Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Husband forgot your 40th birthday and doesn’t really seem to care? Husband frustrated by irritable wife?

DEAR NATALIE: My husband recently forgot my birthday, and it was a big one. I turned 40 and was expecting something out of the ordinary. I thought maybe he would plan a getaway for us, a dinner party, or at the very least flowers and a card. I got nothing. I am so hurt by him. When I told him that I was upset, he just shrugged and said, “What do you want me to do?” It really upset me. I shouldn’t have to ask for something for my birthday and I shouldn’t have to plan it. I have been so mad and we haven’t talked about it since. It’s been really awkward in our house — I can tell he’s walking on eggshells around me, but he hasn’t made any effort otherwise. Is it on me to break the ice? I feel like he should be apologizing. If he doesn’t say he’s sorry, how can I let go of this?

-- BIRTHDAY BLUES

DEAR BIRTHDAY BLUES: It shouldn’t be on you to break the ice, but considering he seems pretty dense, you may have to do it. The fact that he forgot your 40th birthday, was not remorseful about it and made no attempt to fix the situation is a relationship red flag. If you don’t care about your partner’s feelings or acknowledge important milestones, how can you grow together? I would say this: “I was hurt when you forgot my birthday. More than anything, I was upset you didn’t seem to care that you forgot. Can you explain to me why you reacted so flippantly? I want to be with someone who respects me and loves me, and I am not feeling that way right now in this relationship. I’m having a hard time moving past this.” Notice that I made the language specific and focused on your feelings. If you say things like “you always…” or “you never…,” it could lead him to deflect and become defensive. Keep it specific to how you felt and provide real space for that conversation to unfold. Maybe he’s embarrassed by his behavior. Maybe he’s annoyed with himself. I hope he is. I hope that he recognizes how he hurt you. But I also hope he is willing to repair the relationship by acknowledging your feelings, apologizing and doing something to make up for it. We all make mistakes, but it’s how we handle fixing the relationship that matters.

DEAR NATALIE: My wife has a busy life and a hectic work schedule. We have two small children and she works full-time as a lawyer. I am also a lawyer, but she always seems to have more to do than me. Whenever we are home from work, there’s homework to do, dinner to make and clothes to put away. I keep telling her it’ll get done, but then she becomes exasperated with me. “Who’s going to do it?” she says. I have offered to get a cleaning service or a part-time nanny to help her, but she says that there are better things to spend money on. At the end of the day, she’s exhausted and really irritable toward me. I want to do something to make her feel better, like a vacation, but I’m worried she will say that we don’t have time for it. What can I do to make her happier? I don’t want this to hurt our relationship. -- FRUSTRATED HUSBAND

DEAR FRUSTRATED HUSBAND: I want you to look up the term “emotional labor.” I want you to study what you just wrote to me. Reflect. Recognize your role in all of this. Your wife is doing the same job as you, but when she comes home, her role as house manager kicks in and your work appears done. She has every right to be irritable and exasperated — she feels like everything at home is falling on her shoulders. Instead of offering to hire a cleaning service, fold the laundry when you see it in the dryer. (You do know where your dryer is, right?) Instead of asking what you can do to “help,” take a proactive role as a partner: See what needs to be done and just do it. Also, don’t expect a pat on the back for doing dishes, vacuuming, getting the kids ready for bed or cooking a meal. Show that you care instead of asking her why she’s stressed. A vacation is only a band-aid.  Equity should be in the home as well as the workplace. The real work begins when you show up for your household like you do at your job. Both of you will be less stressed when you share the load.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Wearing a name tag at a networking event? Add something fun to yours, like what your specialty is at work, or better yet, your favorite hobby, flavor of ice cream or something that might make someone take a second look, smile and start up a conversation!

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, nbencivenga@post-gazette.com; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)