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Laura Wyscaver was stressed to the max when we first met her in August 1995. A district manager of a food-services company, and mother of two young children, Laura, now 49, had been the breadwinner for several years while her husband, Tom, now 56, struggled to start his business, Ace Games and Party Rentals. Because Tom worked fewer hours and made less than Laura, he agreed to take over the household and childcare responsibilities -- and according to Laura, was not doing a good job at it. She says he constantly slacked off on making dinner or cleaning the house. Plus, she claimed that Tom was critical of the hours she spent at the office. "He makes me feel guilty for not spending time with him or the kids," she said. "I think he's jealous of my success."
Not true, said Tom. He was resentful that her family was last on her priority list. What's more, he hated being treated like her assistant. "I'm Mr. Mom, with all this responsibility," he said. But she was always in his face, he said, like a "dragon breathing fire," second-guessing his decisions about dinner, bedtime, or homework. On the brink of divorce, the couple consulted Denver-based psychologist Susan Heitler, PhD. Now, eight years later, we caught up with them:
Laura: Through counseling, I realized that I felt so guilty about not being involved in my kids' lives that I was oblivious to Tom's feelings. Though he was bothered by the disparity in our wages, he was more upset about the dismissive way I spoke to him. I've tried hard to pay attention to that.
Five years ago, Laura's company was reorganized, and she decided not to stay. She then started a new career as a real-estate agent. This gave her flexibility to spend more time with Tom and Dylan, the only child still at home, before he left for college.
Tom: Since my business finally took off a few years ago, we've been less dependent on Laura's earnings. But her whole attitude toward me and the family shifted when she changed jobs.
Laura: I love being able to make my own hours and having time to chat over breakfast with Dylan -- on the rare occasions that he's in the mood to chat, that is! Our life in general is calmer. We just celebrated our 31st anniversary and we have three grandkids.
Tom: Once we stopped fighting, I realized that who brings in the money isn't important. How we treat each other is. Recently, we were at a stalemate regarding whether Dylan deserved his own car. I was fine with it; Laura wasn't. In the past, she would have steamrolled right over me. This time, we talked about it calmly, compromised, and finally agreed that if Dylan kept his grades up and proved he was responsible for three months, then he could buy his older sister's used car. Laura is much more open to hearing my side now.
Laura: ...and I'm much less concerned about the little things, like whether the house is spic-and-span. But Tom has changed, too. He takes the initiative about stuff he knows is important to me. Last week he washed the kitchen floor -- without my even asking!