How Patriarchy Stress Disorder Is Suffocating Us All

My client is fuming. “And then I see his damn dish in the sink for the third time today. I hate that his parents raised him to think that it’s enough to put your dishes in the sink. That leaves only one person to actually clean it and put it away: me!”

My client continues. “When we go home to his parents house, it is me, my sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law all cleaning in the kitchen while our husbands sit in the living room watching sports.”

At this point, as a therapist, I have to consciously stop myself from mentally stepping into my own story and my own dynamic with my husband and his inept cleaning patterns. I know all too well that this is not a frivolous rant, for I myself have feared getting a divorce over the dishes.

I wonder if many women notice the tiny stone of resentment that falls into their gut every time they see their husband leaving dirty laundry lying around or dirty dishes uncleaned. What is common in most American kitchens, particularly during a pandemic, is that women are finding themselves with a disproportionate amount of invisible work, and therefore, their partner’s lack of attunement to their need for equal partnership is more pronounced. Women weren’t created especially to clean. Men are just as capable of this act, but when a man has been coddled by his parents and little has been required of him, the burden usually falls on his wife. She now finds herself mothering not only her children but now her lover. It’s enough to make her hate herself and her choice of partner. Truthfully, her anger is more about her hope than her disappointment. My client is angry because she hates feeling alone and she, like most women, hopes for nothing more than to be known and seen by their partners. When we realize that the person we are committed to completely missed us and has no desire to work to change that, it is devastating.

There have been a handful of written articles and podcasts interviews recently exposing the typical American male’s lack of engagement with the emotional or invisible work within the home that is historically placed on the female. Dear Sugars podcast (2018) defined emotional, invisible labor as:

“Remembering the grocery list, coordinating with the babysitter, making food for the potluck, scheduling a get-together with the in-laws: These are some of the invisible tasks that (most) women exclusively do in their romantic relationships — and the list goes on and on. Women from across the country wrote into the Dear Sugars inbox echoing identical inequalities in their relationships with their husbands and boyfriends…but broaching the subject of emotional labor with a romantic partner can be tricky, especially if he feels as if he’s being blamed for the imbalance of labor. ” (Amory Sivertson, 2018)

My husband also feels blamed by this concept, he justifies that he also does invisible labor that I don’t notice, and he is right, but it isn’t the point. We must be willing to see the other’s experience. I don’t want to blame my husband for the imbalance, I just want him to see my visible and invisible workload and help me.

“This is not a problem with you and it’s not a problem with me. It’s a cultural problem. We have to unlearn a lot of things together in order to move forward.” (Hartley, 2018)

Take, for example, the floorboard of my husband’s car. I remember he commented on our first date that he cleaned out his car, and that he only did that for women he really liked. I should’ve known then that this was going to be a continual issue for us. To this day when I get into our family car and I see empty cups and fast food bags on the floorboard of the passenger side, it irritates me to no end. It is my husband’s mark; I know that he has been there. It is not comforting to think that he has had some time to veg out and relax, rather, this act mocks me. I interpret it as my things and my time are not worth the effort to him. I am the one left to clean the car out, or I have to have to ask him to do it. It seems like this should be a common courtesy to both himself and to me. After all, he too deserves to live in a clean house and drive a clean car. As I come to understand patriarchal stress disorder, I find I am no longer angry at my husband in particular, but rather the fact that he was never told he was worth more than this.I am so angry at my husband’s mother for not raising him better. Why didn’t she require more of him? One day, I broke down and had a conversation with my mother-in-law. I asked her why she had raised him this way. She said, “At some point, I got tired of picking up after him. I was an exhausted single mother, so I just told him if he kept his bedroom door closed he could keep his room however he wanted and he would only have to clean it on Saturdays.” This is my husband’s practice to this day. He only wants to clean our house on Saturdays; the rest of the week everything falls by the wayside, and he closes the door. The problem is, we share a bedroom, so it goes against my own upbringing who had a mother that made me clean everything up before going to bed. This is one of the many silent stressors within my home that I carry in my body. It weighs on me and suppresses me from living into my full authentic self because I am working overtime doing the invisible, emotional work in my relationship.In The Coddling of the American Mind, author Greg Lukianoff says: “A culture that allows the concept of “safety” to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.”

Weekly I sit with couples who have stayed in a marriage for decades being silent and offering the concept of “safety” all the while becoming more and more resentful of the other without ever letting them know. In the name of submission, I have seen woman after woman stay silent and fail to require of her partner that which would keep her heart both known and tender. Instead the Christian couples are doomed because they have allowed a tumor of contempt to grow so big inside of their relationship there is little chance for repair.

I was taught growing up in the church that I needed to be a submissive wife, one who supports my husband, but I have come to call this false submission. Submission is not covering my husband’s mistakes or having low expectations of him. That is enabling and belittling; these are good intentions and bad ideas that are setting your partner up for failure. False submission is what we do as women when we cower from what we believe and hope our husbands to be in their fullest greatness. As a partner sometimes you are the whistle blower, not the nag, when you believe that your husband can be more than the man his mother might h
ave believed he could be. The good partner does not coddle, but rather invites the potential greatness of the other, even if his own parents did not do that work.

We are taught that a good wife does not get angry, yet I believe a good wife will voice and require her needs and her partner’s best. The authentic female voice is needed in every relationship. We must offer our fullest authentic selves to our partners to avoid setting the stage for resentment and ultimately contempt. What do I mean by “set up” our partner? We set up our partner for failure when we refuse to require that each time a dish in the sink or dirty clothes are left on the floor a little stone of resentment falls and collects into a tumor of resentment.

We are in charge of our resentment towards the other.

It is not my husband’s work to keep me from resenting him, it is my work to stand in my truth so that I do not allow anger to turn into silent resentment which leads to immovable contempt. That is my work. Dr. Valerie Rein coined the phrase Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) as an innate lifetime of wondering why something was wrong with her as a woman. She defines Patriarchy Stress Disorder as:

“the epigenetics that women have been oppressed for their entire lives, it is not safe for women to be in their power which creates stress in our bodies when we cause stress on the patriarchal system (Rein, 2020).”

How it resonated with me particularly is the stress felt by a man or woman who lives in an oppressive culture predominantly informed by the lens of a sexist and oppressive man. Patriarchy is not synonymous with men, but with the systems and powers that women (and men in their fullest authentic expression) have been excluded from. This is not exclusive to women but all people who are feeling psychologically or physically unsafe, it is anything that makes us feel unsafe in our fullest authentic expression. We have been oppressed by a perverted, capitalist system built on oppression, the enemy is not the man but the system set up by those in power and demand to maintain that place of power. In the days of the pandemic we have been forced to be quarantined with our partners and our children more than we ever imagined and therefore the invitation is even greater for the woman who endures the invisible work of children, household chores, school work, and her own career, to engage in meaningful conversations with her partner that invite teamwork. Using your full authentic voice in your home is the first step to requiring well. Mark Nepo says that we must take turns in a relationship allowing one partner to dive for God while the other takes care of the dishes. It is the practice of teamwork that will allow us to all reach our potential.