It’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to admit in polite company. But I know from my practice–and my own life–that it’s more common than we want to think.
Say, you’re home with your daughter all day; your husband works full-time. You get more time with her, which he envies; he gets more time with adults, which you envy.
When does envy become full-blown jealousy? When it is a problem?
We can’t lead all lives. We all have to make choices that narrow the field. No matter how good one life is, there are others we don’t get to have. It’s simply a metaphysical reality. You can only be in one place at one time.
So if you choose to be a full-time mom, there are gads of experiences you will miss. And vice versa, if you choose to work full-time. And a lot of us don’t have a choice in the matter, financial realities sometimes seeming as immutable as metaphysical ones.
I’m fortunate in some ways: I work part-time, and am home with my daughter the rest. That seems like it should, by its nature, feel balanced, and often, it does.
But sometimes I look at my husband and the way he plays with my daughter, how especially thrilled she seems by his less frequent presence (he’s also playful and funny and loving, so it’s that, too), and I feel a twinge. I think, “She doesn’t make that pleased sound for me, only for him.”
For his part, he’s told me that he sometimes watches my daughter and me and feels like we have all these rituals, this whole mode of communication, to which he is not privy. There are all sorts of things he just can’t know, because he’s not there.
Because my husband and I can share our sadness (and our petty thoughts, too), it feels like the envy stays at a manageable level. It even feels connecting: We understand the other’s emotional experience; it’s a mirror of our own.
But if we didn’t admit those feelings of envy to ourselves–if we said, “That’s bad, I shouldn’t feel that way,” and proceeded to pretend that we therefore do not feel that way–we’re creating a problem.
Unacknowledged feelings become more strident. They will come out in other, perhaps more histrionic ways. Or they won’t come out; they’ll make us disconnected and isolated and resentful. We’ll be alone with the feelings we don’t want to have, the ones that we feel represent our worst selves.
As I’ve spoken about in other blogs, it’s the suppressed feelings that cause the most problems for ourselves, and for our relationships. If we say things out loud (it could sound like this, “I’m embarrassed that I feel this, but I do…”), if we expose it to light and air, most of the time it will be okay.
It can even prompt an equal disclosure from our partner. If we can admit to the things we wish we had, the ones we fear we’re missing out on, then they can do the same. Our relationship becomes a safe place to be entirely honest.
We might feel better just by talking, or we might need to generate solutions. We might need better time management: more time to bond with our children, or more time to ourselves. We won’t know unless we start talking.
Dad and daughter photo available from Shutterstock