A confession: I’m jealous of my wife’s success

 

The other day I was ironing my wife’s dress when I received a text message from her.
‘Home late. Still at lunch,’ it read.
It was 5pm and lunch was at the Savoy Grill, one of the poshest restaurants in London.  And the reason why she was going to be late was because she was sat at the Chef’s Table with her boss, who had ordered more wine.
‘Fine,’ I wrote back.
And then I let the hot iron linger a little too long on the Isabella Oliver maxi dress that I was pressing for her visit to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, Prince Philip, William and Kate last night.

The reason for my petulant act was jealousy. Pure and simple.

I should be eating at chef’s tables. I should be going to the Palace. I should be the successful one.

Because I used to be. Now, however, my wife lives the life I used to lead and there are times when the green-eyed monster overwhelms me.

Such feelings are perfectly natural, according to clinical psychologist Linda Blair. ‘Whenever you have a unit of people together they make comparisons with themselves. It’s an extension of sibling rivalry. You want to be the best in your group. Inbuilt in us from childhood is a desire to be a centre of attention. That’s how we survive when we’re little. The need to compete is a basic instinct.’
When my wife Rebecca and I first met, I was the more successful. I was editor of a top-selling magazine with salary and perks to match. My wife was also a high-flier, a senior executive in the publishing industry.

But I always had the upper hand, a situation which prevailed for the next ten years, when she gave up work to become a full-time mother to our three children, my stepdaughter, Daisy, nine, and sons, Tom, seven, and four-year-old Sam.
Then last year, our worlds were turned upside down.
After being in work for 28 years, I was made redundant.
I was devastated , but I was sure I’d find another position quickly. I failed. This led to a drastic re-appraisal of our situation. My wife began job hunting – and landed a dream role as editor of one of Britain’s biggest-selling women’s magazine.
And so the tightening of the vice on my fragile male ego began.
She is now the breadwinner while I am a housedad to our children. I do everything for them that she used to do – the housework, the hand-holding, the nagging –  and as much as I take great pride in being there to nurture and develop our kids, I am occasionally floored by the drudgery of this existence – and deeply envious of hers.
There are 200,000 housedads in Britain and, although many are there by choice, a great number have been forced into this situation because of economic circumstances. Many have had this life thrust upon them through redundancy, or the simple fact that their partners earn more than them and, like me, many find it damaging to their self-worth, which in turns breeds envy.
This is not an all-consuming emotion, but it does rear its head from time to time and when it does, it shapes the dynamics of our relationship.
Stress management specialist Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress (Wiley and Sons), believes jealousy is common among professional couples.
She explains: ‘Many of us forge our identity and self-worth based on what we do. Many people who lose their job experience “identity theft”.’

Identity theft. I can relate to that phrase. Redundancy robbed me of my power to earn enough to keep my family – and earning enough has always been how I have defined myself.
Despite this, if anything, our circumstances have brought my wife and I closer. For all the occasional envy I feel, I don’t resent my wife her success. She’s earned it. The way I’ve coped is to try to be as good, if not better, than she ever was around the house.
I treat raising our children as a job in itself, and though I don’t get paid for it, I figure I’m earning the gross equivalent of the £25,000 a year I would have to earn in order to pay for childcare.
But there are tensions and the flashpoints in our relationship revolve around three things: lifestyle, status and money.
I come from a traditional working class background and felt my masculinity was threatened by me being out of work and my wife supporting us. She was used to running the home her way. What worried me most, however, was that she would find me less attractive.
She married an ambitious, high-flying dynamic kind of guy. Now she has to listen to him moaning about book bags, school bake sales and her leaving her tights on the bedroom floor.
She says it doesn’t change the way she feels.
But still, it makes me feel less of a man. I would swap back in a heartbeat, but not so her. She is happy and thriving.
Our alliance is one of acceptance that there is nothing we can do about it so we just have to get on with it. We have children. They come first. I just wish I could afford to buy them birthday and Christmas presents instead of watching them unwrap the gifts bought with their mother’s toil and then feel guilty about the grateful hugs they give me because I was the one who had the time to go shopping for them.
But the degree of my jealousy is quite mild compared to others.
A childless friend of mine has a much harder time with his wife’s success. Nick and Corinne met on a business course university ten years ago and both landed jobs at the same accountancy firm. But while Corinne’s career soared, Nick’s stalled, and now, as a senior manager, Corinne earns almost twice as much as her husband.
‘It felt like Corinne would get a promotion every year, but I kept getting overlooked,’ Nick, 33, explained. ‘At first, I was delighted for her. We’d go out to a great restaurant and celebrate with champagne, but when it kept happening, I thought, “Hang on, what’s she got that I haven’t?”’
Nick tried to correct the imbalance by becoming more and more competitive, but when his endeavours proved fruitless, he started to take out his feelings of inadequacy on his wife.
‘She was the star of the show,’ he said. ‘Her bosses and colleagues were falling over themselves to praise her. We’d go out to work functions and I’d feel like an appendage, like I didn’t matter. She tried to make me feel good about myself by saying it wasn’t what she was earning that mattered, but the total dual income we were bringing home, but I didn’t buy that.
‘I became petulant and surly around the house, always putting her down and criticising, not just her, but the people she worked with. I said she was only successful because she was attractive.’
Their relationship hit the buffers when, after one drinks party, Nick started verbally attacking Corinne.
‘I’d had way too much to drink, but all the resentment I’d been feeling over the years came to the surface. She’d paid for all our holidays, bought me more expensive presents than I could afford to buy her, and I just lost it. I accused her of sleeping with her boss. Before I really knew what I’d said, she threw me out.’
Finally, Corinne gave Nick an ultimatum: get therapy or divorced.
Nick chose the former and it saved their relationship.
Linda Blair says she sees many couples like Nick and Corinne.
‘There are two basic ways that you deal with jealousy,’ she says. ‘Either you puff yourself up to be a bigger chicken, or you stick pins in the other one.’
Nick’s story resonates with me and though I have never consciously put my wife down, there have been times when I have been less than over-enthusiastic about her achievements.
When she did a presentation in front of 1,000 people, I chose to regale her of the time I presented to an audience of 2,000 on three consecutive nights. It was as if I was saying: ‘Anything you can do, I used to do better.’
So what can be done about this?
Linda Blair advises the jealous spouse to find a different way to be successful. In my case, it might be to be a better stay-at-home-parent than my wife ever was.
Debbie Mandel says couples have to communicate.
‘The jealous spouse needs to announce his or her reality and be heard without interruption,’ she says. ‘Then the successful spouse can ask the jealous one what he or she is longing for. The key is not to give advice and fix it. Home improvement begins with self-improvement.
‘The jealous spouse needs to tap into the positive side of jealousy which is to grow as a person, find a mentor, update skills and network to turn adversity into advantage. The successful spouse should never issue commands and use the bell-tolling words “I’m paying for it.” The goal is to realise that you are a team – sometimes you shine and carry the ball, and sometimes the other person does.
‘It is easy to cheer someone on when he or she is down. However, to cheer and affirm someone who is successful can take the marriage to new heights.’
And when all else fails? Have lots of sex. ‘Sex is similar to exercise,’ says Debbie Mandel. ‘Have lots of sex to forge intimacy and connection.’
Sounds like a plan. Once I’ve finished ironing these school uniforms.

15 Comments

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15 Responses to A confession: I’m jealous of my wife’s success

  1. I don’t think that your feelings are confined to men (although I note you haven’t once mentioned that they are, so I guess that’s just my prejudices showing through). I felt very similar when I stopped working to look after our kids – and from time to time still do. Like you say though, it’s all about recognising that in staying at home you are doing a proper job, one that otherwise you would need to pay someone else to do, and probably worse than you are doing it. And personally, if I throw being my husband’s taxi-driver, counsellor, cheer-leader, travel agent and obviously, supermodel into the mix in addition to the standard ‘stay-at-home’ mum jobs I do, I figure my contribution to the family’s funds is worth a lot more than £25K…

  2. i found this really interesting, i wasn’t sure how many dads were the stay at home parent when we discussed it for our own situation. i was trying to get back into work but without success im back at college and just started applying for a degree to better us all in the future. my partner does the school run and looks after our 2 year old, childcare is so expensive and if i was at college and partner working i wouldnt have anyone to take the kids to school/nursery. i worried about if this would work but we just had to make it work, we are still looking for work to fit around our situation. being envious hasnt cropped up..yet

    • keithkendrick

      That’s the ideal: where you both share the money-earning and the childcare. Best of both worlds. Unfortunately, our society isn’t set up like that.

  3. Interesting, especially as I was the opposite.

    When I first met my to-be wife we were earning comparable amounts, by the the time she fell pregnant I was earning around 4 times what she was. But still, it was me gutted to have to return to work. I was good at what I did, my salary etc would probably indicate brilliance, but I didn’t really enjoy it. And after having my own upbringing of a dad constantly stressed out due to his collective pressures at work, I placed great value on being at home and having an impact on my child’s life. They may all sound a bit wet, but I care not, I’ve not found a job – especially one simply making money for other people – that would excite and fulfil me in the way that I’d want to sacrifice time with, or availability to, my child. I was jealous of my wife being at home, looking after our child and considering new career options at the same time. That seemed infinitely more exciting than the board meeting I was in, or the flight I was taking to a conference. This time was all too brief, all of seven months, and perhaps I would have felt differently over time, but now as I do it all myself I still sacrifice pay and profession for flexibility.

    I do envy folks – and perhaps you are included here – that have a professional interest they are passionate about. I think I can get bored doing anything. It’s a facet I’d rather not have. Even with ‘dream jobs’, I’m not sure I could drive a full season as a F1 driver, would quickly get sick of the sweets as head taster at Swizzles Matlows, and as for being Britney Spears’ fluffer, I reckon I’d even get bored of that. It might take a while though, and I suppose I could switch employers ;-)

    • keithkendrick

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, there. I loved my job, was passionate about it. If I’d done something I wasn’t so interested in, then perhaps I’d see housedadding as a Godsend, but it still wouldn’t stop me feeling guilty/envious of my Other Half’s ability to earn.

  4. Jackie K

    Great post and honest – a really good read.
    I’m the breadwinner in our marriage and my husband and I split days looking after the kids but I still do more (and want to) -so we each have our resentments and minor jealousies. Mostly though I am jealous of other women (and men!) who get to be home with the kids full time!

    • keithkendrick

      The trouble with being with the kids full-time is you don’t get the chance to miss them. All the hard stuff swamps the nice stuff, because the hard stuff is relentless and the nice stuff is fairly fleeting. In our house, anyway.

  5. Cc

    Sorry, probably wrong time to ask, but is this why you’ve stopped ‘My Missus Monday’? I miss it!

  6. I have never been married and therefore have always earned whatever income I have to spend. I now have a daughter and have to be the ‘at home’ parent and still earn the money we need to live. My dream would be to have someone else bring in the salary so that I can enjoy making a home for my daughter and just being her parent. And if he were wildly successful and spent weeks jet-setting around the world in designer suits, eating designer food with designer people, so that I hardly ever saw him? I’d be thankful for the money and enjoy my freedom. Your family are lucky to have one parent at work and one at home. Very few families are able to afford that luxury these days. I understand what you are saying but, like millions of [lucky] housewives, I envy you actually.

  7. What an honest, heart-felt, and brilliant post. Although never as hgih flying as it sounds you and your wife were, when my husband and I met we were both successful in our relative careers. The last couple of years have turned our life upside down, not least because we know have a child to look after. He has gone back to school so I am the one with the higher income and I know there are times it has bothered him. Similar to you, this isn’t out of any resentment for me, it’s more from a desire to do more on his end. Oddly enough, I feel the very same way at times when it comes to things he does for and with my daughter that I just can’t find the time or energy to do. It takes a balance and, as always, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

  8. I admire your honesty in confronting your jealousy. I’m reminded of the Erica Jong quote “Jealousy is all the fun you think they had.”

    I don’t have an equivalent experience to draw on. All I know is I couldn’t do what you do. As for Linda Blair, take her with a pinch of salt. Her head spun right around in The Exorcist.

    :)

  9. Another interesting post from you that I can relate to..

    Lost of identity is something I have felt since being made redundant back in March. That the last 20 years of my working life have somehow now been wiped now that i am at home looking after the kids…I still put my occupation down as what it was when i was working, perhaps that means i am in denial or something…

    I hate feeling jealous if my OH is out for work drinks or has to go away for work but i do.. Occasionally I do make snide remarks and get grumpy with him… Human nature i suppose, you always want, what someone else has…

  10. Your sensations are probably shared by almost every full-time father – and mother- in the land. The truth is child-rearing is unglamorous and often jolly boring and it’s doubtless worse for SAHDs because it’s still ingrained in all of us that men are the breadwinners. The trouble is we’ve learnt to validate ourselves through the money we earn and the places we go and it’s hard to keep an ego comfortably plumped while scraping toddler proteins off the kitchen floor. I can offer you no comfort, other than that your children are lucky to have a parent who is around for them. But I can suggest a tip: ditch the ironing. I never do any and we’re all creased but functioning.

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