children and really start sharing money, making difficult decisions, etc. (right now we are still operating similar to when we were not entwined in marriage.). He makes more money than me and always will since I work for nonprofits/the public sector, and he works for the private sector. That’s fine with me from an ego/self-esteem standpoint, but I worry that major moves/decisions will be made around his career/needs, especially because of the higher value that is ascribed to higher-income earners and/or because our family needs money and he is the one who makes it. I worry that due in part to this factor plus deeply ingrained social conditioning, I will be the one to make more sacrifices when a child comes along. (I also really get how martyrdoms are gendered – housekeeping/breadwinner and I sympathize with the difficulties of both.) All of that uncertainty (how can I really guarantee that my partner will also make sacrifices – I can’t really guarantee it!) makes me really unsure if I want to bring children into this world and potentially put myself in a situation where I will feel trapped/resentful.

    Like many of you, I come from a family where my mom made the majority of the sacrifices, and I am pretty damn militant (sometimes in an alienating way to my partner) about that NOT becoming my situation. Despite all of the awesome partners you all have written about who do equal parts/majority of housework, women still do the lion’s share of unpaid domestic labor in our world.

    I think appreciations are really awesome, and what also helps is reminding myself of my own power/agency, and that I won’t just go along with situations that are wholly not my benefit/violate parts of myself/where the sacrifices are too much. I would like to share an exercise that I learned from a therapist that is a structured way to “do appreciations.”

    At the end of the day, each partner shares 5 things they appreciate about their partner, using this format.

    Partner A: “I appreciate x. Thank you.”
    Partner B: “You appreciate x (repeat verbatim what Partner A said). You’re welcome.”

    Repeat 5 times. Then switch partners.

    The logic of this exercise is that we internalize and really feel the appreciations more if we repeat them back. Using this exercise, you “flood” your partner with good feelings, which counteracts the daily negativity/friction that is bound to come up in any relationship. Also, when we say what we appreciate, we also actually benefit from the appreciations that are not directed to us because our limbic brain (the older part of our brains) can’t distinguish between what we/our partner says. So double the goodness!
    It actually really, really works.

    Sorry so long and thanks for reading (if you read it!)!

    • meg

      I read it :)

  • Oh I am so guilty of making myself a martyr sometimes- a “I pay most of the bills, and do the dishes, and.. and.. and..” martyr. Thank you for the oh-so eloquent reminder that the dishes didn’t ask me to do them.

    In my moments of rage over my self-made martyrdom, C has looked at me and asked me to just leave her a list of what I want done, and she’ll do it. Simple. And even the thought that I have to LEAVE the damn list is annoying in those moments. But here’s the thing- I don’t want to do everything myself and she doesn’t want me to either. We’ve agreed to do this together and we’re both willing- we just work differently. So if I have to leave a list it’s not the worst thing in the world, and an empty sink makes the minute of list writing very well worth it.

    Also thanking each other for doing these boring/mundane tasks goes really far in taking the umph! out of martyrdom. I think acknowledgment actually stops martyrdom in its tracks.

    Thank you!

  • It’s so funny, because I’m on the other side of that. For the last year my husband (who was my fiance until last month) has been the breadwinner while I followed this dream I had of starting my own business. I never really asked him to, but seeing how unhappy I was at my former career, he told me to quit the 9 to 5 and follow my dream and we’d make it work. (That was one of those awesome moments when I knew… man, I picked the right person to spend my life with.)

    He has been so awesome, so supportive. Things haven’t been too tight, but there’s been a lot of stress involved, a lot of late nights for both of us, and we’ve had to put a few things off while we try and get my business off the ground. Never once has he ever gotten frustrated and asked me to go back to work… and he’s never stopped supporting my vision. But sometimes I feel SO GUILTY. So guilty that he has to work a little harder to support us both while we wait for my business to start generating a real profit. He’s not doing or saying anything to make me feel guilty, but I just do. It’s not all the time, but sometimes it is so overwhelming.

    And I think it’s this leftover thing from my mom… she never got to follow her dream, she never even got to finish school because they had me and they couldn’t afford for her to continue her education/pay for childcare… etc. They put everything into getting my dad through grad school and into supporting his career. It was all about making it happen for my dad. Growing up, watching that, she was so… “Well, this is life. You don’t always get to follow your dreams.” She was the ultimate martyr. I guess… there’s this weird part of me that sometimes thinks… I don’t really deserve to get to do this. WHICH IS SO MESSED UP! I know that, and yet sometimes this monster just creeps into my head and makes me feel terrible for the fact that I get to follow my dream, and I have a partner who WANTS me to follow my dream. I don’t know… it’s a bizarre state of mind. It’s this fear of being resented I think… my mom resented my dad so much, and eventually they divorced. And I think being witness to that, and then being in this position of having someone work to support me while I do my thing… this monster just says, “Well, someday he’ll resent you, just like your mom resented your dad.” Which is silly.

    It’s completely different situations. We’re not as young as they were, we don’t have children nor are we planning on having any in the foreseeable future, we have savings, he has a career he loves. Just totally different scenarios. But still… sometimes… it’s just pure GUILT in my head because I can’t really contribute to our household right now.

  • Heather

    I’m a little late for commenting on this post, but it’s so, so awesome, I just had to comment.

    A joke loosely related to martyrdom:

    Knock knock
    Who’s there.
    Dwayne who?
    Dwayne the bathtub, I’m dwowning!

    tee hee.

    I continue to be amazed by the level of insight from the commenters and posts on this site! Everyone has made such good points about being a martyr, and on how NOT to be a martyr. I will never forget about how my tendency towards being a martyr almost contributed to the demise of my relationship. My guy and I were long distance for nearly 3 years. I worked really hard at booking flights, planning, saving, blah, blah, blah and then when things weren’t going perfectly, I would pipe up and say things, “But I do EVERYTHING to make sure this relationship is going well. I am working SO hard!!” Ugh. Yuck. Blegh. Not only was I being a martyr, I was so busy in my martyrdom role that I could not see that he wasn’t happy that I was doing “everything.”

    So, yes, gratitude, acknowledgment, communication…all good suggestions. And one thing I’ve noticed about me and my guy is that being a martyr almost always has the opposite effect I want it to. The harder I push to get recognition for doing my thankless job, the less he wants to give it. Now, we recognize this cycle and one of us will usually say something to break it. Like, “Oh, I’ve just done a lot today and I really want to hear ‘good job’.” Or, “here, pat my back, please.” :)

    Also, one of my very wise clinical supervisors always says, “No extra points for suffering.” This little piece of wisdom works for me for so many different reasons, but it’s also a cue that when I do feel like I am suffering then that means something–usually that I want something for my suffering (as crazy as that might sound). Once I recognize that I am suffering and having that “I do everything” mentality, I can step back and gauge what it is I need and find a more grown-up way to ask for it. It’s much more effective and it’s a good skill in relationships and in my career.

    Thanks for the awesome, post! I can totally relate!

    • Marina

      “No extra points for suffering.”

      I really, really need to learn this one. :)

      • Heather

        Oh, yes. I learn it daily. :)

  • Ariel

    I think that this is such an important conversation to have!
    What I learned from my mother about being a mother/wife/breadwinner/martyr left me with such a fear of having the same kind of life that I was deeply resistant to being in a relationship for a long time, a fear that I had to work through when I met my (now) fiance, because I knew early on that I wanted to spend my life with him but I was terrified that I would repeat my mother’s mistakes, develop the same neuroses and fall into the same patterns that I witnessed growing up.
    Over the past few years of living with my fiance, we have faced a lot of assumptions that our cultural conditioning has left us with regarding our roles, and what I face again and again is my self-imposed struggle with my ingrained idea of woman as martyr.
    I’m fortunate to be with a loving and supportive man who is dedicated to not boxing us in to certain roles, and he is patient with me as I struggle with my anger with him and with myself as I figure out what I feel “should” do and why, and as we figure out what we can do to balance our lives together. This has been particularly difficult for us when money is concerned, but even as we struggle he always knows just what to say to make me laugh, and I think that you hit it spot on Meg, a sense of humor always help us get through the tough stuff.

  • How do you get Pikachu on a bus?


  • I’ve had this open in my browser all week, trying to form a coherent response. See, it’s not a financial issue in our household (right now – any more than there might always be a tiny bit of that) but there’s definitely a martyrdom issue going on (let’s just say I’ve tried very hard for very long to makes something work in very difficult circumstances, I’m sure you know to what I’m referring, Meg) and I’ve come back to this this morning and realised I need to let go, not just for me, but for the rest of my family, and my husband, who categorically did not ask me to be a martyr, and loves me for who I am, and that’s to what I need to stay true.

    Thank you, Meg. (For everything.) This was beautiful writing, I loved reading and rereading it. And thanks for the link too, you know I totally subscribed to that blog.

  • Marchelle

    So, this post… Another one of those sent into my soul with an aim straight and true.

    I do this. The martyrdom. Not over money, or over housework (most of the time), and I don’t really worry about it in terms of future motherhood so much (athough, since I’m so fecking awesome at it, maybe I should). But I do it and it’s horribly unfair to the Boy when I do.

    I act the martyr sometimes about all that I’ve given up, and all that I’m sacrificing to be here in this country with him. Can you imagine the burden that must place on him? When I drop not-so-subtle hints about how I had never planned to stay in this country before meeting him, and how all my family and loved ones are back home (not even really true), and how miserable this country makes me but I grit my teeth and bear it all anyway, just for him (again, not even true), and how free I could be to pursue dreams that would make me happier and more fulfilled if only I hadn’t sacrified all my options, just for him (lies, all lies). Just writing it makes me feel horrible. And I *am* horrible when I do it.

    To be fair to myself (and for the good of our relationship), I realised that I had started doing this, and gave myself a good talking to about how my choices were my own, and how ultimately, I’ve not done a damn thing in life so far for the Boy that I didn’t want to do for *us* with every fibre of my being. And how I have no one to blame for my own unhappiness but myself (and all the societal bullshit that Class of 1980 mentioned earlier). And interestingly, this pattern of martyrdom that I act out is one that I grew up seeing my father enact during my childhood. But, I won’t lie. I need to sit down and give myself that same talk time and again, when I catch myself pulling on my hairshirt.

    Also, it really helps that the Boy always has a joke ready for me when he sees the self-flagellation coming. It’s really hard to be righteously full of self-pity when you’re just about to piss your pants laughing at yourself. :)

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