Marital martyrs are spouses who are convinced they do more than their fair share of the housework and that their partners spend too much time having fun.
Marital martyrs hail from all ages and walks of life, but they share four basic characteristics.
First, they are inherently industrious and responsible. They pride themselves on their nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic and resort to that personality trait whenever they feel stressed.
Next, they perceive a power imbalance in the relationship. The inequality may be real or imagined. Either way, they feel they have less say than their spouse. They seldom get to call the shots. And they try to compensate for the situation by working harder.
Marital martyrs have trouble meeting their own needs. They can’t find a way to exercise, spend time with friends or enjoy quiet time during the day. Whenever they do have a spare moment, they become agitated and, rather than using the break for some much needed “R and R,” tackle another item on their to-do list.
Finally, they blame their partners for not doing enough to help out and may even accuse them of being lazy, uncaring and self-centered.
Of course, running a household requires many separate tasks and skills. Those jobs are fluid, requiring various amounts of commitment as life changes.
It’s also true that some folks put in more hours than their loved ones, either because of the nature of their work or because they have trouble sitting still. They may even be paired up with low-key spouses who would rather chill than do chores.
But the issue isn’t about billable hours. It’s about chronic dissatisfaction with a partner’s efforts. The underlying hostility permeates every facet of the relationship and pushes couples further and further apart.
A vicious cycle develops. Martyrs work ever harder, feel unappreciated and berate their spouses. When spouses sincerely try to please the martyrs, they’re pushed away and told they’re incompetent.
The key lies in recognizing the destructive pattern and appreciating what both participants bring to the union. Then, make courtesy and respect a daily habit. If partners are worth keeping, they’re worth being nice to, regardless of their output.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
Tips for marital martyrs
- Allow yourself to have fun. Make room in your schedule for regular exercise. Plan outings with friends. Treat yourself to some TLC.
- Learn how to relax. Take deep breaths if you get worked up. Step away momentarily from the stress. Relax your hands. Close your eyes until you’re calmer.
- Notice negative thought patterns. Listen to what you tell yourself about your spouse. Derogatory messages translate into unkind behavior and pollute your relationship.
- Focus on your partner’s strengths. Your spouse does many things well. Find something to compliment daily. Make affection and appreciation a habit.
- Problem-solve specific issues. If there’s one specific issue that causes you stress, hold a powwow and look for ways you can even duties out.