Stress Causing Resentment and Anger
Bare with me, this is long, but the background info is crucial. I'm a 40-yo old male that has been married for 11 years. Upon getting married my wife and I were given a huge million dollar home in a great neighborhood for raising a family as a wedding gift from her father. I was grateful as it was about 3 times the home we would normally afford and I wouldn?t have to pay a mortgage.
As years went on I realized that the home was very expensive to maintain, property taxes, maintenance/repairs, utilities were adding up to as much if not more than have a much smaller home and having a mortgage. The home was showing various problems indicating corners were cut and therefore was having higher than average maintenance costs. At the same time I approached my wife about having a budget. I examined our expenditures and questioned some of them such as her $120 hair appointments. I said as long as you think you really need that, then we'll put it in the budget but it would be at the expense of cutting back somewhere else. She accused me of being controlling by nit picking every expenditure (she had never had a budget before, her parents paid her expenses through college, mine paid half and I had owned my own home, a condo, before I met her.) She also said her father, for tax purposes, was giving her a $10,000 cash gift every year and anything that wasn't in the budget she could pay for with that money, like her $120 haircut.
A little over two years after getting married, we had our first child and my wife quit her Speech Therapist job with the schools ($38K/year) since I was making $170k/year working for myself as a freelance consultant. I resented that I was responsible for paying the bills working a job I didn't enjoy that much while she became a stay-at-home Mom and I got to see (since I worked from home) how enjoyable it was (and sometimes challenging) to be the stay-at-home parent as our now 2 kids were growing up. It was obviously much more rewarding than sitting in front of a computer all day. I'm a responsible person but I think semi-subconsciously I junked the budget and just figured I was making more than enough to pay the bills, buy a couple new cars and takes some nice vacations (and I more or less was). I figured, heck, if she doesn't have to live by a budget with her little slush fund than why should I spend hours and hours a month categorizing each expenditure, making sure I was on budget ? if it doesn't work out than it can be a lesson for her why budgets are needed, I probably thought.
My income gradually declined over the years to about half now what it was 7 years ago. The job got even more unfulfilling. The spark/spice of the marriage dwindled as most do after the first few years, it's only natural, but not to a point that we were unhappy or didn't love each other. ALL of our couple friends had the same issue. The guys always joked that once their wives had kids, they lost their "spunk." Also at the same time the responsibility and pressure of being self employed, doing my own accounting, paying all the mounting bills (braces, medical, etc.), began to really be a heavy burden, but hey, that's my role, make the money and pay the bills.
Shortly after having our first child 7 years ago I began having these big verbal blow-ups. Inside I was feeling like my life path had been chosen for me. The big house, in the nice neighborhood, the man making the money to pay all the bills, the woman staying at home enjoying the kids, volunteering at the school occasionally, going shopping for groceries or clothes, etc, etc. I expressed to my wife I didn't like this arrangement - that I thought we were like everyone else, just following the pattern of everyone else around us and/or the pattern of how we were brought up without really examining it. But who was I to be the bad guy and uproot my family from this beautiful home and neighborhood to downsize to a lower maintenance townhome. Who was I to "force" (as she put it) my wife to go back to work. She chose a career that could barely pay 25% of the bills if she worked fulltime so what difference would it make ? It would just make her miserable since the kids would have to be put in daycare. And going back to work part-time would make even less of a difference financially. Who was I to mandate that no gifts should be given to my kids at birthdays and Xmas because after examining our life I decided I didn?t want to raise kids that accumulate all this junk. But allowing people (Grandparents, etc.) to give gifts is such a joy for everyone. Who am I to be such a Scrooge (I suggested giving 'experiences' - take them to a ball game, a play, etc.) I decided to let it slide. My wife did finally start to request no gifts for birthdays and that the relatives keep themselves in check, but it wasn't as far as I wanted to go.
My disappointment and feeling there was little compromise in our lives grew larger and larger (everything seemed it was arranged to everyone else's satisfaction - my wife, our parents, the kids, etc.) - I felt like I was just along for the ride, a father figure there to pay the bills and toss the baseball occasionally (so to speak.) This feeling of being "stuck" on a path that involved me making most of the compromises as far as how/where we lived our life manifested into a feeling of resentment, anxiety, and maybe even depression. I tried to ignore/suppress these feelings but they manifested into a pattern beginning 7 years ago (coincidentally just after having our first child) where after having a few drinks I would completely blow-up in an argument, mostly one-sided, expressing my frustration, depression and frankly anger. I never hit my wife but I said some mean things in the heat of the moment, as many people do in heated exchanges. This would be followed by a period of healing and then it would happen all over again, probably about once every 3 months for 3 or 4 years, then 2 or 3 times a year up until now. The rages have not only gotten less frequent but less aggressive. And some of them have happened when I haven't had a single drop to drink. Some of them have happened at the worst times like during an Anniversary trip. I realize having grown up in a fraternity in college where binge drinking was the norm that I probably drink more than I should. 3 glasses of wine 3 or 4 nights a week and then I usually go out with my friends or to a party once every week or two and probably have more like 6+ drinks but that's over the course of about 4-5 hours typically. Sometimes (not often) ss much as a week can go by and I won't have drop. So I don't think I'm an alcoholic but I do think it definitely agitates or amplifies stress.
My wife is at the end of her rope, she says although the frequency of the outrages has decreased, she hates the feeling of not knowing when the next one will occur and wants them to stop completely. We are two very intelligent people. We have talked at length about this, especially recently. I have concluded that I was young and naive when we first got married (as most all of us are.) Most anyone would have been elated about the life they were beginning, new bride, big paid-for house, good job, etc. But as I've grown older and seen through the material possessions and the American lifestyle that many so blindly follow I've become discontent. I don't need or want a 4,500 square foot house. I want a smaller home that doesn't have the problems of our mediocre construction mansion. I want us to have more of a 50/50 relationship in that we both are responsible for making roughly half the household income and being the stay at home parent roughly half the time. My wife keeps saying "why aren't all these other Dad's married to stay-at-home Mom's demanding this 50-50 arrangement?" I tell her, I guess they don't realize what they are missing. They have different values than me and frankly don't see what they are missing when they are gone on all their business trips all the time. As I see it, I've gotten the short end of the stick and so have a lot of other Dad's, they just don't realize it.
So here's my (our) quandary: where do we (I) go from here? It seems there are two problems here. One is a behavior problem which relates to my ability to manage stress and control my anger resulting from my partially blaming my stress on the inability of my wife to have compromised more in the past regarding budgeting, household income, where we live etc. The other is the underlying cause of the stress which has to do with primarily financial stress right now (we are completely broke now due to my dwindling income, lack of a budget, and the economic situation). But then I think, is there really only one problem? If the underlying causes of the extreme stress I'm feeling are removed, then there is no anger problem because there is a cause and effect relationship there. The question, or the answer rather, we can't seem to agree on is are my blow-ups really that outrageous considering the situation and the immense weight on my shoulders. If they were happening daily, weekly, or even monthly would it THEN be considered a serious behavioral problem? Two or three times a year is not very frequent. I think the answer though is if my wife is scared of them and thinks they are out of line, then they are out of line. But people have different opinions. Women are different than men.
Back to the causes of the stress and anger? When you think about it, what is one of the most important decisions a married couple makes together? Where they are going to live? The house and the location of that house. I have been denied that (my wife selected the house with her father while we were going out before we got married) but the house and location seemed so wonderful in the beginning, I didn't mind. My wife is a great lady, don't get me wrong, she agreed to go look at other homes a couple years ago. The problem was she put a restriction on the areas where we could live which ended up having homes about the same price as our existing home. We both decided it wasn't worth it to trade sideways as we had a neighborhood better suited to the kids playing in the street. In retrospect, I think we should have moved so I could put the issue about living in an overly expensive, poorly constructed home to rest. I caved.
Regarding the 50/50 ? It's just virtually impossible to achieve. How many couples in this country have a true 50/50 arrangement? I feel resentment towards my wife that she chose a career that had I chosen the same career, there is no way we could afford to live where we live. What gives her the right to simply choose any career she wants assuming she can support herself in an apartment and if she gets married she'll be the stay at home Mom because the husband makes more money? That's lame. It's not like she used that thought process though but she obviously didn't think that far ahead when she chose her career. Essentially it is virtually impossible for us to get a 50/50 arrangement unless we significantly downsize where we live and live in a lesser neighborhood. Then everyone around us (including all parents who live very close by) will think I'm the bad guy for a) moving my kids to a lesser neighborhood or b) not making enough money to support my family when I don't even have to pay a mortgage! My property taxes are as much as the rent payments for some of my friends!
Anyway, we've cut back the spending to stop the bleeding so we aren't digging ourselves a hole deeper than we already are in financially. We have 80% equity in our home so if worse comes to worse we WILL have to downsize just from a matter of financial survival. But the question of how to handle/stop future blow-ups still looms. Do I need anger management counseling? I very rarely yell at my kids, never hit them or my wife? I'm a pretty passive/shy person. Do I need to learn better stress management techniques? A friend of a friend in a similar situation that leveraged themselves to much for Real Estate investments recently committed suicide ? I can see the appeal of that "out" but that's not me so maybe I better already at handling large amounts of stress/responsibility than your average person?
I look at paying to see a counselor like paying for an interior decorator. Interior decorators are for people with poor taste, or lack of creativity or intelligence. Why pay someone to steer you towards the directions they think you should go with your house. If you have poor taste I think your house should reflect that. But that's like saying if you have significant mental or relationship issues and can't solve them yourself, you should just pay the price and be miserable.
Coincidentally I paid about $5K to an interior decorator a couple years ago at the request of my wife (I was against it) and even she will agree it was a waste of money as most of the things we did we liked, were OUR ideas. If we are two smart people and have friends and family we can talk to, why do we need to pay someone to figure things out when we should be able to do it on our own? But I think honestly that is being a bit naive and hypocritical considering I'm writing this asking for advice.
Any advice is greatly appreciated including suggestions for reading material. Outside perspectives are what I'm looking for.