Standover woman ... do you trust your partner with basic tasks? Photo: Fairfax Archives
Do you sometimes joke that your husband has become one of your kids? Are you tired of picking up his socks, cooking his dinner and feeling like you're doing all the parenting on your own, even though you both work outside the house? Are you simmering with so much resentment and anger that your sex life has gone? You're not his wife anymore, you've turned into his mother. And you're not alone: Mother (Lover) Syndrome is everywhere.
Mother (Lover) Syndrome can affect anyone who is sharing a home together, whether they're married or cohabiting, say relationship experts Sara Dimerman and JM Kearns, authors of a new book, How Can I Be Your Lover When I'm Too Busy Being Your Mother?
This is at the crux of why so many women are angry and resentful, and why so many couples are dissatisfied in their marriages
"Many women are overworked and overstressed because, in addition to having a money-earning job, they're doing most of the heavy lifting at home. That isn't fair, and it isn't acceptable," explain the authors.
The idea for the book came to Dimerman after hearing the complaints in her work as a therapist.
"I was listening to the wife tell me about how resentful, angry and frustrated she was feeling about being the primary person at home responsible for the chores, the organising, the social coordinating, the scheduling of appointments, the child rearing," she writes.
"Then, after hearing how they hadn't had sex for years, the epiphany swept over me and I turned to the wife and said: 'How can you be his lover when you're too busy being his mother?'"
"The feeling of being a mother instead of a lover to one's husband is, I believe, at the crux of why so many women are angry and resentful, and why so many couples are dissatisfied in their marriages," she writes.
But it wasn't always this way. When you were dating, he dressed nicely, organised weekends away, his apartment was clean, and he could even cook. But when you got married he seemed to do less, while you had to take on more.
"Worst of all, you have turned into a nag, something you said you'd never be!" the book says. "Where you used to want him to take care of the kids, now you hardly trust him to take them on an outing ... because he behaves too much like one of them."
There's also another downside. When a woman finds herself being a mother to her husband or boyfriend, the tables are turned, and intimacy evaporates. "He feels like he's been demoted to a child. This is in direct conflict with the relationship they probably started out with when they first fell in love, when they were dating," says Kearns.
But it's never too late to turn things around and start being lovers again. First of all, you need to start by clearing the air emotionally. Begin being friendly to each other.
Then comes the tricky part: you need to stop being angry and let him do things his way. You have to appeal to the best in him by asking him to take over some important responsibilities, by seeking out his advice on some major things, and by praising and complimenting him.
Once you're on better terms you can tackle household tasks, with decisions on who should do what and how frequently. Child rearing is the task that requires the most work and usually requires more sharing, say the authors, so divide up the workload by detailing each task; everything from waking the children up in the morning, making school lunches, getting the children to and from school or childcare, to reading the bedtime stories.
You'll end up with a lengthy list to work from, which may be a surprise in itself. "What has been the most shocking for people - and men in particular - has been how extensive that list is. They hadn't realised all the details that are required to run a house," says Kearns. "It's a wake-up call and any fair-minded guy is going to look at this list and say: 'OK, I need to do more, let's figure this out'."
Dimerman and Kearns give advice on how to negotiate a fairer deal, with the goal that each person feels the other is pulling their weight. It could even prove to be an aphrodisiac. "There is research that says when women find their husbands doing more of the work around the house it actually improves their sex life. They find their men sexier," says Kearns.
When a couple acknowledges Mother (Lover) Syndrome they are likely to feel relieved, according to the authors. "You will be able to change the dynamic between you so you can go back to living the life you'd envisioned when you first fell in love."