Wives so good, husbands feel bad

A wife's competence at work was once cited as a reason for her husband wanting a divorce.

Ms Wong Kai Yun, co-managing partner at Chia Wong LLP, recalls the case, noting that the man felt excluded as his wife excelled at handling everything.

He felt that he had little decision-making power.

The wife's problem was not that her husband was earning less but rather, he was so insecure about her doing well that he constantly checked up on her.

"He became possessive and obsessive," she says.

He would become upset when she had to do things for work, such as entertain.

As the saying goes, behind every successful man is a woman.

But turn the tables and shifting a couple's main earning power to the woman can be devastating to a marriage or relationship, says a panel of divorce lawyers, counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists The New Paper on Sunday approached last week.

The experts say that they have anecdotally seen more cases where men feel insecure over their wives "wearing the pants".

From seeing two cases a year to three in a single month now, psychologist Richard Lim, who has been counselling couples for 20 years, says: "Most of the time, (the men) don't state outright it is because they feel less adequate.

"But probe further, and you'd find that even a simple decision such as which restaurant to go to becomes a source of contention."

Ms Joyce Ling, principal counsellor of Life Architects, agrees. She says: "The inadequacy is something that as a counsellor, I would uncover as a core reason for the breakdown in communication and strife.

"The human ego is a rather fragile one.

"In addition, men tend to project an image of not being emotional."

SUDDEN CHANGE

One common contributing factor to such unhappiness is a change of circumstances, notes our panel of experts.

Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist in private practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, says: "If they are married and their wives have always earned more, they'd grow to accept it.

"But sometimes, the situation is reversed and the wife (ends up) earning more or is in a higher position due to fluctuations in the job market."

Family lawyer Yap Teong Liang, of TL Yap Law Chambers LLC, says: "The feelings of inadequacy are more pronounced, as the situation is quite different from choosing to take a backseat in their career.

"It can be more problematic when financial pressure comes into play." Mr Lim adds: "Men expect - and desire - to be seen as the leader of the pack. It is societal expectations too.

"So when there is a shift in paradigm, not everyone can accept it. Subconsciously, they start to feel worse about themselves."

Psychologist Daniel Koh points out the feeling of inadequacy is usually part of a series of symptoms that can lead to depression and anxiety.

He says: "It can affect the self-esteem of the man. It is an issue of pride and ego sometimes."

A man's coping mechanism may differ, depending on the individual, he says.

"Some may be angry or resentful, others may lapse into depression because they see themselves as unable to fulfil the needs of their partners or they cannot compare to their peers."

Some men end up having a relationship outside of the marriage, to feel needed and secure again, explains Mr Lim.

And most times, the other woman will be the exact opposite of the wife, and defer to the man.

It is hard for men to even acknowledge they are facing issues, reluctant as they are to share their feelings with their families, especially if they are expected to be the breadwinners.

Mr Dylan Soh, 45, who walked out of his 12-year marriage, says: "How do I broach it?

"It is not something where a man can go, 'Oh wifey, I am feeling insecure about you wearing the pants in the home.'"

The human ego is a rather fragile one. In addition, men tend to project an image of not being emotional. - Ms Joyce Ling, principal counsellor of Life Architects

When he lost job, he lost face

He was a high-flyer in a multinational company who earned more than $10,000 a month.

But when Michael (not his real name), then 25, lost his job, he went into depression and contemplated suicide.

For three months, he had to depend on his wife and his savings to pay for the mortgage of their $3.2 million condominium in town. The monthly loan repayment came up to about $6,000.

His wife, Mary (not his real name), then also 25, was a teacher, drawing about $4,000 a month.

They have a son, now 24.

"He had thoughts of ending his life because he felt like a loser among his cohort," says Mr John Vasavan, 55, a family counsellor, who counselled the couple 20 years ago.

Mr Vasavan says Michael is an intelligent man who had a job offer even before he graduated from university.

"Within three months into his job after graduation, he was already travelling.

"But when he lost his job, he lost his ego, he lost his face. He didn't want to share about it with many people."

Michael went into depression. He was no longer going out and found it hard to find a job.

With the income cut, he had to change his lifestyle.

"He wasn't earning any money. That made him feel as though he was no longer the man of the house," says Mr Vasavan.

"He withdrew himself, communicating lesser with his family and wife.

"He even became less intimate with his wife."

Unknown to Michael, his father helped by lending $30,000 to Mary, now a housewife, to help pay the mortgage.

Mary stood by Michael through this rough patch.

She spoke to her taxi driver brother, who asked that Michael be a relief cabby.

HARD TO SWALLOW

"It was a bitter pill for him to swallow but he relented and agreed to do it for two months," says Mr Vasavan.

Michael earned about $2,000 as a relief taxi driver.

"It kept him occupied. He started seeing money coming in and he also met many interesting passengers. The experience gave him a different perspective on life," says Mr Vasavan.

About three months as a relief taxi driver, a passenger hired him.

"He got a much better paying job. He was delighted," says Mr Vasavan.

Today, the 45-year-old man is a successful businessman, but a careful spender who flies economy class even though he can afford business class.

And he still keeps his taxi licence, in case he needs it again.

Mr Vasavan says Michael told him: "If I drive a taxi today, I'll drive it with pride because it gave me my future."

Wife chooses to be meek at home

"I bark orders at work, but I'm as meek as a mouse at home," says the director, who requests that we do not use her real name.

She believes her husband is unaware of the efforts she has taken to hold on to their marriage.

Mag, 33, admits: "Sometimes it gets hard to play the 'xiao nu ren' ('little woman' in Mandarin), but I love my husband.

"I know he feels insecure. His self-esteem and ego have both taken a hit."

She says her husband's personality started to change soon after he was retrenched in late 2009.

"He started to drink heavily and would stay out late. Then he'd make snide remarks when I am paying for our meals, like 'ya, ya, you are the rich one'," recalls Mag with a grimace.

Mag's husband was jobless for nearly two years and by the time he found a job, he had to take a 50 per cent pay cut.

She declines to state the nature of his job, just that he is working in the service industry.

"With the pay cut, it meant that my monthly $12,000 salary is three times his.

"He was unhappy and threatened to quit several times. I had to keep encouraging him to stay on."

AGREE EVEN WHEN UNHAPPY

Mag admits that on days when the situation gets tense at home - usually on the occasions when they have to make financial decisions - she does not oppose what her husband says.

"This is even when, in my heart, I am going, 'That is so stupid,' but I'm smiling and agreeing."

When her maid's contract ended last year, Mag decided not to hire another one: "My husband had always complained that I depended too much on the maid to do the household chores.

"He compared me with my sister-in-law, who was working and managing the housework along with (bringing up) two teenage kids without any help."

She smiles wryly, then says: "I still remember how when I 'asked' him if he minded that we don't get a maid, he replied 'no' with such a big grin.

"And the next day, he actually sent a bouquet of roses to the office with the message 'I love you'."

That was, Mag says, a cue that her approach was correct.

"I don't mind turning into a mouse when I am back at home, or waiting on my husband. I do it all because I love him very much."

'I hate it that she earns more money than I do'

He wanted to celebrate their youngest son's birthday at a Japanese restaurant, but his wife insisted on going to a hotel cafe.

Three days later, Mr Dylan Soh, 45, walked out of his marriage of 12 years.

The school bus driver and part-time cabby admits: "Until today, many of our mutual friends, even my own parents, are critical of my decision.

"But when I was sitting in the cafe, watching the kids enjoy their dinner, I realised that I was very unhappy.

"It was the final straw."

He insists that he is no chauvinist but readily agrees: "I hate it that my wife is more capable than I am.

"I hate it that she earns more money than I do, and I hate the fact that my children obey her more."

The couple have three sons aged 11, nine and six.

His wife, Mrs Tina Soh, 42, tells The New Paper on Sunday in a separate interview: "I didn't know how unhappy he was until that day. "I still don't understand why he didn't share his true feelings. He shouldn't have kept them all bottled up."

To which, Mr Soh responds: "How do I broach it? It's not as if I could just say, 'Oh wifey, I am feeling insecure about you wearing the pants in the home.'

"I can't possibly say that to my wife."

For that matter, he says, he cannot even talk about it to anyone.

Mr Soh concedes that things were fine when he first got married. There wasn't a disparity in their income, he recalls.

They both sold insurance and the first few years were "definitely great years".

GOOD YEARS

Mr Soh says: "We did so well that we even could buy a private apartment."

The problem started when he quit the insurance industry and took on a teaching job in a design academy.

He says: "I wanted something with more regular hours so that I could stay home and look after the kids."

But he was asked to leave after two years, for reasons he declines to share.

"I didn't mind at first because we had a joint bank account, and I felt like I was still contributing to the family expenses. But after all, she was picking up the tab and paying all the bills," he says.

He also went through several jobs, each not lasting more than four months.

"I was affected by the pay slip. Each time I saw one, I'd compare it to my wife's," he says.

Mrs Soh says that "the truth dawned" only after her husband left home.

"Suddenly, it explained why he'd get moody at the end of the month and why he'd always pick fights whenever we had to make financial decisions.

"We even fought over whether our two older boys would get private tuition or go to a tuition centre."

"I didn't realise it was all about his pride and ego. I was busy trying to make sure we could all live comfortably."

It has been more than a year since Mr Soh left, and Mrs Soh has been trying to persuade her husband to go for professional counselling to save the marriage.

He takes their children out every Saturday evening and is pleased that he can call the shots on where they'd go.

Mr Soh says: "I know my wife is hoping that we'd patch up, but I don't think I can ever earn more than her. So I don't see how things will get any better."

Tips for couples

FOR HER

l Always remember that men have a fragile ego. They tend to be unexpressive and stoic when it comes to emotions.

l Give the men the respect, the love, the admiration, the verbal praises, the starry eyes, the listening ear, the lovemaking.

l Send the message that the husband is the head of the household, and that he is loved for being the one in charge.

l The most successful women are the ones best in convincing their partners of their love and devotion in all situations.

l Allow your man to take charge. It is not about being submissive but respecting the man you married.

FOR HIM

l Learn to express your feelings if you feel inadequate. Women, like men, can be insensitive, especially when the strain of the workday gets to them.

l Voice out your frustrations in the home and in your relationship. Approach a professional counsellor if you need coaching on how to do that without appearing weak to your partner.

l Recognise that just because your wife is more competent - earns more money - and more dominant, that does not mean you are useless.

Tips given by counsellor Joyce Ling and psychologist Richard Lim.

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 08, 2015.
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