My wife and I differ what this term means -- a "power struggle" -- but that was the subject of our most recent marriage counseling session.
After I got back from my trip last week, my wife was virtually in tears when we went into the counseling session. She couldn't speak about topics, and instead wanted to divert the attention to something that has been bothering her -- why I do not see that she is in pain and that she needs my help.
First of all, aside from feeling like an ass when writing this (because obviously she is going through a difficult time -- anyone would having four kids), I was immediately upset and frustrated when she complained about this to the therapist because it is simply not true -- I HELP OUT MORE THAN SHE CAN IMAGINE, AND MORE THAN SHE SEES OR ACKNOWLEDGES.
However, the topic quickly narrowed on why I don't change diapers, and this is an older fight that has come up over the years.
In short, when my first son was born, I changed diapers all day long. I never complained about it, and I wasn't bothered by the smell or anything (it was actually a funny part of being a father). I would occasionally joke with my wife that you can identify a father on the street from the occasional smell of baby poo, butt cream, or on a good day, only diapers. Then our daughter was born and everything changed.
I remember changing her diaper while she was an infant until the one day that poo got in her vagina. Not knowing whether to dig it out, or what to do with it, I remember speaking with my wife about it that I was uncomfortable with the situation and that I didn't want to do anything that would accidentally hurt her virginity or anything. It was a horrific experience, and my wife laughed at me, told me I was an idiot, and that I was wrong for even having this concern.
Then a fight broke out about it -- remember, this was our second year of marriage, back in 2007 -- and for whatever reason we fought, I resolved that I was uncomfortable changing diapers moving forward. I didn't make the distinction of boys' diapers or girls' diapers, because my wife and I made our first deal -- she would change all diapers moving forward if I agreed to iron my own shirts (at that time she was ironing my shirts for work when she did laundry [something I never asked her to do, but was happy she did]).
Then over the next six years, whenever she wanted me to do something, whether it was doing the dishes, or going on a vacation, or buying clothing or a car, or more often than not my wife wanting me to take over YET ANOTHER HOUSEHOLD CHORE that was something that she should be taking care of (since at the time I worked many hours at the job I had at the time), she would say, "I want you to do XYZ unless you want to start changing diapers again."
Quite frankly, I got upset at her many times for "changing the deal." However, as soon as I agreed to her deal that she no longer do the ironing (I actually stopped ironing and just threw the shirts in the dryer which she thought was unfair), or as soon as I gave in to one request, there was always another around the corner. As far as I was concerned, I couldn't trust her so-called "deals" because I knew there would always be one more behind it.
Then one day a year or so ago, we went to my Rabbi's house. Trying to embarrass me in front of my Rabbi's wife, my wife blurted out, "my husband doesn't change diapers," something I spoke to them about many times already. My Rabbi's wife looked at her and said, "my brother doesn't change diapers either, and in return, he pays for a maid to take care of the cleaning to make up for it." My wife thought this was the most brilliant answer, and so the following week, we got a maid. It wasn't a full-time maid, but at the time, it was one we could afford. And, over the past year or so, it went from just a few hours one day each week to now pretty much every day for four or five hours each day.
So here we were last week -- I just returned from my trip, and it was the middle of the night. We resolved that our kids would no longer sleep in our room and thus at 3am, I took my daughter upstairs to her room and I laid down next to her for her to fall asleep. However, I immediately noticed the smell of poo in her diaper, and thought to myself, "SHOOT! I usually send my kids to my wife to change diapers, even if she's asleep, but here I'm trying to be nice to her because she was just ill these past few days AND taking care of the kids while I was away on my seminar trip." So I changed her shitty diaper and as I was doing so, I remembered our fight from so many years ago.
Now just so everyone doesn't think I'm an ass for not changing diapers -- I change them all the time, and I always have. However, the only diapers I change are pee-pee diapers, and shitty diapers are my wife's territory. I didn't feel bad about this because quite frankly, I paid for this so many times over with one agreement after the other, none of which I have EVER broken. So poo diapers are my wife's territory, and that was that.
So going back to my evening experience, I was very excited that I changed my daughter's diaper, and that I remembered why I didn't change diapers in the first place. I forgot about this and thought it was merely the smell, or something I contracted away many times over. Yet when I told my wife about it in the morning (and that in theory I have nothing wrong with changing "boy" diapers moving forward), expecting my wife to be so proud of me and to be so excited for me that I was finding new ways to help out, she jumped all over me with disdain and I was actually hurt that she wasn't so excited by my offer to start helping out with diapers.
Now back to the counselor session... I couldn't believe she brought up that I don't change diapers, especially after my realization and my first poo diaper changed that evening!
When I explained my side of the story (her side was that if I cared about her and saw that she was frustrated from changing so many diapers, a caring husband who loves his wife would have jumped in and started changing diapers), I told the marriage counselor that I felt slighted because the whole thing came up because I expressed that I was WILLING to change diapers, but quite frankly, I don't like that I am being pressured to change them now as if it is my DUTY AS A FATHER because I contracted away that duty so many times over, and she keeps changing the deal! I felt that if I was to start changing diapers, I kind of want some kind of REWARD or at least some kind of EXTRA APPRECIATION, especially considering what I gave up in order to NOT change diapers. In addition, I felt that if I started changing diapers now and if I disregarded all those contracts and agreements that I held to but that she broke, then she would have won YET AGAIN, and it is not justified that she has held the "you will do X unless you start changing diapers" ultimatum over me all these years. She doesn't get to make deals and then break them. She needs to stick to what she agreed with.
At this point, the marriage counselor pointed out that what I was experiencing was a perfect example of a power struggle -- one that will break up a marriage and will pull us into countless fights in countless contexts. My wife feels as if I don't see her plight (because I do not do things such as see her struggling and offer to help with, for example, diapers), and thus there is a struggle on her end, and on my end, I am upset with her not sticking to the deals she makes with me and thus there is a power struggle on my end.
I haven't wrapped my head around this yet and I don't yet understand the implications, but this is what I understand so far (I think).
The fact that we have made so many deals and the fact that she has violated and broken so many of our agreements hurt my trust in her many times. In the context of diapers, I am hurt that she has broken so many agreements, and so I don't help out with the diapers. On the other side, the fact that I see her struggling with diapers yet I don't lend a hand to help out violated her trust and has caused her much pain, and so she acts out to "one-up" me and get back at me for the wrongs I have done to her.
There's also probably a "you don't appreciate me," "no, you don't appreciate me" dynamic going on, but in short, there is certainly a power struggle between us, and I don't know how to break the pattern or to even recognize it yet.