Linda: While Arielle was home with their two young daughters and Jerry was the sole provider for the family, he felt secure in his position as the husband. When the girls both went to school and Arielle went back to work, things began to change. Arielle was so competent at her job that her skills were soon recognized. She was given more responsibility, promotions and raises. It wasn’t long before she brought in more of the income than Jerry cold earn as a public school teacher.
Although Jerry was proud of Arielle’s competence and achievements, as the months went by, he became more and more uneasy. Jerry started working when he was fifteen, to put himself through college because his family didn’t have the financial means to assist him. He has been working continually ever since. A great deal of his sense of self-worth was tied up in his ability to provide for his family. His anxiety about Arielle not needing him any longer grew even though she never brought attention to the discrepancy in their earning power.
Jerry suffered in silence for many months with feelings of inadequacy until he finally found the courage to speak openly about his concerns saying, “You don’t need me anymore. I don’t feel needed and appreciated. I’m not the man that I should be for you to protect and provide for you. I’m afraid you are going to leave me.”
Arielle was shocked to hear the depth of her husband’s concern. She had no idea of the pain he was in until he was willing to bring it to her attention. She thanked him for his openness and vulnerability. “Leaving you is the furthest thing from my mind. I love and adore you. Of course, I am aware that I could provide all of the money I need to live on from my salary alone. I could buy child-care, a housekeeper and a cook. I don’t stay married to you for what you bring materially, although you bring in enough. I’m with you because you offer so much more than that. You are one terrific dad to our girls. You bring so much tenderness and playfulness to our lovemaking. You are so acutely tuned into my needs and desires that I thrill to how patient and generous you are when you sensually touch me. You must know that. And I think your students are so lucky to have you because you are so enthusiastic about the subjects you teach to them. And I believe that you underestimate how much it means to me that you care so much that you listen to me for literally hours a week. When I come home from work, I am full of stress from the numerous challenges at work. That you listen to me helps me more than I can say to get out from under the feeling of being overwhelmed I could never do what I do at work without the profound support that I receive from you. You are such a terrific caring listener. It means so much to me. Please don’t have doubts about how critically important you are to me. My life runs as smoothly as it does because of the strong support you give me. Please bring any doubts you have to me right away so I can address them.”
By the time Arielle came up for air, they were both in tears. Jerry allowed himself to be touched by his wife’s words and felt reassured. It was only because Jerry was willing to risk exposing his deepest fears to his wife that he was able to receive the reassurance that he needed to stop worrying. They had many more conversations like this one and eventually, his fears subsided. It was a huge growth spurt for Jerry to define himself more broadly than being a moneymaker and a provider. He saw that he was a multidimensional being who had many varied gifts to bring to his partnership. His embarrassment and anxiety about his wife’s income is so much more than his own faded to become a non-issue. And these two went on to enjoy a splendid co-creative partnership.